Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

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.

* * *

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 War

September 30, 2008

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy, JULY 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus in the Piazza Calvi of Lorenzago di Cadore, near the spot where the Pope is vacationing in northern Italy.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In these days of rest that, thanks be to God, I am passing here in Cadore, I feel all the more intensely the impact of the sorrow of the news that comes to me about bloody altercations and episodes of violence that are occurring in so many parts of the world. This brings me to reflect once again on the drama of human freedom in the world. The beauty of nature reminds us that we have been placed here by God to “cultivate and keep” this “garden” that is the earth (cf. Genesis 2:8-17). 

If men lived in peace with God and with each other, the earth would truly resemble a “paradise.” Unfortunately, sin ruined this divine project, generating divisions and bringing death into the world. This is why men cede to the temptations of the evil one and make war against each other. The result is that in this stupendous “garden” that is the world, there open up circles of hell.

War, with the mourning and destruction it brings, has always been rightly considered a calamity that contrasts with God’s plan. He created everything for existence and, in particular, wants to make a family of the human race. In this moment it is not possible for me to not return to a significant date in history: August 1, 1917 — almost exactly 90 years ago — my venerable predecessor, Benedict XV, published his celebrated “Nota Alle Potenze Belligeranti” (Note to the Warring Powers), asking them to put an end to the First World War (cf. ASS 9 [1917], 417-420). 

As that huge conflict raged, the Pope had the courage to affirm that it was a “useless bloodbath.” This expression of his left a mark on history. It was a justified remark given the concrete situation in that summer of 1917, especially on the front here in this part of northern Italy. But those words, “useless bloodbath,” have a larger, prophetic application to other conflicts that have destroyed countless human lives.

Precisely these very lands in which we presently find ourselves, which in themselves speak of peace and harmony, have been a theatre in the First World War, as many testimonies and some moving songs of the Alps still recall. These are events not to be forgotten! 

It is necessary to make a treasury of the negative experiences that our fathers unfortunately suffered, so that they not be repeated. Benedict XV’s “Nota” did not limit itself to condemning war; it indicated, at a juridical level, the ways to construct an equitable and durable peace: the moral force of law, balanced and regulated disarmament, arbitration in disputes, freedom on the seas, the reciprocal remission of war debts, the restitution of occupied territories, fair negotiations to resolve problems. 

The Holy See’s proposal was oriented toward the future of Europe and of the world, according to a project that was Christian in inspiration but able to be shared by all because it was founded on the law of nations. It is the same program that the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II followed in their memorable speeches at the United Nations, repeating in the name of the Church: “No more war!” 

From this place of peace here in the north of Italy, where one feels even more vitally how unacceptable the “useless bloodbaths” are, I renew the call to follow with tenacity the way of law, to firmly renounce the arms race, to reject in general the temptation to face new situations with old systems.

With these thoughts and wishes in our heart we now offer up a special prayer for peace in the world, entrusting it to Mary Most Holy, Queen of Peace.

On St. Basil

August 25, 2008

“He Shows Us How to Be Real Christians”

VATICAN CITY, JULY 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience. The audience took place in two phases: The Pope first greeted a crowd in St. Peter’s Basilica. Then he went to a packed Paul VI Hall, where he delivered the catechesis. The reflection focused on St. Basil and concluded with an appeal to young people to attend World Youth Day ’08 in Australia.

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I am happy to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present today. May your visit to this Basilica and to the city of Rome inspire you to imitate the apostles in following Christ and serving the Church. I assure you of my prayers for your families and friends at home, especially those afflicted by illness or suffering of any kind. God bless you all!

[Then, in Paul VI Hall, the Pope gave a catechesis on St. Basil]

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we remember one of the great Fathers of the Church, St. Basil, defined by Byzantine liturgical texts as a “light of the Church.” He was a great bishop of the fourth century, to whom the Churches of the East and West look with great admiration because of his sanctity of life, the excellence of his doctrine and the harmonious synthesis of his speculative and practical skills.

He was born around the year 330 to a family of saints, “a true domestic Church,” who lived in an atmosphere of profound faith. He carried out his studies with the best teachers of Athens and Constantinople. Unfulfilled by his worldly successes, and aware of having lost much time in vain pursuits, he himself confesses: “One day, waking up from a deep sleep, I turned to the wonderful light of the truth of the Gospels … and cried over my miserable life” (cf. Letters 223: PG 32, 824a). Attracted by Christ, I began to look to him and listen to him alone (cf. “Moralia” 80, 1: PG 31, 860bc).

He dedicated himself with determination to the monastic life in prayer, meditation on the sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers of the Church, and to the exercise of charity (cf. Letters 2 and 22), following the example of his sister, St. Macrina, who was already living monastic asceticism. He was later ordained a priest and then, in 370, bishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia in what is present day Turkey.

Through preaching and writing, he carried out intense pastoral, theological and literary activities. With wise balance, he was able to blend service to souls with dedication to prayer and meditation in solitude. Taking advantage of his own personal experience, he favored the foundation of many “fraternities” or Christian communities consecrated to God, which he frequently visited (cf. Gregory of Nazianzus. “Oratio 43,29 in Laudem Basilii”: PG 36,536b). Through his words and his writings, many of which still exist today (cf. “Regulae Brevius Tractatae, Proemio”: PG 31,1080ab), he exhorted them to live and to grow in perfection. Many drew from his writings to establish norms of ancient monasticism, including St. Benedict, who considered St. Basil his teacher (cf. “Regula” 73:5).

In reality, St. Basil created a special kind of monasticism, not closed off from the local Church, but open to it. His monks were part of the local Church, they were its animating nucleus. Preceding others of the faithful in following Christ and not merely in having faith, they showed firm devotion to him — love for him — above all in works of charity. These monks, who established schools and hospitals, were at the service of the poor and showed Christian life in its fullness. The Servant of God, John Paul II, speaking about monasticism, wrote: “Many believe that monasticism, an institution so important for the whole Church, was established for all times principally by St. Basil — or that, at least, the nature of monasticism would not have been so well defined without Basil’s decisive contribution” (“Patres Ecclesiae,” 2).

As bishop and pastor of his vast diocese, Basil constantly worried about the difficult material conditions in which the faithful lived; he firmly condemned evils; he worked in favor of the poor and marginalized; he spoke to rulers in order to relieve the sufferings of the people, above all in moments of disaster; he looked out for the freedom of the Church, going up against those in power to defend the right to profess the true faith (cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, “Oratio 43: 48-51 in Laudem Basilii”: PG 36,557c-561c). To God, who is love and charity, Basil gave witness by building hospitals for the needy (cf. Basil, Letters 94: PG 32,488bc), much like a city of mercy, that took its name from him “Basiliade” (cf. Sozomeno, “Historia Eccl.” 6,34: PG 67, 1387a). It has been the inspiration for modern hospital institutions of recovery and cure of the sick.

Aware that “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 10), Basil, though he was concerned with charity, the sign of faith, was also a wise “liturgical reformer” (cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, “Oratio 43,34 in Laudem Basilii”: PG 36,541c). He left us a wonderful Eucharistic prayer (or anaphora) which is named after him, and helped to organize the prayer and the psalmody:

Because of him the people loved and knew the Psalms, and came to pray them even during the night (cf. Basil, “In Psalmum” 1,1: PG 29,212a-213c). In this way we can see how liturgy, adoration and prayer come together with charity, and depend upon each other.

With zeal and courage, Basil opposed heretics, who denied that Jesus Christ is God like the Father (cf. Basil, Letters 9,3: PG 32,272a; “Ep.” 52: 1-3: PG 32,392b-396a; “Adv. Eunomium” 1,20: PG 29,556c). In the same way, contrary to those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, he taught that the Spirit is also God, and “must be numbered and glorified with the Father and the Son” (cf. “De Spiritu Sancto”: SC 17bis, 348). Because of this, Basil is one of the great Fathers that formulated the doctrine of the Trinity: one God, because he is love, he is God in three persons, who form the most profound unity in existence, divine unity.

In his love for Christ and his Gospel, the great Cappadocian also worked to heal the divisions within the Church (cf. Letters 70 and 243), working so that all might be converted to Christ and his word (cf. “De Iudicio” 4: PG 31,660b-661a), a unifying force, which all believers must obey (cf. ibid. 1-3: PG 31,653a-656c).

In conclusion, Basil spent himself completely in faithful service to the Church in his multifaceted episcopal ministry. According to the program laid out by him, he became “apostle and minister of Christ, dispenser of the mysteries of God, herald of the kingdom, model and rule of piety, eye of the body of the Church, pastor of Christ’s sheep, merciful physician, father and nurturer, cooperator with God, God’s farmer and builder of God’s temple” (cf. “Moralia” 80: 11-20: PG 31: 864b-868b).

This is the program that the holy bishop gives to those who proclaim the word — yesterday like today — a program that he himself generously put into practice. In 379, Basil, not yet 50 years old, consumed by hard work and asceticism, returned to God, “in the hope of eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (“On Baptism” 1,2,9). He was a man who truly lived with his gaze fixed on Christ, a man of love for his neighbor. Full of the hope and the joy of faith, Basil shows us how to be real Christians.

[Translation of the catechesis by ZENIT; original English © Copyright 2007 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis on the church Fathers today brings us to the great fourth-century bishop, Saint Basil, whom the Byzantine liturgy refers to as a “light of the Church.” Though he had received the best education possible, at the conclusion of his studies he yearned to learn more. He discovered that only Christ could fulfill him, and so dedicated himself completely to a monastic life of prayer and charitable works. Ordained Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in 370, Basil tirelessly cared for his people and devoted himself continuously to meditation on the sacred word. He attended to the material needs of his flock, supported the poor and marginalized, and defended the freedom to profess the Christian faith. A special love for the sick led him to found many hospitals. Basil’s pastoral activity flowed from a deep devotion to the sacred liturgy; in fact, the Church still possesses a Eucharistic prayer bearing his name. Basil also firmly corrected those who denied the divinity of either Christ or the Holy Spirit. We find in Basil an outstanding model of free, total, and uncompromising service to the Church. May God give us the courage to imitate him.

I extend a cordial greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience, especially the athletes and organizers of the European Maccabi Games. May God bestow abundant blessings upon all of you!

[The Pope then made an appeal to young people:]

Dear Young People,

One year from now we will meet at World Youth Day in Sydney! I want to encourage you to prepare well for this marvelous celebration of the faith, which will be spent in the company of your bishops, priests, Religious, youth leaders and one another. Enter fully into the life of your parishes and participate enthusiastically in diocesan events! In this way you will be equipped spiritually to experience new depths of understanding of all that we believe when we gather in Sydney next July.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As you know, these words of Jesus form the theme of World Youth Day 2008. How the Apostles felt upon hearing these words, we can only imagine, but their confusion was no doubt tempered with a sense of awe and of eager anticipation for the coming of the Spirit. United in prayer with Mary and the others gathered in the Upper Room (cfr Acts 1:14), they experienced the true power of the Spirit, whose presence transforms uncertainty, fear, and division into purpose, hope and communion.

A sense of awe and eager anticipation also describes how we feel as we make preparations to meet in Sydney. For many of us, this will be a long journey. Yet Australia and its people evoke images of a warm welcome and wondrous beauty, of an ancient aboriginal history and a multitude of vibrant cities and communities. I know that already the ecclesial and government authorities, together with numerous young Australians, are working very hard to ensure an exceptional experience for us all. I offer them my heartfelt thanks.

World Youth Day is much more than an event. It is a time of deep spiritual renewal, the fruits of which benefit the whole of society. Young pilgrims are filled with the desire to pray, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the wonder of the human soul and shows the way to be “the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ” (Deus Caritas Est, 33).

It is this love — Christ’s love — for which the world yearns. Thus you are called by so many to “be his witnesses.” Some of you have friends with little real purpose in their lives, perhaps caught up in a futile search for endless new experiences. Bring them to World Youth Day too! In fact, I have noticed that against the tide of secularism many young people are rediscovering the satisfying quest for authentic beauty, goodness and truth. Through your witness you help them in their search for the Spirit of God. Be courageous in that witness! Strive to spread Christ’s guiding light, which gives purpose to all life, making lasting joy and happiness possible for everyone.

My dear young people, until we meet in Sydney, may the Lord protect you all. Let us entrust these preparations to Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians. With her, let us pray: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.”

On St. Cyprian

May 27, 2008

“His Book on the ‘Our Father’ Has Helped Me to Pray Better”

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 6, 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. Cyprian.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Continuing with our catechetical series on the great figures of the ancient Church, we arrive today to an excellent African bishop of the third century, St. Cyprian, “the first bishop in Africa to attain the crown of martyrdom.” His fame, as his first biographer, the deacon Pontius, testifies, is linked to his literary production and pastoral activity in the 13 years between his conversion and his martyrdom (cf. “Vida” 19,1; 1,1).

St. Cyprian was born in Carthage to a rich pagan family. After a squandered youth, Cyprian converted to Christianity at age 35. He himself tells us about his spiritual pilgrimage: “When I was still in a dark night,” he wrote months after his baptism, “it seemed to me extremely difficult and exhausting to do what the mercy of God was proposing to me. … I was bound by many mistakes of my past,  life and I didn’t think I could be free, to such extent that I would follow my vices and favored my sinful desires. … Later, with the help of the regenerative water, the misery of my previous life was washed away; a sovereign light illumined my heart; a second birth restored me to a completely new life. In a marvelous way, all doubt was swept away. … I understood clearly that what used to live in me were the worldly desires of the flesh and that, on the contrary, what the Holy Spirit had generated in me was divine and heavenly” (“A Donato,” 3-4).

Immediately after his conversion Cyprian, despite envy and resistance, was chosen for the priestly office and elevated to the dignity of bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy, he faced the two first persecutions mandated by imperial decree: Decius’ in 250 and Valerian’s in 257-258. After the particularly cruel persecution of Decius, the bishop had to work hard to restore order in the Christian community. Many faithful, in fact, had renounced their faith or had not reacted adequately in the face of such a test. These were the so-called lapsi, that is, “fallen,” who fervently desired to re-enter the community.

The debate regarding their readmission divided the Christians of Carthage into those who were lax and those who were rigorists. To these difficulties was added a serious plague that scourged Africa and posed grave theological questions both within the Church and in regard to the pagans. Finally, we must remember the controversy between St. Cyprian and the Bishop of Rome, Stephen, regarding the validity of baptism administered to the pagans by heretical Christians.

Amid these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian showed a true gift for governing: He was strict, but not inflexible with the “fallen,” giving them the possibility of forgiveness after a period of exemplary penance; in regard to Rome, he was firm in his defense of the traditions of the Church in Africa; he was extremely understanding and full of a truly, authentic evangelical spirit when exhorting Christians to fraternal assistance toward pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful, quite afraid of losing both their lives and their material possessions, that their true life and authentic goods are not of this world; he was unyielding in fighting the corrupt practices and sins that destroy the moral life, especially avarice.

“Thus were his days spent,” narrates Deacon Pontius, “when by the command of the proconsul, unexpectedly, the police arrived at this house” (“Vida,” 15,1). That day the holy bishop was arrested and, after a brief interrogation, courageously faced martyrdom amid his people.

Cyprian composed numerous treatises and letters, always linked to his pastoral ministry. Seldom given to theological speculation, he wrote mostly for the edification of the community and to encourage the good behavior of the faithful. In fact, the Church was his favorite subject. He distinguishes between the hierarchical “visible Church” and the mystical “invisible Church,” but he strongly affirms that the Church is one, founded on Peter.

He never tires of repeating that “he who abandons the Chair of Peter, upon which the Church is founded, lives in the illusion that he still belongs to the Church” (“The Unity of the Catholic Church,” 4).

Cyprian knew well, and strongly stated it, that “there is no salvation outside the Church” (Epistle 4,4 and 73,21), and that “he who doesn’t have the Church as his mother can’t have God as his Father” (“The Unity of the Catholic Church,” 4).

Unity is an irrevocable characteristic of the Church, symbolized by Christ’s seamless garment (Ibid., 7): a unity that, as he says, finds its foundation in Peter (Ibid., 4) and its perfect fulfillment in the Eucharist (Epistle 63,13).

“There is only one God, one Christ,” Cyprian exhorts, “one Church, one faith, one Christian people firmly united by the cement of harmony; and that which by nature is one cannot be separated” (“The Unity of the Catholic Church,” 23).

We have spoken of his thoughts on the Church, but let us not forget, lastly, his teachings on prayer. I particularly like his book on the “Our Father” which has helped me to understand and pray better the “Lord’s Prayer.” Cyprian teaches us that precisely in the Our Father, Christians are offered the right way of praying; and he emphasizes that this prayer is said in plural “so that whoever prays it, prays not for himself alone.”

“Our prayer,” he writes, “is public and communal, and when we pray, we pray not only for ourselves but for the whole people, for we are one with the people” (“The Lord’s Prayer,” 8).

In this manner, personal and liturgical prayer are presented as firmly united to each other. This unity is based on the fact that they both respond to the same Word of God. The Christian does not say “My Father,” but “Our Father,” even in the secret of his own room, because he knows that in all places and in all circumstances, he is a member of the one Body.

“Let us pray then my most beloved brothers,” writes the bishop of Carthage, “as God, the teacher, has taught us. It is an intimate and confident prayer to pray to God with what is his, elevating to his ears Christ’s prayer. May the Father recognize the words of his Son when we lift a prayer to him: that he who dwells interiorly in the spirit would also be present in the voice. … Moreover, when we pray, we ought to have a way of speaking and praying that, with discipline, remains calm and reserved. Let us think that we are under God’s gaze.

“It is necessary to be pleasing to the divine eyes both in our bodily attitude and our tone of voice. … And when we gather with the brethren and celebrate the divine sacrifice with a priest of God, we must do it with reverent fear and discipline, without throwing our prayers to the wind with loud voices, nor elevating in long speeches a petition to God that ought to be presented with moderation, for God does not listen to the voice but to the heart (‘non vocis sed cordis auditor est’)” (3-4).

These words are as valid today as they were then, and they help us to celebrate well the sacred liturgy.

Undeniably, Cyprian is at the origins of that fertile theological-spiritual tradition that sees in the “heart” the privileged place of prayer. According to the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, the heart is, in fact, the inner core of the human being where God dwells. That encounter in which God speaks to man and man listens to God takes place there; there man speaks to God and God listens to man; all this takes place through the only divine Word. It is precisely in this sense that, echoing Cyprian, Smaragdus, abbot of St. Michael, at the beginning of the ninth century, asserts that prayer “is the work of the heart, not of the lips, because God does not look at the words, but at the heart of him who prays.” (Diadem of the Monks, 1.)

Let us have this “listening heart” of which Scriptures and the Fathers speak (cf. 1 Kings 3:9): How greatly we need it! Only then will we be able to experience fully that God is our Father and the Church, the holy Bride of Christ, is truly our Mother.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the Fathers of the early Church, we now turn to Saint Cyprian. A convert from paganism, Cyprian became the Bishop of Carthage and guided the Church in Africa through the persecution of the Emperor Decius and its aftermath. He showed firmness and pastoral sensitivity in readmitting, after due penance, those Christians who had lapsed during the persecution, and he worked strenuously for the spiritual and moral renewal of the community. His many writings, closely linked to his ministry as Bishop, stress the unity of Christ’s Church, founded on Peter and most perfectly realized in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Cyprian is also known for his writings on prayer, and in particular his commentary on the Our Father. There he emphasizes both the public, communal nature of Christian prayer, and the importance of a personal “prayer of the heart”. Cyprian’s devotion to the word of God and his love for the Church found supreme expression in his death as a martyr during the persecution of Valerian. May his example and teaching help us to draw nearer to the Lord in prayer and in the unity of his Body, the Church.

I am pleased to greet the officers and cadets from the New York Maritime College and the members of the European Ophthalmic Pathology Society. I am also happy to welcome the pilgrims who have travelled to Rome for the Canonizations last Sunday. May we all continue to be inspired by the lives of these saints. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Finland, England, Scotland, New Zealand and the United States of America, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

On Solemnity of Pentecost

February 27, 2008
On Solemnity of Pentecost
“We Relive the Birth of the Church”

VATICAN CITY, MAY 27, 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 Regina Caeli.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. And through today’s liturgy we relive the birth of the Church as it is narrated by Luke in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-13). Fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended upon the community of disciples — “persevering with one mind in prayer” — gathered together “with Mary, the mother of Jesus” and with the twelve apostles (cf. Acts 1:14; 2,1).

We can say, therefore, that the Church had its solemn beginning with the descent of the Holy Spirit. In this extraordinary event we find the essential and qualifying marks of the Church: the Church is one, like the community of Pentecost, which was united in prayer and “of one mind”: “it had but one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).

The Church is holy, not because of its own merits, but because, animated by the Holy Spirit, it keeps its gazed fixed upon Christ to become conformed to him and his love. The Church is catholic because the Gospel is destined for all people and for this reason, already at the beginning, the Holy Spirit gives the Church the ability to speak in different tongues. The Church is apostolic because, built upon the foundation of the apostles, it faithfully conserves their teaching through the uninterrupted chain of apostolic succession.

The Church, moreover, is missionary by its nature, and from the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit does not cease to move it along the roads of the world to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. This reality, which we can verify in every epoch, is already anticipated in the Book of Acts, in which the passage of the Gospel from the Jews to the pagans, from Jerusalem to Rome, is described.

Rome represents the pagan world and therefore all peoples who are outside the ancient people of God. In fact, the Acts conclude with the arrival of the Gospel in Rome. We can say, then, that Rome is the concrete name of the catholicity and missionary spirit of the Church; it expresses fidelity to the origins, to the Church of all times, to a Church that speaks in all languages and goes out to meet every culture.

Dear brothers and sisters, the first Pentecost happened when Mary Most Holy was present among the disciples in the cenacle in Jerusalem and prayed. Today also we entrust ourselves to her maternal intercession so that the Holy Spirit descend abundantly upon the Church of our time and fill the hearts of all the faithful and enkindle in them — in us — the fire of his love.

[After the recitation of the Regina Caeli the Pope greeted all the faithful and pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square. To the English-speaking pilgrims he addressed the following words:]

I warmly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims who have come here today, especially the Families of Nazareth and the members of the military community of Hohenfels, who are making their retreat in Rome. On this Pentecost Sunday the whole Church gives thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit sent to the Apostles. May the same Spirit pour out his gifts upon all of you, filling your hearts with love and strengthening you to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ. May God bless you all.