Archive for the ‘christian’ Category

On Being Children

January 25, 2012
“Each One of Us Is Willed, Is Loved by God”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This morning I conferred the sacrament of baptism on 16 children, and in connection with this I would like to propose a brief reflection on our being children (“figli”) of God. First of all let us begin with our simply being children: this is the fundamental condition that we all have in common. Not all of us are parents but we are all certainly children. Coming into the world is never a choice, we are not asked if we want to be born. But during life, we can freely develop an attitude toward this life: we can receive it as a gift and, in a certain sense, “become” that which we already are: we can become children. This transformation marks a point of maturity in our being and in our relationship with our parents, which fills us with gratitude. It is a transformation that renders us, too, capable of being parents ourselves, not biologically but morally.

We are children in our relationship to God also. God is at the origin of the existence of every creature, and he is Father of every human being in a unique way: God has with him or her a special, personal relationship. Each one of us is willed, is loved by God. And in this relationship with God as well we can, so to say, be “reborn,” that is, become what we are. This happens through faith, through a profound and personal “yes” to God as origin and foundation of our existence. With this “yes” I receive life as a gift of the Father who is in heaven, a Parent whom I do not see but in whom I believe and in the depths of my heart feel to be my Father and the Father of all my brothers in humanity, an immensely good and faithful Father.

Upon what is this faith in God the Father based? It is based upon Jesus Christ: his person and his story reveal the Father to us, he makes him known to us, insofar as this is possible in this world. Believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, leads us to be “reborn from above,” that is, from God, who is Love (cf. John 3:3). And let us recall again that no one makes himself a human being: we are born without our doing anything, the passivity of our bein
g born precedes the activity of our doing. The same is true in regard to being Christian: no one can make himself a Christian by his own will alone; being Christian also precedes our doing: we must be reborn in a new birth. St. John: “To those who received him he gave the power to become children of God” (John 1:12). This is the meaning of the sacrament of baptism; baptism is this new birth that precedes our doing. With our faith we can encounter Christ, but only he can make us Christians and give our will, our desire, an answer, the dignity, the power — which we do not have ourselves — of becoming children of God.

Dear friends, this Sunday of the Lord’s baptism concludes the Christmas season. Let us give thanks to God for this great mystery, which is a source of regeneration for the Church and the whole world. God made himself the son of man so that man might become son of God. Let us restore, therefore, the joy of being children: as men and as Christians; born and reborn to a new divine existence: born from the love of a father and a mother, and reborn in the love of God, through baptism. We ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of all those who believe in him, to help us live truly as children of God, not by words, or not by words alone, but by deeds. St. John further writes: “This is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another, according to the precept that he gave us” (1 John 3:23).

 

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus prayer. In today’s feast, the Baptism of Jesus, God the Father bears witness to his only-begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit anoints him for his imminent public ministry. Let us ask for the courage to be always faithful to the life of communion with the Holy Trinity which we received in Baptism. May God bless all of you abundantly!

 

I wish everyone a good Sunday and, again, every good thing for the year that has just begun. Have a good Sunday and a happy New Year. Best wishes! Thank you!

On the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

January 23, 2012
“The Unity for Which We Pray Requires Interior Conversion, Both Communal and Personal”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 18, 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 reflected on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which begins today.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which for more than a century has been celebrated by Christians of all Churches and ecclesial Communities, in order to invoke that extraordinary gift for which the Lord Jesus Himself prayed during the Last Supper, before His Passion: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). The practice of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was introduced in 1908 by Father Paul Wattson, founder of an Anglican religious community that subsequently entered the Catholic Church. The initiative received the blessing of Pope St. Pius X and was then promoted by Pope Benedict XV, who encouraged its celebration throughout the Church with the Brief, Romanorum Pontificum, promulgated Feb. 25, 1916.

The octave of prayer was developed and perfected in the 1930s by Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyon, who promoted prayer “for the unity of the Church as Christ wills, and in accordance with the instruments He wills.” In his later writings, Abbé Couturier sees this Week as a way of allowing the prayer of Christ to “enter into and penetrate the entire Christian Body”; it must grow until it becomes “an immense, unanimous cry of the whole People of God” who ask God for this great gift. And it is precisely during the Week of Christian Unity that the impetus given by the Second Vatican Council toward seeking full communion among all of Christ’s disciples each year finds one of its most forceful expressions. This spiritual gathering, which unites Christians of all traditions, increases our awareness of the fact that the unity to which we tend will not be the result of our efforts alone, but will rather be a gift received from above, a gift for which we must constantly pray.

Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyon

Each year, the booklets for the Week of Prayer are prepared by an ecumenical group from a different region of the world. I would like to pause to consider this point. This year, the texts were proposed by a mixed group comprised of representatives of the Catholic Church and of the Polish Ecumenical Council, which includes the country’s various Churches and ecclesial Communities. The documentation was then reviewed by a committee made up of members of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and of the Faith and Order Commission of the Council of Churches.  This work, carried out together in two stages, is also a sign of the desire for unity that animates Christians, and of the awareness that prayer is the primary way of attaining full communion, since it is in being united with the Lord that we move toward unity.

The theme of the Week this year — as we heard — is taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “We Will All Be Changed By the Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ” — His victory will transform us. And this theme was suggested by the large ecumenical Polish group I just mentioned, which — in reflecting on their own experience as a nation — wanted to underscore how strong a support the Christian faith is in the midst of trial and upheaval, like those that have characterized Poland’s history. After ample discussion, a theme was chosen that focuses on the transforming power of faith in Christ, particularly in light of the importance it has for our prayer for the visible unity of Christ’s Body, the Church. This reflection was inspired by the words of St. Paul who, addressing himself to the Church of Corinth, speaks about the perishable nature of what belongs to our present life — which is also marked by the experience of the “defeat” that comes from sin and death — compared to what brings us Christ’s victory over sin and death in His paschal mystery.

The particular history of the Polish nation, which knew times of democratic coexistence and of religious liberty — as in the 16th century — has been marked in recent centuries by invasions and defeat, but also by the constant struggle against oppression and by the thirst for freedom. All of this led the ecumenical group to reflect more deeply on the true meaning of “victory” — what victory is — and “defeat.” Compared with “victory” understood in triumphalistic terms, Christ suggests to us a very different path that does not pass by way of force and power. In fact, He affirms: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Christ speaks of a victory through suffering love, through mutual service, help, new hope and concrete comfort given to the least, to the forgotten, to those who are rejected. For all Christians, the highest expression of this humble service is Jesus Christ Himself — the total gift He makes of Himself, the victory of His love over death on the Cross, which shines resplendent in the light of Easter morning.

We can take part in this transforming “victory” if we allow ourselves to be transformed by God — but only if we work for the conversion of our lives, and if this transformation leads to conversion. This is the reason why the Polish ecumenical group considered particularly fitting for their own reflection the words of St. Paul: “We will all be changed by the victory of Christ, Our Lord” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).

The full and visible unity of Christians for which we long demands that we allow ourselves to be ever more perfectly transformed and conformed to the image of Christ. The unity for which we pray requires interior conversion, both communal and personal. It is not simply a matter of kindness and cooperation; above all, we must strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who has spoken to us and who made Himself one of us; we must enter into new life in Christ, which is our true and definitive victory; we must open ourselves to one another, cultivating all the elements of that unity that God has preserved for us and gives to us ever anew; we must feel the urgency of bearing witness before the men of our times to the living God, who made Himself known in Christ.

The Second Vatican Council put the ecumenical pursuit at the center of the Church’s life and work: “The Sacred Council exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism” (Unitatis redintegratio, 4). Blessed John Paul II stressed the essential nature of this commitment, saying: “This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ’s mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community (Ut unum sint, 9). The ecumenical task is therefore a responsibility of the whole Church and of all the baptized, who must make the partial, already existing communion between Christians grow into full communion in truth and charity. Therefore, prayer for unity is not limited to this Week of Prayer but rather must become an integral part of our prayer, of the life of prayer of all Christians, in every place and in every time, especially when people of different traditions meet and work together for the victory, in Christ, over all that is sin, evil, injustice, and that violates human dignity.

From the time the modern ecumenical movement was born over a century ago, there has always been a clear recognition of the fact that the lack of unity among Christians prevents the Gospel from being proclaimed more effectively, because it jeopardizes our credibility. How can we give a convincing witness if we are divided? Certainly, as regards the fundamental truths of the faith, much more unites us than divides us. But divisions remain, and they concern even various practical and ethical questions — causing confusion and distrust, and weakening our ability to hand on Christ’s saving Word. In this regard, we do well to remember the words of Blessed John Paul II, who in the Encyclical Ut unum sint, speaks of the damage caused to Christian witness and to the proclamation of the Gospel by the lack of unity (cf. no. 98,99). This is a great challenge for the new evangelization, which can be more fruitful if all Christians together announce the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give a common response to the spiritual thirst of our times.

The Church’s journey, like that of all peoples, is in the hands of the Risen Christ, who is victorious over the death and injustice that He bore and suffered on behalf of all mankind. He makes us sharers in His victory. Only He is capable of transforming us and changing us — from being weak and hesitant — to being strong and courageous in working for good. Only He can save us from the negative consequences of our divisions. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite everyone to be more intensely united in prayer during this Week for Unity, so that common witness, solidarity and collaboration may grow among Christians, as we await the glorious day when together we may profess the faith handed down by the Apostles, and together celebrate the Sacraments of our transformation in Christ. Thank you.

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which begins today invites all the Lord’s followers to implore the gift of unity. This year’s theme – We Will All Be Changed By The Victory Of Our Lord Jesus Christ – was chosen by representatives of the Catholic Church and the Polish Ecumenical Council. Poland’s experience of oppression and persecution prompts a deeper reflection on the meaning of Christ’s victory over sin and death, a victory in which we share through faith. By his teaching, his example and his paschal mystery, the Lord has shown us the way to a victory obtained not by power, but by love and concern for those in need. Faith in Christ and interior conversion, both individual and communal, must constantly accompany our prayer for Christian unity. During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord in a particular way to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel. In this way we will contribute to the new evangelization and respond ever more fully to the spiritual hunger of the men and women of our time.

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I offer a cordial welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. My special greeting goes to the Lutheran pilgrims from Finland. I also greet the group of sailors and marines from the United States. Upon all of you and your families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Dear brothers and sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to all Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet priests belonging to the Focolare Movement, and I hope that these days of study help you to persevere in the generous following of Christ and in the joyous witness of the Gospel. I greet the students from the diocese of Caserta who are accompanied by their Bishop Pietro Farina: may this meeting strengthen the faith and commitment to Christian life in each one of you. I warmly greet the young patients of the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment of Milan, and I assure you of my fervent prayers that the Lord may sustain each of you by His grace.  I greet the large representation of the Bar of Rome and, while I thank them for their presence, I wish to encourage them to carry out their delicate profession by always remaining faithful to the truth, the fundamental prerequisite for the implementation of justice.

I also offer a cordial greeting to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. I invite you, dear young people, always to witness generously to your faith in Christ, who illumines the journey of life. May faith be a constant comfort in suffering to you, dear sick. And may the light of Christ be for you, dear newlyweds, an effective guide in your family life.

On St. John Chrysostom’s Antioch Years

November 20, 2008

“His Is an Exquisitely Pastoral Theology”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 19, 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. John Chrysostom.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

This year marks the 16th centenary of the death of St. John Chrysostom (407-2007). John of Antioch was called Chrysostom, “golden-mouthed,” for his eloquence. It could be said he is still alive today through his written works. An anonymous copyist wrote that his works “go across the globe like lighting.” His writings enable us — as they did for the faithful of his time, who were repeatedly deprived of him because of his exiles — to live with his books, despite his absence. This was the advice he himself gave in one of his letters written from exile (cf. “To Olympia, Letter” 8:45).

Born around the year 349 in Antioch in Syria (modern-day Antakya, in south Turkey), he carried out his priestly ministry for about 11 years. In 397, he was appointed bishop of Constantinople. He exercised the episcopal ministry in the capital of the empire, before his two exiles which happened within a few years of each other, between 403 and 407. Today we limit ourselves to considering Chrysostom’s years in Antioch.

Orphaned by his father at a young age, he lived with his mother, Anthusa, who instilled in him an exquisite human sensitivity and a profound Christian faith. He completed his elementary and higher studies, crowned by courses in philosophy and rhetoric. Libanius, a pagan, was his teacher. At his school, John became the greatest orator of late Ancient Greece. Baptized in 368 and formed in the ecclesiastical life by Bishop Meletius, he was ordained as a lector by him in 371. This marked Chrysostom’s official entrance into the ecclesiastical “cursus.” He attended, from 367-372, the “Asceterium,” a kind of seminary in Antioch, together with a group of young men, some of whom later became bishops, under the guidance of the famous exegete Diodorus of Tarsus, who taught John historical-literal exegesis, characteristic of the Antiochian tradition.

He retreated for four years among the hermitages on nearby Mount Silpius. And then he continued his retreat for another two years, living alone in a grotto under the guidance of an “elder.” During that time he dedicated himself entirely to meditating on “the laws of Christ,” the Gospels and especially Paul’s letters. Falling ill, he found it impossible to take care of himself, and therefore he returned to the Christian community of Antioch (cf. Palladium, “Life” 5).

The Lord — a biographer explains — intervened at the right time to enable John to follow his true vocation. In effect, he himself would write that if he had to choose between the crosses of governing the Church or the tranquility of the monastic life, he would have preferred pastoral service a thousand times over (cf. “On the Priesthood,” 6:7): Chrysostom felt called to this.

And here we see the decisive turning point of his vocation story: full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated during the years in the hermitage, matured in him the irresistible urgency to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he received during years of meditation. The ideal missionary was thus launched, a soul afire, into pastoral care.

Between 378 and 379 he returned to the city. Ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386, he became a celebrated preacher in the churches of his city. He gave homilies against the Arians, followed by those commemorating the martyrs of Antioch and others on principal liturgical feasts: constituting a great teaching of faith in Christ, in light of his saints.

The year 387 was John’s “heroic year,” the so-called statue revolt. The people knocked down the imperial statues, as a sign of protest against tax increases. During those days of Lent and anguish because of the emperor’s punishments, he gave his 22 vibrant “Homilies on Statues,” directed toward penance and conversion. What followed was a period of serene pastoral care (387-397).

Chrysostom is counted among the most prolific Fathers, having written 17 treatises, 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and Paul (Letters to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to the Ephesians and to the Hebrews), and 241 letters. He was not a speculative theologian. However he transmitted the traditional and certain doctrine of the Church in an age of theological controversies caused above all by Arianism, that is, by the negation of Christ’s divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy witness of the dogmatic development of the Church in the fourth-fifth century.

His is an exquisitely pastoral theology, in which there is constant concern for the coherence between the thought expressed by the word and lived existence. It is this, in particular, the common thread of the splendid catecheses, with which he prepared the catechumens to receive baptism. Just before he died, he wrote that man’s value is found in the “exact knowledge of true doctrine and in rectitude of life” (“Letter From Exile”). The two things, knowledge of the truth and rectitude of life, go together: Knowledge must become life. Every one of his discourses aimed at developing in the faithful the exercise of intelligence, of true reason, in order to understand and put into practice moral needs and precepts of the faith.

John Chrysostom tried to assist, through his writings, the integral development of the person, in the physical, intellectual and religious dimension. The various phases of growth are comparable to as many seas in an immense ocean.

“The first of these seas is infancy” (Homily 81:5 “On the Gospel of Matthew”). Therefore “in this first stage inclinations to vice and virtue begin to show.” That is why God’s law must be impressed on the soul from the beginning “as on a table of wax” (Homily 3:1 “On the Gospel of John”). In fact this is the most important age. We must be aware how important it is that in this first phase of life the major orientations that give the right perspective to existence truly enter into man. Chrysostom therefore recommends: “From a very young age, arm children with spiritual weapons, and teach them to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads” (Homily 12:7 “On the First Letter to the Corinthians”).

Then follows adolescence and boyhood: “The sea of adolescence follows that of childhood, where violent winds blow … because concupiscence grows within us” (Homily 81:5 “On the Gospel of Matthew”).

Lastly there is engagement and marriage: “After boyhood comes the age of maturity, in which the duties of family life abound: It is the time to look for a wife” (ibid). He recalls the goals of marriage, enriching them — with an appeal to the virtue of temperance — with a rich tapestry of personalized relationships. Spouses who are well prepared block, in this way, the road to divorce: Everything is carried out joyfully and one can educate their children to virtue. When the first child is born, this is “like a bridge; the three become one flesh, so that the child links the two parts (Homily 12:5 “On the Letter to the Colossians”), and the three make up “one family, a little Church” (Homily 20:6 “On the Letter to the Ephesians”).

Chrysostom’s preaching took place regularly during the liturgy, the “place” in which the community is built up by the word and the Eucharist. Here the assembly, gathered together, expresses the only Church (Homily 8:7 “On the Letter to the Romans”), the same word is addressed to everyone in every place (Homily 24:2 “On the First Letter to the Corinthians”), and the Eucharistic Communion becomes an efficacious sign of unity (Homily 32:7 “On the Gospel of St. Matthew”).

His pastoral project was inserted into the life of the Church, in which the lay faithful, through baptism, assume the priestly, kingly and prophetic office. To the lay faithful he said: “Baptism also makes you king, priest and prophet” (Homily 3:5 “On the Second Letter to the Corinthians”). From this comes the Church’s fundamental task of mission, because each one in some way is responsible for the salvation of others: “This is the principle of our social life … to think not just of ourselves!” (Homily 9:2 “On Genesis”). Everything takes place between these two poles: the big Church and the “little Church,” the family, in a reciprocal relationship.

As you can see, dear brothers and sisters, this lesson of Chrysostom on the authentically Christian presence of the lay faithful in the family and in society, is important today more than ever. Let us pray that the Lord render us docile to the lessons of this great teacher of the faith.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today focuses on a great orator of the early Church, Saint John Chrysostom: the “golden-mouthed”. After his schooling in Antioch, Saint John went into the desert to meditate on the “law of Christ”. Illness forced him to return to the city, where he heard the Lord calling him to full-time pastoral service. Years of prayer had prepared him to preach the Word of God with tremendous power and persuasion. Chrysostom constantly strove to connect Christian doctrine to daily living, emphasizing life-long human development in a person’s physical, intellectual and religious dimensions. Fundamental to this is the first phase when parents must firmly impress God’s law upon their children’s souls. Young people will thus be strengthened to confront the “storms” of adolescence when they must learn to temper concupiscence and eventually to assume the duties of marriage. Indeed, Saint John taught that the family is a “little Church” within the wider ecclesial community. Consequently, each of us has a responsibility for the salvation of those around us. Through the intercession of this saintly Bishop, may we generously embrace this and all our responsibilities in the Church and in society.

I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience, including groups from Viet Nam, India and Nigeria. I also greet the Catholic and Greek Orthodox pilgrims from the United States. May God bless all of you!

 

 



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.



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!

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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.