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Papal homily at opening of Synod

03/10/2005

A translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, held in St. Peter's Basilica.
This Sunday's readings, taken from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel, present us with one of the great images of sacred Scripture: the image of the vineyard.
In sacred Scripture, bread represents everything man needs for his daily life. Water gives the earth fertility: It is the fundamental gift that makes life possible. Wine, on the contrary, expresses the exquisiteness of creation, it gives us the feast that goes beyond the limits of daily life: Wine "gladdens the heart."
In this way, wine and with it the vine have also become the image of the gift of love, in which we can have a certain experience of the taste of the divine. And so the reading of the prophet, which we just heard, begins with a canticle of love: God created a vineyard, image of his history of love with humanity, of his love for Israel which he chose.
The first thought of today's reading is this: God has infused in man, created in his image, the capacity to love and, consequently, the capacity to love him, his creator. With the prophet Isaiah's canticle of love, God wanted to speak to the heart of his people and also to each one of us.
"I have created you in my image and likeness," he tells us. "I myself am love and you are my image in the measure that the splendor of love shines in you, in the measure in which you respond to me with love."
God waits for us. He wants us to love Him: Should not such a call touch our hearts? Precisely in this hour, in which we celebrate the Eucharist, in which we open the Synod on the Eucharist, He comes to meet us, He comes to meet me. Will he find a response? Or will it be with us as it was with the vineyard, of which God says in Isaiah: "he looked for it to yield grapes but it yielded wild grapes." Is not our life often, perhaps, more vinegar than wine? Self-pity, conflict, indifference?
In this way, we have come to the second fundamental thought of today's readings. It speaks above all of the goodness of God's creation and of the greatness of the election with which he seeks and loves us. But it also speaks about the history that occurred later, man's failure.
God had planted choice vines and yet they yielded wild grapes. What are the wild grapes? The good grapes that God expected, says the prophet, would have consisted in justice and uprightness. Wild grapes on the contrary are violence, the shedding of blood and oppression, which make people groan under the yoke of injustice.
In the Gospel, the image changes: The vineyard produces good grapes, but the tenant winegrowers keep them. They are not willing to give them to the proprietor. They beat and kill his messengers and kill his son. Their motivation is simple: They want to become proprietors; they take what does not belong to them.
In the Old Testament, what appears first of all is the accusation of the violation of social justice, contempt for man by man. Deep down, however, one sees that with contempt for the Torah, for the law given by God, there is contempt for God himself; there is only a desire to enjoy power itself. This aspect is fully underlined in Jesus' parable: The tenants do not want to have a master and these tenants serve as a mirror for us, men, who usurp the creation which has been entrusted to us to manage.
We want to be the sole owners in the first person. We want to possess the world and our own life in an unlimited manner. God annoys us or we make of him a simple devout phrase or deny him altogether, eradicating him from public life, so that in this way he no longer has any meaning at all. Tolerance that only admits God as a private opinion, but that denies him the public domain, the reality of the world and of our life, is not tolerance but hypocrisy.
Whenever man becomes the only owner of the world and proprietor of himself there can be no justice. Only the expedient of power and interests con dominate there. It is true, the son can be expelled from the vineyard and killed to enjoy selfishly the fruits of the earth. But then the vineyard soon becomes an uncultivated plot, trampled on by wild boars, as the responsorial psalm says (cf. Psalm 79:14).
We come to the third element of today's readings. The Lord, in both the Old and New Testament, announced the judgment of the unfaithful vineyard. The judgment that Isaiah foresaw has been realized in the great wars and exiles imposed by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The judgment, announced by the Lord Jesus, refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70.
But the threat of judgment affects us also, the Church in Europe, the Church of the West in general. With this Gospel the Lord also cries out in our ears the words he addressed in Revelation to the Church in Ephesus: "I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (2:5). The light can also be taken away from us, and we would do well to allow this warning in all its seriousness to resonate in our souls, crying out at the same time to the Lord: "Help us to be converted! Give us the grace of an authentic renewal! Do not permit the light to be extinguished among us! Reinforce our faith, our hope and our love so that we can bear good fruit!"
At this point, a question arises: "But, is there not a promise, a word of consolation in today's reading and evangelical page? Is the threat the last word?" No! There is a promise and it is the last word, the essential one. We hear it in the alleluia verse, taken from John's Gospel: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit" (John 15:5).
With these words of the Lord, John illustrates for us the last, the authentic end of the history of God's vineyard -- God does not fail. At the end, he triumphs -- love triumphs. There is already a veiled allusion to this in the parable of the vineyard proposed by today's Gospel and in its conclusive words. In it, the son's death is not the end of history, although it does not say so directly. But Jesus expresses this death through a new image taken from the Psalm: "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Matthew 21:42; Psalm 117:22).
From the son's death life arises, a new building is made, a new vineyard. In Cana, he changed the water into wine, he transformed his blood into the wine of true love and in this way transforms the wine into his blood. In the Cenacle he anticipated his death and transformed in into the gift of himself, in an act of radical love. His blood is gift, it is love and for this reason it is the true wine that the creator was expecting. In this way, Christ himself became the vineyard and that vineyard always bears good fruit -- the presence of his love for us, which is indestructible.
These words converge in the end in the mystery of the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us the bread of life and the wine of his love and invites us to the feast of eternal love. We celebrate the Eucharist with the awareness that its price was the son's death, the sacrifice of his life, which remains present in it. Every time we eat this bread and drink this chalice, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes, says St. Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26).
But we also know that from this death life arises, as Jesus transformed it in a gesture of oblation, into an act of love, transforming it profoundly: Love has conquered death. In the holy Eucharist, from the cross he draws all men to himself (John 12:32) and he converts us into branches of the vine, which is himself. If we remain united to him, then we will also bear fruit, then we will no longer bear the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of the discontent of God and of his creation, but the good wine of God's joy and of love of neighbor.
Let us pray to the Lord to grant us his grace so that in the three weeks of the synod that we are beginning not only will we say beautiful things about the Eucharist, but we will live from his strength. Let us pray for the gift through Mary, dear synodal fathers, whom I greet with affection, together with the different communities that you come from and that you here represent, so that being docile to the action of the Holy Spirit we might be able to help the world to be converted -- in Christ and with Christ -- into the fruitful vine of God. Amen.