Archive for October, 2008

On Loving Jesus as Mary Did

October 29, 2008

“She Allowed God to Fill Her With Love”

VIENNA, Austria, SEPT. 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the German-language address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before reciting the midday Angelus at the Cathedral of St. Stephen.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

It was a particularly beautiful experience this morning to be able to celebrate the Lord’s Day with all of you in such a dignified and solemn manner in the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Stephen. The celebration of the Eucharist, carried out with due dignity, helps us to realize the immense grandeur of God’s gift to us in the Holy Mass. In this way, we also draw near to each another and experience the joy of God. So I thank all those who, by their active contribution to the preparation of the liturgy or by their recollected participation in the sacred mysteries, created an atmosphere in which we truly felt God’s presence. Heartfelt thanks and Vergelt’s Gott to all!

In my homily I wished to say something about the meaning of Sunday and about today’s Gospel, and I think that this led us to discover that the love of God, who surrendered himself into our hands for our salvation, gives us the inner freedom to let go of our own lives, in order to find true life. Mary’s participation in this love gave her the strength to say “yes” unconditionally. In her encounter with the gentle, respectful love of God, who awaits the free cooperation of his creature in order to bring about his saving plan, the Blessed Virgin was able to overcome all hesitation and, in view of this great and unprecedented plan, to entrust herself into his hands. With complete availability, interior openness and freedom, she allowed God to fill her with love, with his Holy Spirit. Mary, the simple woman, could thus receive within herself the Son of God, and give to the world the Saviour who had first given himself to her.

In today’s celebration of the Eucharist, the Son of God has also been given to us. Those who have received Holy Communion, in a special way, carry the Risen Lord within themselves. Just as Mary bore him in her womb — a defenceless little child, totally dependent on the love of his Mother — so Jesus Christ, under the species of bread, has entrusted himself to us, dear brothers and sisters. Let us love this Jesus who gives himself so completely into our hands! Let us love him as Mary loved him! And let us bring him to others, just as Mary brought him to Elizabeth as the source of joyful exultation! The Virgin gave the Word of God a human body, and thus enabled him to come into the world as a man. Let us give our own bodies to the Lord, and let them become ever more fully instruments of God’s love, temples of the Holy Spirit! Let us bring Sunday, and its immense gift, into the world!

Let us ask Mary to teach us how to become, like her, inwardly free, so that in openness to God we may find true freedom, true life, genuine and lasting joy.



Gregory of Nyssa on Perfection

October 17, 2008

“God Continually Expands the Possibilities of the Soul”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. The Holy Father continued his reflection focused on St. Gregory of Nyssa.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I offer you some aspects of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s teaching, which we already talked about last Wednesday.

First of all, Gregory of Nyssa shows a highly elevated sense of man’s dignity. Man’s aim, says the bishop-saint, is to make himself like God, and he reaches this end above all through love, knowledge and the practice of the virtues, “luminous rays that come down from the divine nature” (“De beatitudinibus” 6: PG 44,1272C), in a perpetual and dynamic adherence to good, like a runner stretching forward.

Gregory uses, to this end, an effective image, already present in the Letter of Paul to the Philippians: “épekteinómenos” (3:13), which means “stretching oneself out” toward that which is greater, toward the truth and love.

This representative expression indicates a profound reality: The perfection we seek is not something that is conquered once and for all; perfection is a permanent journey, a constant commitment to progress, because complete likeness to God can never be achieved; we are always on the path (cf. “Homilia in Canticum” 12: PG 44,1025d).

The story of each soul is that of a love which is totally fulfilled, and at the same time open to new horizons, because God continually expands the possibilities of the soul, so as to make it capable of ever greater good. God himself, who placed the seeds of good within us, and from whom comes every initiative of holiness, “forms the block of clay … polishing and cleaning our spirit, forming Christ in us” (“In Psalmos” 2:11: PG 44,544B).

Gregory is careful to clarify: “It is not the result of our efforts, neither is it the result of human strength to become like the Deity, but rather it is the result of God’s generosity, who even from his origin offered to our nature the grace of likeness with him” (“De virginitate” 12:2: SC 119,408-410).

For the soul, therefore, “it is not a matter of knowing something about God, but in having God within us” (“De beatitudinibus” 6: PG 44, 1269c). As Gregory notes, “divinity is purity, it is freedom from the passions and removal from all evil: If all these things are in you, God is truly in you” (“De beatitudinibus” 6: PG 44,1272C).

When we have God within us, when man loves God, through that reciprocity that is part of the law of love, he wants what God himself wants (cf. “Homilia in Canticum” 9: PG 44,956ac), and therefore cooperates in forming the divine image within himself, so that “our spiritual birth is the result of a free choice, and we are parents of ourselves in some way, creating ourselves as we want to be, and forming ourselves through our will according to the model we choose” (“Vita Moysis” 2:3: SC 1bis,108).

To ascend to God, man must be purified: “The path, that leads human nature to heaven, is nothing more than separation from the evils of this world. … Becoming like God means becoming just, holy and good. … If therefore, according to Ecclesiastes (5:1), ‘God is in heaven’ and if, according to the prophet (Psalm 72:28) you ‘belong to God,’ it necessarily follows that you must be there where God is, from the moment that you are united to him. Because he has commanded that, when you pray, you call God Father, he tells you to become like your heavenly Father, with a life worthy of God, as the Lord commands us more explicitly in other passages, saying: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!’ (Matthew 5:48)” (“De oratione dominica” 2: PG 44,1145ac).

In this journey of spiritual ascent, Christ is the model and the master, who shows us the beautiful image of God (cf. “De perfectione Christiana”: PG 46,272a). Looking at him, each one of us discovers ourselves to be “the painter of our own life,” in which our will undertakes the work and our virtues are the colors at our disposal (ibid.: PG 46,272b).

Therefore, if man is considered worthy of Christ’s name, how must he act?

Gregory responds in this way: “[He must] always examine his inner thoughts, his words and actions, to see if they are focused on Christ or if they are far from him” (ibid.: PG 46,284c).

Gregory, as we mentioned earlier, speaks of ascent: ascent to God in prayer through purity of heart; but ascent to God also through love of neighbor. Love is the ladder that leads us to God. Therefore, he heartily encourages each one his listeners: “Be generous with these brothers, victims of the plight. Give to the hungry that which you deny your own stomach” (ibid.: PG 46,457c).

With great clarity Gregory reminds us that we are all dependent on God, and therefore he exclaims: “Do not think that everything is yours! There must also be something for the poor, the friends of God. The truth, in fact, is that everything comes from God, the universal Father, and that we are brothers, and we belong to the same progeny” (ibid PG 46,465b).

And so the Christian must examine himself, Gregory insists: “What does it profit you to fast and abstain from meat, if with your wickedness you bite your brother? What do you gain from it, in God’s eyes, from not eating what is yours, if you unjustly strip from the hands of a poor man what is his?” (ibid.: PG 46,456a).

We conclude our catecheses on the three great Cappadocian Fathers by recalling the important aspect of the spiritual doctrine of Gregory of Nyssa, which is prayer.

To make progress on the journey toward perfection and to welcome God within ourselves, to carry within us the Spirit of God, the love of God, man must turn to him in prayer with faith: “Through prayer we are able to be with God. He who is with God is far from the enemy. Prayer is the support and defense of chastity, the restraint of anger, the quieting and control of pride. Prayer is the guardian of virginity, protection of fidelity in marriage, hope for those who keep vigil, abundance of fruit for farmers, security for the traveler” (“De oratione dominica” 1: PG 44,1124A-B).

The Christian prays, inspired by the Lord’s prayer: “If we want to pray for God’s Kingdom to descend upon us, we ask this with the power of the Word: That I be removed from corruption, freed from death, released from the chains of error; that death will never reign over me, that the tyranny of evil will never have power over us, that the enemy never rule over me or make me a prisoner through sin, but may your kingdom come, so that the passions that rule me may be removed from me or, better yet, be obliterated” (ibid., 3: PG 44,1156d-1157a).

At the end of his earthly life, the Christian can approach God in serenity. In speaking about this, St. Gregory refers to the death of his sister Macrina and writes that at the moment of her death she prayed: “You who have the power on earth to remit sins forgive me, so that I can have the Risen One” (Psalm 38:14), and that I can be found spotless in your eyes, in the moment in which I am stripped of my body (cf. Collosians 2:11), so that my spirit, holy and immaculate (cf. Ephesians 5:27) will be welcomed into your hands, “like incense before you” (Psalm 140:2)” (“Vita Macrinae” 24: SC 178,224).

This teaching of Gregory’s remains valid: not only speaking about God, but bringing God within us. We do this through prayer and by living in the spirit of love for all of our brothers.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the teachers of the early Church, we once again consider Saint Gregory of Nyssa, one of the great Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century. At the heart of Saint Gregory’s teaching is the innate dignity of every man and woman, made in the image of God and called to grow more fully into his likeness. Human fulfillment is found in a dynamic process of growth towards that perfection which has its fullness in God; daily we “press forward” (cf. Phil 3:13) towards union with God through love, knowledge and the cultivation of the virtues. This ascent to God calls for a process of purification which, by his grace, perfects our human nature and produces fruits of justice, holiness and goodness. In all of this, Jesus Christ, the perfect image of the Father, is our model and teacher. Gregory insists on Christ’s presence in the poor, who challenge us to acknowledge our own dependence on God and to imitate his mercy. Finally, Gregory points to the importance of prayer modeled on the Lord’s own prayer for the triumph of God’s Kingdom. May his teaching inspire us to seek that holiness and purity of heart which will one day enable us to see God face to face!

* * *

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, including the groups from England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Japan, Korea and the United States. I thank you for the affection with which you have greeted me. Upon you all, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.



On the Home and the Public Square

October 14, 2008

“Let Us Spiritually Enter Into the Holy House”

LORETO, Italy, SEPT. 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with young people gathered in Loreto.

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At the close of this solemn Eucharistic celebration, let us recite, my dear young people, the Angelus, in spiritual communion with all those who are joined to us via radio and television. Loreto, after Nazareth, is the ideal place to pray meditating on the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God.

So, in this moment, my invitation is for us all to enter with our minds and hearts into the sanctuary of the Holy House, within those walls which according to tradition come from Nazareth, the place where the Virgin said “yes” to God and conceived in her own womb the Eternal Word incarnate.

Before we depart from this assembly, let us leave for a moment the “agora,” the public square, and spiritually enter into the Holy House. There is a reciprocal relationship between the public square and the home. The square is large, it is open, it is the place of the encounter with others, of dialogue, of contact; home, on the other hand, is the place of meditation and interior silence, where the Word can be deeply welcomed.

To bring God into the public square, we must have received him interiorly at home, like Mary in the annunciation. And vice versa, the house is opened onto the square: This is also suggested by the fact that the Holy House has three walls, not four. It is an open home, opened onto the world, life, and also onto this agora of young Italians.

Dear friends, it is a great privilege for Italy, in this wonderful corner of the Marche, to give hospitality to the shrine of the Holy House. Be rightly proud about this and profit from it!

In the most important moments of your life come here, at least in your heart, to spiritually recollect yourselves between the walls of the Holy House. Pray to the Virgin Mary that you might obtain the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, to respond fully and generously to the voice of God. Thereby you will become true witnesses in the public square, in society, bearers of a Gospel that is not abstract but incarnate in your life.




On St. Gregory of Nyssa

October 13, 2008

“A Pillar of Orthodoxy”

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. The reflection focused on St. Gregory of Nyssa.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the last few catecheses I spoke about two great doctors of the Church of the fourth century, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of Cappadocia, in present-day Turkey. Today we add a third, Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who showed himself to be a man of meditative character, with a great capacity for reflection, and a vivacious intellect, open to the culture of his time. He showed himself in this way to be an original and deep thinker in Christian history.

Born in 335, his Christian formation was carried out largely by his brother Basil — whom he defined as “father and teacher” (Ep 13,4: SC 363, 198) — and by his sister Macrina. He completed his studies, with a particular appreciation for philosophy and rhetoric. At the beginning, he dedicated himself to teaching and got married. Then he too, like his brother and sister, dedicated himself entirely to the aesthetic life. Later he was elected bishop of Nyssa, and showed himself to be a zealous pastor, earning the esteem of the community. Accused of economic embezzlements by heretical adversaries, he had to abandon his episcopal see for a brief time, but then made a triumphant return (cf. Ep. 6: SC 363, 164-170), and continued to commit himself to the defense of the true faith.

Especially after Basil’s death, almost garnering his spiritual legacy, Gregory cooperated in the triumph of orthodoxy. He participated in various synods; he tried to settle divisions between the Churches; he took an active part in the Church’s reorganization; and, as “a pillar of orthodoxy,” he was a protagonist at the Council of Constantinople in 381, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He received various official appointments from Emperor Theodosius, he gave important homilies and eulogies, and dedicated himself to writing various theological works. In 394, he participated yet again in a synod held in Constantinople. The date of his death is unknown.

Gregory expresses with clarity the scope of his studies, the supreme goal for which he aims in his theological work: to not engage one’s life in vane pursuits, but to find the light that enables one to discern that which is truly useful (cf. “In Ecclesiasten Hom” 1: SC 416, 106-146).

He found this supreme good in Christianity, thanks to which “imitation of the divine nature” is possible (“De Professione Christiana”: PG 46, 244C). With his acute intelligence and his vast knowledge of philosophy and theology, he defended the Christian faith against heretics, who negated the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit (like Eunomios and the Macedonians), or negated Christ’s perfect humanity (like Apollinaris).

He commented on sacred Scripture, concentrating on the creation of man. For him the essential theme was creation. He saw the reflection of the Creator in the creature and therein found the path to God. But he also wrote an important book on the life of Moses, which shows him as a man on the path toward God. This hill leading to Mt. Sinai becomes for him an image of our own hill in human life toward true life, toward the meeting with God. He also interpreted the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father, and the beatitudes. In his “Great Catechetical Discourse” (“Oratio Catechetica Magna”) he laid out the fundamental points of theology, not for an academic theology closed in on itself, but to offer catechists a system of reference to keep in mind in their teaching, a sort of framework within which a pedagogic interpretation of the faith could move.

Gregory is also outstanding because of his spiritual doctrine. His theology was not an academic reflection, but an expression of a spiritual life, of a lived life of faith. His reputation as a “father of mysticism” can be seen in various treatises — like “De Professione Christiana” and “De Perfectione Christiana” — the path that Christians must take to reach true life, perfection. He exalted consecrated virginity (“De Virginitate”), and likewise offered his sister Macrina as an outstanding model of life, who remained a guide for him always, an example (cf. “Vita Macrinae”).

He gave various discourses and homilies, and wrote numerous letters. In commenting on the creation of man, Gregory highlights the fact that God, “the best artist, forges our nature so as to make it suitable for the exercise of royalty. Through the superiority given by the soul, and through the very make-up of the body, he arranges things in such a way that man is truly fit for regal power” (“De Hominis Opificio” 4: PG 44, 136B).

But we see how man, in the web of sins, often abusive of creation, does not act in a regal fashion. For this reason, in fact, in order to obtain true responsibility toward creatures, he must be penetrated by God and live in his light. Man is a reflection of that original beauty which is God: “Everything created by God was very good,” writes the holy bishop.

And he adds: “The story of creation witnesses to it (cf. Genesis 1:31). Man was also listed among those very good things, adorned with a beauty far superior to all of the good things. In fact, what else could be good, on par with one who was similar to pure and incorruptible beauty? … Reflection and image of eternal life, he was truly good, no he was very good, with the shining sign of life on his face” (“Homilia in Canticum” 12: PG 44, 1020C).

Man was honored by God and placed above every other creature: “The sky was not made in God’s image, not the moon, not the sun, not the beauty of the stars, no other things that appear in creation. Only you (human soul) were made to be the image of nature that surpasses every intellect, likeness of incorruptible beauty, mark of true divinity, vessel of blessed life, image of the true light, that when you look upon it you become that which he his, because through the reflected ray coming from your purity you imitate he who shines within you. Nothing that exists can measure up to your greatness” (“Homilia in Canticum” 2: PG 44,805D).

Let us meditate on this praise of man. We see how man has been debased by sin. And let us try to return to that original greatness: Only if God is present will man arrive at this his true greatness.

Man, therefore, recognized within him the reflection of the divine light. Purifying his heart, he returns to being, as he was in the beginning, a clear image of God, beauty itself (cf. “Oratio Catechetica” 6: SC 453, 174). In this way man, purifying himself, can see God, as do the pure in heart (cf. Matthew 5:8): “If, with a diligent and attentive standard of living, you will wash away the bad things that have deposited upon your heart, the divine beauty will shine in you. … Contemplating yourself, you will see within you he who is the desire of your heart, and you will be blessed” (“De Beatitudinibus,” 6: PG 44,1272AB). Therefore, one must wash away the bad things that have deposited upon our heart and find again God’s light within us.

Man has as his end the contemplation of God. Only in him can he find his fulfillment. To somehow anticipate this objective already in this life, he must work incessantly toward a spiritual life, a life in dialogue with God. In other words — and this is the most important lesson that St. Gregory of Nyssa gives us — man’s total fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived with God, that, in this way, becomes luminous for others and for the world.

[The Pope made an appeal for regions affected by recent disasters:]

In the last few days, some geographical regions have been devastated by severe calamities: I am referring to the floods in some Eastern countries, as well as the disastrous fires in Greece, Italy and other European nations. Faced with such drastic emergencies, which have resulted in numerous victims and enormous material damages, one cannot help but be worried about the irresponsible behavior of some individuals who put the safety of others at risk and destroy the environmental heritage, a precious good for all of humanity. I unite myself to all those who rightly stigmatize these criminal actions and I invite everyone to pray for the victims of these tragedies.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the younger brother and spiritual heir of Saint Basil. Gregory’s outstanding education and intellectual gifts led him first to teaching. He then embraced the ascetic life, and eventually was ordained Bishop of Nyssa. Like the other Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory contributed greatly to defence of the faith in the period following the Council of Nicaea, and played a leading role at the Council of Constantinople, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. For Gregory, the purpose of all learning and culture is the discernment of the supreme human good, the truth that enables us to find authentic and lasting fulfilment. This supreme good is found in Christianity. In his many catechetical, spiritual and exegetical writings, Gregory emphasizes our creation in the image of God, our royal vocation as stewards of the created order, and our responsibility to cultivate our inner beauty, which is a participation in the uncreated beauty of the Creator. By purifying our hearts and progressing in holiness, we are drawn to the vision of God and thus to the satisfaction of the deepest longings of every human heart.




On Passing Through the Narrow Gate

October 13, 2008

“We Must Commit Ourselves to Being Little”

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in the courtyard of the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Even today’s liturgy proposes to us an illuminating and troubling phrase of Christ. During his last trip up to Jerusalem someone asks him: “Lord will those who are saved be few?” And Jesus answers: “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). What is meant by this “narrow gate”? Why is it that many people do not succeed in entering through it? Is it perhaps a passage that is reserved only for a few elect?

When we consider it, in effect, the way of reasoning of Jesus’ interlocutors is always with us: the temptation to think of religious practice as a source of privileges and certainties is always waiting in ambush for us. In truth, Christ’s message goes in exactly the opposite direction: Everyone can enter into life, but the gate is “narrow” for everyone. There is no privileged group. The way to eternal life is open to all, but it is “narrow” because it is demanding, it requires commitment, self-denial and mortification of one’s own egoism.

Once again, as we have seen in past Sundays, the Gospel invites us to consider the future that awaits us and for which we must prepare during our pilgrimage on earth. The salvation that Jesus worked through his death and resurrection is universal. He is the only Redeemer and he invites everyone to the banquet of eternal life. But with one and the same condition: that of making the effort to follow him and imitate him, taking up one’s cross, as he did, and dedicating one’s life to the service of our brothers. One and universal, therefore, is this condition for entering into the life of heaven.

On the last day — Jesus observes in the Gospel — we will not be judged on the basis of presumed privileges, but by our works. The “workers of iniquity” will find themselves excluded, while those who have done good and sought justice, at the cost of sacrifice, will be welcomed. For this reason it will not be enough to declare oneself a “friend” of Christ, bragging about false merits: “We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets” (Luke 13:26).

True friendship with Christ is expressed by one’s way of life: it is expressed by goodness of heart, with humility, meekness and mercy, love of justice and truth, sincere and honest commitment to peace and reconciliation. This, we might say, is the “I.D. card” that qualifies us as authentic “friends”; this is the “passport” that permits us to enter into eternal life.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we too want to pass through the narrow gate we must commit ourselves to being little, that is, humble of heart, like Jesus. Like Mary, his and our Mother. She was the first, following the Son, to travel the way of the cross and she was assumed into the glory of heaven, as we recalled some days ago. The Christian people call on her as “launa Caeli,” Gate of Heaven. Let us ask her to guide us, in our daily choices, along the road that leads to the “Gate of Heaven.”

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. May your stay at Castel Gandolfo and Rome renew your love of the universal Church. I welcome the new seminarians of the Pontifical North American College, and pray that their formative years in Rome will help them to grow in wisdom and pastoral charity. Among you I welcome the participants in the cycling pilgrimage from Canterbury Cathedral to Rome. You have cycled the traditional Via Francigena, following in the footsteps of so many men and women of faith on their way to the tombs of Peter and Paul. I pray that your visit will be a time of spiritual and ecumenical enrichment. May Christ keep you and your families in his love.

To the Muslim, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholic religious leaders from Kazakhstan, present at today’s Angelus, I wish to extend warm greetings. Your gathering in Assisi and in Padua, together with your meetings in the Vatican, are a sure sign of the hope that mutual understanding and respect between religious communities can overcome distrust and promote the way of peace which springs from truth. Be assured of my prayers for the success of your visit and may your efforts bear much fruit for the noble land of Kazakhstan and beyond!