TWO BLESSEDS MANIFEST 'WORKS OF GOD'
Pope John Paul II
Message for new blesseds given 17 March 1996
1. "... but that the works of God might be made manifest in him" (Jn 9:3).
On this Sunday of Lent the Church sings: "The Lord is my shepherd.... He leads me..., he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness" (Ps 22  :1, 2-3). The Lenten liturgy marks out a significant path of preparation for Baptism, a great baptismal catechesis as it were. Every day in this particular season, and this is especially true for Sunday, marks a further step in the formative journey towards the celebration of the paschal mystery. Christ, the Good Shepherd, enables the saving plans to be revealed in man: "the great works of God."
These "great works of God" were made manifest in the Old Testament. One of them was certainly the choice and anointing of David, the youngest of the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite. As we heard in the first reading, God called David to be the leader and king of his people, Israel (cf. 1 Sm 16:11-13), and definitively tied the messianic promise to his descendants: the Messiah would come forth from David's stock.
"The great works of God" were later manifested in the New Testament. The liturgy today has offered us a particularly significant one: the healing of the man born blind. As John recounts in an ample and detailed way in today's Gospel passage (cf. Jn 9:1-41), Christ restored that young man's physical and spiritual sight.
Reflection on this Johannine passage is already in itself a remarkable baptismal catechesis. It actually shows us the gradual journey that leads to faith, passing as it were through successive phases from blindness to the capacity for sight. Christ, the "light of the world" (Jn 8:12), gradually leads the man born blind to receive this light in which man's salvation is found.
Christ leads us to the light of eternal life
2. Last Sunday another characteristic element of the baptismal celebration was at the centre of the Liturgy of the Word: water. There are also references to this basic element today: "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam", Jesus says to the blind man (Jn 9:7); and in the responsorial psalm the shepherd "leads beside still waters" the sheep who trust in him (Ps 22 :2). Another important element is also brought to the fore in this Sunday's readings: anointing Samuel anoints David, the Eternal Shepherd anoints the head of his faithful one with oil (cf. Ps 22 :4).
The ultimate goal of these messages is to spur the listener to that spiritual awakening to which St Paul refers in the second reading: "Awake, O sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light" (Eph 5:14). This in fact is the central issue of the great baptismal catechesis. The catechumen must acknowledge Christ as the light of the world, the Good Shepherd, who can lead humanity, even through the "dark valleys" (cf. Ps 22 :4) of earthly existence, to the light of eternal life.
3. Dear brothers and sisters, this was the ultimate goal leading humanity to the light of eternal life for two generous apostles of evangelization who followed the bright example of the Good Shepherd: Bishop Daniel Comboni, founder of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus and the Comboni Missionary Sisters, and Bishop Guido Maria Conforti, founder of the Xaverian Missionaries.
Comboni laboured for Africa's spiritual rebirth
First, Comboni: from the time of his priestly formation in the institute founded by the Servant of God Nicola Mazza, Daniel Comboni felt called to give his own life to proclaim the Gospel in the land of Africa. This awareness stayed with him throughout his life and supported him in his missionary labours and pastoral difficulties. He felt comforted in this dedication by the words he heard from Pope Pius IX: "Labora sicut bonus miles Christi pro African" ("Work like a good soldier of Christ for Africa" Scritti, n. 4085).
The modernness and boldness of his work were expressed in the preparation and formation of future priests, in the tireless promotion of the missions by his writing and publishing, in the founding of two institutes one for men, the other for women exclusively dedicated to the mission "ad gentes", by struggling for the abolition of the terrible slave-trade and by actively working "for the rebirth of Africa through itself". These insights of the new blessed produced great fruit for the evangelization of the African continent by paving the way to the consoling growth of the Church in Africa today (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, nn. 3338).
"Leading humanity to the light of eternal life": Daniel Comboni's ideal continues today in the apostolate of his spiritual sons and daughters. They still maintain strong ties in Africa, particularly in Sudan, where their founder spent a great part of his energy as a tireless evangelizer and where he died at a young age, worn out by his labours and illness. The unconditional trust he had in the power of prayer (cf. Scritti n. 2324) is effectively expressed in the "Cenacles of missionary prayer" which are being set up in many parishes and represent a significant way to promote and renew missionary spirituality.
Christ's Cross was source of Bishop Conforti's strength
4. The mission "ad gentes" was also one of the fundamental features of the apostolic activity of Guido Maria Conforti. The commitment to bring Christ's light to all directed his whole life. He knew how to live to the full the three situations in which the Church's one evangelizing mission is carried out: pastoral care of the local Church, commitment to the mission "ad gentes" and the evangelization of those who have lost their sense of the faith (cf. Redemptoris missio, n. 33).
Called to be Pastor of a portion of God's people in an area where a disturbing rejection of the faith was occurring, Guido Maria Conforti discovered in the way of the mission "ad gentes" a providential journey by which "he could cause a new current of divine life to flow into the souls of believers, increasing in them the fire of great missionary zeal" (Address to the Missionary Union of the Clergy, in Unione Missionaria del Clero, p. 181).
In the face of difficulties the new blessed would habitually recall to himself and to others Jesus' invitation to Peter: "Put out into the deep ... Do not be afraid" (Lk 5:4-10). In fact he was convinced that one of the most effective ways to invigorate the faith in lands evangelized long ago was to strive to proclaim the Gospel to those who did not yet know it. He radically proposed the validity of the missionary vocation "ad vitam", reaffirmed in the Encyclical Redemptoris missio (cf. n. 66), to his missionaries through the missionary vow. Many of his spiritual sons remained faithful to this commitment to the point of martyrdom.
But what was the source from which his tireless zeal and total dedication to the mission "ad gentes" drew strength? It was Christ's Cross, a source of inexhaustible love in those who give themselves to their brothers and sisters, near and far. Thus this new blessed was a shining example of priestly spirituality, always motivated by living faith and an indomitable missionary spirit. A model of genuine pastoral charity who knew how to invite believers to open their hearts to those who were distant without forgetting the needs of local communities, so that Christ, Redeemer of man, might be proclaimed to all.
5. The new blesseds, Daniel Comboni and Guido Maria Conforti, invite us to look to the paschal mystery. Every Sunday in Lent marks a further stage that brings us closer to Holy Week, the week of Christ's passion, death and resurrection. Today's Gospel lets us glimpse the hostile clouds gathering over the person of Jesus. The Pharisees make their accusation: "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath" (Jn 9:16); thus he is a "sinner" (ibid.). These are the first signs of the storm that would break upon him: the passion and the crucifixion on Golgotha.
Amid these threats Christ nevertheless continues securely on his messianic way: "For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind" (Jn 9:39). What overwhelming words!
Thus "the great works of God" of which today's Gospel speaks are manifested in men.
With the man blind from birth Daniel Comboni, Guido Maria Conforti and the immense heavenly ranks of saints and blesseds repeat: Lord Jesus, you are truly the light of the world. And we join them to give praise to the Most Holy Trinity.
We thank you, God for the holiness of these new blesseds With trust we pray to you through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Saints: make the light of life shine upon us so that we in turn may spread it among men.
Weekly Edition in English
20 March 1996, pp. 1, 3.
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