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from issue no. 10 - 2011


“In the humble, grace shines out more”


Padua, Basilica of the Saint, Wednesday 28 September 2011, Holy Mass on the thirty-third anniversary of the death of Pope Luciani

Homily by Don Giacomo Tantardini

<I>Our Lady enthroned</I>, Giusto de' Menabuoi, Basilica of St Anthony in Padua

Our Lady enthroned, Giusto de' Menabuoi, Basilica of St Anthony in Padua

The passage of the Gospel we have heard (Lk 9, 57-62) is always a comfort to me. At bottom, in many ways, it says only one thing: that the initiative in following Jesus does not come from man, but it is of Jesus. No one can take by himself the initiative to follow Him. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15, 16). The initiative comes of the Lord. It’s His first and foremost. Man may allow himself to be attracted, but cannot take the initiative by himself.

This topic, in the few and wonderful Wednesday sermons of Pope Luciani, was like a refrain several times repeated. In the sermon on faith, after reading out a poem in Roman dialect by Trilussa, he said: “This poem is beautiful as poetry, but it is bad as catechism”, because, said the Pope, faith is not born of man. Faith is the gift of Jesus. This is so true that Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (Jn 6, 44. 65).

No one can go to Jesus, if Jesus does not draw him. Faith is the grace of the Lord. And in his sermon on charity he said just that: “I don’t go, unless God takes the initiative first”. We by ourselves do not set out, we do not take any initiative by ourselves. The initiative is of the Lord. If he does not begin, we do not set out. If He does not attract, we do not follow Him. In those four wonderful sermons, the fact that the Christian life is grace, is the initiative of grace, and that our response is the correspondence to this attraction comes like a refrain.

But, re-reading these Wednesday sermons, the thing that struck me most this time was that many times the Pope said: “Pray for this poor Pope”. He used the expression “poor Pope”: “Who knows whether the Holy Spirit helps this poor Pope...”. “When the poor Pope, when the bishops, priests propose doctrine...”. And again: “I see here, close to me, brother bishops, and then there’s this poor Pope”. How beautiful is the expression “poor Pope”! Maybe now I understand why the good Cardinal Gantin, commenting on the conclave that elected Pope Luciani, said simply: “We were all delighted”. Luciani’s election was no surprise, it was predictable, but they were all very glad, because a poor person, a humble person had been elected bishop of the Church of Rome. To a poor Church, a humble Church, to a Church that is a small flock, a poor Pope, a humble Pope had been given and, therefore, they were all delighted. Because, as St Ambrose says: “In the humble grace shines out more / In humilibus magis elucet gratia”. In the poor, in the humble grace shines out more. And when grace shines out we are all happy. When what the Lord does shines out we are all happy.

So we remember this poor Pope thirty-three years after his sudden death. We celebrate the memory of this poor Pope. Of this “poor Pope”, poor and therefore great in the eyes of the Lord and in the eyes of his saints. We celebrate him here in Padua, in the basilica of St Anthony.

Si quaeris miracula / If you seek miracles”, the hymn says, “pray to St Anthony”. So, along with Pope Luciani, together with our friends in heaven, all the saints in heaven, let us pray especially to St Anthony for miracles, for all miracles. Today in the breviary, in Vespers, there was this sentence of St Peter: “Cast all your worries upon him because He cares for you” (1Pt 5, 7). You have to ask for all miracles. You have to ask for all the graces. In recent months – and I say this for the love and the friendship that binds us – many times, even when fear and anxiety have surfaced, I repeated this phrase: “Jesus I offer you, Jesus heal me, Jesus, make me humble”. You have to ask all miracles, the miracle of healing for example. All miracles.

But the image of St Anthony with the baby Jesus in his arms suggests that all miracles are asked within this embrace. “None beside you delights me on earth” (Ps 72, 25). Outside this embrace of Jesus, outside the embrace of Jesus, outside the sweetness of Jesus, one does not ask anything. Inside this sweetness – as when Anthony had the baby Jesus in his arms – one can ask everything. Like the small child, who asks everything of its father and mother. Inside that sweetness, in that embrace: None beside you delights me on earth”.

So the first thing to ask for is this more than wonderful familiarity with Jesus. It is the sweetness of communion with Jesus. “God is faithful, by whom you were called to the communion of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1Cor 1, 9). How sweet is this communion!

St Anthony carries the child Jesus in his arms, but it is Jesus who carries Anthony. How many times do I repeat this prayer of St Ambrose after Communion: “Veni, Domine Iesu, / Come, Lord Jesus, / ad me veni, / come to me, / quaere me / seek me, / inveni me / find me, / suscipe me / take me in your arms, / porta me / carry me”. When you are led by the Lord, then you can ask for anything. Thus, in this recent period of my life, a brief prayer from the Song of Songs (2, 16) came back to mind from the time when young, I entered the seminary, that says: “Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi qui pascitur inter lilia / My beloved is with me...”. My beloved, because the Lord Jesus is beloved of the heart. My beloved is with me, and we poor sinners, because of renewed grace, can say: “And we are with Him who grazes and delights among the lilies”. With Him who alone is holy, who alone is Lord. Tu solus sanctus, Tu solus Dominus. The only one who loves us with a love so sweet, so tender, that the love of a father and mother is a small image of this love.

Let us call upon the saints, let us ask Pope Luciani, let us ask Saint Anthony, let us ask Don Giussani, let us ask the saints in heaven that they also make us on earth experience the sweetness of being loved by Jesus, and within this sweetness, let us ask for all miracles. All miracles, which serve to keep and to live the faith.

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