Completing his first full day in Munich, Pope Benedict XVI prayed Vespers, or evening prayer, at the Cathedral of Munich. Among the participants were several children who are preparing for their First Communion, their families, and catechists of the archdiocese.
Prior to entering the Frauenkirche (~the Church of the Lady) the Pope spent time speaking with the crowd gathered outside and shaking their hands. The faithful were overjoyed – smiling and offering prayers and encouragement to the Pope as he passed. An older Bavarian woman, at one point, grabbed the Pope’s arm and pulled him close for a hug.
The Pontiff entered the gothic cathedral which, with the exception of its two onion-domed spires, was entirely rebuilt after being destroyed during World War II.
Benedict processed down the main aisle of the cathedral and made a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the church’s crypt. He emerged from the crypt in a green cope and mitre with his pontifical crosier in hand.
After the powerful singing of the psalms and at the conclusion of the reading (Revelation 7), the Holy Father offered a brief reflection.
The reading, the Holy Father began, leads the reader’s eyes to heaven, “but also speaks to us about earth, about the present, about our lives.” While each of us is on “a journey” we should find hope in the portrait the reading paints of a reconciled world made “of every nation, race, people and tongue (Rev, 7:9).”
But, he asked, how do we reach this? “First and most important: these people are living with God; God himself has ‘sheltered them in his tent’ (cf. 7:15).”
This “tent of God” is a reference to the Gospel of John, which reads, “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us (Jn 1:14),” the Pope noted.
“God is not far from us, he is not somewhere out in the universe, somewhere that none of us can go. He has pitched his tent among us: in Jesus he became one of us, flesh and blood just like us. This is his ‘tent.’”
“Let me repeat,” the Pope emphasized, “In Jesus, it is God who ‘camps’ in our midst.”
This encounter with God in our midst happens in our Baptism and in the Eucharist, he said. In the reading from Revelation, Benedict noted, the writer speaks of the “blood of the Lamb,” which alludes to Jesus’ love. “This love, both divine and human, is the bath into which he plunges us at Baptism - the bath with which he washes us, cleansing us so that we can be fit for God and capable of living in his company.”
“The act of Baptism, however, is just a beginning,” he said.
The Baptized believer must continue living in the shelter of the Lord, the Pope insisted, and the way to do this is through receiving the Lamb, following Him to the source of living water, Jesus present in the Sacred Scriptures and “most important” in the reception of Holy Communion.
“This is how we should receive Holy Communion: seeing it as an encounter with Jesus, an encounter with God himself, who leads us to the sources of true life.”
Turning to the parents of the children preparing for First Communion the Pope implored them to create a Catholic culture at home. The Pontiff asked them to walk with their children on the path to Holy Communion, continue going with them to Mass, and pray with them at home. “Family life becomes more joyful and expansive whenever God is there and his closeness is experienced in prayer.”
Pope Benedict then addressed the catechists and religion teachers, urging them to keep the search for God alive in their schools. “I know that in our pluralistic world it is no easy thing in schools to bring up the subject of faith. But it is hardly enough for our children and young people to learn technical knowledge and skills alone, and not the criteria that give knowledge and skill their direction and meaning.”
“Encourage your students not only to raise questions about particular things, but also to ask about the why and the wherefore of life as a whole. Help them to realize that any answers that do not finally lead to God are insufficient.”
For their part, the Pope said, priests and those who assist in parish life should do all they can to make the parish, a “spiritual community.” The parish should be, “a great family where we also experience the even greater family of the universal Church, and learn through the liturgy, catechesis and all the events of parish life to walk together on the way of true life.”
“These three places of education - the family, the school and the parish - go together, and they help us to find the way that leads to the sources of life, towards ‘life in abundance.’”
Following the Holy Father’s reflection, those involved in catechesis in the diocese came forward along with some of the children who will receive soon receive First Communion, reflected on the Pope’s words and their work in teaching the faith and offered prayers of petition. The Pontiff concluded the service by offering his blessing to the faithful and joining them in singing the “Salve Regina.”