Apr 19, 2008 – Six thousand people flocked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York this morning for a Mass that Pope Benedict celebrated for clergy and religious. In his homily, Benedict XVI called for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church in America so that it can overcome divisions and allow all of its gifts to be spent for the sake of spreading the Gospel.
After thanking Cardinal Egan for his welcome and recalling the examples of the pioneers of the Catholic Church in America, Pope Benedict turned to the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
“As we give thanks for past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!” he exclaimed.
The Pontiff then pointed to the example of the late Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor whose “heroic witness to the Gospel of life” should inspire this kind of zeal. “The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization,” the Pope said.
“This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts,” the Holy Father encouraged.
Pope Benedict said that the challenge in some ways is to bring this message of life in abundance to “a society where the Church seems legalistic and ‘institutional’ to many people.” The Church’s “most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love”, he said.
He then turned the congregation’s attention to different aspects of the architecture of St. Patrick’s.
Noting how from the outside the stained glass windows appear dim but from the inside of the Church their true beauty is revealed, the Pope said, that communicating the joy and love of God “is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, ‘from the outside’”.
Besides a spiritual conversion, Benedict XVI explained that an “‘intellectual’ conversion” is necessary to be able to discern “the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church’s life and mission”.
“For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family,” Benedict said.
The solution to these divisions, the way to move forward, Benedict explained, is “if we turn our gaze together to Christ!” Turning away from division and towards Christ, is the way that true spiritual renewal will occur, the Holy Father said.
Pope Benedict once again brought up the sexual abuse scandal in the context of striving for unity.
“I would like say a word about the sexual abuse that has caused so much suffering. I have already had occasion to speak of this, and of the resulting damage to the community of the faithful. Here I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents.”
Benedict drew attention back to the architectural structure to make his final point.
“The unity of a Gothic cathedral, we know, is not the static unity of a classical temple, but a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven. Here too, we can see a symbol of the Church’s unity, which is the unity – as Saint Paul has told us – of a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning’s Gospel, into the fullness of truth.”
“So let us lift our gaze upward!” the Pope called out.
Calling on the Holy Spirit to help the Church grow in holiness, he added, “If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles, let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!”
Pope Benedict closed by calling on American Catholics to “go forth as heralds of hope in the midst of this city, and all those places where God’s grace has placed us. In this way, the Church in America will know a new springtime in the Spirit, and point the way to that other, greater city, the new Jerusalem, whose light is the Lamb For there God is even now preparing for all people a banquet of unending joy and life. Amen.”