Archive for the ‘Benedict xvi’ Category

On Our Lord’s Prayer at the Last Supper

January 24, 2012
“When Trial Comes Upon the Disciples, Jesus’ Prayer Sustains Their Weakness”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

On our journey of reflection on the prayer of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, I would like to meditate today on the particularly solemn moment of His prayer at the Last Supper.

The temporal and emotional backdrop to the banquet in which Jesus takes leave of His friends is the imminence of His death, which He feels already to be near at hand. For a long time, Jesus had spoken about His Passion and had sought to increasingly draw His disciples into this perspective. The Gospel according to Mark states that from the time of their departure on the journey to Jerusalem — in the villages of the far-off Caesarea Philippi — Jesus had begun “to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). Moreover, on the very day He was preparing to bid the disciples farewell, the life of the people of Israel was marked by the approaching feast of Passover; i.e. of the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. This liberation — experienced in the past, and awaited anew in the present and for the future — was relived in the family celebrations of the Passover.

The Last Supper takes place within this context, but with a fundamental newness. Jesus looks to His Passion, Death and Resurrection fully aware of them. He wills to experience this Supper with His disciples, but with a wholly unique character, different from all other banquets: It is His Supper, in which He gives Something totally new: Himself. Thus it is that Jesus celebrates His Passover and anticipates His Cross and Resurrection.

This newness is emphasized for us by the chronology of the Last Supper account in John’s Gospel, which does not describe it as the Passover meal precisely because Jesus intends to inaugurate something new, to celebrate His Passover — certainly linked to the events of the Exodus. And for John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when, in the temple of Jerusalem, the Passover lambs were being immolated.

What, then, is the heart of this Supper? The actions of the breaking of bread, of distributing it to those who are His own, and of sharing the chalice of wine — with the words that accompany them and within the context of prayer in which they occur: It is the institution of the Eucharist; it is the great prayer of Jesus and the Church. But let us look more closely at this moment.

First of all, the New Testament tradition of the institution of the Eucharist (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Luke 22:14-20; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29), pointing to the prayer that introduces the actions and words of Jesus over the bread and wine, uses two parallel and complementary words. Paul and Luke speak of eucharistía/thanksgiving: “He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19). Mark and Matthew, on the other hand, emphasize the aspect of eulogia/blessing: “He took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (Mark 14:22). Both of the Greek words eucaristeìn and eulogein indicate the Jewish berakah; that is, the Jewish tradition’s great prayer of thanksgiving that inaugurated the major feasts.

The two different Greek words indicate the two intrinsic and complementary directions of this prayer. The berakah, in fact, is first and foremost thanksgiving and praise that ascends to God for the gift received: In Jesus’ Last Supper, it is bread made from the wheat that God brings forth from the earth, and wine produced from the mature fruit of the vine. This prayer of praise and thanksgiving raised to God returns as a blessing that descends from God on the gift and enriches it. Thus, thanksgiving and praise of God become blessing, and the offering given to God returns to man blessed by the Almighty. The words of the institution of the Eucharist belong within this context of prayer; in them, the praise and blessing of theberakah become the blessing and transformation of the bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Before the words of institution come the actions: the breaking of bread and the offering of wine. The breaking of bread and the passing of the chalice is in the first instance the function of the head of the family, who welcomes the members of his family to his meal; but these are also gestures of hospitality, of welcoming the stranger who is not part of the household to table fellowship and communion. These very gestures, in the meal with which Jesus takes leave of those who are his own, acquire an entirely new depth: He gives a visible sign of welcome to the meal in which God gives Himself. Jesus offers and communicates Himself in the form of bread and wine.

But how can this be? How can Jesus, in that moment, give Himself? Jesus knows that His life is about to be taken from Him through the torture of the Cross, the death penalty of men who are not free, what Cicero defined as the mors turpissima crucis — [the most shameful death of the cross]. With the gift of the bread and wine that He offers at the Last Supper, Jesus anticipates His Death and Resurrection by bringing to fulfillment what he had said in the Good Shepherd discourse: “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). He therefore offers in anticipation the life that will be taken from Him, and in this way He transforms His violent death into a free act of self-giving for others and to others. The violence suffered is transformed into an active, free and redemptive sacrifice.

Once again, in prayer — begun in accordance with the ritual forms of the biblical tradition — Jesus reveals His identity and His determination to accomplish unto the end His mission of total love, of offering in obedience to the Father’s Will. The profound originality of His gift of Himself to those who are His own through the memorial of the Eucharist is the summit of the prayer that marks the farewell supper with His disciples.

In contemplating Jesus’ actions and words on that night, we see clearly that His intimate and constant relationship with the Father is the locus where He accomplishes the act of leaving to His disciples, and to each one of us, the Sacrament of love, the “Sacramentum caritatis”. Twice in the Cenacle do the words resound: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). He celebrates His Passover by giving Himself, by becoming the true Lamb that brings to fulfillment the whole of ancient worship. For this reason St. Paul, speaking to the Christians in Corinth, affirms: “Christ, our paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

The Evangelist Luke has preserved another precious element of the events of the Last Supper that allows us to see the moving depth of Jesus’ prayer on that night for those who are His own, His attentiveness to each one. Beginning with the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing, Jesus comes to the Eucharistic gift — the gift of Himself — and as He bestows the decisive sacramental reality, he turns to Peter.  At the end of the supper, He says to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

When trial comes upon the disciples, Jesus’ prayer sustains their weakness, their struggle to comprehend that God’s way passes through the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection, anticipated in the offering of the bread and wine. The Eucharist is the food of pilgrims that becomes strength also for whoever is tired, exhausted and disoriented. And the prayer is especially for Peter, so that once converted, he might confirm his brothers in faith. The Evangelist Luke records that it was Jesus’ gaze that sought out Peter’s face at the very moment he consummated his triple denial, in order to give him the strength to continue on his journey after Him: “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and fixed his gaze upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him” (Luke 22:60-61).

Dear brothers and sisters, in participating in the Eucharist we experience in an extraordinary way the prayer that Jesus offered, and continually offers, for each one of us in order that evil — which we all encounter in life — may not have the power to overcome us, and so that the transforming power of Christ’s Death and Resurrection may act in us. In the Eucharist, the Church responds to Jesus’ command: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26); she repeats the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing and, with this, the words of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood.

Our celebrations of the Eucharist are a being drawn into that moment of prayer, a uniting ourselves again and again to Jesus’ prayer. From her earliest days, the Church has understood the words of consecration as part of her praying together with Jesus; as a central part of the praise filled with thanksgiving through which the fruit of the earth and of men’s hands are given to us anew by God in the form of Jesus’ Body and Blood, as God’s gift of Himself in His Son’s self-emptying love (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, II, pg. 128). In participating in the Eucharist, in nourishing ourselves on the Flesh and Blood of the Son of God, we unite our prayer to that of the paschal Lamb on His last night, so that our lives might not be lost, despite our weakness and infidelity, but might be transformed.

Dear friends, let us ask the Lord that, after having worthily prepared ourselves, also through the Sacrament of Penance, our participation in His Eucharist, which is indispensible for Christian life, might always be the summit of our prayer. Let us ask that, by being united deeply to His own offering to the Father, we too may transform our crosses into a free and responsible sacrifice of love to God and to our brothers and sisters. Thank you.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, when our Lord instituted the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Jesus’ gift of himself anticipates his sacrifice on the Cross and his glorious Resurrection. The Eucharist is the supreme prayer of Jesus and of his Church. At the Last Supper, with its overtones of the Passover and the commemoration of Israel’s liberation, Jesus’ prayer echoes the Hebrew berakah, which includes both thanksgiving and the gift of a blessing. His act of breaking the bread and offering the cup on the night before he died becomes the sign of his redemptive self-oblation in obedience to the Father’s will: he thus appears as the true paschal lamb who brings the ancient worship to fulfilment. Jesus’ prayer also invokes strength for his disciples, especially Peter (cf. Lk 22:31-32). May our celebration of the Eucharist, in obedience to Christ’s command, unite us more deeply to his prayer at the Last Supper and enable us, in union with him, to offer our lives ever more fully in sacrifice to the Father.

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I greet the many school groups from the United States present at today’s Audience, including the deacons from Saint Paul’s Seminary in Minnesota. My greeting also goes to the students of Carmel College in New Zealand. I welcome the participants in the Interfaith Journey from Canada. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and their families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Lastly, an affectionate thought goes to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated last Sunday, offers us the opportunity to recall our own baptism. Dear young people, may you joyfully live out your belonging to the Church, which is the family of Jesus. Dear sick, may the grace of baptism alleviate your sufferings and move you to offer them to Christ for the salvation of mankind. And may you, dear newlyweds, who have now begun your married life together, establish your marriage upon faith, received as a gift on the day of your baptism.

On the Role of Spiritual Guides

January 23, 2012
Helping Those Called to “Recognize the Voice of God and Follow It”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave before and after praying the midday Angelus on Sunday with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

In the biblical readings of this Sunday — the second in Ordinary Time — the theme of vocation emerges: in the Gospel it is the call of the first disciples by Jesus; in the first reading it is the call of the Prophet Samuel. In both accounts there comes to the forefront the importance of the figure who plays the role of mediator, helping the persons called to recognize the voice of God and follow it.

In the case of Samuel, it is Eli, a priest of the temple of Silo, where in ancient times the ark of the covenant was kept before it is was transported to Jerusalem. One night Samuel, who was still a boy and had lived in the service of the temple from the time that he was small, heard a call three times in a row while he was sleeping, and ran to Eli. But Eli had not called him. The third time Eli understood and told Samuel: if you are called again respond: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). And so it happened and from then on Samuel learned how to recognize God’s words and became his faithful prophet.

In the case of the disciples of Jesus, John the Baptist was the mediating figure. In fact, John had a large circle of disciples, and among these were the two pairs of brothers, Simon and Andrew and John and James, fishermen from Galilee. To two of them the Baptist points out Jesus the day after his baptism in the Jordan River. He indicates him to them saying: “Behold the lamb of God!” (John 1:36), which was the equivalent of saying: “Behold the Messiah!” And those two followed Jesus, remained with him for some time and were convinced that he was truly the Christ. Immediately they told the others this and thus was formed the first nucleus of what would become the college of the apostles.

In the light of these two texts, I would like to underscore the decisive role of the spiritual guide in the journey of faith and, in particular, in the response to the vocation of special consecration for the service of God and his people. The very Christian faith in itself presupposes proclamation and witness: in fact they consist in adhering to the good news that Jesus of Nazareth is dead and risen, that he is God. And thus the call to follow Jesus closely, renouncing a family of one’s own to dedicate oneself to the great family of the Church, normally passes through the witness and the suggestion of an “older brother,” usually a priest. But this is not to forget the fundamental role of parents, who with their genuine and joyful faith and their marital love show their children that it is beautiful and possible to build a whole life on the love of God.

Dear friends, let us pray to the Virgin Mary for all teachers, especially priests and parents, that they have complete awareness of the importance of their spiritual role to help young people not only in human growth but also in answering God’s call and saying: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

[After the Angelus the Holy Father spoke to the faithful in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we celebrate the World Day of the Migrant and the Refugee. Millions of persons are involved in the phenomenon of migrations, but they are not numbers! They are men and women, children, young people and old people who seek a place where they can live in peace.

In my message for this World Day of the Migrant and the Refugee, I called attention to the theme “Migrations and new evangelization,” stressing that migrants are not only recipients but also protagonists of the proclamation of the Gospel in the contemporary world. In this context I am happy to welcome the representatives of the migrant communities of Rome who are present in St. Peter’s Square today. Welcome!

I would also like to recall that from the 18th to the 25th of this month of January there takes place the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I invite all, at the personal and community level, to join spiritually and, where possible, practically, in calling upon God for the gift of full unity among Christ’s disciples.

[In English he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this Angelus prayer. This Sunday we hear in the Gospel of John how the first Apostles responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. This response is a total giving of oneself which is demonstrated through the change of Simon’s name to Peter. May we strive to remain open to the Lord’s will for our lives. I wish all of you a good Sunday. May God bless you!

[Concluding in Italian he said:]

I wish everyone a good Sunday, a good week. Thank you for your attention. Have a good Sunday!

On Peace, Missions and Justice

March 15, 2009

On Peace, Missions and Justice

“A Strong Effort Is Required By All”

NAPLES, Italy, OCT. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today after celebrating Mass in Naples, and before leading the recitation of the midday Angelus. The Pope was in Naples to open the 21st International Encounter of Peoples and Religions.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the end of this solemn celebration, I would like to renew, my dear friends of Naples, my greeting to you and my thanks for the cordial reception that you gave me. I address a particular greeting to the delegations that have come from various parts of the world to participate in the International Meeting for Peace sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio. The theme of this meeting is “Toward a World Without Violence: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue.” May this important cultural and religious initiative contribute to consolidating peace in the world.
Let us pray for this. But let us also pray today in a special way for missionaries. Today, in fact, we celebrate World Mission Sunday, which has a very significant motto: “All the Churches For All the World.” Every particular Church is responsible for the evangelization of all of humanity, and this cooperation among the Churches was augmented by Pope Paul VI 50 years ago with the encyclical “Fidei Donum.” Let us not fail to give our spiritual and material support to those who work on the frontlines of the missions: priests, religious and lay people, who often encounter grave difficulties in their work, and even persecutions.

Let us give these prayer intentions to Mary Most Holy, who, in the month of October we love to invoke with the title with which she is venerated at the shrine of Pompeii, not far from here: Queen of the Rosary. To her we entrust the many pilgrims who have traveled from Caserta.

May the Holy Virgin also protect those who in various ways commit themselves to the common good and the just order of society, as has been highlighted rather well during the 45th Social Week of Italian Catholics. The event is being held in these days in Pistoia and Pisa, 100 years after the first such Week, promoted above all by Giuseppe Toniolo, an illustrious figure among Christian economists.

There are many problems and challenges that we face today. A strong effort is required by all, especially lay faithful working in social and political spheres, to assure that every person, in particular the youth, be assured the indispensable conditions for developing their natural talents and cultivating the generous choices of service to their families and the entire community.



On the Trip to Austria

November 1, 2008

“Above All It Was a Pilgrimage”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 12, 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 reflected on his recent pastoral visit to Austria.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I intend to focus on the pastoral visit that I had the joy of making a few days ago to Austria, a country that is especially familiar to me, because it borders my native land and because of the numerous contacts that I have always had with it. The specific motive for this visit was the 850th anniversary of the Shrine of Mariazell, the most important in Austria, favored also by the faithful in Hungary and visited by pilgrims of other neighboring nations. 

Above all it was a pilgrimage, which had as its theme “To Look to Christ”: to meet Mary who shows Jesus to us. I offer my heartfelt thanks to Cardinal Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, and all of the Austrian bishops for the great effort with which they prepared and followed my visit. I thank the Austrian government and all of the civil and military authorities who offered their valuable cooperation. In a special way, I would like to thank the president for the cordiality with which he welcomed and accompanied me during various moments of the trip. 

The first stop was Mariensaule, the historic column upon which stands the statue of the Immaculate Virgin. There I met with thousands of young people and I began my pilgrimage. I did not miss the chance to go to Judenplatz to render homage to the monument that commemorates the Shoah.

Aware of Austria’s history and its close ties with the Holy See, as well as Vienna’s important role in international politics, the program of my pastoral visit included meetings with the president of the republic and the diplomatic corps. These are valuable opportunities, in which the Successor of Peter has the chance to exhort the leaders of nations to favor the cause of peace and authentic economic and social development. 

Focusing on Europe, I renewed my encouragement to go forward with the current process of unification on the basis of values inspired by its shared Christian heritage. Mariazell, in the end, is one of the symbols of the meeting in faith of European peoples. How can we forget that Europe bears a tradition of thought that holds together faith, reason and sentiment? Illustrious philosophers, even outside the faith, recognized the central role of Christianity in preserving the modern conscience from nihilistic or fundamentalist derivatives. Given the current situation of the European continent it was therefore favorable to make time for the meeting with the political and diplomatic leaders in Vienna.

I carried out the actual pilgrimage on Saturday, Sept. 8, feast of the Nativity of Mary, from whom Mariazell takes its name. Its origins go back to 1157, when a Benedictine monk from the nearby Abbey of St. Lambrecht, sent to preach there, experienced the special help of Mary. The monk carried a small wooden statue of Mary. The cell (“zell”) where the monk placed the statue later became a place of pilgrimage and upon which, over the last two centuries, an important shrine was built, where Our Lady of Grace, so-called Magna Mater Austriae, is venerated still today. 

It was a great joy for me to return as the Successor of Peter to that holy place, so dear to the people of Central and Eastern Europe. There I admired the exemplary courage of thousands and thousands of pilgrims who, despite the rain and cold, wanted to be present for this festive occurrence, with great joy and faith, and where I explained to them the central theme of my visit: “To Look to Christ,” a theme that the Austrian bishops wisely elaborated on during the nine-month period of preparations. 

It was only when we reached the shrine that we fully understood the full sense of that theme: to look to Christ. Before us was the statue of Our Lady that with one hand pointed to the Baby Jesus, and above her, above the basilica’s altar, the Crucified One. There our pilgrimage reached its goal: We contemplated the face of God in that Child in the arms of his Mother and in that Man with the outstretched arms. To look at Jesus with the eyes of Mary means to meet God who is Love, who was made man and died on a cross for us.

At the end of the Mass in Mariazell, I conferred a “mandate” to members of the parish pastoral councils, which have recently been renewed in all of Austria — an eloquent ecclesiastical gesture with which I placed under Mary’s protection the great network of parishes that are at the service of communion and mission. 

At the shrine I experienced joyous moments of fraternity with the bishops of the country and the Benedictine community. I met with priests, religious, deacons and seminarians and celebrated vespers with them. Spiritually united to Mary, we magnified the Lord for the humble devotion of many men and women who trust in his mercy and consecrate themselves to God’s service. These people, despite their human limitations, or rather, in the simplicity and humility of their humanity, work to offer to all a reflection of the goodness and beauty of God, following Jesus on the path of poverty, chastity and obedience, three vows that must be well understood in their true Christological meaning, not individualistic but relational and ecclesial.

Sunday morning I celebrated the solemn Eucharist in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. In the homily, I wanted to elaborate on the meaning and value of Sunday, in support of the movement “Alliance in Defense of a Free Sunday.” Many non-Christian people and groups belong to this movement. As believers, naturally, we have deep motives for living the Day of the Lord, as the Church has taught us: “Sine dominico non possumus!” Without the Lord and without his Day we cannot live, declared the martyrs of Abitene (present-day Tunisia) in the year 304. 

We too, we Christians of the 21st century, cannot live without Sunday: A day that gives meaning to work and rest, fulfills the meaning of creation and redemption, expresses the value of freedom and the service of our neighbor … all of this is Sunday — much more than just a precept! If the populations of ancient Christian civilizations had abandoned this meaning and let Sunday be reduced to a weekend or an opportunity for mundane and commercial interests, it would have meant that they had decided to renounce their very culture.

Not far from Vienna is the Abbey of “Heiligenkreuz,” of the Holy Cross, and it was a joy for me to visit that flowering community of Cistercian monks, that have existed for 874 years without interruption! Annexed to the abbey is the High Academy of Philosophy and Theology, which has recently been granted the “Pontifical” title. In speaking with the monks, I recalled the great teaching of St. Benedict on the Divine Office, underlining the value of prayer as a service of praise and adoration due to God for his infinite beauty and goodness. 

Nothing should come before this sacred service — says the Benedictine Rule (43:3) — so that all of life, with its times for work and rest, will be recapitulated in the liturgy and oriented toward God. Even theological study cannot be separated from the spiritual life and the life of prayer, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, father of the Cistercian order, so strongly maintained. The presence of the Academy of Theology next to the abbey shows this union between faith and reason, between heart and mind.

The last meeting of my trip was with the network of volunteer organizations. I wanted to show my appreciation to the many people, of all ages, who work freely in service of their neighbor, in the ecclesial community as well as in the civil community. 

Volunteering is not only “doing”: It is first of all a way of being, which begins in the heart, from a grateful way of viewing life, and it encourages us to “give back” and share the gifts we have received with our neighbor. In this perspective, I wanted to encourage yet again the culture of charity work. 

Volunteer work should not be seen as “stopgap” assistance with regard to state and public institutions, but rather as a complimentary and always necessary presence to keep attentive to the most marginalized in society and to promote a personalized style in the assistance programs. Furthermore, there is no one who cannot be a volunteer. Surely even the most needy and disadvantaged person has much to share with others by offering his own contribution to building a civilization of love.

In conclusion, I renew my thanksgiving to the Lord for this visit-pilgrimage to Austria. The focal point was yet again a Marian shrine, in which I was able to live a strong ecclesial experience, as I did the week before in Loreto with the Italian youth. Moreover, in Vienna and Mariazell, it has been possible to see the living, faithful and varied reality of the Catholic Church, so numerously present in the scheduled events. 

It was a joyful and radiant presence of a Church that, like Mary, is called to always “look to Christ” in order to show and offer him to everyone; a Church that is teacher and witness of a generous “yes” to life in each of its dimensions; a Church that carries out its 2,000-year tradition at the service of a future of peace and true social progress for the entire human family.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

My recent Pastoral Visit to Austria was above all a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Mariazell on its 850th anniversary. The venerable statue of Our Lady pointing to her infant Son inspired the theme of the visit — To Look to Christ. Austria is a land of ancient Christian culture, and its capital, Vienna, is today a centre of international institutions. In my meeting with the President and the Diplomatic Corps I expressed the Church’s support for global efforts to foster peace and authentic development, and I encouraged the process of Europe’s unification on the basis of values inspired by its shared Christian heritage. At Mass in Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, I stressed the importance of respecting the rich religious and cultural meaning of our tradition of Sunday rest. While visiting Heiligenkreuz Abbey I spoke of the value of monasticism and liturgical prayer, and the inseparable link between theology and the spiritual life. At the end of my journey, I met with representatives of Austria’s impressive network of volunteer organizations and expressed appreciation for their generosity to others. Throughout my visit, I saw the vitality of the Church, which, in today’s Europe, is called “to look to Christ” ever anew, as she carries out her mission in service of the Gospel and the true progress of the human family.

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Malta and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.



Papal Address at Vespers

November 1, 2008

 

A Reflection on the Evangelical Counsels

VIENNA, Austria, SEPT. 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI’s Saturday address at the celebration of vespers at the Shrine of Mariazell.

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VESPERS WITH PRIESTS, RELIGIOUS, DEACONS AND SEMINARIANS
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Shrine of Mariazell
Saturday, 8 September 2007

Venerable and dear Brothers in the Priestly Ministry,
Dear Men and Women of Consecrated Life,
Dear Friends,

We have come together in the venerable Basilica of our Magna Mater Austriae in Mariazell. For many generations people have come to pray here to obtain the help of the Mother of God. We too are doing the same today. We want to join Mary in praising God’s immense goodness and in expressing our gratitude to the Lord for all the blessings we have received, especially the great gift of the faith. We also wish to commend to Mary our heartfelt concerns: to beg her protection for the Church, to invoke her intercession for the gift of worthy vocations for Dioceses and religious communities, to implore her assistance for families and her merciful prayers for all those longing for freedom from sin and for the grace of conversion, and, finally, to entrust to Mary’s maternal care our sick and our elderly. May the great Mother of Austria and of Europe bring all of us to a profound renewal of faith and life!

Dear friends, as priests, and as men and women religious, you are servants of the mission of Jesus Christ. Just as two thousand years ago Jesus called people to follow him, today too young men and women are setting out at his call, attracted by him and moved by a desire to devote their lives to serving the Church and helping others. They have the courage to follow Christ, and they want to be his witnesses. Being a follower of Christ is full of risks, since we are constantly threatened by sin, lack of freedom and defection. Consequently, we all need his grace, just as Mary received it in its fullness. We learn to look always, like Mary, to Christ, and to make him our criterion and measure. Thus we can participate in the universal saving mission of the Church, of which he is the head. The Lord calls priests, religious and lay people to go into the world, in all its complexity, and to cooperate in the building up of God’s Kingdom. They do this in a great variety of ways: in preaching, in building communities, in the different pastoral ministries, in the practical exercise of charity, in research and scientific study carried out in an apostolic spirit, in dialogue with the surrounding culture, in promoting the justice willed by God and, in no less measure, in the recollected contemplation of the triune God and the common praise of God in their communities.

The Lord invites you to join the Church “on her pilgrim way through history”. He is inviting you to become pilgrims with him and to share in his life which today too includes both the way of the Cross and the way of the Risen One through the Galilee of our existence. But he remains always one and the same Lord who, through the one Baptism, calls us to the one faith. Taking part in his journey thus means both things: the dimension of the Cross — with failure, suffering, misunderstanding and even contempt and persecution — , but also the experience of profound joy in his service and of the great consolation born of an encounter with him. Like the Church, individual parishes, communities and all baptized Christians find in their experience of the crucified and risen Christ the source of their mission.

At the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ and of every Christian is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Proclaiming the Kingdom in the name of Christ means for the Church, for priests, men and women religious, and for all the baptized, a commitment to be present in the world as his witnesses. The Kingdom of God is really God himself, who makes himself present in our midst and reigns through us. The Kingdom of God is built up when God lives in us and we bring God into the world. You do so when you testify to a “meaning” rooted in God’s creative love and opposed to every kind of meaninglessness and despair. You stand alongside all those who are earnestly striving to discover this meaning, alongside all those who want to make something positive of their lives. By your prayer and intercession, you are the advocates of all who seek God, who are journeying towards God. You bear witness to a hope which, against every form of hopelessness, silent or spoken, points to the fidelity and the loving concern of God. Hence you are on the side of those who are crushed by misfortune and cannot break free of their burdens. You bear witness to that Love which gives itself for humanity and thus conquered death. You are on the side of all who have never known love, and who are no longer able to believe in life. And so you stand against all forms of injustice, hidden or apparent, and against a growing contempt for man. In this way, dear brothers and sisters, your whole life needs to be, like that of John the Baptist, a great, living witness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate. Jesus called John “a burning and shining lamp” (Jn 5:35). You too must be such lamps! Let your light shine in our society, in political and economic life, in culture and research. Even if it is only a flicker amid so many deceptive lights, it nonetheless draws its power and splendour from the great Morning Star, the Risen Christ, whose light shines brilliantly — wants to shine brilliantly through us — and will never fade.

Following Christ — we want to follow him — following Christ means taking on ever more fully his mind and his way of life; this is what the Letter to the Philippians tells us: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ!” (cf. 2:5). “To Look to Christ” is the theme of these days. In looking to him, the great Teacher of life, the Church has discerned three striking features of Jesus’ basic attitude. These three features — with the Tradition we call them the “evangelical counsels” — have become the distinctive elements of a life committed to the radical following of Christ: poverty, chastity and obedience. Let us reflect now briefly on them.

Jesus Christ, who was rich with the very richness of God, became poor for our sake, as Saint Paul tells us in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 8:9); this is an unfathomable statement, one to which we should always return for further reflection. And in the Letter to the Philippians we read: He emptied himself; he humbled himself and became obedient even to death on a Cross (cf. 2:6ff.) The one who himself became poor, called the poor “blessed”. Saint Luke, in his version of the Beatitudes, makes us understand that this statement — calling the poor blessed — certainly refers to the poor, the truly poor, in Israel at that time, where a sharp distinction existed between rich and poor. But Saint Matthew, in his version of the Beatitudes, explains to us that material poverty alone is not enough to ensure God’s closeness, since the heart can be hard and filled with lust for riches. Matthew — like all of Scripture — lets us understand that in any case God is particularly close to the poor. So it becomes evident: in the poor Christians see the Christ who awaits them, who awaits their commitment. Anyone who wants to follow Christ in a radical way must renounce material goods. But he or she must live this poverty in a way centred on Christ, as a means of becoming inwardly free for their neighbour. For all Christians, but especially for us priests, and for religious, both as individuals and in community, the issue of poverty and the poor must be the object of a constant and serious examination of conscience. In our own situation, in which we are not badly off, we are not poor, I think that we ought to reflect particularly on how we can live out this calling in a sincere way. I would like to recommend it for your — for our — examination of conscience.

To understand correctly the meaning of chastity, we must start with its positive content. Once again, we find this only by looking to Christ. Jesus’ life had a two-fold direction: he lived for the Father and for others. In sacred Scripture we see Jesus as a man of prayer, one who spends entire nights in dialogue with the Father. Through his prayer, he made his own humanity, and the humanity of us all, part of his filial relation to the Father. This dialogue with the Father thus became a constantly-renewed mission to the world, to us. Jesus’ mission led him to a pure and unreserved commitment to men and women. Sacred Scripture shows that at no moment of his life did he betray even the slightest trace of self-interest or selfishness in his relationship with others. Jesus loved others in the Father, starting from the Father — and thus he loved them in their true being, in their reality. Entering into these sentiments of Jesus Christ — in this total communion with the living God and in this completely pure communion with others, unreservedly at their disposition — this entering into the mind of Christ inspired in Paul a theology and a way of life consonant with Jesus’ words about celibacy for the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 19:12). Priests and religious are not aloof from interpersonal relationships. Chastity, on the contrary, means — and this is where I wished to start — an intense relationship; it is, positively speaking, a relationship with the living Christ and, on the basis of that, with the Father. Consequently, by the vow of celibate chastity we do not consecrate ourselves to individualism or a life of isolation; instead, we solemnly promise to put completely and unreservedly at the service of God’s Kingdom — and thus at the service of others – the deep relationships of which we are capable and which we receive as a gift. In this way priests and religious become men and women of hope: staking everything on God and thus showing that God for them is something real, they open up a space for his presence — the presence of God’s Kingdom — in our world. Dear priests and religious, you have an important contribution to make: amid so much greed, possessiveness, consumerism and the cult of the individual, we strive to show selfless love for men and women. We are living lives of hope, a hope whose fulfilment we leave in God’s hands, because we believe that he will fulfil it. What might have happened had the history of Christianity lacked such outstanding figures and examples? What would our world be like, if there were no priests, if there were no men and women in religious congregations and communities of consecrated life — people whose lives testify to the hope of a fulfilment beyond every human desire and an experience of the love of God which transcends all human love? Precisely today, the world needs our witness.

We now come to obedience. Jesus lived his entire life, from the hidden years in Nazareth to the very moment of his death on the Cross in listening to the Father, in obedience to the Father. We see this in an exemplary way at Gethsemane. “Not my will, but yours be done”. In this prayer Jesus takes up into his filial will the stubborn resistance of us all, and transforms our rebelliousness into his obedience. Jesus was a man of prayer. But at the same time he was also someone who knew how to listen and to obey: he became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Christians have always known from experience that, in abandoning themselves to the will of the Father, they lose nothing, but instead discover in this way their deepest identity and interior freedom. In Jesus they have discovered that those who lose themselves find themselves, and those who bind themselves in an obedience grounded in God and inspired by the search for God, become free. Listening to God and obeying him has nothing to do with external constraint and the loss of oneself. Only by entering into God’s will do we attain our true identity. Our world today needs the testimony of this experience precisely because of its desire for “self-realization” and “self-determination”.

Romano Guardini relates in his autobiography how, at a critical moment on his journey, when the faith of his childhood was shaken, the fundamental decision of his entire life — his conversion — came to him through an encounter with the saying of Jesus that only the one who loses himself finds himself (cf. Mk 8:34ff.; Jn 12:25); without self-surrender, without self-loss, there can be no self-discovery or self-realization. But then the question arose: to what extent it is proper to lose myself? To whom can I give myself? It became clear to him that we can surrender ourselves completely only if by doing so we fall into the hands of God. Only in him, in the end, can we lose ourselves and only in him can we find ourselves. But then the question arose: Who is God? Where is God? Then he came to understand that the God to whom we can surrender ourselves is alone the God who became tangible and close to us in Jesus Christ. But once more the question arose: Where do I find Jesus Christ? How can I truly give myself to him? The answer Guardini found after much searching was this: Jesus is concretely present to us only in his Body, the Church. As a result, obedience to God’s will, obedience to Jesus Christ, must be, really and practically, humble obedience to the Church. I think that this too is something calling us to a constant and deep examination of conscience. It is all summed up in the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola — a prayer which always seems to me so overwhelming that I am almost afraid to say it, yet one which, for all its difficulty, we should always repeat: “Take O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All that I have and all that I possess you have given me: I surrender it all to you; it is all yours, dispose of it according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more”.

Dear brothers and sisters! You are about to return to those places where you live and carry out your ecclesial, pastoral, spiritual and human activity. May Mary, our great Advocate and Mother, watch over and protect you and your work. May she intercede for you with her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I thank you for your prayers and your labours in the Lord’s vineyard, and I join you in praying that God will protect and bless all of you, and everyone, particularly the young people, both here in Austria and in the various countries from which many of you have come. With affection I accompany all of you with my blessing.