Sixty thousand people on Sunday attended the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium, where Pope Benedict explained in his homily that true freedom is found in self-surrender and turning away from sin. Asking Americans to “use wisely the blessings of freedom,” he proclaimed that Christ sets mankind free.
The Pope also noted the history of the Church in America, exhorting American Catholics to follow their predecessors’ social work. He challenged his American flock to enrich their society with the Gospel and “hasten the coming of God's Kingdom in this land!”
He began his homily by saying, “Christ is the way that leads to the Father, the truth which gives meaning to human existence, and the source of that life which is eternal joy with all the saints in his heavenly Kingdom.”
He noted that at this Mass is dedicated to celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville from the mother See of Baltimore , which itself was elevated to an archdiocese in 1808. The celebration of the papal Mass, Pope Benedict said, was a sign of the “impressive growth” of the Church in America over that time.
Benedict XVI also pointed to the unity of the Church expressed at the papal Mass, saying, “The presence around this altar of the Successor of Peter, his brother bishops and priests, and deacons, men and women religious, and lay faithful from throughout the fifty states of the Union, eloquently manifests our communion in the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles.”
The Pope said the first reading from Acts, where Hellenists in the early Church complained that the Hebrews were neglecting their widows, reveals “linguistic and cultural tensions” even within the early Church. However, the reading also shows the “power of the word of God” to create “a unity which transcends the divisions arising from human limitations and weakness.”
The Church's unity, Pope Benedict said, “has no other basis than the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This unity he called “God’s indefectible gift to his Church.” He also stressed that such unity was “apostolic,” a “visible unity” grounded in the Apostles chosen by Christ.
The Pope then turned to questions of “authority” and “obedience,” saying, “these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a ‘stumbling stone’ for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom.”
However, seen in the light of faith in Jesus Christ, the Gospel “teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves.” Real freedom, the Pope said, results when we turn away from sin, which “clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve.” As the truth makes us free, “this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality.”
Turning to the reading from 1 Peter, the Pope counseled offering spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God “to direct our every thought, word and action to the truth of the Gospel and to harness all our energies in the service of God's Kingdom.” Only through such focus on God, the Pope said, can people build something truly enduring and find “ultimate meaning” in their lives.
He said that with its successive waves of immigrants, the American Church has grown in its network of educational, medical, and social institutions, which Pope Benedict called a “hallmark of the Church” in the U.S. “How many ‘spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God’ have been offered up in these two centuries!” the Pope said. “Follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God's Kingdom in this land!”
Pope Benedict said the day’s Mass was not only a celebration of graces received, but also a call to “use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.” St. Peter’s words about being “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” the Pope said, “challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope born of faith in God's word, and trust in his promises.”
The prayer from the Our Father, “Thy Kingdom Come,” he said, “needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation.” It needs to bear fruit in Christians’ lives, creating “new settings of hope.” Praying for the coming of the Kingdom means being “constantly alert for the signs of its presence,” working for its growth everywhere to “enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel.”
“It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, ‘there is no human activity - even in secular affairs - which can be withdrawn from God's dominion.’”
The Pope prayed especially for young people, saying, “My dear young friends, like the seven men, "filled with the Spirit and wisdom" whom the Apostles charged with care for the young Church, may you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, ‘the same, yesterday, and today and for ever’ and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him... Young men and women of America, I urge you: open your hearts to the Lord's call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life. Can there be any greater mark of love than this: to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was willing to lay down his life for his friends.”
“These are the truths that set us free!” the Pope proclaimed.
“They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world - including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb.”
Pope Benedict concluded his homily with an exhortation to work for the coming of the Kingdom and to turn to Christ.
“‘Happy are you who believe!’ Let us turn to Jesus!” the Pope said. “He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world.”