Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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 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.

“The Joys Sown by God in Our Life Are Not the Destination”

May 14, 2010

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Here in the Apostolic Palace yesterday we concluded the customary retreat that is held in the Vatican at the beginning of Lent. My coworkers in the Roman Curia and I have spent the days in recollection and intense prayer, reflecting on the priestly vocation in sync with the Year for Priests that the Church is celebrating. I thank those who were near to us spiritually.

On this second Sunday of Lent the liturgy is dominated by the event of the Transfiguration, which in St. Luke’s Gospel immediately follows the Master’s invitation: “If anyone wants to follow me, he must renounce himself, take up his cross every day and follow me!” (Luke 9:23). This extraordinary event is an encouragement in following Jesus.

Luke does not speak of transfiguration but describes what happened through two elements: the countenance of Jesus that changes and his vestments, which become dazzling white in the presence of Moses and Elijah, symbol of the Law and the Prophets. The three disciples who witness the scene are heavy with sleep: It is the attitude of those who, although spectators of divine prodigies, do not understand them. Only the struggle against the torpor that assails them allows Peter, James and John to “see” Jesus’ glory. The pace is driving: as Moses and Elijah depart from Jesus, Peter speaks, and while he is speaking, a cloud covers him and the other disciples with its shadow; it is a cloud that, although it conceals also reveals God’s glory, as happened for the people of Israel on pilgrimage through the desert. The eyes can no longer see, but the ears can hear the voice that comes from the cloud: “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).

The disciples are no longer before a transfigured face, nor before a dazzling garment, nor a cloud that reveals the divine presence. Before their eyes there is “only Jesus” (9:36). Jesus is alone before his Father as he prays, but at the same time, Jesus is everything that is given to the disciples of all times: It is what must suffice on the journey. He is the only voice to listen to, the only one to follow, he who, going up to Jerusalem, will give his life and one day “will transfigure our miserable body to conform it to his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

“Master, it is good for us to be here” (John 9:33): These are Peter’s ecstatic words, which often resemble our desire before the Lord’s consolations. But the Transfiguration reminds us that the joys sown by God in our life are not the destination, but they are lights that he gives us on the earthly pilgrimage, so that “only Jesus” is our Law and his Word the criterion that guides our existence.

During this time of Lent I invite everyone to meditate assiduously on the Gospel. Furthermore, I hope in this Year of the Priest that pastors “are truly filled by the Word of God, that they know it in truth, that they love it to the point that it really gives them life and forms their thought” (Homily for the Chrism Mass, April 9, 2009). May the Virgin Mary help us to live with intensity our moments of encounter with the Lord so that we can follow him every day with joy. To her we turn our gaze, invoking upon her with the prayer of the Angelus.

[After the Angelus the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In Italian, he said:]

I heard with deep sadness the tragic news of the recent killings of some Christians in the city of Mosul and I followed with much concern the other episodes of violence, perpetrated in the martyred land of Iraq, which have harmed defenseless persons of various religious affiliations. In these days of intense recollection I often prayed for all the victims of those attacks and today I would like to join myself spiritually in prayer for peace and the restoration of security promoted by the council of bishops at Nineveh. I am affectionately near to the Christians communities of the whole country. Do not weary of being a ferment for good for the homeland to which, for centuries, you have rightfully belonged!

In the delicate political phase that Iraq is passing through I call upon the civil authorities that they do everything possible to restore security to the population and, especially to the most vulnerable religious minorities. It is my wish that they do not given in to the temptation to allow the temporary and special interests prevail over the safety and the fundamental rights of every citizen. Finally, as I greet the Iraqis present here in the piazza, I exhort the international community to do its best to give the Iraqis a future of reconciliation and justice, while I ask with confidence from God almighty the precious gift of peace.

My thought goes out also to Chile and the populations affected by the earthquake, which caused numerous losses of human life and much damage. I pray for the victims and am spiritually near to the persons tried by so grave a calamity; for them I implore from God relief from suffering and courage in these adversities. I am certain that they will not lack the solidarity of many, especially of ecclesial organizations.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

[In English he said:]

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Angelus prayer, especially the group of priests from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, accompanied by His Eminence Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. On this Second Sunday of Lent the voice of our Heavenly Father instructs us to listen to Jesus, the beloved Son of God. May our Lenten journey continue to dispose our hearts to Christ and to his saving truth. Upon all of you I invoke Almighty God’s abundant blessings of strength and peace!

Month of the Rosary

January 27, 2009

Month of the Rosary

“A Means for Contemplating Jesus”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square when he led the praying of the midday Angelus.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This first Sunday of October offers us two reasons for prayer and reflection: the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, which is today, and the commitment to missions, to which this month is dedicated in a special way. 

The traditional image of the Madonna of the Rosary depicts Mary holding the child Jesus in her arm and giving the rosary to St. Dominic. This significant iconography shows that the rosary is a means given by the Virgin for contemplating Jesus and, meditating on his life, for loving and following him always more faithfully. 

This is something that Mary has also offered in various apparitions. I am thinking especially of her appearance at Fatima that took place 90 years ago. To the three little shepherds, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, presenting herself as “the Madonna of the Rosary,” she insistently recommended praying the rosary every day to bring an end to the war. 

We also desire to welcome the Virgin’s maternal request, committing ourselves to saying the rosary with faith for peace in our families, in countries, and in the whole world.

In any case, we know that peace spreads where men and institutions are open to the Gospel. The month of October helps us to recall this fundamental truth through a mobilization that seeks to promote an authentic missionary drive in each community, and to support the work of priests, religious and laypeople who work on the Church’s mission frontiers.

With special care we prepare to celebrate, on Oct. 21, the World Mission Day, which will have as its theme “All the Churches for All the World.” 

The proclamation of the Gospel remains the primary service that the Church owes to humanity, to offer the salvation of Christ to the man of our time, who is in many ways humiliated and oppressed, and to orientate in a Christian way cultural, social, and ethical transformations that are unfolding in the world. 

This year we are moved toward a renewal of missionary commitment for still another reason: the 50th anniversary of the encyclical “Fidei Donum” of the Servant of God Pius XII, which promoted and encouraged cooperation among the Churches for the mission “ad gentes.”

With pleasure I recall also that 150 years ago five priests and a layman of the Institute of Don Mazza in Verona departed for Africa, for present-day Sudan. Among them was St. Daniel Comboni, future bishop of central Africa and patron of the people of that region, whose liturgical memorial is Oct. 10.

We entrust all missionaries to the intercession of these pioneers of the Gospel and to the many other canonized and beatified missionaries, and especially to the maternal protection of the Queen of the Holy Rosary. 

O Mary, help us to remember that every Christian is called to be a proclaimer of the Gospel by his word and by his life.

I extend heartfelt greetings to the English-speaking visitors here today. In this month of October, dedicated to the holy rosary, we ponder with Mary the mysteries of our salvation, and we ask the Lord to help us grow in our understanding of the marvelous things he has done for us. 

May God fill you with his love and may he grant you and all those dear to you his blessings of joy and peace.

On St. Cyril of Alexandria

January 27, 2009

“An Untiring and Firm Witness of Jesus Christ”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 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. Cyril of Alexandria.

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dsc00789Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, continuing our journey in the footsteps of the Fathers of the Church, we meet a great figure: St. Cyril of Alexandria. Linked to the Christological controversy that led to the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the last noteworthy representative of the Alexandrian tradition, Cyril was later defined in the East as the “custodian of accuracy” — in other words, a guardian of the true faith — and even the “seal of all the Fathers.”

These ancient expressions manifest something that is, in fact, characteristic of Cyril, that is, the constant references the bishop of Alexandria makes to preceding ecclesiastical authorities — including, above all, Athanasius — with the goal of showing the continuity of his own theology with tradition.

Cyril took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church, by which he sees the guarantee of continuity with the Apostles and with Christ himself.

Venerated as a saint in both the East and the West, in 1882 St. Cyril was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII, who at that time also gave the same title to another important representative of Greek patristics, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This shows that Pope’s attention and love for the Eastern Christian traditions; he would later proclaim St. John Damascene a doctor of the Church, showing how the Eastern and Western traditions express the doctrine of the one Church of Christ.

Information on the life of Cyril before his election to the important See of Alexandria is scarce. A nephew of Theophilus — who, as bishop from 385, upheld the Diocese of Alexandria with resolve and prestige — Cyril was most likely born in that same Egyptian city sometime between 370-380. He soon embraced the ecclesiastical life and received a good education, both in culture and theology. In 403, he was in Constantinople following his powerful uncle and, here, he participated in the so-called Synod of the Oak, which deposed the city’s bishop — John, later called Chrysostom. This indicated the triumph of the Alexandrian See over its traditional rival, the See of Constantinople, where the emperor resided.

Upon the death of his uncle Theophilus, though still young, Cyril was elected bishop of the influential Church of Alexandria in 412, which he governed with great energy for 32 years, working tirelessly to affirm its primacy in the East, strengthened by its traditional bonds with Rome.

Two or three years later, in 417 or 418, the bishop of Alexandria showed himself to be a realist and healed the rift in the communion with Constantinople, which had been going on since 406, in the wake of Chrysostom’s removal from office.

But the old conflict with the See of Constantinople was rekindled some 10 years later, when Nestorius was elected in 428, a prestigious but severe monk, educated in Antioch. The new bishop of Constantinople quickly brought much opposition because he preferred the title “Mother of Christ” (Christotòkos) for Mary, in place of “Mother of God” (Theotòkos), which was already beloved in popular devotion.

The reason for Bishop Nestorius’ choice was his adhesion to the Christology of the Antiochean tradition, which, to safeguard the importance of Christ’s humanity, ended up affirming its separation from his divinity. Thus, there was no longer an authentic union between God and the man Christ, and therefore, one could no longer speak of a “Mother of God.”

Cyril — the leading exponent of Alexandrian Christology at the time, one who emphatically underlined the unity of Christ’s person — reacted almost immediately, using every means possible beginning in 429, even writing letters to Nestorius himself.

In the second letter (PG 77, 44-49) which Cyril sent to him, in February 430, we read a clear affirmation of the pastor’s task to preserve the faith of God’s people. This was his criterion, which is still valid today: The faith of God’s people is an expression of tradition, a guarantee of sound doctrine. He wrote to Nestorius: “It is necessary to explain the teaching and interpretation of the faith to the people in an irreproachable way, and recall that he who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believes in Christ will suffer an intolerable punishment.”

In the same letter to Nestorius — which later, in 451, would be approved by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon — Cyril describes his Christological faith with clarity: “The natures that have united in a true unity are different, but from both resulted one Christ and Son, not because, due to the unity, the differences of the human and divine natures have been eliminated, but rather because humanity and divinity united in an ineffable way have produced the one Lord, Christ, the Son of God.”

And this is important: The true humanity and the true divinity are really united in one person, our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, continues the bishop of Alexandria, “we profess only one Christ and Lord, not in the sense that we adore the man together with the Logos, so as not to insinuate the idea of separation by saying ‘together,’ but rather in the sense that we adore only one; his body is not something detached from the Logos, who sits at the Father’s side. There are not two sons sitting at his side, but one alone united with his own flesh.”

Soon the bishop of Alexandria, thanks to shrewd alliances, saw to it that Nestorius was repeatedly condemned: by the Roman See with a series of 12 anathemas Cyril himself composed and, in the end, by the council held in Ephesus in 431, the Third Ecumenical Council.

The assembly, which took place amid tumultuous and alternating incidents, concluded with the great triumph of devotion to Mary and with the exile of the bishop of Constantinople, who refused to recognize Mary under the title of “Mother of God,” because of a mistaken Christology, which claimed that Christ was divided in himself.

After prevailing in such a definitive way over his rival and his doctrine, Cyril was able to reach, as soon as 433, a theological formula of compromise and reconciliation with the people of Antioch. And this is also significant: On one hand there is clarity about the doctrine of faith, but on the other, there is the intense search for unity and reconciliation. In the years that followed, he dedicated himself in every way to defend and clarify his theological position until his death on June 27, 444.

Cyril’s writings — numerous and widespread in various Latin and Eastern traditions even during his life, which is a testament to their immediate success — are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the books of the Old and New Testaments, including the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke, are important. Many of his doctrinal works are also greatly important, in which he continually defends the Trinitarian faith against the Arian theses and Nestorius.

The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition, and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great predecessor in the Alexandrian See. Among Cyril’s other writings, we must recall the books “Against Julian,” the last great answer to anti-Christian polemics, dictated by the bishop of Alexandria most likely during the last years of his life as a response to “Against the Galileans,” written many years before, in 363, by the emperor who was called an apostate for having abandoned the Christianity in which he had been educated.

The Christian faith is above all a meeting with Jesus, “a person who gives life a new horizon” (encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 1). St. Cyril of Alexandria was an untiring and firm witness of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, emphasizing his unity above all, as he repeats in his first letter in 433 to Bishop Succens: “One alone is the Son, one alone is the Lord Jesus Christ, before the incarnation and after the incarnation. In fact, it is not a question of a Son, the Logos, born of God the Father, and another, born of the holy Virgin; but we believe that he who is before all time was born according to the flesh of a woman.”

This affirmation, beyond its doctrinal significance, shows that faith in Jesus, the “Logos,” born of the Father, is also deeply rooted in history because, as St. Cyril says, this same Jesus came in time by being born of Mary, the “Theotòkos,” and will be, according to his promise, with us always. And this is important: God is eternal, he was born of a woman and remains with us every day. We live in this trust, in this trust we find the path of our life.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The subject of today’s catechesis is Saint Cyril of Alexandria, known as the “pillar of faith” and the “seal of all the Fathers”. He was born somewhere between 370 and 380, and at a young age became Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril was a zealous defender of the faith. He took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church by referring to preceding ecclesiastical authorities, especially Athanasius. Through a series of letters countering the position of Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, Cyril made a very significant contribution to Christology defending the divinity and humanity of Christ united in the one Lord, Christ and Son. He was also of utmost influence at the Council of Ephesus, supporting the recognition of the Virgin Mary as the “Mother of God”. This led to the deposition of Nestorius as Bishop of Constantinople. Saint Cyril, a prolific writer whose works were read throughout the Church, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882. May our remembrance of this outstanding figure in the history of Christianity remind us that the centre of our faith is the encounter with Jesus Christ, who gives each one of us a new horizon and a decisive direction!

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Australia, Denmark, Scotland and the United States. In a special way I greet the Maryknoll Missionaries, the priests from the Diocese of Wheeling–Charleston, the students from the Pontifical Beda College and Deacon Candidates from the Pontifical North American College. May God continue to strengthen you as you strive to serve his people. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.