Recently in Pope Benedict XVI Category

Lumen Fidei

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How extraordinary! An encyclical largely written by one Pope and signed and promulgated by another. I have already begun to study it. The following section from Chapter Three leaped off the page and into my heart:

The Church, Mother of our Faith
37. Those who have opened their hearts to God's love, heard his voice and received his light, cannot keep this gift to themselves. Since faith is hearing and seeing, it is also handed on as word and light. Addressing the Corinthians, Saint Paul used these two very images. On the one hand he says: "But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture -- 'I believed, and so I spoke' -- we also believe, and so we speak" (2 Cor 4:13). The word, once accepted, becomes a response, a confession of faith, which spreads to others and invites them to believe.
Paul also uses the image of light: "All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image" (2 Cor 3:18). It is a light reflected from one face to another, even as Moses himself bore a reflection of God's glory after having spoken with him: "God... has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).
The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians; as it spreads, it comes down to us, so that we too can share in that vision and reflect that light to others, in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another. Christians, in their poverty, plant a seed so rich that it becomes a great tree, capable of filling the world with its fruit.

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Spiritual Cleansing

Something truly extraordinary happened in the gardens of Vatican City State this morning. Pope Francis, in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI, consecrated Vatican City to Saint Michael the Archangel and to Saint Joseph, whom the Church Universal venerates as her patron and invokes as the Terror of Demons. The Holy Father, Pope Francis said, "On consecrating Vatican City State to Saint Michael the Archangel, we ask him to defend us from the Evil One and to cast him outside." Is this not an implicit prayer of exorcism? The housecleaning of Vatican City is no mere figure of speech. The Pope released a mighty archangelic power of cleansing this morning.

Consecration

It is also worthy of note that Pope Francis used the term "to consecrate" rather than the softer "to entrust" that was in favour some years ago. This would, I think, indicate a certain theological shift that may not be pleasing to everyone in the Curial offices. My dear friend, Monsignor Arthur Calkins, is an expert on the question and vocabulary of consecration. I should be very eager to hear him on this point.

Here is a translation (courtesy of Zenit) of the brief address Francis gave this morning at the inauguration of a monument to Michael the Archangel in Vatican City State. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI joined Francis for the ceremony. Subtitles are my own.

Holiness,
Lord Cardinals, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Distinguished Gentlemen and Ladies!
Initiative Planned by Pope Benedict XVI
We have gathered here in the Vatican Gardens to inaugurate a monument to Saint Michael the Archangel, patron of Vatican City State. It is an initiative planned some time ago, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, to whom always go our affection and gratitude and to whom we wish to express our great joy to have him present here in our midst today. My heartfelt thank you!
I am grateful to the Presidency of the Governorate, in particular to Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, for his cordial words, to the offices and workmen involved in bringing this about. I also thank Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, President Emeritus of the Governorate, for his presentation to us of the works carried out and the results attained. A word of appreciation goes to the sculptor, Mr. Giuseppe Antonio Lomuscio, and to the benefactor, Mr. Claudio Chiais, who are present here. Thank you!
Michael: The Champion of God's Primacy
There are several artistic works in the Vatican Gardens; however, this one, which is added today, assumes a place of particular importance, be it for its location, be it for the meaning it expresses. In fact, it's not only a celebratory work, but an invitation to reflection and prayer, which is well inserted in the Year of Faith. Michael - which means: "Who is like unto God?" - is the champion of God's primacy, of His transcendence and power. Michael fights to re-establish divine justice; he defends the People of God from its enemies and above all of the enemy par excellence, the devil. And Saint Michael triumphs because it is God who acts in him. This sculpture, then, reminds us that evil has been vanquished, the accuser is unmasked, his head is crushed, because salvation was accomplished once and for all in the Blood of Christ.
To Cast the Evil One Outside Vatican City State
Even if the devil always tries to scratch the Archangel's face and man's face, God is stronger; the victory is His and His salvation is offered to every man. We are not alone in life's journey and trials; we are accompanied and sustained by the Angels of God who offer, so to speak, their wings to help us surmount so many dangers, to be able to fly high in regard to those realities that can weigh down our life or drag us down. On consecrating Vatican City State to Saint Michael the Archangel, we ask him to defend us from the Evil One and to cast him outside.
Saint Joseph
Dear brothers and sisters, we consecrate Vatican City State also to Saint Joseph, the custodian of Jesus, the custodian of the Holy Family. May his presence make us stronger and more courageous in making space for God in our life to overcome evil always with good. We ask him to guard us, to take care of us, so that the life of grace will grow every day more in each of us.

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

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Buon compleanno, caro santo Padre Benedetto!

April 16th is the 86th birthday of dear Pope Benedict XVI. He has the same age as my own father, something that always made me feel especially close to him. Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927. It was Holy Saturday. He was baptized on the same day. One-hundred-forty-four years earlier, on April 16, 1783 a poor man, who prayed always, died in Rome. His name: Benedict Joseph Labre. It is strange and wonderful that a man named Joseph, born on the feast of Saint Benedict Joseph, should take the name Benedict upon his election to the papacy. It is as if a providential indication of his destiny had been given from the beginning.

A Pilgrim

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, born on March 26, 1748 in northern France, exemplifies a very particular kind of holiness found in both East and West. He was a wanderer who prayed ceaselessly, a pilgrim walking from one holy place to another, a fool for Christ.

A Misfit

As a young man, Benedict Joseph made a number of unsuccessful attempts at monastic life. He tried his vocation with the Trappists, with the Cistercians, and with the Carthusians, but, in every instance, after a few months or a few weeks, he was rejected as being unsuitable. Benedict Joseph was endearing in his own way. He was a gentle young man, tortured by scruples of conscience, and sensitive. He was completely honest, humble, candid, and open. He was cheerful. But, for all of that, he was a misfit. There was an oddness about him. He was drawn irresistibly to monastic life and, at the same time, rejected from every monastery in which he tried his vocation.

The Road

When he was twenty-two years old, Benedict Joseph left the Abbey of Sept-Fons, still wearing his Cistercian novice's habit, with a rosary around his neck, and a knapsack on his back. His only possessions, apart from the clothes he wore, were his two precious rosaries, a New Testament, a Breviary for reciting the Divine Office, and The Imitation of Christ.

The Divine Office

I have always found Benedict Joseph's attachment to the Divine Office wonderfully compelling. Deprived of choir and choir-stall, of sonorous abbey bells calling to prayer at regular intervals, and of the support of chanting in unison with others, Saint Benedict Joseph carried the Hours into the highways and byways of Europe, into the shadows of the Roman Colosseum, into humble parish churches, and into the occasional barns where he rested upon the hay. His love for the Divine Office made him a worthy namesake of the great Patriarch who ordered, "that nothing be put before the Work of God."

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There was a similar love for the Divine Office among the joyful, homespun sort of folks who belonged to the forward-looking lay movements of the post-war period: The Catholic Worker, Madonna House, the Grail Girls, the Legion of Mary, and the leading people in the Catholic Rural Life Conference in the United States. The breviary, in one of the many attractive presentations available during that time, was deemed indispensable to a thriving Catholic life. I remember Adé Béthune telling me how she and her young friends, working as apprentices in the John Stevens stone carving business in Newport, Rhode Island, would interrupt their labours, morning and evening, to say Prime and Compline . . . in Latin! They were Benedictine Oblates.

Catholics of the pre-conciliar 1950s discovered the Divine Office and savoured it like a new wine, capable of rejoicing souls with a kind of sober inebriation in the Holy Spirit: Christ the Head praying in His members. The magnificent Collegeville Short Breviary,, complete with notes by Pius Parsch; The Little Breviary originally edited in The Netherlands; Frank Duff's abridged Breviary for members of the Legion of Mary; and the Collegeville edition of Lauds, Vespers, and Compline were among the more popular editions in circulation.

I would guess that the inroads of the Charismatic Movement had something to do with the abandonment of the Divine Office among ordinary work-a-day Catholics. Later editions of the "Liturgy of the Hours" were poor in content and in presentation. They failed to enchant and captivate souls the way earlier editions of the Divine Office had.

I rather suspect that if The Liturgical Press (Collegeville) were to re-issue the classic Short Breviary today, it would mark a renaissance of authentic liturgical prayer, but I digress.

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Saint Benedict Joseph visited the shrine of Our Lady of Einsieldeln in Switzerland.

Bound to God Alone

Walking all the way to Rome, begging as he went, Saint Benedict Joseph became a vagabond bound to God alone, a pilgrim vowed to ceaseless prayer. He walked from one shrine to another, visiting the Holy House of Loreto, Assisi, Naples, and Bari in Italy. He made his way to Einsiedeln in Switzerland, to Paray-le-Monial in France, and to Compostela in Spain. Saint Benedict Joseph lived on whatever people would give him, and readily shared what little pittance he had. He observed silence, praying constantly. He was mocked, abused, and treated like a madman. Cruel children pelted him with garbage and stones.

Rome

After 1774, apart from an annual pilgrimage to the Madonna at the Holy House of Loreto, Benedict Joseph remained in the Eternal City. At night he would sleep in the Colosseum. During the day he would seek out those churches where the Forty Hours Devotion was being held, so as to be able to adore the Blessed Sacrament exposed. So striking was his love for the Blessed Sacrament that the Romans came to call him "the beggar of Perpetual Adoration." He was graced with a profound recollection in church. More than once he was observed in ecstasy, ravished into the love of God and shining with an unearthly light. It was on one of these occasions that the artist Antonio Cavallucci painted the beautiful portrait of Saint Benedict Joseph that allows us, even today, to see his handsome face illumined by union with God.

The Death of a Saint

On April 16, 1783 Benedict Joseph collapsed on the steps of the Church of Santa Maria dei Monti. It was the Wednesday of Holy Week. He was carried to a neighbouring house where he received the last sacraments, and died. He was thirty-five years old. No sooner did news of his death reach the streets than a huge throng gathered crying, "È morto il santo! -- The saint is dead!" Benedict Joseph was buried beneath the altar in a side chapel of Santa Maria dei Monti. I have gone there to pray, and knelt before the life-sized sculpture in marble that depicts him in the repose of a holy death.

Miracles

Benedict Joseph Labre was dead but a few months when more than 136 miraculous healings were attributed to his intercession. Present in Rome at the time of his funeral was an American Protestant clergyman from Boston, The Reverend John Thayer. The experience of Benedict Joseph's holy death converted Thayer. He was received into the Catholic Church, ordained to the priesthood, and died in Limerick, Ireland in 1815.

This is the prayer to which The Reverend John Thayer attributed his conversion to Catholicism:

Almighty and eternal God, Father of mercy, Saviour of mankind, I humbly intreat thee by thy sovereign goodness, to enlighten my mind, and to touch my heart, that by true faith, hope and charity I may live and die in the true Religion of Jesus Christ. I am sure that as there is but one true God; so there can be but one faith, one religion, one way of salvation, and that every other way which is opposite to this, can only lead to endless misery. It is this faith, O my God, which I earnestly desire to embrace, in order to save my soul. I protest therefore before thy divine Majesty, and I declare by all thy divine attributes, that I will follow that Religion which thou shalt shew me to be true; and that I will abandon, at whatever cost, that in which I shall discover error and falsehood : I do not deserve, it is true, this favour on account of the greatness of my sins, for which I have a profound sorrow because they offend a God so good, so great, so holy and worthy of my love; but what I do not deserve, I hope 'to obtain from thy infinite mercy, and I conjure thee to grant through the merits of the precious blood which was shed for us poor sinners by thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Intercessions

Father John Thayer's remarkable conversion and the witness of countless other miracles and graces attributed to Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, make me bold in presenting to him my own list of intentions and needs. And I invite you, dear reader, to add your intentions and needs to mine.

I, first of all, recommend to the intercession of Saint Benedict Joseph, our beloved Holy Father emeritus, who bears both his names: Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, eighty-six years ago today.

I ask the powerful intercession of Saint Benedict Joseph for all who suffer from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other forms of emotional and mental illness.

I ask his intercession for a revival of liturgical prayer among ordinary Catholic laity, and for the world-wide extension of silent adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

I present to Saint Benedict Joseph Silverstream Priory. Were he to knock at our door, I would probably, after a few weeks or months, be obliged to suggest, as did so many others, that his place might be elsewhere. He would, however, take comfort, I think, as do I, in this excerpt from our Constitutions:

The real stability of the monk is both inward and ecclesial, insofar as it is fixed in the Sacred Host, that is, in Jesus Christ truly present as Priest and Victim upon the altars of the Church, whence He offers Himself to the Father as a pure oblation from the rising of the sun to its setting. Ubi Hostia, ibi Ecclesia.

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, pray for us, that like you we may pass through this life as pilgrims, and as perpetual adorers, magnetized by the wondrous mystery of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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How vitally important it is to receive the messages of the Holy Father in hearts that are humble and open! The Holy Father teaches indefatigably, offering the Church the splendour of the truth, presented with the oil of consolation and the wine of hope. The images are (from top to bottom) Rembrandt's Good Samaritan, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Venerable Luigi Novarese, the founder of the Silent Workers of the Cross, and Saint Anna Schäffer of Mindelstetten.

"Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

You Are Christ's Living and Transparent Image

1. On 11 February 2013, the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Twenty-first World Day of the Sick will be solemnly celebrated at the Marian Shrine of Altötting. This day represents for the sick, for health care workers, for the faithful and for all people of goodwill "a privileged time of prayer, of sharing, of offering one's sufferings for the good of the Church, and a call for all to recognize in the features of their suffering brothers and sisters the Holy Face of Christ, who, by suffering, dying and rising has brought about the salvation of mankind" (John Paul II, Letter for the Institution of the World Day of the Sick, 13 May 1992, 3). On this occasion I feel especially close to you, dear friends, who in health care centres or at home, are undergoing a time of trial due to illness and suffering. May all of you be sustained by the comforting words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: "You are not alone, separated, abandoned or useless. You have been called by Christ and are his living and transparent image" (Message to the Poor, the Sick and the Suffering).

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Draw from the Infinite Love of God

2. So as to keep you company on the spiritual pilgrimage that leads us from Lourdes, a place which symbolizes hope and grace, to the Shrine of Altötting, I would like to propose for your reflection the exemplary figure of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:25-37). The Gospel parable recounted by Saint Luke is part of a series of scenes and events taken from daily life by which Jesus helps us to understand the deep love of God for every human being, especially those afflicted by sickness or pain. With the concluding words of the parable of the Good Samaritan, "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37), the Lord also indicates the attitude that each of his disciples should have towards others, especially those in need. We need to draw from the infinite love of God, through an intense relationship with him in prayer, the strength to live day by day with concrete concern, like that of the Good Samaritan, for those suffering in body and spirit who ask for our help, whether or not we know them and however poor they may be. This is true, not only for pastoral or health care workers, but for everyone, even for the sick themselves, who can experience this condition from a perspective of faith: "It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love" (Spe Salvi, 37).

The Oil of Consolation and the Wine of Hope

3. Various Fathers of the Church saw Jesus himself in the Good Samaritan; and in the man who fell among thieves they saw Adam, our very humanity wounded and disoriented on account of its sins (cf. Origen, Homily on the Gospel of Luke XXXIV,1-9; Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, 71-84; Augustine, Sermon 171). Jesus is the Son of God, the one who makes present the Father's love, a love which is faithful, eternal and without boundaries. But Jesus is also the one who sheds the garment of his divinity, who leaves his divine condition to assume the likeness of men (cf. Phil 2:6-8), drawing near to human suffering, even to the point of descending into hell, as we recite in the Creed, in order to bring hope and light. He does not jealously guard his equality with God (cf. Phil 2:6) but, filled with compassion, he looks into the abyss of human suffering so as to pour out the oil of consolation and the wine of hope.

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Saints and Friends of God

4. The Year of Faith which we are celebrating is a fitting occasion for intensifying the service of charity in our ecclesial communities, so that each one of us can be a good Samaritan for others, for those close to us. Here I would like to recall the innumerable figures in the history of the Church who helped the sick to appreciate the human and spiritual value of their suffering, so that they might serve as an example and an encouragement.

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, "an expert in the scientia amoris" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 42), was able to experience "in deep union with the Passion of Jesus" the illness that brought her "to death through great suffering" (Address at General Audience, 6 April 2011).

The Venerable Luigi Novarese, who still lives in the memory of many, throughout his ministry realized the special importance of praying for and with the sick and suffering, and he would often accompany them to Marian shrines, especially to the Grotto of Lourdes.

Raoul Follereau, moved by love of neighbour, dedicated his life to caring for people afflicted by Hansen's disease, even at the world's farthest reaches, promoting, among other initiatives, World Leprosy Day.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would always begin her day with an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist and then she would go out into the streets, rosary in hand, to find and serve the Lord in the sick, especially in those "unwanted, unloved, uncared for".

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Saint Anna Schäffer of Mindelstetten, too, was able to unite in an exemplary way her sufferings to those of Christ: "her sick-bed became her cloister cell and her suffering a missionary service. Strengthened by daily communion, she became an untiring intercessor in prayer and a mirror of God's love for the many who sought her counsel" (Canonization Homily, 21 October 2012).

The Blessed Virgin Mary

In the Gospel the Blessed Virgin Mary stands out as one who follows her suffering Son to the supreme sacrifice on Golgotha. She does not lose hope in God's victory over evil, pain and death, and she knows how to accept in one embrace of faith and love, the Son of God who was born in the stable of Bethlehem and died on the Cross. Her steadfast trust in the power of God was illuminated by Christ's resurrection, which offers hope to the suffering and renews the certainty of the Lord's closeness and consolation.

5. Lastly, I would like to offer a word of warm gratitude and encouragement to Catholic health care institutions and to civil society, to Dioceses and Christian communities, to religious congregations engaged in the pastoral care of the sick, to health care workers' associations and to volunteers. May all realize ever more fully that "the Church today lives a fundamental aspect of her mission in lovingly and generously accepting every human being, especially those who are weak and sick" (Christifideles Laici, 38).

The Apostolate of Mercy

I entrust this Twenty-first World Day of the Sick to the intercession of Our Lady of Graces, venerated at Altötting, that she may always accompany those who suffer in their search for comfort and firm hope. May she assist all who are involved in the apostolate of mercy, so that they may become good Samaritans to their brothers and sisters afflicted by illness and suffering. To all I impart most willingly my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 2 January 2013

Caritas Christi urget nos

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MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
FOR LENT 2013
Believing in charity
calls forth charity
"We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us" (1 Jn 4:16)


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The celebration of Lent, in the context of the Year of Faith, offers us a valuable opportunity to meditate on the relationship between faith and charity: between believing in God - the God of Jesus Christ - and love, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which guides us on the path of devotion to God and others.

1. Faith as a response to the love of God

In my first Encyclical, I offered some thoughts on the close relationship between the theological virtues of faith and charity. Setting out from Saint John's fundamental assertion: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us" (1 Jn 4:16), I observed that "being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction ... Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere 'command'; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us" (Deus Caritas Est, 1). Faith is this personal adherence - which involves all our faculties - to the revelation of God's gratuitous and "passionate" love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ. The encounter with God who is Love engages not only the heart but also the intellect: "Acknowledgement of the living God is one path towards love, and the 'yes' of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never 'finished' and complete" (ibid., 17). Hence, for all Christians, and especially for "charity workers", there is a need for faith, for "that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love" (ibid., 31a). Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ's love and accordingly, under the influence of that love - "Caritas Christi urget nos" (2 Cor 5:14) - they are profoundly open to loving their neighbour in concrete ways (cf. ibid., 33). This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God's love.

"Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! ... Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light - and in the end, the only light - that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working" (ibid., 39). All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing mark of Christians is precisely "love grounded in and shaped by faith" (ibid., 7).

2. Charity as life in faith

The entire Christian life is a response to God's love. The first response is precisely faith as the acceptance, filled with wonder and gratitude, of the unprecedented divine initiative that precedes us and summons us. And the "yes" of faith marks the beginning of a radiant story of friendship with the Lord, which fills and gives full meaning to our whole life. But it is not enough for God that we simply accept his gratuitous love. Not only does he love us, but he wants to draw us to himself, to transform us in such a profound way as to bring us to say with Saint Paul: "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (cf. Gal 2:20).

When we make room for the love of God, then we become like him, sharing in his own charity. If we open ourselves to his love, we allow him to live in us and to bring us to love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become truly "active through love" (Gal 5:6); only then does he abide in us (cf. 1 Jn 4:12).

Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); charity is "walking" in the truth (cf. Eph 4:15). Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated (cf. Jn 15:14ff). Faith causes us to embrace the commandment of our Lord and Master; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice (cf. Jn 13:13-17). In faith we are begotten as children of God (cf. Jn 1:12ff); charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine sonship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22). Faith enables us to recognize the gifts that the good and generous God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

3. The indissoluble interrelation of faith and charity

In light of the above, it is clear that we can never separate, let alone oppose, faith and charity. These two theological virtues are intimately linked, and it is misleading to posit a contrast or "dialectic" between them. On the one hand, it would be too one-sided to place a strong emphasis on the priority and decisiveness of faith and to undervalue and almost despise concrete works of charity, reducing them to a vague humanitarianism. On the other hand, though, it is equally unhelpful to overstate the primacy of charity and the activity it generates, as if works could take the place of faith. For a healthy spiritual life, it is necessary to avoid both fideism and moral activism.

The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God's own love. In sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people's faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4). In the Church, contemplation and action, symbolized in some way by the Gospel figures of Mary and Martha, have to coexist and complement each other (cf. Lk 10:38-42). The relationship with God must always be the priority, and any true sharing of goods, in the spirit of the Gospel, must be rooted in faith (cf. General Audience, 25 April 2012). Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term "charity" to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the "ministry of the word". There is no action more beneficial - and therefore more charitable - towards one's neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person. As the Servant of God Pope Paul VI wrote in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, the proclamation of Christ is the first and principal contributor to development (cf. n. 16). It is the primordial truth of the love of God for us, lived and proclaimed, that opens our lives to receive this love and makes possible the integral development of humanity and of every man (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 8).

Essentially, everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God's gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us "fall in love with Love", and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.

Concerning the relationship between faith and works of charity, there is a passage in the Letter to the Ephesians which provides perhaps the best account of the link between the two: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God; not because of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (2:8-10). It can be seen here that the entire redemptive initiative comes from God, from his grace, from his forgiveness received in faith; but this initiative, far from limiting our freedom and our responsibility, is actually what makes them authentic and directs them towards works of charity. These are not primarily the result of human effort, in which to take pride, but they are born of faith and they flow from the grace that God gives in abundance. Faith without works is like a tree without fruit: the two virtues imply one another. Lent invites us, through the traditional practices of the Christian life, to nourish our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in love for God and neighbour, not least through the specific practices of fasting, penance and almsgiving.

4. Priority of faith, primacy of charity

Like any gift of God, faith and charity have their origin in the action of one and the same Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 13), the Spirit within us that cries out "Abba, Father" (Gal 4:6), and makes us say: "Jesus is Lord!" (1 Cor 12:3) and "Maranatha!" (1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20).

Faith, as gift and response, causes us to know the truth of Christ as Love incarnate and crucified, as full and perfect obedience to the Father's will and infinite divine mercy towards neighbour; faith implants in hearts and minds the firm conviction that only this Love is able to conquer evil and death. Faith invites us to look towards the future with the virtue of hope, in the confident expectation that the victory of Christ's love will come to its fullness. For its part, charity ushers us into the love of God manifested in Christ and joins us in a personal and existential way to the total and unconditional self-giving of Jesus to the Father and to his brothers and sisters. By filling our hearts with his love, the Holy Spirit makes us sharers in Jesus' filial devotion to God and fraternal devotion to every man (cf. Rom 5:5).

The relationship between these two virtues resembles that between the two fundamental sacraments of the Church: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism (sacramentum fidei) precedes the Eucharist (sacramentum caritatis), but is ordered to it, the Eucharist being the fullness of the Christian journey. In a similar way, faith precedes charity, but faith is genuine only if crowned by charity. Everything begins from the humble acceptance of faith ("knowing that one is loved by God"), but has to arrive at the truth of charity ("knowing how to love God and neighbour"), which remains for ever, as the fulfilment of all the virtues (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).

Dear brothers and sisters, in this season of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the event of the Cross and Resurrection - in which the love of God redeemed the world and shone its light upon history - I express my wish that all of you may spend this precious time rekindling your faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and sister that we encounter in our lives. For this intention, I raise my prayer to God, and I invoke the Lord's blessing upon each individual and upon every community!

From the Vatican, 15 October 2012

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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Here is the text of the Holy Father's General Audience of Wednesday, 16 January 2013. Again, he speaks to us of the Face of God. As the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI unfolds, it becomes more and radiant in the splendour of the Divine Countenance.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

God Makes Himself Known

The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, says that the intimate truth of the revelation of God shines for us "in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation"(no. 2). The Old Testament tells us how God, after the creation, despite original sin, despite man's arrogance in wanting to take the place of his Creator, again offers the possibility of his friendship, especially through the covenant with Abraham and the journey of a small nation, that of Israel, whom he chooses not according to the criteria of earthly power, but simply out of love. It is a choice that remains a mystery and reveals God's style, who calls some not to exclude others, but so that those called will act as bridge leading to Him: election is always an election for the other. In the history of the people of Israel we can retrace the stages of a long journey in which God makes himself known, reveals himself, enters into history with words and actions. For this work He uses mediators, such as Moses, the Prophets, the Judges, who communicate his will to the people, they remind them of the need for fidelity to the covenant and keep alive the expectation of the full and definitive realization of the divine promises.

Jesus Reveals to us the Face of God

And it is precisely the fulfillment of these promises that we contemplated in Christmas: God's revelation reaches its peak, its fullness. In Jesus of Nazareth, God truly visits his people, he visits humanity in a way that exceeds all expectation: he sends his only begotten Son, who becomes man, God himself. Jesus does not simply tell us something about God, he does not simply talk about the Father, because he is God, and thus he reveals to us the face of God. In the Prologue of his Gospel, John writes: "No one has ever seen God: it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (Jn 1:18).

God Has Shown His Face

I want to focus on this "revealing the face of God." In this regard, St. John, in his Gospel, relates to us a significant fact. Approaching the passion, Jesus reassures his disciples, inviting them not to be afraid and to have faith; then he initiates a dialogue with them in which he speaks of God the Father (cf. Jn 14:2-9). At one point, the apostle Philip asks Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied" (Jn 14:8). Philip is very practical and concrete: he says what we, too, want to say: "we want to see, show us the Father"; he asks to "see" the Father, to see his face. Jesus' answer is an answer not only for Philip, but also for us and leads us into the heart of the Christological faith of the Church; the Lord affirms: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). This expression contains a synthesis of the novelty of the New Testament, that novelty that appeared in the cave of Bethlehem: God can be seen, he has shown his face, he is visible in Jesus Christ.

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God Turns His Face to Us

Throughout the Old Testament the theme of "seeking the face of God" is ever present, so that the Hebrew term panîm, which means "face", occurs no less than 400 times, 100 of which refer to God, it means to see the face of God. Yet the Jewish religion, by forbidding all images, since God cannot be depicted - as instead occurred among their neighbors with the worship of idols; therefore, with this prohibition of imagery, the Old Testament seems to totally exclude "seeing" from worship and piety. What does it mean then, for the pious Israelite, to seek the face of God, while recognizing that there can be no image of Him? The question is important: on the one hand, it is said that God cannot be reduced to an object, to a simple image, nor can anything be put in the place of God; on the other, however, it is affirmed that He has a face, that is, He is a "You" that can enter into a relationship, who isn't closed in his Heavens looking down upon humanity. God is certainly above all things, but he turns to us, hears us, sees and speaks, makes covenants, is capable of love. The history of salvation is history of God with humanity, it is the history of this relationship of God who progressively reveals himself to man, letting him see his face.

The Splendor of the Divine Face is the Source of Life

Right at the beginning of the year, on January 1, we heard in the liturgy the beautiful prayer of blessing over the people: "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face to you and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26). The splendor of the divine face is the source of life, it is what allows us to see reality, and the light of his countenance is the guide to life. In the Old Testament there is a figure connected in a very special way to the theme of the "face of God": Moses, whom God chose to free the people from slavery in Egypt, to give them the Law of the covenant and to lead them to the Promised Land. Well, in chapter 33 of the Book of Exodus, it says that Moses had a close and confidential relationship with God: "The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks with his friend" (v. 11). By virtue of this confidence, Moses asks God: "Show me your glory," and the Lord's answer is clear: "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name ... But you cannot see my face, for no one shall see me and live ... Here is a place near me ... you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen "(vv. 18-23). On the one hand, then, there is the face to face dialogue as among friends, but on the other, there is the impossibility, in this life, of seeing the face of God, which remains hidden; the vision is limited. The Fathers say that these words, "you shall only see my back", mean: you can only follow Christ and in following you see from behind the mystery of God;God can be followed seeing his back.

The Face and Name of God

Something new happens, however, with the incarnation. The search for the face of God undergoes an unthinkable change, because now this face can be seen: that of Jesus, the Son of God who became man. In Him the path of God's revelation finds fulfillment, which began with the call of Abraham; He is the fullness of this revelation because he is the Son of God, he is both "the mediator and fullness of all revelation" (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 2), and in Him the content of Revelation and the Revealer coincide. Jesus shows us the face of God and makes known to us the name of God. In the priestly prayer at the Last Supper, He says to the Father: "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world ... I made your name known to them" (cf. Jn 17:6,26). The expression "name of God" means God as He who is present among men. To Moses at the burning bush, God had revealed his name, had made it possible to invoke him, had given a concrete sign of his "existence" among men. All this finds fulfillment and completeness in Jesus: He inaugurates a new way of God's presence in history, because he who sees Him, sees the Father, as he says to Philip (cf. Jn 14:9). Christianity - says Saint Bernard - is the "religion of the Word of God"; not, however, "a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word" (Hom. super Missus Est, IV, 11: PL 183, 86B). In the Patristic and Medieval traditions, a special formula is used to express this reality: Jesus is the Verbum abbreviatum (cf. Rom 9:28, referring to Isaiah 10:23), he is the short, abbreviated and substantial Word of the Father, who has told us everything about Him. In Jesus the whole Word is present.

Jesus the Mediator

In Jesus even the mediation between God and man finds its fullness. In the Old Testament, there is a host of figures who have performed this task, particularly Moses, the deliverer, the guide, the "mediator" of the covenant, as also the New Testament defines him (cf. Gal 3:19; Acts 7:35, Jn 1:17). Jesus, true God and true man, is not simply one of the mediators between God and man, he is "the mediator" of the new and everlasting covenant (cf. Heb 8:6; 9:15, 12:24); "For there is one God", Paul says, "and one mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5, Gal 3:19-20). In Him we see and meet the Father; in Him we can invoke God as "Abbà, Father"; in Him we are given salvation.

See the Face of God in the Face of Christ

The desire to know God truly, that is, to see the face of God, is in every man, even atheists. And we perhaps unwittingly have this desire to see simply who He is, what He is, who He is for us. But this desire is realized by following Christ, so we see his back and finally also see God as a friend, his face in the face of Christ.

The Eucharist is the Great School in Which We Learn to See the Face of God

The important thing is that we follow Christ not only when we are in need and when we find space for it in our daily affairs, but with our lives as such.The whole of life should be directed towards encountering Him, towards loving Him; and, in it, a central place must also be given to the love of one's neighbor, that love that, in the light of the Crucified One, enables us to recognize the face of Jesus in the poor, the weak, the suffering. This is only possible if the true face of Jesus has become familiar to us in listening to His Word, in interior dialogue, in entering into this Word in such a way as to really encounter him,and naturally in the Mystery of the Eucharist. In the Gospel of St. Luke there is the significant passage of the two disciples of Emmaus, who recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, thought after being prepared by the journey with Him, prepared by the invitation they made Him to remain with them, prepared by the dialogue that made their hearts burn; so, in the end, they see Jesus.For us, too, the Eucharist is the great school in which we learn to see the face of God, we enter into an intimate relationship with Him, and we learn at the same time to turn our gaze towards the final moment of history, when He will satisfy us with the light of his face. On earth we walk towards this fullness, awaiting the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. Thank you.

[Zenit Translation by Peter Waymel]

Saint Hilary of Poitiers

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The Holy Father gave this teaching on Saint Hilary of Poitiers at the General Audience of 10 October 2007. The archives of the Holy Father's General Audience are a precious resource during this Year of Faith.

God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. . . . This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others. (Saint Hilary of Poitiers)

There is such peace and security for souls in this teaching of Saint Hilary on the fatherhood of God. Much of the inward suffering of people is rooted in their ignorance of God as Father. Were the Fatherhood of God preached in our churches -- better known, and experienced in prayer -- we would see innumerable graces of inner healing, liberation from anxiety, and growth in love.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, I would like to talk about a great Father of the Church of the West, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, one of the important Episcopal figures of the fourth century. In the controversy with the Arians, who considered Jesus the Son of God to be an excellent human creature but only human, Hilary devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father who generated him from eternity.

Quest for the Truth

We have no reliable information on most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably in about the year 310 A.D. From a wealthy family, he received a solid literary education, which is clearly recognizable in his writings. It does not seem that he grew up in a Christian environment. He himself tells us of a quest for the truth which led him little by little to recognize God the Creator and the incarnate God who died to give us eternal life.

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Exile

Baptized in about 345, he was elected Bishop of his native city around 353-354. In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, Commentary on St Matthew's Gospel. It is the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary took part as a Bishop in the Synod of Béziers in the South of France, the "synod of false apostles", as he himself called it since the assembly was in the control of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. "These false apostles" asked the Emperor Constantius to have the Bishop of Poitiers sentenced to exile. Thus, in the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul.

On the Trinity

Banished to Phrygia in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious context totally dominated by Arianism. Here too, his concern as a Pastor impelled him to work strenuously to re-establish the unity of the Church on the basis of right faith as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end he began to draft his own best-known and most important dogmatic work: De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Hilary explained in it his personal journey towards knowledge of God and took pains to show that not only in the New Testament but also in many Old Testament passages, in which Christ's mystery already appears, Scripture clearly testifies to the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. To the Arians he insisted on the truth of the names of Father and Son, and developed his entire Trinitarian theology based on the formula of Baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

The Father and the Son

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And although several passages in the New Testament might make one think that the Son was inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: some Scriptural texts speak of Jesus as God, others highlight instead his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his state of emptying of self (kenosis), his descent to death; others, finally, contemplate him in the glory of the Resurrection.

A Spirit of Reconciliation

In the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the Book of Synods in which, for his brother Bishops of Gaul, he reproduced confessions of faith and commented on them and on other documents of synods which met in the East in about the middle of the fourth century. Ever adamant in opposing the radical Arians, Saint Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit to those who agreed to confess that the Son was essentially similar to the Father, seeking of course to lead them to the true faith, according to which there is not only a likeness but a true equality of the Father and of the Son in divinity. This too seems to me to be characteristic: the spirit of reconciliation that seeks to understand those who have not yet arrived and helps them with great theological intelligence to reach full faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the Psalms

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return home from exile and immediately resumed pastoral activity in his Church, but the influence of his magisterium extended in fact far beyond its boundaries. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 borrows the language of the Council of Nicea. Several ancient authors believe that this anti-Arian turning point of the Gaul episcopate was largely due to the fortitude and docility of the Bishop of Poitiers. This was precisely his gift: to combine strength in the faith and docility in interpersonal relations. In the last years of his life he also composed the Treatises on the Psalms, a commentary on 58 Psalms interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things that are said in the Psalms should be understood in accordance with Gospel proclamation, so that, whatever the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, all may be referred nevertheless to the knowledge of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, Passion and Kingdom, and to the power and glory of our resurrection" (Instructio Psalmorum, 5). He saw in all the Psalms this transparency of the mystery of Christ and of his Body which is the Church.

Saint Hilary and Saint Martin

Hilary met Saint Martin on various occasions: the future Bishop of Tours founded a monastery right by Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His liturgical Memorial is celebrated on 13 January. In 1851 Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church.

Baptismal Faith

To sum up the essentials of his doctrine, I would like to say that Hilary found the starting point for his theological reflection in baptismal faith. In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus "has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8: 6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4: 4), a gift in all.... In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit" (De Trinitate 2, 1). God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary: "God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others" (ibid., 9, 61).

The Way to Christ Is Open to All

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. "The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all" (ibid., 2, 8). Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, "he has become the flesh of us all" (Tractatus super Psalmos 54, 9); "he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot" (ibid., 51, 16). For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all - because he has drawn all into his being as a man -, even if personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)" (ibid., 91, 9).

Reflection Transformed into Prayer

Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God.

I would like to end today's Catechesis with one of these prayers, which thus becomes our prayer:

Keep, I pray You, this my pious faith undefiled, and even till my spirit departs, grant that this may be the utterance of my convictions: so that I may ever hold fast that which I professed in the creed of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let me, in short, adore You our Father, and Your Son together with You; let me win the favour of Your Holy Spirit, Who is from You, through Your Only-begotten Son. Amen.


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There is no doubt about it: Benedict XVI is the Pope of the Face of God, of the Human Face of God, the Face of Jesus Christ upon which shines the glory of the Father. Here, with my subtitles, is the homily given by the Holy Father on this New Year's Day.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"May God bless us and make his face to shine upon us." We proclaimed these words from Psalm 66 after hearing in the first reading the ancient priestly blessing upon the people of the covenant. It is especially significant that at the start of every new year God sheds upon us, his people, the light of his Holy Name, the Name pronounced three times in the solemn form of biblical blessing. Nor is it less significant that to the Word of God - who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14) as "the true light that enlightens every man" (1:9) - is given, as today's Gospel tells us, the Name of Jesus eight days after his birth (cf. Lk 2:21). It is in this Name that we are gathered here today.

I cordially greet all present, beginning with the Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I greet with affection Cardinal Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Turkson, with all the officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; I am particularly grateful to them for their effort to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace, which this year has as its theme "Blessed are the Peacemakers".

Mankind's Innate Vocation to Peace

Although the world is sadly marked by "hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism," as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that "the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind's innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God's plan for mankind.

Both a Messianic Gift and the Fruit of Human Effort

Man is made for the peace which is God's gift. All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God' (Mt 5:9)" (Message, 1). This beatitude "tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort ... It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbours and all creation" (ibid., 2, 3). Indeed, peace is the supreme good to ask as a gift from God and, at the same time, that which is to be built with our every effort.

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The Interior Peace of Mary

We may ask ourselves: what is the basis, the origin, the root of peace? How can we experience that peace within ourselves, in spite of problems, darkness and anxieties? The reply is given to us by the readings of today's liturgy. The biblical texts, especially the one just read from the Gospel of Luke, ask us to contemplate the interior peace of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. During the days in which "she gave birth to her first-born son" (Lk 2:7), many unexpected things occurred: not only the birth of the Son but, even before, the tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, not finding room at the inn, the search for a chance place to stay for the night; then the song of the angels and the unexpected visit of the shepherds. In all this, however, Mary remains even tempered, she does not get agitated, she is not overcome by events greater than herself; in silence she considers what happens, keeping it in her mind and heart, and pondering it calmly and serenely. This is the interior peace which we ought to have amid the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events whose meaning we often do not grasp and which disconcert us.

Theotokos: Mother of God

The Gospel passage finishes with a mention of the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, eight days after birth, baby boys were to be circumcised and then given their name. Through his messenger, God himself had said to Mary - as well as to Joseph - that the Name to be given to the child was "Jesus" (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31); and so it came to be. The Name which God had already chosen, even before the child had been conceived, is now officially conferred upon him at the moment of circumcision. This also changes Mary's identity once and for all: she becomes "the mother of Jesus", that is the mother of the Saviour, of Christ, of the Lord. Jesus is not a man like any other, but the Word of God, one of the Divine Persons, the Son of God: therefore the Church has given Mary the title Theotokos or Mother of God.

The Splendour of the Face of God

The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift from God and is linked to the splendour of the face of God, according to the text from the Book of Numbers, which hands down the blessing used by the priests of the People of Israel in their liturgical assemblies. This blessing repeats three times the Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time it is linked to two words indicating an action in favour of man: "The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace" (6:24-26). So peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favour, in which he turns towards us the splendour of his face.

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Contemplating the Face of God Is the Greatest Happiness

For sacred Scripture, contemplating the face of God is the greatest happiness: "You gladden him with the joy of your face" (Ps 21:7). From the contemplation of the face of God are born joy, security and peace. But what does it mean concretely to contemplate the face of the Lord, as understood in the New Testament? It means knowing him directly, in so far as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ in whom he is revealed. To rejoice in the splendour of God's face means penetrating the mystery of his Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of his interior life and of his will, so that we can live according to his plan of love for humanity.

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The Hidden Face of the Father Revealed in the Visible Human Face of the Son

In the second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), Saint Paul says as much as he describes the Spirit who, in our inmost hearts, cries: "Abba! Father!" It is the cry that rises from the contemplation of the true face of God, from the revelation of the mystery of his Name. Jesus declares, "I have manifested thy name to men" (Jn 17:6). God's Son made man has let us know the Father, he has let us know the hidden face of the Father through his visible human face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, he has led us to understand that, in him, we too are children of God, as Saint Paul says in the passage we have just heard: "The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, 'Abba, Father'" (Gal 4:6).

Jesus Christ, the Splendour of the Face of God the Father

Here, dear brothers and sisters, is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ the splendour of the face of God the Father, of being sons in the Son, and thus of having, on life's journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a loving and all-powerful Father. The splendour of the face of God, shining upon us and granting us peace, is the manifestation of his fatherhood: the Lord turns his face to us, he reveals himself as our Father and grants us peace. Here is the principle of that profound peace - "peace with God" - which is firmly linked to faith and grace, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome (cf. Rom 5:2). Nothing can take this peace from believers, not even the difficulties and sufferings of life. Indeed, sufferings, trials and darkness do not undermine but build up our hope, a hope which does not deceive because "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (5:5).

Contemplate the Face of Jesus, the Prince of Peace

May the Virgin Mary, whom today we venerate with the title of Mother of God, help us to contemplate the face of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. May she sustain us and accompany us in this New Year: and may she obtain for us and for the whole world the gift of peace. Amen!

Transeamus Usque Bethleem

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Monastery of Decani, Fresco of the Nativity of Our Lord

MIDNIGHT MASS
SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter's Basilica Monday, 24 December 2012


Dear Brothers and Sisters!

A Beauty that is the Splendour of Truth

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

No Room Left for God

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer's almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: "he came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for God. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the "God hypothesis" becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so "full" of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger. By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul's exhortation: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality. Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

Hearing the Sounds of Heaven

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you - the angels' hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God's glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven. There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God's truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.

A Bright Ray of Peace and Goodness, Which Continues to Shine

Linked to God's glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God's cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace. If God's light is extinguished, man's divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God's image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century. Only if God's light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is "Emmanuel", God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

To Recognize Your True Face

So Christ is our peace, and he proclaimed peace to those far away and to those near at hand (cf. Eph 2:14, 17). How could we now do other than pray to him: Yes, Lord, proclaim peace today to us too, whether we are far away or near at hand. Grant also to us today that swords may be turned into ploughshares (Is 2:4), that instead of weapons for warfare, practical aid may be given to the suffering. Enlighten those who think they have to practise violence in your name, so that they may see the senselessness of violence and learn to recognize your true face. Help us to become people "with whom you are pleased" - people according to your image and thus people of peace.

A Holy Curiosity

Once the angels departed, the shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened for us (cf. Lk 2:15). The shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem, the Evangelist tells us (cf. 2:16). A holy curiosity impelled them to see this child in a manger, who the angel had said was the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The great joy of which the angel spoke had touched their hearts and given them wings.

Step Outside Our Habits of Thought and Habits of Life

Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church's liturgy to us today. Transeamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go "across", daring to step beyond, to make the "transition" by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

The Actual Town of Bethlehem

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great "crossing over" to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. Let us pray that there may be peace in that land. Let us pray that Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live their lives in the peace of the one God and in freedom. Let us also pray for the countries of the region, for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and their neighbours: that there may be peace there, that Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there, that Christians and Muslims may build up their countries side by side in God's peace.

Holy Curiosity and Holy Joy

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

Benedictus XVI Super Missus Est

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The Holy Father gave this sermon Super Missus Est today at the General Audience in the Paul VI Hall. Preaching Super Missus Est, that is, on the Gospel of the Annunciation on the Ember Wednesday of Advent is a Benedictine tradition, still held in honour in many monasteries. Saint Bernard's sermons Super Missus Est are among the best known and best loved. The subtitles below are my own.

Reflecting on this, text after a day here at Silverstream Priory that was rich in encounters of all sorts, I must conclude that it is hugely important that the Holy Father's weekly teachings reach the ordinary Catholic faithful the world over. There has been, not only here in Ireland, but everywhere, a dearth of authentic catechesis.

Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will send forth a famine into the land: not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. And they shall move from sea to sea, and from the north to the east: they shall go about seeking the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day the fair virgins, and the young men shall faint for thirst. (Amos 8:11-13)

Indeed, there is a famine in the land -- a famine of hearing the word of the Lord; for this reason do the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst. Pray God to send preachers and teachers to His people, not of the sort that tickle the ears of their hearers with novelties, and trade in the false coin of compromises with the truth, but, rather, of the sort capable of bringing divine fire and light to those who languish in a world that, almost by the day, grows colder and more hostile to the truth.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the journey of Advent, the Virgin Mary has a special place as the one who in a unique way waited for the fulfillment of the promises of God, accepting Jesus in faith and in the flesh, the Son of God, in full obedience to the divine will. Today I would like to reflect with you briefly on Mary's faith, beginning from the great mystery of the Annunciation.

An Invitation to Joy

"Chaire kecharitomene, ho Kyrios meta sou", "Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). These are the words - recounted by the Evangelist Luke - with which the Archangel Gabriel greets Mary. At first glance, the term chaîre, "rejoice", looks like a normal greeting, common in the Greek world, but this word, when read against the background of the biblical tradition, takes on a much deeper meaning. This same term is present four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and always as a proclamation of joy at the coming of the Messiah (cf. Zeph 3:14; Joel 2:21; Zech 9:9; Lam 4:21). The angel's greeting to Mary is thus an invitation to joy, a deep joy, it announces the end of the sadness that there is in the world in front of the limits of life, suffering, death, wickedness, the darkness of evil that seems to obscure the light of the divine goodness. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News.

The Lord is With You

But why is Mary invited to rejoice in this way? The answer lies in the second part of the greeting: "The Lord is with you." Here, too, in order to understand the meaning of the expression we must turn to the Old Testament. In the Book of Zephaniah, we find this expression "Rejoice, O daughter of Zion, ... the King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst ... The Lord, your God, in your midst is a mighty savior" (3:14-17). In these words there is a double promise made to Israel, to the daughter of Zion: God will come as a savior and will dwell in the midst of his people, in the womb - as they say - of the daughter of Zion. In the dialogue between the angel and Mary, this promise is fulfilled to the letter: Mary is identified with the people espoused to God, she is truly the daughter of Zion in person; in her is fulfilled the expectancy for the final coming of God, in her the Living God makes his dwelling.

In His Hands, Without Reserve

In the angel's greeting, Mary is called "full of grace"; in Greek the word "grace," charis, has the same linguistic root as the word "joy." In this expression, it also clarifies further the source of Mary's delight: the joy comes from grace, it comes, that is, from communion with God, from having a so vital a connection with Him, from being the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, totally shaped by the action of God. Mary is the creature who in a unique way has opened the door to her Creator, she has placed herself in his hands, without reserve. She lives entirely from and in the relationship with the Lord; she is in an attitude of listening, attentive to recognize the signs of God in the journey of her people; she is inserted into a history of faith and of hope in the promises of God, which constitutes the fabric of her existence. And she submits freely to the word received, to the divine will in the obedience of faith.

Journey to a Land Unknown

The Evangelist Luke narrates the story of Mary through a fine parallel with the story of Abraham. As the great patriarch is the father of believers, who responded to God's call to leave the land in which he lived, his safety, to begin the journey to a land unknown and possessed only in the divine promise, so Mary relies with full trust in the word that the messenger of God announces and becomes a model and mother of all believers.

Mysterious and Difficult, Almost Impossible to Accept

I would like to emphasize another important point: the opening of the soul to God and to his action in faith also includes the element of darkness. The relationship between human beings and God does not erase the distance between Creator and creature, it does not eliminate what the Apostle Paul said before the depth of the wisdom of God, "How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Rom 11:33). But the one who - like Mary - is totally open to God, comes to accept the will of God, even if it is mysterious, even if it often does not correspond to our own will and is a sword that pierces the soul, as the old man Simeon will say prophetically to Mary, when Jesus is presented in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:35). Abraham's journey of faith includes the moment of joy for the gift of his son Isaac, but also the time of darkness, when he has to go up to Mount Moriah to carry out a paradoxical act: God asks him to sacrifice the son he had just given him. On the mountain, the angel tells him: "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me"(Gen 22:12); Abraham's full trust in the God who is faithful to his promises exists even when his word is mysterious and difficult, almost impossible to accept. So it is with Mary, her faith lives the joy of the Annunciation, but also passes through the darkness of the crucifixion of the Son, to reach the light of the Resurrection.

Moments Where God Seems Absent

It is no different for the journey of faith of each one of us: it encounters moments of light, but also meets with moments where God seems absent, his silence weighs on our hearts and his will does not correspond to our own, to what we would like. But the more we open ourselves to God, welcome the gift of faith, put our trust in Him completely - like Abraham and like Mary - the more He makes us able, us with his presence, to live every situation of life in peace and in the assurance of his faithfulness and of his love. But this means going out of oneself and one's projects, because the Word of God is a lamp to guide our thoughts and our actions.

I Must Be in My Father's House

I would like to pause once more to dwell on one aspect that emerges in the infancy narratives of Jesus narrated by St. Luke. Mary and Joseph bring their son to Jerusalem, to the Temple to present him to the Lord and consecrate him as required by the law of Moses, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord" (Lk 2:22-24). This gesture of the Holy Family acquires a more profound sense if you read it in the light of the evangelical knowledge of Jesus when he is twelve, who, after three days of searching, is found in the Temple discussing scripture with the teachers. To the words full of Mary and Joseph's concern: "Son, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety", corresponds the mystery of Jesus' answer: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"(Lk 2:48-49). That is, in the property of the Father, in the Father's house, like a son is. Mary must renew the deep faith with which she said "yes" at the Annunciation; she must accept that precedence that the true Father of Jesus has; she must leave that Son whom she generated free to follows his mission. And Mary's "yes" to the will of God, in the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout her life, until the most difficult moment, that of the Cross.

The Understanding that Only Faith Can Provide

Faced with all this, we can ask ourselves: how was Mary able to live this path beside her Son with such a strong faith, even in the moments of darkness, without losing full trust in the action of God? There is an underlying attitude that Mary assumes in the face of what happens in her life. At the Annunciation she is disturbed by hearing the angel's words - it is the fear a person feels when touched by the closeness of God - but it is not the attitude of those who are afraid in front of what God may ask. Mary reflects, she ponders the meaning of this greeting (cf. Lk 1:29). The Greek word used in the Gospel to define this "reflection", "dielogizeto", evokes the root of the word "dialogue." This means that Mary comes into intimate dialogue with the Word of God that has been announced, she does not consider it superficially, but pauses, she lets it her penetrate her mind and her heart to understand what the Lord wants from her, the announcement's meaning. We find another hint of Mary's interior attitude in front of the action of God, again in the Gospel of St. Luke, at the time of the birth of Jesus, after the adoration of the shepherds. Luke affirms that Mary "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), in Greek the term is symballon, we could say that She "held together", "put together" in her heart all the events that were happening; she placed each single element, every word, every fact within the whole and compared it, guarded it, recognizing that everything comes from the will of God. Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what happens in her life, but is able to look deeper, she allows herself to be questioned by the events, processes them, discerns them, and gains that understanding that only faith can provide. It is the profound humility of the obedient faith of Mary, who welcomes into herself even what she does not understand of the action of God, leaving it to God to open her mind and heart. "Blessed is she who believed in the word of the Lord"(Lk 1:45), exclaims her relative Elizabeth. It is precisely because of this faith that all generations will call her blessed.

The Glory of God Dwells in the Womb of a Virgin

Dear friends; the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord which we will soon celebrate, invites us to live this same humility and obedience of faith. The glory of God is not manifested in the triumph and power of a king, it does not shine in a famous city, in a sumptuous palace, but dwells in the womb of a virgin, it reveals itself in the poverty of a child. The omnipotence of God, also in our lives, acts with the force, often silent, of the truth and of love. Faith tells us, then, that the defenseless power of that Child in the end overcomes the noise of the powers of the world. Thank you!

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This image of the Maternal Heart of Mary, now hanging in our monastic choir, was commissioned in Rome by the Venerable Servant of God Mother Mary Potter, foundress of the Little Company of Mary.

How Many Know?

In conversations with my brother priests, I am astonished to learn that very few of them have any knowledge of the Act of Entrustment and Consecration of Priests to the Maternal and Immaculate Heart of Mary that Pope Benedict XVI made in Fatima on 12 May 2010, and then renewed in Rome at the conclusion of the Year of the Priest.

Personally Ratified

In order for the Holy Father's Act of Consecration to be fruit in the lives of the priests of the Church it must, I think, be ratified in a personal way by each bishop and priest, and also corporately at the diocesan level by being renewed publicly by the bishop together with his priests.

Getting the Word Out

The fact that so few priests know of this solemn and significant act of the Holy Father on their behalf suggests that there is much work to be done in the field of communications. It is crucial that the teachings and acts of the Holy Father reach the desks of every bishop and priest; that they be read attentively, pondered, and taken to heart. In posting the Holy Father's Act of Consecration today, on this glorious feast of the Immaculate Conception, I pray that some priests will be moved to ratify it and make it their own.

Pope Benedict XVI's
Act of Entrustment and Consecration of Priests
to the Maternal and Immaculate Heart of Mary

Immaculate Mother, in this place of grace, called together by the love of your Son Jesus the Eternal High Priest, we, sons in the Son and his priests, consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart, in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.
We are mindful that, without Jesus, we can do nothing good (cf. Jn 15:5) and that only through him, with him and in him, will we be instruments of salvation for the world.
Bride of the Holy Spirit, obtain for us the inestimable gift of transformation in Christ. Through the same power of the Spirit that overshadowed you, making you the Mother of the Saviour, help us to bring Christ your Son to birth in ourselves too. May the Church be thus renewed by priests who are holy, priests transfigured by the grace of him who makes all things new.
Mother of Mercy, it was your Son Jesus who called us to become like him: light of the world and salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14).
Help us, through your powerful intercession, never to fall short of this sublime vocation, nor to give way to our selfishness, to the allurements of the world and to the wiles of the Evil One.
Preserve us with your purity, guard us with your humility and enfold us with your maternal love that is reflected in so many souls consecrated to you, who have become for us true spiritual mothers.
Mother of the Church, we priests want to be pastors who do not feed themselves but rather give themselves to God for their brethren, finding their happiness in this. Not only with words, but with our lives, we want to repeat humbly, day after day, Our "here I am".
Guided by you, we want to be Apostles of Divine Mercy, glad to celebrate every day the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar and to offer to those who request it the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Advocate and Mediatrix of grace, you who are fully immersed in the one universal mediation of Christ, invoke upon us, from God, a heart completely renewed that loves God with all its strength and serves mankind as you did.
Repeat to the Lord your efficacious word: "They have no wine" (Jn 2:3), so that the Father and the Son will send upon us a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Full of wonder and gratitude at your continuing presence in our midst, in the name of all priests I too want to cry out: "Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).
Our Mother for all time, do not tire of "visiting us", consoling us, sustaining us. Come to our aid and deliver us from every danger that threatens us. With this act of entrustment and consecration, we wish to welcome you more deeply, more radically, for ever and totally into our human and priestly lives.
Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth in the desert of our loneliness, let it cause the sun to shine on our darkness, let it restore calm after the tempest, so that all mankind shall see the salvation of the Lord, who has the name and the face of Jesus, who is reflected in our hearts, for ever united to yours! Amen!

The Humility of Taking Small Steps

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From this morning's General Audience:

Encountering the Face of God

In Jesus of Nazareth we encounter the face of God, descended from Heaven to immerse Himself in the world of mankind and to teach 'the art of living', the road to happiness; to free us from sin and to make us true children of God.

The Holy Father has, from the very beginning of his pontificate spoken of the Face of God, announcing again and again that Jesus is the Human Face of God. To contemplate the Face of Jesus in the Gospels and in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is to discover the Heart of God and to enter progressively into the gift of His Divine Friendship.

A God Who Entered History and Remains Present

Speaking about God means, first and foremost, being clear about what we must bring to the men and women of our time. God has spoken to us, ... not an abstract or hypothetical God, but a real God, a God Who exists, Who entered history and remains present in history: the God of Jesus Christ ... as a response to the fundamental question of why and how to live. Therefore, speaking about God requires a continual growth in faith, familiarity with Jesus and His Gospel, a profound knowledge of God and strong passion for His plan for salvation, without giving in to the temptations of success....

No one can speak of God authoritatively who has not experienced God. Intellectual notions about God do not qualify one to evangelize, to catechize, or to preach. Only the friend of God can speak of God convincingly.

Do Not Fear the Humility of Taking Small Steps

We must not fear the humility of taking small steps, trusting in the leaven that makes the dough rise slowly and mysteriously. In speaking about God, in the work of evangelisation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must return to the simplicity and essential nature of proclamation: the concrete Good News of God Who cares about us, the love of God which Jesus Christ brought close to us, even unto the Cross, and which in the Resurrection opens us to life without end, to eternal life.

My heart leapt when I read the Holy Father's admonition: "We must not fear the humility of taking small steps." Is this not the doctrine of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face? The work of salvation began with the small steps of a little girl, Mary, the immaculate daughter of Joachim and Anna. And then, in the fulness of time, another child took his first small steps: Jesus, the child of the Virgin Mary. Thus did God open the way of holiness to the little, the poor, and the weak. Small steps: we mustn't be afraid to take them.

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She had a vision of a young man who, in order to guide her through the tangle of thorns that surrounded her soul, took her by the hand. In that hand Gertrude recognized "the precious traces of the wounds that abrogated all the acts of accusation of our enemies", and thus recognized the One who saved us with his Blood on the Cross: Jesus.

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 6 October 2010, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Saint Gertrude the Great, mystic of the Sacred Liturgy and of the Heart of Jesus. Twenty-six years ago, the feast of Saint Gertrude the Great, 16 November 1986, was chosen for my ordination to the priesthood. I give thanks for the 26th year of my priesthood, relying still on the intercession of Saint Gertrude.

A Woman Great by Nature and by Grace

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

St Gertrude the Great, of whom I would like to talk to you today, brings us once again this week to the Monastery of Helfta, where several of the Latin-German masterpieces of religious literature were written by women. Gertrude belonged to this world. She is one of the most famous mystics, the only German woman to be called "Great", because of her cultural and evangelical stature: her life and her thought had a unique impact on Christian spirituality. She was an exceptional woman, endowed with special natural talents and extraordinary gifts of grace, the most profound humility and ardent zeal for her neighbour's salvation. She was in close communion with God both in contemplation and in her readiness to go to the help of those in need.

Biblical, Liturgical, Patristic

At Helfta, she measured herself systematically, so to speak, with her teacher, Matilda of Hackeborn, of whom I spoke at last Wednesday's Audience. Gertrude came into contact with Matilda of Magdeburg, another medieval mystic and grew up under the wing of Abbess Gertrude, motherly, gentle and demanding. From these three sisters she drew precious experience and wisdom; she worked them into a synthesis of her own, continuing on her religious journey with boundless trust in the Lord. Gertrude expressed the riches of her spirituality not only in her monastic world, but also and above all in the biblical, liturgical, Patristic and Benedictine contexts, with a highly personal hallmark and great skill in communicating.

All That Is Lovable in You Is My Work

Gertrude was born on 6 January 1256, on the Feast of the Epiphany, but nothing is known of her parents nor of the place of her birth. Gertrude wrote that the Lord himself revealed to her the meaning of this first uprooting: "I have chosen you for my abode because I am pleased that all that is lovable in you is my work.... For this very reason I have distanced you from all your relatives, so that no one may love you for reasons of kinship and that I may be the sole cause of the affection you receive" (The Revelations, I, 16, Siena 1994, pp. 76-77).

Among Christ's Devout Friends

When she was five years old, in 1261, she entered the monastery for formation and education, a common practice in that period. Here she spent her whole life, the most important stages of which she herself points out. In her memoirs she recalls that the Lord equipped her in advance with forbearing patience and infinite mercy, forgetting the years of her childhood, adolescence and youth, which she spent, she wrote, "in such mental blindness that I would have been capable... of thinking, saying or doing without remorse everything I liked and wherever I could, had you not armed me in advance, with an inherent horror of evil and a natural inclination for good and with the external vigilance of others. "I would have behaved like a pagan... in spite of desiring you since childhood, that is since my fifth year of age, when I went to live in the Benedictine shrine of religion to be educated among your most devout friends" (ibid., II, 23, p. 140f.).

Favoured With a Special Love

Gertrude was an extraordinary student, she learned everything that can be learned of the sciences of the trivium and quadrivium, the education of that time; she was fascinated by knowledge and threw herself into profane studies with zeal and tenacity, achieving scholastic successes beyond every expectation. If we know nothing of her origins, she herself tells us about her youthful passions: literature, music and song and the art of miniature painting captivated her. She had a strong, determined, ready and impulsive temperament. She often says that she was negligent; she recognizes her shortcomings and humbly asks forgiveness for them. She also humbly asks for advice and prayers for her conversion. Some features of her temperament and faults were to accompany her to the end of her life, so as to amaze certain people who wondered why the Lord had favoured her with such a special love.

Guided by the Young Man With the Wounded Hand

From being a student she moved on to dedicate herself totally to God in monastic life, and for 20 years nothing exceptional occurred: study and prayer were her main activities. Because of her gifts she shone out among the sisters; she was tenacious in consolidating her culture in various fields. Nevertheless during Advent of 1280 she began to feel disgusted with all this and realized the vanity of it all. On 27 January 1281, a few days before the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, towards the hour of Compline in the evening, the Lord with his illumination dispelled her deep anxiety. With gentle sweetness he calmed the distress that anguished her, a torment that Gertrude saw even as a gift of God, "to pull down that tower of vanity and curiosity which, although I had both the name and habit of a nun alas I had continued to build with my pride, so that at least in this manner I might find the way for you to show me your salvation" (ibid., II, p. 87). She had a vision of a young man who, in order to guide her through the tangle of thorns that surrounded her soul, took her by the hand. In that hand Gertrude recognized "the precious traces of the wounds that abrogated all the acts of accusation of our enemies" (ibid., II, 1, p. 89), and thus recognized the One who saved us with his Blood on the Cross: Jesus.

Liturgical Humus

From that moment her life of intimate communion with the Lord was intensified, especially in the most important liturgical seasons Advent-Christmas, Lent-Easter, the feasts of Our Lady even when illness prevented her from going to the choir. This was the same liturgical humus as that of Matilda, her teacher; but Gertrude describes it with simpler, more linear images, symbols and terms that are more realistic and her references to the Bible, to the Fathers and to the Benedictine world are more direct.

From Grammarian to Theologian

Her biographer points out two directions of what we might describe as her own particular "conversion": in study, with the radical passage from profane, humanistic studies to the study of theology, and in monastic observance, with the passage from a life that she describes as negligent, to the life of intense, mystical prayer, with exceptional missionary zeal. The Lord who had chosen her from her mother's womb and who since her childhood had made her partake of the banquet of monastic life, called her again with his grace "from external things to inner life and from earthly occupations to love for spiritual things". Gertrude understood that she was remote from him, in the region of unlikeness, as she said with Augustine; that she had dedicated herself with excessive greed to liberal studies, to human wisdom, overlooking spiritual knowledge, depriving herself of the taste for true wisdom; she was then led to the mountain of contemplation where she cast off her former self to be reclothed in the new. "From a grammarian she became a theologian, with the unflagging and attentive reading of all the sacred books that she could lay her hands on or contrive to obtain. She filled her heart with the most useful and sweet sayings of Sacred Scripture. Thus she was always ready with some inspired and edifying word to satisfy those who came to consult her while having at her fingertips the most suitable scriptural texts to refute any erroneous opinion and silence her opponents" (ibid., I, 1, p. 25).

The Apostolate of the Pen

Gertrude transformed all this into an apostolate: she devoted herself to writing and popularizing the truth of faith with clarity and simplicity, with grace and persuasion, serving the Church faithfully and lovingly so as to be helpful to and appreciated by theologians and devout people.

Little of her intense activity has come down to us, partly because of the events that led to the destruction of the Monastery of Helfta. In addition to The Herald of Divine Love and The Revelations, we still have her Spiritual Exercises, a rare jewel of mystical spiritual literature.

No One Can Thwart Your Eternal Wisdom

In religious observance our Saint was "a firm pillar... a very powerful champion of justice and truth" (ibid., I, 1, p. 26), her biographer says. By her words and example she kindled great fervour in other people. She added to the prayers and penances of the monastic rule others with such devotion and such trusting abandonment in God that she inspired in those who met her an awareness of being in the Lord's presence. In fact, God made her understand that he had called her to be an instrument of his grace. Gertrude herself felt unworthy of this immense divine treasure, and confesses that she had not safeguarded it or made enough of it. She exclaimed: "Alas! If you had given me to remember you, unworthy as I am, by even only a straw, I would have viewed it with greater respect and reverence that I have had for all your gifts!" (ibid., II, 5, p. 100). Yet, in recognizing her poverty and worthlessness she adhered to God's will, "because", she said, "I have so little profited from your graces that I cannot resolve to believe that they were lavished upon me solely for my own use, since no one can thwart your eternal wisdom. Therefore, O Giver of every good thing who has freely lavished upon me gifts so undeserved, in order that, in reading this, the heart of at least one of your friends may be moved at the thought that zeal for souls has induced you to leave such a priceless gem for so long in the abominable mud of my heart" (ibid., II, 5, p. 100f.).

Love's Salutary Wound

Two favours in particular were dearer to her than any other, as Gertrude herself writes: "The stigmata of your salvation-bearing wounds which you impressed upon me, as it were, like a valuable necklaces, in my heart, and the profound and salutary wound of love with which you marked it. "You flooded me with your gifts, of such beatitude that even were I to live for 1,000 years with no consolation neither interior nor exterior the memory of them would suffice to comfort me, to enlighten me, to fill me with gratitude. Further, you wished to introduce me into the inestimable intimacy of your friendship by opening to me in various ways that most noble sacrarium of your Divine Being which is your Divine Heart.... To this accumulation of benefits you added that of giving me as Advocate the Most Holy Virgin Mary, your Mother, and often recommended me to her affection, just as the most faithful of bridegrooms would recommend his beloved bride to his own mother" (ibid., II, 23, p. 145).

That My Heart May Stay With You

Looking forward to never-ending communion, she ended her earthly life on 17 November 1301 or 1302, at the age of about 46. In the seventh Exercise, that of preparation for death, St Gertrude wrote: "O Jesus, you who are immensely dear to me, be with me always, so that my heart may stay with you and that your love may endure with me with no possibility of division; and bless my passing, so that my spirit, freed from the bonds of the flesh, may immediately find rest in you. Amen" (Spiritual Exercises, Milan 2006, p. 148).

It seems obvious to me that these are not only things of the past, of history; rather St Gertrude's life lives on as a lesson of Christian life, of an upright path, and shows us that the heart of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with the Lord Jesus. And this friendship is learned in love for Sacred Scripture, in love for the Liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so as to be ever more truly acquainted with God himself and hence with true happiness, which is the goal of our life. Many thanks.

Credo

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Here is the Holy Father's first Catechesis of the Year of Faith, given at this morning's General Audience. It seems to me that during the Year of Faith, the Credo ought to be the object of systematic catechetical preaching every Sunday. I further thing that the Credo ought to be sung at every Sunday Mass during the Year of Faith, this being far better than any artificially contrived "theme song" for the Year of Faith. The headings below are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Year of Faith

Today I will introduce the new cycle of catechesis, which will be developed throughout the Year of Faith that has just started and interrupt - for this period - the cycle dedicated to the school of prayer. With the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei I chose this special year, so that the Church would renew its enthusiasm to believe in Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of the world, revive the joy of walking on the path that He has shown us, and witnesses in a concrete way the transforming power of the faith.

Encounter With Christ

The fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council is an important occasion to return to God, to deepen and live with greater courage one's own faith, to strengthen membership of the Church, "the teacher of humanity," which, through the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and the work of charity leads us to encounter and know Christ, true God and true man. This is not an encounter with an idea or a life plan, but a living Person who deeply transforms us, revealing to us our true identity as children of God. Our encounter with Christ renews our human relationships, guiding them, day by day, to greater solidarity and fraternity, in the logic of love. Having faith in the Lord is not something that affects only our intelligence, the area of ​​intellectual knowledge, but it is a change that involves life, all of our being: feelings, heart, intellect, will, body, emotions, human relationships. With faith everything really changes everything in us and for us, and our future destiny is clearly revealed, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of life, the joy of being a pilgrim towards the heavenly Kingdom.

The New Barbarism Unmasked

But - we ask- is faith truly the transforming power in our lives? Or is it just one of the elements that that is part of our life, without being the determining one that completely involves it? With the catechesis of this Year of Faith we would like to go on a journey to strengthen the joy of faith, understanding that it is not something alien, disconnected from real life, but it is its very soul. Faith in a God who is love, and who came close to man, taking on his flesh and giving Himself on the cross to save us and open the gates of heaven to us once more, brightly indicates that the fullness of man is found only in love. Today we need to clearly repeat this, while the cultural transformations taking place often show many forms of barbarism, which pass under the sign of "conquests of civilization": faith affirms that there is no true humanity except in places, gestures, in the times and manner in which man is motivated by the love that comes from God, it is expressed as a gift, it is manifest in relationships full of love, compassion, care and selfless service to the other. Where there is domination, possession, exploitation, commodification of the other for pure selfishness, where there is the arrogance of the ego closed in on itself, man is depleted, degraded, disfigured. The Christian faith, active in charity and strong in hope, does not limit, but humanizes life, indeed it makes it fully human.

Faith Makes Us Grateful

Faith is welcoming this transforming message in our lives, it is accepting the revelation of God, which helps us know who He is, how He acts, what His plans are for us. Of course, the mystery of God is always beyond our concepts and our reason, our rituals and prayers. However, with the revelation it is God who communicates to Himself to us, who speaks to us of Himself, who makes Himself accessible. And we are enabled to listen to His Word and receive His truth. Here is the wonder of faith: God, in his love, creates in us - through the work of the Holy Spirit - the right conditions so that we can recognize His Word. God himself, in his will to manifest Himself to us, to enter into contact with us, to be present in human history, enables us to listen to and welcome Him. St. Paul expresses this with joy and gratitude: "And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe "(1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Kerygma

God has revealed Himself in words and deeds throughout a long history of friendship with man, which culminates in the Incarnation of the Son of God and His mystery of death and resurrection. God has not only revealed Himself in the history of a people, not only has He spoken through the Prophets, but He has crossed heaven to enter the land of men as a man, so that we could meet Him and listen to Him. And from Jerusalem the proclamation of the Gospel of Salvation has spread to the ends of the earth. The Church was born from the side of Christ, she has become the bearer of a new solid hope: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified and Risen Savior of the world, who sits at the right hand of God and is the judge of the living and the dead. This is the kerygma, the central and unsettling proclamation of faith. But from the beginning there arose the problem of the "rule of faith", in short, the faithfulness of believers to the truth of the Gospel, to which we must remain firm, to the saving truth about God and man to be preserved and passed on. St. Paul writes: "Through it [the Gospel] you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain"(1 Cor 15:2).

The Creed

But where do we find the essential formula of faith? Where do we find the truths that we have been faithfully transmitted and which are the light for our daily life? The answer is simple: in the Creed, in the Profession of Faith or Symbol of the Faith, we reconnect to the original event of the person and history of Jesus of Nazareth, it makes concrete what the Apostle of the Gentiles said to the Christians of Corinth: " For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3).

The Creed Known, Understood, Prayed

Even today the Creed needs to be better known, understood and prayed. Above all it is important that the Creed is, so to speak, 'recognized'. In fact, knowing it, could only be an intellectual operation, while "recognizing" it means the need to discover the deep connection between the truths we profess in the Creed and our daily lives, so that these truths may truly and effectively be - as they always were - light for the steps to our living, water that irrigates the scorching heat of our journey, life that conquers certain deserts of contemporary life. The moral life of the Christian is interwoven in the Creed, in which it finds its foundation and justification.

Life Without Clear Ideals and Hopes

It is no accident that the Blessed John Paul II wished that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a sure norm for teaching the faith and reliable source for a catechesis renewed at the sources of faith, be set on the Creed. This was to confirm and protect this core of the truths of faith, rendering it in a language that is more intelligible to the people of our time. It is the Churches' duty to transmit the faith, communicate the Gospel, so that the truths of Christianity illuminate new cultural transformations, and Christians be able to account for the hope that carry (cf. 1 Pt 3:14). Today we live in a profoundly changed society even compared to the recent past and one that is in constant motion. The processes of secularization and a widespread nihilistic mentality, where everything is relative, have a crucial impact on the general mentality. So, life is often lived lightly, without clear ideals or sound hopes, in transient and provisional social and family ties.

Young People Not Educated in the Faith

Above all the younger generations are not educated in the search for truth or the deeper meaning of existence that goes beyond the contingent, to a stability of affection, trust. On the contrary, relativism leads to not having any fixed points, suspicion and inconstancy cause ruptures in human relationships, and life is lived in experiments that do not last long, or shoulder any responsibilities. If individualism and relativism seem to dominate the mind of many of contemporaries, we can not say that believers remain totally immune from these dangers, with which we are confronted in the transmission of the faith. The survey promoted in all continents for the celebration of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, has highlighted some: a living faith that is passive and private, rejection of faith formation, the rupture between faith and life.

Ignorance

Christians often do not even know the core of their Catholic faith, the Creed, so as to leave room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, without clarity on the truths to be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. The risk is not far off today of people building a so-called "do-it-yourself" religion. Instead, we should return to God, the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel, to bring it into more deeply into our minds and our daily lives.

Faith Shapes Life

In the catechesis of this Year of Faith I would like to offer some help to making this journey, to take up once again and deepen the central truths of the faith of God, man, the Church, of all the social and cosmic realities, meditating and reflecting on the statements of the Creed. And I would like to clarify that such content or truth of faith are directly connected to our lives; they require conversion of existence, which gives life to a new way of believing in God (fides qua). Knowing God, encountering Him, explore the features of His face brings our lives into play, because He enters the deep dynamics of the human being.

The Good and Beautiful Life of the Gospel

May the journey that we are about to set out on in the year help us grow in faith and love to Christ, that we might learn to live, in our choices and daily actions, the good and beautiful life of the Gospel.

God's Own Gaze, Full of Love

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The Face of Christ or, if you will, the Gaze of Christ, is a motif that recurs frequently in the preaching of Pope Benedict XVI, as well as in his writings. In today's Angelus Address, the Holy Father alludes to that mysterious exchange of gazes, by which a particular vocation -- and often one to the priesthood or monastic life -- is both offered and received. That exchange of gazes is, of course, but the beginning. A priestly or monastic (or religious) vocation cannot be sustained except by growing into an exchange of gazes that becomes habitual. And this habitual exchange of gazes is, in fact, the gift of contemplation.

There may be readers of Vultus Christi who have, at one time or another, recognized the gaze of Christ resting upon with with an unspeakable tenderness. This sometimes happens when one is lingering in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. It may also happen when one is bent over the Word of God, or praying the Psalms. Meet the gaze of Christ with your own gaze. Look at Him. Begin to live, as Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity says, with "your eyes in His eyes." And should He call you to monastic life, communicate with us at Silverstream Priory. Do not go away sad. Say "yes" to the joy of having nought but Christ, and of preferring nothing whatsoever to His love.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus Address:

Dear brothers and sisters!

When God Conquers a Heart

Wealth is the principal topic of this Sunday's Gospel (Mark 10:17-30). Jesus teaches that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, but not impossible; in fact, God can conquer the heart of a person who has many possessions and move him to solidarity and sharing with the needy, with the poor, to enter into the logic of the gift. This is how wealth presents itself in the life of Jesus Christ, who - as the Apostle Paul writes - "rich though he was, he became poor for us so that we might become rich though his poverty" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

After Life in Its Fullness

As often happens in the Gospels, everything begins from an encounter. In this case Jesus' meeting with a man who "had many possessions" (Mark 10:22). He was a person who from his youth had faithfully observed the commandments of God's Law, but he had not yet found true happiness; this is why he asks Jesus what he must do to "inherit eternal life" (10:17). On the one hand, like everyone else, he is after life in its fullness. On the other hand, being used to depending on his wealth, he thinks that he might be able to "buy" eternal life in some way, perhaps by observing some special commandment.

He Went Away Sad

Jesus welcomes the profound desire that is in him and, the evangelist notes, casts a gaze full of love upon him, God's own gaze (cf. 10:21). But Jesus also understands what the man's weakness is: it is precisely his attachment to his many possessions, and this is why he invites him to give everything to the poor, so that his treasure - and thus his heart - will no longer be on earth but in heaven, and adds: "Come! Follow me!" (10:22). That man, instead of accepting Jesus' invitation, goes away sad (10:23) since he is unable to give up his wealth, which can never give him happiness and eternal life.

Not Impossible for God

It is at this point that Jesus offers his teaching to the disciples, and to us today: "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (10:23). The disciples are puzzled, and even more so when Jesus adds: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." But seeing that the disciples are astonished he says: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.

Saints Poor and Rich

All things are possible for God" (10:24-27). St. Clement comments on the episode in this way: "The story teaches the rich that they must not neglect their salvation as if they were already condemned. They need not throw their wealth into the sea or condemn it as insidious and hostile to life, but they must learn how to use their wealth and obtain life" ("What rich person will be saved?" 27, 1-2). The Church's history is full of examples of rich people who used their possessions in an evangelical way, achieving sanctity. We need only think of St. Francis, St. Elizabeth or St. Charles Borromeo. May the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help us to welcome Jesus' invitation with joy so that we might enter into the fullness of life.

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The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. (Pope Benedict XVI)

Here is the text of the homily given by the Holy Father this morning on the occasion o the inauguration of The Year of Faith, and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The headings are my own.

Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, fifty years from the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, we begin with great joy the Year of Faith. I am delighted to greet all of you, particularly His Holiness Bartholomaeus I, Patriarch of Constantinople, and His Grace Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. A special greeting goes to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and to the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences.

Prominence Given to the Catechism

In order to evoke the Council, which some present had the grace to experience for themselves - and I greet them with particular affection - this celebration has been enriched by several special signs: the opening procession, intended to recall the memorable one of the Council Fathers when they entered this Basilica; the enthronement of a copy of the Book of the Gospels used at the Council; the consignment of the seven final Messages of the Council, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I will do before the final blessing. These signs help us not only to remember, they also offer us the possibility of going beyond commemorating. They invite us to enter more deeply into the spiritual movement which characterized Vatican II, to make it ours and to develop it according to its true meaning. And its true meaning was and remains faith in Christ, the apostolic faith, animated by the inner desire to communicate Christ to individuals and all people, in the Church's pilgrimage along the pathways of history.

The Face of God Revealed in Jesus Christ

The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church's whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and profound convergence, precisely upon Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is "the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith" (12:2).

Evangelization

Today's Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ, consecrated by the Father in the Holy Spirit, is the true and perennial subject of evangelization. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). This mission of Christ, this movement of his continues in space and time, over centuries and continents. It is a movement which starts with the Father and, in the power of the Spirit, goes forth to bring the good news to the poor, in both a material and a spiritual sense. The Church is the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (v.22). Through Christ, God is the principal subject of evangelization in the world; but Christ himself wished to pass on his own mission to the Church; he did so, and continues to do so, until the end of time pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength "to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" and "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk 4:18-19).

Faith

The Second Vatican Council did not wish to deal with the theme of faith in one specific document. It was, however, animated by a desire, as it were, to immerse itself anew in the Christian mystery so as to re-propose it fruitfully to contemporary man. The Servant of God Paul VI, two years after the end of the Council session, expressed it in this way: "Even if the Council does not deal expressly with the faith, it talks about it on every page, it recognizes its vital and supernatural character, it assumes it to be whole and strong, and it builds upon its teachings. We need only recall some of the Council's statements in order to realize the essential importance that the Council, consistent with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, attributes to the faith, the true faith, which has Christ for its source and the Church's Magisterium for its channel" (General Audience, 8 March 1967). Thus said Paul VI.

Certain and Immutable Doctrine Safeguarded and Taught

We now turn to the one who convoked the Second Vatican Council and inaugurated it: Blessed John XXIII. In his opening speech, he presented the principal purpose of the Council in this way: "What above all concerns the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and taught more effectively [...] Therefore, the principal purpose of this Council is not the discussion of this or that doctrinal theme... a Council is not required for that... [but] this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs of our time" (AAS 54 [1962], 790,791-792).

The "Letter" of the Council

In the light of these words, we can understand what I myself felt at the time: during the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man. But, so that this interior thrust towards the new evangelization neither remain just an idea nor be lost in confusion, it needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the place where it found expression. This is why I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the "letter" of the Council - that is to its texts - also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and why I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity. The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change.

Il Concilio non ha escogitato nulla di nuovo come materia di fede, né ha voluto sostituire quanto è antico.

Post-Conciliar Crisis

If we place ourselves in harmony with the authentic approach which Blessed John XXIII wished to give to Vatican II, we will be able to realize it during this Year of Faith, following the same path of the Church as she continuously endeavours to deepen the deposit of faith entrusted to her by Christ. The Council Fathers wished to present the faith in a meaningful way; and if they opened themselves trustingly to dialogue with the modern world it is because they were certain of their faith, of the solid rock on which they stood. In the years following, however, many embraced uncritically the dominant mentality, placing in doubt the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths.

Spiritual Desertification

If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents. Even the initiative to create a Pontifical Council for the promotion of the new evangelization, which I thank for its special effort for the Year of Faith, is to be understood in this context. Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual "desertification". In the Council's time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women.

Journey Through the Desert

In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today's world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path. The first reading spoke to us of the wisdom of the wayfarer (cf. Sir 34:9-13): the journey is a metaphor for life, and the wise wayfarer is one who has learned the art of living, and can share it with his brethren - as happens to pilgrims along the Way of Saint James or similar routes which, not by chance, have again become popular in recent years. How come so many people today feel the need to make these journeys? Is it not because they find there, or at least intuit, the meaning of our existence in the world? This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today's world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics - as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.

Mary Most Holy, Mother of God

Venerable and dear Brothers, 11 October 1962 was the Feast of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. Let us entrust to her the Year of Faith, as I did last week when I went on pilgrimage to Loreto. May the Virgin Mary always shine out as a star along the way of the new evangelization. May she help us to put into practice the Apostle Paul's exhortation, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom [...] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col 3:16-17). Amen.

Let us Fix Our Gaze Upon Christ

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Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Opening of the 13th Ordinary General Assembly
of the Synod of Bishops
on the New Evangelisation

7 October 2012

Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear brothers and sisters,

Transmission of the Christian Faith

With this solemn concelebration we open the thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. This theme reflects a programmatic direction for the life of the Church, its members, families, its communities and institutions. And this outline is reinforced by the fact that it coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, starting on 11 October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. I give a cordial and grateful welcome to you who have come to be part of the Synodal Assembly, in particular to the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, and to his colleagues. I salute the fraternal delegates of the other churches and ecclesial communities as well as all present, inviting them to accompany in daily prayer the deliberations which will take place over the next three weeks.

Fix Our Gaze Upon the Lord Jesus

The readings for this Sunday's Liturgy of the Word propose to us two principal points of reflection: the first on matrimony, which I will touch shortly; and the second on Jesus Christ, which I will discuss now. We do not have time to comment upon the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews but, at the beginning of this Synodal Assembly, we ought to welcome the invitation to fix our gaze upon the Lord Jesus, "crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death (2:9). The word of God places us before the glorious One who was crucified, so that our whole lives, and in particular the commitment of this Synodal session, will take place in the sight of him and in the light of his mystery. In every time and place, evangelisation always has as its starting and finishing points Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1); and the Crucifix is the supremely distinctive sign of him who announces the Gospel: a sign of love and peace, a call to conversion and reconciliation. My dear Brother Bishops, starting with ourselves, let us fix our gaze upon him and let us be purified by his grace.

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Two Radiant Figures, Doctors of the Church

I would now like briefly to examine the new evangelisation, and its relation to ordinary evangelisation and the mission ad Gentes. The Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ's command, his disciples went out to the whole world to announce the Good News, spreading Christian communities everywhere. With time, these became well-organized churches with many faithful. At various times in history, divine providence has given birth to a renewed dynamism in Church's evangelizing activity. We need only think of the evangelisation of the Anglo-Saxon peoples or the Slavs, or the transmission of the faith on the continent of America, or the missionary undertakings among the peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania. It is against this dynamic background that I like to look at the two radiant figures that I have just proclaimed Doctors of the Church, Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Even in our own times, the Holy Spirit has nurtured in the Church a new effort to announce the Good News, a pastoral and spiritual dynamism which found a more universal expression and its most authoritative impulse in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Such renewed evangelical dynamism produces a beneficent influence on the two specific "branches" developed by it, that is, on the one hand the Missio ad Gentes or announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and on the other the New Evangelisation, directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life. The Synodal Assembly which opens today is dedicated to this new evangelisation, to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone who fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favour the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life. Obviously, such a special focus must not diminish either missionary efforts in the strict sense or the ordinary activity of evangelisation in our Christian communities, as these are three aspects of the one reality of evangelisation which complement and enrich each other.

Link Between the Crisis in Faith
and the Crisis in Marriage

The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8). What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming "one flesh" in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelisation. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realization is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.

The Saints Are the True Actors in Evangelisation

One of the important ideas of the renewed impulse that the Second Vatican Council gave to evangelisation is that of the universal call to holiness, which in itself concerns all Christians (cf. Lumen Gentium, 39-42). The saints are the true actors in evangelisation in all its expressions. In a special way they are even pioneers and bringers of the new evangelisation: with their intercession and the example of lives attentive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they show the beauty of the Gospel to those who are indifferent or even hostile, and they invite, as it were tepid believers, to live with the joy of faith, hope and charity, to rediscover the taste for the word of God and for the sacraments, especially for the bread of life, the Eucharist. Holy men and women bloom among the generous missionaries who announce the Good News to non-Christians, in the past in mission countries and now in any place where there are non-Christians. Holiness is not confined by cultural, social, political or religious barriers. Its language, that of love and truth, is understandable to all people of good will and it draws them to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of new life.

John of Avila, Man of God

At this point, let us pause for a moment to appreciate the two saints who today have been added to the elect number of Doctors of the Church. Saint John of Avila lived in the sixteenth century. A profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.

Hildegard of Bingen: A Recognized Spiritual Authority

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the twelfth century, offered her precious contribution to the growth of the Church of her time, employing the gifts received from God and showing herself to be a woman of brilliant intelligence, deep sensitivity and recognized spiritual authority. The Lord granted her a prophetic spirit and fervent capacity to discern the signs of the times. Hildegard nurtured an evident love of creation, and was learned in medicine, poetry and music. Above all, she maintained a great and faithful love for Christ and his Church.

Sin: Obstacle to Evangelisation

This summary of the ideal in Christian life, expressed in the call to holiness, draws us to look with humility at the fragility, even sin, of many Christians, as individuals and communities, which is a great obstacle to evangelisation and to recognizing the force of God that, in faith, meets human weakness. Thus, we cannot speak about the new evangelisation without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelisation is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other (cf. 2 Cor 5:20). Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelisation

Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the work of the Synod meeting to God, sustained by the communion of saints, invoking in particular the intercession of great evangelizers, among whom, with much affection, we ought to number Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose long pontificate was an example of the new evangelisation. Let us place ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelisation. With her let us invoke a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that from on high he may illumine the Synodal assembly and make it fruitful for the Church's journey today, in our time. Amen.

He Comes to the Aid of Our Weakness

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Image: Pope Saint Gregory the Great inspired by the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Father's Wednesday General Audience
26 September 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

In recent months we have made a journey in the light of the Word of God, to learn to pray in a more authentic way by looking at some great figures in the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Letters of St. Paul and the Book of Revelation, but also looking at unique and fundamental experience of Jesus in his relationship with the Heavenly Father. In fact, only in Christ, is man enabled to unite himself to God with the depth and intimacy of a child before a father who loves him, only in Him can we turn in all truth to God and lovingly call Him "Abba! Father!" Like the Apostles, we too have repeated and we still repeat to Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk 11:1).

Invoke the Holy Spirit

In addition, in order to live our personal relationship with God more intensely, we have learned to invoke the Holy Spirit, the first gift of the Risen Christ to believers, because it is he who "comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,"(Romans 8:26).

Sacred Scripture: First School of Prayer

At this point we can ask: how can I allow myself to be formed by the Holy Spirit? What is the school in which he teaches me to pray and helps me in my difficulties to turn to God in the right way? The first school of prayer which we have covered in the last few weeks is the Word of God, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Scripture in permanent dialogue between God and man, an ongoing dialogue in which God reveals Himself ever closer to us. We can better familiarize ourselves with his face, his voice, his being and the man learns to accept and to know God, to talk to God. So in recent weeks, reading Sacred Scripture, we looked for this ongoing dialogue in Scripture to learn how we can enter into contact with God.

The Liturgy, A Source of Living Water

There is another precious "space", another valuable "source" to grow in prayer, a source of living water in close relation with the previous one. I refer to the liturgy, which is a privileged area in which God speaks to each of us, here and now, and awaits our response.

Opening the Catechism

What is the liturgy? If we open the Catechism of the Catholic Church - an always valuable and indispensable aid especially in the Year of Faith, which is about to begin - we read that originally the word "liturgy" means " service in the name of/on behalf of the people" (No. 1069) . If Christian theology took this word from the Greek world, it did so obviously thinking of the new People of God born from Christ opened his arms on the Cross to unite people in the peace of the one God. "service on behalf of the people " a people that does not exist by itself, but that has been formed through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. In fact, the People of God does not exist through ties of blood, territory or nation, but is always born from the work of the Son of God and communion with the Father that He obtains for us.

The Work of God

The Catechism also states that "in Christian tradition (the word" liturgy ") means the participation of the People of God in "the work of God." Because the people of God as such exists only through the action of God.

Orientation to God

The very development of the Second Vatican Council reminds us of this. It began its work, fifty years ago, with the discussion of the draft on the Sacred Liturgy, solemnly approved on December 4, 1963, the first text approved by the Council. The fact that document on the liturgy was the first result of the conciliar assembly was perhaps considered by some a chance occurrence. Among the many projects, the text on the sacred liturgy seemed to be the least controversial, and, for this reason, seen as an exercise in the methodology of conciliar work. But without a doubt, what at first glance seemed a chance occurrence, proved to be the right choice, starting from the hierarchy of themes and most important tasks of the Church. By beginning, with the theme of "liturgy" the primacy of God, his absolute priority was clearly brought to light. God before all things: the Council's choice of starting from the liturgy tells us precisely this. Where God's gaze is not decisive, everything else loses its direction. The basic criterion for the liturgy is its orientation to God, so that we can share in His work.

Pascha Cor Liturgiae

But we may ask: what is this work of God that we are called to participate in? The answer offered us by Conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is apparently double. At number 5 it tells us, in fact, that the works of God are His historical actions that bring us salvation, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; but in number 7, the Constitution defines the celebration of the liturgy as "the work of Christ. " In reality, the two meanings are inseparably linked. If we ask ourselves who saves the world and man, the only answer is Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, Crucified and Risen. And where does the Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, that brings salvation it becomes present and real for us, for me today ? The answer is the action of Christ through the Church, in the liturgy, especially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which makes real and present this sacrificial offering of the Son of God, who has redeemed us, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through which we pass from the death of sin to new life, and in the other sacramental acts that sanctify us (cf. PO 5). Thus, the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ is the centre of liturgical theology of the Council.

Saint Benedict Quoted

Let's take a step further and ask ourselves: how is this re-enactment of the Paschal Mystery of Christ made possible? Blessed John Paul II, 25 years after the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, wrote: " In order to reenact his Paschal Mystery, Christ is ever present in his Church, especially in liturgical celebrations. (27). Hence the Liturgy is the privileged place for the encounter of Christians with God and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf Jn 17:3). "(Vicesimus quintus annus, n. 7). Along the same lines we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: " A sacramental celebration is a meeting of God's children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words." (n. 1153). Therefore, the first requirement for a good liturgical celebration is that both prayer and conversation with God, first listening and then answering. St. Benedict, in his "Rule", speaking of the prayer of the Psalms, indicates to the monks: mens concordet voci, "may the mind agrees with the voice." The Saint teaches that the prayer of the Psalms, the words must precede our mind. Usually it does not happen this way, first one has to think and then what we have thought, is converted into speech. Here, however in the liturgy it is the inverse, the words come first. God gave us the Word and the Sacred Liturgy gives us the words, and we must enter into their meaning, welcome them within us, be in harmony with them. Thus we become children of God, similar to God. As noted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, to ensure the full effectiveness of the celebration " it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain "(n. 11). The correlation between what we say with our lips and what we carry in our hearts is essential, fundamental, to our dialogue with God in the liturgy.

Sursum Corda

In this line, I just want to mention one of the moments that, during the liturgy calls us and helps us to find such a correlation, this conforming ourselves to what we hear, say and do in the liturgy. I refer to the invitation the Celebrant formulates before the Eucharistic Prayer: Sursum corda, we lift up our hearts outside the tangle of our concerns, our desires, our anxieties, our distraction. Our heart, our intimate selves, must open obediently to the Word of God, and gather in the prayer of the Church, to receive its orientation towards God from the words that it hears and says. The heart's gaze must go out to the Lord, who is among us: it is a fundamental requirement.

Altare Dei: Cor Nostrum

When we experience the liturgy with this basic attitude, it is as if our heart is freed from the force of gravity, which drags it down, and from within rises upwards, towards truth and love, towards God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls: " In the sacramental liturgy of the Church, the mission of Christ and of the Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays. The spiritual writers sometimes compare the heart to an altar. (No. 2655): altare Dei est cor nostrum.

Wholly Directed to the Father

Dear friends, we celebrate and live the liturgy well only if we remain in an attitude of prayer, united to the Mystery of Christ and his dialogue as the Son with the Father. God Himself teaches us to pray, as St. Paul writes (cf. Rom 8:26). He Himself has given us the right words to say to Him, words that we find in the Psalter, in the great prayers of the liturgy. and in the same Eucharistic celebration. We pray to the Lord to be ever more aware of the fact that the liturgy is the action of God and man; prayer that rises from the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the Son of God made man (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2564).

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Saint John the Baptist by G.B. Cima da Conigliano (c. 1459 - c. 1517).

Yesterday, on the feast of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist, the Holy Father delivered the following instruction at his weekly general audience. Titles in boldface and comments in italics are my own.

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Death of the Holy Forerunner

This final Wednesday of the month of August marks the liturgical memorial of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. In the Roman calendar, he is the only saint for whom we celebrate both his birth (June 24th) and his death by martyrdom. Today's memorial dates back to the dedication of a crypt of Sebaste, in Samaria, where by the mid 4th century his head was already being venerated. The cult then spread to Jerusalem, to the Churches of the East and to Rome under the title of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. In the Roman Martyrology, reference is made to a second-century discovery of this precious relic, which was transported for the occasion to the Church of St. Sylvester in Campo Marzio, Rome.

A Veneration that is Ancient and Deep

These little historical references help us to understand how ancient and deep the veneration of St. John the Baptist truly is. In the Gospels his role in relation to Jesus is quite prominent. In particular, St. Luke recounts his birth, his life in the desert and his preaching, and in today's Gospel St. Mark speaks to us about his dramatic death. John the Baptist begins his preaching under the emperor Tiberius, in 27-28 A.D., and the clear invitation he addresses to the people who come out to hear him is to prepare the way to welcome the Lord, to make straight the paths of their lives through a radical conversion of heart (cf. Luke 3:4).

Behold the Lamb of God

But the Baptist does not limit himself to preaching repentance and conversion; rather, in recognizing Jesus as "the Lamb of God" who has come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), he has the deep humility to point to Jesus as the One truly sent by God, and he steps aside so that Christ might increase, be heard and followed.

Humility, as so many have written, is the distinctive Benedictine virtue. Chapter Seven, on the twelve steps of humility, is the longest chapter in the Holy Rule. It is no mere coincidence that one of the first oratories that Saint Benedict built on Monte Cassino was dedicated to Saint John the Forerunner. Humility begins, not by gazing upon oneself, but by gazing upon and recognizing the Lamb of God. In the light of the Lamb one is content to disappear into a kind of ennothingment. This is where humiliation and adoration become two expressions of the same thing.

Refusal to Keep Silent About the Truth

As a last act, the Baptist bears witness with his blood to his fidelity to God's commandments, without giving up or turning back, thus fulfilling his mission to the end. St. Bede, a 9th century monk, in his Homilies says: St. John, for Christ, gave up his life, even though [his persecutor] had not demanded that he should deny Jesus Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth (cf. Hom. 23: CCL 122, 354). And he did not keep silent about the truth, and thus he died for Christ who is the Truth. For love of the truth, he did not give in to compromises with those who were powerful, nor was he afraid to address strong words to the one who lost his way to God.

Is this not the single greatest temptation today for people in the public eye, be they churchmen or politicians: to keep silent about the truth? The trend to privatize religion is, in effect, a trend to suppress the truth. Such is the religion of the cowardly, not of the boldhearted in the Holy Ghost.

Prayer, the Guiding Thread of His Life

Now we see this great figure -- this force -- in his passion, in his resistance against the powerful. We ask: where does this life come from, this interiority, which is so strong, so principled, so consistent, which is spent so totally for God and in preparing the way for Jesus? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from prayer, which is the guiding thread of his entire life.

More and more do I see the significance of Saint John the Baptist in the apparition at Knock in 1879. The little church that became the site of the apparition was dedicated to him. The Holy Forerunner did not appear with the Mother of God, with Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, and the Lamb of God. He was true to himself: silent and hidden, and yet, in some mysterious way, Saint John the Baptist was present at Knock. His intercession preceded the apparition and accompanied it. Is not the message of Saint John the Baptist at Knock exactly what the Holy Father sets forth here? Is it not the primacy of one's relationship with God, and prayer as the guiding thread of one's life?

The Benedictus

John is the divine gift long besought by his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:13); a great gift, humanly unhoped-for since both of them were advanced in years and Elizabeth was barren (cf. Luke 1:7); but nothing is impossible for God (cf. Luke 1:36). The announcement of this birth occurred precisely in a place of prayer, in the temple of Jerusalem; indeed, it took place when, to Zechariah, there fell the great privilege of entering the temple's most sacred place, in order to offer incense to the Lord (cf. Luke 1:8-20). Even the Baptist's birth is marked by prayer: the hymn of joy, praise and thanksgiving that Zechariah raises to the Lord and that we recite each morning in Lauds -- the "Benedictus" -- extols God's action in history and prophetically points to the mission of his son John: to go before the Son of God made flesh in order to prepare the way for him (Luke 1:67-79).

Pope Benedict XVI is, of all the popes of modern times, the one most marked by the experience of the sacred liturgy in all its richness. The influence of the liturgy on his piety, his theology, and his world-view comes through in all his teachings, as it does here.

The Only Secure Reference Point: God

The entire life of Jesus' precursor was nourished by his relationship with God, especially during the time he spent in the wilderness (cf. Luke 1:80); the wilderness, a place of temptation, but also a place where man feels his own poverty, for there he is deprived of all support and material security, and he comes to understand that the only secure reference point is God himself.

What the Holy Father says here of the wilderness can be applied, just as he says it, to the monastery. What is a monastery, if not "a place of temptation, but also a place where man feels his own poverty, for there he is deprived of all support and material security, and he comes to understand that the only secure reference point is God himself"?

John, a Teacher of Prayer

But John the Baptist is not only a man of prayer, of constant contact with God; he is also a guide in this relationship. The Evangelist Luke, in relating the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples -- the "Our Father" -- notes that the request made by the disciples was formulated with these words: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" (cf. Luke 11:1).

I have never forgotten what I read so many, many years ago in Jean Cardinal Danielou's book on the mystery of Advent: that Saint John the Baptist has a permanent and ongoing mission in the Church and in regard to souls, and that there is no "advent" of the Lord, even those secret advents of grace, that is not, in some way, prepared by the Holy Forerunner.
Saint John the Baptist is, moreover, a master of prayer. He teaches one how to pray by fixing one's gaze upon the Lamb of God and by falling silent in adoration, in humility, and in joy.

The Martyrdom of Daily Fidelity to the Gospel

Dear brothers and sisters, celebrating the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist also reminds us -- Christians in our own times -- that we cannot give into compromise when it comes to our love for Christ, for his Word, for his Truth. The Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise. The Christian life requires, as it were, the "martyrdom" of daily fidelity to the Gospel; the courage, that is, to allow Christ to increase in us and to direct our thoughts and actions. But this can only occur in our lives if our relationship with God is strong.

Never has the temptation to compromise with the world been stronger than it is today, especially in Europe and North America. Notions such as discretion, tolerance, and liberty are used as excuses for pusillanimity, fear of confrontation, and the watering down of the truth. The gift of fortitude is as necessary in the present hour as it was in the great age of the martyrs.

Prayer: Faithful, Constant, Trusting

Prayer is not time lost, nor does it steal space away from our activities, even those that are apostolic; it is exactly the opposite: only if we are able to have a life of faithful, constant, trusting prayer, will God himself give us the ability and strength to live in happiness and peace, to overcome difficulties and to courageously bear witness to him. May St. John the Baptist intercede for us, that we might always maintain the primacy of God in our lives. Thank you.

How often I have heard people say that perseverance in prolonged prayer is a loss of time that might better be used working, that it steals space away from productivity, and that, while it is alright for those living in the cloister, it is not suitable for ordinary layfolk. I have even heard priests and religious repeat the tired old chestnut, "We are not monks"! With that deadly little phrase they absolve themselves of zeal for the sacred liturgy, of a daily rule of personal prayer, of lectio divina, and of making space in daily life for silence and solitude with God. The Holy Father calls the whole Church to maintain the primacy of God in life: God first, God adored, God confessed, God sought always and everywhere.

[Zenit Translation by Diane Montagna]

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Yesterday, the Holy Father spoke of Saint Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, Doctor of the Church, and his simple, direct teachings on prayer for Everyman. Saint Alphonsus has long been a dear friend of mine: he is the lasting glory of Baroque Naples, a city that, for all its moral miseries and human drama, was home to a great multitude of saints and mystics. Here is the Holy Father's discourse:

Dear brothers and sisters!

The Joyous Embrace of God the Father

Today marks the liturgical memorial of St. Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer -- the Redemptorists -- patron saint of scholars and moral theology and of confessors. St. Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, straightforward style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance: In a period of great rigorism -- the result of the influence of Jansenism -- he recommended to confessors to administer this sacrament by revealing the joyous embrace of God the Father, who in His infinite mercy never tires of welcoming back the repentant son.

Prayer: Necessary and Sure Means to Salvation

Today's memorial offers us the occasion to consider St. Alphonsus' teachings on prayer, which are extremely valuable and filled with spiritual inspiration. He considered his treatise, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, which dates back to 1759, to be the most useful of all his writings. In fact, he there describes prayer as "the necessary and sure means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces we need to attain it" (Introduction).

He Who Prays is Saved

This sentence sums up the Alphonsian understanding of prayer. First, in saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the end to be attained: God created out of love in order to be able to give us the fullness of life; but because of sin, this goal, this abundance of life has, so to say, drifted away -- we all know this -- and only God's grace can make it available. To explain this basic truth, and to enable us to understand in a straightforward way how real the risk is of man's "being lost," St. Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim, which states: "He who prays is saved. He who prays not is damned!" Commenting on this lapidary statement, he added: "To save one's soul without prayer is most difficult, and even impossible ... but by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy" (Chapter II, Conclusion). And he goes on to say: "If we do not pray, we have no excuse, for the grace of prayer is given to everyone ... if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours, because we did not pray" (ibid.).

We Cannot Manage Without Praying

In saying that prayer is a necessary means, St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation in life, we cannot manage without praying, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the Lord's door with trust, knowing that in all things He takes care of His children, of us. We are invited, therefore, not to be afraid of turning to Him and of presenting our requests to Him with trust, in the certainty of obtaining what we need.

What Is Truly Necessary?

Dear friends, this is the central question: What is truly necessary in my life? With St. Alphonsus I respond: "Health and all the graces we need for this" (ibid.); naturally, he means not only bodily health, but above all also that of the soul, which Jesus gives to us. More than anything else, we need His liberating presence, which truly makes our lives fully human and therefore full of joy. And it is only through prayer that we are able to welcome Him and His grace, which by enlightening us in each situation, enables us to discern the true good, and by strengthening us, makes our will effective; that is, it enables it to do the good that is known. Often we recognize the good, but we are unable to do it. Through prayer, we arrive at the point of being able to carry it out.

Weakness and the Richness of God's Mercy

The Lord's disciple knows that he is always exposed to temptation, and he never fails to ask God for help in prayer in order to conquer it. St. Alphonsus recalls the example of St. Phillip Neri -- very interesting -- who "used to say to God from the first moment he awoke in the morning, 'Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee'" (III, 3). A great realist! He asks God to keep His hand upon him. We, too, in the awareness of our own weakness, should humbly ask God's help, relying on the richness of His mercy.

By Prayer Obtain the Strength You Do Not Possess

In another passage, St. Alphonsus says: "We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor" (II, 4). And in the wake of St. Augustine, he invites every Christian to not be afraid of obtaining from God, through prayer, the strength he does not possess and that he needs to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord does not withhold His help from whoever prays with humility (cf. III, 3).

Relationship With God and Daily Prayer

Dear friends, St. Alphonsus reminds us that our relationship with God is essential for our lives. Without a relationship with God, our fundamental relationship is missing. And a relationship with God develops by talking with God in daily personal prayer, and by participating in the Sacraments; and so it is that this relationship can grow in us, and that the divine presence that directs our path, enlightens it and makes it secure and serene can also grow in us, even amid difficulty and danger. Thank you.

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Today, If Ye Shall Hear His Voice

In listening to Our Holy Father deliver his message to the participants in the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, which closed yesterday in Dublin, two passages of Sacred Scripture immediately came to mind: "Today if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Psalm 94:8);
and "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear " (Mark 4:9).

The Holy Father's message was unambiguous and to the point. He addressed four crucial issues facing the Church in Ireland:

1. The Liturgical Crisis
2. The Call to Holiness
3. Sin
4. Routine and Renewal

Bishops and Parish Priests would do well to address systematically each of these four issues in the weeks ahead, lest the good seed of the Holy Father's message fall on rocky ground or among weeds and briars.

1. The Liturgical Crisis

Until the liturgical crisis in Ireland (and elsewhere) is addressed, and concrete steps taken to remedy it, nothing of any lasting value will be accomplished at any level in the life of the Church.

The underlying principle is simple: Lex orandi>Lex credendi>Lex vivendi.

A people that worship rightly, that is:
• "as worthily and reverently as possible" (Pope Benedict XVI);
• in organic continuity with the received tradition of their historic rite;
• in fidelity to the letter of the rubrics and to their spirit;

will believe rightly, that is:
• in communion of mind and heart with the Church's living Tradition in all times and places;
• with a faith that both "seeks understanding" (Saint Anselm) and adores the Mystery;
• and in obedience to the Pope, the Successor of Peter, and to the bishops in communion with him;

and will act rightly and justly, that is;
in moral and ethical harmony with natural law and with Divine Revelation;
fructifying the theological virtues, the moral virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
and building up a civilization of love, illumined by the splendour of truth.

2. The Call to Holiness

It is time to cast off, once and for all, the minimalistic and legal moralism by which the "practicing Catholic" has been identified for too long by too many. It is not enough to practice a lifeless and sullen adhesion to the outward forms of the Catholic identity. It is time for every bishop, priest, religious, layman, laywoman, and child to look in the mirror and say, "Today, relying on the grace of Jesus Christ, I resolve to become a saint".

A new Ireland, a Holy Ireland, a people of saints, can emerge today from the obscurity, confusion, and unrest of the past five decades, just as a Holy Ireland, a people of saints emerged from the obscurity, confusion, and unrest of paganism when Saint Patrick enkindled on this island the light of the Gospel and the fire of the Sacraments.

3. Sin

Sin must be unmasked and denounced for what it is: the single greatest obstacle to man's unhappiness in this world and in the next. Sin, in all its tentacular forms, has never made anyone happy. Vice foments misery; it brings in its wake emotional, psychological, and physical fragmentation. Virtue fosters happiness; it brings in its wake the inner healing that is the full meaning of salvation.

The remedy for sin lies in:
• identifying it, first of all, in oneself;
• in detesting it;
• in repenting of it;
• in resolving to turn from it;
• in confessing it as often as necessary in the Sacrament of Penance.

As long as bishops, priests, religious, and lay Catholics of all ages
• turn a blind eye to sin;
• make excuses for it;
• grow comfortable in it;
• delay turning away from it;
• and neglect frequent confession,
priestly life, religious life, and family life will continue to disintegrate,
Catholic culture will become increasingly invisible and inarticulate,
and, as a result, society itself will continue to rot.

4. Routine and Renewal

The "business as usual" approach to Catholic life, based on a sterile and lifeless compliance with minimalistic interpretations and applications of liturgical principles, doctrine, and morality, is nothing more than an attempt to inject a decaying corpse with embalming fluid. A naive satisfaction with things going according routine is -- with the occasional showy splash of bureaucratically engineered vitality (itself, part of the routine) -- is the indication that, beneath the surface, there is something very wrong.

Renewal must not be equated with novelty. Nothing gets older more quickly than novelty. What is needed is Pope Benedict's famous "hermeneutic of continuity". True renewal will rise out of a hard pruning of Church life in all its facets, beginning with the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Thus will the Church, the vine chosen and planted by the Father, begin to experience revitalization in Christ, a new vitality carried by the Holy Spirit into every branch and tendril.

The Holy Father's Text

I didn't intend to offer such a developed introduction to the Holy Father's message, but it is written, and I shall leave it as it flowed almost willy-nilly from my mind and heart. What is essential is the Holy Father's message in our points. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you who have gathered in Dublin for the
Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress, especially Cardinal Brady, Archbishop Martin, the clergy, religious and faithful of Ireland, and all of you who have come from afar to support the Irish Church with your presence and prayers.

Koinonia--Communio

The theme of the Congress - Communion with Christ and with One Another - leads us to
reflect upon the Church as a mystery of fellowship with the Lord and with all the members of his body. From the earliest times the notion of koinonia or communio has been at the core of the Church's understanding of herself, her relationship to Christ her founder, and the sacraments she celebrates, above all the Eucharist. Through our Baptism, we are incorporated into Christ's death, reborn into the great family of the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; through Confirmation we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit; and by our sharing in the Eucharist, we come into communion with Christ and each other visibly here on earth. We also receive the pledge of eternal life to come.

The Year of Faith

The Congress also occurs at a time when the Church throughout the world is preparing to
celebrate the Year of Faith to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, an event which launched the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite ever known.

The Roman Rite: Misunderstandings and Irregularities

Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic sacrifice. At our distance today from the Council Fathers' expressed desires regarding liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church's experience in the intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities.

The Work of Real Liturgical Renewal

The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ's love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and "active participation" has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal. In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life.

Call to Holiness

The Eucharist is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church's mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others.

Ireland Shaped by the Mass

Moreover, the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, his Body and
Blood given in the new and eternal covenant for the forgiveness of sins and the transformation of the world. Ireland has been shaped by the Mass at the deepest level for centuries, and by its power and grace generations of monks, martyrs and missionaries have heroically lived the faith at home and spread the Good News of God's love and forgiveness well beyond your shores.

A Mighty Force for Good in the World

You are the heirs to a Church that has been a mighty force for good in the world, and which has given a profound and enduring love of Christ and his blessed Mother to many, many others. Your forebears in the Church in Ireland knew how to strive for holiness and constancy in their personal lives, how to preach the joy that comes from the Gospel, how to promote the importance of belonging to the universal Church in communion with the See of Peter, and how to pass on a love of the faith and Christian virtue to other generations.

Placed on the Lord's Altar

Our Catholic faith, imbued with a radical sense of God's presence, caught up in the beauty of his creation all around us, and purified through personal penance and awareness of God's forgiveness, is a legacy that is surely perfected and nourished when regularly placed on the Lord's altar at the sacrifice of the Mass.

Sin

Thankfulness and joy at such a great history of faith and love have recently been shaken in an appalling way by the revelation of sins committed by priests and consecrated persons against people entrusted to their care. Instead of showing them the path towards Christ, towards God, instead of bearing witness to his goodness, they abused people and undermined the credibility of the Church's message. How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord's Body and confessed their sins in the Sacrament of Penance have offended in this way?

Merely a Matter of Habit

It remains a mystery. Yet evidently, their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it had become merely a matter of habit. The work of the Council was really meant to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic Congress has a similar aim. Here we wish to encounter the Risen Lord. We ask him to touch us deeply. May he who breathed on the Apostles at Easter, communicating his Spirit to them, likewise bestow upon us his breath, the power of the Holy Spirit, and so help us to become true witnesses to his love, witnesses to the truth. His truth is love. Christ's love is truth.

The Next International Eucharistic Congress

My dear brothers and sisters, I pray that the Congress will be for each of you a spiritually
fruitful experience of communion with Christ and his Church. At the same time, I would like
to invite you to join me in praying for God's blessing upon the next International Eucharistic
Congress, which will take place in 2016 in the city of Cebu!

To the people of the Philippines I send warm greetings and an assurance of my closeness in prayer during the period of preparation for this great ecclesial gathering. I am confident that it will bring lasting spiritual renewal not only to them but to all the participants from across the globe.

In the meantime, I commend everyone taking part in the present Congress to the loving protection of Mary, Mother of God, and to Saint Patrick, the great patron of Ireland; and, as a token of joy and peace in the Lord, I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
17 June 2012

Corpus Domini 2012

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Here, in English translation, is the Holy Father's homily at the Mass of Corpus Domini last evening in Rome.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Il culto dell'Eucaristia e la sua sacralità

This evening I would like to meditate with you on two interconnected aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery: the worship of the Eucharist and its sacredness. It is important to take it up again to preserve it from incomplete visions of the Mystery itself, such as those which were proposed in the recent past.

The "Beating Heart" of the City

First of all, a reflection on the value of Eucharistic worship, in particular adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is the experience that we will also live after the Mass, before the procession, during its development and at its end. A unilateral interpretation of Vatican Council II has penalized this dimension, restricting the Eucharist in practice to the celebratory moment. In fact, it was very important to recognize the centrality of the celebration, in which the Lord convokes his people, gathers them around the twofold table of the Word and the Bread of life, nourishes them and unites them to Himself in the offering of the Sacrifice. This assessment of the liturgical assembly, in which the Lord works and realizes his mystery of communion, remains of course valid, but it must be placed in the right balance. In fact - as often happens - the stressing of one aspect ends up by sacrificing another. In this case, the accentuation placed on the celebration of the Eucharist has been to the detriment of adoration, as act of faith and prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus, really present in the Sacrament of the altar. This imbalance has also had repercussions on the spiritual life of the faithful. In fact, concentrating the whole relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus only at the moment of Holy Mass risks removing his presence from the rest of time and the existential space. And thus, perceived less is the sense of the constant presence of Jesus in our midst and with us, a concrete, close presence among our homes, as "beating Heart" of the city, of the country, of the territory with its various expressions and activities. The Sacrament of the Charity of Christ must permeate the whole of daily life.

Jesus Stays With Us

In reality, it is a mistake to oppose celebration and adoration, as if they were in competition with one another. It is precisely the contrary: the worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament is as the spiritual "environment" in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this interior attitude of faith and adoration, can the liturgical action express its full meaning and value. The encounter with Jesus in the Holy Mass is truly and fully acted when the community is able to recognize that, in the Sacrament, He dwells in his house, waits for us, invites us to his table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with his discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with his intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offering them to the Father.

To Look at Him with Love

In this connection, I am pleased to stress the experience we will also live together this evening. At the moment of adoration, we are all on the same plane, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love. The common and ministerial priesthoods are united in Eucharistic worship. It is a very beautiful and significant experience, which we have experienced several times in Saint Peter's Basilica, and also in the unforgettable vigils with young people - I recall, for example, those of Cologne, London, Zagreb, Madrid. It is evident to all that these moments of Eucharistic vigil prepare the celebration of the Holy Mass, prepare hearts for the encounter, so that it is more fruitful. To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament, is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied in a complementary way with the celebration of the Eucharist, listening to the Word of God, singing, approaching together the table of the Bread of life. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together. To really communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to hear him and to look at him with love. True love and true friendship always live of the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter is lived profoundly, in a personal not a superficial way. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, even sacramental communion itself can become, on our part, a superficial gesture. Instead, in true communion, prepared by the colloquy of prayer and of life, we can say to the Lord words of confidence as those that resounded a short while ago in the Responsorial Psalm: "O Lord, I am thy servant; I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid. / Thou hast loosed my bonds./ I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving /and call on the name of the Lord" (Psalm 115:16-17).

Christ Did Not Abolish the Sacred

Now I would like to pass briefly to the second aspect: the sacredness of the Eucharist. Also here we heard in the recent past of a certain misunderstanding of the authentic message of Sacred Scripture. The Christian novelty in regard to worship was influenced by a certain secularist mentality of the 60s and 70s of the past century. It is true, and it remains always valid, that the center of worship is now no longer in the rites and ancient sacrifices, but in Christ himself, in his person, in his life, in his paschal mystery. And yet, from this fundamental novelty it must not be concluded that the sacred no longer exists, but that it has found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, incarnate divine Love. The Letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this evening in the Second Reading, speaks to us precisely of the novelty of the priesthood of Christ, "high priest of the good things that have come" (Hebrews 9:11), but it does not say that the priesthood is finished. Christ "is the mediator of a new covenant" (Hebrews 9:15), established in his blood, which purifies our "conscience from dead works" (Hebrews 9:14). He did not abolish the sacred, but brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new worship, which is, yes, fully spiritual but which however, so long as we are journeying in time, makes use again of signs and rites, of which there will be no need only at the end, in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will no longer be a temple (cf. Revelation 21:22). Thanks to Christ, the sacred is more true, more intense and, as happens with the Commandments, also more exacting! Ritual observance is not enough, but what is required is the purification of the heart and the involvement of life.

The Center of Our Life and the Heart of the World

I am also pleased to stress that the sacred has an educational function, and its disappearance inevitably impoverishes the culture, in particular, the formation of the new generations. If, for example, in the name of a secularized faith, no longer in need of sacred signs, this citizens' processions of the Corpus Domini were abolished, the spiritual profile of Rome would be "leveled," and our personal and community conscience would be weakened. Or let us think of a mother or a father that, in the name of a de-sacralized faith, deprived their children of all religious rituals: in reality they would end up by leaving a free field to so many surrogates present in the consumer society, to other rites and other signs, which could more easily become idols. God, our Father, has not acted thus with humanity: he has sent his Son into the world not to abolish, but to give fulfillment also to the sacred. At the height of this mission, in the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood, the Memorial of his Paschal Sacrifice. By so doing, he put himself in the place of the ancient sacrifices, but he did so within a rite, which he commanded the Apostles to perpetuate, as the supreme sign of the true sacred, which is Himself. With this faith, dear brothers and sisters, we celebrate today and every day the Eucharistic Mystery and we adore it as the center of our life and heart of the world. Amen.

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The Holy Father is continuing his series of catecheses on prayer during the weekly Wedneday audience. Last Wednesday, 30 May, the Holy Father gave the following address. The substitles in boldface are my own. How I wish that these catecheses on prayer were better known, read, and meditated!

Dear brothers and sisters,

The God of All Comfort

In these catecheses we are pondering prayer in the letters of St. Paul, and we are seeking to see Christian prayer as a true and personal encounter with God the Father, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. In today's meeting, God's faithful "yes" enters into dialogue with believers' trustful "amen". I wish to emphasize this dynamic by considering the Second Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul sends this impassioned letter to a Church that has repeatedly questioned his apostleship, and he opens his heart so that his hearers might be reassured of his fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel. This Second Letter to the Corinthians begins with one of the loftiest prayers of blessing contained in the New Testament. It reads: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Consolation and Comfort from God

Paul suffered great tribulation and had to pass through many difficulties and afflictions, but he never yielded to discouragement, for he was sustained by grace and by the nearness of the Lord Jesus Christ, for whom he had become an apostle by surrendering his entire life to Him. For this reason, Paul begins this Letter with a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving to God -- for there was never a moment in his life as an apostle of Christ that he felt the support of the merciful Father, of the God of all consolation, lessen. He suffered terribly -- he says it in this Letter -- but amidst all these situations, when a path forward didn't seem to open, he received consolation and comfort from God.

Interiorly Free, Even in Suffering

He also suffered persecutions to the point of being imprisoned for the sake of proclaiming Christ, but he always felt interiorly free, animated by the presence of Christ, and filled with desire to announce the Gospel's word of hope. Thus, from prison he writes to Timothy, his faithful coworker. In chains he writes: "The Word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory" (2 Timothy 2:9b-10). In his suffering for Christ, he experiences the consolation of God. He writes: "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (2 Corinthians 1:5).

Live Every Situation in Union with Christ

In the prayer of blessing that introduces the Second Letter to the Corinthians, what prevails in addition to the theme of affliction is the theme of consolation, which should not be understood as simple comfort, but rather as encouragement and exhortation not to let oneself be conquered by tribulation and difficulties. The invitation is to live every situation in union with Christ, who takes all of the world's suffering and sin upon Himself in order to bring light, hope and redemption. And in this way, Jesus makes us capable of consoling those who are afflicted in any way. Profound union with Christ through prayer and faith in His presence leads to a readiness to share in the sufferings and afflictions of others. St. Paul writes: "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized and I do not tremble?" (2 Corinthians 11:29). This 'sharing in' does not originate in benevolence, in human generosity or in a spirit of altruism; rather, it flows from the consolation of the Lord, from the unshakeable support of the "transcendent power that comes from God and not from us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).

In Difficulties, Misunderstandings, and Suffering

Dear brothers and sisters, our lives and our journey are often marked by difficulty, by misunderstandings, by suffering. We all know this to be true. In being faithful to our relationship with the Lord through constant, daily prayer we too are able to feel concretely the consolation that comes from God. And this strengthens our faith, because it makes us experience concretely God's "yes" to man, to us, to me, in Christ; it makes us feel the fidelity of His love, which extends even to the gift of His Son on the Cross. St. Paul affirms: "The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not "yes" and "no"; but in Him it is always "yes". For all the promises of God find their "yes" in Him. That is why we utter the "amen" through Him, to the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). God's "yes" is not halfway; it does not vacillate between "yes" and "no"; rather, it is a simple and sure "yes". And we respond to this "yes" with our "yes", with our "amen" and it is in this way that we remain secure in God's "yes".

Faith Is A Gift of God

Faith is not primarily a human action; rather, it is a gratuitous gift of God rooted in His fidelity, in His "yes", which makes us understand how to live our lives by loving Him and our brothers and sisters. The whole of salvation history is a progressive self-revelation of the God's faithfulness despite our infidelity and our rejection, in the certainty that "the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable!" as the Apostle declares in the Letter to the Romans (11:29).

God Never Tires of Us

Dear brothers and sisters, God's way of acting - which is very different from our own - gives us consolation, strength and hope, because God does not take back His "yes". In the face of conflict in human relationships, even with members of our families, we are inclined not to persevere in gratuitous love, which requires commitment and sacrifice. God, on the other hand, never tires of us; He never tires of being patient with us, and with His immense mercy He always goes before us; He goes out to meet us first; His "yes" is entirely worthy of our trust. In the event of the Cross, He offers us the measure of His love, which neither calculates nor measures. In the Letter to Titus, St. Paul writes: "The goodness of God our Savior and His love for men has appeared" (Titus 3:4). And in order that that this "yes" might be renewed each day, "He has anointed us and has sealed us and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts" (2 Corinthians 1:21b-22).

Sought and Summoned by Faithful Love

It is the Holy Spirit, in fact, who makes God's "yes" in Jesus Christ continually present and alive and it is He who creates in our hearts the desire to follow Him, in order to one day enter fully into His love, when in heaven we will receive a dwelling place not fashioned by human hands. There is no person who is not sought and summoned by this faithful love, a love that is capable of waiting even for those who continually respond with the "no" of rejection or with hardness of heart. God waits for us; He always seeks us out; He wills to receive us into communion with Himself in order to give each one of us fullness of life, of hope and of peace.

Amen

The Church's "amen," which resounds in every liturgical action, is grafted onto God's faithful "yes": "amen" is the response of faith that always concludes our personal and communal prayer, and that expresses our "yes" to God's initiative. In prayer, we often respond with our "amen" through habit, without grasping its profound meaning. This term comes from 'aman, which in Hebrew and Aramaic means "to make stable" to "strengthen" and, consequently, "to be certain", "to tell the truth".

Adherence to God

If we look to Sacred Scripture, we see that this "amen" is pronounced at the end of the Psalms of blessing and of praise, as in Psalm 41, for example: "You have upheld me by reason of my integrity: and have established me in Your sight forever. Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel from eternity to eternity. Amen. Amen." (Verses 13-14). Or it expresses adherence to God, at the time when the People of Israel return full of joy from Babylonian exile and pronounce their "yes", their "amen" to God and to His Law. In the Book of Nehemiah, it is said that, after this return, "Ezra opened the book in the sight of all people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God; and all the people answered: 'Amen, amen," lifting up their hands (Nehemiah 8:5-6).

In the Apocalypse

From the beginning, therefore, the "amen" of the Jewish liturgy became the "amen" of the first Christian communities. And the book on the Christian liturgy par excellence is the Apocalypse of St. John, which begins with the Church's "amen": "To Him who loves us and who freed us from our sins by His blood, who made us a kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Apocalypse 1:5b-6). So it is in the first chapter of the Apocalypse. And the same Book concludes with the invocation: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Apocalypse 22:21).

Prayer: An Encounter with a Living Person

Dear friends, prayer is an encounter with a living Person to whom we should listen and with whom we should converse; it is an encounter with God who renews His unshakeable faithfulness, His "yes" to man, and to each one of us, in order to give us His consolation in the midst of storms and to make us live a life united with Him, full of joy and goodness, that will find its fulfillment in life eternal.

Christ Saying "Yes" to the Father in Us

In our prayer we are called to say "yes" to God and to respond with the "amen" of adherence, of faithfulness to Him with our whole life. We can never attain to this fidelity by our own powers; it is not only the fruit of our daily commitment; it comes from God and is founded on the "yes" of Christ, who says: "my food is to do the will of the Father (cf. John 4:34). We must enter into this "yes", [we must] enter into this "yes" of Christ, in adherence to the will of God, in order that we might say with St. Paul that it is no longer we who live, but Christ himself who lives in us. Then the "amen" of our personal and communal prayer will envelop and transform the whole of our lives, into a life of consolation, a life immersed in eternal and unshakeable Love. Thank you.

In the company of friends

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Here is a translation of the Holy Father's words to the Cardinals who shared his table for pranzo on Monday. The pranzo was an expression of gratitude for the best wishes addressed to the Holy Father last month on the occasions of his 85th birthday (16 April) and of the seventh anniversary of his election to the See of Peter (19 April). I have added a few personal comments in italics.

Eminence, dear Brothers,

At this moment my word can be only a word of gratitude. Gratitude first of all to the Lord for the many years he has given me; years with so many days of joy, splendid times, but also dark nights. However, in retrospect one understands even the nights were necessary and good, a motive for gratitude.

The Holy Father does not shrink from speaking of the dark nights in his long life. This is an encouragement to all of us who, at various seasons of our lives, experience the disorientation and heaviness of dark nights. Even these, says the Holy Father, can become a motive for gratitude, once we see that were part of a bigger plan, the plan by which God brings good out of evil, and joy out of suffering.

Today the word ecclesia militans is somewhat out of fashion, but in reality we can understand ever better that it is true, that it bears truth in itself. We see how evil wishes to dominate the world and that it is necessary to enter into battle with evil. We see how it does so in so many ways, bloody, with the different forms of violence, but also masked with goodness and precisely this way destroying the moral foundations of society.

Ecclesia militans -- the Church militant! This is the core of the Holy Father's brief message: "It is necessary to enter into battle with evil." I think of Saint Antony of Egypt, and I remember that the life of the monk is not a retreat from battle, but a readiness to engage in battle, even in the front lines. The Holy Father further speaks here of the evil that masks itself as goodness in order to destroy the moral foundations of society. Let him who has ears hear!

Saint Augustine said that the whole of history is a struggle between two loves: love of oneself to contempt of God; love of God to contempt of self, in martyrdom. We are in this struggle and in this struggle it is very important to have friends. And, in my own case, I am surrounded by the friends of the College of Cardinals: they are my friends and I feel at home, I feel safe in this company of great friends, who are with me and all together with the Lord.

The Holy Father is sensitive to friendship, and to the expression of friendship. No one can be fully human without the help of friends. Holiness itself is, more often than not, sustained and protected by God-seeking friendships.

Thank you for this friendship. Thank you, Eminence, for all that you have done for this moment today and for all that you do always. Thank you for the communion of joys and sorrows. Let's go forward, the Lord said: courage, I have overcome the world. We are in the Lord's squad, hence in the victorious squad. Thanks to you all. May the Lord bless you all. And let's toast.

A communion of joys and sorrows. And a toast. Long live the Pope!

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Yesterday at the Wednesday General Audience, our Holy Father offered this profound and comforting teaching on prayer in the Letters of Saint Paul. I cannot begin to say how much the Holy Father's words went straight to my heart. He addressed struggles in prayer that I have known and that many souls familiar to me have also known. This text is a gift for the first day of the Pentecost Novena.

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Prayer of Saint Paul

In the last catecheses we reflected on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles. Today I would like to begin to speak about prayer in the Letters of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. First, I would like to note that it is not by chance that his Letters are introduced and conclude with expressions of prayer: at the beginning, thanksgiving and praise; at the end, the wish that the grace of God guide the journey of the community to whom the writing is addressed. The content of the Apostle's Letters develops between the opening formula: "I thank my God through Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:8), and the final wishes: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you" (1 Corinthians 16:23). The prayer of St. Paul manifests a great wealth of forms -- from thanksgiving to benediction, from praise to petition and intercession, from hymns to supplication: a variety of expressions, which demonstrate how prayer involves and penetrates all the situations of life, those which are personal as well as those of the community he is addressing.

Placing Our Time at God's Disposition

A first element that the Apostle wants us to understand is that prayer should not be seen merely as a good work that we carry out for God, an action of ours. First and foremost, it is a gift, the fruit of the living, vivifying presence of the Father of Jesus Christ in us. In the Letter to the Romans he writes: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (8:26). And we know how true the Apostle's saying is: "We do not know how to pray as we ought". We want to pray, but God is far off, we do not have the words, the language, to speak with God, nor even the thought to do so. We can only open ourselves, place our time at God's disposition, wait for Him to help us to enter into true dialogue. The Apostle says: this very lack of words, this absence of words, yet this desire to enter into contact with God, is prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but brings and interprets before God. This very weakness of ours becomes -- through the Holy Spirit -- true prayer, true contact with God. The Holy Spirit is, as it were, the interpreter who makes us, and God, understand what it is we wish to say.

Rely Increasingly Upon Him

In prayer we experience -- more than in other aspects of life -- our weakness, our poverty, our being creatures, for we are placed before the omnipotence and transcendence of God. And the more we advance in listening and in dialogue with God, so that prayer becomes the daily breath of our souls, the more we also perceive the measure of our limitations, not only in the face of the concrete situations of everyday life, but also in our relationship with the Lord. The need to trust, to rely increasingly upon Him then grows in us; we come to understand that "we do not know ... how to pray as we ought" (Romans 8:26).

Toward the Heights of God

And it is the Holy Spirit who helps our inability, who enlightens our minds and warms our hearts, guiding us as we turn to God. For St. Paul, prayer is above all the work of the Holy Spirit in our humanity, to take our weakness and to transform us from men bound to material realities into spiritual men. In the First Letter to the Corinthians he says: "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths in spiritual terms" (2:12-13). By means of His abiding in our fragile humanity, the Holy Spirit changes us; He intercedes for us; He leads us toward the heights of God (cf. Romans 8:26).

The Spirit of Christ

Our union with Christ is realized by this presence of the Holy Spirit, for He is the Spirit of the Son of God, in whom we are made children. St. Paul speaks of the Spirit of Christ (cf. Romans 8:9), and not only of the Spirit of God. It is obvious: if Christ is the Son of God, His Spirit is also the Spirit of God. Thus, if the Spirit of God -- the Spirit of Christ -- already drew near to us in the Son of God and Son of Man, then the Spirit of God also becomes the spirit of man and touches us; we can enter into the communion of the Spirit. It is as if to say that not only God the Father became visible in the Incarnation of the Son, but also that the Spirit of God revealed Himself in the life and action of Jesus, of Jesus Christ, who lived, was crucified, died and was raised.

Inebriated with the Holy Spirit and Rooted in Christ

The Apostles reminds us that "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit, then, directs our hearts toward Jesus Christ, such that "it is not longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us" (cf. Galations 2:20). In his Catecheses on the Sacraments, reflecting on the Eucharist, St. Ambrose affirms: "He who is inebriated with the Holy Spirit is rooted in Christ" (5,3,17: PL 16, 450).

And now I would like to highlight three consequences for our Christian lives when we allow the Spirit of Christ, and not the spirit of the world, to work in us as the interior principle of all our actions.

Freedom from Fear

First, prayer animated by the Spirit enables us to abandon and to overcome every form of fear and slavery, and so to experience the true freedom of the children of God. Without prayer that nourishes our being in Christ each day in a steadily growing intimacy, we find ourselves in the condition described by St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans: we do not do the good we want, but the evil we do not want (cf. Romans 7:19).

The Ability to Follow the Desire for True Joy

And this is the expression of the alienation of the human being, of the destruction of our freedom due to the condition of our being that is brought about by original sin: we want the good that we do not do, and we do what we do not want, evil. The Apostle wants us to understand that it is not our will that first and foremost frees us from this condition, nor is it the Law, but rather the Holy Spirit. And since "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17), through prayer we experience the freedom given by the Spirit: an authentic freedom, which is freedom from evil and from sin for the good and for life, for God. The freedom of the Spirit, St. Paul continues, is never identical with libertinism or with the possibility of choosing evil but rather with the "fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). This is true freedom: the ability to actually follow the desire for the good, for true joy, for communion with God and not to be oppressed by the circumstances that take us down other roads.

Suffering

A second consequence that comes about in our lives when we allow the Spirit of Christ to work in us is that our relationship with God becomes so deep that it cannot be affected by any circumstance or situation. We then come to understand that, through prayer, we are not delivered from trials or sufferings, but we are able to live them in union with Christ, with His sufferings, with a view to participating also in His glory (cf. Romans 8:17).

The Impression That We Have Not Been Heard

Many times, in our prayer, we ask God to be freed from physical or spiritual evil, and we do this with great trust. Yet we often have the impression that we have not been heard, and then we run the risk of becoming discouraged and of not persevering. In reality, there is no human cry that God does not hear, and it is precisely in continual and faithful prayer that we come to understand with St. Paul that "the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

God Responds

Prayer does not exempt us from trial and suffering; indeed -- St. Paul says -- we "groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23); he says that prayer does not exempt us from suffering, but that prayer allows us to experience it and to face it with new strength, with the same trust as Jesus, who -- according to the Letter to the Hebrews -- "in the days of his flesh offered prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to God who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard on account of his complete abandonment to Him" (5:7). God the Father's response to the Son, to his loud cries and tears, was not deliverance from suffering, from the Cross, from death; rather, it was a much greater fulfillment, a much deeper response; through the Cross and death, God responded with the Resurrection of the Son, with new life. Prayer animated by the Holy Spirit leads us, too, to live the journey of life with its daily trials and suffering in full hope and trust in God, who responds as he responded to the Son.

Intercession

And, third, the prayer of the believer opens out to the dimensions of humanity and of the whole creation, by taking on the "eager longing of creation for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19). This means that prayer, sustained by the Spirit of Christ who speaks in our interior depths, never remains closed in upon itself, it is never only prayer for me; rather, it opens out to a sharing in the suffering of our time, of others. It becomes intercession for others, and thus freedom for me; a channel of hope for all creation and the expression of that love of God, which has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit who has been given to us (cf. Romans 5:5). And this is a sign of true prayer, that it does not end in ourselves, but opens out to others and so liberates me, and so helps in the redemption of the world.

The Holy Spirit: Light and Fire of Our Prayer

Dear brothers and sisters, St. Paul teaches us that in our prayer we must open ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who prays in us with sighs too deep for words, in order to bring us to adhere to God with all our hearts and with all our being. The Spirit of Christ becomes the strength of our "weak" prayer, the light of our "extinguished" prayer, the fire of our "cold and arid" prayer, by giving us true interior freedom, by teaching us to live facing life's trials in the certainty that we are not alone, and by opening us to the horizons of humanity and creation "which groans in travail until now" (Romans 8:22). Thank you.

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This icon of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Silence, written by the hand of Mother Anastasia, represents Our Lord in His first 30 years when He lived among His people and was silent concerning His Divinity. He worked and earned His bread by His hands. His white raiment represents His Divinity, as revealed on Mount Tabor. It is an icon for monastics and those who practise the Jesus Prayer. It is a symbol of the hidden spiritual life of a soul in Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI: On the Silence of Jesus, General Audience, Wednesday, 8 March 2012

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Silence of the Word

In a previous series of catecheses I spoke about the prayer of Jesus, and I would not wish to conclude this reflection without briefly pausing to consider the theme of Jesus' silence, which is so important in our relationship with God.

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, I made reference to the role that silence assumes in the life of Jesus, especially on Golgotha: "Here we find ourselves before the "word of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has "spoken" exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us (n. 12). Faced with this silence of the cross, St. Maximus the Confessor places upon the lips of the Mother of God this touching phrase: "Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks; lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move". (The Life of Mary, no. 89: Marian Texts of the First Millennium, 2, Rome 1989, p. 253).

The Silence of the Father

The cross of Christ not only portrays the silence of Jesus as His final word to the Father; it also reveals that God speaks through the silence: "The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word. Hanging from the wood of the cross, he lamented the suffering caused by that silence: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46). Advancing in obedience to his very last breath, in the obscurity of death, Jesus called upon the Father. He commended himself to him at the moment of passage, through death, to eternal life: 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit' (Luke 23:46)" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 21). The experience of Jesus on the cross speaks deeply of the situation of the man who prays and of the culmination of prayer: after having heard and acknowledged God's Word, we must also measure ourselves by God's silence, which is an important expression of the same divine Word.

With Mary, the Woman Wrapped in Silence

The interplay of word and silence that marks the prayer of Jesus during his entire earthly life -- especially on the cross -- also touches our own lives of prayer, in two ways. The first concerns our welcoming of God's Word. Interior and exterior silence are necessary in order that this word may be heard. And this is especially difficult in our own day. In fact, ours is not an age which fosters recollection; indeed, at times one has the impression that people have a fear of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the barrage of words and images that mark and fill our days. For this reason, in the already mentioned Exhortation Verbum Domini, I recalled the necessity of our being educated in the value of silence: "Rediscovering the centrality of God's word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence" (n. 21).

Silence in the Liturgy

This principle - that without silence we neither hear nor listen nor receive the word - applies above all to personal prayer, but it also pertains to our liturgies: in order to facilitate an authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and unspoken receptivity. St. Augustine's observation forever holds true: Verbo crescente, verba deficient -- "When the Word of God increases, the words of men fail" (cf. Sermon 288; 5: PL 38, 1307; Sermon 120,2: PL 38,677). The Gospels often present Jesus -- especially at times of crucial decisions -- withdrawing alone to a place set apart from the crowds and from his own disciples, in order to pray in the silence and to abide in his filial relationship with God. Silence is capable of excavating an interior space in our inmost depths so that God may abide there, so that his Word may remain in us, so that love for him may be rooted in our minds and in our hearts and animate our lives. The first way, then: to learn silence, [to learn] the openness to listening that opens us to the other, to the Word of God.

Silence in Secret Prayer

However, there is a second important element in the relation of silence with prayer. For in fact there exists not only our silence, which disposes us to listening to God's Word; often in our prayer, we find ourselves before the silence of God; we experience a sense of abandonment; it seems to us that God is not listening and that He does not respond. But this silence of God - as Jesus also experienced - is not a sign of His absence. The Christian knows well that the Lord is present and that he is listening, even in the darkness of suffering, rejection and solitude. Jesus reassures the disciples and each one of us that God knows well our needs at every moment of life. He teaches the disciples: "In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:7-8): an attentive, silent, open heart is more important than many words.

Job and the Silence of God

God knows us intimately, more deeply than we know ourselves, and He loves us: and knowing this should suffice. In the Bible, Job's experience is particularly significant in this regard. This man quickly loses everything: family, wealth, friends, health; it seems that God's attitude towards him is precisely one of abandonment, of total silence. And yet Job, in his relationship with God, speaks with God, cries out to God; in his prayer, despite everything, he preserves his faith intact and, in the end, he discovers the value of his experience and of God's silence. And thus, in the end, turning to his Creator, he is able to conclude: "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee" (Job 42:5): nearly all of us know God only through hearsay, and the more we are open to His silence and to our silence, the more we begin to know Him truly. This supreme confidence, which opens way to a profound encounter with God, matures in silence. St Francis Xavier prayed, saying to the Lord: "I love you, not because you can give me heaven or condemn me to hell, but because you are my God. I love You, because You are You."

Listen to Jesus at Prayer

As we approach the conclusion of our reflections on the prayer of Jesus, a number of the teachings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church come to mind: "The drama of prayer is fully revealed to us in the Word who became flesh and dwells among us. To seek to understand his prayer through what his witnesses proclaim to us in the Gospel is to approach the holy Lord Jesus as Moses approached the burning bush: first to contemplate him in prayer, then to hear how he teaches us to pray in order to know how he hears our prayer" (n. 2598).

And how does Jesus teach us to pray? In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find a clear answer: "Jesus teaches us to pray not only with the Our Father" -- certainly the central act in his teaching on how we are to pray -- "but also when [He himself] prays. In this way he teaches us, in addition to the content, the dispositions necessary for every true prayer: purity of heart that seeks the Kingdom and forgives one's enemies, bold and filial faith that goes beyond what we feel and understand, and watchfulness that protects the disciple from temptation" (n. 544).

Constant Prayer

In surveying the Gospels, we saw how the Lord is the interlocutor, friend, witness and teacher of our prayer. In Jesus the newness of our dialogue with God is revealed: filial prayer, which the Father awaits from His children. And we learn from Jesus how constant prayer helps us to interpret our lives, to make decisions, to recognize and accept our vocation, to discover the talents that God had given us, to daily fulfill His Will, which is the only path to attaining fulfillment in our lives.

The Source of Salvation and of Hope

The prayer of Jesus indicates to us who are often preoccupied by the efficiency of our work and the concrete results we achieve that we need to stop and to experience moments of intimacy with God, "detaching ourselves" from the daily din in order to listen, to go to the "root" that supports and nourishes life. One of the most beautiful moments in the prayer of Jesus is precisely the moment when he -- in order to face the disease, distress and limitations of his interlocutors -- turns to his Father in prayer, thus teaching those around him where the source of hope and salvation is to be sought.

Jesus' Prayer to the Father

I already recalled the moving example of Jesus' prayer at the tomb of Lazarus. The Evangelist John recounts: "So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, 'Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.' When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!'" (John 11:41-43).

Prayer from the Cross

But Jesus reaches the heights of the depth of his prayer to the Father during his Passion and Death, when he pronounces his supreme "yes" to the plan of God and reveals how the human will finds its fulfillment precisely in adhering fully to the divine will, rather than the opposite. In Jesus' prayer, in his cry to the Father on the Cross, "all the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up ... Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them beyond all hope, answers them by raising his Son. Thus is fulfilled and brought to completion the drama of prayer in the economy of creation and salvation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2606).

How to Turn to God

Dear brothers and sisters, with trust let us ask the Lord to enable to live out the journey of our filial prayer, by learning day by day from the Only Begotten Son made man for us how to turn to God. The words of St. Paul on the Christian life apply also to our own prayer: "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

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The Holy Father's homily to the Carthusian monks of Serra San Bruno in Calabria, on Sunday, 9 October, is a message to all who profess the monastic life in the heart of the Church. Emphases in boldface and the commentary in italics are my own.

Pastoral Service and Contemplative Vocation

I would like our meeting to highlight the deep bond that exists between Peter and Bruno, between pastoral service to the Church's unity and the contemplative vocation in the Church. Ecclesial communion, in fact, demands an inner force, that force which Father Prior has just recalled, citing the expression "captus ab Uno," ascribed to St Bruno: "grasped by the One," by God, "Unus potens per omnia," as we sang in the Vespers hymn. From the contemplative community the ministry of pastors draws a vital sap that comes from God.

This is the premise upon which our little monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle was founded: that from the contemplative community the ministry of pastors, i.e. diocesan priests, draws a vital sap that comes from God. This is why I accepted the challenge of beginning a monastery characterized not only by the worthy celebration of the Divine Praise, but also by daily Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of priests.

Seized by the Immense Love of God

"Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare": to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp the eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph "the Green", n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.

This is the vocation of every Christian, but in a particular way, it is the vocation of the monk and of the diocesan priest: to be seized by the immense love of God. In our particular expression of Benedictine life, this seizure of the soul by Love takes place, in a privileged way, in adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. The monk or priest who daily exposes himself to the radiance of Our Lord's Eucharistic Face will come to discover that His Sacred Heart is a burning furnace of Divine Charity. Perseverance in adoration will compel him to surrender to the love of Christ and to lose himself in Its flames. There is no apostolic work more effective and more fruitful than this.

The Monastery: A Well of Living Water

Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus' invitation: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19:21). Every monastery -- male or female -- is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw "living water" to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the Charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. "I live in a rather faraway hermitage... with some religious brothers", is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph "the Green", n. 4). The Successor of Peter's Visit to this historical Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today's world.

My vocation, and that of my brothers, is to persevere, humbly and patiently, in allowing the deep well of living water to be dug out within our own souls, so that others, especially priests, may come to the monastery and drink deeply of the supernatural stream that irrigates it. This can happen, as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face teaches us, without any direct contact between the monks and the priests for whom we offer our lives. The irrigation is, as it were, subterranean; it is, nonetheless, extensive, and its effects are far-reaching.

Virtuality and Reality; Noise and Silence

Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always a lingering background noise, in some areas even at night. In the recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality that risks getting the upper hand over reality. Unbeknownst to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.

The youngest, who were already born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.

Increasingly, the monastic way of life is difficult for men to embrace, precisely because it deals not in virtuality, but in reality. Saint Benedict's Twelve Steps of Humility are a school of reality. While many of those who come to monasteries experience a true thirst for silence, this true thirst for silence can, paradoxically, coexist with an inability to live in silence. One does not become a monk overnight. One needs patience, perseverance in taking very little steps, and a sense of humour.

Exposure to the Presence of God

I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, "expose" themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent "void," which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones.... God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

Saint John of the Cross and Mother Mectilde de Bar would recognize themselves in the Holy Father's teaching here. To the senses, exposure to the presence of God appears to be exposure to nothing. Indeed, it is exposure to No Thing because, beyond all things grasped by the senses, there is the Source and Fullness of Being, the Adorable Trinity. Similarly, to the intellect, exposure to the presence of God is perceived as nothing that can be processed and conceptualized. There is a point beyond which human understanding cannot go. That point -- encounter with the Presence of the Living God -- is the object of the monk's seeking.

The Monk Takes a Risk

The monk, in leaving all, "takes a risk," as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.

Mother Mectilde-du-Saint-Sacrement understood and dared to live this risk in Eucharistic Adoration. One who adores Our Lord, silent and concealed beneath the sacramental veils, discovers the mystery of a God who, in the Sacrament of HIs Love, makes Himself wordless, and accepts to remain alone, utterly dependent upon a creature's response to His silence and to His desire for company. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote that to find what is hidden, one must become hidden. So also, to engage with the Eucharistic silence of God, one must become silent; and to engage with the Eucharistic solitude of God, one must embrace solitude. It is a terrible risk.

Vocation: An Ongoing Process

Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this "leap." But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in the searching of a whole life. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God's presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God's grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, "in a divine and persevering vigilance," as St Bruno said, they "await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door for him as soon as he knocks" (Letter to Rudolph "the Green", n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one's own humanity to form itself, to grow in that special state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.

I want my own sons, the young brothers in my monastery, to read this passage and take it to heart. It is as if it was spoken to them personally, and written for their benefit. The Holy Father has an amazing understanding of the monastic vocation. It is, he says, "an ongoing process." "Becoming monks," he says, "requires time, practice, and patience." The monastic life is, in effect, akin to the daily routine of conjugal life, for it is bearing together the sweet yoke of Christ.

A Whole Life Barely Suffices

In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christ's resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery to which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has recalled us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life even to our mortal bodies (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one's vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father's house. In the world's eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one's whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.

The monastic adventure is never-ending. It is the itinerary of one who, at every moment, says with Christ, "I go to the Father."

The Church Needs You

I have come here for this reason, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno! To tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church. Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through her veins.

Benedictine enclosure differs in its concrete expression from the solitude of the Carthusian. Both forms of real and effective separation from the world are, nonetheless, ordered to the vocation revealed to Saint Thérèse, and reiterated here by the Holy Father: to be "love in the heart of the Church and to make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through her veins."

With the Virgin Mary

Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the Cross stands still while the world is spinning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world's changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God's faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian brothers, be associated to his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.

Thus, like Mary and with her, you too are deeply inserted in the mystery of the Church, a sacrament of union of men with God and with each other. In this you are unusually close to my ministry. May the Most Holy Mother of the Church therefore watch over us and the holy Father Bruno always bless your community from Heaven. Amen.

There is no authentic expression of monastic life that is not essentially Marian. To stand with Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross is to abide close to the wellspring of life, the pierced side of Jesus. It is to receive from His open Heart the Water and the Blood that others refuse, neglect, or pass by. It is to make reparation by surrendering to Love Crucified, and by consenting to feel, in some small way, the blade of the sword of sorrow that pierced the Virgin Mother's Immaculate Heart.

Where God is, There Is a Future

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How I wish that the Holy Father's words on September 23rd at the Marian sanctuary of Etzelsbach might reach every Catholic on earth. Tolle et lege, tolle et lege! Pope Benedict XVI leads us to the pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to His Heart pierced by the soldier's lance, and to her Heart pierced by sword of sorrow, even as Simeon prophesied in the Temple.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I would like to greet all of you most warmly, all who have come here to Etzelsbach for this time of prayer. Ever since my youth I have heard so much about Eichsfeld that I thought at some point I must see it for myself and pray together with you. I offer sincere thanks to Bishop Wanke, who pointed out to me this strip of land from the aircraft, and I thank your speakers and representatives who have brought me gifts symbolic of this region, thereby giving me at least an indication of the variety that is found here.

An Open Door and a Place of Inner Peace

So I am very glad that my wish to visit Eichsfeld has been fulfilled, and that here in Etzelsbach I can now thank Mary in company with you. "Here in the beloved quiet vale", as the pilgrims' hymn says, "under the old lime trees", Mary gives us security and new strength. During two godless dictatorships, which sought to deprive the people of their ancestral faith, the inhabitants of Eichsfeld were in no doubt that here in this shrine at Etzelsbach an open door and a place of inner peace was to be found. The special friendship with Mary that grew from all this, is what we seek to cultivate further, not least through today's celebration of Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Jesus Cannot Refuse His Mother What She Asks

When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother -- a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them. How many people down the centuries have made pilgrimages to Mary, in order to find comfort and strength before the image of the Mother of Sorrows, as here at Etzelsbach!

Meditating in Her Heart

Let us look upon her likeness: a woman of middle age, her eyelids heavy with much weeping, gazing pensively into the distance, as if meditating in her heart upon everything that had happened. On her knees rests the lifeless body of her son, she holds him gently and lovingly, like a precious gift. We see the marks of the crucifixion on his bare flesh. The left arm of the corpse is pointing straight down.

Pointing to the Holy Sacrifice

Perhaps this sculpture of the Pietà, like so many others, was originally placed above an altar. The crucified Jesus would then be pointing with his outstretched arm to what was taking place on the altar, where the holy sacrifice that he had accomplished becomes present in the Eucharist.

The Hearts of Jesus and Mary

A particular feature of the holy image of Etzelsbach is the position of Our Lord's body. In most representations of the Pietà, the dead Jesus is lying with his head facing left, so that the observer can see the wounded side of the Crucified Lord. Here in Etzelsbach, however, the wounded side is concealed, because the body is facing the other way. It seems to me that a deep meaning lies hidden in this representation, that only becomes apparent through silent contemplation: in the Etzelsbach image, the hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; the hearts come close to each other. They exchange their love. We know that the heart is also the seat of the deepest affection and the most intimate compassion. In Mary's heart there is room for the love that her divine Son wants to bestow upon the world.

Towards the Heart of Mary and the Heart of Christ

Marian devotion focuses on contemplation of the relationship between the Mother and her divine Son. In their prayers and sufferings, in their thanksgiving and joy, the faithful have constantly discovered new dimensions and qualities which this mystery can help to disclose for us, for example when the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is seen as a symbol of her deep and unreserved loving unity with Christ. It is not self-realization, the desire for self-possession and self-formation, that truly enables people to flourish, according to the model that modern life so often proposes to us, which easily turns into a sophisticated form of selfishness. Rather it is an attitude of self-giving, self-emptying, directed towards the heart of Mary and hence towards the heart of Christ and towards our neighbour: this is what enables us to find ourselves.

God Does Not Cease to Work Good Through Mary

"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28), as we have just heard in the reading from the Letter to the Romans. With Mary, God has worked for good in everything, and he does not cease, through Mary, to cause good to spread further in the world.

Mary, the Channel of the Rivers of Grace Flowing from the Cross

Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes our fellow traveler and protector on life's journey. "By her motherly love she cares for her son's sisters and brothers who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home," as the Second Vatican Council expressed it (Lumen Gentium, 62). Yes indeed, in life we pass through high-points and low-points, but Mary intercedes for us with her Son and helps us to discover the power of his divine love, and to open ourselves to that love.

God, Says Mary, Desires Your True Happiness

Our trust in the powerful intercession of the Mother of God and our gratitude for the help we have repeatedly experienced impel us, as it were, to think beyond the needs of the moment. What does Mary actually want to say to us, when she rescues us from some trial? She wants to help us grasp the breadth and depth of our Christian vocation. With a mother's tenderness, she wants to make us understand that our whole life should be a response to the love of our God, who is so rich in mercy. "Understand," she seems to say to us, "that God, who is the source of all that is good and who never desires anything other than your true happiness, has the right to demand of you a life that yields wholly and joyfully to his will, striving at the same time that others may do likewise." Where God is, there is a future.

In Prayer to Mary Great Problems Find Solutions

Indeed -- when we allow God's love to pervade and to shape the whole of our lives, then heaven stands open. Then it is possible so to shape the present that it corresponds more and more to the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then the little things of everyday life acquire meaning, and great problems find solutions. 

Confident of this, we pray to Mary; confident of this, we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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The Holy Father's homily on the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the Sacred Priesthood, is rich in a teaching drawn from personal experience. Here is the Holy Father's text; the subtitles and comments are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Friendship of Christ

"Non iam dicam servos, sed amicos" -- "I no longer call you servants, but friends" (cf. Jn 15:15).

Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice.

Mi accoglie nella cerchia di coloro ai quali si era rivolto nel Cenacolo. Nella cerchia di coloro che Egli conosce in modo del tutto particolare e che così Lo vengono a conoscere in modo particolare.

According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. "No longer servants, but friends": at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way.

Pope Benedict XVI has the grace of receiving into his own heart the Word of God proclaimed and sung in the Sacred Liturgy. For him the words of the Sacred Liturgy are "no mere formality." In this, the Holy Father takes his place among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and among so many mystics nourished by the Sacred Liturgy, for whom the Word of God proclaimed, repeated, prayed, and cherished by the Church becomes the sacrament of a personal communion or, as Olivier Clément, calls it l'eucharistie de l'intelligence.

In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God's family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Cenacle, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way.

I am often asked why our monastery bears the name of "Our Lady of Cenacle." Here, Pope Benedict XVI answers the question. Our monastery, and any Benedictine monastery is the home of those whom Christ knows in a very special way, and who therefore come to know Him in a very special way. The Cenacle is the home of Christ's own circle of friends, those whom He has gathered close to His Eucharistic Heart, those whom He would have live in the light of His Eucharistic Face.

He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me -- with his authority -- to be able to speak, in his name ("I" forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: "No longer servants, but friends". He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. "You are no longer servants, but friends": these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one's own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.

With the passing years, any one of us accumulates an experience of one's own frailty and of the inexhaustible goodness of God. One must pray never to become accustomed to the horror of sin, but rather to see it for what it is; at the same time one must pray never to despair of the mercy of God, as Saint Benedict says in Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, that mercy that is revealed in the Passion of Christ and in the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

"No longer servants, but friends": this saying contains within itself the entire programme of a priestly life. What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle -- wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing.

When the Holy Father calls the phrase "No longer servants, but friends" the entire programme of a priestly life he is not dispensing a facile piece of pious counsel; e is, rather, defining the priesthood, first of all, not in terms of ministry, but in terms of friendship with Christ. This is critical to a correct and livable understanding of the gift of the priesthood. The priest is called first to live with Christ and for Christ, in order to live with others and for others as an icon of Christ, bringing to souls the light of His Face and the fire of His Heart.

The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: "I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more.

The first work of the monk, and similarly of the priest, be he diocesan or religious, is to cultivate the friendship of Christ by a lifelong growth in the knowledge of His Face and of His Sacred Heart. This knowledge is acquired by daily immersion in the Word of God as dispensed by the Church in the Sacred Liturgy; by allowing one's sentiments, one's aspirations, and one's desires to be shaped and reformed by the worship of the Bride of Christ, the Church; and by periods of time given over to the company of Christ in the Sacrament of His Love.

Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself. Over and above communion of thinking and willing, the Lord mentions a third, new element: he gives his life for us (cf. Jn 15:13; 10:15). Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.

The Holy Father's reflections here turn to prayer. He passes from addressing those listening to his homily, to addressing Christ Himself. In doing this, he situates himself in a long line of preachers for whom dialogue with Christ was in no way foreign to evangelization and catechesis of the people. I am thinking, in particular, of Saint Bernard and Saint Aelred, who so often interrupted their discourses in Chapter with burning words addressed to Jesus Himself.

Jesus' words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The Lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: "I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16). The first commission to the disciples, to his friends, is that of setting out -- appointed to go out -- stepping outside oneself and towards others. Here we hear an echo of the words of the risen Lord to his disciples at the end of Matthew's Gospel: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (cf. Mt 28:19f.). The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God's kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centredness, so that he himself can enter our world.

Union with Christ is not broken by the imperative of the mission. Just as Christ came into the world without leaving the Father's bosom, so too does the priest go forth into the world without, for an instant, leaving Jesus in whose Heart he abides and upon whose Heart he rests. Prayer without ceasing is the guarantee of a fruitful apostolate. The prayer of the heart, persevering and uninterrupted, is that by which, even in the midst of the world with its struggles and shadows, the priest remains one with Christ: body to Body, blood to Blood, soul to Soul, heart to Heart.

After the reference to setting out, Jesus continues: bear fruit, fruit that abides. What fruit does he expect from us? What is this fruit that abides? Now, the fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. Let us reflect for a moment on this image. For good grapes to ripen, sun is needed, but so too is rain, by day and by night. For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is needed to assist the processes of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavours, the manifold aroma that develops during the processes of maturation and fermentation. Is this not already an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests? We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us.

This reflection on the maturation of the grape and the qualities of a noble wine is, without a doubt, one of the most eloquent passages in this homily. "We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us."

Yet now we must ask: what sort of fruit does the Lord expect from us? Wine is an image of love: this is the true fruit that abides, the fruit that God wants from us. But let us not forget that in the Old Testament the wine expected from noble grapes is above all an image of justice, which arises from a life lived in accordance with God's law. And this is not to be dismissed as an Old Testament view that has been surpassed -- no, it still remains true. The true content of the Law, its summa, is love for God and for one's neighbour. But this twofold love is not simply saccharine. It bears within itself the precious cargo of patience, humility, and growth in the conforming of our will to God's will, to the will of Jesus Christ, our friend.

Love is costly: it requires patience, humility, and a hundred thousand little deaths to immediate gratification and personal preference so as to rise a hundred thousand times to life in Christ and to the joy of desiring nothing apart from what His Heart desires. Is this not the essence of Saint Benedict' admonition "to prefer nothing to the love of Christ"?

Only in this way, as the whole of our being takes on the qualities of truth and righteousness, is love also true, only thus is it ripe fruit. Its inner demand -- faithfulness to Christ and to his Church -- seeks a fulfillment that always includes suffering. This is the way that true joy grows. At a deep level, the essence of love, the essence of genuine fruit, coincides with the idea of setting out, going towards: it means self-abandonment, self-giving, it bears within itself the sign of the cross. Gregory the Great once said in this regard: if you are striving for God, take care not to go to him by yourselves alone -- a saying that we priests need to keep before us every day (H Ev 1:6:6 PL 76, 1097f.).

This passage illustrates the spousal nature of the priesthood, and indeed of monastic paternity. The bridegroom goes forth to call out his bride; the father goes forth to meet his son while his son is yet on the way. As a bridal soul, the priest and the monk must be content to wait upon the stirrings of the Divine Bridegroom; as a Bridegroom in the image of Christ, the priest and the monk must step out of their comfort motivated only by love for the Bride (souls) who waits to be called. As a son, the priest and the monk sets out on the journey of conversion, confident that the Father will meet him on the way; as a father, the priest and the monk go out in search of the son held back by fear, or in need of a light to guide his steps in the night.

Dear friends, perhaps I have dwelt for too long on my inner recollections of sixty years of priestly ministry. Now it is time to turn our attention to the particular task that is to be performed today.

Greetins to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul my most cordial greeting goes first of all to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I and to the Delegation he has sent, to whom I express sincere thanks for their most welcome visit on the happy occasion of this feast of the holy Apostles who are Rome's patrons. I also greet the Cardinals, my brother bishops, the ambassadors and civil authorities as well as the priests, the confrères of my first Mass, religious and lay faithful. I thank all of you for your presence and your prayers.

The metropolitan archbishops appointed since the feast of Saints Peter and Paul last year are now going to receive the pallium. What does this mean? It may remind us in the first instance of Christ's easy yoke that is laid upon us (cf. Mt 11:29f.). Christ's yoke is identical with his friendship. It is a yoke of friendship and therefore "a sweet yoke", but as such it is also a demanding yoke, one that forms us. It is the yoke of his will, which is a will of truth and love. For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as shepherds.

The archiepiscopal pallium is not without some similarity to the monastic scapular: both signify the sweet and demanding yoke of the friendship of Christ. The mature monk exercises a charismatic paternity that complements the hierarchical paternity of bishops and of their priests, and serves it humbly, more often than not in a hidden way.

This brings us to a further meaning of the pallium: it is woven from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes. Thus it reminds us of the Shepherd who himself became a lamb, out of love for us. It reminds us of Christ, who set out through the mountains and the deserts, in which his lamb, humanity, had strayed. It reminds us of him who took the lamb -- humanity -- me -- upon his shoulders, in order to carry me home. It thus reminds us that we too, as shepherds in his service, are to carry others with us, taking them as it were upon our shoulders and bringing them to Christ. It reminds us that we are called to be shepherds of his flock, which always remains his and does not become ours. Finally the pallium also means quite concretely the communion of the shepherds of the Church with Peter and with his successors -- it means that we must be shepherds for unity and in unity, and that it is only in the unity represented by Peter that we truly lead people to Christ.

The wool of the pallium signifies the pastoral burden of the shepherd, but also his own call to became a lamb, that is to say, a victim with Christ the Victim. In moments of weakness, of disorientation, and of obscurity, one must trust that Christ the Shepherd hastens, even into the valley of the shadow of death, in search of his lambs, and especially in search of those marked by priestly anointing or consecrated by the monastic tonsure. The priest and the monk, in turn, are shepherds full of solicitude for the lost sheep of Christ: the priest by going into the darkness of the world with nought but Christ for his light; and the monk by remaining still in his cloister, like a beacon shining in the night.

Sixty years of priestly ministry -- dear friends, perhaps I have spoken for too long about this. But I felt prompted at this moment to look back upon the things that have left their mark on the last six decades. I felt prompted to address to you, to all priests and bishops and to the faithful of the Church, a word of hope and encouragement; a word that has matured in long experience of how good the Lord is. Above all, though, it is a time of thanksgiving: thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me and that he wishes to bestow upon us all. Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me. And all this includes the prayer that the Lord will one day welcome us in his goodness and invite us to contemplate his joy. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Benedictines and Adorers

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On the occasion of his visit to the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz on 9 September 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said:

In a monastery of Benedictine spirit, the praise of God, which the monks sing as a solemn choral prayer, always has priority. Monks are certainly - thank God! - not the only people who pray; others also pray: children, the young and the old, men and women, the married and the single - all Christians pray, or at least, they should!
In the life of monks, however, prayer takes on a particular importance: it is the heart of their calling. Their vocation is to be men of prayer. In the patristic period the monastic life was likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the angels that they are adorers. Their very life is adoration. This should hold true also for monks.
Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. "Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! - Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!": so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1). Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called officium. It is "service" par excellence, the "sacred service" of monks. It is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy "to receive glory, honour and power" (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously renewed it.

Monastic Cult and Monastic Culture

An attentive look at monastic history through the ages reveals that dedication to the primacy of the Divine Office has variously waxed and waned. Where it has waxed, the monastic grace has wonderfully flourished; where it has waned, every other dimension of monastic culture has suffered in consequence. Cult (from the Latin cultus for worship) is, in fact, the matrix of culture.

Eucharistic Adoration

What about those monasteries in which, in addition to the daily Conventual Mass and choral celebration of the Divine Office, there were various expressions of Eucharistic adoration? Looking at history, one notes that while monastic houses of women adorers abounded after the thirteenth century, especially in the Low Countries, few houses of men militating under the Rule of Saint Benedict were inspired to make a similar corporate commitment to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Undoubtedly, there was a lurking and not altogether unfounded fear, that Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or otherwise prolonged, assumed in addition to the daily round of the Opus Dei, would lead to a loss of the characteristically Benedictine value of balance and moderation.

The Monks of Corpus Christi

The first monks under the Rule of Saint Benedict to adopt Eucharistic adoration as an identifying characteristic belonged to the Umbrian Congregation of Corpus Christi, founded by the Blessed Andrea di Paolo in 1328. The Monks of Corpus Christi, or Corpocristiani were aggregated to the Benedictine Congregation of Monte Oliveto by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The last Corpus Christi Benedictine, Tommaso di Bastiano di Sterpete, of Foligno, died in 1640.

The Picpus Fathers

The Picpus Fathers, so called from the street of their first house in Paris, were founded under the Rule of Saint Benedict in 1800 by Father Pierre Coudrin and Mother Henriette Aymer de la Chevalerie. The full title of this religious family is a very long one but it expresses completely their founding grace: "The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar." Although members of the Congregation would identify themselves as missionary rather than classically Benedictine, the Rule of Saint Benedict remains for them a reference, and Eucharistic adoration is integral to their charism.

The most famous member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts is Saint Damien of Molokai. Father Damien's compassionate devotion to those suffering from leprosy was the fruit of the intimate knowledge of the pierced Side of Christ that came to him in long hours of adoration before the tabernacle. It is a little known fact that Father Damien laboured to establish perpetual adoration of the Eucharist among his dear lepers. In this there is something astonishingly beautiful; the sight of lepers adoring day and night the Suffering Servant who, disfigured in his Passion, became, "as one from whom men screen their faces" (Is 53:3), the "Lord of Glory" (1 Cor 2:8) whose face is "all the beauty of holy souls" (Litany of the Holy Face).

Dom Maréchal and the Abbey of Pont-Colbert

To the best of my knowledge, the next foundation of monks identified by Eucharistic adoration emerged only in 1892 when Dom Marie-Bernard Maréchal, a former Priest of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and disciple of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, established the Abbey of Pont-Colbert near Versailles, France, for the Cistercian Adorers of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Father Paul Maréchal, later Dom Marie-Bernard, left the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament after the death of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, when his proposal to have the Blessed Sacrament Fathers adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict was rejected at a General Chapter of the Institute. In the wake of persecutions by the anticlerical French government at the beginning of the last century, the Cistercian Adorers of the Most Blessed Sacrament migrated to Marienkroon in Holland. Marienkroon, in turn, founded in 1929 the now defunct monastery of Val d'Espoir in the Canadian Gaspé peninsula, and brought its influence to bear upon the Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank in Sparta, Wisconsin.

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Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874-1935)

The Olivetan Benedictine, Dom Celestino Maria Colombo, was appointed abbot of the Sanctuary of La Madonna del Pilastrello at Lendinara (Rovigo) by motu proprio of Pope Benedict XV on 15 December 1920. Abbot Celestino Maria was a devoted and tireless spiritual father to the Benedictine Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Monastery of Ghiffa. Later, he exercised the same role monasteries aggregated to Ghiffa in central and southern Italy, including that of Piedimonte Matese, which monastery I have known for thirty-five years.

The Annals of the Monastery of Ghiffa relate:

After having studied in depth the Constitutions and books of the Institute, after having practiced the spirit of them to an heroic degree, after having grounded the community in this same spirit, with a patient, enlightened, and prudent zeal, he asked for the grace of possessing our holy habit, of practicing our holy Constitutions, of being a true member of the Institute, a true victim of the Most Holy Sacrament.
The religious, in a unanimous joy, received the eucharistic vow of the Reverend Father. Since that day uninterrupted requests and prayers have been raised to heaven so that the Institute will have, at last, its complement to the glory of the Eucharist and so that the last breath of our great father Benedict will generate sons of the Host to the Host, Benedictine Adorers, the priestly victims to sustain and save the Church in the difficult last times. And so may it be.

The location of a little sanctuary dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity near the monastery of Ronco di Ghiffa, revived in Dom Celestino a desire that had never gone away: the birth of a Benedictine community of men dedicated to adoration and reparation of the Eucharist. One reads in the same Annals, that coming down, one day from the Sanctuary of the Most Holy Trinity to the monastery, he expressed "the wish that Eucharistic Benedictine Fathers would come one day to the Sanctuary of the Most Holy Trinity."

It is probable that this lively aspiration was never erased from the heart of Dom Celestino, enamoured as he was of the Eucharistic ideal proposed by Mother de Bar, and lived so well by the nuns of the monastery of Ghiffa. He had absorbed and appropriated for himself the spirit of the Benedictine Institute of Perpetual Adoration, to the point of living it faithfully and fostering its growth in every possible way until his saintly death on 24 September 1935.

Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle

The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, came to birth in the diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the context of the Year of the Priesthood. The monastery is a response to the letter of Claudio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, dated December 8, 2007. In that letter, HIs Eminence said:

We are asking, therefore, all diocesan Ordinaries who apprehend in a particular way the specificity and irreplaceability of the ordained ministry in the life of the Church, together with the urgency of a common action in support of the ministerial priesthood, to take an active role and promote--in the different portions of the People of God entrusted to them--true and proper cenacles in which clerics, religious and lay people --united among themselves in the spirit of true communion--may devote themselves to prayer, in the form of continuous Eucharistic adoration in a spirit of genuine and authentic reparation and purification.

In the Explanatory Note accompanying the same letter, His Eminence asks that:

Each diocese appoint a priest who will devote himself full time - as far as possible - to the specific ministry of promoting Eucharistic adoration and coordinating this important service in the diocese. Dedicating himself generously to this ministry, this priest will be able to live this particular dimension of liturgical, theological, spiritual and pastoral life, possibly in a place specifically set aside for this purpose by the bishop himself, where the faithful will benefit from perpetual Eucharistic adoration.

Why More Monks?

In his Decree of Erection of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, Bishop Edward J. Slattery, exposes the rationale behind this new foundation in a diocese already abundantly blessed by the Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Annunciation at Clear Creek. His Excellency writes:

With these concerns and exhortations in mind, and with the good of the priests and indeed all the faithful of the Diocese of Tulsa close to my heart, it is my intention to respond to these timely suggestions of the Holy See to the best of my ability.
Reflecting upon our particular needs, and upon the current resources with which we are blessed, it seems that such an endeavor might best be accomplished by a new monastic community under the Rule of Saint Benedict. Rather than have only a single priest dedicated to Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of the clergy, I deem it advantageous to enrich our local Church with a monastic community to whom I give this particular mandate. Professing the vows of stability, conversatio morum, and obedience according to the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Constitutions of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, the Benedictine Monks, Adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus will be characterized by the particular charism of (a) Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests and the spiritual renewal of the clergy in the whole Church; (b) reparation for the sins that disfigure the Face of Christ the Priest; and (c) the sacramental and spiritual support of the clergy by means of monastic hospitality, spiritual direction, and retreats.

Your Prayerful Support

For my part, I can only recommend myself and men who have joined me, to the fervent prayers of all my readers. Our initiative springs, not from any personal ambition, but from the very heart of the Church: Ecclesia de Eucharistia.


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Today is the feast of Pope Saint Peter Celestine, monk, Supreme Pontiff, and hermit. Last July 4th, in the context of the Year of Saint Celestine, proclaimed by the bishops of the Molise and Abruzzi regions of Italy, Pope Benedict XVI went to Aquila in pilgrimage to the saint. The Holy Father left his pallium on Saint Peter Celestine's tomb as a token of devotion to this remarkable saint who, after five months, resigned the papacy and retreated to his beloved solitude.

On the occasion of his visit to Aquila, Pope Benedict XVI Holy Mass and pronounced the following remarkable homily:

Hermit Elected Pope

Dear friends! My visit takes place on the occasion of the Jubilee Year proclaimed by the bishops of Abruzzo and Molise to celebrate the 800th anniversary of birth of St. Peter Celestine. Flying over your land I was able to contemplate the beauty of its landscape and, above all, admire some places closely linked to the life of this renowned figure: Mount Morrone, where Peter lived as a hermit for many years; the Hermitage of Sant'Onofrio, where in 1294 he received news of his election as Supreme Pontiff, which occurred at the conclave in Perugia; and the Abbey of Santo Spirito, whose main altar was consecrated by him after his coronation in the Basilica of Collemaggio in L'Aquila. In April of last year, after the earthquake that devastated this region, in this basilica I myself came to venerate the casket that contains his remains and leave the pallium that I received on the first day of my pontificate. More than 800 years have passed since the birth of St. Peter Celestine V, but he remains in history on account of the notable events of his pontificate and, above all, because of his holiness.

Ever Greater Luminosity of Holiness

Holiness, in fact, never loses its own power of attraction, it is not forgotten, it never goes out of fashion, indeed, with the passage of time, it shines with ever greater luminosity, expressing man's perennial longing for God. From the life of St. Peter Celestine, I would like to gather some teachings that are also valid for our days.

Silence

Peter Angelerio was a "seeker of God" from his youth, a man who was desirous to find the answers to the great questions of our existence: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I alive? For whom do I live? He went in search of truth and happiness, he went in search of God and, to hear his voice, decided to separate himself from the world and to live as a hermit. Silence thus became the element that characterized his daily life. And it is precisely in external silence, but above all in internal silence, that he succeeded in perceiving God's voice, a voice that was able to guide his life. Here a first aspect that is important for us: We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be "filled" with initiatives, activity, sound; often there is not even time to listen and dialogue. Dear brothers and sisters! Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God's voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.

Divine Grace

But it is important to underscore a second element too: Peter Angelerio's discovery of God was not only the result of his effort but was made possible by the grace of God itself that came to him. What he had, what he was, did not come from him: it was granted to him, it was grace, and so it was also a responsibility before God and before others. Even if our life is very different from his, the same thing is also true for us: the entirety of what is essential in our existence was bestowed upon us without our intervention. The fact that I live does not depend on me; the fact that there were people who introduced me to life, that taught me what it means to live and be loved, who handed down the faith to me and opened my eyes to God: all of that is grace and not "done by me." We could have done nothing ourselves if it had not been given to us: God always anticipates us and in every individual life there is beauty and goodness that we can easily recognize as his grace, as a ray of the light of his goodness. Because of this we must be attentive, always keep our "interior eyes" open, the eyes of our heart. And if we learn how to know God in his infinite goodness, then we will be able to see, with wonder, in our lives -- as the saints did -- the signs of that God, who is always near to us, who is always good to us, who says: "Have faith in me!"

Beauty of Creation

In interior silence, in perceiving the Lord's presence, Peter del Morrone developed a lively experience of the beauty of creation, the work of God's hands: he knew its deepest meaning, he respected its signs and rhythms, he used it for what is essential to life. I know that this local Church, like the others of Abruzzo and Molise, are actively engaged in a campaign of sensitivity to and promotion of the common good and of safeguarding creation: I encourage you in this effort, exhorting everyone to feel responsible for their own future, and that of others, respecting and caring also for creation, fruit and sign of God's love.

The Wide Open Arms of the Crucified God

In today's second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians, we heard a beautiful expression of St. Paul, which is also a perfect spiritual portrait of St. Peter Celestine: "For me the only boast is in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (6:14). Truly the cross was the center of his life. It gave him the strength to face bitter penances and the most difficult times, from youth to his last hour: he was always aware that through it comes salvation. The cross also gave St. Peter Celestine a clear awareness of sin that was always accompanied by an awareness that was just as clear of God's mercy for his creature. Seeing the wide-open arms of his crucified God, he felt himself transported into the infinite sea of God's love. As a priest he experienced the beauty of being the administrator of this mercy, absolving penitents of sin, and, when he was elected to the See of the Apostle Peter, he wanted to grant a special indulgence called "The Pardon." I would like to exhort priests to be clear and credible witnesses of the good news of reconciliation with God, helping the man of today to recover the sense of sin and God's forgiveness, to experience that superabundant joy that the prophet Isaiah spoke to us about in the first reading (cf. Isaiah 66:10-14).

Evangelization Rooted in Prayer

Finally, a third element: St. Peter, although he lived as a hermit, was not "closed in on himself" but was filled with passion to bring the good news of the Gospel to his brothers. And the secret of his pastoral fruitfulness was precisely in "abiding" in the Lord, in prayer, as we were also reminded by today's Gospel passage: the first priority is always to pray to the Lord of the harvest (cf. Luke 10:2). And it is only after this invitation that Jesus outlines some of the essential duties of the disciples: the serene, clear and courageous proclamation of the Gospel message -- even in moments of persecution -- without ceding to the allurement of fashion nor to that of violence and imposition; detachment from worry about things -- money, clothing -- confiding in the providence of the Father; attention and care especially for the sick in body and spirit (cf. Luke 10:5-9). These were also the characteristics of the brief and trying pontificate of Celestine V and these are the characteristics of the missionary activity of the Church in every age.

Remain Solid in the Faith

Brothers and sisters! I am among you to confirm you in the faith. I would like to exhort you, firmly and with affection, to remain solid in that faith that you have received, which gives meaning to life and gives one strength to love. May the example and intercession of the Mother of God and of St. Peter Celestine accompany us on this journey. Amen!

Saint Alfonso Maria de Liguori

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It is no secret, to my friends at least, that I am immensely fond of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, and I would like to think that he is somewhat fond of me. There is comfort in such mysterious friendships with the saints, friends that span heaven and earth. I was delighted to discover that yesterday, 30 March 2011, Our Holy Father dedicated his Wednesday audience to The Saint of Bourbon Naples, my dear friend Saint Alphonsus. I should very much like to be considered an honorary son of Saint Alphonsus. The subtitles in boldface are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Teacher of the Spiritual Life for Simple People

Today I would like to present to you the figure of a holy doctor of the Church to whom we are very indebted, since he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of the spiritual life for everyone, above all for simple people. He is the author of the words and music of one of the most popular Christmas songs in Italy, "Tu scendi dalle stelle" [You come down from the stars], and of many other things.

From the Bar to the Altar

Alphonsus Maria Liguori was born in 1696 of a noble and rich Neapolitan family. Gifted with remarkable intellectual qualities, at just 16 he received a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer of the bar in Naples: For eight years he won every cause he defended. However, his soul thirsted for God and desired perfection and the Lord led him to understand that he was calling him to another vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant about the corruption and injustice that plagued his environment, he left his profession -- and with it wealth and success -- and decided to become a priest, despite his father's opposition.

His Theological Culture

He had excellent teachers, who introduced him to the study of sacred Scripture, history of the Church and mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture that he brought to fruition when, after a few years, he began his work as a writer. He was ordained a priest in 1726 and for his ministry, joined the diocesan Congregation of the Apostolic Missions.

The Cappelle Serotine: Evening Chapels

Alphonsus began evangelization and catechesis among the most humble strata of Neapolitan society, to whom he loved to preach and whom he instructed on the basic truths of the faith. Not a few of these persons whom he addressed, poor and modest, very often were dedicated to vices and carried out criminal activity. With patience he taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of living. Alphonsus obtained great results: In the poorest quarters of the city, there were increasing groups of persons who gathered in the evening in private homes and shops, to pray and meditate on the Word of God, under the guidance of some catechists formed by Alphonsus and other priests, who regularly visited these groups of faithful. When, by desire of the archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they took the name "evening chapels." They were a real and proper source of moral education, of social healing, of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels and prostitution virtually disappeared.

Leaven in the Heart of Society

Even though the social and religious context of St. Alphonsus' time was very different from ours, these "evening chapels" are a model of missionary action in which we can be inspired today as well, for a "new evangelization," particularly among the poorest, and to build a more just, fraternal and solidary human coexistence. Entrusted to priests is a task of spiritual ministry, while well-formed laymen can be effective Christian leaders, genuine evangelical leaven in the heart of society.

Missionary to the Rural Poor

After having thought of leaving to evangelize the pagan peoples, Alphonsus, at the age of 35, came into contact with peasants and shepherds of the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples and, stricken by their religious ignorance and their state of abandonment, he decided to leave the capital and dedicate himself to these people, who were poor spiritually and materially. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he placed under the protection of Bishop Thomas Falcoia, and of which he himself became superior. These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were genuine itinerant missionaries who reached the most remote villages, exhorting to conversion and to perseverance in the Christian life, above all through prayer. Still today, the Redemptorists spread over so many countries of the world with new forms of apostolate, continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, exhorting them to always be faithful following the example of their holy founder.

Bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti

Esteemed for his goodness and pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was appointed bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti, a ministry that he left in 1775 by the concession of Pope Pius VI because of the illnesses afflicting him. In 1787 that same Pontiff, hearing the news of his death that came after many sufferings, exclaimed: "He was a saint!" And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839, and in 1871 he was declared a doctor of the Church.

Trust and Hope in God's Mercy

This title was bestowed on him for many reasons. First of all, because he proposed a rich teaching of moral theology, which adequately expresses Catholic doctrine, to the point that Pope Pius XII proclaimed him "patron of all confessors and moral theologians." Widespread at his time was a very rigorous interpretation of moral life, also because of the Jansenist mentality that, instead of nourishing trust and hope in God's mercy, fomented fear and presented God's face as frowning and severe, very far from that revealed to us by Jesus.

Moral Theologian of Gentleness and Mercy

Above all in his principal work, titled "Moral Theology," St. Alphonsus proposes a balanced and convincing synthesis between the demands of God's law, sculpted in our hearts, revealed fully by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and the dynamics of man's conscience and his liberty, which precisely by adherence to truth and goodness allow for the maturation and fulfillment of the person. To pastors of souls and to confessors, Alphonsus recommended faithfulness to Catholic moral doctrine, accompanied by a comprehensive and gentle attitude so that penitents could feel accompanied, supported and encouraged in their journey of faith and Christian life.

The Priest: A Visible Sign of the Infinite Mercy of God

St. Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God, who forgives and illumines the mind and heart of the sinner so that he will convert and change his life. In our time, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and -- it must be acknowledged -- of a certain lack of appreciation of the sacrament of confession, the teaching of St. Alphonsus is again of great timeliness.

Love of Jesus and Mary

Together with the works of theology, St. Alphonsus composed many other writings, designed for the religious formation of the people. The style is simple and pleasing. Read and translated into numerous languages, the works of St. Alphonsus have contributed to mold popular spirituality of the last two centuries. Some of them are texts to be read with great profit again today, such as "The Eternal Maxims," "The Glories of Mary," "The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ" -- this last one a work that represents the synthesis of his thought and his masterpiece.

He Who Prays Is Saved

He insisted a lot on the need for prayer, which enables one to open to Divine Grace to carry out daily the will of God and to obtain one's sanctification. In regard to prayer, he wrote: "God does not deny to anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains the help to overcome every concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and repeat and will always repeat, for my entire life, that the whole of our salvation rests on prayer." From which stems his famous axiom: "He who prays is saved" (From the great means of prayer and related booklets. Opere ascetiche II, Rome 1962, p. 171).

Schools of Prayer

There comes to mind, in this connection, the exhortation of my predecessor, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II: "Christian communities must become genuine 'schools' of prayer. Therefore, education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning" (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33, 34).

Adoration and Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament

Outstanding among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St. Alphonsus is the visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament or, as we would say today, adoration -- brief or prolonged, personal or in community -- of the Eucharist. "Certainly," wrote Alphonsus, "among all the devotions this one of adoration of the sacramental Jesus is the first after the sacraments, the dearest to God and the most useful to us. O, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith and to present to him our needs, as a friend does to another friend with whom one has full confidence!" (Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to Mary Most Holy for Each Day of the Month. Introduction).

Christocentric and Marian

Alphonsus' spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centered on Christ and his Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the incarnation and the passion of the Lord were often the object of his preaching: In these events, in fact, redemption is offered "copiously" to all men. And precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsus' piety is also exquisitely Marian. Most devoted to Mary, he illustrated her role in the history of salvation: partner of the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen. Moreover, St. Alphonsus affirmed that devotion to Mary will be of great comfort at the moment of our death. He was convinced that meditation on our eternal destiny, on our call to participate for ever in God's blessedness, as well as on the tragic possibility of damnation, contributes to live with serenity and commitment, and to face the reality of death always preserving full trust in God's goodness.

Goodness

St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori is an example of a zealous pastor who won souls preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments, combined with a way of acting marked by gentle and meek goodness, which was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of goods that the Lord gives to every man and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, in addition to the mind, to be able to love God and one's neighbor.

Holiness for Everyman

In conclusion, I would like to remind that our saint, similar to St. Francis de Sales -- of whom I spoke a few weeks ago -- insists on saying that holiness is accessible to every Christian: "The religious as religious, the lay person as lay person, the priest as priest, the married as married, the merchant as merchant, the soldier as soldier, and so on speaking of every other state" (Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, Opere ascetiche I, Rome 1933, p. 79). I thank the Lord who, with his Providence, raises saints and doctors in different times and places who, speaking the same language, invite us to grow in faith and to live with love and joy our being Christians in the simple actions of every day, to walk on the path of holiness, on the path to God and to true joy. Thank you.

Ex Corde Patris

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It has already been called "monumental." I pray that the Holy Father's address will find the audience that it deserves. This a text that every bishop, every priest, every religious, and every one of Christ's lay faithful need to read, ponder, and take to heart. My own comments are in italics.

ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
ON THE OCCASION OF CHRISTMAS GREETINGS TO THE ROMAN CURIA
Sala Regia
Monday, 20 December 2010

Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Lord is Now at Hand; Come, Let Us Adore

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you, dear Members of the College of Cardinals and Representatives of the Roman Curia and the Governatorato, for this traditional gathering. I extend a cordial greeting to each one of you, beginning with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, whom I thank for his sentiments of devotion and communion and for the warm good wishes that he expressed to me on behalf of all of you. Prope est jam Dominus, venite, adoremus! As one family let us contemplate the mystery of Emmanuel, God-with-us, as the Cardinal Dean has said. I gladly reciprocate his good wishes and I would like to thank all of you most sincerely, including the Papal Representatives all over the world, for the able and generous contribution that each of you makes to the Vicar of Christ and to the Church.

Note that the Holy Father's first point of reference is the Sacred Liturgy, more precisely the Invitatory Antiphon of these last days of Advent. Pope Benedict XVI lives the liturgy of the Church. He speaks out of his personal experience of the Church's prayer, and sends us back to it.

Prayer of the Church in Time of Crisis

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. Repeatedly during the season of Advent the Church's liturgy prays in these or similar words. They are invocations that were probably formulated as the Roman Empire was in decline. The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.

Here, the Holy Father refers to the stirring Collect of the First Sunday of Advent: it is the prayer of a Church threatened from all sides by a world that has lost its moral compass. I am reminded of the prayer of Esther: "O my Lord, who alone art our King, help me . . . who have no other helper but Thee. My danger is in Thy hands" (Est 14:3-4).

The Collapse of Moral Consensus

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. Today too, we have many reasons to associate ourselves with this Advent prayer of the Church. For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure.

The pedagogy of the Holy Father draws continuously upon the liturgy. Ours it is to enter into the prayer of the Church and to find, in it, the only possible response to the moral crisis that besets the Church from within and from without.

Our Faith Often Asleep

Excita - the prayer recalls the cry addressed to the Lord who was sleeping in the disciples' storm-tossed boat as it was close to sinking. When his powerful word had calmed the storm, he rebuked the disciples for their little faith (cf. Mt 8:26 et par.). He wanted to say: it was your faith that was sleeping. He will say the same thing to us. Our faith too is often asleep. Let us ask him, then, to wake us from the sleep of a faith grown tired, and to restore to that faith the power to move mountains - that is, to order justly the affairs of the world.

Our faith must be quickened in the present crisis. We sleep, lulled into complacency by routine and liturgical minimalism. We sleep, wearied by sorrows too many and too heavy to bear. The Lord waits to infuse us with a mighty faith, a fruitful faith, a faith that, in the darkness of the present age, will shine more brightly than ever before.

The Year for Priests

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni: amid the great tribulations to which we have been exposed during the past year, this Advent prayer has frequently been in my mind and on my lips. We had begun the Year for Priests with great joy and, thank God, we were also able to conclude it with great gratitude, despite the fact that it unfolded so differently from the way we had expected.

The Holy Father tells us how he prays personally. His most intimate prayer is shaped by the liturgy. "This Advent prayer," he says, "has frequently been in my mind and on my lips." How powerful a prayer during the Year for Priests: "Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni."

The Priestly Mission

Among us priests and among the lay faithful, especially the young, there was a renewed awareness of what a great gift the Lord has entrusted to us in the priesthood of the Catholic Church. We realized afresh how beautiful it is that human beings are fully authorized to pronounce in God's name the word of forgiveness, and are thus able to change the world, to change life; we realized how beautiful it is that human beings may utter the words of consecration, through which the Lord draws a part of the world into himself, and so transforms it at one point in its very substance; we realized how beautiful it is to be able, with the Lord's strength, to be close to people in their joys and sufferings, in the important moments of their lives and in their dark times; how beautiful it is to have as one's life task not this or that, but simply human life itself - helping people to open themselves to God and to live from God.

The Holy Father gives us a compelling definition of the mission of the priest: to help people, through the words of forgiveness, and the words of consecration, to open themselves to God and to live from God.

The Antithesis of It

We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.

The sacrament twisted into its antithesis: does not this say it all? Is not this the work of Satan from the beginning: to twist every sacrament into its antithesis?

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Saint Hildegard's Vision

In this context, a vision of Saint Hildegard of Bingen came to my mind, a vision which describes in a shocking way what we have lived through this past year. "In the year of our Lord's incarnation 1170, I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend. She stretched in height from earth to heaven. Her face shone with exceeding brightness and her gaze was fixed on heaven. She was dressed in a dazzling robe of white silk and draped in a cloak, adorned with stones of great price. On her feet she wore shoes of onyx. But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, 'Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!'

And she continued: 'I lay hidden in the heart of the Father until the Son of Man, who was conceived and born in virginity, poured out his blood. With that same blood as his dowry, he made me his betrothed.

The Holy Father, rigorous theologian that he is, is not afraid to sit at the feet of the mystics of the Church -- so many of whom are women -- and to receive a portion of the charismatic graces given them precisely for the comfort and upbuilding of the Church.

The Wounds of the Bridegroom and the Sins of Priests

For my Bridegroom's wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men's sins continue to gape. And Christ's wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth.'

"Christ's wounds remain open because of the sins of priests . . . . Priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those set beneath them." The face of Christ the Priest is disfigured by the sins of the priests of Christ. If ever I need to be confirmed in my own vocation to a life not only of adoration, ut also of reparation, I will have only to recall these words of the Holy Father.

Proclaim It to the Priests

And I heard a voice from heaven which said: 'This image represents the Church. For this reason, O you who see all this and who listen to the word of lament, proclaim it to the priests who are destined to offer guidance and instruction to God's people and to whom, as to the apostles, it was said: go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation' (Mk 16:15)" (Letter to Werner von Kirchheim and his Priestly Community: PL 197, 269ff.).

"Proclaim it to the priests." Today, more than ever before there is a pressing needs for priests to put themselves, humbly and compassionately, at the service of their brother priests, to speak to them the liberating word of truth and the healing word of forgiveness.

The Stained Face of the Church and Her Torn Garment

In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn - by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year. We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good.

"An exhortation to truth and a call to renewal': this is a mandate, a mission, a grace. "Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 94:8).

We Must Be Capable of Doing Penance

We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again. This is also the moment to offer heartfelt thanks to all those who work to help victims and to restore their trust in the Church, their capacity to believe her message. In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always found people who, with great dedication, stand alongside those who suffer and have been damaged. This is also the occasion to thank the many good priests who act as channels of the Lord's goodness in humility and fidelity and, amid the devastations, bear witness to the unforfeited beauty of the priesthood.

The Holy Father presents a program in 4 points.

1) Penance. This is more than "doing penances" more than fasting, vigils, abstinence and the other "corporalia" or tangible penitential practices. Penance has to do, at the deepest level, with living with one's gaze fixed on the Face of Jesus, and with aligning one's heart with His Sacred Heart. Penance is the direction one gives to one's life consistently, moment after moment, day after day.

2) Priestly formation. My own experiences suggest that all too often the emphasis in priestly formation is place on outward conformity to a certain ecclesiastical profile. Without dismissing what remains of value in that approach, I would argue that the single greatest deficit in priestly formation has been the failure to initiate men into -- are you ready for this?-- the mystical life. The Church doesn't need more good, law-abiding priests; she needs saints. Nothing less than saints.

3) Support for those who minister to those wounded by the sins of priests. Much of this work is done quietly, in a hidden way. The greatest support we can give to those whose souls have been wounded, is persevering prayer for healing in the context of Eucharistic adoration, and in the consecration of all concerned to the maternal and Immaculate Heart of Mary. If this is done, the rest will follow. God will raise up men and women capable of listening to the pain of those who have been wounded, of responding to it, and of restoring confidence in the Heart of Jesus and in the solicitude of His Bride, the Church.

4) Affirmation of those priests who, by their holiness of life, bear witness to the unforfeited beauty of the priesthood. Priests, good priests, holy priests, often feel alone. The Holy Father recognizes the heroic virtue of those who, in the midst of mediocrity, betrayal, and complicity with evil, remain faithful to the beauty of the priesthood shining from the Face of Christ.

Pornography, Drugs

We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility. But neither can we remain silent regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light. There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society. The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times. From Bishops of developing countries I hear again and again how sexual tourism threatens an entire generation and damages its freedom and its human dignity. The Book of Revelation includes among the great sins of Babylon - the symbol of the world's great irreligious cities - the fact that it trades with bodies and souls and treats them as commodities (cf. Rev 18:13). In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world - an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart - and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man's freedom and ultimately destroys it.

Pornography is a cancer metastatizing in the most frightening way and penetrating into every moral, spiritual, and affective vacuum. Drug abuse is draining the vitality out of one generation after another. The Holy Father is not afraid to address issues that are ugly, issues that may cut close to the bone, even in the best of families.

The Ideological Foundations of Moral Collapse

In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained - even within the realm of Catholic theology - that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a "better than" and a "worse than". Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action. Today, attention must be focused anew on this text as a path in the formation of conscience. It is our responsibility to make these criteria audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind.

The Holy Father seeks to mobilize the Church on the path of forming consciences in fidelity and obedience to the natural and revealed law: the secret of happiness in this world and in the next.

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Profound Union with the Orthodox Church

As my second point, I should like to say a word about the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East. This began with my journey to Cyprus, where I was able to consign the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod to the Bishops of those countries who were assembled there. The hospitality of the Orthodox Church was unforgettable, and we experienced it with great gratitude. Even if full communion is not yet granted to us, we have nevertheless established with joy that the basic form of the ancient Church unites us profoundly with one another: the sacramental office of Bishops as the bearer of apostolic tradition, the reading of Scripture according to the hermeneutic of the Regula fidei, the understanding of Scripture in its manifold unity centred on Christ, developed under divine inspiration, and finally, our faith in the central place of the Eucharist in the Church's life. Thus we experienced a living encounter with the riches of the rites of the ancient Church that are also found within the Catholic Church. We celebrated the liturgy with Maronites and with Melchites, we celebrated in the Latin rite, we experienced moments of ecumenical prayer with the Orthodox, and we witnessed impressive manifestations of the rich Christian culture of the Christian East.

The union of the Catholic Church with the Orthodox Churches is real, though imperfect. While yet imperfect, it is a cause for joy. The Holy Father demonstrates this in three succinct points: 1) Bishops, the bearers of apostolic tradition; 2) the reading of Scripture according to the Regula fidei and in the light of Christ; 3) the central place of the Eucharist.

Cyprus Divided

But we also saw the problem of the divided country. The wrongs and the deep wounds of the past were all too evident, but so too was the desire for the peace and communion that had existed before. Everyone knows that violence does not bring progress - indeed, it gave rise to the present situation. Only in a spirit of compromise and mutual understanding can unity be re-established. To prepare the people for this attitude of peace is an essential task of pastoral ministry.

The pastoral ministry, by preaching the Gospel and celebrating the Sacraments, prepares souls to choose the things that make for peace.

Synod of the Churches of the Middle East

During the Synod itself, our gaze was extended over the whole of the Middle East, where the followers of different religions - as well as a variety of traditions and distinct rites - live together. As far as Christians are concerned, there are Pre-Chalcedonian as well as Chalcedonian churches; there are churches in communion with Rome and others that are outside that communion; in both cases, multiple rites exist alongside one another. In the turmoil of recent years, the tradition of peaceful coexistence has been shattered and tensions and divisions have grown, with the result that we witness with increasing alarm acts of violence in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred, in which on the contrary the most elementary rules of humanity collapse. In the present situation, Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority. For centuries they lived peacefully together with their Jewish and Muslim neighbours. During the Synod we listened to wise words from the Counsellor of the Mufti of the Republic of Lebanon against acts of violence targeting Christians. He said: when Christians are wounded, we ourselves are wounded. Unfortunately, though, this and similar voices of reason, for which we are profoundly grateful, are too weak. Here too we come up against an unholy alliance between greed for profit and ideological blindness. On the basis of the spirit of faith and its rationality, the Synod developed a grand concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world. The human being is one, and humanity is one. Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone.

The last line is, to mind, the key to this section: "Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone."

Christianophobia

Thus the words and ideas of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia; to rise up in defence of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalize the spirit of reconciliation. In the final analysis, healing can only come from deep faith in God's reconciling love. Strengthening this faith, nourishing it and causing it to shine forth is the Church's principal task at this hour.

It takes great courage to speak of Christianophobia. And one mustn't think that it is limited to the Middle East. It is alive and dangerous in New York, London, Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, and Madrid.

United Kingdom

I would willingly speak in some detail of my unforgettable journey to the United Kingdom, but I will limit myself to two points that are connected with the theme of the responsibility of Christians at this time and with the Church's task to proclaim the Gospel. My thoughts go first of all to the encounter with the world of culture in Westminster Hall, an encounter in which awareness of shared responsibility at this moment in history created great attention which, in the final analysis, was directed to the question of truth and faith itself. It was evident to all that the Church has to make her own contribution to this debate. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone.

The Holy Father returns to his underlying premise: the need for a fundamental moral consensus transcending nations and cultures. The Church is, in effect, even in her weakness, the only force capable of fostering a fundamental moral consensus, and this by her uncompromising fidelity to the Gospel.

The Very Future of the World Is at Stake

Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.

Is the Holy Father sounding an alarm? Indeed, he is. Just as all the prophets were sent to sound the alarm in the midst of glittering societies filled with inner rot and corruption.

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Blessed John Henry Newman

Finally I should like to recall once more the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Why was he beatified? What does he have to say to us? Many responses could be given to these questions, which were explored in the context of the beatification. I would like to highlight just two aspects which belong together and which, in the final analysis, express the same thing. The first is that we must learn from Newman's three conversions, because they were steps along a spiritual path that concerns us all. Here I would like to emphasize just the first conversion: to faith in the living God. Until that moment, Newman thought like the average men of his time and indeed like the average men of today, who do not simply exclude the existence of God, but consider it as something uncertain, something with no essential role to play in their lives. What appeared genuinely real to him, as to the men of his and our day, is the empirical, matter that can be grasped. This is the "reality" according to which one finds one's bearings. The "real" is what can be grasped, it is the things that can be calculated and taken in one's hand. In his conversion, Newman recognized that it is exactly the other way round: that God and the soul, man's spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. These are much more real than objects that can be grasped. This conversion was a Copernican revolution. What had previously seemed unreal and secondary was now revealed to be the genuinely decisive element. Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person's theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path.

Blessed John Henry Newman's first conversion took place when, at 16 years of age, he suffered an illness that obliged him to reflect on the meaning of life. He discovered that "there is rational content to our faith which is objective and certain and can be known by the human mind." Religion is not, then, a matter of feelings or subjective impressions. It is that by which the only true God, revealed in Jesus Christ, binds Himself to man, and man to God.

Conscience: Capacity For Truth and Obedience To Truth

The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience. But what does this mean? In modern thinking, the word "conscience" signifies that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decision. The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm. Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria. The ultimate instance that can decide here is therefore the subject alone, and precisely this is what the word "conscience" expresses: in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide. Newman's understanding of conscience is diametrically opposed to this. For him, "conscience" means man's capacity for truth: the capacity to recognize precisely in the decision-making areas of his life - religion and morals - a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience - man's capacity to recognize truth - thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. Conscience is both capacity for truth and obedience to the truth which manifests itself to anyone who seeks it with an open heart. The path of Newman's conversions is a path of conscience - not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him.

The Holy Father takes on the flawed contemporary understanding of "being able to do what I feel, or believe, is right for me." Conscience is, rather, the response of human freedom to The Truth.

Conversion to Catholicism

His third conversion, to Catholicism, required him to give up almost everything that was dear and precious to him: possessions, profession, academic rank, family ties and many friends. The sacrifice demanded of him by obedience to the truth, by his conscience, went further still. Newman had always been aware of having a mission for England. But in the Catholic theology of his time, his voice could hardly make itself heard. It was too foreign in the context of the prevailing form of theological thought and devotion. In January 1863 he wrote in his diary these distressing words: "As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life - but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion". He had not yet arrived at the hour when he would be an influential figure. In the humility and darkness of obedience, he had to wait until his message was taken up and understood. In support of the claim that Newman's concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said - should he have to propose a toast - that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope. But in this statement, "conscience" does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth.

Blessed Newman's conversion was a costly affair. It was, although unbloody, a real sacrifice, and by means of that sacrifice offered upon the altar of his own heart, Blessed John Henry Newman, became both fire and light in the Catholic Church.

Faith: Encounter With God Who Lives and Acts Now

I must refrain from speaking of my remarkable journeys to Malta, Portugal and Spain. In these it once again became evident that the faith is not a thing of the past, but an encounter with the God who lives and acts now. He challenges us and he opposes our indolence, but precisely in this way he opens the path towards true joy.

God opposes our indolence. What is indolence? It is laziness, sloth, or what the Fathers call accedia. Leaving indolence behind, shaking off the laziness that would leave us wallowing in mediocrity, it is time to run, while there is still light, towards True Joy.

God's Apparent Absence and His Presence

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. We set out from this plea for the presence of God's power in our time and from the experience of his apparent absence. If we keep our eyes open as we look back over the year that is coming to an end, we can see clearly that God's power and goodness are also present today in many different ways. So we all have reason to thank him. Along with thanks to the Lord I renew my thanks to all my co-workers. May God grant to all of us a holy Christmas and may he accompany us with his blessings in the coming year.

God allows us, I think, to experience His absence in order to prepare us for the inbreaking of His presence. And for this, together with the Holy Father, I give thanks.

I entrust these prayerful sentiments to the intercession of the Holy Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, and I impart to all of you and to the great family of the Roman Curia a heartfelt Apostolic Blessing. Happy Christmas!

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The Face of All Faces -- That of Christ

Our Holy Father's Message for 2011 World Day of the Sick

The Vatican press office published this message Saturday. It arrives in the midst of our preparations for Christmas and thus risks being overlooked or put aside to be read later, and then forgotten. I would encourage everyone to read it now and then return to it for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick. In reading this message of Our Holy Father, I cannot help but think of our dear Oblate brother Vincent Uher, and of many others who are called, in the Holy Father's own words, to "feel the nearness of this Heart [of Jesus] full of love, and draw from this font with faith and with joy, praying: "Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. In your wounds, hide me" (Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola).

The themes of this message are familiar to the readers of Vultus Christi: the Holy Face of Christ, His glorious Wounds, His Sacred Heart. The Holy Father even recalls his pastoral visit to Turin where he contemplated the suffering Face of Christ imprinted on the Sacred Shroud. His Eminence, Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini, so devoted to the Holy Face of Jesus and to the care of the sick, will be delighted, I am sure, to see the connection made by the Holy Father between the "Volto dei volti" -- the Face of all faces -- and the countenances of all our sick brothers and sisters.

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Would it not be a wonderful thing if various charitable organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, offered to place a suitable image of the Face of Jesus (such as that of the Sacred Shroud, or of Manoppello) in every Catholic Hospital room, or at least in the chapel of every Catholic hospital? Saint Thérèse, in the final days of her illness, asked that an image of the Holy Face be attached to her bed curtains. Even when the very sick are unable to formulate prayers, they can find great comfort in gazing upon an image of the Holy Face, and in uniting their weakness and suffering to the weakness and suffering of Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters!

Care for the Suffering

Every year, on the occasion of the memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes, which is celebrated on Feb. 11, the Church proposes the World Day of the Sick. This circumstance becomes, as the venerable John Paul II desired, the propitious occasion to reflect on the mystery of suffering and, above all, to make our communities and civil society more sensitive to sick brothers and sisters. If every man is our brother, much more are the weak, the suffering and those needful of care, and they must be at the center of our attention, so that none of them feel forgotten or marginalized; in fact, "the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through 'com-passion' is a cruel and inhuman society" (Spe Salvi, No. 38). May the initiatives that individual dioceses promote on the occasion of this day be a stimulus to make care for the suffering more and more effective, also in view of the solemn celebration that will take place at the Marian shrine in Altötting in Germany.

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The Suffering Countenance of Jesus

1. I still have in my heart the moment when, during the course of the pastoral visit to Turin, I was able to pause in reflection and prayer before the sacred Shroud, before that suffering countenance, that invites us to meditate on him who took upon himself man's suffering of every age and place, even our sufferings, our difficulties, our sins. How many faithful over the course of history have passed before that sepulchral winding sheet, which covered the body of a crucified man, which in everything corresponds to what the Gospels transmit about the passion and death of Jesus! Contemplating him is an invitation to reflect on what St. Peter writes: "By his wounds we have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).

The Wounds of Christ: Sign of Our Redemption

The Son of God has suffered, he has died, but he is risen, it is precisely because of this that those wounds become the sign of our redemption, of our forgiveness and reconciliation with the Father; they become, however, a test for the faith of the disciples and our faith: every time that the Lord speaks of his passion and death, they do not understand, they reject it, they oppose it. For them as for us, suffering is always charged with mystery, difficult to accept and bear. Because of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem in those days the two disciples of Emmaus walk along sadly, and only when the Risen One walks along the road with them do they open up to a new vision (cf. Luke 24:13-31). Even the apostle Thomas manifests the difficulty of believing in the redemptive way of suffering: "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

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The Holy Wounds: The Proof of Victorious Love

But before Christ who shows his wounds, his response is transformed into a moving profession of faith: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). What was at first an insurmountable obstacle, because it was the sign of Jesus' apparent failure, becomes, in the encounter with the Risen One, the proof of victorious love: "Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith" (Urbi et Orbi Message, Easter 2007).

A Joy That Does Not Fear Pain

2. Dear sick and suffering ones, it is precisely through the sufferings of the Christ that we are able to see, with eyes of hope, all the maladies that afflict humanity. Rising, the Lord did not take away suffering and evil from the world, but he defeated them at their root. To the arrogance of Evil he opposed the omnipotence of his Love. He has shown us, then, that the way of peace and joy is Love: "As I have loved you, so must you love one another" (John 13:34). Christ, victor over death, is alive and in our midst. And while with St. Thomas we also say: "My Lord and my God!" we follow our Lord in readiness to spend our life for our brothers (cf. 1 John 3:16), becoming messengers of a joy that does not fear pain, the joy of the Resurrection.

Consolation in All Suffering

St. Bernard said: "God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with." God, who is Truth and Love in person, wanted to suffer for us and with us; he became man to suffer with man, in a real way, in flesh and blood. Into every human suffering, then, there has entered One who shares suffering and endurance; he offers consolation in all suffering, the consolation of the participating love of God, which makes the star of hope rise (cf. Spe salvi, 39).

I repeat this message to you, dear brothers and sisters, so that you become witnesses through your suffering, your life and your faith.

Divine Life Flows from the Pierced Heart of Jesus

3. Looking forward to the meeting in Madrid, in August 2011, for World Youth Day, I would also like to address a special thought to young people, especially those who live the experience of sickness. Often, the Passion and the Cross of Jesus cause fear, because they seem to be the negation of life. In reality, it is exactly the contrary! The cross is God's "yes" to mankind, the highest and most intense expression of his love and the source from which flows eternal life. From the pierced heart of Jesus this divine life flows. He alone is capable of liberating the world from evil and make his kingdom of justice, of peace and of love grow, the kingdom to which we all aspire (cf. Message for World Youth Day 2011, 3).

Seeing and Meeting Jesus

Dear young people, learn to "see" and to "meet" Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present for us in a real way, to the point of making himself food for the journey, but know how to recognize and serve him also in those brothers who are poor, sick, suffering and in difficulty, who have need of your help (cf. ibid., 4). To all of you young people, sick and healthy, I repeat the invitation to create bridges of love and solidarity, so that no one feels alone, but near to God and part of the great family of his children (cf. General Audience, November 15, 2006).

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

4. Contemplating Jesus' wounds our gaze turns to his most sacred Heart in which God's love manifests itself in the supreme way. The Sacred Heart is Christ crucified, with his side opened by the lance, from which blood and water flow (cf. John 19:34), "symbol of the sacraments of the Church, that all men, drawn to the Heart of the Savior, might drink from the perennial font of salvation" (Roman Missal, Preface for the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus). Especially you, dear sick ones, should feel the nearness of this Heart full of love and draw from this font with faith and with joy, praying: "Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. In your wounds, hide me" (Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola).

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Mary, Health of the Infirm and Consoler of the Suffering

5. At the end of this message of mine for the next World Day of the Sick, I would like to express my affection to each and every one, feeling myself a participant in the sufferings and hopes that you have daily in union with Christ crucified and risen, that he give you peace and healing of the heart. May the Virgin Mary keep watch over you together with him. We invoke her confidently under the titles Health of the Infirm and Consoler of the Suffering. At the foot of the cross there is realized through her Simeon's prophecy: her Mother's heart is pierced (cf. Luke 2:35). From the abyss of her pain, a participation in her Son's, Mary is made capable of accepting her new mission: to become the Mother of Christ in his members. In the hour of the cross Jesus presents her to all of his disciples: "Behold your son" (cf. John 19:26-27). The maternal compassion for the Son becomes maternal compassion for each one of us in our daily sufferings (cf. Homily at Lourdes, Sept. 15, 2008).

The Face of Christ

Dear brothers and sisters, for this World Day of the Sick, I also invite the political authorities to invest more and more in health systems that are a help and a support for the suffering, above all the poorest and the most needy, and, addressing all the dioceses, I offer an affectionate greeting to the bishops, the priests, consecrated persons, seminarians, health workers, volunteers and all of those who dedicate themselves with love to care for and sooth the wounds of every sick brother or sister, in hospitals or nursing homes, in families: in the faces of the sick know how to see always the Face of faces -- that of Christ.

I assure everyone a remembrance in my prayer, while I impart to each of you a special apostolic blessing.

From the Vatican, Nov. 21, 2010, Feast of Christ the King of the Universe.
BENEDICTUS PP XVI

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Today, at the Angelus, the Holy Father said:

The Perspective of Saint Joseph

On this fourth Sunday of Advent the Gospel of St. Matthew tells us how the birth of Jesus came about, taking the perspective of St. Joseph. He was the betrothed of Mary, who, "before they lived together, was found to be with child by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18). The Son of God, realizing an ancient prophecy (cf. Isaiah 7:14), became man in the womb of a virgin, and such a mystery simultaneously manifests the love, wisdom and power of God on behalf of humanity wounded by sin.

In Mary, Joseph Sees the Work of God

St. Joseph is presented as a "just man" (Matthew 1:19), faithful to God's law, ready to do his will. On account of this he enters into the mystery of the Incarnation after an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and tells him: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife with you. In fact the child that has been conceived in her comes from the Holy Spirit; she will give birth to a son and you will call him Jesus: he in fact will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21). Forgetting the thought of repudiating Mary in secret, he takes her in because his eyes now see the work of God in her.

He Does Not Follow His Own Project

St. Ambrose comments that "in Joseph there was amiability and the figure of a just man to make the quality of his witness more worthy" (Exp. Ev. sec. Lucam II, 5: CCL 14,32-33). "He," Ambrose continues, "could not have contaminated the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the Lord, the fruitful womb of the mystery" (ibid. II, 6: CCL 14, 33). Although he had been concerned, Joseph "did as the angel of the Lord ordered him," certain of doing the right thing. Also giving the name "Jesus" to that child who rules the entire universe, he enters into the ranks of the faithful and humble servants, like the angels and prophets, like the martyrs and the apostles -- in the words of ancient eastern hymns. St. Joseph proclaims the wonders of the Lord, witnessing Mary's virginity, the gratuitous deed of God, and caring for the earthly life of the Messiah. So, we venerate the legal father of Jesus (Code of Canon Law, 532), because the new man takes form in him, who looks to the future with confidence and courage, does not follow his own project, but entrusts himself totally to the infinite mercy of him who fulfills the prophecies and inaugurates the season of salvation.

Universal Patron of the Church

Dear friends, to St. Joseph, universal patron of the Church, I would like to entrust all pastors, exhorting them to offer "to faithful Christians and the whole world the humble and daily proposal of the words of Christ" (Letter Proclaiming the Year for Priests). May our life be evermore conformed to the person of Jesus, precisely because "the one who is himself the Word takes on a body, he comes from God as a man and draws the whole of man's being to himself, bearing it into the Word of God" (Jesus of Nazareth, San Francisco, 2008, 334). Let us invoke the Virgin Mary with confidence, the one who is full of grace, "adorned by God," so that at Christmas, which is already near, our eyes may open and see Jesus, and the heart rejoice in this wondrous encounter of love.

Follow the Way of Beauty

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On 17 December 2010 Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Pontifical Academies during their 15th Public Session on "The Assumption of Mary, Sign of Consolation and Sure Hope."

Shining Star of Light and Beauty

Mary, in fact, as Vatican Council II teaches in the dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium," is the sign of sure hope and consolation for the People of God, pilgrim in history: "The mother of Jesus, now in heaven, glorified in body and soul, is the image and the first fruit of the Church which must have its fulfillment in the future age, and thus shines over the earth as a sign of sure hope and consolation for the People of God, journeying until it sees the day of the Lord (cf. 2 Peter 3:10)" (No. 68). In the encyclical letter "Spe Salvi," dedicated to Christian hope, I could not help but remind of the particular role of Mary in supporting and guiding the way of believers toward the Heavenly homeland. I addressed her, invoking her as a Star of Hope for the Church and for the whole of humanity (cf. No. 49). Mary is the shining star of light and beauty, who proclaims and anticipates our future.

The Queen, God's True Mother

St. John Damascene, who dedicated to Mary's Assumption three magnificent sermons, given in Jerusalem around the year 740, in the place tradition indicates as Mary's Tomb, said this: "Thy soul did not descend to Limbo, neither did thy flesh see corruption. Thy pure and spotless body was not left in the earth, but the abode of the Queen, of God's true Mother, was fixed in the heavenly kingdom alone." (Homily I on the Dormition: PG 96, 719).

Advocate and Mother of Mercy

The "singer of Mary," St. Bernard of Clairvaux, along with many of the Latin West, echoes the previous voice of the Eastern Church, when St. Bernard evokes the Assumption thus: "Our Queen has preceded us; she has preceded us and has been received very festively, so that with confidence the servants can follow their Lady saying: Take us with you, we run in the odor of your perfumes (Ct 1,3). Our pilgrim humanity sent its Advocate ahead that, being Mother of the Judge and Mother of mercy, can treat with devotion and efficacy the cause of our salvation. Our earth has sent today to heaven a precious gift so that, giving and receiving, they join the human and the divine in a happy exchange of friendship, the earthly to the heavenly, the lowest to the highest [...] She is the Queen of Heaven, she is merciful, she is the Mother of the Only-begotten Son of God" (In assumptione B.M.V., Sermo I: PL 183,415).

Theological, Mystical, Liturgical, Devotional Artistic

Hence, following that via pulchritudinis that the Servant of God Paul VI indicated as fecund itinerary of theological and Mariological research, I would like to note the profound syntony between theological and mystical thought, the liturgy, Marian devotion and the works of art that, with the splendor of colors and shapes, sing the mystery of the Assumption of Mary and her heavenly glory together with her Son. Among the latter, I invite you to admire two of them that are particularly significant in Rome: the mosaics of the apse of the Marian Basilicas of St. Mary Major and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Theological and spiritual reflection, liturgy, Marian devotion, and artistic representation truly form a whole, a complete and effective message, capable of arousing the wonder of eyes, of touching the heart and of enticing the intelligence to a more profound understanding of the mystery of Mary in which we see our destiny reflected clearly and our hope proclaimed.

Therefore, I take advantage of this occasion to invite experts in theology and Mariology to follow the via pulchritudinis, and I hope that, also in our days, thanks to a greater collaboration between theologians, liturgists and artists, incisive and effective messages can be offered to the admiration and contemplation of all.

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Pope Benedict's weekly General Audiences are a comprehensive introduction to the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1), whom the Church loves, venerates, and invokes. The companionship of the saints is a precious grace for us who strain forward, ever falling, and ever seeking to rise (Alma Redemptoris Mater) in this vale of tears (Salve Regina). Dame Julian's assurance that "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" is a compelling invitation to abandon ourselves, without calculating, to the embrace of Divine Love.

The Saints of England

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am still remembering with great joy the journey I made to the United Kingdom last September. England is a land that has given birth to so many illustrious figures who with their testimony and their teaching have embellished the history of the Church. One of these, venerated both by the Catholic Church as well as the Anglican Communion, is the mystic Julian of Norwich, of whom I would like to speak this morning.

Saints in Times of Tribulation

The information we have on her life -- not much -- is taken primarily from the book in which this kind and pious woman gathered the content of her visions, titled "Revelations of Divine Love." It is known that she lived from 1342 to about 1430, years of torment both for the Church, lacerated by the schism following the Pope's return from Avignon to Rome, as well as for the people suffering the consequences of a long war between the kingdom of England and that of France. God, however, even in times of tribulation, does not cease to raise figures such as Julian of Norwich, to call men back to peace, love and joy.

Love is Our Lord's Meaning

As she herself recounts, in May of 1373, probably on the 13th of that month, she was suddenly stricken by a very serious illness that in three days seemed to bring her to the point of death. When the priest who came to her bedside showed her the crucifix, Julian not only quickly recovered her health, but received 16 revelations that subsequently she reported in writing and commented in her book, "Revelations of Divine Love." And it was in fact the Lord who, 15 years after these extraordinary events, revealed to her the meaning of those visions. "Do you wish to know what your Lord intended and to know the meaning of this revelation? Know well: Love is what he intended. Who reveals this to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? Out of love ... So learn that love is our Lord's meaning" (Julian of Norwich, Il Libro delle Rivelazioni, Chapter 86, Milan, 1997, p. 320).

The Compassionate Recluse

Inspired by divine love, Julian made a radical choice. Like one of the ancient hermits, she chose to live in a cell, which was near a church dedicated to St. Julian, in the city of Norwich, at the time a very important urban center, near London. Perhaps she took the name Julian precisely from that saint to whom the church was dedicated and next to which she lived for so many years, until her death. We might be surprised and even perplexed by this decision to live as a "recluse," as this was called in her time. However, she was not alone in making this choice: During those centuries a considerable number of women opted for this kind of life, adopting rules elaborated purposefully for them, such as that composed by St. Aelred of Rievaulx. The anchorites or "recluses" dedicated themselves within their cells to prayer, meditation and study. In this way, they developed a very fine human and religious sensitivity, which made them venerated by the people. Men and women of every age and condition, in need of advice and comfort, sought them devotedly. Hence, it was not an individualistic choice; precisely with this closeness to the Lord, what matured in her also was the capacity to be a counselor to many, to help those who lived in difficulty in this life.

A Mother for Many

We know that Julian also received frequent visitors, as attested in the autobiography of another fervent Christian woman of her time, Margery Kempe, who went to Norwich in 1413 to receive suggestions on her spiritual life. This is why when Julian was alive she was called, as is written on the funeral monument that houses her remains, "Mother Julian." She became a mother for many.

Cloistered Monasteries

The women and men who withdraw to live in the company of God, precisely because of this decision, acquire a great sense of compassion for the sorrows and weaknesses of others. As friends of God, they have a wisdom that the world, from which they distance themselves, does not have. And with kindness, they share it with those who knock on their door. I am thinking, hence, with admiration and gratitude, of women's and men's cloistered monasteries that, today more than ever, are oases of peace and hope, precious treasures for the whole Church, especially in recalling the primacy of God and the importance of constant and intense prayer for the journey of faith.

Loved by God and Protected by His Providence

It was precisely in the solitude inhabited by God that Julian of Norwich composed the "Revelations of Divine Love," of which we have two editions, a shorter one this is probably older, and a longer one. This book contains a message of optimism based on the certainty of being loved by God and of being protected by his Providence. In this book we read the following wonderful words: "I saw with absolute certainty ... that God, even before creating us loved us, with a love that has never failed, and will never vanish. And in this love he did all his works, and in this love he disposed that all things should be useful for us, and in this love our life lasts for ever ... In this love we have our beginning, and we see all this in God without end" (Il libro delle rivelazioni, chapter 86, p. 320).

The Tender Solicitude of God

The subject of divine love returns often in the visions of Julian of Norwich who, with a certain audacity, does not hesitate to compare it also to maternal love. This is one of the most characteristic messages of her mystical theology. Tenderness, solicitude and the gentleness of God's goodness to us are so great that, to us pilgrims on earth, they evoke the love of a mother for her children. Indeed, at times the biblical prophets also used this language that recalls the tenderness, intensity and totality of the love of God, which manifests itself in creation and in the whole history of salvation and has its culmination in the incarnation of the Son. God, however, always surpasses every human love, as the prophet Isaiah says: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even if these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15).

Surrender to Divine Love

Julian of Norwich understood the central message for the spiritual life: God is love and only when we open ourselves totally and with total trust to this love and allow it to become the sole guide of existence, is everything transfigured, true peace and true joy are found and one is able to spread this around.

From Evil, God Draws a Greater Good

I would like to stress another point. The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes up the words of Julian of Norwich when it gives the point of view of the Catholic faith on an issue that does not cease to constitute a provocation for all believers (cf. Nos. 304-314). If God is supremely good and wise, why does evil and the suffering of the innocent exist? Saints as well, precisely the saints, ask themselves this question. Enlightened by faith, they give us an answer that opens our heart to trust and hope: In the mysterious designs of Providence, even from evil, God draws a greater good, as Julian of Norwich writes: "I learned by the grace of God that I must remain firmly in the faith, and hence I must firmly and perfectly believe that all will end well" (Il libro delle rivelazioni, chapter 32, p. 173).

God's Promises Are Greater Than Our Hopes

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, God's promises are always greater than our hopes. If we entrust to God, to his immense love, the most pure and most profound desires of our heart, we will never be disappointed. "And all will be well," "everything will be for the good": This is the final message that Julian of Norwich transmits to us and that I also propose to you today. Thank you.

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Wednesday, 17 November 2010, General Audience Pope Benedict XVI


You can imagine my joy upon reading the Holy Father's latest catechesis, and his allusion to the "Eucharistic springtime" in the Church. Our little Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle joins the practice of daily adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament to a traditional Benedictine observance. Our watches of adoration before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus are offered for priests: for their sanctification and their deliverance from evil, and in reparation for the many sins that have disfigured the Face of Christ the Priest. The Holy Father's teaching speaks to our particular vocation at many levels.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Woman at the Origin of the Feast of Corpus Christi

This morning, too, I would like to present to you a little-known woman to whom, however, the Church owes great recognition, not only because of the holiness of her life, but also because, with her great fervor, she contributed to the institution of one of the most important liturgical solemnities of the year, that of Corpus Christi. She is St. Juliana of Cornillon, known also as St. Juliana of Liege. We have certain details of her life above all from a biography probably written by an ecclesiastic contemporary of hers, in which are gathered several testimonies from people who knew the saint directly.

A Eucharistic Cenacle

Juliana was born between 1191 and 1192 in the neighborhood of Liege, in Belgium. It is important to stress this place, because at that time the Diocese of Liege was, so to speak, a true "Eucharistic cenacle." Before Juliana, eminent theologians had illustrated the supreme value of the sacrament of the Eucharist and, always at Liege, there were women's groups generously dedicated to Eucharistic worship and to fervent communion. Led by exemplary priests, they lived together, dedicating themselves to prayer and to charitable works.

Lo, I Am With You Always

Orphaned at 5 years of age, Juliana and her sister Agnes were entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns of the convent-leper hospital of Mont Cornillon. She was educated above all by a sister named Sapienza, who followed her spiritual maturation, until Juliana herself received the religious habit and became as well an Augustinian nun. She acquired notable learning, to the point that she read the works of the Fathers of the Church in Latin, in particular St. Augustine and St. Bernard. In addition to keen intelligence, Juliana showed from the beginning a particular propensity for contemplation; she had a profound sense of the presence of Christ, which she experienced by living in a particularly intense way the sacrament of the Eucharist and pausing often to meditate on the words of Jesus: "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

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The Vision

At 16 she had her first vision, which was then repeated many times in her Eucharistic adorations. The vision showed the moon in its full splendor, with a dark strip that crossed it diametrically. The Lord made her understand the meaning of what had appeared to her. The moon symbolized the life of the Church on earth; but the opaque line represented the absence of a liturgical feast. Juliana was asked to do her utmost in an effective way to bring about its institution: a feast, namely, in which believers would be able to adore the Eucharist to increase their faith, advance in the practice of virtue and make reparation for offenses to the Most Holy Sacrament.

For about 20 years Juliana, who in the meantime had become prioress of the convent, kept secret this revelation, which had filled her heart with joy. Then she confided in two other fervent adorers of the Eucharist, Blessed Eva, who led an eremitical life, and Isabella, who had joined her in the monastery of Mont Cornillon. The three women established a sort of "spiritual alliance" for the purpose of glorifying the Most Holy Sacrament. They wished to involve also a much esteemed priest, John of Lausanne, canon of the church of St. Martin in Liege, asking him to question theologians and ecclesiastics about what they had in their hearts. The answers were positive and encouraging.

Friendship and Encounters With Other Good Souls

What happened to Juliana of Cornillon is frequently repeated in the life of saints: to have the confirmation that an inspiration comes from God, it is always necessary to be immersed in prayer, to be able to wait with patience, to seek friendship and encounters with other good souls, and to subject everything to the judgment of the pastors of the Church. It was, in fact, the bishop of Liege, Robert of Thourotte, who, after initial hesitations, took up this proposal from Juliana and her companions, and instituted, for the first time, the solemnity of Corpus Domini in his diocese. Later, other bishops imitated him, establishing the same feast in territories entrusted to their pastoral care.

Death in the Presence of the Divine Sacrament

To saints, however, the Lord often asks that they overcome trials, so that their faith is enhanced. This happened also to Juliana, who had to suffer the harsh opposition of some members of the clergy and even of the superior on whom her monastery depended. Then, of her own volition, Juliana left the convent of Mont Cornillon with some companions, and for 10 years, from 1248 to 1258, was a guest of several monasteries of Cistercian Sisters. She edified everyone with her humility; she never had words of criticism or rebuke for her adversaries, but continued to spread with zeal Eucharistic worship. She died in 1258 in Fosses-La-Ville, in Belgium. In the cell where she lay the Most Blessed Sacrament was exposed and, according to the words of her biographer, Juliana died contemplating with a last outburst of love the Eucharistic Jesus, whom she had always loved, honored and adored.

Corpus Domini and Pope Urban IV

Won over also to the good cause of the feast of Corpus Domini was Giacomo Pantaleon of Troyes, who had known the saint during his ministry as archdeacon in Liege. He, in fact, having become Pope in 1264 and taking the name Urban IV, instituted the solemnity of Corpus Domini as a feast of obligation for the universal Church, the Thursday after Pentecost. In the Bull of institution, titled "Transiturus de hoc mundo" (Aug. 11, 1264), Pope Urban also re-evoked with discretion the mystical experiences of Juliana, giving value to their authenticity. He wrote: "Although the Eucharist is celebrated solemnly every day, we hold it right that, at least once a year, there be a more honored and solemn memoria of it. The other things, in fact, of which we make memoria, we do so with the spirit and with the mind, but we do not obtain, because of this, their real presence. On the other hand, in this sacramental commemoration of Christ, Jesus Christ is present with us in his substance, even if under another form. In fact, while he was about to ascend to heaven he said: "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

MIracle of Bolsena

The Pontiff himself wished to give an example, celebrating the solemnity of Corpus Domini in Orvieto, the city where he then dwelled. By his order, in fact, the famous corporal with the traces of the Eucharistic miracle that happened the previous year, in 1263, in Bolsena, is the kept in the cathedral of the city -- and it is still kept there. [The miracle was this:] While a priest consecrated the bread and the wine, he was prey to strong doubts about the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Miraculously some drops of blood began to spurt from the consecrated Host, confirming in that way what our faith professes. Urban IV asked one of the greatest theologians of history, St. Thomas Aquinas -- who at that time was accompanying the Pope and was in Orvieto -- to compose texts of the liturgical office for this great feast. These are masterpieces in which theology and poetry fuse, still in use today in the Church. They are texts that make the cords of the heart vibrate to express praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Sacrament, while the intelligence, penetrating the mystery with wonder, recognizes in the Eucharist the living and true presence of Jesus, of his sacrifice of love that reconciles us with the Father, and gives us salvation.

Even if after the death of Urban IV the celebration of the feast of Corpus Domini was limited to some regions of France, Germany, Hungary and northern Italy, it was again a Pontiff, John XXII, who in 1317 revived it for the whole Church. Henceforth the feast experienced a wonderful development, and is still much appreciated by the Christian people.

A Eucharistic Springtime

I would like to affirm with joy that today in the Church there is a "Eucharistic springtime": How many persons pause silently before the Tabernacle to spend time in a conversation of love with Jesus! It is consoling to know that not a few groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of praying in adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament. I am thinking, for example, of our Eucharistic adoration in Hyde Park, in London.

An Inexhaustible Source of Holiness

I pray so that this Eucharistic "springtime" will spread increasingly in every parish, in particular in Belgium, the homeland of St. Juliana. The Venerable John Paul II, in the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," said: "In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those who take part in it. Other positive signs of Eucharistic faith and love might also be mentioned" (No. 10).

Christ Present in a True, Real and Substantial Way

Remembering St. Juliana of Cornillon we also renew our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As we are taught by the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man" (No. 282).

Through Our Gazing in Adoration

Dear friends, fidelity to the encounter with the Eucharistic Christ in Sunday's Holy Mass is essential for the journey of faith, but let us try as well to frequently go to visit the Lord present in the Tabernacle! Gazing in adoration at the consecrated Host, we discover the gift of the love of God, we discover the passion and the cross of Jesus, and also his Resurrection. Precisely through our gazing in adoration, the Lord draws us to himself, into his mystery, to transform us as he transforms the bread and wine. The saints always found strength, consolation and joy in the Eucharistic encounter. With the words of the Eucharistic hymn "Adoro te devote," let us repeat before the Lord, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament: "Make me believe ever more in You, that in You I may have hope, that I may love You!" Thank you.

Saint Francis and the Liturgy

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Franciscans and the Liturgy: A Benedictine Point of View

One doesn't, generally speaking, associate today's Franciscans with any remarkable zeal for the Sacred Liturgy. There are, of course, exceptions to this: I'm thinking, in particular of the Poor Ladies of Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville, Virginia, where a warm and glowing love for the Sacred Liturgy has been fostered for many years. I'm thinking also of the Conventual Franciscan Friar at the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padova who authors a splendid Italian blog: Cantuale Antonianum. As for the Franciscans of the Immaculate, their commitment to the liturgical cause, in tandem with their outstanding zeal for a fervent and enlightened Marian piety, is well known.

We direct the clerics and priests who are not legitimately impeded to assemble as quickly as they can in the choir at the first sound of the bell in order to prepare their hearts for the Lord. There, with devotion, recollection, mortification, quiet and silence, let them bear in mind that they are before God where they should take up the angelic office of rendering the divine praises. We also instruct that the office be said with due devotion, attention, maturity, uniformity of voice and in harmony with the spirit, without frills or distractedly, and with the voice neither too high nor too low, but in between. The friars should strive to sing psalms to God more with the heart than with the mouth so that what our fair Saviour said of the Hebrews may not be said of us: "These people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." We direct that the lay friars assemble at the beginning of matins, vespers and compline, and at the Te Deum laudamus. After making their preparation in common, they may withdraw somewhere according to their devotion as the office is beginning and say the Our Fathers as the Rule imposes on them. We also direct those the lay friars and clerics not impeded for a just reason to come together for vespers and for all the Masses they can on all the feastdays. (1536 Constitutions of the Friars Minor Capuchin)

Choirs Minor

I am old enough to remember having heard Franciscans of various allegiances chant the Divine Office in choir in Latin. It was impressive. The Franciscans of the Atonement at Graymoor were particularly marked by a love for the Divine Office inherited from their founders -- both converts from Anglicanism -- Father Paul James Francis Watson and Mother Lurana Mary Francis White.

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The Conventual Franciscans (O.F..M., Conv.) had, in many places, a strong commitment to choral prayer and a somewhat higher standard of liturgical performance than that cultivated by the (O.F.M.) Friars Minor, although the latter are not entirely without a few strongholds of choral liturgical prayer in Italy and, of course, in the Holy Land.

The Capuchins, for their part, while reciting the Hours dutifully in choir, eschewed chant as a distraction and an impediment to recollection, and like so many movements of reform, invested more in the ways of mental prayer and a bracing asceticism than in choral liturgical prayer.

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The "Anti-Monastic" Prejudice

With the advent of the "peace and justice" enthusiasms of the 1970s, a serious commitment to choral liturgical prayer was judged, by many, incompatible with the "fundamental option for the poor" incumbent upon Franciscans in the post-conciliar age. Franciscans, Friars, Sisters, and even some Poor Clares, explored other non-liturgical or para-liturgical forms of prayer. Friaries and convents in which the complete cycle of the Hours was chanted in choir became extremely rare.

One must also identify a certain "anti-monastic" prejudice that has always dogged the mendicant Orders, and the Franciscans, in particular. The tired old refrain, "We are not monks," became a useful excuse from any form of consistent regular observance and choral liturgical prayer. Certain practices were identified as "too Benedictine" and swept aside in favour of a flawed notion of "simplicity" and "active participation." This, in spite of the fact, that the Romano-Seraphic liturgical books included the full array of resources necessary for an integral celebration of the Mass and Divine Office in Gregorian Chant.

Embracing the Holy Father's Vision

The Holy Father's choice of Saint Francis of Assisi as a model of liturgical piety is a clarion call, invited all followers of the Poverello to examine their commitment to a full, liturgical life, including the choral celebration of all the Hours. Magnificent early Franciscan liturgical manuscripts, described by the famous Franciscan liturgiologist, Father Stephan J. P. Van Dijk, O.F.M., attest to the importance attached to the Sacred Liturgy by the sons and daughters of the Seraphic Patriarch. Perhaps now, after more than forty years of alienation from the sources of an authentically Franciscan liturgical spirituality, the children of the Little Poor Man of Assisi may be ready to embrace the vision of Pope Benedict XVI as a passage "from the world to God."

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Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of Italy November 4, 2010

The Saints Never Fade Away

[...] 1. In these days you have gathered in Assisi, the city in which "a sun was born to the world" (Dante, Paradiso, Canto XI), proclaimed patron of Italy by venerable Pius XII: Saint Francis, who preserves intact his freshness and his relevance - the saints never fade away! - due to his being conformed totally to Christ, of whom he was a living icon.

Saint Francis and the Breviary

Like our own, the time in which Saint Francis lived was also marked by profound cultural transformations, fostered by the birth of the universities, by the rise of the townships and by the spread of new religious experiences.

Precisely in that season, thanks to the work of Pope Innocent III - the same from whom the Poverello of Assisi obtained his first canonical recognition - the Church undertook a profound liturgical reform.

Its highest expression is the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which numbers among its fruits the "Breviary." This book of prayer incorporated the richness of the theological reflection and prayer experience of the previous millennium. By adopting it, Saint Francis and his friars made their own the liturgical prayer of the Supreme Pontiff: in this way, the saint assiduously listened to and meditated on the Word of God, to the point of making it his own and then transposing it into the prayers he authored, and into all of his writings in general.

Transubstantiation

The Fourth Lateran Council itself, devoting particular attention to the sacrament of the altar, inserted into the profession of faith the term "transubstantiation," to affirm the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice: "His body and his blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the species of the bread and wine, because the bread is transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood by divine power" (DS, 802).

We adore you, Lord Jesus

From attending holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion with devotion arose the evangelical life of Saint Francis and his vocation to retrace the steps of Christ Crucified: "The Lord," we read in the Testament of 1226, "gave me such faith in churches that I would simply pray and say: We adore you, Lord Jesus, in all of your churches in the whole world, and we bless you, because with your holy cross you have redeemed the world" (Fonti Francescane, no. 111).

Reverence for Priests

This experience also gave rise to the great deference that he showed for priests, and his orders to the friars to respect them always and no matter what, "because I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world, if not his Most Holy Body and Blood that they alone consecrate, and they alone administer at the altars" (Fonti Francescane, no. 113).

The Mystery Celebrated and Adored

Before such a gift, dear brothers, what responsibility of life follows for each one of us! "Be mindful of your dignity, brother priests," Francis moreover urged, "and be holy, because he is holy!" (Letter to the General Chapter and to all of the friars, in Fonti Francescane, no. 220). Yes, the holiness of the Eucharist demands that one celebrate and adore this mystery mindful of its greatness, importance, and efficacy for Christian life, but it also demands purity, consistency, and holiness of life from each one of us, in order to be living witnesses of Christ's one sacrifice of love.

The saint of Assisi never stopped contemplating how "the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, is so humble as to conceal himself, for our salvation, in the paltry appearance of bread" (ibid, no 221), and vehemently asked his friars: "I beg you, more than if I were doing it for myself, that you humbly beseech the priests that they venerate above all things the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Names and the words written of him that consecrate the body" (Letter to all the Custodians, in Fonti Francescane, no. 241).

The Liturgy: Veritatis Splendor

The authentic believer, in every time, experiences in the liturgy the presence, the primacy, and the work of God. It is "veritatis splendor" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 35), nuptial event, foretaste of the new and definitive city and participation in it; it is the bond between creation and redemption, heaven open to the earth of men, passage from the world to God; it is Pascha, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is the soul of the Christian life, call to follow, reconciliation that moves to fraternal charity.

A Window that Opens Onto What Is Beyond Time

Dear brothers in the episcopate, your coming together places at the center of the work of the assembly an examination of the Italian translation of the third standard edition of the Roman Missal. The correspondence of the prayer of the Church (lex orandi) and the rule of faith (lex credendi) shapes the thought and sentiment of the Christian community, giving form to the Church, the body of Christ and temple of the Spirit. Human expression can never stand completely outside of its time, even when, as in the case of the liturgy, it constitutes a window that opens to what is beyond time. Giving expression to a perennially valid reality therefore demands a wise balancing of continuity and newness, of tradition and revitalization.

Every Reformer: Obedient to the Faith

The Missal itself takes its place within this process. Every true reformer, in fact, is obedient to the faith: he does not act in an arbitrary manner, he does not appropriate any discretion over the rite; he is not the owner, but the custodian of the treasury instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us. The whole Church is present in every liturgy: adhering to its form is a condition of authenticity for what is celebrated. [...]

From the Vatican, November 4, 2010
Benedict XVI

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To be enlightened and cleansed

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The Holy Father's Wednesday audience focused on the Carthusian nun, Marguerite d'Oingt. At the conclusion his discourse, the Holy Father said: "It is precisely this that we also need: to let the words, life and light of Christ enter our conscience so that it is enlightened, understands what is true and good and what is wrong; may our conscience be enlightened and cleansed. Rubbish is not only on different streets of the world. There is rubbish also in our consciences and in our souls. Only the light of the Lord, his strength and his love is what cleanses us, purifies us, showing us the right path." Strong words. Thank you, Most Holy Father!

Carthusian Spirituality

With Marguerite d'Oingt, of whom I would like to speak to you today, we are introduced to Carthusian spirituality, which is inspired in the evangelical synthesis lived and proposed by St. Bruno. We do not know her date of birth, although some place it around 1240. Marguerite came from a powerful family of the old nobility of Lyonnais, the Oingt. We know that her mother was also called Marguerite, that she had two brothers -- Giscard and Louis -- and three sisters: Catherine, Elizabeth and Agnes. The latter followed her to the Carthusian monastery, succeeding her as prioress.

Divine Solicitude

We have no information on her childhood, but through her writings we can intuit that she spent it peacefully, in an affectionate family environment. In fact, to express God's unbounded love, she valued images linked to the family, with particular reference to the figures of the father and mother. In one of her meditations she prays thus: "Very sweet Lord, when I think of the special graces that you have given me by your solicitude: first of all, how you took care of me since my childhood, and how you removed me from danger and called me to dedicate myself to your holy service, and how you provided everything that was necessary for me to eat, drink, dress and wear, (and you did so) in such a way that I had no occasion to think of these things but of your great mercy" (Marguerite d'Oingt, "Scritti Spirituali," Meditazione V, 100, Cinisello Balsamo, 1997, p. 74).

I Abandon Everything for Your Love

We always intuit in her meditations that she entered the Carthusian monastery of Poleteins in response to the Lord's call, leaving everything behind and accepting the severe Carthusian Rule, to belong totally to the Lord, to be with him always. She wrote: "Sweet Lord, I left my father and my mother and my siblings and all the things of this world for love of you; but this is very little, because the riches of this world are but thorns that prick; and the more they are possessed the more unfortunate one is. And because of this it seems to me that I left nothing other than misery and poverty; but you know, sweet Lord, that if I possessed thousands of worlds and could dispose of them as I pleased, I would abandon everything for your love; and even if you gave me everything that you possess in heaven and on earth, I would not consider myself satiated until I had you, because you are the life of my soul, I do not have and do not want to have a father and mother outside of you" (Ibid., Meditazione II, 32, p. 59).

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The Life of Christ

We also have little data on her life in the Carthusian monastery. We know that in 1288 she became its fourth prioress, a post she kept until her death, which took place on Feb. 11, 1310. From her writings, however, we do not deduce particular turns in her spiritual itinerary. She conceives the entirety of life as a journey of purification up to full configuration with Christ. He is the book that is written, which daily influences her heart and life, in particular his saving Passion. In the work "Speculum," referring to herself in the third person, Marguerite stresses that by the Lord's grace "she had engraved in her heart the holy life that Jesus Christ God led on earth, his good examples and his good doctrine. She had placed the sweet Jesus Christ so well in her heart, that it even seemed to her that he was present and that he had a closed book in his hand, to instruct her" (Ibid., I, 2-3, p. 81). "In this book she found written the life that Jesus Christ led on earth, from his birth to his ascension into heaven" (Ibid., I, 12, p. 83). Every day, beginning in the morning, Marguerite dedicated herself to the study of this book. And, when she had looked at it well, she began to read the book in her own conscience, which showed the falsehoods and lies of her own life (cf. Ibid., I, 6-7, p. 82); she wrote about herself to help others and to fix more deeply in her heart the grace of the presence of God, that is, to make her life every day marked by confrontation with the words and actions of Jesus, with the Book of his life. And she did this so that Christ's life would be imprinted in her soul in a stable and profound way, until she was able to see the Book in her interior, that is, until contemplating the mystery of God Trinity (cf. Ibid., II, 14-22; III, 23-40, p. 84-90).

Mystical Union Amidst the Cares of Life

Through her writings, Marguerite gives us some traces of her spirituality, enabling us to understand some features of her personality and of her gifts of governance. She was a very learned woman; she usually wrote in Latin, the language of the erudite, but she also wrote in Provençal French, and this too is a rarity: thus her writings are the first of those known to be written in that language. She lived a life rich in mystical experiences, described with simplicity, allowing one to intuit the ineffable mystery of God, stressing the limits of the mind to apprehend it and the inadequacy of the human language to express it. She had a lineal personality, simple, open, of gentle affectivity, great balance and acute discernment, able to enter into the depth of the human spirit, discovering its limits, its ambiguities, but also its aspirations, the soul's tensions toward God. She showed outstanding aptitude for governance, combining her profound mystical spiritual life with service to her sisters and to the community. Significant in this connection is a passage of a letter to her father. She wrote: "My sweet father, I let you know that I am very occupied because of the needs of our house, so that it is not possible for me to apply my spirit to good thoughts; in fact, I have so much to do I do not know which way to turn. We have not gathered wheat in the seventh month of the year and our vineyards were destroyed by the storm. Moreover, our church is in such poor conditions that we are obliged to reconstruct it in part" (Ibid., Lettere, III, 14, p. 127).

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An Affectivity Altogether Spiritual

A Carthusian nun thus describes the figure of Marguerite: "Revealed through her work is a fascinating personality, of lively intelligence, oriented to speculation and at the same time favored by mystical graces: in a word, a holy and wise woman who is able to express with a certain humor an affectivity altogether spiritual" (Una Monaca Certosina, Certosine, in Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione, Rome, 1975, col. 777). In the dynamism of mystical life, Marguerite values the experience of natural affections, purified by grace, as privileged means to understand more profoundly and to second divine action with greater alacrity and ardor. The reason lies in the fact that the human person is created in the image of God, and because of this is called to build with God a wonderful history of love, allowing himself to be totally involved in his initiative.

The Hard Bed of the Cross

The God-Trinity, the God-love that reveals himself in Christ fascinated her, and Marguerite lived a relationship of profound love for the Lord and, in contrast, sees human ingratitude to the point of vileness, to the paradox of the cross. She says that the cross of Christ is similar to giving birth. Jesus' pain is compared with that of a mother. She wrote: "The mother who carried me in her womb suffered greatly in giving birth to me, during a day or a night, but you, most sweet Lord, were tormented for me not one night or one day, but for more than 30 years! [...] How bitterly you suffered because of me during your whole life! And when the moment of birth arrived, your work was so painful that your holy sweat became as drops of blood, which were shed over all your body to the ground" (Ibid., Meditazione I, 33, p. 59). Evoking the accounts of the Passion, Marguerite contemplated these sorrows with profound compassion. She said: "You were placed on the hard bed of the cross, so that you could not move or turn or wave your limbs as a man usually does when suffering great pain, because you were completely stretched and you were pierced with the nails [...] and [...] all your muscles and veins were lacerated. [...] But all these pains [....] were still not sufficient for you, so much so that you desired that your side be pierced so cruelly by the lance that your docile body should be totally ploughed and torn and your blood spurted with such violence that it formed a long path, almost as if it were a current." Referring to Mary, she said: It was no wonder that the sword that destroyed your body also penetrated the heart of your glorious Mother who so wanted to support you [...] because your love was higher than all other loves" (Ibid., Meditazione II, 36-39.42, p. 60f).

The Remembrance of Christ's Most Holy Passion

Dear friends, Marguerite d'Oingt invites us to meditate daily on the life of sorrow and love of Jesus and of his mother, Mary. Here is our hope, the meaning of our existence. From contemplation of Christ's love for us are born the strength and joy to respond with the same love, placing our life at the service of God and of others. With Marguerite we also say: "Sweet Lord, all that you did, for love of me and of the whole human race, leads me to love you, but the remembrance of your most holy Passion gives unequaled vigor to my power of affection to love you. That is why it seems to me that [...] I have found what I so much desired: not to love anything other than you or in you or for love of you" (Ibid., Meditazione II, 46, p. 62).

The Essential Aspect of Our Existence

At first glance this figure of a Medieval Carthusian nun, as well as her life and her thought, seems distant from us, from our life, from our way of thinking and acting. But if we look at the essential aspect of this life, we see that it also affects us and that it would also be the essential aspect of our own existence.

Rubbish in Our Consciences and in Our Souls

We have heard that Marguerite considered the Lord as a book, she fixed her gaze on the Lord, she considered him a mirror in which her own conscience also appeared. And from this mirror light entered her soul: She allowed the word to come in, the life of Christ in her own being and thus she was transformed; her conscience was enlightened, she found criteria, light and was cleansed. It is precisely this that we also need: to let the words, life and light of Christ enter our conscience so that it is enlightened, understands what is true and good and what is wrong; may our conscience be enlightened and cleansed. Rubbish is not only on different streets of the world. There is rubbish also in our consciences and in our souls. Only the light of the Lord, his strength and his love is what cleanses us, purifies us, showing us the right path. Therefore, let us follow holy Marguerite in this look toward Jesus. Let us read the book of his life, let us allow ourselves to be enlightened and cleansed, to learn the true life.

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Feast of the Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Yesterday, October 11th, was in 1962, as the Holy Father notes in his discourse, the feast of the Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a feast graced with a lovely set of antiphons for the Hours. Blessed John XXIII chose to open the Second Vatican Council on this Marian feast, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1931, on the occasion of the 15th centenary of the Council Ephesus, which, in 431, proclaimed the Virgin Mary Theotokos.

Happily, a number of traditional Benedictine calendars conserve the possibility of commemorating the feast, and of celebrating the Mass proper to it, Ecce Virgo concipiet. We availed ourselves of the opportunity, and so were delighted to read the following address of the Holy Father to the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East.

The Maternal Heart of Our Lady

Dear brothers and sisters,

On October 11 1962, 48 years ago, Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. At the time, on October 11, the feast day of the Divine Motherhood of Mary was celebrated and, with this gesture, with this date, Pope John wished to entrust the whole Council into the motherly hands and maternal heart of the Madonna. We too begin on October 11th, we too wish to entrust this Synod, with all its problems, with all its challenges, with all its hopes, to the maternal heart of the Madonna, the Mother of God.

Council of Ephesus

Pius XI, in 1930, introduced this feast day, 1600 years after the Council of Ephesus, which had legitimated, for Mary, the title of Theotokos, Dei Genitrix. With this great word Dei Genitrix, Theotokos, the Council of Ephesus had summarized the entire doctrine of Christ, of Mary, the whole of the doctrine of redemption. So it would be worthwhile to reflect briefly, for a moment, on what was said during the Council of Ephesus, on what this day means.

Through Mary: Within the Intimacy of God Himself

In reality, Theotokos is a courageous title. A woman is the Mother of God. One could say: how is this possible? God is eternal, he is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human being be the Mother of God, of the Eternal, since we are all in time, we are all creatures? Therefore one can understand that there was some strong opposition, in part, to this term. The Nestorians used to say: one can speak about Christotokos, yes, but Theotokos no: Theos, God, is beyond, beyond the events of history. But the Council decided this, and thus it enlightened the adventure of God, the greatness of what he has done for us. God did not remain in Himself: he went out, He united in such a way, so radically to this man, Jesus, that this man Jesus is God, and if we speak about Him, we can also speak about God. Not only was a man born that had something to do with God, but in Him was born God on earth. God came from himself. But we could also say the opposite: God drew us to Himself, so that we are not outside of God, but we are within the intimate, the intimacy of God Himself.

God Born From Woman

Aristotelian philosophy, as we well know, tells us that between God and man there is only an unreciprocated relationship. Man refers to God, but God, the Eternal, is in Himself, He does not change: He cannot have this relation today and another relationship tomorrow. He is within Himself, He does not have ad extra relations. It is a very logical term, but it is also a word that makes us despair: so God has no relationship with me. With the incarnation, with the event of the Theotokos, this has been radically changed, because God drew us into Himself and God in Himself is the relationship and allows us to participate in His interior relationship. Thus we are in His being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are within His being in relationship, we are in relationship with Him and He truly created the relationship with us. At that moment, God wished to be born from woman and remain Himself: this is the great event. And thus we can understand the depth of the act by Pope John, who entrusted the Council, Synodal Assembly to the central mystery, to the Mother of God who is drawn by the Lord into Himself, and thus all of us with Her.

Christ Born to Create a Body for Himself

The Council began with the icon of the Theotokos. At the end, Pope Paul VI recognized the same title of Mater Ecclesiae to the Madonna. And these two icons, which begin and end the Council, are intrinsically linked, and are, in the end, one single icon. Because Christ was not born like any other individual. He was born to create a body for Himself: He was born - as John says in Chapter 12 of his Gospel - to attract all to Him and in Him. He was born - as it says in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians - to summarize the whole world, He was born as the firstborn of many brothers, He was born to unite the cosmos in Him, so that He is the Head of a great Body. Where Christ is born, the movement of summation begins, the moment of the calling begins, of construction of his Body, of the Holy Church. The Mother of Theos, the Mother of God, is the Mother of the Church, because she is the Mother of He who came to unite all in His resurrected Body.

Our Lady of the Cenacle: Mary at the Heart of the Church

Saint Luke leads us to understand this in the parallel between the first chapter of his book and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which repeat the same mystery on two different levels. In the first chapter of the Gospel the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and thus she gives birth to and gives us the Son of God. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is at the center of Jesus' disciples who are praying all together, pleading with the cloud of the Holy Spirit. And thus from the believing Church, with Mary at its heart, is born the Church, the Body of Christ. This dual birth is the only birth of the Christus totus, of the Christ who embraces the world and all of us.

Cross and Resurrection

Birth in Bethlehem, birth at the Last Supper. Birth of the Infant Jesus, birth of the Body of Christ, of the Church. These are two events or just one event. But between the two lie truly the Cross and the Resurrection. And only through the Cross comes the path towards the totality of Christ, towards His resurrected Body, towards the universalization of His being in the unity of the Church. And thus, bearing in mind that only from the wheat fallen to earth can a great harvest be reaped, from the Lord pierced on the Cross comes the universality of His disciples reunited in this His Body, dead and risen.

Mother of the Church and Queen of Martyrs

Keeping this connection between Theotokos and Mater Ecclesiae in mind, we turn our attention to the last book of the Holy Scripture, Revelation, where, in chapter 12, we can find this synthesis. The woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars over her head and the moon at her feet, gives birth. And gives birth with a cry of pain, gives birth with great suffering. Here the Marian mystery is the mystery of Bethlehem extended to the cosmic mystery. Christ is always reborn in all generations and thus takes on, gathers humanity within Himself. And this cosmic birth is achieved in the cry of the Cross, in the suffering of the Passion. And the blood of martyrs belongs to this cry of the Cross.

The Fall of the Divinities

So, at this moment, we can look at the second psalm of this Hour, Psalm 81, where we can see part of this process. God is among gods - they are still considered as gods in Israel. In this Psalm, in a great concentration, in a prophetic vision, we can see the power taken from the gods. Those who seemed to be gods are not gods and lose their divine characteristics, and fall to earth. Dii estis et moriemini sicut nomine (cf. Psalm 81:6-7): the wresting of power, the fall of the divinities.

The Triumph of the Martyred Children of Mother Church

This process that is achieved along the path of faith of Israel, and which here is summarized in one vision, is the true process of the history of religion: the fall of the gods. And thus the transformation of the world, the knowledge of the true God, the loss of power by the forces that dominate the world, is a process of suffering. In the history of Israel we can see how this liberation from polytheism, this recognition - "Only He is God" - is achieved with great pain, beginning with the path of Abraham, the exile, the Maccabeans, up to Christ. And this process of loss of power continues throughout history, spoken of in Revelation chapter 12; it mentions the fall of the angels, which are not truly angels, they are not divinities on earth. And is achieved truly, right at the time of the rising Church, where we can see how the blood of the martyrs takes the power away from the divinities, starting with the divine emperor, from all these divinities. It is the blood of the martyrs, the suffering, the cry of the Mother Church that makes them fall and thus transforms the world.

False Divinities in the World

This fall is not only the knowledge that they are not God; it is the process of transformation of the world, which costs blood, costs the suffering of the witnesses of Christ. And, if we look closely, we can see that this process never ends. It is achieved in various periods of history in ever new ways; even today, at this moment, in which Christ, the only Son of God, must be born for the world with the fall of the gods, with pain, the martyrdom of witnesses. Let us remember all the great powers of today's history, let us remember the anonymous capital that enslaves man, which is no longer in man's possession, but is an anonymous power served by men, by which men are tormented and even killed. It is a destructive power, that threatens the world. And then the power of the terroristic ideologies. Violent acts are apparently made in the name of God, but this is not God: they are false divinities that must be unmasked; they are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a voracious beast, extends its claws to all parts of the world and destroys it: it is a divinity, but it is a false divinity that must fall. Or even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion: today we must do things like this, marriage no longer counts, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

The Marian Mystery

These ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully, are divinities. And in the pain of the Saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church which we are a part of, these divinities must fall, what is said in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians must be done: the dominations, the powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ. On this battle we find ourselves in, of this taking power away from God, of this fall of false gods, that fall because they are not deities, but powers that can destroy the world, chapter 12 of the Apocalypse mentions these, even if with a mysterious image, for which, I believe, there are many different and beautiful interpretations. It has been said that the dragon places a large river of water before the fleeing woman to overcome her. And it would seem inevitable that the woman will drown in this river. But the good earth absorbs this river and it cannot be harmful. I think that the river is easily interpreted: these are the currents that dominate all and wish to make faith in the Church disappear, the Church that does not have a place anymore in front of the force of these currents that impose themselves as the only rationality, as the only way to live. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple at heart, that does not allow itself to be overcome by these rivers and saves the Mother and saves the Son. This is why the Psalm says - the first psalm of the Hour - the faith of the simple at heart is the true wisdom (cf Psalm 118:130). This true wisdom of simple faith, that does not allow itself to be swamped by the waters, is the force of the Church. And we have returned to the Marian mystery.

The Unshaken Foundations of Faith

And there is also a final word in Psalm 81, movebuntur omnia fundamenta terrae (Psalm 81:5), the foundations of earth are shaken. We see this today, with the climatic problems, how the foundations of the earth are shaken, how they are threatened by our behavior. The external foundations are shaken because the internal foundations are shaken, the moral and religious foundations, the faith that follows the right way of living. And we know that faith is the foundation, and, undoubtedly, the foundations of the earth cannot be shaken if they remain close to the faith, to true wisdom.

Entrustment to the Mother of God

And then the Psalm says: "Arise, God, judge the world" (Psalm 81:8). Thus we also say to the Lord: "Arise at this moment, take the world in your hands, protect your Church, protect humanity, protect the earth". And we once again entrust ourselves to the Mother of God, to Mary, and pray: "You, the great believer, you who have opened the earth to the heavens, help us, open the doors today as well, that truth might win, the will of God, which is the true good, the true salvation of the world". Amen

There is only one thing which lasts

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Excerpt from the Holy Father's Homily in Glasgow

"There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today's society."

To Priests, Monks, Nuns, and Religious

Dear priests of Scotland, you are called to holiness and to serve God's people by modelling your lives on the mystery of the Lord's cross. Preach the Gospel with a pure heart and a clear conscience. Dedicate yourselves to God alone and you will become shining examples to young men of a holy, simple and joyful life: they, in their turn, will surely wish to join you in your single-minded service of God's people. May the example of Saint John Ogilvie, dedicated, selfless and brave, inspire all of you. Similarly, let me encourage you, the monks, nuns and religious of Scotland to be a light on a hilltop, living an authentic Christian life of prayer and action that witnesses in a luminous way to the power of the Gospel.

To Young Catholics

Finally, I would like to say a word to you, my dear young Catholics of Scotland. I urge you to lead lives worthy of our Lord (cf. Ephesians 4:1) and of yourselves. There are many temptations placed before you every day -- drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol -- which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive. There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today's society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God. In today's Gospel, Jesus asks us to pray for vocations: I pray that many of you will know and love Jesus Christ and, through that encounter, will dedicate yourselves completely to God, especially those of you who are called to the priesthood and religious life. This is the challenge the Lord gives to you today: the Church now belongs to you!

The Core of Monasticism Is Adoration

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In the address pronounced three years ago at the flourishing Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Pope Benedict XVI offered the whole Church a veritable Charter of Monastic Life for this generation, and for all generations to come. This is, without any doubt, one of the most luminous Pontifical teachings on the monastic vocation ever articulated. I am still humbled and set ablaze by it. It deserves study "on bended knee."

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Address of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI

Visit to Heiligenkreuz Abbey
Sunday, 9 September 2007

Most Reverend Father Abbot,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Cistercian Monks of Heiligenkreuz,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life,
Distinguished Guests and Friends of the Monastery and the Academy,
Ladies and Gentlemen!

That Nothing Be Put Before the Divine Office

On my pilgrimage to the Magna Mater Austriae, I am pleased to visit this Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, which is not only an important stop on the Via Sacra leading to Mariazell, but the oldest continuously active Cistercian monastery in the world. I wished to come to this place so rich in history in order to draw attention to the fundamental directive of Saint Benedict, according to whose Rule Cistercians also live. Quite simply, Benedict insisted that “nothing be put before the Divine Office”.(1)

Solemn Choral Prayer

For this reason, in a monastery of Benedictine spirit, the praise of God, which the monks sing as a solemn choral prayer, always has priority. Monks are certainly not the only people who pray; others also pray: children, the young and the old, men and women, the married and the single - all Christians pray. Or at least, they should!

To Be Men of Prayer

In the life of monks, however, prayer takes on a particular importance: it is the heart of their calling. Their vocation is to be men of prayer. In the patristic period the monastic life was likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the angels that they are adorers. Their very life is adoration. This should hold true also for monks. Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. “Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! - Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!”: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1).

Officium

Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called Officium. It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks. It is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and power” (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously redeemed it.

A Yearning for God

At the same time, the Officium of consecrated persons is also a sacred service to men and women, a testimony offered to them. All people have deep within their hearts, whether they know it or not, a yearning for definitive fulfilment, for supreme happiness, and thus, ultimately, for God. A monastery, in which the community gathers several times a day for the praise of God, testifies to the fact that this primordial human longing does not go unfulfilled: God the Creator has not placed us in a fearful darkness where, groping our way in despair, we seek some ultimate meaning (cf. Acts 17:27); God has not abandoned us in a desert void, bereft of meaning, where in the end only death awaits us. No! God has shone forth in our darkness with his light, with his Son Jesus Christ. In him, God has entered our world in all his “fullness” (cf. Col 1:19); in him all truth, the truth for which we yearn, has its source and summit.(2)

The Heart and Eyes of Christ

Our light, our truth, our goal, our fulfilment, our life - all this is not a religious doctrine but a person: Jesus Christ. Over and above any ability of our own to seek and to desire God, we ourselves have already been sought and desired, and indeed, found and redeemed by him! The roving gaze of people of every time and nation, of all the philosophies, religions and cultures, encounters the wide open eyes of the crucified and risen Son of God; his open heart is the fullness of love. The eyes of Christ are the eyes of a loving God. The image of the Crucified Lord above the altar, whose romanesque original is found in the Cathedral of Sarzano, shows that this gaze is turned to every man and woman. The Lord, in truth, looks into the hearts of each of us.

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On Wednesday, May 28, 2008 Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his weekly audience to Pope Saint Gregory the Great. In honour of the saint's feast, here is a portion of the Holy Father's discourse:

The Pastoral Rule

Perhaps the most organic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his pontificate. In it Gregory intends to delineate the figure of the ideal bishop, teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrates the gravity of the office of pastor of the Church and the duties it entails: Therefore, those who are called to such a task were not called and did not search for it superficially, those instead who assume it without due reflection feel arising in their spirit an onerous trepidation.

The Bishop: Preacher Par Excellence

Taking up again a favorite topic, he affirms that the bishop is above all the "preacher" par excellence. As such, he must be above all an example to others, so that his behavior can be a reference point for all. Effective pastoral action requires therefore that he know the recipients and adapt his addresses to each one's situation. Gregory pauses to illustrate the different categories of faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the appraisal of those who have seen in this work a treatise of psychology. From here one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke about everything with the people of his time and of his city.

And What I Have Failed to Do

The great Pontiff, moreover, stresses the daily duty that a pastor has to acknowledge his own misery, so that pride will not render vain -- before the eyes of the supreme Judge -- the good he accomplished. Therefore, the last chapter of the rule is dedicated to humility. "When one is pleased about having attained many virtues it is good to reflect on one's own insufficiencies and humble oneself. Instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what one has failed to accomplish."

The Ars Artium

All these precious indications demonstrate the very lofty concept St. Gregory had of the care of souls, defined by him as "ars artium," the art of arts. The rule had great success to the point that, something rather rare, it was soon translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.

Significant also is the other work, the Dialogues, in which to his friend and deacon Peter, convinced that the customs were now so corrupt so as not to allow for the emergence of saints as in past times, Gregory demonstrates the contrary: Holiness is always possible, even in difficult times.

Holiness Is Always Possible

He proves it by recounting the life of contemporary and recently deceased persons, who can well be considered saints, even if not canonized. The account is accompanied by theological and mystical reflections that make the book a singular hagiographic text, able to fascinate whole generations of readers.

The material is drawn from the living traditions of the people and has the objective of edifying and forming, attracting the attention of the reader to a series of questions such as the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the existence of hell, the representation of the above -- all topics that were in need of opportune clarification.

The Spiritual Beauty of Saint Benedict

Book II is entirely dedicated to the figure of Benedict of Nursia, and is the only ancient testimony on the life of the holy monk, whose spiritual beauty appears in the text in full evidence.

Salvation Through the Dark Meanderings of Time

In the theological design that Gregory develops through his works, the past, present and future are relativized. What counts most of all for him is the entire span of salvific history, which continues to unravel through the dark meanderings of time. In this perspective, it is significant that he inserts the announcement of the conversion of the Anglos right in the middle of the Moral Commentary on Job. To his eyes the event constituted an advancement of the Kingdom of God which Scripture addresses. With good reason, therefore, it is to be mentioned in the commentary on a sacred book.

Lectio Divina

According to him, the leaders of the Christian community must be committed to reread events in the light of the word of God. In this respect, the great Pontiff felt the need to guide pastors and faithful in the spiritual itinerary of an illumined and concrete "lectio divina," placed in the context of their lives.

The Humility of Hierarchs

Before concluding, it is only right to say a word on the relationship that Pope Gregory cultivated with the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople. He was always concerned with acknowledging and respecting their rights, allowing himself no interference that would limit their legitimate authority.

If, however, in the context of his historical situation, St. Gregory was opposed to the title "ecumenical" on the part of the patriarch of Constantinople, he did not do so to limit or deny this legitimate authority, but because he was concerned about the fraternal unity of the universal Church. He did so above all by his profound conviction that humility should be the fundamental virtue of every bishop, even more so of a patriarch.

A Simple Monk

Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and that explains why he was decidedly opposed to great titles. He wished to be -- this is his expression -- "servus servorum Dei." This word, coined by him, was not a pious formula in his mouth, but the true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was profoundly impressed by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our slave; he washed and washes our dirty feet.

Imitator of the Humility of God

Therefore, he was convinced that, above all, a bishop must imitate this humility of God and, for love of God, be able to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulations and sufferings, to make himself the "servant of the servants." Precisely because he was this, he is great and shows us also the measure of true greatness.

Suscipe

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For this feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, here is a beautiful text of Pope Benedict XVI. I am mindful in prayer today of my Bishop, who is especially devoted to Saint Ignatius, and of my friend, Father James Kubicki, S.J., Director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the United States. Be sure to visit Father Kubicki's blog, Offer It Up.

Self-Surrender

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.

Falling into the Hands of God

But how should we lose ourselves? To whom do we give ourselves? 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.

Jesus and His Church

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 can only be 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.

Humble Obedience to the Church

As a result, obedience to God's will, obedience to Jesus Christ, must be, really and practically, humble obedience to the Church. This is something that calls 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 we should always repeat:

Saint Ignatius' Act of Surrender

"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".

Pope Benedict XVI
Address to Priests and Religious
Mariazell, Austria
8 September 2007

Saints Joachim and Anna

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The Communion of the Saints

We live in the company of the saints. We are in communion with them, and communion implies communication. There is, at every moment, a mysterious exchange taking place between us and the saints who surround us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are “watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

Naming Your Baby

The names of saints are more and more rarely being given to Catholic babies. While there is a part of ignorance here -- today’s parents were the victims of the disastrous lack of catechesis that followed the Second Vatican Council -- there is something more. The pressure to secularize every area of life is picking up momentum. Change what people say, and you will change what they think. The modification of vocabulary -- and in this case the suppression of the glorious heritage of Catholic saints’ names -- will lead to a modification of values and, ultimately, of morality.

Living With the Saints

Monasteries have the splendid custom of attributing a saint’s name or a biblical name to every room and place -- from the cells to the workrooms to the storage rooms. The significance of this age-old custom is as beautiful as it is profound: the monastery is inhabited not only by the visible people who live within its walls, but also by its invisible residents, the angels and the saints. The naming of a room for a saint is a confession of faith; it flies in the face of secularist ideologies that would have us believe that reality stops with what is visible.

Recovery of the Sacred

The movement to secularize every thing and every place is as pernicious as it is aggressive. It is part of the “smoke of Satan” that Pope Paul VI saw penetrating the Church to foment confusion. It is important that we respond to the crisis with courage and with conviction. The invasion of the secular must be countered by a concerted recovery of the sacred, and by re-claiming all things for Christ under the patronage of his saints and his mysteries: our cities, our towns, our homes, our institutions, our rooms, and, yes, our children.

The Motu Proprio and the Saints

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum generated some helpful comparative studies of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII (the Mass actually celebrated during the Second Vatican Council) and the 1970 Rite of Pope Paul VI. One of the observations made is that the newer rite, in a misguided attempt to render the Mass less offensive to Protestant sensibilities, removed several key allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the saints, and to their intercession (eg. Confiteor; Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas; Libera nos). In no way was this manipulation of the texts authorized by the Conciliar Fathers. It grieved and alienated the venerable Orthodox Churches (honoured by the inclusion of Saint Andrew the Apostle in the Libera nos), who interpreted it as a rejection of the patrimony of the undivided Church.

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What the World Needs

On April 1, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a conference at Subiaco, the cradle of Benedictine life. Nineteen days later, as bishop of Rome, he assumed the name of Saint Benedict. Pope Benedict's message at Subiaco identifies what the world needs above all else. "We need," he said, "men who hold their gaze directly towards God."

Vocation

Given that our monastery here in Tulsa professes a Benedictine life marked by the particular charism of adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ, these words of Pope Benedict XVI are, for me, very compelling. What does one do in Eucharistic adoration if not hold one's gaze directly towards God? The other component of this particular charism is that if I seek to hold my gaze fixed on the Eucharistic Face of God, it is, first of all, for my brother priests, and especially for those whose gaze has, for one reason or another, been distracted -- literally, pulled away from -- the One Thing Necessary. This is where adoration and reparation meet.

With Unveiled Face

People are drawn to Saint Benedict because in him they see a man who "held his gaze directly towards God." People are drawn to Benedictine monasteries because in them they expect to find men and women who "with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18). People come to monasteries in search of a place where there is evidence of a divine inbreaking: traces of the Kingdom of Heaven, glimmers of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ.

Those Who Seek God

More often than not the search for God begins with a search for those who seek God. It has always been thus in the life of the Church in both East and West. The faithful come to monasteries looking for fathers and mothers for their souls. People seek out monks and nuns hoping to see on their faces a reflection of the brightness of God. By virtue of monastic profession, we are called to hold our faces directly toward God. "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

The Priest With Jesus

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I am quite overwhelmed by the abundance and theological density of the Holy Father's homilies, discourses, and writings. It is a privilege and a grace to be united to the mens of the Holy Father and to the prayer of his heart by reading and meditating his teachings. Yesterday, in Saint Peter's Basilica, the Holy Father ordained fourteen deacons to the priesthood. The following extract, from the homily His Holiness preached, is yet another illustration of his zeal for priestly holiness in the Church.

Being in Prayer with Jesus

The Gospel that we just heard shows us a significant moment in the journey of Jesus in which he asks his disciples what people think of him and how they judge him themselves. Peter replies on behalf of the Twelve with a confession of faith, which differs substantially from the view that people have of Jesus, for he says: You are the Christ of God (cf. 9.20). Where does this act of faith come from? If we go back to the beginning of the Gospel passage, we note that Peter's confession is tied to a moment of prayer: " when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him,"(9:18). That is, the disciples are involved in Jesus' unique being and talking with the Father. And so they are allowed to see the Master in the depths of his condition as Son, they are allowed to see what others can not, by 'being with Him, "by" being with Him in prayer, comes a knowledge that goes beyond the opinions of people to reach the profound identity of Jesus, to reach the truth. Here we are given an indication for the life and mission of the priest: in prayer he is called to rediscover the new face of the Lord and always the most authentic contents of his mission. Only those who have an intimate relationship with the Lord are grasped by him, may bring him to others, can be sent out. This is the "being with him" that must always accompany the exercise of priestly ministry; it must be the central part of it, above all in difficult times when it seems that the "things to be done" should take priority.

Being on the Way of the Cross with Jesus

I wish to highlight a second element in today's Gospel. Immediately after Peter's confession, Jesus proclaims his passion and resurrection, and he follows this announcement with a lesson on the path his disciples must take, which is to follow Him, the Crucified, follow the road of the Cross. And he adds - with a paradoxical expression - that being a disciple means "losing oneself", but only in order to fully rediscover oneself (cf. Lk 9.22 to 24). What does this mean for every Christian, but especially what does it mean for a priest? Discipleship, but we can safely say: the priesthood can never be a way to achieve security in life or to gain a position in society. The man who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his personal prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning at the root of this ministry. The man who wants above all to achieve a personal ambition, achieve personal success, will always be a slave to himself and public opinion. In order to be considered, he will have to flatter; to say what people want to hear, he will have to adjust to changing fashions and opinions and thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with the truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he would praise today. A man who plans his life like this, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, only himself and, paradoxically, ends up losing himself. The priesthood - let us always remember - rests on the courage to say yes to another will, in the awareness, to be nurtured everyday, that our compliance with the will of God, our "immersion" in this will, does not cancel our originality, rather on the contrary, it helps us enter deeper into the truth of our being and our ministry.

Being at the Altar with Jesus

Dear ordinands, I would like propose a third thought for your consideration, closely related to the one just mentioned: the call of Jesus to "lose oneself" to take the cross, recalls the mystery we celebrate: the Eucharist. With the sacrament of Holy Orders you today are gifted to preside at the Eucharist! You are entrusted the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, you are entrusted with his Body, given his outpoured Blood. Of course, Jesus offers his sacrifice, his gift of love full and humble, to the Church his Bride, on the Cross. It was on that wood, that the Father dropped a grain of wheat on the field of the world so that in dying it would become mature fruit, the giver of life. But in God's plan, this gift of Christ is made present in the Eucharist through the sacred potestas that the Sacrament of Holy Orders bestows on you Priests. When we celebrate Holy Mass we hold in our hands the bread of Heaven, the bread of God which is Christ, the grain broken to multiply and become the true food of life for the world. It is something that can not fail to fill you with intimate wonder, vibrant joy and immense gratitude: now the love and gift of Christ crucified and glorious, pass through your hands, your voice, your heart!

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The Holy Father Teaches

The Holy Father's June 17th address to the Convention of the Diocese of Rome on the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist and the celebration of Sunday is a model of pastoral catechesis for every bishop of the Church. Catholics, the world over, are hungry for precisely this kind of clear teaching. Even if bishops and parish priests may not, themselves, be capable of offering teaching of this quality, they can certainly transmit the discourse of the Holy Father to the faithful. Pope Benedict XVI facilitates the mandate to teach that is incumbent upon every bishop and parish priest. Not only does he provides a model of effective teaching; he makes available to all the content of his own tireless transmission of the faith. My own commentary is in italics.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Psalm says: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133:1). It really is like this: it is a profound motive of joy for me to meet again with you and share the great good that the parishes and the other ecclesial realities of Rome have realized in this pastoral year. I greet with fraternal affection the cardinal vicar and I thank him for the courteous words he addressed to me and for the diligence he dedicates daily to the governance of the diocese, in supporting priests and the parish communities. I greet the auxiliary bishops, the entire presbyterate and each one of you. I address a cordial thought to all those who are sick and in particular difficulties, assuring them of my prayer.

As Cardinal Vallini recalled, we are engaged, since last year, in the verification of ordinary pastoral care. This evening we will reflect on two points of primary importance: "Sunday Eucharist and Testimony of Charity." I am aware of the great work that the parishes, the associations and the movements have realized, through meetings of formation and encounter, to deepen and live better these two fundamental components of the life and the mission of the Church and of every individual believer. This has also fostered that pastoral responsibility that, in the diversity of ministries and charisms, must be diffused ever more if we really want the Gospel to reach the heart of every inhabitant of Rome. So much has been done, and we thank the Lord; but still much remains to be done, always with his help.

Doctrine

Faith can never be presupposed, because every generation needs to receive this gift through the proclamation of the Gospel and to know the truth that Christ has revealed to us. The Church, therefore, is always engaged in proposing to all the deposit of the faith; contained in it also is the doctrine on the Eucharist -- central mystery in which "is enclosed all the spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself, our Pasch" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, No. 5) -- doctrine that today, unfortunately, is not sufficiently understood in its profound value and in its relevance for the existence of believers. Because of this, it is important that a more profound knowledge of the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord be seen as an exigency of the different communities of our diocese of Rome. At the same time, in the missionary spirit that we wish to nourish, it is necessary to spread the commitment to proclaim such Eucharistic faith, so that every man will encounter Jesus Christ who has revealed the "close" God, friend of humanity, and to witness it with an eloquent life of charity.

Yes, faith can never be presupposed. The embers of faith that glow beneath the ashes of a burned out secular culture need to be fanned into a great flame capable of filling the Church with fire and with light. The Holy Father speaks clearly of doctrine, a word that is rarely heard in today's pastoral discourses and in homilies. In particular, the Church's unchanged, unchanging, and unchangeable doctrine concerning the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord must be taught again, at every level, with clarity and with the authority of Christ Himself.

The crucified Christ
revealed the face of God.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

In all his public life, through the preaching of the Gospel and miraculous signs, Jesus proclaimed the goodness and mercy of the Father towards man. This mission reached its culmination on Golgotha, where the crucified Christ revealed the face of God, so that man, contemplating the Cross, be able to recognize the fullness of love (cf. Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, No. 12). The sacrifice of Calvary is mysteriously anticipated in the Last Supper, when Jesus, sharing with the Twelve the bread and wine, transforms them into his body and his blood, which shortly after he would offer as immolated Lamb. The Eucharist is the memorial of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, of his love to the end for each one of us, memorial that He willed to entrust to the Church so that it would be celebrated throughout the centuries. According to the meaning of the Hebrew word "zakar," the "memorial" is not simply the memory of something that happened in the past, but a celebration which actualizes that event, so as to reproduce its salvific force and efficacy. Thus, "the sacrifice that Christ offered to the Father, once and for all, on the Cross in favor of humanity, is rendered present and actual" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 280). Dear brothers and sisters, in our time the word sacrifice is not liked, rather it seems to belong to other times and to another way of understanding life. However, properly understood, it is and remains fundamental, because it reveals to us with what love God loves us in Christ.

To recapitulate the Holy Father's teaching: The face of the Father, upon which we can "read" the secrets of His Heart is revealed on the suffering Face of the Crucified in the hour of His sacrifice. That same sacrifice, offered on Calvary in a bloody manner, was anticipated in a sacramental manner at the Last Supper, and is actualized in the same sacramental and unbloody manner so often as as Holy Mass is offered. Sacrifice is not a popular word, even in today's "theological culture." It is, however, integral, to a Catholic understanding of the Mass. It must become, once again, part of every Catholic's working theological vocabulary. For this to happen, the doctrine of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass must become a key theme in catechesis and in preaching.

Catechesis and preaching, however, are insufficient by themselves. The entire "ars celebrandi" must be corrected and reformed so as to more clearly manifest the sacrificial character of the Mass. This means, before anything else, the restoration of the eastward position ("versus Deum") of priest and people together for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Nothing has done more to erode the understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice by both priests and lay faithful than the nearly universal trend of the Liturgy of the Eucharist "versus populum." Who will have the courage to catechize the faithfully clearly and patiently in preparation for this necessary step in the re-Catholicization of the "ars celebrandi"? Why are priests so invested in preserving a trend that, for the last forty years, has resulted in a weakening of the faith, in the loss of reverence, and in a downward spiral from "latria" into performance?

Recognize in the bread
that same body that hung on the cross,
and in the chalice
that same blood that gushed from his side.
(Saint Augustine)

Transubstantiation

In the offering that Jesus makes of himself we find all the novelty of Christian worship. In ancient times men offered in sacrifice to the divinity the animals or first fruits of the earth. Jesus, instead, offers himself, his body and his whole existence: He himself in person becomes the sacrifice that the liturgy offers in the Holy Mass. In fact, with the consecration of the bread and wine they become his true body and blood. Saint Augustine invited his faithful not to pause on what appeared to their sight, but to go beyond: "Recognize in the bread -- he said -- that same body that hung on the cross, and in the chalice that same blood that gushed from his side" (Disc. 228 B, 2). To explain this transformation, theology has coined the word "transubstantiation," word that resounded for the first time in this Basilica during the IV Lateran Council, of which in five years will be the 8th centenary. On that occasion the following expressions were inserted in the profession of faith: "his body and his blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, because the bread is transubstantiated into the body, and the wine into the blood by divine power" (DS, 802). Therefore, it is essential to stress, in the itineraries of education of children in the faith, of adolescents and of young people, as well as in "centers of listening" to the Word of God, that in the sacrament of the Eucharist Christ is truly, really and substantially present.

The key word in this section of the Holy Father's teaching is transubstantiation: another word that has been effectively erased from catechetical discourse and preaching. The meaning and truth of transubstantiation must, once again, be taught regularly, clearly and with authority. Pope Paul VI's valiant attempt at shoring up a crumbling faith in the Most Holy Eucharist by the promulgation of his now almost forgotten "Credo of the People of God" was, in rather bleak way, prophetic:

Sacrifice of Calvary
24. We believe that the Mass, celebrated by the priest representing the person of Christ by virtue of the power received through the Sacrament of Orders, and offered by him in the name of Christ and the members of His Mystical Body, is the sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars. We believe that as the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His body and His blood which were to be offered for us on the cross, likewise the bread and wine consecrated by the priest are changed into the body and blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven, and we believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord, under what continues to appear to our senses as before, is a true, real and substantial presence.
Transubstantiation
25. Christ cannot be thus present in this sacrament except by the change into His body of the reality itself of the bread and the change into His blood of the reality itself of the wine, leaving unchanged only the properties of the bread and wine which our senses perceive. This mysterious change is very appropriately called by the Church transubstantiation. Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery must, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, maintain that in the reality itself, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the Consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus that from then on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine, as the Lord willed it, in order to give Himself to us as food and to associate us with the unity of His Mystical Body.
26. The unique and indivisible existence of the Lord glorious in heaven is not multiplied, but is rendered present by the sacrament in the many places on earth where Mass is celebrated. And this existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.

The Rightness of the Rubrics

The Holy Mass, celebrated in the respect of the liturgical norms and with a fitting appreciation of the richness of the signs and gestures, fosters and promotes the growth of Eucharistic faith. In the Eucharistic celebration we do not invent something, but we enter into a reality that precedes us, more than that, which embraces heaven and earth and, hence, also the past, the future and the present. This universal openness, this encounter with all the sons and daughters of God is the grandeur of the Eucharist: we go to meet the reality of God present in the body and blood of the Risen One among us. Hence, the liturgical prescriptions dictated by the Church are not external things, but express concretely this reality of the revelation of the body and blood of Christ and thus the prayer reveals the faith according to the ancient principle "lex orandi - lex credendi." And because of this we can say "the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated" (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 64).

It is time to pursue a renewed appreciation for the intrinsically theological value of liturgical rubrics. As I often say in lecturing, "Squeeze a rubric, and theology spurts out of it!" The multiplication of options in the New Order of the Mass has created a situation in which celebrants, faced with options A, B, C, and D, readily (and not altogether unreasonably) assume that they can invent options E, F, and G. Thus do we find ourselves grappling with liturgical formulae and actions that are subjective, personal, and without any roots in sacred tradition. This personal manipulation of the lex orandi leads willy-nilly to the corruption of the lex credendi, and to a lex vivendi characterized by relativism.

It is necessary that in the liturgy the transcendent dimension emerge with clarity, that of the mystery, of the encounter with the Divine, which also illumines and elevates the "horizontal," that is the bond of communion and of solidarity that exists between all those who belong to the Church. In fact, when the latter prevails, the beauty, profundity and importance of the mystery celebrated is fully understood. Dear brothers in the priesthood, to you the bishop has entrusted, on the day of your priestly Ordination, the task to preside over the Eucharist. Always have at heart the exercise of this mission: celebrate the divine mysteries with intense interior participation, so that the men and women of our City can be sanctified, put into contact with God, absolute truth and eternal love.

It is precisely this clear and luminously transcendent dimension of the liturgy that is absent from the greater number of Sunday (and weekday) celebrations of Holy Mass in parishes across the United States and around the world. The multiple options of the New Order of the Mass, codified with the best intentions in the GIRM, have fomented a state of confusion (not clarity) and have fostered a shrinking of the mystery into the small "here and now" of any given celebrant and group of the faithful. One has only to reflect on the complete ineffectiveness of the directives concerning the Proper Chants of the Mass, to see how a minimalistic interpretation of liturgical law has come to prevail in practice, thus doing violence to elements constitutive of the architecture of the Mass itself.

Sunday

And let us also keep present that the Eucharist, joined to the cross and resurrection of the Lord, has dictated a new structure to our time. The Risen One was manifested the day after Saturday, the first day of the week, day of the sun and of creation. From the beginning Christians have celebrated their encounter with the Risen One, the Eucharist, on this first day, on this new day of the true sun of history, the Risen Christ. And thus time always begins again with the encounter with the Risen One and this encounter gives content and strength to everyday life. Because of this, it is very important for us Christians, to follow this new rhythm of time, to meet with the Risen One on Sunday and thus "to take" with us his presence, which transforms us and transforms our time.

A number of factors have contributed to a loss of the uniqueness of Sunday in Catholic life. Who, among our bishops, will have the courage to reexamine critically the now universally accepted Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening? Is this not, in most parishes, the preferred Mass of those who want to have their Sunday free for other pursuits? How has this affected the time available for confessions? Was not the original intention of the Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening to provide those engaged in public service and obliged to work on Sunday with an opportunity to fulfill the Sunday obligation, to be nourished by the Word of God, and by the adorable mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood? Is it not time to reiterate this original intention and to emphasize the traditional encounter with the Risen Christ on Sunday morning?

Eucharistic Adoration

Moreover, I invite all to rediscover the fecundity of Eucharistic adoration: before the Most Holy Sacrament we experience in an altogether particular way that "abiding" of Jesus, which He himself, in the Gospel of John, posits as necessary condition to bear much fruit (cf. John 15:5) and to avoid our apostolic action being reduced to sterile activism, but that instead it be testimony of the love of God.

The fecundity of Eucharistic adoration: what a marvelous expression! Eucharistic adoration is a privileged of way of abiding in the love of Jesus Christ, in the radiance of His Face, and close to His Open Heart. It is the perennial antidote to the sterile activism that exhausts so many workers in the vineyard of the Lord.

The Eucharist Makes the Church

Communion with Christ is always communion also with his body, which is the Church, as the Apostle Paul reminds, saying: "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians:16-17). It is, in fact, the Eucharist that transforms a simple group of persons into ecclesial community: the Eucharist makes the Church. Therefore, it is fundamental that the celebration of the Holy Mass be effectively the culmination, the "bearing structure" of the life of every parish community.

Better Care of the Preparation and Celebration of the Eucharist

I exhort all to take better care, also through apposite liturgical groups, of the preparation and celebration of the Eucharist, so that all who participate can encounter the Lord. It is the Risen Christ, who renders himself present in our today and gathers us around himself. Feeding on Him we are freed from the bonds of individualism and, through communion with Him, we ourselves become, together, one thing, his mystical Body. Thus the differences are surmounted due to profession, to class, to nationality so that we discover ourselves members of one great family, that of the children of God, in which to each is given a particular grace for common usefulness. The world and men do not have need of a another social aggregation, but have need of the Church, which is in Christ as a sacrament, "which is sign and instrument of the profound union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Lumen Gentium, No. 1), called to make the light of the Risen Lord shine on all people.

Communion of Blood with Jesus

Jesus came to reveal to us the love of the Father, because "man cannot live without love" (John Paul II, Redemptoris Hominis, No. 10). Love is, in fact, the fundamental experience of every human being, what has given meaning to daily living. Nourished by the Eucharist we also, following the example of Christ, live for Him, to be witnesses of love. Receiving the Sacrament, we enter into communion of blood with Jesus Christ. In the Hebrew conception, blood indicates life; thus we can say that being nourished by the Body of Christ we receive the life of God and learn to look at reality with his eyes, abandoning the logic of the world to follow the divine logic of gift and gratuitousness.

Reception of the Most Holy Sacrament establishes us in a communion of blood -- a supernatural kinship of blood -- with Jesus. Thus do we become sons in the Son. The life of the Father is communicated to us through the Body and Blood of the Son, made present by the words of consecration and by the action of the Holy Spirit. Every Holy Communion is transforming. Every Holy Communion marks another step in conversion of life, another surrender to what the Holy Father calls "the divine logic of gift and gratuitousness."

The Social Impact of Supernatural Charity

St. Augustine recalls that during a vision he thought he heard the voice of the Lord who said to him: "I am the nourishment of adults. Grow up, and you will eat me, without, because of this, my being transformed into you, as the nutriment of your flesh; but you are transformed into me" (cf. Confessions VII, 10, 16). When we receive Christ, the love of God expands in our innermost self, modifies our heart radically and makes us capable of gestures that, by the expansive force of good, can transform the life of those that are next to us. Charity is able to generate an authentic and permanent change of society, acting in the hearts and minds of men, and when it is lived in truth "it is the principal propelling force for the true development of every person and of the whole of humanity" (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 1). For the disciples of Jesus, the testimony of charity is not a passing sentiment, but on the contrary it is what molds life in every circumstance. I encourage all, in particular the Caritas and Deacons, to be committed in the delicate and essential field of education to charity, as permanent dimension of personal and community life.

Catholics have always believed in the "expansive force of good." One who lives from the Most Holy Eucharist, that is from a sacramental infusion of charity, becomes an agent of charity and a servant of the merciful designs of God for individuals and for the world.

Rome: This City of Ours

This City of ours asks of Christ's disciples, with a renewed proclamation of the Gospel, a clearer and more limpid testimony of charity. It is with the language of love, desirous of the integral good of man, that the Church speaks to the inhabitants of Rome. In these years of my ministry as your Bishop, I have been able to visit several places where charity is lived intensely. I am grateful to all those who are engaged in the different charitable structures, for the dedication and generosity with which they serve the poor and the marginalized. The needs and poverty of so many men and women interpellate us profoundly: it is Christ himself who every day, in the poor, asks us to assuage his hunger and thirst, to visit him in hospitals and prisons, to accept and dress him. A celebrated Eucharist imposes on us and at the same time renders us capable of becoming, in our turn, bread broken for brothers, coming to meet their needs and giving ourselves. Because of this, a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to meet men where they live, work and suffer, to take to them the love of God, does not manifest the love it encloses.

Sacrificial Oblation

To be faithful to the mystery that is celebrated on the altars we must, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us, offer our bodies, ourselves, in spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God (cf. Romans 12:1) in those circumstances that require dying to our I and constitute our daily "altar." Gestures of sharing create communion, renew the fabric of interpersonal relations, marking them with gratuitousness and gift, and allowing for the construction of the civilization of love. In a time such as the present of economic and social crisis, let us be in solidarity with those who live in indigence to offer all the hope of a better tomorrow worthy of man. If we really live as disciples of the God-Charity, we will help the inhabitants of Rome to discover themselves brothers and children of the one Father.

Here, the Holy Father speaks of the essence of "actual participation" in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: union with Christ the Victim, and the abandonment of ourselves into the hands of Christ the Priest. The altar becomes the place of our own oblation with Christ to the Father, and the starting point of a newness of life marked by self-giving love.

Vocations to Rebuild the Church

The very nature of love requires definitive and irrevocable choices of life. I turn to you in particular, dearly beloved young people: do not be afraid to choose love as the supreme rule of life. Do not be afraid to love Christ in the priesthood and, if you perceive in your heart the call of the Lord, follow him in this extraordinary adventure of love, abandon yourselves with trust to him! Do not be afraid to form Christian families that live faithful, indissoluble love open to life! Give witness that love, as Christ lived it and as the magisterium of the Church teaches, does not take anything away from our happiness, but on the contrary it gives that profound joy that Christ promised to his disciples.

The call of the Lord to the priesthood and to the formation of Christian families is, in effect, a call to rebuild the Church. I am mindful of Our Lord's words to Saint Francis of Assisi in the ruined church of San Damiano, "Francis, rebuild thou My Church, which, as thou seest, is falling into ruin." The rebuilding of the Church in every age is marked by joy.

The Virgin Mary and the Holy Sacrifice

May the Virgin Mary accompany the path of our Church of Rome with her maternal intercession. Mary, who in an altogether singular way lived communion with God and the sacrifice of her own Son on Calvary, enable us to live ever more intensely, piously and consciously the mystery of the Eucharist, to proclaim with the word and life the love that God has for every man. Dear friends, I assure you of my prayer and impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to you all. Thank you.

Increasingly, it seems to me, the Holy Father refers to Our Lady's unique and incomparable role in the mystery of redemption. She who offered her Divine Son with a virginal, maternal, and sacerdotal heart at the foot of the Cross, is the model of "participatio actuosa" in the Holy Sacrifice.

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HOMILY OF THE MASS OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
CELEBRATED BY HIS HOLINESS, POPE BENEDICT XVI
AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS,
11 JUNE 2010


Grandeur and Beauty of the Priestly Ministry

Dear brothers in the priestly ministry, dear brothers and sisters, the Year for Priests which we have celebrated on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the holy Curè of Ars, the model of priestly ministry in our world, is now coming to an end. We have let the Curé of Ars guide us to a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry. The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ's name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ's words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation - words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood - words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite it to him.

God Entrusts Himself to Our Infirmities

The priesthood, then, is not simply "office" but sacrament: God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings - who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead - this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word "priesthood". That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year. We wanted to reawaken our joy at how close God is to us, and our gratitude for the fact that he entrusts himself to our infirmities; that he guides and sustains us daily. In this way we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist - and that God is indeed waiting for us to say "yes". Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation. We have to beg for workers for God's harvest, and this petition to God is, at the same time, his own way of knocking on the hearts of young people who consider themselves able to do what God considers them able to do.

Not Pleasing to the Enemy

It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the "enemy"; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light - particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God's concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life's dangers.

A Gift Concealed in Earthen Vessels

Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God's gift, a gift concealed in "earthen vessels" which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God's courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of today's liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be a priest: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).

Peering Into the Heart of Jesus

We are celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in the liturgy we peer, as it were, into the heart of Jesus opened in death by the spear of the Roman soldier. Jesus' heart was indeed opened for us and before us - and thus God's own heart was opened. The liturgy interprets for us the language of Jesus' heart, which tells us above all that God is the shepherd of mankind, and so it reveals to us Jesus' priesthood, which is rooted deep within his heart; so too it shows us the perennial foundation and the effective criterion of all priestly ministry, which must always be anchored in the heart of Jesus and lived out from that starting-point. Today I would like to meditate especially on those texts with which the Church in prayer responds to the word of God presented in the readings. In those chants, word (Wort) and response (Antwort) interpenetrate. On the one hand, the chants are themselves drawn from the word of God, yet on the other, they are already our human response to that word, a response in which the word itself is communicated and enters into our lives.

Psalm 22, The Lord Is My Shepherd

The most important of those texts in today's liturgy is Psalm 23 (22) - "The Lord is my shepherd" - in which Israel at prayer received God's self-revelation as shepherd, and made this the guide of its own life.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want": this first verse expresses joy and gratitude for the fact that God is present to and concerned for humanity. The reading from the Book of Ezechiel begins with the same theme: "I myself will look after and tend my sheep" (Ez 34:11). God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind. I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered. God looks after me. He is not a distant God, for whom my life is worthless. The world's religions, as far as we can see, have always known that in the end there is only one God. But this God was distant. Evidently he had abandoned the world to other powers and forces, to other divinities. It was with these that one had to deal. The one God was good, yet aloof. He was not dangerous, nor was he very helpful. Consequently one didn't need to worry about him. He did not lord it over us. Oddly, this kind of thinking re-emerged during the Enlightenment. There was still a recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way. But wherever God's loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry. It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me.

I Know My Sheep and Mine Know Me

"I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10:14), the Church says before the Gospel with the Lord's words. God knows me, he is concerned about me. This thought should make us truly joyful. Let us allow it to penetrate the depths of our being. Then let us also realize what it means: God wants us, as priests, in one tiny moment of history, to share his concern about people. As priests, we want to be persons who share his concern for men and women, who take care of them and provide them with a concrete experience of God's concern. Whatever the field of activity entrusted to him, the priest, with the Lord, ought to be able to say: "I know my sheep and mine know me". "To know", in the idiom of sacred Scripture, never refers to merely exterior knowledge, like the knowledge of someone's telephone number. "Knowing" means being inwardly close to another person. It means loving him or her. We should strive to "know" men and women as God does and for God's sake; we should strive to walk with them along the path of friendship with God.

We Are Not Fumbling in the Dark

Let us return to our Psalm. There we read: "He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me" (23 [22]:3ff.). The shepherd points out the right path to those entrusted to him. He goes before them and leads them. Let us put it differently: the Lord shows us the right way to be human. He teaches us the art of being a person. What must I do in order not to fall, not to squander my life in meaninglessness? This is precisely the question which every man and woman must ask and one which remains valid at every moment of one's life. How much darkness surrounds this question in our own day! We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus, who felt compassion for the crowds because they were like a flock without a shepherd. Lord, have mercy on us too! Show us the way! From the Gospel we know this much: he is himself the way. Living with Christ, following him - this means finding the right way, so that our lives can be meaningful and so that one day we might say: "Yes, it was good to have lived". The people of Israel continue to be grateful to God because in the Commandments he pointed out the way of life. The great Psalm 119 (118) is a unique expression of joy for this fact: we are not fumbling in the dark. God has shown us the way and how to walk aright. The message of the Commandments was synthesized in the life of Jesus and became a living model. Thus we understand that these rules from God are not chains, but the way which he is pointing out to us. We can be glad for them and rejoice that in Christ they stand before us as a lived reality. He himself has made us glad. By walking with Christ, we experience the joy of Revelation, and as priests we need to communicate to others our own joy at the fact that we have been shown the right way.

If I Sink to the Nether World, You Are There

Then there is the phrase about the "darkest valley" through which the Lord leads us. Our path as individuals will one day lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where no one can accompany us. Yet he will be there. Christ himself descended into the dark night of death. Even there he will not abandon us. Even there he will lead us. "If I sink to the nether world, you are present there", says Psalm 139 (138). Truly you are there, even in the throes of death, and hence our Responsorial Psalm can say: even there, in the darkest valley, I fear no evil. When speaking of the darkest valley, we can also think of the dark valleys of temptation, discouragement and trial through which everyone has to pass. Even in these dark valleys of life he is there. Lord, in the darkness of temptation, at the hour of dusk when all light seems to have died away, show me that you are there. Help us priests, so that we can remain beside the persons entrusted to us in these dark nights. So that we can show them your own light.

Use of the Rod

"Your rod and your staff - they comfort me": the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church's ministry, of the priest's ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd's rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God's gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd's staff - a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.

The Divine Hospitality

At the end of the Psalm we read of the table which is set, the oil which anoints the head, the cup which overflows, and dwelling in the house of the Lord. In the Psalm this is an expression first and foremost of the prospect of the festal joy of being in God's presence in the temple, of being his guest, whom he himself serves, of dwelling with him. For us, who pray this Psalm with Christ and his Body which is the Church, this prospect of hope takes on even greater breadth and depth. We see in these words a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist, in which God himself makes us his guests and offers himself to us as food -as that bread and fine wine which alone can definitively sate man's hunger and thirst. How can we not rejoice that one day we will be guests at the very table of God and live in his dwelling-place? How can we not rejoice at the fact that he has commanded us: "Do this in memory of me"? How can we not rejoice that he has enabled us to set God's table for men and women, to give them his Body and his Blood, to offer them the precious gift of his very presence. Truly we can pray together, with all our heart, the words of the Psalm: "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Ps 23 [22]:6).

The Pierced Heart Become A Fountain

Finally, let us take a brief look at the two communion antiphons which the Church offers us in her liturgy today. First there are the words with which Saint John concludes the account of Jesus' crucifixion: "One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out" (Jn 19:34). The heart of Jesus is pierced by the spear. Once opened, it becomes a fountain: the water and the blood which stream forth recall the two fundamental sacraments by which the Church lives: Baptism and the Eucharist. From the Lord's pierced side, from his open heart, there springs the living fountain which continues to well up over the centuries and which makes the Church. The open heart is the source of a new stream of life; here John was certainly also thinking of the prophecy of Ezechiel who saw flowing forth from the new temple a torrent bestowing fruitfulness and life (Ez 47): Jesus himself is the new temple, and his open heart is the source of a stream of new life which is communicated to us in Baptism and the Eucharist.

Life-Giving Water for a Parched and Thirsty World

The liturgy of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus also permits another phrase, similar to this, to be used as the communion antiphon. It is taken from the Gospel of John: Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me. And let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said: "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (cf. Jn 7:37ff.) In faith we drink, so to speak, of the living water of God's Word. In this way the believer himself becomes a wellspring which gives living water to the parched earth of history. We see this in the saints. We see this in Mary, that great woman of faith and love who has become in every generation a wellspring of faith, love and life. Every Christian and every priest should become, starting from Christ, a wellspring which gives life to others. We ought to be offering life-giving water to a parched and thirst world. Lord, we thank you because for our sake you opened your heart; because in your death and in your resurrection you became the source of life. Give us life, make us live from you as our source, and grant that we too may be sources, wellsprings capable of bestowing the water of life in our time. We thank you for the grace of the priestly ministry. Lord bless us, and bless all those who in our time are thirsty and continue to seek. Amen.

The Father's Will

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This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on Pope Benedict XVI's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary. I am writing it from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, where I am preaching a retreat to members of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (F.S.S.P.).

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of thy Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and His priests,
consecrate ourselves to thy maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Not My Will, But Thine Be Done

Pope Benedict XVI presents consecration to the maternal Heart of Mary as a means to carrying out faithfully the Father's will. In doing this he echoes the teaching of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, for whom consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary was a simple, straight, and secure way of following Jesus in His obedience to the Father and in the wisdom of the Cross. One who frequents the school of Mary, in the company of a vast company of saints, enters into Virgin's total adhesion to the Will of the Father by repeating after her, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38). It is by repeating these words of the Mother, that one is prepared to repeat those of the Son: "Father . . . not my will, but thine be done" (Lk 22:42). It is by entering into dispositions of the maternal Heart of Mary that one becomes capable of expressing in one's own life, and at the hour of one's death, the dispositions of the filial and priestly Heart of Jesus, saying with Him: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

The Psalms

The life of Our Lord was characterized by a single burning passion: the Father's Will, the Father's plan, the Father's designs, the Father's glory. The priest who desires to participate in this one burning passion of the Heart of Jesus does well to open the psalter as he would the tabernacle, confident of finding therein the bread of a spiritual communion with Our Lord in His obedience to the Father, in His prayer to the Father, in His filial surrender to the Father.

Draw Me After You

I am thinking, in particular of Psalm 118, that long litany in praise of the Law that, in the mouth of Jesus, becomes a litany of obedience to His Father's Will.
One does well, at least from time to time, possibly during a retreat, to pray the entire psalm Beati immaculati in via. One hears the voice of Jesus praying to His Father; one senses the pulsation of His Sacred Heart and the rhythm of His breath. One is compelled to say to him in the words of the Canticle: "Draw me: we will run after you to the odour of your ointments" (Ct 1:4). What ointments are these? The ointments of His Divine Anointing as Son, as Priest, and as King, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost poured out in abundance upon the Head for the sake of all His members and, first of all, for His priests.

The Gospel of Saint John

Again, one might open the Gospel of Saint John to discover from the first page to the last the irrepressible impetus of Our Lord ad Patrem. When He speaks, He speaks to His Father or of His Father. He has no desires apart from those of His Father, no words and no deeds that are not sign and revelation of the Father. "Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing: for what things soever He doth, these the Son also doth in like manner" (Jn 5:19). His very being is an epiphany of the Father. "He that seeth me seeth the Father also" (Jn 14:9). "Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, He doth the works" (Jn 14:10). Freely, the Son enters into His Passion, saying, "But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I: Arise, let us go hence" (Jn 14:31).

To My Father and to Your Father

After His Resurrection, Our Lord continues to speak of His Father. "Go to my brethren," He says to Mary Magdalene, "and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God, and to your God" (Jn 20:17). And in the final verses of the Fourth Gospel, when Jesus speaks to Peter, after eliciting from him a threefold confession of love and attachment, He says to him, "Follow me" (Jn 21:10). I have always understood this, "Follow me," as Our Lord's way of calling Peter after Him, through the Cross, into the glory of the Father. Would this not be the word to which Peter remains attached and to which he would have us attend, "as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 P 1:19)?

United to the Father, With the Son, in the Holy Ghost

In a word the will of the Father is that we should come to Him through the Son, and with the Son be united to Him in the bond of the Holy Ghost. To carry out the Father's will, then, is to do those things -- shown us by the teachings of Our Lord, by the light of the Holy Ghost, and by the example of the Saints -- by which the Father's love for the Son may be in us, and the Father Himself in us, even as He is in the Son, and the Son in Him.

The Chalice Which My Father Hath Given Me

The priest consecrated to the will of the Father has but one response to those who question him on the meaning of his life: "The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink of it" (Jn 18:11).

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Pope Benedict XVI
Apostolic Journey to Cyprus
5 June 2010

In this Year for Priests, let me address a special word to the priests present today, and to those who are preparing for ordination. Reflect on the words spoken to a newly ordained priest as the Bishop presents him with the chalice and paten: "Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's Cross". As we proclaim the Cross of Christ, let us always strive to imitate the selfless love of the one who offered himself for us on the altar of the Cross, the one who is both priest and victim, the one in whose person we speak and act when we exercise the ministry that we have received. As we reflect on our shortcomings, individually and collectively, let us humbly acknowledge that we have merited the punishment that he, the innocent Lamb, suffered on our behalf. And if, in accordance with what we have deserved, we should have some share in Christ's sufferings, let us rejoice because we will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

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In this segment of my commentary on the Holy Father's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, I propose a reflection on the significance of his choice of the term, "maternal Heart."

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

I was surprised and moved to discover that, in referring to the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Benedict XVI chose, from among any number of expressions possible, that of the Maternal Heart. It was a remarkable English woman, the Venerable Mother Mary Potter (1847-1913), who, with energy and perseverance, devoted herself to promoting the title of the "Maternal Heart."

Mother Potter's Marian Mission

At the end of 1874, Mother Potter received the inner certitude that she and the religious Congregation she was to institute (The Little Company of Mary) were called to foster devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. "We are chosen," wrote Mother Potter,

. . . to promulgate in God's Church an increase of devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. We must increase our love for Our Lady and her sweet Maternal Heart, which makes us desire to propagate that devotion and to lead as many of God's vast family as we can to love and honour that Heart.

For Mother Potter, the Maternal Heart of Mary was a way of life:

Love that Heart, consecrate yourself to it, and make it your constant endeavour to be actuated by all the holy desires, wishes, and prayers that emanated from it. Let your sufferings, your actions, your words, your whole being renew again, on this earth, the life of Mary. To do this you must study Mary; to study her you must enter her Heart and observe its workings.

Desirous of giving an iconographic expression to the Maternal Heart, Mother Potter directed that an existing statue of the Mother of God should be artistically adapted to this end by adding to it the image of a heart surmounted by the lily of Our Lady's immaculate purity, and pierced by the sword of her sorrowful compassion on Mount Calvary.

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A Title Contested and Vindicated

The suitability of the title was the subject of some controversy, the principal objection being that it was novel, and that the Church had not recognized the Maternal Heart by authorizing its cultus in the liturgy. Opening her first house in Rome on 20 May 1884, Mother Potter succeeded in obtaining the blessing of Pope Leo XIII on its designation as the "Convent of the Maternal Heart of Mary." In 1908, after building the heart-shaped chapel of Calvary Hospital (near the Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo) in Rome, Mother Potter was told by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr Carlo Respighi that it could not be dedicated under the title of the "Maternal Heart of Mary," because no such title was in liturgical use. Mother Potter held her ground, and Msgr Respighi was obliged to seek the counsel of the Cardinal Vicar. Shortly thereafter, word reached Mother Potter that Pope Pius X had not only approved of the title "Maternal Heart," but had further directed that a commemoration of the Maternal Heart should be made at every Mass during the octave of the new chapel's dedication.

Consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary

In July 1876, in obedience to Father Edward Selley, a convert from the Church of England, Mother Potter sought in fervent prayer an answer to her desire for a confirmation of her total consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary. After making the Way of the Cross, and asking at each station for an answer to her prayer, Mother Potter received what, to my mind, must be taken as an inner locution on the part of Our Lady:

My child, God, Almighty though He be, after the possession of Himself, cannot give me anything more desirable, more precious, or dearer than souls. This Jesus knew; and at His death, wishing to leave me a measure of His Love, confided the Church in the person of Saint John to my Maternal protection.
Come, then, to me! I am your Mother! An earthly mother can forget her child and lack in pity for it, but your Heavenly Mother will protect you in your day of sorrow. Come, then, to me, and bring to me the Church, which I have borne in my womb from the very time that I bore its Author, Jesus. May the holy vicar of My Son proclaim from his cross that I am the Mother of this Church. May he unite himself with his Master in saying to the nations of the earth, 'Behold your Mother,' and consecrate the Church confided to him, to my Maternal Heart, and I will show myself a Mother.

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Archbishop Kirby Enlisted in the Cause

A letter of Mother Potter, dated 17 September 1891 relates that she entrusted her spiritual director, Archbishop Tobias Kirby (1804-1895), Rector of the Irish College, with a letter to Pope Leo XIII in which she asked the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Five days later -- was it by coincidence? -- Pope Leo XIII addressed the following words to the universal Church in his Encyclical Letter Octobri Mense:

Mary is this glorious intermediary; she is the mighty Mother of the Almighty; but-what is still sweeter - she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. As such God gave her to us. Having chosen her for the Mother of His only begotten Son, He implanted in her a maternal heart that breathes nothing but pardon and love. Such Christ desired she should be, for He consented to be subject to Mary and to obey her as a son a mother. Such He proclaimed her from the cross when he entrusted to her care and love the whole of the race of man in the person of His disciple John. Such, finally, she proves herself by her courage in gathering in the heritage of the enormous labours of her Son, and in accepting the charge of her maternal duties towards us all.
The design of this most dear mercy, realised by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was comprehended at the beginning, and accepted with the utmost joy by the Holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the counsel and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the nations of the Christian age received it with one mind; and even when literature and tradition are silent there is a voice that breaks from every Christian breast and speaks with all eloquence. No other reason is needed that that of a Divine faith which, by a powerful and most pleasant impulse, persuades us towards Mary.

Audience With Leo XIII

On 5 July 1896, shortly before leaving Rome to visit her houses in England, Mother Potter was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII. The Pope spoke to her of the Church's troubles, asking for Mother Potter's prayers and those of her daughters. Then, addressing Mother Potter, the Holy Father asked her if she thought the Church would rise triumphant over her persecutors and emerge from the problems which beset her. Mother Potter answered at once: "Yes, if the Church were consecrated to the Maternal Heart of Mary, she would show herself a Mother." The Holy Father was silent. The Sister translating into Italian for Mother Potter led the Holy Father to believe that she was asking for a liturgical feast in honour of the Maternal Heart. Pope Leo XIII then directed her to make a written petition to this effect and to address it to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. This, of course, was not Mother Potter's primary desire. Her intention was to ask the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Nonethless, she was obedient to the Holy Father's directive, and wrote her request to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. She never received a reply. In fact, she later learned, that the matter was never even discussed!

A Determined Woman

Towards the end of her life, Mother Potter intensified her campaign to obtain the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Among her supporters were Cardinal Merry del Val and the Abbots of Saint Paul's Outside-the-Walls and of Grottaferrata. Mother Potter went so far as to commission a painting of Pope Pius X offering the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary.

Pope Benedict XVI

The Venerable Mother Mary Potter died in 1913, firm in her conviction that God willed the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary by the Supreme Pontiff. Has her desire been fulfilled? One might pass in review the consecrations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary made by Pope Pius XII, the proclamation of the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI at the close of the Second Vatican Council, and the many Marian consecrations made by Pope John Paul II. All of this not withstanding, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI's consecration at Fatima of all the priests of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary, very happily fulfills and crowns Mother Potter's mission and desire. In consecrating all priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, Pope Benedict XVI has, in effect, consecrated the entire Church to her Maternal Heart, for wherever and whenever a priest belongs to Mary by virtue of an act of consecration, multitudes of souls around him are drawn to her Maternal Heart.

Consecrated

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I continue today my commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's consecration of priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary (Fatima, 12 May 2010).

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Consecrate Ourselves to Your Maternal Heart

It is highly significant that the Holy Father uses the verb, "to consecrate" in this prayer addressed to Our Lady. The most complete treatment of the theology of Marian consecration is found in Msgr Arthur Burton Calkins' Totus Tuus, John Paul II's Program of Marian Entrustment and Consecration (1992), soon to appear in an enlarged and revised edition. I also recommend Msgr Calkins' chapter on the same subject in Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (2007).

Consecrated

It is unfortunate that the verb "to consecrate" and, even more, the adjective "consecrated" has acquired in the minds of some Catholics a peculiarly legalistic or canonical connotation. Some would even argue that the term specifically designates or, at least, suggests the state of one bound by the vows of religion. Such a narrow understanding of the term obscures its rich biblical and mystical content.

Set Apart and Made Over to God

The biblical notion of "consecration" pertains to the state of one sanctified by being set apart and "made over to God" after the manner of a sacrifice upon an altar, a holocaust, or an immolation. The destruction of the victim thus made over to God symbolizes that the act of consecration is irrevocable, final, and permanent. To sacrifice means, in fact, to consecrate or to sanctify. Thus does Our Lord Himself pray in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle:

Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
And for them do I sanctify myself,
that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17-19)

Consecration From Above and From Below

First, Our Lord asks His Father to take the Apostles to Himself, to make them entirely and irrevocably His, even as He, the Eternal Son, belongs to the Father. Only by virtue of this consecration (from above) will the Apostles be made fit for their mission into the world. Then, Our Lord, acting as High Priest, consecrates Himself. This consecration (from below) expresses and seals Our Lord's ascent to the altar of the Cross where, exercising His priesthood, He will offer Himself in sacrifice to the Father as a spotless victim.

Priest-Victims

By sacrificing Himself upon the altar of the Cross, Christ, the Eternal High Priest, opens the way for His Apostles, and the generations of priests who will follow after them, to become, with Him, true victims offered (and offering themselves) from every altar whereupon the Sacrifice of the Cross will be made sacramentally present until the end of time.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice: Source and Summit of Consecration

Clearly, there are two modes of consecration: one, from above, and the other, from below. These two modes correspond, respectively, to the descending and ascending mediation of Christ the Priest described in article 7 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Consecration from above is effected when, in response to the prayer of Christ and of the Church, the Father sends the Holy Ghost upon the oblation set before Him by being placed either literally or symbolically upon the altar. The supreme paradigm of this consecration from above, prefigured in the fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-46) is, of course, the Eucharistic Sacrifice. All other consecrations, and first of all those given ritual form in the liturgical books of the Church, derive from and return to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, their source and summit.

Placed Upon the Altar

Consecration from below is effected when, in obedience to an inspiration of divine grace, a person makes the oblation of all that he is and has by placing himself (symbolically) upon the altar. (See, for example, the rites for monastic profession and oblation described in Chapters 58 and 59 of the Rule of Saint Benedict.) This may be an act of personal devotion carried out in a private or even in a para-liturgical setting, or it may be an ecclesial act recognized by the Church and upheld and protected by the appropriate structures set forth in Canon Law.

Saint Augustine

Most helpful is Saint Augustine's definition of sacrifice in Book Ten of The City of God. There, the Doctor of Grace says:

A true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. And therefore even the mercy we show to men, if it is not shown for God's sake, is not a sacrifice. For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it sacrifice meant to indicate. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God.

Consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary

What then are we to make of the use of the same verb "to consecrate" in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, in reference to her immaculate and maternal Heart?

The Heart of Mary: An Altar

In consecration from above and in consecration from below, the altar represents both the place whereupon the victim is blessed, accepted, and ratified (cf. The Roman Canon), and the place whereupon the victim offers and immolates himself with the intention of belonging henceforth to God alone in a true and indissoluble union. I would suggest, then, that the immaculate and maternal Heart of Mary is, by way of analogy, both the altar from which God blesses, accepts, and ratifies one's self-offering, and the altar upon which one offers and immolates oneself with the intention of belonging to God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a true and indissoluble union.

Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

No single analogy is perfect, and that of the altar with the maternal and immaculate Heart of Mary is not without limitations. The most obvious of these is that the Heart of Mary is not an altar of cold inert stone, but a real heart of flesh and blood, pulsating with life, a Heart infused with and diffusing Divine Grace. The Blessed Virgin Mary actively receives and takes into her maternal care all who, by placing themselves upon the altar of her Immaculate Heart, consecrate themselves through her to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

This excerpt from the journal of a priest is an invitation to further reflection on the Heart of Mary as the altar of our consecration:

I offered Myself to the Father
from the altar of My Mother's sorrowful and immaculate Heart.
She accepted, consented to bear the full weight of My sacrifice,
to be the very place from which My holocaust of love blazed up.

She, in turn, offered herself with Me to the Father
from the altar of My Sacred Heart.
There she immolated herself,
becoming one victim with Me
for the redemption of the world.
Her offering was set ablaze in My holocaust
by the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, from our two Hearts,
become two altars,
there rose the sweet fragrance of one single offering:
My oblation upon the altar of her Heart,
and her oblation upon the altar of Mine.

This is, in effect,
what is meant when, using another language,
you speak of My Mother as Co-Redemptrix.
Our two Hearts formed but a single holocaust of love
in the Holy Spirit.

She offered Me her Heart
that it might be My altar,
and I offered her My Heart
that it might be hers.

Any soul desiring to be united to My sacrifice
must begin by consecrating herself
on the pure altar of My Mother's immaculate Heart.
This is the secret of union with Me in My Priesthood,
in My victimhood,
and in the one oblation to the Father
of our two Hearts.


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I began this morning a little commentary on the Holy Father's Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I will have to post it in installments as it emerges from my meditation of the text. Here is the first installment:

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Immaculate Mother

The Holy Father begins by addressing the Virgin Mary in reference to the singular privileges of her Immaculate Conception and her Divine Maternity. Conceived immaculate in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, the Blessed Virgin was, from the first moment of her conception, full of grace, and perfectly prepared for the further gift of Divine Motherhood that would be offered her.

Far from making her indifferent and distant to souls flawed and soiled by both original and actual sin, Our Lady's sinlessness makes her capable of a uniquely pure compassion and of a maternal love that doesn't recoil from intimate spiritual contact with the children of Eve who, in this valley of tears, fall and seek to rise again.

In This Place of Grace

The Holy Father acknowledges that Fatima is a place of grace, that is, a place favoured by God and visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a sacred geography spread over the face of the earth. There is a certain sacramentality of place. It pleases God, and thus pleases the Mother of God, to make of certain precise locations abiding occasions of grace. Clearly, Fatima, is one such place, but there are countless others. Some of these are hidden, humble, and infrequently visited.

Not so very long ago every Catholic Church had an altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God. Some even had a "Lady Chapel," a special space within the larger church graced with an image of the Most Holy Virgin. These local shrines of Our Blessed Lady were, in their own modest and unpretentious way, places of pilgrimage and of grace for people who could never have imagined going to Fatima, Lourdes, Loreto, Guadalupe, Rue du Bac, Jasna Gora, or Knock. How many candles were lighted before Our Lady in humble parish churches? How many furtive visits were made to the foot of her altar? How many tears were shed there? And how many graces and consolations received?

There is a monastic custom dating back to Cluny and even earlier according to which monks would daily make the rounds of the altars in the abbey church, taking special care to tarry before the image of Mary, Queen and Mother of Monks, Refuge of Sinners, and Cause of Our Joy. There are monasteries, even today, where in the pre-dawn darkness before Matins or after Compline, Mary's sons make their way to her image, there to pour out their hearts and to receive her maternal blessing.

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori recommended that the daily visit to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament be completed by a visit to the Madonna Santissima. Children need to be taught, from an early age, to approach the altar (or shrine) of the Blessed Mother in the parish church and to experience it as a place of minor pilgrimage, a sacred destination, a place of grace. Priests do well to give the example of praying before the image of Our Blessed Lady in the parish church. This humble expression of devotion to Mary, still common in my youth, needs to be recovered for the joy and upbuilding of the Church at every level.

Called together by the love of your Son Jesus the Eternal High Priest

Love attracts. Love draws. Love unites. Love calls. The Holy Father acknowledges that the multitude surrounding him at Fatima and, in particular, the bishops and priests who were present, have this in common: they were attracted, drawn, united, and called by Love. The priestly love of Jesus chooses certain men, calls them friends, and unites them to Himself and to one another in His sacrifice: priests made one with The Priest, and victims with The Victim. All whom Jesus the Eternal High Priest draws to His Heart are assumed into His holocaust. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (Jn 12:32). What is true here of "all men" is true, first, of His priests. When a priest is drawn into the mystery of Crucified Love, many souls are drawn there after him; and when a priests resists the drawing of Crucified Love, many souls are held back by his hardness of heart.

We, Sons in the Son and His Priests

The Holy Father's expression is reminiscent, not only of a recurrent theme in the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B., but also of the first published writings of the French mystic, Marie de la Trinité de Mulatier, O.P. (1903-1980). These appeared in 1986 under the title, "Filiation et sacerdoce des chrétiens."

"The world," she writes, "is most opposed to the spirit of priesthood, because it is by the spirit of priesthood that that the spirit of the world will be healed. It is, nonetheless, by the Filial spirit that we must begin, because we go to God only if He draws us to Himself. And the Father first sends forth His Son, before drawing us to Himself. We have no need of the spirit of priesthood to go to the Son, to the Incarnate Word. When we are in contact with the Son, then does the Son give us the priesthood so that, in Him, we may with all that we are, tend towards the Father and be received by Him."

By the gift of Filiation (by adoption) the Father offers Himself to us, precisely as Father. By the gift of participation in the priesthood of Christ, we can offer ourselves to Him in return. The priestly spirit flourishes in souls marked by the filial spirit of confidence, trust, love, and a holy boldness.

Before sharing in the priesthood of Christ, one must share in the grace of His Divine Filiation. While the grace of sonship is unitive, that of priesthood is consecratory. The filial grace and the sacerdotal grace are both perfected by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. By the former God unites us to Himself as beloved sons to their Father, and by the latter we make an act of oblation consecrating ourselves as victims pleasing to God.

"Priesthood and Filiation," writes Marie de la Trinité "are not rewards, but are pure gifts granted us . . . not for any pre-existing holiness of ours, but for the sake of a potential holiness. . . . Sinners that we are, fully conscious of our guilt, and graced by the goodness of the Father with the gifts of priesthood and of Filiation, we need not wait to be fully purified and restored before making use of these gifts, or before having completed the expiation due to the Holiness and Majesty of the Father."

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Guests Not Lacking

We are living days of grace here at the Monastery of Our Lady of Cenacle. Our guest accommodations are filled to capacity. Priests from Washington, DC.; Richmond, Virginia; Denver, Colorado; and seminarians from Tulsa, OK; Lafayette, LA; and Austin, TX are among those whom we are privileged to receive as Christ. On Saturday morning, we will be at Holy Family Cathedral for the ordination of Kerry John Wakulich to the priesthood, and of Jorge Alfonso Gómez Alvarado to the diaconate.

The Inner Monk of the Diocesan Priest

One of the emerging characteristics of our little community is the inclusion of clerical guests in the monastic rhythm of prayer, Eucharistic adoration, and even in the daily chapter, a conference on the Rule of Saint Benedict that follows Lauds each morning. A number of men have come to discover what Father Andrew Wadsworth so aptly calls "the monastic heart of the diocesan priest." The etymology of the word "monk" has to do with being single, alone, and singlehearted. In every diocesan priest there is an "inner monk" waiting to be strengthened, consoled, and built up for the sake of the whole Body of Christ and in view of the pressing demands of the sacred ministry in the parochial context. By the grace of God, this spiritual care for every priest's "inner monk" is something that we,
who are called to be both "inner" and "outward" monks, can offer the Church.

And for those of you who have not had a moment to read and meditate it, here is the Holy Father's magnificent address at last Wednesday's audience:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Called to Govern and to Guide

The Year for Priests is coming to an end; that is why in the last catecheses I began to speak about the essential tasks of the priest, namely: to teach, to sanctify and to govern. I have already given two catecheses, one on the ministry of sanctification, above all the sacraments, and one on teaching. Hence, it remains for me today to speak about the mission of the priest to govern, to guide -- with the authority of Christ, not his own -- the portion of the people that God has entrusted to him.

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Authority

In contemporary culture, how can such a dimension be understood, involving as it does the concept of authority and with its origin in the Lord's own mandate to feed his flock? What is authority really for us Christians? The cultural, political and historical experiences of the recent past, above all the dictatorships in Eastern and Western Europe in the 20th century, made contemporary man suspicious in addressing this concept. A suspicion that, not rarely, is expressed in upholding as necessary an abandonment of all authority that does not come exclusively from men and is subject to them, controlled by them. But precisely a glance at the regimes that in the past century sowed terror and death, reminds us forcefully that authority, in every realm, if it is exercised without reference to the Transcendent, if it does away with the supreme Authority, which is God, ends inevitably by turning against man.

For the Good of the Person

Hence, it is important to recognize that human authority is never an end, but always and only a means and that, necessarily and in every age, the end is always the person, created by God with his own intangible dignity and called to relationship with the Creator himself, in the earthly journey of existence and in eternal life. It is an authority exercised in responsibility before God, before the Creator. An authority thus understood, which has as its only objective to serve the true good of persons and to lucidity to the only Supreme Good that is God, not only is not foreign to men but, on the contrary, is a precious help in the journey toward full realization in Christ, toward salvation.

In the Name of Jesus

The Church is called and is committed to exercise this type of authority that is service, and she exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, who received from the Father all power in heaven and on earth (cf. Matthew 28:18). In fact, Christ feeds his flock through the pastors of the Church: It is he who guides it, protects it, corrects it, because he loves it profoundly.

To Guide, Animate, and Sustain

But the Lord Jesus, Supreme Shepherd of our souls, willed that the Apostolic College, today the bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter, and priests, their most valuable collaborators, should participate in his mission to take care of the People of God, to be educators in the faith, guiding, animating and sustaining the Christian community or, as the Council says, seeing to it that the "faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6).

Gentle With the Weakest

Hence, every pastor is the means through which Christ himself loves men: It is through our ministry -- dear priests -- it is through us that the Lord gathers souls, instructs them, protects them, and guides them. In his commentary to the Gospel of St. John, St. Augustine says: "may it be, therefore, a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord" (123,5); this is the supreme norm of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, such as that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, open to all, attentive to neighbors and solicitous toward those far away (cf. St. Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle with the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. Id. Letter 95, 1).

Living Friendship With Christ

If such a pastoral task is founded on the sacrament, nevertheless its efficacy is not independent of the personal existence of the presbyter. To be a pastor according to the heart of God (cf. Jeremiah 3:15) there must be a profound rootedness in living friendship with Christ, not only of the intelligence, but also of liberty and of the will, a clear awareness of the identity received in priestly ordination, an unconditional willingness to guide the entrusted flock where the Lord wishes and not in the direction that, apparently, seems more suitable and easy. That requires, first of all, the continuous and progressive willingness to let Christ himself govern the priestly existence of the presbyters. In fact, no one is really capable of feeding Christ's flock if he does not live a profound and real obedience to Christ and to the Church, and the docility itself of the people to their priests depends on the docility of priests to Christ; because of this, at the base of pastoral ministry is always the personal and constant encounter with the Lord, profound knowledge of him, conforming one's will to the will of Christ.

Hierarchy: Sacred Origin

In the last decades, the adjective "pastoral" has often been used almost in opposition to the concept of "hierarchical," exactly as the idea "communion" has also been interpreted in the very same opposition. This is perhaps the point where a brief observation might be useful on the word "hierarchy," which is the traditional designation of the structure of sacramental authority in the Church, ordered according to the three levels of the sacrament of holy orders: episcopate, presbyterate, diaconate. Prevailing in public opinion, for this reality of "hierarchy," is the element of subordination and the juridical element; because of this for many the idea of hierarchy appears in contrast to the flexibility and the vitality of the pastoral sense and even contrary to the humility of the Gospel. But this is a badly understood sense of hierarchy, caused also historically by abuses of authority and careerism, which are in fact abuses and do not stem from the very being of the reality of "hierarchy."

The common opinion is that "hierarchy" is always something linked to domination and thus does not correspond to the true sense of the Church, of unity in the love of Christ. But, as I have said, this is a mistaken interpretation, which has its origin in abuses of history, but does not correspond to the true meaning of what the hierarchy is.

Let us begin with the word. Generally, it is said that the meaning of the world hierarchy is "sacred dominion," but the real meaning is not this, it is "sacra origine," that is: This authority does not come from man himself, but has its origin in the sacred, in the sacrament; hence it subjects the person to the vocation, to the mystery of Christ; it makes of the individual a servant of Christ and only insofar as he is a servant of Christ can he govern, guide for Christ and with Christ. Because of this, whoever enters in the sacred order of the sacrament, the "hierarchy," is not an autocrat, but enters in a new bond of obedience to Christ: he is tied to him in communion with the other members of the sacred order, of the priesthood. And even the Pope -- point of reference for all the other pastors and for the communion of the Church -- cannot do what he wants; on the contrary, the Pope is custodian of the obedience to Christ, to his word taken up again in the "regula fidei," in the Creed of the Church, and must proceed in obedience to Christ and to his Church. Hence, hierarchy implies a triple bond: first of all, the one with Christ and the order given by the Lord to his Church; then the bond with the other pastors in the one communion of the Church; and, finally, the bond with the faithful entrusted to the individual, in the order of the Church.

Hierarchical Communion

Hence, it is understood that communion and hierarchy are not contrary to one another, but condition each other. Together they are only one thing (hierarchical communion). Hence, the pastor is pastor precisely when guiding and protecting the flock and at times impeding its dispersal. Outside a clearly and explicitly supernatural vision, the task of governing proper to priests is not comprehensible. But, sustained by true love for the salvation of each member of the faithful, it is particularly precious and necessary also in our time. If the goal is to take the proclamation of Christ and lead men to the salvific encounter with him so that they will have life, the task of guiding is configured as a service lived in total donation for the upbuilding of the flock in truth and in sanctity, often going against the current and remembering that the one who is the greatest must be made the smallest, and one who governs, must be as one who serves (cf. Lumen Gentium, 27).

The Humble Kingship of the Cross

Where can a priest today get the strength for such exercise of his ministry, in full fidelity to Christ and to the Church, with a total dedication to the flock? There is only one answer: in Christ the Lord. Jesus' way of governing is not that of domination, but it is the humble and loving service of the washing of the feet, and Christ's kingship over the universe is not an earthly triumph, but finds its culmination on the wood of the cross, which becomes judgment for the world and point of reference for the exercise of authority that is the true expression of pastoral charity. The saints, and among them St. John Mary Vianney, exercised with love and dedication the task of caring for the portion of the People of God entrusted to them, showing also that they were strong and determined men, with the sole objective of promoting the true good of souls, able to pay in person, to the point of martyrdom, to remain faithful to the truth and to the justice of the Gospel.

Give the Hope that God Is Near

Dear priests, "tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by constraint but willingly, [...] be examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2). Hence, do not be afraid to lead to Christ each of the brothers that he has entrusted to you, certain that every word and every attitude, if stemming from obedience to the will of God, will bear fruit; know how to live appreciating the merits and acknowledging the limits of the culture in which we find ourselves, with the firm certainty that the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest service that can be done to man. In fact, there is no greater good in this earthly life, than to lead men to God, reawaken faith, raise man from inertia and despair, to give the hope that God is near and guides personal history and that of the world.

In Labor Until Christ Be Formed in You

This, in sum, is the profound and ultimate meaning of the task of governing that the Lord has entrusted to us. It is about forming Christ in believers, through that process of sanctification that is conversion of criteria, of the scale of values, of attitudes, to let Christ live in every faithful. St. Paul thus summarizes his pastoral action: "My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!" (Galatians 4:19).

Pray for Me, the Successor of Peter

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to invite you to pray for me, the Successor of Peter who has a specific task in governing the Church of Christ, as well as for all your bishops and priests. Pray that we will be able to take care of all the sheep of the flock entrusted to us, also those who are lost. To you, dear priests, I address a cordial invitation to the closing celebrations of the Year for Priests, next June 9, 10 and 11, here in Rome: we will meditate on conversion and mission, on the priestly gift, sustained by all the People of God. Thank you!

Do Not Tire of Visiting Us

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Tonight, at least, I have no words to express what I perceive to be the significance of this Act of Consecration in the context of The Year of the Priest. I have nothing but joy, and an immense gratitude to the Holy Father.

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

We are mindful that, without Jesus,
we can do nothing good (cf. Jn 15:5)
and that only through him, with him and in him,
will we be instruments of salvation
for the world.

Bride of the Holy Spirit,
obtain for us the inestimable gift
of transformation in Christ.
Through the same power of the Spirit that
overshadowed you,
making you the Mother of the Saviour,
help us to bring Christ your Son
to birth in ourselves too.
May the Church
be thus renewed by priests who are holy,
priests transfigured by the grace of him
who makes all things new.

Mother of Mercy,
it was your Son Jesus who called us
to become like him:
light of the world and salt of the earth
(cf. Mt 5:13-14).

Help us,
through your powerful intercession,
never to fall short of this sublime vocation,
nor to give way to our selfishness,
to the allurements of the world
and to the wiles of the Evil One.

Preserve us with your purity,
guard us with your humility
and enfold us with your maternal love
that is reflected in so many souls
consecrated to you,
who have become for us
true spiritual mothers.

Mother of the Church,
we priests want to be pastors
who do not feed themselves
but rather give themselves to God for their brethren,
finding their happiness in this.
Not only with words, but with our lives,
we want to repeat humbly,
day after day,
Our "here I am".

Guided by you,
we want to be Apostles
of Divine Mercy,
glad to celebrate every day
the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar
and to offer to those who request it
the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Advocate and Mediatrix of grace,
you who are fully immersed
in the one universal mediation of Christ,
invoke upon us, from God,
a heart completely renewed
that loves God with all its strength
and serves mankind as you did.

Repeat to the Lord
your efficacious word:
"They have no wine" (Jn 2:3),
so that the Father and the Son will send upon us
a new outpouring of
the Holy Spirit.
Full of wonder and gratitude
at your continuing presence in our midst,
in the name of all priests
I too want to cry out:
"Why is this granted me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).

Our Mother for all time,
do not tire of "visiting us",
consoling us, sustaining us.
Come to our aid
and deliver us from every danger
that threatens us.
With this act of entrustment and consecration,
we wish to welcome you
more deeply, more radically,
for ever and totally
into our human and priestly lives.

Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth
in the desert of our loneliness,
let it cause the sun to shine on our darkness,
let it restore calm after the tempest,
so that all mankind shall see the salvation
of the Lord,
who has the name and the face of Jesus,
who is reflected in our hearts,
for ever united to yours!

Amen!

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For an explanation of the Port Arthur Icon of the Triumph of the Theotokos, go here.

The Virgin Mary is she who more than any other contemplated God
in the human Face of Jesus.
She saw Him as a newborn when, wrapped in swaddling clothes,
He was placed in a manger;
she saw Him when, just after his death,
they took Him down from the cross,
wrapped Him in linen and placed Him in the sepulcher.
Inside her was impressed the image of her martyred Son;
but this image was then transfigured in the light of the Resurrection.
Thus in Mary's heart was carried the mystery of the Face of Christ,
a mystery of death and of glory.
From her we can always learn how to look upon Jesus
with a gaze of love and of faith,
to recognize in that human countenance, the Face of God.

Pope Benedict XVI,
At the Regina Caeli, 2 May 2010

An Icon Written in Blood

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Here is the Zenit translation of the Holy Father's address after viewing the Holy Shroud of Turin on Sunday, 2 May 2010. I am especially moved by the Holy Father's words on the wound in Our Lord's Sacred Side. "A spring," he calls it, "that speaks in silence.

Dear Friends,

The Icon of Holy Saturday

This is a moment that I have been waiting for for quite some time. I have found myself before the sacred Shroud on another occasion but this time I am experiencing this pilgrimage and this pause with particular intensity: perhaps because the years make me more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary icon; perhaps, and I would say above all, because I am here as Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, all of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this pilgrimage, and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation, which was suggested to me by the title of this solemn exhibition: "The Mystery of Holy Saturday." One could say that the Shroud is the icon of this mystery, the icon of Holy Saturday. It is in fact a winding sheet, which covered the corpse of a man who was crucified, corresponding to everything that the Gospels say of Jesus, who was crucified about noon and died at about 3 in the afternoon.

Infinite Value and Meaning

Once evening came, since it was Parasceve, the eve of the solemn Sabbath of Passover, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and influential member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate to be able to bury Jesus in his new tomb, that he had made in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having received the permission, he bought linen and, taking the body of Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the linen and put him in that tomb (cf. Mark 15:42-46). This is what is related by the Gospel of St. Matthew and the other evangelists. From that moment, Jesus remained in the sepulcher until the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, and the Shroud of Turin offers us the image of how his body was stretched out in the tomb during that time, which was brief chronologically (about a day and a half), but was immense, infinite in its value and its meaning.

Great Silence and Solitude

Holy Saturday is the day of God's concealment, as one reads in an ancient homily: "What happened? Today there is great silence upon the earth, great silence and solitude. Great silence because the King sleeps ... God died in the flesh and descended to make the kingdom of hell ('gli inferi') tremble" ("Homily on Holy Saturday," PG 43, 439). In the Creed we confess that Jesus Christ "was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried; he descended into hell ('negli inferi'), and the third day he rose again from the dead."

God's Concealment

Dear brothers and sisters, in our time, especially after having passed through the last century, humanity has become especially sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. God's concealment is part of the spirituality of contemporary man, in an existential manner, almost unconscious, as an emptiness that continues to expand in the heart. At the end of the 18th century, Nietzsche wrote: "God is dead! And we have killed him!" This celebrated expression, if we consider it carefully, is taken almost word for word from the Christian tradition, we often repeat it in the Via Crucis, perhaps not fully realizing what we are saying. After the two World Wars, the concentration camps, the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become in ever great measure a Holy Saturday: the darkness of this day questions all those who ask about life, it questions us believers in a special way. We too have something to do with this darkness.

A Font of Consolation and Hope

And nevertheless, the death of the Son of God, of Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite aspect, totally positive; it is a font of consolation and hope. And this makes me think that the sacred Shroud acts as a "photographic" document, with a "positive" and a "negative." And in effect, this is exactly how it is: The most obscure mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous sign of a hope without limits. Holy Saturday is the "no man's land" between death and resurrection, but into this "no man's land" has entered the One, the Only One, who has crossed it with the signs of his passion for man: "Passio Christi. Passio hominis." And the Shroud speaks to us precisely of that moment; it witnesses precisely to the unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe, in which God, in Jesus Christ, shared not only our dying, but also our remaining in death. The most radical solidarity. In that "time-beyond-time" Jesus Christ "descended into hell" ("agli inferi") What does this expression mean? It means that God, made man, went to the point of entering into the extreme and absolute solitude of man, where no ray of love enters, where there is total abandonment without any word of comfort: "hell" ("gli inferi"). Jesus Christ, remaining in death, has gone beyond the gates of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to go beyond it with him.

Love Penetrated Into Hell

We have all at times felt a frightening sensation of abandonment, and that which makes us most afraid of death is precisely this [abandonment]; just as when as children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and only the presence of a person who loves us could reassure us. So, it is exactly this that happened in Holy Saturday: In the kingdom of death there resounded the voice of God. The unthinkable happened: that Love penetrated "into hell" ("negli inferi"): that in the most extreme darkness of the most absolute human solitude we can hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes us and leads us out. The human being lives by the fact that he is loved and can love; and if love even has penetrated into the realm of death, then life has also arrived there. In the hour of extreme solitude we will never be alone: "Passio Christi. Passio hominis."

Like A Spring That Speaks in Silence

This is the mystery of Holy Saturday! It is from there, from the darkness of the death of the Son of God, that the light of a new hope has shone: the light of the Resurrection. And it seems to me that looking upon this cloth with the eyes of faith one perceives something of this light. In effect, the Shroud was immersed in that profound darkness, but it is luminous at the same time; and I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to see it -- without counting those who contemplate copies of it -- it is because in it they do not see only darkness, but also light; not so much the defeat of life and love but rather victory, victory of life over death, of love over hatred; they indeed see the death of Jesus, but glimpse his resurrection [too]; in the heart of death there now beats life, inasmuch as love lives there. This is the power of the Shroud: from the countenance of this "Man of sorrows," who takes upon himself man's passion of every time and every place, even our passion, our suffering, our difficulties, our sins -- "Passio Christi. Passio hominis" -- from this moment there emanates a solemn majesty, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks, it is itself a word that we can hear in silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an icon written in blood; the blood of a man who has been scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and wounded in his right side. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that large mark near the side, made by blood and water that poured copiously from a great wound caused by a Roman spear, that blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that speaks in silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it, in the silence of Holy Saturday.

The Shroud: A Word of Love

Dear friends, let us praise the Lord always for his faithful and merciful love. Departing from this holy place, we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, we carry in our heart this word of love, and we praise God with a life full of faith, of love and of charity.

Thank you.

[Zenit Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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This morning at the end of Holy Mass, we chanted Psalm 19 for the Holy Father on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of his election.

PSALM 19

The Lord listen to thee in thy time of need, *
the power of Israel's God be thy protection!

May he send thee aid from his holy place, *
watch over thee, there on mount Sion;

may he remember all thy offerings, *
and find savour in thy burnt sacrifice.

May he grant thee what thy heart desires, *
crown thy hopes with fulfilment.

So may we rejoice at thy deliverance, +
rallied in the name of the Lord our God; *
abundantly may he grant thy prayer.

Shall I doubt that the Lord protects the king he has anointed, +
will listen to him from his sanctuary in heaven? *
Is not his right hand strong to save?

Let others talk of horses and chariots; *
our refuge is the name of the Lord our God.

Stumbled and fallen they, *
while we stand firm on our feet.

O Lord, save the king, *
and hear us in the hour when we call upon thee.

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"Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect."

The Holy Father's address to young people in Malta will not, in all likelihood, get much coverage in the secular media. And yet, how much the world needs to hear that hatred and anger can be swept away by the power of Christ's love!

Changed Forever

Saint Paul, as a young man, had an experience that changed him for ever. As you know, he was once an enemy of the Church, and did all he could to destroy it. While he was travelling to Damascus, intending to hunt down any Christians he could find there, the Lord appeared to him in a vision. A blinding light shone around him and he heard a voice saying, "Why do you persecute me? ... I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:4-5). Paul was completely overcome by this encounter with the Lord, and his whole life was transformed. He became a disciple, and went on to be a great apostle and missionary. Here in Malta, you have particular reason to give thanks for Paul's missionary labours, which spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean.

An Overwhelming Experience of Love

Every personal encounter with Jesus is an overwhelming experience of love. Previously, as Paul himself admits, he had "persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it" (Gal 1:13). But the hatred and anger expressed in those words was completely swept away by the power of Christ's love. For the rest of his life, Paul had a burning desire to carry the news of that love to the ends of the earth.

God Knows Our Strengths and Our Faults

Maybe some of you will say to me, Saint Paul is often severe in his writings. How can I say that he was spreading a message of love? My answer is this. God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine. And he knows us intimately, he knows all our strengths and all our faults. Because he loves us so much, he wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance. When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect. That is what he asked of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect.

Do Not Be Afraid

Saint John tells us that perfect love casts out fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). And so I say to all of you, "Do not be afraid!" How many times we hear those words in the Scriptures! They are addressed by the angel to Mary at the Annunciation, by Jesus to Peter when calling him to be a disciple, and by the angel to Paul on the eve of his shipwreck. To all of you who wish to follow Christ, as married couples, as parents, as priests, as religious, as lay faithful bringing the message of the Gospel to the world, I say, do not be afraid! You may well encounter opposition to the Gospel message. Today's culture, like every culture, promotes ideas and values that are sometimes at variance with those lived and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ. Often they are presented with great persuasive power, reinforced by the media and by social pressure from groups hostile to the Christian faith. It is easy, when we are young and impressionable, to be swayed by our peers to accept ideas and values that we know are not what the Lord truly wants for us. That is why I say to you: do not be afraid, but rejoice in his love for you; trust him, answer his call to discipleship, and find nourishment and spiritual healing in the sacraments of the Church.

Aqua Sapientiae

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Tuesday of Pascha

Proper of the Mass

Those of you who follow the preaching of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will have noticed how consistently he comments on the Proper of the Mass. The Proper of the Mass -- the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Sequence (when there is one), Offertory, and Communion -- are those chants, drawn principally from Sacred Scripture, that form the context for the other variable elements of every Mass: the Collect, Prayer Over the Gifts, Postcommunion Prayer and, of course, the Word of God given us in the Lectionary.

One cannot ignore the Proper of the Mass without deconstructing the theological architecture of the celebration. The Proper Chants of the Mass are not decorative, they are structural. Decorative elements can be changed or moved at will; structural elements cannot. When they are displaced, the harmonious whole of the Mass disintegrates.

Paschal Introits

This being said, let us look at two elements in today's Mass: the Introit and the Sequence. Today we have the third Introit of Pascha. The first, on Easter Sunday morning, allowed us to hear, and participate in, the ineffable conversation of the Risen Son with His Father: "I arose and am still with you, alleluia: you have laid your hand upon me, alleluia: your knowledge is wonderful, alleluia, alleluia (Ps 138:18, 5-6).

The second, yesterday morning, was addressed to the newly-baptized: "The Lord has brought you into a land flowing with milk and honey, alleluia; that the law of the Lord may be ever in your mouth, alleluia, alleluia (Ex 13:5-9).

Water to Drink

Today's Introit, drawn from the book of Ecclesiasticus, recalls what happened to the catechumens baptized in the night of Pascha: "He gave them the water of wisdom to drink, alleluia: it shall be made strong in them and shall not be moved, alleluia, and it shall raise them up forever, alleluia, alleluia" (Ecclus 15:3-4).

This water of wisdom is the very water that Our Lord promised to the Samaritan woman on the Third Sunday of Lent. "He that shall drink of the water that I will give him," says Jesus, "shall not thirst for ever: but the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting" (Jn 4:13-14). It is the water of divine grace, the water of Trinitarian life that gushes from the Open Side of the Crucified and Risen Lord, irrigating the souls of the baptized, and making the Church resplendent with holiness. This is an unfailing stream of water. It is an impetuous torrent that will never dry up, because its source is in God. Those who yield to its power will be carried into God to live in His Love and in His Light forever.

The Sacraments

The Aqua sapientiae, the water of wisdom, reaches us, and irrigates our souls, through the channels of the sacraments. One who stays away from the sacraments will suffer from spiritual drought. The fruits of the Holy Spirit will become scarce. Those that do appear will be paltry and, in the end, will dry up. Sin creates a blockage in the irrigation of the soul. Confession and absolution removes the obstacles that clog the flow of grace. Many of you are looking toward the festival of Divine Mercy this coming Sunday: the Sacrament of Penance renews the grace of Baptism, and opens the heart to the living water that flows from the pierced Heart of the Merciful Christ.

Victimae Paschali Laudes

The second element of today's Mass that merits special attention is the Sequence. It is about one thousand years old. The word Sequence means something that follows another: the Sequence of the Mass follows the Alleluia and, in a sense, springs out of it.

Father Maurice Zundel writes of the Sequence in characteristically poetic terms. This is what he says:

When the Alleluia, having soared to its highest point, bends earthward once more to return to vocal chant, a rocket, as it were, dissolves into sparkling stars, the neums spread out into a shower and give rise to the Sequence.

The Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes, is attributed to one Wipo (died c. 1050), a court chaplain of the emperors Conrad II and Henry III. It is the most popular of the medieval Sequences. It inspired countless para-liturgical dramas or vivid representations of Mary Magdalene in dialogue with the Apostles within the context of the liturgy itself.

Praise to the Lamb

The first and second verses of the Victimae Paschali Laudes call the sheep, all who share in the redemption wrought by Christ, to offer their praises to Christ the immolated Lamb. Jesus, the "lamb without blemish" (Ex 12:5), reconciles sinners, sheep marred by sin, to the Father (cf. Is 53:6).

Prince of Life

The third verse describes the Passion as an epic struggle between death and the Prince of Life. It echoes 1 Corinthians 15:54-55: "Death is swallowed up in victory." We call our Lord the Dux vitae, the Prince of Life, and the One who leads us into life with Himself.

Mary Magdalene

In the fourth verse, the Apostles interrogate Mary Magdalene: "Tell us, Mary, what thou sawest, as thou wentest on the way." Mary Magdalene, the apostola apostolorum, replies by singing of the glory of the risen Christ (cf. Jn 20:18), of bright angels (cf. Mk 16:5 and Lk 24:4) and of the empty tomb (cf. Jn 20:12-13). She proclaims to the apostles that "Christ, her hope is risen," and obedient to the Lord's injunction (Mt 28:10), announces that he goes before his own into Galilee.

The Victor King

The final verse, a triumphant confession of Christ's resurrection, is sung in unison by the entire chorus: the faithful, Mary Magdalene, and apostles. The very last line, a plea for mercy, addresses Jesus as Victor Rex, the Victor King (cf. Rev 19:16).

What Earlier Generations Held As Sacred

Pope Benedict XVI has given us a guiding principle that we need to put into practice with a joyful docility. Listen to what he says:

What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

Past, Present, and Future

The Holy Father is setting an example for the whole Church by restoring, with serenity and determination, elements of our Catholic patrimony that were in danger of being relegated to museums. By doing this, he is teaching us that the Church remains forever young: that being Catholic means that nothing of what the Holy Spirit has given to the Church is locked in an irretrievable past. One who negates the past, or attempts to put its treasures into storage, negates the future, and impedes the grace of new life. "Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Dt 30:19). Christ, our Hope, is risen, and goes before us.


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Dear friends, let us learn from the Lord Jesus not to judge and not to condemn our neighbor. Let us learn to be intransigent with sin -- beginning with our own! -- and indulgent with people. May we be helped in this by the Holy Mother of God, who, free of every fault, is the mediatrix of grace for every contrite sinner.

Pope Benedict XVI, March 21, 2010
Angelus Address


There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady. . . . In our day, Our Lady has been given to us as the best defence against the evils that afflict modern life; Marian devotion is the sure guarantee of her maternal protection and safeguard in the hour of temptation.

Pope Benedict XVI, May 11, 2007
Homily at the Canonization of Saint Antonio de Sant'Ana Galvão

Thank you, Most Holy Father

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Healing, Renewal, and Reparation


1. Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.

As you know, I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here in Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the past and to outline the steps they have taken to respond to this grave situation. Together with senior officials of the Roman Curia, I listened to what they had to say, both individually and as a group, as they offered an analysis of mistakes made and lessons learned, and a description of the programmes and protocols now in place. Our discussions were frank and constructive. I am confident that, as a result, the bishops will now be in a stronger position to carry forward the work of repairing past injustices and confronting the broader issues associated with the abuse of minors in a way consonant with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel.

2. For my part, considering the gravity of these offences, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church. Nevertheless, the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with courage and determination. No one imagines that this painful situation will be resolved swiftly. Real progress has been made, yet much more remains to be done. Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God's grace.

At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember "the rock from which you were hewn" (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

3. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like Saint Columbanus spread the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval monastic culture. The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent wisdom born of the Christian faith found expression in the building of churches and monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and hospitals, all of which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of Europe. Those Irish missionaries drew their strength and inspiration from the firm faith, strong leadership and upright morals of the Church in their native land.

From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Saint Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel. After Catholic Emancipation, the Church was free to grow once more. Families and countless individuals who had preserved the faith in times of trial became the catalyst for the great resurgence of Irish Catholicism in the nineteenth century. The Church provided education, especially for the poor, and this was to make a major contribution to Irish society. Among the fruits of the new Catholic schools was a rise in vocations: generations of missionary priests, sisters and brothers left their homeland to serve in every continent, especially in the English-speaking world. They were remarkable not only for their great numbers, but for the strength of their faith and the steadfastness of their pastoral commitment. Many dioceses, especially in Africa, America and Australia, benefited from the presence of Irish clergy and religious who preached the Gospel and established parishes, schools and universities, clinics and hospitals that served both Catholics and the community at large, with particular attention to the needs of the poor.

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone - a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle - who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.

4. In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people's traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.

Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.

5. On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, "to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes" (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God's people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ's body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal. I now turn to you with words that come from my heart, and I wish to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

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6. To the victims of abuse and their families

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ's own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love - even in the darkest and most hopeless situations - to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.

Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God's children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church - a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity - you will come to rediscover Christ's infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.

7. To priests and religious who have abused children

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and in our actions. Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life.

I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. Sincere repentance opens the door to God's forgiveness and the grace of true amendment. By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ's redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from even the most terrible evil. At the same time, God's justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy.

8. To parents

You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that took place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all. In today's world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children. They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of their identity and worth. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness. This noble but demanding task is entrusted in the first place to you, their parents. I urge you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to implement the measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in parish and school environments. As you carry out your vital responsibilities, be assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my prayers.

9. To the children and young people of Ireland

I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age. Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church's members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8). He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart. Together with your fellow Catholics in Ireland, I look to you to be faithful disciples of our Lord and to bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.

10. To the priests and religious of Ireland

All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse. In view of the outrage and indignation which this has provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and your religious communities, many of you feel personally discouraged, even abandoned. I am also aware that in some people's eyes you are tainted by association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the misdeeds of others. At this painful time, I want to acknowledge the dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and I invite you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of his Church and your confidence in the Gospel's promise of redemption, forgiveness and interior renewal. In this way, you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (cf. Rom 5:20).

I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors. Yet, it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly evangelical, just and effective. Above all, I urge you to become ever more clearly men and women of prayer, courageously following the path of conversion, purification and reconciliation. In this way, the Church in Ireland will draw new life and vitality from your witness to the Lord's redeeming power made visible in your lives.

11. To my brother bishops

It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence. Clearly, religious superiors should do likewise. They too have taken part in recent discussions here in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and consistent approach to these matters. It is imperative that the child safety norms of the Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that they be applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.

Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily. For them, in the words of Saint Augustine, you are a bishop; yet with them you are called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Sermon 340, 1). I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your pastoral concern for all the members of your flock. In particular, I ask you to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of each one of your priests. Set them an example by your own lives, be close to them, listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this difficult time and stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the service of their brothers and sisters.

The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part in the life of the Church. See that they are formed in such a way that they can offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the midst of modern society (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more fully in the Church's life and mission. This in turn will help you once again become credible leaders and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ.

12. To all the faithful of Ireland

A young person's experience of the Church should always bear fruit in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving, nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church. In confronting the present crisis, measures to deal justly with individual crimes are essential, yet on their own they are not enough: a new vision is needed, to inspire present and future generations to treasure the gift of our common faith. By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.

13. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is out of deep concern for all of you at this painful time in which the fragility of the human condition has been so starkly revealed that I have wished to offer these words of encouragement and support. I hope that you will receive them as a sign of my spiritual closeness and my confidence in your ability to respond to the challenges of the present hour by drawing renewed inspiration and strength from Ireland's noble traditions of fidelity to the Gospel, perseverance in the faith and steadfastness in the pursuit of holiness.In solidarity with all of you, I am praying earnestly that, by God's grace, the wounds afflicting so many individuals and families may be healed and that the Church in Ireland may experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.

14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God's mercy and the Holy Spirit's gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God's own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32).

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the Visitation, which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be made in cooperation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the Irish Episcopal Conference. The details will be announced in due course.

I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church.

In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure of Saint John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the mystery of the priesthood. "The priest", he wrote, "holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods." The Curé d'Ars understood well how greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest: "A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy." Through the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, may the priesthood in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole Church in Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.

I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will be involved in the work of organizing the Apostolic Visitation and the Mission, as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already working for the safety of children in church environments. Since the time when the gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and remedy it. While no effort should be spared in improving and updating existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the current safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow.

I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has occurred in our beloved Church. As you make use of this prayer in your families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary protect and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified and risen. With great affection and unswerving confidence in God's promises, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord.

From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

Prayer for the Church in Ireland

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.

Amen.

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I was inspired to offer a little commentary on the brilliant address that the Holy Father gave this morning to the International Theological Conference, "Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest," organized by the Congregation for Clergy. My remarks are in italics.

The Priest: A Man Strange to Common Opinion

In the context of widespread secularization, which progressively excludes God from the public sphere and, by tendency, also from the shared social conscience, the priest often seems "strange" to common opinion, precisely because of the more fundamental aspects of his ministry, such as being a man of the sacred, removed from the world to intercede in favor of the world, constituted in that mission by God and not by men (cf. Hebrews 5:1).

The Holy Father defines the priest as (1) a man of the sacred, (2) removed from the world to intercede in favor of the world, (3) constituted in that mission by God and not by men. This three-fold definition of the priest stands in marked contrast to any number of "spiritualities of priesthood" that have been marketed and, alas, too often consumed over the past forty years. The Holy Father's words remind me of the text of Father Lacordaire that I first read many years ago in the rectory office of my home parish where it was displayed in a frame on the wall:

To live in the midst of the world,
Without wishing its pleasures;
To be a member of each family,
yet belonging to none;
To share all sufferings,
To penetrate all secrets;
To heal all wounds;
To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers;
To return from God to men,
To bring pardon and hope!
To have a heart of fire for Charity,
And a heart of bronze for Chastity;
To teach and to pardon,
To console and to bless always.
My God! What a life!
And it is thine, O Priest of Jesus Christ.

A History of Grandeur and Holiness

For this reason, it is important to overcome the dangerous reductionism that, in past decades, using categories that were more functional than ontological, has presented the priest almost as a "social agent," running the risk of betraying the priesthood of Christ itself. Just as the hermeneutic of continuity is increasingly revealed as urgent to understand in an appropriate way the texts of the Second Vatican Council, similarly an hermeneutic seems necessary that we could describe "of priestly continuity," which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and going through the 2,000 years of the history of grandeur and holiness, of culture and piety, which the priesthood has written in the world, arrives at our days.

What a brilliant expression the Holy Father gives us here: an hermeneutic of priestly continuity. For two thousand years the priesthood of Jesus Christ continued in His Church has enriched the world with a history of grandeur and of holiness, of culture and of piety. This is a truth that, when it is not altogether forgotten, is certainly overlooked in the present crisis.

The Charism of Prophecy

Dear brother priests, at this time in which we live it is especially important that the call to participate in the one priesthood of Christ in the ordained ministry flower in the "charism of prophecy": There is a great need of priests that speak of God to the world and that present God to the world; men not subject to ephemeral cultural ways, but capable of living in an authentic way that liberty that only the certainty of belonging to God is in conditions to give. As your Congress has pointed out well, today the most necessary prophecy is that of fidelity, which, starting from the fidelity of Christ to humanity, will lead through the Church and the ministerial priesthood to live one's priesthood in total adherence to Christ and to the Church. In fact, the priest no longer belongs to himself but, because of the sacramental seal received (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1563;1582), is "property" of God. This "being of Another" must be made recognizable by all, through a clear witness.

The priest as prophet: he speaks of God to the world, revealing to the world the Face of Christ and His Heart. The priesthood belongs to God; he is "property of God." All that defiles the priest is a sacrilege, an affront to the holiness of God.

Worldliness Challenged

In the way of thinking, of speaking, of judging the events of the world, of serving and loving, in relating to persons, also in the habit, the priest must draw prophetic strength from his sacramental belonging, from his profound being. Consequently, he must have every care to subtract himself from the prevailing mentality, which tends to associate the value of the minister not to his being, but only to his function, thus not appreciating the work of God, who influences the profound identity of the person of the priest, configuring him to himself in a definitive way (cf. Ibid., No. 1583).

This particularly dense paragraph is an effective examination of conscience for priests. It addresses one of the chief temptations threatening the priesthood today: the temptation to worldliness. The priest stands apart from the world (1) in his way of thinking, (2) in his way of speaking, (3) of judging the events of the world, (4) of serving and of loving, (5) in relating to persons, (4) and in his dress. I cannot help but think of Saint Benedict's saying in Chapter IV of the Holy Rule: "Saeculi actibus se facere alienum," To make oneself a stranger to the ways of the world. The cry so often raised in clerical circles that "diocesan priests are not monks," does not stand up under the Holy Father's scrutiny. The so-called "secular" priest will be effective in the world only insofar as he is not of the world. Hear the very word of Christ: "They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world" (Jn 17:16).

Celibacy

The horizon of the ontological belonging to God constitutes, moreover, the appropriate framework to understand and reaffirm, also in our days, the value of sacred celibacy, which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Holy Orders (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," 16) and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches (cf. CCEO, can. 373). That is authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, sign of consecration to the Lord and to the "things of the Lord" with an undivided heart (1 Corinthians 7:32), expression of the gift of self to God and to others (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1579).

All of the tired human justifications for priestly celibacy that have been argued and found wanting -- it makes one more available for ministry; it affords a certain mobility; it is economically advantageous, etc. etc. -- pale in the light of the Holy Father's central affirmation: the priest belongs to God. He is a man set apart and made over to God alone. He places himself daily upon the altar of the Holy Sacrifice becoming one victim with Christ. The very being of the priest is a "sacrificium," in the sense explained by Saint Augustine in Book Ten of The City of God.

Prophetic Life Without Compromises

Hence, the vocation of the priest, which continues being a great mystery also for those of us who have received it as a gift, is sublime. Our limitations and weaknesses must lead us to live and protect with profound faith that precious gift, with which Christ has configured us to Himself, making us participants in his salvific mission. In fact, comprehension of the ministerial priesthood is linked to the faith and calls, ever more strongly, for a radical continuity between the formation of the seminary and permanent formation. The prophetic life, without compromises, with which we will serve God and the world, proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the Sacraments, will foster the coming of the Kingdom of God, already present, and the growth of the People of God in the faith.

The priest cannot afford not to be aware of his limitations and weaknesses. These cast him into a state of radical and ceaseless dependence on the all-sufficient grace of Christ. The grace of Christ deployed in the weakness of a priest is itself a proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God among men.

Only in the Priest

Beloved priests, the men and women of our time ask only that we be priests through and through. The lay faithful will find in many other persons what they humanly need, but only in the priest will they be able to find that Word of God that must always be on their lips (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," 4); the mercy of the Father, which is lavished abundantly and free in the sacrament of reconciliation; the Bread of New Life, "true nourishment given to men" (cf. Hymn of the Office on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi of the Roman rite).

Priests sometimes exhaust themselves in trying to be more than priests. The Holy Father makes it clear that only the priest who is content to be a priest through and through will be capable of meeting the needs of the faithful for the Word of God, the mercy of the Father, and the Bread of New Life. He does this by preaching, by forgiving sins in the Sacrament of Penance, and by nourishing souls with the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ. A priest who does these things is, in his own way, living out Saint Benedict's injunction in Chapter 43 of the Holy Rule: "Nihil operi Dei praeponatur", "Let nothing be put before the Work of God." All of the priest's other activities are ordered to these and flow from them.

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Joseph

Like his baptismal patron, Saint Joseph, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, seems, at times, to stand alone in the night. One has the impression that, as the Year of the Priesthood draws to a close, the forces of evil are trying desperately to discredit the Holy Father and to disfigure the face of the Church. Days of shame and darkness have come upon Our Lord's beloved priests in so many countries. Could this not be a sign that the attack on the priesthood, that appears to be spreading and growing, is, in fact, in its final stages?

Onslaught and Triumph

We are witnessing, I believe, a diabolical onslaught against the Bride of the Lamb, an attempt to destroy her by attacking the most wounded of her ministers in their carnal weaknesses. More than ever, we must pray Our Lord to dispel the powers of darkness with the radiance of His Eucharistic Face. "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: and let them that hate Him flee from before His Face" (Ps 67:2). Our Lord Jesus Christ will undo the destruction wrought by the devil and his human allies, and He will cause His priests and His Spouse the Church to recover a glorious holiness that will confound His enemies and be the beginning of a new era of saints, of martyrs, and of prophets.

Prayer

Could we not offer the Novena in Preparation for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph for the Joseph whom God has set over the household of His Church: Pope Benedict XVI? It is no coincidence that, in these days of battle against the powers of darkness, the Successor of Peter bears the name of Joseph, protector of the universal Church. The providential designs of God are often revealed in such details.

I recommend the Prayer to Saint Joseph that Pope Leo XIII promulgated with his Encyclical Quamquam pluries in 1889. It is perhaps more suitable today than when it was written one-hundred-twenty-one years ago. In many places it is customary to pray this prayer after the recitation of the Rosary.

To you, O Blessed Joseph, we come in our trials, and having asked the help of your most holy spouse, we confidently ask your patronage also. Through that sacred bond of charity which united you to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God and through the fatherly love with which you embraced the Child Jesus, we humbly beg you to look graciously upon the beloved inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by his blood, and to aid us in our necessities with your power and strength.
O most provident guardian of the Holy Family, defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ. Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin. Our most mighty protector, graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness. And just as you once saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God's Holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity. Shield each one of us by your constant protection, so that, supported by your example and your help, we may be able to live a virtuous life, to die a holy death, and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven. Amen.

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The Holy Father's homily for Vespers on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is, as are all his homilies, a model of liturgical preaching. At the core of the Holy Father's message is the mystery of Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Consecrated men and women, be they hidden in the cloister, or engaged in the Church's mission to the world, are associated to the priestly mediatorship of the Lord Jesus and called, at every moment, to remain close to Him, at "the throne of grace."

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a celebration of a mystery of the life of Christ, linked to the precept of the Mosaic law that prescribed for parents, 40 days after the birth of their first-born, to go to the Temple of Jerusalem to offer their son to the Lord and for the ritual purification of the mother (cf Exodus 13:1-2.11-16; Leviticus 12:1-8).

The Only-Begotten Son Presented to Men

Mary and Joseph also fulfilled this rite, offering -- according to the law -- a couple of turtle doves or pigeons. Reading things in greater depth, we understand that at that moment it was God himself who presented his Only-begotten Son to men, through the words of the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as "salvation" of humanity, as "light" of all nations and "sign of contradiction," because he would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf Luke 2:29-35).

The Feast of Meeting

In the East this feast was called Hypapante, feast of meeting: In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized in him the Messiah so awaited, represent humanity that meets its Lord in the Church. Subsequently, this feast spread also to the West, developing above all the symbol of light, and the procession with candles, which gave origin to the term "Candlemas." With this visible sign one wishes to signify that the Church meets in faith him who is "the light of men" and receives him with all the impulse of her faith to take this "light" to the world.

A Life of Oblation

In concomitance with this liturgical feast, Venerable John Paul II, beginning in 1997, wished that the whole Church should celebrate a special Day of Consecrated Life. In fact, the oblation of the Son of God -- symbolized by his presentation in the Temple -- is the model for every man and woman that consecrates all his or her life to the Lord.

The purpose of this day is threefold: first of all to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; in the second place, to promote the knowledge and appreciation by all the People of God; finally, to invite all those who have fully dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has operated in them.

In thanking you for having gathered in such numbers, on this day dedicated particularly to you, I wish to greet each one of you with great affection: men and women religious and consecrated persons, expressing to you my cordial closeness and heartfelt appreciation for the good you do in the service of the People of God.

Christ the High Priest

The brief reading, which was just proclaimed, treats of the Letter to the Hebrews, which brings together well the motives that were at the origin of this significant and beautiful event and offers us some ideas for reflection. This text -- which has two verses, but very charged with significance -- opens the second part of the Letter to the Hebrews, introducing the central theme of Christ the high priest.

The Priestly Mediatorship of Christ

One should really consider as well the immediately preceding verse, which says: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14). This verse shows Jesus who ascends to the Father; while the subsequent one presents him descending toward men. Christ is presented as the Mediator: He is true God and true man -- that is why he really belongs to the divine and to the human world.

In reality, it is properly and only from this faith, from this profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the only and definitive Mediator, that consecrated life has meaning in the Church, a life consecrated to God through Christ. It has meaning only if he is truly Mediator between God and us, otherwise it would only be a form of sublimation or evasion.

The Consecrated Person: A Bridge

If Christ was not truly God, and was not, at the same time, fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would come to naught, and in an altogether particular way, the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman would come to naught. Consecrated life, in fact, witnesses and expresses in a "powerful" way the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a "bridge" to God for all those he or she meets -- a call, a return. And all this by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Father's Consecrated One. He is the foundation! He who shared our frailty so that we could participate in his divine nature.

Our text insists on more than on faith, but rather on "trust" with which we can approach the "throne of grace," from the moment that our high priest was himself "put to the test in everything like us." We can approach to "receive mercy," "find grace," and "to be helped in the opportune moment." It seems to me that these words contain a great truth and also a great comfort for us who have received the gift and commitment of a special consecration in the Church.

A Love So Great and Beautiful

I am thinking in particular of you, dear sisters and brothers. You approached with full trust the "throne of grace" that is Christ, his Cross, his Heart, to his divine presence in the Eucharist. Each one of you has approached him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what he has done for us. But you approached him, and every day you approach him, also to be helped in the opportune moment and in the hour of trial.

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I am inserting at this point the image of an heroic French woman, religious, and mystic: Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus (1901-1951). Yesterday, February 3rd, was, in fact, the anniversary of her death, her dies natalis. Like Saint Faustina in Poland, Mother Yvonne-Aimée was an extraordinary witnesse to the mercy of the Lord in the Church of the last century. She is, for all consecrated men and women, a model of burning love for Christ, humility in moments of misunderstanding and persecution, and greathearted hospitality. Among her many charisms -- almost too many to be catalogued -- Mother Yvonne-Aimée exercised a spiritual motherhood in favour of the souls of priests. This aspect of her rich life is abundantly documented in a book by her spiritual son, Father Paul Labutte, Yvonne-Aimée, ma mère selon l'Esprit. Personally, I have received many graces through the intercession and supernatural friendship of Mother Yvonne-Aimée. Her "little invocation," O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness, has been for countless souls a means of inner healing and growth in holiness.

Witnesses of the Mercy of the Lord

Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They have the vivid experience of God's forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. Because of this, also for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of "compunction of heart," of the humble recognition of one's misery but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love that never abandons. In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially of those who are far from God.

The Cloister and the Cross

In particular, communities that live in cloister, with their specific commitment of fidelity in "being with the Lord," in "being under the cross," often carry out this vicarious role, united to Christ of the Passion, taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.

At the Throne of Grace

Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and this all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful (cf Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Consecrated Life, 105). Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first "lost" his life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification, I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the "throne of grace." Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and his Word.

The Year for Priests

Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion, for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer.

This year of grace will have a culminating moment in Rome, next June, in the international meeting of priests, to which I invite all those who exercise the Sacred Ministry. We approach the thrice Holy to offer our life and our mission, personal and community, of men and women consecrated to the Kingdom of God.

In the School of Mary

Let us carry out this interior gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary: while contemplating her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, we venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by that God she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because totally of God. In her school, and with her maternal help, we renew our "here I am" and our "fiat." Amen.

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This morning His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the bishops of England and Wales on the occasion of their ad limina visit. His message was "gentlemanly" and firm. I was particularly moved by the connections he highlighted between the witness of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman and the Year for Priests. I pray that the Holy Father's request, that their Lordships implement Anglicanorum Coetibus by extending a warm and open-hearted welcome to those Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, fall into fertile soil. "Such groups," said the Holy Father, "will be a blessing for the whole Church."


From the Holy Father's Address to the Bishops of England and Wales


Much attention has rightly been given to Newman's scholarship and to his extensive writings, but it is important to remember that he saw himself first and foremost as a priest. In this Annus Sacerdotalis [Year for Priests], I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel.

You yourselves should set a similar example. Be close to your priests, and rekindle their sense of the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as alter Christus. In Newman's words, "Christ's priests have no priesthood but His ... what they do, He does; when they baptize, He is baptizing; when they bless, He is blessing" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI 242).

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Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.
Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue assume great importance in England and Wales, given the varied demographic profile of the population. As well as encouraging you in your important work in these areas, I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church.

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For the Year of the Priest: a painting of Saint John Mary Vianney with his friend, Saint Peter Julian Eymard

Saint Peter Julian Eymard is one of the principal patrons of the work of the Cenacle here in Tulsa. On the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1857 Saint Peter Julian Eymard inaugurated the solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament by which the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament came to life. This week's move to a leased house in Tulsa better suited to a life of prayer and hospitality, and the need for funds to build the new Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, dedicated to Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests, compel me once again to propose the following novena for those who care to make it with me from January 6-14. It would be grand if those making the novena would leave a word in the comment box letting me know it!

Some readers of Vultus Christi may recall that on October 26, 2007 I wrote:

The desire of the Heart of Jesus is that there should be priest adorers and reparators: priests who will adore for those who do not adore, priests who will make reparation for those who do not. Our Lord asks me -- and will ask other priests as well -- to remain in adoration before His Eucharistic Face, offering all the priests of the Church to His Open Heart present in the Sacrament of His Love.

This inspiration was confirmed by the splendid letter of Cardinal Hummes, published on December 7, 2007, inviting to adoration and reparation for priests.

A Daunting Proposition

The Church is blessed with any number of communities of fervent Benedictines, who glorify Our Lord according to the gifts imparted to them, but nowhere does Our Lord find a house of priest-adorers to keep Him company in the Sacrament of His Love, and to offer themselves for their brother priests. The establishment of a new monastery is a daunting proposition. I might be tempted to lose heart, were it not for Our Lord's assurance that the measure of one's weakness is the measure of the deployment of His grace.

The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. (Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas 2009)

Work for Priests

The traditional Benedictine framework and the commitment to the choral liturgy will protect the life of adoration and the work for priests: the interior work of self-oblation in all things, and the exterior works of hospitality, spiritual counsel, and availability to priests in their times of need and inner darkness.

Assent to the Divine Friendship

At the heart of this special vocation is the assent to Our Lord's Divine Friendship, the "yes" to His merciful love uttered on behalf of all priests through a prolonged daily presence in adoration before His Eucharistic Face.

Our Lord desires with an immense desire to purify, and heal, and sanctify His priests. This He does, and will do, by drawing them into the radiance of His Eucharistic Face and the warmth of His Eucharistic Heart. We priests all too easily forget that Our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the Sacrament of His Love to offer us all the good things that come from friendship: companionship, conversation, joy, comfort, hospitality, strength and, above all, love.

Friends of His Heart

Our Lord is hidden in the Blessed Sacrament; His Face is veiled by the sacramental species and His Heart, too, is hidden. He is, nonetheless, really present as True God and True Man, alive, seeing all, knowing all, and burning with desire that all should come to His tabernacles but, first of all, the priests whom He has chosen to be His intimate friends, the friends of His Heart.

A priest who, in adoration, assents to the friendship of Christ, will want for nothing and will make great strides along the path of holiness. Virtue is not difficult for one who abides in the friendship of Christ. The friendship of Jesus for His priests needs to become the subject of conversations, of reflection, of study, and of preaching; more than anything else it needs to become the lived experience of every priest.

Our Lady and Saint John

A priest who abides in the friendship of Christ will accomplish great and wonderful works for souls. This is the secret of a fruitful priesthood. From her place in heaven, Our Blessed Lady is entirely devoted to keeping priests faithful to the Divine Friendship. Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, also intercedes for priests, that they might persevere in the way of friendship with Our Lord and find their joy in the love of His Heart.

The Remedy

Priests who come to adore the Eucharistic Face of Jesus will quickly discover His Heart and, in His Heart they will discover the friendship for which He created them and to which He calls them. The single greatest deficiency of the clergy is that so many priests are ignorant of the tenderness and strength and fidelity of Our Lord's friendship for them. How can this deficiency be remedied? By adoration before the Eucharistic Face of Christ. This is the raison d'être of my work in the Diocese of Tulsa. Pray, then, that the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus will reach an ever greater number of priests, until, in all the Church, the Priesthood of Christ shines with all the splendour of His own holiness.

Epiphany Novena in Honour of Saint Peter Julian Eymard
January 6 -- 14, 2010

Recited after Lauds:

Antiphon: And when they were come into the house,
they found the Child with Mary His Mother,
and fell down and adored Him.

V. Arise, shine, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come.
R. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Let us pray.

O God, who by the leading of a star,
didst manifest Thine Only-Begotten Son to the Gentiles,
mercifully grant that we,
having been led unto Him by the light of faith,
may, with grateful hearts,
ceaselessly adore Him present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar,
Who is our Mighty King, our Great High Priest, and our Immaculate Victim,
and Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.
Amen.

Recited after Vespers:

Antiphon: The Priests shall be holy;
for the offerings of the Lord made by fire,
and the bread of their God, they do offer,
therefore they shall be holy.

V. Pray for us, Saint Peter Julian.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

O God, Who through the preaching and example of Saint Peter Julian Eymard,
didst renew the priesthood of Thy Church in holiness
and inflame many souls with zeal
for the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar;
we beseech Thee, through his intercession,
to gather priests of one mind and one heart,
from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof,
to keep watch in adoration before the Eucharistic Face
of Thine Only-Begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ
and to abide before His Open Heart,
in reparation for those who forsake Him, hidden in the tabernacles of the world,
and in thanksgiving for the mercies that ever stream
from the Sacred Mysteries of His Body and Blood.
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.
Amen.

My Face Will Journey With Thee

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Readers of Vultus Christi can imagine my delight when I discovered that the Holy Father's homily on this Solemnity of the Mother of God focused on the mystery of the Face of Christ, the human face of God. Given that I could find no English translation at any of the usual sources, I quickly translated the Italian text for my own edification and for all of you, dear friends. Subtitles are my own. Here it is:

Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God
XLIII World Day of Peace
Homily of Our Holy Father Benedict XVI
Vatican Basilica
Friday, 1 January 2010

Venerati Fratelli,
illustri Signori e Signore,
cari fratelli e sorelle!

Nel primo giorno del nuovo anno abbiamo la gioia e la grazia di celebrare la Santissima Madre di Dio e, al tempo stesso, la Giornata Mondiale della Pace. In entrambe le ricorrenze celebriamo Cristo, Figlio di Dio, nato da Maria Vergine e nostra vera pace! A tutti voi, che siete qui convenuti: Rappresentanti dei popoli del mondo, della Chiesa romana e universale, sacerdoti e fedeli; e a quanti sono collegati mediante la radio e la televisione, ripeto le parole dell'antica benedizione: il Signore rivolga a voi il suo volto e vi conceda la pace (cfr Nm 6,26). Proprio il tema del Volto e dei volti vorrei sviluppare oggi, alla luce della Parola di Dio - Volto di Dio e volti degli uomini - un tema che ci offre anche una chiave di lettura del problema della pace nel mondo.

Venerable Brothers,
illustrious Ladies and Gentleman,
dear brothers and sisters!

Face of God and Faces of Men

On this first day of the new year we have the joy and the grace of celebrating the Most Holy Mother of God and, at the same time, the World Day of Peace. In both yearly observances we celebrate Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and our true peace! To all of you who have come together here: representatives of the peoples of the world, of the Church Roman and universal, priests and faithful; and to you who are joined to us by means of radio and television, I repeat the word of the ancient blessing: May the Lord turn His face to you and give you peace (Num 6:26). It is precisely the theme of the face and of faces that I wish to develop today, in the light of the Word of God -- the face of God and the faces of men -- a theme that offers us, as well, a key to reading the problem of peace in the world.

Abbiamo ascoltato, sia nella prima lettura - tratta dal Libro dei Numeri - sia nel Salmo responsoriale, alcune espressioni che contengono la metafora del volto riferita a Dio: "Il Signore faccia risplendere per te il suo volto / e ti faccia grazia" (Nm 6,25); "Dio abbia pietà di noi e ci benedica, / su di noi faccia splendere il suo volto; / perché si conosca sulla terra la tua via, / la tua salvezza fra tutte le genti" (Sal 66/67,2-3). Il volto è l'espressione per eccellenza della persona, ciò che la rende riconoscibile e da cui traspaiono sentimenti, pensieri, intenzioni del cuore. Dio, per sua natura, è invisibile, tuttavia la Bibbia applica anche a Lui questa immagine. Mostrare il volto è espressione della sua benevolenza, mentre il nasconderlo ne indica l'ira e lo sdegno. Il Libro dell'Esodo dice che "il Signore parlava con Mosè faccia a faccia, come uno parla con il proprio amico" (Es 33,11), e sempre a Mosè il Signore promette la sua vicinanza con una formula molto singolare: "Il mio volto camminerà con voi e ti darò riposo" (Es 33,14). I Salmi ci mostrano i credenti come coloro che cercano il volto di Dio (cfr Sal 26/27,8; 104/105,4) e che nel culto aspirano a vederlo (cfr Sal 42,3), e ci dicono che "gli uomini retti" lo "contempleranno" (Sal 10/11,7).

And My Face Will Give Thee Rest

We heard, in the first reading taken from the Book of Numbers as well as in the responsorial psalm, several expressions that contain the metaphor of the face in reference to God: "May the Lord make the splendour of His face shine upon thee, and be gracious to thee" (Num 6:25); "May God have mercy on us and bless us, may He make the light of His face shine upon us; that Thy ways may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all the nations" (Ps 66:2-3). The face is the expression par excellence of the person, that which renders him recognizable, and that upon which sentiments, thoughts, and intentions of the heart become apparent. God, by His nature, is invisible, the Bible nonetheless applies this image even to Him. To show one's face is the expression of one's benevolence, whereas to hide it signifies anger and scorn. The Book of Exodus says that "the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks with his own friend" (Ex 33:11) and, again, to Moses the Lord promises to remain close with this most singular formula: "My face will journey with thee and will give thee rest" (Ex 33:14). The psalms show us believers as those who seek the face of God (cf Ps 26:8; 104:4) and who, in worship, long to see it (cf Ps 42:3), and they tell us that "upright men" will "contemplate" His face (Ps 10:7).

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Tutto il racconto biblico si può leggere come progressivo svelamento del volto di Dio, fino a giungere alla sua piena manifestazione in Gesù Cristo. "Quando venne la pienezza del tempo - ci ha ricordato anche oggi l'apostolo Paolo - Dio mandò il suo Figlio" (Gal 4,4). E subito aggiunge: "nato da donna, nato sotto la legge". Il volto di Dio ha preso un volto umano, lasciandosi vedere e riconoscere nel figlio della Vergine Maria, che per questo veneriamo con il titolo altissimo di "Madre di Dio". Ella, che ha custodito nel suo cuore il segreto della divina maternità, è stata la prima a vedere il volto di Dio fatto uomo nel piccolo frutto del suo grembo. La madre ha un rapporto tutto speciale, unico e in qualche modo esclusivo con il figlio appena nato. Il primo volto che il bambino vede è quello della madre, e questo sguardo è decisivo per il suo rapporto con la vita, con se stesso, con gli altri, con Dio; è decisivo anche perché egli possa diventare un "figlio della pace" (Lc 10,6). Tra le molte tipologie di icone della Vergine Maria nella tradizione bizantina, vi è quella detta "della tenerezza", che raffigura Gesù bambino con il viso appoggiato - guancia a guancia - a quello della Madre. Il Bambino guarda la Madre, e questa guarda noi, quasi a riflettere verso chi osserva, e prega, la tenerezza di Dio, discesa in Lei dal Cielo e incarnata in quel Figlio di uomo che porta in braccio. In questa icona mariana noi possiamo contemplare qualcosa di Dio stesso: un segno dell'amore ineffabile che lo ha spinto a "dare il suo figlio unigenito" (Gv 3,16). Ma quella stessa icona ci mostra anche, in Maria, il volto della Chiesa, che riflette su di noi e sul mondo intero la luce di Cristo, la Chiesa mediante la quale giunge ad ogni uomo la buona notizia: "Non sei più schiavo, ma figlio" (Gal 4,7) - come leggiamo ancora in san Paolo.

A Progressive Unveiling of the Face of God

The whole biblical narrative may be read as a progressive unveiling of the face of God, until it reaches its full manifestation in Jesus Christ. "When came the fullness of time -- as the apostle Paul also reminded us today -- God sent His Son" (Gal 4:4). And straightaway he adds: "born of woman, born under the Law." The face of God has taken a human face, allowing itself to be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, whom we venerate, for this reason, with the sublime title of "Mother of God." She, who kept in her heart the secret of the divine maternity, was the first to see the face of God made man in the little fruit of her womb. The mother has an altogether special exchange, unique and, in some way, exclusive with her newborn child. The first face that the baby sees is that of the mother, and this look is decisive for his exchange with life, with himself, with others, with God; it is decisive also in order that he may become a "child of peace" (Lk 10:6).

Mother of God of Tenderness

Among the many typologies of the icon of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine tradition, there is the one called "of tenderness", that depicts the Child Jesus with His face resting upon that of the Mother, cheek to cheek. The Child gazes at the Mother, and she looks at us, almost as if to reflect towards the one who observes and prays the tenderness of God, come down into her from heaven and incarnate in the Son of God whom she holds in her arms. In this Marian icon we can contemplate something of God Himself: a sign of the ineffable love that moved Him to "give His only-begotten Son" (Jn 3:16). But this same icon also shows us in Mary the face of the Church, that reflects the light of Christ upon us and upon the whole world, the light that, through the Church, reaches every man with the good news: "No longer art thou a slave, but a son" (Gal 4:7) -- as we read again in Saint Paul.

Fratelli nell'Episcopato e nel Sacerdozio, Signori Ambasciatori, cari amici! Meditare sul mistero del volto di Dio e dell'uomo è una via privilegiata che conduce alla pace. Questa, infatti, incomincia da uno sguardo rispettoso, che riconosce nel volto dell'altro una persona, qualunque sia il colore della sua pelle, la sua nazionalità, la sua lingua, la sua religione. Ma chi, se non Dio, può garantire, per così dire, la "profondità" del volto dell'uomo? In realtà, solo se abbiamo Dio nel cuore, siamo in grado di cogliere nel volto dell'altro un fratello in umanità, non un mezzo ma un fine, non un rivale o un nemico, ma un altro me stesso, una sfaccettatura dell'infinito mistero dell'essere umano. La nostra percezione del mondo e, in particolare, dei nostri simili, dipende essenzialmente dalla presenza in noi dello Spirito di Dio. E' una sorta di "risonanza": chi ha il cuore vuoto, non percepisce che immagini piatte, prive di spessore. Più, invece, noi siamo abitati da Dio, e più siamo anche sensibili alla sua presenza in ciò che ci circonda: in tutte le creature, e specialmente negli altri uomini, benché a volte proprio il volto umano, segnato dalla durezza della vita e dal male, possa risultare difficile da apprezzare e da accogliere come epifania di Dio. A maggior ragione, dunque, per riconoscerci e rispettarci quali realmente siamo, cioè fratelli, abbiamo bisogno di riferirci al volto di un Padre comune, che tutti ci ama, malgrado i nostri limiti e i nostri errori.

The Human Face

Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Gentlemen Ambassadors, dear friends! To meditate upon this mystery of the face of God and of man is a privileged path that leads to peace. This, in fact, emerges from a gaze of respect, that recognizes in the face of the other a person, whatever may be the colour of his skin, his nationality, his language, his religion. But who, if not God, can guarantee, so to speak, the depth of the face of man? In reality, only if we have God in the heart are we capable of receiving in the face of the other a brother in humanity, not a means, but an end, not a rival or an enemy, but another self, a facet of the infinite mystery of the human being. Our perception of the world and, in particular, of those like us, depends essentially on the presence of the Spirit of God within us. There exists a kind of "resonance": one who has an empty heart, perceives only images that are flat and without thickness. On the other hand, the more we are indwelt by God, the more will we be sensitive to His presence in what surrounds us: in all creatures, and especially in other men, even if, at times, the human face, marked by the harshness of life and of evil, may be difficult to appreciate and to welcome as an epiphany of God. All the more then, if we are to recognize and respect ourselves as we really are, that is, as brethren, must we refer to the face of a common Father, who loves us all, in spite of our limits and our errors.

Fin da piccoli, è importante essere educati al rispetto dell'altro, anche quando è differente da noi. Ormai è sempre più comune l'esperienza di classi scolastiche composte da bambini di varie nazionalità, ma anche quando ciò non avviene, i loro volti sono una profezia dell'umanità che siamo chiamati a formare: una famiglia di famiglie e di popoli. Più sono piccoli questi bambini, e più suscitano in noi la tenerezza e la gioia per un'innocenza e una fratellanza che ci appaiono evidenti: malgrado le loro differenze, piangono e ridono nello stesso modo, hanno gli stessi bisogni, comunicano spontaneamente, giocano insieme... I volti dei bambini sono come un riflesso della visione di Dio sul mondo. Perché allora spegnere i loro sorrisi? Perché avvelenare i loro cuori? Purtroppo, l'icona della Madre di Dio della tenerezza trova il suo tragico contrario nelle dolorose immagini di tanti bambini e delle loro madri in balia di guerre e violenze: profughi, rifugiati, migranti forzati. Volti scavati dalla fame e dalle malattie, volti sfigurati dal dolore e dalla disperazione. I volti dei piccoli innocenti sono un appello silenzioso alla nostra responsabilità: di fronte alla loro condizione inerme, crollano tutte le false giustificazioni della guerra e della violenza. Dobbiamo semplicemente convertirci a progetti di pace, deporre le armi di ogni tipo e impegnarci tutti insieme a costruire un mondo più degno dell'uomo.

The Faces of Children

Beginning with little children, it is important to be educated in respect of the other, even when he is different from us. At present the experience of classes in school that are composed of children of various nationalities is more and more common, but even when this is not the case, their faces are a prophecy of the humanity that we are called to form: a family of families and of peoples. The smaller these children are, the more do they stir up in us tenderness and joy in the face of an innocence and brotherhood that appears evident. In spite of their differences, they cry and laugh in the same way, have the same needs, communicate spontaneously, play together . . . The faces of children are like a reflection of God's view of the world. Why then extinguish their smiles? Why poison their hearts? Alas, the icon of the Mother of God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the painful images of so many children and their mothers prey to war and to violence: exiles, refugees, forced migrants. Faces hollowed by hunger and by sickness, faces disfigured by sorrow and by despair. The faces of these little innocents are a silent appeal to our responsibility. Confronted with their defenseless condition, all the false justifications of war and violence crumble. We have simply to convert ourselves to projects of peace, to lay aside arms of every type and to commit ourselves together to construct a world more worthy of man.

Il mio Messaggio per l'odierna XLIII Giornata Mondiale della Pace: "Se vuoi coltivare la pace, custodisci il creato", si pone all'interno della prospettiva del volto di Dio e dei volti umani. Possiamo, infatti, affermare che l'uomo è capace di rispettare le creature nella misura in cui porta nel proprio spirito un senso pieno della vita, altrimenti sarà portato a disprezzare se stesso e ciò che lo circonda, a non avere rispetto dell'ambiente in cui vive, del creato. Chi sa riconoscere nel cosmo i riflessi del volto invisibile del Creatore, è portato ad avere maggiore amore per le creature, maggiore sensibilità per il loro valore simbolico. Specialmente il Libro dei Salmi è ricco di testimonianze di questo modo propriamente umano di relazionarsi con la natura: con il cielo, il mare, i monti, le colline, i fiumi, gli animali... "Quante sono le tue opere, Signore! - esclama il Salmista - / Le hai fatte tutte con saggezza; / la terra è piena delle tue creature" (Sal 104/103,24).

Man and the Environment

My message for today's XLIII World Day of Peace: "If you would cultivate peace, take care of what is created," is situated within the perspective of the face of God and human faces. We can, in fact, affirm that man is capable of respecting creatures to the measure in which he bears within his own spirit a full sense of life. Otherwise, he will be inclined to devaluate himself and that which surrounds him, to lack respect for the environment in which he lives, for creation. One who knows how to recognize the reflections of the invisible face of the Creator in the cosmos, is inclined to have a greater love for creatures, a greater sensitivity for their symbolic value. The Book of Psalms is especially rich in examples of this peculiarly human way of relating to nature: with the heavens, the sea, the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the animals . . . ""How great are Thy works, O Lord! -- exclaims the Psalmist -- In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy creatures" (Ps 104:24).

In particolare, la prospettiva del "volto" invita a soffermarsi su quella che, anche in questo Messaggio, ho chiamato "ecologia umana". Vi è infatti un nesso strettissimo tra il rispetto dell'uomo e la salvaguardia del creato. "I doveri verso l'ambiente derivano da quelli verso la persona considerata in se stessa e in relazione agli altri" (ivi, 12). Se l'uomo si degrada, si degrada l'ambiente in cui vive; se la cultura tende verso un nichilismo, se non teorico, pratico, la natura non potrà non pagarne le conseguenze. Si può, in effetti, constatare un reciproco influsso tra volto dell'uomo e "volto" dell'ambiente: "quando l'ecologia umana è rispettata dentro la società, anche l'ecologia ambientale ne trae beneficio" (ibid.; cfr Enc. Caritas in veritate, 51). Rinnovo, pertanto, il mio appello ad investire sull'educazione, proponendosi come obiettivo, oltre alla necessaria trasmissione di nozioni tecnico-scientifiche, una più ampia e approfondita "responsabilità ecologica", basata sul rispetto dell'uomo e dei suoi diritti e doveri fondamentali. Solo così l'impegno per l'ambiente può diventare veramente educazione alla pace e costruzione della pace.

Human Ecology

In particular, the perspective of the "face" invites us to dwell upon that which, even in this Message, I called "human ecology." There is, in fact, a very close link between respect for man and the safeguard of creation. "Duties toward the environment derive from those towards the person considered in himself and in relation to others." If man is degraded, the environment in which he lives is also degraded; if culture tends toward nihilism, if not in theory, in practice, nature cannot but pay the consequences of it. One can, in effect, remark a reciprocal influence between the face of man and the "face" of the environment. "When human ecology is respected within society, then too will environmental ecology draw benefits from it." (Caritas in Veritate, 51). I renew, therefore, my appeal to invest in education, proposing as an objective, beyond the necessary transmission of technico-scientific notions, a more ample and deepened "ecological responsibility," based on the respect of man and of his fundamental rights and duties. Only in this way, will work for the environment truly become an education for peace and for the construction of peace.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, nel Tempo di Natale ricorre un Salmo che contiene, tra l'altro, anche un esempio stupendo di come la venuta di Dio trasfiguri il creato e provochi una specie di festa cosmica. Questo inno inizia con un invito universale alla lode: "Cantate al Signore un canto nuovo, / cantate al Signore, uomini di tutta la terra. / Cantate al Signore, benedite il suo nome" (Sal 95/96,1). Ma a un certo punto questo appello all'esultanza si estende a tutto il creato: "Gioiscano i cieli, esulti la terra, / risuoni il mare e quanto racchiude; / sia in festa la campagna e quanto contiene, / acclamino tutti gli alberi della foresta" (vv. 11-12). La festa della fede diventa festa dell'uomo e del creato: quella festa che a Natale si esprime anche mediante gli addobbi sugli alberi, per le strade, nelle case. Tutto rifiorisce perché Dio è apparso in mezzo a noi. La Vergine Madre mostra il Bambino Gesù ai pastori di Betlemme, che gioiscono e lodano il Signore (cfr Lc 2,20); la Chiesa rinnova il mistero per gli uomini di ogni generazione, mostra loro il volto di Dio, perché, con la sua benedizione, possano camminare sulla via della pace.

The Feast of Faith

Dear brothers and sisters, there recurs in Christmastide a psalm which contains, among other things, a stupendous example of how the advent of God transfigures creation and provokes a kind of cosmic feast. This hymn begins with a universal invitation to praise: "Sing unto Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, ye men of all the earth. Sing ye unto the Lord, bless ye His Name" (Ps 95:1). But, at a certain point, this summons to exultation is extended to all things created: "Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad, let the sea and all within it resound; let the countryside and all it holds keep festival, let all the trees of the forest clap their hands" (v. 11-12). The feast of faith becomes the feast of man and of creation: the feast that, at Christmas, finds expression by means of decorations on trees, in the streets, and in homes. All things bloom again because God has appeared in our midst. The Virgin Mother shows the Infant Jesus to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who rejoice and praise the Lord (cf. Lk 2:20). The Church renews the mystery for men of every generation, shows them the face of God, so that, with His blessing, they might walk in the way of peace.

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Here is the official English-language translation of Pope Benedict XVI's magnificent homily, delivered in Italian during the Mass in the Night of the Nativity of the Lord in Saint Peter's Basilica. At the heart of his homily the Holy Father quotes the Rule of Saint Benedict, so much is it a part of him. And affirms that, for monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else, he says, comes later.

No Longer the Distant God

Dear Brothers and Sisters! "A child is born for us, a son is given to us" (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly "God with us". No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?

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In Every Soul: the Desire for God

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His "self" is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as "religiously tone deaf". The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us "tone deaf" towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear "tone deaf" and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23:9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

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For Monks, the Liturgy is the First Priority

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: "'Let us go over to Bethlehem' they went at once" (Lk 2:15f.). "They made haste" is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the Divine Office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place however important they may be so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: "Come on, 'let us go over' to Bethlehem to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.

The Child-God Asks for Our Love

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Transform Me, Renew Me, Change Me

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Pope Benedict on Saint Bernard

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Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.

This morning the Holy Father presented another great monastic figure: Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, the Last of the Fathers. Pope Benedict XVI's love for the monastic vocation shines through this and many of his other discourses and writings. It is an immense grace to be involved in the foundation of a Benedictine monastery during this pontificate.

The Last of the Fathers

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to speak about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, called "the last father" of the Church, because in the 12th century he renewed once again and rendered present the great theology of the Fathers. We do not know details about the years of his boyhood. We know, nevertheless, that he was born in 1090 in Fontaines, France, in a numerous, moderately comfortable family. As a youth, he spent himself in the study of the so-called liberal arts -- especially grammar, rhetoric and dialectics -- at the school of the canons of the church of St. Vorles, in Chatillon-sur-Seine, and he slowly matured his decision to enter the religious life.

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Cîteaux and Clairvaux

When he was about 20, he entered Citeaux, a new monastic foundation, more flexible than the old and venerable monasteries of the time and, at the same time, more rigorous in the practice of the evangelical counsels. A few years later, in 1115, Bernard was invited by St. Stephen Harding, third abbot of Citeaux, to found the monastery of Clairvaux. Here the young abbot -- who was only 25 years old -- was able to refine his concept of monastic life, and to be determined to put it into practice. Looking at the discipline of other monasteries, Bernard decidedly reclaimed the need for a sober and measured life, at table as well as in dress and in the monastic buildings, recommending the support and care of the poor. In the meantime, the community of Clairvaux became ever more numerous and multiplied its foundations.

Friend and Writer

In those same years, before 1130, Bernard maintained a vast correspondence with many persons, whether of important or modest social conditions. To the many letters of this period must be added numerous sermons, as well as sentences and treatises. Striking at this time was Bernard's friendship with William, abbot of St. Thierry, and with William of Champeaux, among the most important figures of the 12th century.

From 1130 onward, he began to be concerned with not a few grave questions of the Holy See and of the Church. For this reason, he had to go out of his monastery ever more often, and sometimes outside of France. He also founded some women's convents, and was protagonist of a lively correspondence with Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, about whom I spoke last Wednesday.

Defender of the Jews

He addressed his controversial writings above all against Abelard, a great thinker who began a new way of making theology, introducing above all the dialectic-philosophical method in the construction of theological thought. Another front against which Bernard fought was the heresy of the Cathars, who held matter and the human body in contempt, consequently scorning the Creator. As well, he felt it his duty to take on the defense of the Jews, condemning the ever more diffuse resurgence of anti-Semitism. For this last aspect of his apostolic action, some 10 years later, Ephraim, rabbi of Bonn, addressed a vibrant tribute to Bernard. In that same period the holy abbot wrote his most famous works, such as the well-known Sermons on the Canticle of Canticles.

In the last years of his life -- his death occurred in 1153 -- Bernard had to limit his journeys, without however interrupting them altogether. He took advantage to review definitively the whole of the letters, sermons and treatises.

A Book for Popes

Worthy of being mentioned is a book that is quite singular, that he finished precisely in this period, in 1145, when one of his pupils, Bernard Pignatelli, was elected Pope, taking the name Eugene III. In this circumstance, Bernard, in the capacity of spiritual father, wrote to this spiritual son of his the text "De Consideratione," which contains teachings on how to be a good pope. In this book, which remains an appropriate book for popes of all times, Bernard does not only indicate what it is to be a good pope, but also expresses a profound vision of the mystery of the Church and of the mystery of Christ, which is resolved, in the end, in the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune and One God: "He must again continue the search of this God, who is not yet sufficiently sought," writes the holy abbot "but perhaps He can be sought better and found more easily with prayer than with discussion. We put an end here to the book, but not to the search" (XIV, 32: PL 182, 808), to being on the way to God.

Doctor Mellifluus

I would now like to reflect on two key aspects of Bernard's rich doctrine: they regard Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His solicitude for the intimate and vital participation of the Christian in the love of God in Jesus Christ does not offer new guidelines in the scientific status of theology. But, in a more than decisive way, the abbot of Clairvaux configures the theologian to the contemplative and the mystic. Only Jesus -- insists Bernard in face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time -- only Jesus is "honey to the mouth, song to the ear, joy to the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)." From here stems, in fact, the title attributed to him by tradition of Doctor Mellifluus: his praise of Jesus Christ, in fact, "runs like honey."

Only Jesus

In the extenuating battles between nominalists and realists -- two philosophical currents of the age -- the abbot of Clairvaux does not tire of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus the Nazarene. "Arid is all food of the soul," he confesses, "if it is not sprinkled with this oil; insipid, if it is not seasoned with this salt. What is written has no flavor for me, if I have not read Jesus." And he concludes: "When you discuss or speak, nothing has flavor for me, if I have not heard resound the name of Jesus" (Sermones in Cantica Canticorum XV, 6: PL 183,847).

The Friendship of Christ

For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consists in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And this, dear brothers and sisters, is true for every Christian: Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.

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Mary's Participation in the Passion of Jesus

In another famous sermon on the Sunday Between the Octave of the Assumption, the holy abbot describes in impassioned terms the intimate participation of Mary in the redeeming sacrifice of the Son. "O holy Mother," he exclaims, "truly a sword has pierced your soul! ... To such a point the violence of pain has pierced your soul, that with reason we can call you more than martyr, because your participation in the Passion of the Son greatly exceeded in intensity the physical sufferings of martyrdom" (14: PL 183, 437-438).

To Jesus Through Mary

Bernard has no doubts: "per Mariam ad Iesum," through Mary we are led to Jesus. He attests clearly to Mary's subordination to Jesus, according to the principles of traditional Mariology. But the body of the sermon also documents the privileged place of the Virgin in the economy of salvation, in reference to the very singular participation of the Mother (compassio) in the sacrifice of the Son. It is no accident that, a century and a half after Bernard's death, Dante Alighieri, in the last canto of the Divine Comedy, puts on the lips of the "Mellifluous Doctor" the sublime prayer to Mary: "Virgin Mary, daughter of your Son,/ humble and higher than a creature,/ fixed end of eternal counsel, ..." (Paradiso 33, vv. 1ss.).

The Science of the Saints

These reflections, characteristic of one in love with Jesus and Mary as St. Bernard was, rightly inflame again today not only theologians but all believers. At times an attempt is made to resolve the fundamental questions on God, on man and on the world with the sole force of reason. Instead, St. Bernard, solidly based on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by a profound relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming a futile intellectual exercise, and lose their credibility. Theology takes us back to the "science of the saints," to their intuitions of the mysteries of the living God, to their wisdom, gift of the Holy Spirit, which become the point of reference for theological thought.

Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily "with prayer than with discussion." In the end, the truest figure of the theologian and of every evangelizer is that of the Apostle John, who leaned his head on the heart of the Master.

Think of Mary, Call on Mary

I would like to conclude these reflections on St. Bernard with the invocations to Mary that we read in one of his beautiful homilies. "In danger, in anguish, in uncertainty," he says, "think of Mary, call on Mary. May she never be far from your lips, from your heart; and thus you will be able to obtain the help of her prayer, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot go astray; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot be mistaken. If she sustains you, you cannot fall; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, do not tire; if she is propitious to you, you will reach the goal ..." (Hom. II super "Missus est," 17: PL 183, 70-71).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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In yesterday's general audience, our extraordinarily "Benedictine" Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, presented the figure of Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny. For the nascent Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, this teaching represents a foundational element. Pope Benedict XVI is, in a very real way, the father of our little monastery. The translation appeared on Zenit.

The characteristic theological piety of Peter and of the Cluniac Order: wholly set to the contemplation of the glorious face (gloriosa facies) of Christ, finding there the reasons for that ardent joy that marked his spirit and was radiated in the liturgy of the monastery.

The Beauty of the Liturgy

Dear brothers and sisters,

The figure of Peter the Venerable, which I wish to present in today's catechesis, takes us back to the famous abbey of Cluny, to its "decorum" (decor) and its "lucidity" (nitor), to use terms that recur in the Cluniac texts -- decorum and splendor-- which are admired above all in the beauty of the liturgy, the privileged path to reach God.

Holiness

Even more than these aspects, however, Peter's personality recalls the holiness of the great Cluniac abbots: At Cluny "there was not a single abbot who was not a saint," said Pope Gregory VII in 1080. Among these is Peter the Venerable, who to some degree gathers in himself all the virtues of his predecessors -- although already with him, Cluny, faced with new orders such as that of Citeaux, began to experience symptoms of crisis.

Peace

Born around 1094 in the French region of Auvergne, he entered as a child in the monastery of Sauxillanges, where he became a professed monk and then prior. He was elected abbot of Cluny in 1122, and remained in this office until his death, which occurred on Christmas Day, 1156, as he had wished. "Lover of peace," wrote his biographer, Rudolph, "he obtained peace in the glory of God on the day of peace" (Vita, I, 17; PL 189, 28).

The Habit of Forgiving

All those who knew him praised his elegant meekness, serene balance, self-control, correctness, loyalty, lucidity and special attitude in mediating. "It is in my very nature," he wrote, "to be somewhat led to indulgence; I am incited to this by my habit of forgiving. I am used to enduring and forgiving" (Ep. 192, in: "The Letters of Peter the Venerable," Harvard University Press, 1967, p. 446).

Happy With His Lot

He also said: "With those who hate peace we wish, possibly, to always be peaceful" (Ep. 100, 1.c., p. 261). And of himself, he wrote: "I am not one of those who is not happy with his lot ... whose spirit is always anxious and doubtful, and who laments that all the others are resting and he alone is working" (Ep. 182, p. 425).

Gracious and Affectionate

Of a sensitive and affectionate nature, he was able to combine love of the Lord with tenderness toward his family, particularly his mother, and his friends. He was a cultivator of friendship, especially in his meetings with his monks, who usually confided in him, certain of being received and understood. According to the testimony of his biographer, "he did not disregard or refuse anyone" (Vita, 1,3: PL 189,19); "he seemed gracious to all; in his innate goodness, he was open to all" (ibid., I,1: PL, 189, 17).

Tolerance

We could say that this holy abbot is an example also for the monks and Christians of our time, marked by a frenetic rhythm of life, where incidents of intolerance and lack of communication, division and conflicts are not rare. His witness invites us to be able to combine love of God with love of neighbor, and never tire of renewing relations of fraternity and reconciliation. In this way, in fact, Peter the Venerable behaved, finding himself guiding the monastery of Cluny in years that were not very tranquil for several external and internal reasons, succeeding in being simultaneously severe and gifted with profound humanity. He used to say: "You will be able to obtain more from a man by tolerating him, than by irritating him with complaints" (Ep. 172, 1.c., 409).

In the Midst of Many Cares

Because of his office, he had to make frequent trips to Italy, England, Germany and Spain. Forced abandonment of contemplative stillness weighed on him. He confessed: "I go from one place to another, I am anxious, disturbed, tormented, dragged here and there; my mind is turned now to my affairs, now to those of others, not without great agitation to my spirit" (Ep. 91, 1.c., p. 233). Although having to maneuver between the powers and lordships that surrounded Cluny, nevertheless, thanks to his sense of measure, his magnanimity and his realism, he succeeded in keeping his habitual tranquility. Among the personalities with whom he interacted was Bernard of Clairvaux, with whom he enjoyed a relationship of growing friendship, despite differences of temperament and perspectives. Bernard described him as an "important man, occupied in important affairs" and he greatly esteemed him (Ep. 147, ed. Scriptorium Claravallense, Milan, 1986, VI/1, pp. 658-660), whereas Peter the Venerable described Bernard as "lamp of the Church" (Ep. 164, p. 396), "strong and splendid column of the monastic order and of the whole Church" (Ep. 175, p. 418).

The Wounds of the Body of Christ

With a lively ecclesial sense, Peter the Venerable said that the affairs of Christian people should be felt in the "depth of the heart" of those who number themselves "among the members of the Body of Christ" (Ep. 164, 1.c., p. 397). And he added: "He is not nourished by Christ who does not feel the wounds of the Body of Christ," wherever these are produced (ibid.). Moreover, he showed care and solicitude even for those who were outside the Church, in particular for the Jews and Muslims: to foster knowledge of the latter he had the Quran translated. In this regard, a recent historian observed: "Amid the intransigence of the men of Medieval times, also among the greatest of them, we admire here a sublime example of the delicacy to which Christian charity leads" (J. Leclercq, Pietro il Venerabile, Jaca Book, 1991, p. 189).

Love of the Eucharist and of the Virgin Mary

Other aspects of Christian life dear to him were love of the Eucharist and devotion to the Virgin Mary. On the Most Holy Sacrament he has left us pages that are "one of the masterpieces of Eucharistic literature of all times" (ibid., p. 267), and on the Mother of God he wrote illuminating reflections, always contemplating her in close relationship with Jesus the Redeemer and his work of salvation. Suffice it to report this inspired elevation of his: "Hail, Blessed Virgin, who put malediction to flight. Hail, Mother of the Most High, spouse of the most meek Lamb. You conquered the serpent, you have crushed his head, when the God generated by you annihilated him ... Shining star of the East, who puts to flight the shadows of the West. Dawn that precedes the sun, day that ignores the night ... Pray to God born from you, so that he will absolve us from our sin and, after forgiveness, grant us grace and glory" (Carmina, Pl 189, 1018-1019).

The Radiant Face of Christ

Peter the Venerable also nourished a predilection for literary activity and he had the talent. He wrote down his reflections, persuaded of the importance of using the pen almost like a plough "to scatter on paper the seed of the Word" (Ep. 20, p. 38). Although he was not a systematic theologian, he was a great researcher of the mystery of God. His theology sinks its roots in prayer, especially the liturgy, and among the mysteries of Christ he favored the Transfiguration, in which the Resurrection is already prefigured. It was in fact he who introduced this feast at Cluny, composing a special office for it, in which is reflected the characteristic theological piety of Peter and of the Cluniac Order, wholly set to the contemplation of the glorious face (gloriosa facies) of Christ, finding there the reasons for that ardent joy that marked his spirit and was radiated in the liturgy of the monastery.

Adhering Tenaciously to Christ

Dear brothers and sisters, this holy monk is certainly a great example of monastic sanctity, nourished at the sources of the Benedictine tradition. For him, the ideal of the monk consisted in "adhering tenaciously to Christ" (Ep. 53, 1.c., p. 161), in a cloistered life marked by "monastic humility" (ibid.) and industriousness (Ep. 77, 1.c., p. 211), as well as by a climate of silent contemplation and constant praise of God. According to Peter of Cluny, the first and most important occupation of a monk is the solemn celebration of the Divine Office --"heavenly work and of all the most useful" (Statuta, I, 1026) -- to be supported with reading, meditation, personal prayer and penance observed with discretion (cf. Ep. 20, 1.c., p. 40).

The Ideal of the Monk and of Every Christian

In this way the whole of life is pervaded by profound love of God and love of others, a love that is expressed in sincere openness to one's neighbor, in forgiveness and in the pursuit of peace. By way of conclusion, we could say that if this style of life joined to daily work is, for St. Benedict, the ideal of the monk, it also concerns all of us; it can be, to a great extent, the style of life of the Christian who wants to become a genuine disciple of Christ, characterized in fact by tenacious adherence to him, by humility, by industriousness and the capacity to forgive, and by peace.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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Ember Wednesday in September

There are so many things that I would want to write about! Yesterday, for example, was the first of the September Ember Days: the Proper of the Mass extraordinarily rich with its images of harvest time, great rivers of sweet wine. The note was one of joy: Gaudium etenim Domini est fortitudo nostra, "For the joy of the Lord is our strength." (II Esdr 8:10)

For all of that, the Gospel was sobering: "This kind (of demon) can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." (Mk 9:28) And then, all day long I held the remarkable Collect in mind, repeating it at the Hours:

The Marquess of Bute translates it:

We pray Thee, O Lord,
that the healing power of Thy mercy may give strength to our weakness,
that those things which do pass away by their own frailty,
may be renewed again by Thy clemency.

Monsignor Knox gives:

By Thy healing mercies, we pray thee, Lord,
enable our frail nature to hold its ground.
Let thy pity renew that which of itself is ever wasting away.

The Roman Catholic Daily Missal has:

We beseech Thee, O Lord,
that our weakness may be upheld by Thy healing mercy,
so that what of itself is falling into ruin
may be restored by Thy clemency.

Pope Benedict XVI on Saint Anselm

Also yesterday, our Holy Father presented yet another grand monastic figure: Saint Anselm of Aosta, Bec, and Canterbury. Here is a translation of the discourse of His Holiness:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Prayer, Study, and Government

In Rome, on the Aventine Hill, is found the Benedictine abbey of St. Anselm. As the seat of an Institute of Higher Studies and of the abbot primate of the Confederated Benedictines, it is a place that unites prayer, study and government, precisely the three activities that characterized the life of the saint to which it is dedicated: Anselm of Aosta, the 900th anniversary of whose death we celebrate this year.

Monk, Educator, Theologian

The many initiatives, promoted especially by the Diocese of Aosta for this happy anniversary, have reflected the interest that this Medieval thinker continues to awaken. He is also known as Anselm of Bec and Anselm of Canterbury because of the cities with which he was connected. Who is this personage to which three localities, distant from one another and situated in three different nations -- Italy, France and England -- feel particularly bound? Monk of intense spiritual life, excellent educator of youth, theologian with an extraordinary speculative capacity, wise man of government and intransigent defender of the "libertas Ecclesiae," of the liberty of the Church, Anselm is one of the eminent personalities of the Medieval Age, who was able to harmonize all these qualities thanks to a profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and action.

A Very White Bread

St. Anselm was born in 1033 (or the beginning of 1034) in Aosta, the firstborn of a noble family. His father was a crude man, dedicated to the pleasures of life and a spendthrift of his goods; his mother, on the other hand, was a woman of superior customs and profound religiosity (cf. Eadmero, Vita s. Anselmi, PL 159, col 49). It was his mother who took care of the first human and religious formation of her son, whom she later entrusted to the Benedictines of a priory of Aosta. Anselm, who from his childhood -- as his biographer recounts -- imagined the dwelling of the good God to be among the high and snow clad summits of the Alps, dreamed one night that he was invited to this splendid palace by God himself, who entertained him affably for a good while and at the end offered him to eat "a very white bread" (ibid., col 51).

Pope Benedict XVI on Saint Pio

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It is extremely noteworthy and significant that the Holy Father chose to spend the first Sunday of The Year of the Priest in pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo. Saint Pio may well be the best known priest of modern times. In many ways, his priestly ministry resembles that of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. We have entered into an "acceptable year of the Lord" (Is 61:2), a time for contemplating the living icons of priestly holiness set before us by the Church, and for seeking their intercession for all priests. In the text below emphases in boldface are my own.

Discourse of the Holy Father at the Church of Saint Pio

Dear men and women religious,
Dear young people,

With this our encounter my pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo comes to a close. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Lecce, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, and to Father Mauro Jöhri, secretary general of the Capuchin Friars Minor, for the words of cordial welcome that they have given me on your behalf. My greeting is now turned to you, dear priests, who are daily engaged in the service of God's people as wise guides and diligent workers in the vineyard of the Lord. I greet with affection the dear consecrated persons, called to offer the testimony of a total dedication to Christ through the faithful practice of the evangelical counsels. A special thought for you, dear Capuchin Friars, who lovingly care for this oasis of spirituality and evangelical solidarity, welcoming pilgrims and devotees gathered by the living memory of your holy confrere, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Thank you very much for this valuable service you render to the Church and to souls who here rediscover the beauty of faith and the warmth of divine tenderness. I greet you, dear young people, to whom the Pope looks with confidence as to the future of the Church and society. Here in San Giovanni Rotondo, everything speaks of the sanctity of a humble friar and a zealous priest, who this evening, also invites us to open our hearts to the mercy of God; he exhorts us to be holy, that is, sincere and true friends of Jesus.

Dear priests, just the other day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day of priestly holiness, we began the Priestly Year, during which we will recall with reverence and affection the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars. In the letter I wrote for the occasion, I wanted to stress the importance of the sanctity of priests for the life and mission of the Church. Like the Curé d'Ars, Padre Pio also reminds us of the dignity and responsibility of the priestly ministry. Who was not impressed by the fervor with which he re-lived the Passion of Christ in every celebration of the Eucharist? From his love for the Eucharist there arose in him as the Curé d'Ars a total willingness to welcome the faithful, especially sinners. Also, if St. John Mary Vianney, in a troubled and difficult time, tried in every way, to help his parishioners rediscover the meaning and the beauty of sacramental penance, for the holy friar of the Gargano, the care of souls and the conversion of sinners were a desire that consumed him until death. How many people have changed their lives thanks to his patient priestly ministry, so many long hours in the confessional! Like the Curé d'Ars, it is his ministry as a confessor that constitutes the greatest title of glory and the distinctive feature of this holy Capuchin. How could we not realize then the importance of participating in the celebration of the Eucharist devoutly and frequently receiving the sacrament of confession? In particular, the sacrament of penance must be even more valued, and priests should never resign themselves to seeing their confessional deserted or to merely recognizing the diffidence of the faithful for this extraordinary source of serenity and peace.

Saint Symeon the New Theologian

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In this morning's General Audience, our Holy Father presented yet another shining monastic figure as a model of holiness for the whole Church. Those who study attentively Pope Benedict XVI's teachings will notice that he consistently refers to the monastic way as paradigmatic for all Christians, beginning with the clergy. There are not two "spiritualities" -- one monastic and the other secular -- there is but one way to holiness. It is the royal way of the Cross, directed to the knowledge of the glory of God that shines upon the Face of Christ, charted by the Word of God as interpreted by the Fathers, and marked by the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the protecting mantle of the Holy Mother of God.

Dear brothers and sisters,

On the Way to Union With God

Today we pause to reflect on the figure of the Eastern monk Symeon the New Theologian, whose writings exercised a noteworthy influence on the theology and spirituality of the East, in particular, regarding the experience of mystical union with God.

Symeon the New Theologian was born in 949 in Galatia, in Paphlagonia (Asia Minor), of a noble provincial family. While still young, he went to Constantinople to undertake studies and enter the emperor's service. However, he felt little attracted to the civil career before him and, under the influence of the interior illuminations he was experiencing, he looked for a person who would direct him through his moment of doubts and perplexities, and who would help him progress on the way to union with God.

Examination of Conscience

He found this spiritual guide in Symeon the Pious (Eulabes), a simple monk of the Studion monastery in Constantinople, who gave him to read the treatise "The Spiritual Law of Mark the Monk." In this text, Symeon the New Theologian found a teaching that impressed him very much: "If you seek spiritual healing," he read there, "be attentive to your conscience. Do all that it tells you and you will find what is useful to you." From that moment -- he himself says -- he never again lay down without asking if his conscience had something for which to reproach him.

Union With Christ

Symeon entered the Studion monastery, where, however, his mystical experiences and his extraordinary devotion toward the spiritual father caused him difficulty. He transferred to the small convent of St. Mammas, also in Constantinople, where, after three years, he became director -- the higumeno. There he pursued an intense search of spiritual union with Christ, which conferred on him great authority.

It is interesting to note that he was given there the name of "New Theologian," notwithstanding the fact that tradition reserved the title of "Theologian" to two personalities: John the Evangelist and Gregory of Nazianzen. He suffered misunderstandings and exile, but was restored by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius II.

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Pope Benedict XVI on Saint Peter Damian

The Holy Father's audience yesterday (September 2009) on Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072) revealed him, once again, as a Master of the Monastic Life! Pope Benedict XVI is unique in his grasp of the principles of the monastic way and in his application of them to the life of all who seek holiness, even outside the cloister. It is not uncommon to hear him say as he did yesterday, "This is also important for us today, even though we are not monks. . . ." Those of you who missed the Holy Father's teaching in 2008 on his patron, Saint Benedict, will find it here.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Lover of Solitude and Intrepid Man of the Church

During these Wednesday catecheses, I have been discussing some of the great figures of the life of the Church since its origin. Today I would like to reflect on one of the most significant personalities of the 11th century, St. Peter Damian, monk, lover of solitude and, at the same time, intrepid man of the Church, personally involved in the work of reform undertaken by the popes of the time.

Gifted Writer

He was born in Ravenna in 1007 of a noble but poor family. He was orphaned, and lived a childhood of hardships and sufferings. Even though his sister Roselinda was determined to be a mother to him and his older brother, he was adopted as a son by Damian. In fact, because of this, he would later be called Peter of Damiano, Peter Damian. His formation was imparted to him first at Faenza and then at Parma, where, already at the age of 25, we find him dedicated to teaching. In addition to keen competence in the field of law, he acquired a refined expertise in the art of writing -- "ars scribendi" -- and, thanks to his knowledge of the great Latin classics, became "one of the best Latinists of his time, one of the greatest writers of the Latin Medieval Age" (J. Leclercq, Pierre Damien, Ermite et Homme d'Eglise, Rome, 1960, p. 172).

Sensitivity to Beauty

He distinguished himself in the most diverse literary genres: from letters to sermons, from hagiographies to prayers, from poems to epigrams. His sensitivity to beauty led him to a poetic contemplation of the world. Peter Damian conceived the universe as an inexhaustible "parable" and an extension of symbols, from which it is possible to interpret the interior life and the divine and supernatural reality. From this perspective, around the year 1034, the contemplation of God's absoluteness compelled him to distance himself progressively from the world and its ephemeral realities, to withdraw to the monastery of Fonte Avellana, founded a few decades earlier, but already famous for its austerity. He wrote the life of the founder, St. Romuald of Ravenna, for the edification of the monks and, at the same time, dedicated himself to furthering his spirituality, expressing his ideal of eremitical monasticism.

Love of the Cross

A particularity must now be stressed: the hermitage of Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross, and the cross would be the Christian mystery that most fascinated Peter Damian. "He does not love Christ who does not love the cross of Christ," he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117) and he calls himself: "Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus" -- Peter servant of the servants of the cross of Christ (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed most beautiful prayers to the cross, in which he reveals a vision of this mystery that has cosmic dimensions, because it embraces the whole history of salvation: "O blessed cross," he exclaimed, "you are venerated in the faith of patriarchs, the predictions of prophets, the assembly of the apostles, the victorious army of the martyrs and the multitudes of all the saints" (Sermo XLVIII, 14, p. 304).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the example of Peter Damian lead us also to always look at the cross as the supreme act of love of God for man, which has given us salvation.

The Salon Where God Converses With Men

For the development of the eremitical life, this great monk wrote a Rule which strongly stresses the "rigor of the hermitage": In the silence of the cloister, the monk is called to live a life of daily and nocturnal prayer, with prolonged and austere fasts; he must exercise himself in generous fraternal charity and in an obedience to the prior that is always willing and available. In the study and daily meditation of sacred Scripture, Peter Damian discovered the mystical meaning of the Word of God, finding in it food for his spiritual life. In this connection, he called the cell of the hermitage the "salon where God converses with men." For him, the eremitical life was the summit of Christian life; it was "at the summit of the states of life," because the monk, free from the attachments of the world and from his own self, receives "the pledge of the Holy Spirit and his soul is happily united to the heavenly Spouse" (Ep 18, 17; cf. Ep 28, 43 ff.). This is also important for us today, even though we are not monks: To be able to be silent in ourselves to hear the voice of God, to seek, so to speak, a "salon" where God speaks to us: To learn the Word of God in prayer and meditation is the path for life.

Christ at the Center of the Monk's Life

St. Peter Damian, who basically was a man of prayer, meditation and contemplation, was also a fine theologian: His reflection on several doctrinal subjects led him to important conclusions for life. Thus, for example, he expresses with clarity and vivacity the Trinitarian doctrine. He already used, in keeping with biblical and patristic texts, the three fundamental terms that later became determinant also for the West's philosophy: processio, relatio e persona (cf. Opusc. XXXVIII: PL CXLV, 633-642; and Opusc. II and III: ibid., 41 ff. and 58 ff.). However, as theological analysis led him to contemplate the intimate life of God and the dialogue of ineffable love between the three divine Persons, he draws from it ascetic conclusions for life in community and for the proper relations between Latin and Greek Christians, divided on this topic. Also meditation on the figure of Christ has significant practical reflections, as the whole of Scripture is centered on him. The "Jewish people themselves," notes St. Peter Damian, "through the pages of sacred Scripture, have, one could say, carried Christ on their shoulders" (Sermo XL VI, 15). Therefore Christ, he adds, must be at the center of the monk's life: "Christ must be heard in our language, Christ must be seen in our life, he must be perceived in our heart" (Sermo VIII, 5). Profound union with Christ should involve not only monks but all the baptized. It also implies for us an intense call not to allow ourselves to be totally absorbed by the activities, problems and preoccupations of every day, forgetting that Jesus must truly be at the center of our life.

The Reformer of the Church

Communion with Christ creates unity among Christians. In Letter 28, which is a brilliant treatise of ecclesiology, Peter Damian develops a theology of the Church as communion. "The Church of Christ," he wrote, "is united by the bond of charity to the point that, as she is one in many members, she is also totally gathered mystically in just one of her members; so that the whole universal Church is rightly called the only Bride of Christ in singular, and every chosen soul, because of the sacramental mystery, is fully considered Church." This is important: not only that the whole universal Church is united, but that in each one of us the Church in her totality should be present. Thus the service of the individual becomes "expression of universality" (Ep 28, 9-23). Yet the ideal image of the "holy Church" illustrated by Peter Damian does not correspond -- he knew it well -- to the reality of his time. That is why he was not afraid to denounce the corruption existing in monasteries and among the clergy, above all due to the practice of secular authorities conferring the investiture of ecclesiastical offices: Several bishops and abbots behaved as governors of their own subjects more than as pastors of souls. It is no accident that their moral life left much to be desired. Because of this, with great sorrow and sadness, in 1057 Peter Damian left the monastery and accepted, though with difficulty, the appointment of cardinal bishop of Ostia, thus entering fully in collaboration with the popes in the difficult undertaking of the reform of the Church. He saw that it was not enough to contemplate, and had to give up the beauty of contemplation to assist in the work of renewal of the Church. Thus he renounced the beauty of the hermitage and courageously undertook numerous journeys and missions.

The Peacemaker

Because of his love of monastic life, 10 years later, in 1067, he was given permission to return to Fonte Avellana, resigning from the Diocese of Ostia. However, the desired tranquility did not last long: Two years later he was sent to Frankfurt in an attempt to prevent Henry IV's divorce from his wife, Bertha; and again two years later, in 1071, he went to Montecassino for the consecration of the abbey's church, and, at the beginning of 1072 he went to Ravenna to establish peace with the local archbishop, who had supported the anti-pope, causing the interdict on the city. During his return journey to the hermitage, a sudden illness obliged him to stay in Faenza in the Benedictine monastery of "Santa Maria Vecchia fuori porta," where he died on the night of Feb. 22-23, 1072.

A Monk to the End

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a great grace that in the life of the Church the Lord raised such an exuberant, rich and complex personality as that of St. Peter Damian and it is not common to find such acute and lively works of theology as those of the hermit of Fonte Avellana. He was a monk to the end, with forms of austerity that today might seem to us almost excessive. In this way, however, he made of monastic life an eloquent testimony of the primacy of God and a call to all to walk toward holiness, free from any compromise with evil. He consumed himself, with lucid consistency and great severity, for the reform of the Church of his time. He gave all his spiritual and physical energies to Christ and the Church, always remaining, as he liked to call himself, "Petrus ultimus monachorum servus," Peter, last servant of the monks.

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At yesterday's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI presented Saint Odo of Cluny. The Holy Father's predilection for the monastic tradition is a blessing for all of us who strive to follow Saint Benedict's "little rule for beginners." This discourse is best read in the context of the Holy Father's message at Heiligenkreuz in 2007 and again in Paris at the Collège des Bernardins in 2008.

The new Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle is especially blessed in coming to birth during this most "Benedictine" of pontificates. The rich teachings of Pope Benedict XVI on monastic life will be integral to the formation of the young men who will present themselves, "truly seeking God."

Dear brothers and sisters:

What It Means to Be Christians

After a long pause, I would like to take up again the presentation of the great writers of the Eastern and Western Church of the Medieval era because, as though in a mirror, in their lives and writings we see what it means to be Christians.

Rise and Multiplication of Cloisters

Today I propose to you the luminous figure of St. Odo, abbot of Cluny. He is situated in the monastic Middle Ages that saw in Europe the amazing spread of life and spirituality inspired in St. Benedict's Rule. During those centuries there was a prodigious rise and multiplication of cloisters that, branching out over the continent, spread through it the Christian spirit and sensibility. St. Odo takes us, in particular, to a monastery, Cluny, which during the Middle Ages was one of the most illustrious and celebrated. Even today it reveals with its majestic ruins the footprint of a glorious past because of its intense dedication to ascesis, study, and, in a special way, divine worship, enveloped in decorum and beauty.

My Lady, Mother of Mercy

Odo was the second abbot of Cluny. He was born around 880, on the border between Maine and Touraine, in France. He was consecrated by his [spiritual] father, the holy Bishop Martin of Tours, in whose beneficent shadow and memory Odo passed all his life, ending it at last near his tomb. His choice to consecrate himself in the religious life was preceded by an experience of a special moment of joy, which he mentioned to another monk, John the Italian, later his biographer. Odo was still an adolescent, around 16 years old, when one Christmas Eve he sensed how a prayer to the Virgin came spontaneously to his lips: "My Lady, Mother of Mercy, who on this night gave birth to the Savior, pray for me. May your glorious and singular birth be, Oh most merciful, my refuge" (Vita Sancti Odonis, I,9: PL 133, 747).

Blessed Virgin Mary, Only Hope of the World

The name "Mother of Mercy," with which the young Odo then invoked the Virgin, was the one he always wished to use when addressing Mary, also calling her "only hope of the world ... thanks to whom the doors of paradise have been opened to us" (In Veneratione S. Mariae Magdalenae: PL 133, 721).

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The corpus of Pope Benedict XVI's teachings on the Blessed Virgin Mary grows apace. By means of his homilies and addresses on or around the various liturgical feasts of Our Lady, the Holy Father proposes various aspects of the Marian mystery to the Church's contemplation. Pope Benedict XVI is emerging as a great Marian Pope; his particular gift is a synthesis of liturgical theology, rigorous doctrine, and tender piety. Here is the homily given by His Holiness on the Solemnity of the Assumption.

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Glorious Destiny of the Mother of God

Today's Solemnity crowns the series of important liturgical celebrations in which we are called to contemplate the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the history of salvation. Indeed, the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Divine Motherhood and the Assumption are the fundamental, interconnected milestones with which the Church exalts and praises the glorious destiny of the Mother of God, but in which we can also read our history.

The mystery of Mary's conception recalls the first page of the human event, pointing out to us that in the divine plan of creation man was to have had the purity and beauty of the Virgin Immaculate.

This plan, jeopardized but not destroyed by sin, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, proclaimed and brought into being in Mary, was recomposed and restored to the free acceptance of the human being in faith.

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Our Lady in the Life of the Priest

Pope Benedict XVI has been using every opportunity to promote a fruitful observance of the Year of the Priesthood. Especially noteworthy is the Holy Father's attention to the place of Our Lady in the life of the priest. At the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Assumption, he spoke of the Immaculate Virgin in the experience of Saint John Mary Vianney.

The Curé of Ars and the Parish Priest of Knock

It struck me, after my recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock, that the Marian devotion of the Curé of Ars (1786-1859) had much in common with that of the Parish Priest of Knock, the Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh (1821-1897). Both priests were devoted to Our Lady in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception; both priests consecrated their parishes to her.

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The memorial tablet erected by the grateful parishioners of Knock in honour of Archdeacon Cavanagh could, in fact, describe the Curé of Ars. It reads:

Pray for the soul of the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Archdeacon of the Chapter of Tuam, and parish of Knock-Aghamore, whose fame, on account of the extraordinary sanctity of his life and his devotion to the Mother of God, was diffused thus far and wide. Unwearying in the Confessional, assiduous in works of piety, he died, full of years and merits, December 9th, 1897, R.I.P.

There is one mistake on the memorial tablet; the Archdeacon died, not on December 9th, but on December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception to whom he was so devoted.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Mary Our Mother

In the heart of the month of August, a holiday period for many families and also for me, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the ultimate meaning of our existence, helped by today's Liturgy which invites us to live in this world oriented to eternal happiness in order to share in the same glory as Mary, the same joy as our Mother (cf. Collect).

The Example of the Saints

Let us, therefore, turn our gaze to Our Lady, Star of Hope, who illumines us on our earthly journey, and follow the example of the Saints who turned to her in every circumstance.

Priestly Love and Veneration for the Most Holy Virgin

You know that we are celebrating the Year for Priests in remembrance of the Holy Curé d'Ars, and I would like to draw from the thoughts and testimonies of this holy country parish priest some ideas for reflection that will be able to help all of us especially us priests to strengthen our love and veneration for the Most Holy Virgin.

His biographers claim that St John Mary Vianney spoke to Our Lady with devotion and, at the same time, with trust and spontaneity. "The Blessed Virgin", he used to say, "is immaculate and adorned with all the virtues that make her so beautiful and pleasing to the Blessed Trinity" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 303).

Never Tired of Speaking of Mary to the Faithful

And further: "The heart of this good Mother is nothing but love and mercy, all she wants is to see us happy. To be heard, it suffices to address oneself to her" (ibid., p. 307). The priest's zeal shines through these words. Motivated by apostolic longing, he rejoiced in speaking to his faithful of Mary and never tired of doing so. He could even present a difficult mystery like today's, that of the Assumption, with effective images, such as, for example: "Man was created for Heaven. The devil broke the ladder that led to it. Our Lord, with his Passion, made another.... The Virgin Most Holy stands at the top of the ladder and holds it steady with both hands" (ibid.).

Mary's Beauty

The Holy Curé d'Ars was attracted above all by Mary's beauty, a beauty that coincides with her being Immaculate, the only creature to have been conceived without a shadow of sin.

"The Blessed Virgin", he said, "is that beautiful Creature who never displeased the good Lord" (ibid. p. 306). As a good and faithful pastor, he first of all set an example also in this filial love for the Mother of Jesus by whom he felt drawn toward Heaven. "Were I not to go to Heaven", he exclaimed, "how sorry I should be! I should never see the Blessed Virgin, this most beautiful creature!" (ibid., p. 309).

Marian Consecration

Moreover, on several occasions he consecrated his parish to Our Lady, recommending that mothers in particular do the same, every morning, with their children.

Turn to Mary

Dear brothers and sisters, let us make our own the sentiments of the Holy Curé d'Ars. And with his same faith let us turn to Mary, taken up into Heaven, in a special way entrusting to her the priests of the whole world.

Mary in the Life of the Priest

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Dear readers, I returned from Ireland to Connecticut last evening. As soon as I can, I will share some of the pilgrimage experience with you. In the meantime, I must catch up with correspondence and other pressing duties. The Holy Father's General Audience of August 12th is a real gift for the Year of the Priesthood. This unusual depiction of Our Lady and Saint John in the Cenacle is a fitting illustration of the Holy Father's teaching on Mary, Mother of Priests.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our Lady and the Priesthood

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priests. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Mary's Yes

When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes".

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.

Mary at the Heart of This Mystery

Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.

Saint John the Beloved Son

Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests.

Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27).

The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home".

Taking Mary Into One's Inner Life

This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being.

To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate.

It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them.

In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world.

Priests: Beloved Sons of Mary

Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as "Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry". The Council continues, "priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18).

The Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: "Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305).

Priests: Stewards of the Precious Treasure of Jesus' Love

This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today's world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!

Caritas in Veritate

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Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. For this reason, even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God's love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace. All this is essential if "hearts of stone" are to be transformed into "hearts of flesh" (Ezek 36:26), rendering life on earth "divine" and thus more worthy of humanity. All this is of man, because man is the subject of his own existence; and at the same time it is of God, because God is at the beginning and end of all that is good, all that leads to salvation: "the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor 3:22-23). Christians long for the entire human family to call upon God as "Our Father!" In union with the only-begotten Son, may all people learn to pray to the Father and to ask him, in the words that Jesus himself taught us, for the grace to glorify him by living according to his will, to receive the daily bread that we need, to be understanding and generous towards our debtors, not to be tempted beyond our limits, and to be delivered from evil (cf. Mt 6:9-13).
Pope Benedict XVI

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Yesterday, after praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Precious Blood of Christ. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (Ap 2:29). My comments are in italics.

Dear brothers and sisters!

In the past, the first Sunday of July was characterized by devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Christ. In the last century some of my venerable predecessors confirmed this [tradition] and Blessed John XXIII, with his apostolic letter "Inde a Primis" (June 30, 1960), explained its meaning and approved its litanies.

How wonderful that the Holy Father should allude to the custom of keeping July as the month of the Precious Blood. The Litanies of the Precious Blood approved for public prayer by Blessed John XXIII are a favourite prayer of mine, a devotion entirely grounded in Sacred Scripture and in Tradition, and endowed with a particular efficacy.

The theme of blood linked to that of the Paschal Lamb is of primary importance in sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament the sprinkling of the blood of sacrificed animals represented and established the covenant between God and the people, as one reads in the Book of Exodus: "Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying: 'This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you on the basis of all these words of his'" (Exodus 24:8).

The Mass and Office of the Most Precious Blood (Feast: July 1st) are woven of Old Testament types and images of the Blood of Christ, the Immolated Lamb.

Jesus explicitly repeats this formula at the Last Supper, when, offering the chalice to his disciples, he says: "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). And, from the scourging, to the piercing of his side after his death on the cross, Christ has really shed all of his blood as the true Lamb immolated for universal redemption. The salvific value of his blood is expressively affirmed in many passages of the New Testament.

The Holy Father invites us to meditate on the mystery of the Precious Blood from the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist in the Cenacle, through the Passion and piercing of Our Lord's Side, to the glory of the Immolated Lamb in the Apocalypse.

In this Year for Priests, one need only cite the beautiful lines of the Letter to the Hebrews: "Christ ... entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own Blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God?" (9:11-14).

The mystery of the Blood of Christ that appears so vividly in the Letter to the Hebrews is inseparable from all that is related to the Year of the Priest. I recommend, in particular, the recitation of the Litany of the Precious Blood for priests during this year.

Dear brothers, it is written in Genesis that the blood of Abel, killed by his brother Cain, cried out to God from the earth (cf. 4:10). And, unfortunately, today as yesterday, this cry does not cease, since human blood continues to run because of violence, injustice and hatred. When will men learn that life is sacred and belongs to God alone? When will men understand that we are all brothers? To the cry of the blood that goes up from many parts of the earth, God answers with the Blood of his Son, who gave his life for us. Christ did not answer evil with evil, but with good, with his infinite love.

Life is sacred and belongs to God alone. In the Bible, life is blood. God answers the taking of human life with the giving of the Blood of His Son. The Blood of Christ pleads on behalf of all: those who are the victims of violence and even those who perpetrate it, that they may be converted and live.

The blood of Christ is the pledge of the faithful love of God for humanity. Looking upon the wounds of the Crucified, every man, even in conditions of extreme moral misery, can say: God has not abandoned me, he loves me, he gave his life for me -- and in this way rediscover hope. May the Virgin Mary, who beneath the Cross, together with the apostle John, witnessed the testament of Jesus' Blood, help us to rediscover the inestimable riches of this grace, and to feel profound and perennial gratitude for it.

I am in awe of this sentence: "Looking upon the wounds of the Crucified, every man, even in conditions of extreme moral misery, can say: God has not abandoned me, he loves me, he gave his life for me -- and in this way rediscover hope." And then, the Holy Father directs us to Our Lady with Saint John at the foot of the Cross, eyewitnesses of the Blood and Water that gushed from the Open Side of Jesus. There is room for everyone at the foot of the Cross, even those who find themselves "in conditions of extreme moral misery." And there, at the foot of the Cross, is hope and copious redemption.

One Who Prays Is Never Alone

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Here is a translation of the Holy Father's teaching during yesterday's general audience in St. Peter's Square. He continues to foster a fruitful celebration of the Year of the Priest. The beginning of the last paragraph is extraordinary: "One who prays is not afraid; one who prays is never alone; one who prays is saved!"

Dear brothers and sisters:

Deeper Into the Knowledge of the Mystery of Christ

As you know, with the celebration of First Vespers for the solemnity of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Pauline Year has come to a close -- the year that marked the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the spiritual fruits that this important initiative has brought to so many Christian communities.

As a precious heritage of the Pauline Year, we can reap the Apostle's invitation to go deeper into the knowledge of the mystery of Christ, so that he becomes the heart and center of our personal and social realities.

True Spiritual and Ecclesial Renewal

This is, in fact, the indispensable condition for a true spiritual and ecclesial renewal. As I already emphasized during the first Eucharistic celebration in the Sistine Chapel after my election as the Successor of the Apostle St. Peter, it is precisely from that full communion with Christ that "flows every other element of the Church's life: first of all, communion among all the faithful, the commitment to proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel, the ardor of love for all, especially the poorest and lowliest" (1st Message at the End of the Eucharistic Concelebration With the Members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, April 20, 2005).

How Great Is the Priesthood

This is true in the first place for priests. Because of this, I thank Divine Providence, which now offers us the possibility of celebrating the Year for Priests. It is my heartfelt wish that this will be an opportunity for interior renewal for every priest, and consequently, [a year of] firm reinvigoration in the commitment to his own mission.

Just as during the Pauline Year, our constant reference point was St. Paul, so in the coming months we will look to St. John Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars, recalling the 150th anniversary of his death. In the letter I wrote to priests for this occasion, I wanted to emphasize what shines forth in the existence of this humble minister of the altar: "the complete identification of the man with his ministry."

He often said that "a good pastor, a pastor after the heart of God, is the greatest treasure that the good God can give to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy." And almost unable to conceive the greatness of the gift and the task entrusted to a poor human creature, he sighed, "Oh how great is the priesthood! ... If he could understand himself, he would die. ... God obeys him: He pronounces two words and Our Lord descends from heaven at his beckoning and enters into a tiny Host."

Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests

In truth, precisely considering the binomial "identity-mission," every priest can better see the need for this progressive identification with Christ that will guarantee him fidelity and fruitfulness in the evangelical testimony.

The very theme of the Year for Priests -- Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests -- shows that the gift of divine grace precedes every possible human response and pastoral accomplishment, and thus, in the life of the priest, missionary proclamation and worship are never separable, just as the ontological-sacramental identity and the evangelizing mission are not separable.

Holy Oblation

Apart from that we could say the objective of every priest's mission is "cultic": so that all people can offer themselves to God as a living host, holy and pleasing to Him (cf. Romans 12:1), that in creation itself, in people, it becomes worship and praise of the Creator, receiving from it that charity that they are called to abundantly dispense among each other.

The Sacrifice Offered by Priests

We clearly see this in the beginnings of Christianity. St. John Chrysostom said, for example, that the sacrament of the altar and the "sacrament of one's brother" or, as they say, the "sacrament of the poor," are two aspects of the same mystery. Love for neighbor, attention to justice and to the poor, are not just themes of social morality, but rather the expression of a sacramental conception of Christian morality, because through the ministry of the priest, the spiritual sacrifice of all the faithful is carried out, in union with that of Christ, the one Mediator: the sacrifice that priests offer in an unbloody and sacramental manner awaiting the new coming of the Lord.

United to the Sacrifice of Christ

This is the principal dimension, essentially missionary and dynamic, of priestly identity and ministry: by way of the proclamation of the Gospel, those who still do not believe are begotten in the faith, so that they can unite their sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ, that translates in love for God and neighbor.

Primacy of Divine Grace

Dear brothers and sisters, faced with so many uncertainties and struggles, it is urgent to recover -- also in the exercise of priestly ministry -- a clear and unmistaken judgment about the absolute primacy of divine grace, recalling what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "The smallest gift of grace surpasses the natural good of the whole universe" (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 113, a. 9, ad 2).

Encounter With Christ

The mission of every priest depends, therefore, also and above all on the awareness of the sacramental reality of his "new being." The priest's renewed enthusiasm for his mission will always depend on the certainty of his personal identity, which is not artificially constructed, but rather given and received freely and divinely. What I have written in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" is also true for priests: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (No. 1).

Critique of a Post-Concilar Misconception

Having received such an extraordinary gift of grace with their "consecration," priests become permanent witnesses of their encounter with Christ. Beginning precisely from this interior awareness, they can plentifully fulfill their "mission," by means of the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. After the Second Vatican Council, the impression has come about that in our times, there is something more urgent in priests' missions; some believed that they should in the first place build up a distinct society. On the other hand, the verses from the Gospel that we heard at the beginning call our attention to the two essential elements of priestly ministry. Jesus sends the apostles, at that time and now, to proclaim the Gospel and he gives them the power to cast out evil spirits. "Proclamation" and "power," that is to say "word" and "sacrament," are therefore the two foundational pillars of priestly service, beyond its many possible configurations.

Identity of the Priest

When the "diptych" consecration-mission is not taken into account, it becomes truly difficult to understand the identity of the priest and his ministry in the Church. Who in fact is the priest, if not a man converted and renewed by the Spirit, who lives from a personal relationship with Christ, constantly making the Gospel criteria his own? Who is the priest, if not a man of unity and truth, aware of his own limits and at the same time, of the extraordinary greatness of the vocation he has received, that of helping to extend the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth?

Eucharistic Adoration -- Especially Monasteries

Yes! The priest is a man totally belonging to the Lord, because it is God himself who calls him and who establishes him in his apostolic service. And precisely being totally of God, he is totally of mankind, for all people. During this Year for the Priest, which will continue until the next solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us pray for all priests. May there be an abundance of prayer initiatives and, in particular, Eucharistic adoration, for the sanctification of the clergy and for priestly vocations -- in dioceses, in parishes, in religious communities (especially monasteries), in associations and movements and in the various pastoral groups present in the whole world -- responding to Jesus' invitation to pray "to the lord of the harvest that he may send workers to his harvest" (Matthew 9:38).

The True Path of Sanctification for Priests

Prayer is the first task, the true path of sanctification for priests, and the soul of an authentic "vocational ministry." The numerical scarcity of priestly ordinations in some countries should not discourage, but instead should motivate a multiplication of opportunities for silence and listening to the Word, and better attention to spiritual direction and the sacrament of confession, so that the voice of God, who always continues calling and confirming, can be heard and promptly followed by many youth.

An Existence Made Prayer

One who prays is not afraid; one who prays is never alone; one who prays is saved! St. John Vianney is undoubtedly a model of an existence made prayer. Mary, Mother of the Church, help all priests to follow his example so as to be, like him, witnesses of Christ and apostles of the Gospel.

[Translation: Libreria Editrice Vaticana]

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The Sacred Side of Jesus in the Redemptorist Church of Sant'Alfonso in Rome
Home of the Miraculous Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help


On this Octave Day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: the Vatican's English translation of the Holy Father's homily at Vespers in Saint Peter's Basilica on June 19. My comments are in italics.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In a little while, we shall be singing in the Antiphon to the Magnificat: "The Lord has welcomed us in His Heart Suscepit nos Dominus in sinum et cor suum". God's Heart, considered to be the organ of His will, is mentioned 26 times in the Old Testament.

What a brilliant opening! Pope Benedict XVI goes straight to the Magnificat Antiphon, the mystical key that unlocks the most solemn moment of Vespers. Then he presents the biblical understanding of the heart: the organ of the will.

Man is judged according to God's Heart. Because of the pain His Heart feels at the sins of man, God decides on the flood, but is subsequently moved by human weakness and forgives.

Yes, the Heart of God can feel pain. The Heart of God grieves over the sins of men.

Then there is an Old Testament passage in which the subject of God's Heart is expressed with absolute clarity: it is in chapter 11 of the Book of the Prophet Hosea in which the first verses describe the dimension of the love with which the Lord turned to Israel at the dawn of its history: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11: 1). Israel, in fact, responds to God's tireless favour with indifference and even outright ingratitude.

The message of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary echoed the Reproaches of the Good Friday Liturgy and, beyond them, the indifference and ingratitude of Israel to a Bridegroom God. "In return for My love," He said to Saint Margaret Mary, "I receive from most nothing but ingratitude, irreverence, sacrilege, coldness, and scorn. . . . Look how sinners treat Me. They have nothing but coldness and disdain for all My eagerness to do them good."

"The more I called them", the Lord is forced to admit, "the more they went from Me" (v. 2). Nonetheless he never abandons Israel to the hands of the enemy because "my Heart", the Creator of the universe observes, "recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender" (v. 8).

Speaking through His prophet, God bares His Heart: He reveals that, even in the face of coldness, indifference, and betrayal, He remains compassionate and tender.

The Heart of God throbs with compassion! On today's Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church offers us this mystery for contemplation, the mystery of the Heart of a God who feels compassion and pours forth all His love upon humanity. It is a mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God's immeasurable love for the human being. He does not give in to ingratitude or to rejection by the People He has chosen; on the contrary, with infinite mercy He sends His Only-Begotten Son into the world to take upon Himself the burden of love immolated so that by defeating the powers of evil and death He could restore the dignity of being God's children to human beings, enslaved by sin.

The translation is a little awkward, but the message is overwhelming. It is Love Crucified. It is the Heart of the Only-Begotten Son opened by the soldier's lance so that sinners might be drawn through the awful gaping wound into the bosom of the Father.

All this comes about at a high price: the Only-Begotten Son of the Father is sacrificed on the Cross, "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (cf. Jn 13: 1).

The Holy Father quotes the beginning of Saint John's account of the Cenacle and of the Lord's final discourse: in finem dilexit. He loved them to the end. I read chapters 13 through 17 of Saint John every Thursday; it is an abyss of love, an inexhaustible mystery. It is the Heart of Jesus forming His first priests.

A symbol of this love which goes beyond death is his side, pierced by a spear. In this regard, the Apostle John, an eye-witness, says: "one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water" (cf. Jn 19: 34).

Yes, the Sacred Side of Jesus is opened after His death so that even the roseate blood and water remaining in His Heart might be poured out for sinners.

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you because, in response to my invitation, you have come in large numbers to this celebration with which we begin the Year for Priests. I greet the Cardinals and Bishops, in particular the Cardinal Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy with their collaborators, and the Bishop of Ars. I greet the priests and seminarians of the various seminaries and colleges of Rome; the men and women religious and all the faithful.

I address a special greeting to H.B. Ignace Youssef Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for Syrians, who has come to Rome to meet me and to acknowledge publicly the "ecclesiastica communio" which I have granted him.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pause together to contemplate the pierced Heart of the Crucified One. We have heard again, just now, in the brief Reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians, that "God, Who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ... and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2: 4-6). To be in Jesus Christ, is to be already seated in heaven.

This, Fathers, is how to preach at Vespers! The Holy Father began with the Magnificat Antiphon (not yet sung at this point, therefore creating a certain anticipation), and then quotes the Short Reading, explaining what Saint Paul means when he speaks of being "in Jesus Christ."

The essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of Jesus; in Christ the whole of the revolutionary newness of the Gospel was revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and already makes us live in God's eternity.

The Heart of Jesus is the essentIal nucleus of Christianity! Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an immense gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. We have not yet begun to probe its inexhaustible richness. The point of departure in any such attempt is the liturgy of the Church: the Proper of the Mass, the Lectionary, and the Divine Office with its antiphons, responsories, hymns, and orations.

The Evangelist John writes: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (3: 16). His Divine Heart therefore calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in Him and, following His example, to make of ourselves a gift of love without reserve.

To abandon our human certainties to trust in Him! How many of you learned to say as children, "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in Thee"? I learned that aspiration as a small boy and it has never left me. Children need to learn such prayers from the heart at an early age, because they will need them later on in life's moments of crisis.

If it is true that Jesus' invitation to "abide in my love" (cf. Jn 15: 9) is addressed to every baptized person, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Day for priestly sanctification, this invitation resounds more powerfully for us priests, particularly this evening at the solemn inauguration of the Year for Priests, which I wanted to be celebrated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé d'Ars.

What does the Sacred Heart of Jesus say to His priests? "Abide in my love" (Jn 15:9). The school of this abiding is, without any doubt, prolonged daily prayer in front of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, close to His Open Heart, hidden in the Sacrament of His Love. A priest who has learned to tarry in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament will progress from tarrying there to abiding in His Heart, that is, in His Love.

One of his beautiful and moving sayings, cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, immediately springs to my mind: "The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus" (n. 1589).

How is it possible not to remember with emotion that the gift of our priestly ministry flowed directly from this Heart? How can we forget that we priests were consecrated to serve humbly and authoritatively the common priesthood of the faithful?

Priestly ministry flows from the Heart of Jesus, from His pierced Heart.

Ours is an indispensable mission, for the Church and for the world, which demands full fidelity to Christ and in unceasing union with him this to remain in His love means that we must constantly strive for holiness, this union, as did St John Mary Vianney.

In case you had any doubts, Fathers: ours is an indispensable mission both for the Church and for the world! With priests the fecundity of the Church would dry up; she would become barren. And the world would become a wasteland.

In the Letter I addressed to you for this special Jubilee Year, dear brother priests, I wanted to highlight certain qualifying aspects of our ministry, with references to the example and teaching of the Holy Curé d'Ars, model and protector of all of us, priests, and especially parish priests.

We are to spend this year in the company of Saint John Mary Vianney, that is in the real experience of his companionship, made possible by the Communion of Saints.

May my Letter be a help and encouragement to you in making this Year a favourable opportunity to grow in intimacy with Jesus, who counts on us, his ministers, to spread and to consolidate his Kingdom, to radiate his love, his truth.

Intimacy with Jesus.

Therefore, "in the footsteps of the Curé of Ars", my Letter concluded, "let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!" (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, see p. 5).

Enthralled by Jesus.

To let oneself be totally won over by Christ! This was the purpose of the whole life of St Paul to whom we have devoted our attention during the Pauline Year which is now drawing to a close; this was the goal of the entire ministry of the Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we shall invoke in particular during the Year for Priests; may it also be the principal objective for each one of us.

And totally won over by Christ.

In order to be ministers at the service of the Gospel, study and a careful and continuing pastoral and theological formation is of course useful and necessary, but that "knowledge of love" which can only be learned in a "heart to heart" with Christ is even more necessary. Indeed, it is He who calls us to break the Bread of His love, to forgive sins and to guide the flock in His name. For this very reason we must never distance ourselves from the source of Love which is his Heart that was pierced on the Cross.

Study is necessary and useful, but "cursed be the study that leadeth not to love." The priest must never distance himself from the Heart pierced on the Cross; this of course, is why he will offer Holy Mass daily. If a priest is comfortable letting a single day pass without offering the Holy Sacrifice, his priesthood is in danger. He may continue going through the motions for a tIme, but a certain spiritual lifelessness will betray the distance he has taken from his First Love. The faithful will notice it.

Only in this way will we be able to cooperate effectively in the mysterious "plan of the Father" that consists in "making Christ the Heart of the world"! This plan is brought about in history, as Jesus gradually becomes the Heart of human hearts, starting with those who are called to be closest to him: priests, precisely.

Christ is the Heart of the priest's heart. If He is not, other loves will move in to occupy the void.

We are reminded of this ongoing commitment by the "priestly promises" that we made on the day of our Ordination and which we renew every year, on Holy Thursday, during the Chrism Mass. Even our shortcomings, our limitations, and our weaknesses must lead us back to the Heart of Jesus.

Yes, yes. Even our shortcomings, our limitations, and our weaknesses must lead us back to the Heart of Jesus. This is why I practice and recommend frequent -- very frequent Confession. Every Confession is a return to the Heart of Jesus. We priests need to avail ourselves very frequently of the restorative grace of sacramental absolution. It makes an enormous difference in the fruitfulness of our sacred ministry. Weekly? you ask. Yes. Weekly is not too often. I once heard the confession of a saintly Jesuit (!) who approached the sacrament daily with the most touching compunction and humility.

Indeed, if it is true that sinners, in contemplating Him, must learn from Him the necessary "sorrow for sins" that leads them back to the Father, it is even more so for holy ministers. How can we forget, in this regard, that nothing makes the Church, the Body of Christ, suffer more than the sins of her pastors, especially the sins of those who are transformed into "a thief and a robber" of the sheep (Jn 10: 1 ff.), or who deviates from the Church through their own private doctrines, or who ensnare the Church in sin and death?

The sins of priests horribly disfigure the face of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Reparation for the sins of priests is not the unfashionable product of an overheated 19th century piety. It is a compelling call to plunge oneself into the Fire and the Blood. It is the means by which priests themselves are restored to spiritual health, and by which the most the unspeakable damage to souls, caused by the sins of priests, is repaired.

Dear priests, the call to conversion and recourse to Divine Mercy also applies to us, and we must likewise humbly address a heartfelt and ceaseless invocation to the Heart of Jesus to keep us from the terrible risk of harming those whom we are bound to save.

This is phenomenally powerful: "We must likewise humbly address a heartfelt and ceaseless invocation to the Heart of Jesus to keep us from the terrible risk of harming those whom we are bound to save."

I have just had the opportunity to venerate in the Choir Chapel the relic of the Holy Curé d'Ars: his heart. It was a heart that blazed with divine love, that was moved at the thought of the priest's dignity and spoke to the faithful in touching and sublime tones, affirming that "After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is" (cf. Letter, Year for Priests, p. 3).

Sobering and humbling: after God, the priest is everything. If anything should keep us prostrate and faces to the ground before the Blessed Sacrament, it is this, dear Fathers.

Dear Brothers, let us cultivate this same emotion in order to carry out our ministry with generosity and dedication, or to preserve in our souls a true "fear of God": the fear of being able to deprive of so much good, through our negligence or fault, those souls entrusted to us, or God forbid of harming them.

The Holy Father asks us to cultivate the fear of God: the fear of not doing good, the fear of harming souls, the fear of not corresponding to grace.

The Church needs holy priests; ministers who can help the faithful to experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are his convinced witnesses.

Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes the experience of the merciful love of the Sacred Heart. A priest cannot communicate what he has not experienced.

In the Eucharistic Adoration that will follow the celebration of Vespers, let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest on fire with that "pastoral charity" which can enable him to assimilate his personal "I" into that Jesus the High Priest, so that he may be able to imitate Jesus in the most complete self-giving.

"The most complete self-giving": this is the victimal or oblative dimension of priesthood. A priest cannot stand at the altar without placing himself on the altar.

Also, a liturgical note: Exposition, adoration, and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament properly follow Vespers. This is the Roman practice. Vespers "coram Sanctissimo" poses the same theological problem as celebrating the Mass of the Catechumens (or Liturgy of the Word) "coram Sanctissimo." It is not something one would do. Pope Pius XII recognized the unsuitableness of it.

Vespers, being a complete Liturgy of the Word (even as it ascends in the sight of the Divine Majesty as a Sacrifice of Praise) calls for its Eucharistic complement in the exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The paradigm remains the "Liturgy of the Word" on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27-32). So moved were the two disciples by Our Lord's revelation of Himself in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, that they pleaded with Him, "Mane nobiscum, Domine -- Stay with us, Lord." He acceded to their prayer, and going in, they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. This is why the centuries old practice of the Roman Church has been to celebrate Vespers first, and then procede to the recognition and adoration of the Lord in the adorable Sacrament of the altar.

May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Heart we shall contemplate with living faith tomorrow, obtain this grace for us. The Holy Curé d'Ars had a filial devotion to her, so profound that in 1836, in anticipation of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he consecrated his parish to Mary, "conceived without sin".

Pope Benedict XVI does not tire of expressing his filial devotion to Our Blessed Lady. Here he relates the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Parishes consecrated to Our Lady's Immaculate Heart thrive and prosper. The Curé d'Ars knew that.

He kept up the practice of frequently renewing this offering of his parish to the Blessed Virgin, teaching the faithful that "to be heard it was enough to address her", for the simple reason that she "desires above all else to see us happy".

How wonderful! The Blessed Virgin desires above all else to see us happy! Happy, of course, in the sense of the Beatitudes preached by her Son. It is a happiness with no alloy of bitterness, satiety, or boredom. It is the bliss of her own Immaculate Heart communicated to the hearts of her children.

May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, accompany us during the Year for Priests which we are beginning to day, so that we are able to be sound and enlightened guides for the faithful whom the Lord entrusts to our pastoral care. Amen!

And so, the Year for Priests is entrusted to the Blessed Virgin, our Mother! Holy Mary, behold your sons! Sons, behold your Mother.

[Translation Libreria Editrice Vaticana]

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The Holy Father is elucidating his plan for The Year of the Priest. Here is his Wednesday audience:

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Heart of Jesus and the Heart of the Curé d'Ars

Last Friday, June 19, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day traditionally dedicated to pray for the sanctification of priests, I had the joy of inaugurating the Year for Priests. The year was proclaimed on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the "birth into eternal life" of the Curé d'Ars, St. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney. Entering into the Vatican basilica for the celebration of vespers, almost as a first symbolic gesture, I paused in the Choir Chapel to venerate the relic of this saintly pastor of souls: his heart. Why a Year for Priests? Why particularly in memory of the holy Curé d'Ars, who apparently did nothing extraordinary?

Two Saints: Paul and Jean-Marie

Divine Providence has ordained that this personage would be placed beside that of St. Paul. As the Pauline Year is concluding, a year which was dedicated to the Apostle of the Gentiles, the epitome of an extraordinary evangelizer who made various mission trips to spread the Gospel, this new jubilee year invites us to gaze upon a poor farmer turned humble pastor, who carried out his pastoral service in a small town.

If the two saints are quite different insofar as the life experiences that marked them -- one traveled from region to region to announce the Gospel; the other remained in his little parish, welcoming thousands and thousands of faithful -- there is nevertheless something fundamental that unites them: It is their total identification with their ministry, their communion with Christ. This brought St. Paul to say: "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). St. John Vianney liked to repeat: "If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind glass, like wine mixed with water."

Support in the Struggle for Spiritual Perfection

The objective of this Year for Priests, as I wrote in the letter sent to priests for this occasion, is to support that struggle of every priest "toward spiritual perfection, on which the effectiveness of his ministry primarily depends." It is to help priests first of all -- and with them all of God's people -- to rediscover and reinvigorate their awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of grace that the ordained ministry is for he who receives it, for the whole Church, and for the world, which would be lost without the real presence of Christ.

Undoubtedly, the historical and social conditions in which the Curé d'Ars lived have changed, and it is justifiable to ask oneself how it's possible for priests living in a globalized society to imitate him in the way he identified himself with his ministry. In a world in which the customary outlook on life comprehends less and less the sacred, and in its place "useful" becomes the only important category, the catholic -- and even ecclesial -- idea of the priesthood can run the risk of being emptied of the esteem that is natural to it.

Priest in Service

It is not by chance that as much in theological environments as in concrete pastoral practice and the formation of the clergy, a contrast -- even an opposition -- is made between two distinct concepts of the priesthood. Some years ago, I noted in this regard that there is "on the one hand a social-functional understanding that defines the essence of the priesthood with the concept of 'service': service to the community in the fulfillment of a function. On the other hand, there is the sacramental-ontological understanding, which naturally does not deny the servicial character of the priesthood, but sees it anchored in the being of the minister and considers that this being is determined by a gift called sacrament, given by the Lord through the mediation of the Church" (Joseph Ratzinger, Ministry and Life of the Priest, in Principles of Catholic Theology).

Priest in Sacrifice

The terminological mutation of the word "priesthood" toward a meaning of "service, ministry, assignment" is as well a sign of this distinct understanding. The primacy of the Eucharist is linked to the sacramental-ontological conception, in the binomial "priest-sacrifice," while to the other [conception] would correspond the primacy of the word and service to the proclamation.

Considered carefully, these are not two opposing understandings, and the tension that nevertheless exists between them should be resolved from within. Thus the decree "Presbyterorum Ordinis" from the Second Vatican Council affirms: "Through the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel, the People of God are called together and assembled. All belonging to this people can offer themselves as 'a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God' (Rom 12:1). Through the ministry of the priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes" (No. 2).

Proclamation as Holiness

We then ask ourselves, "What exactly does it mean, for priests, to evangelize? What is the so-called primacy of proclamation?" Jesus speaks of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as the true objective for his coming to the world, and his proclamation is not just a "discourse." It includes, at the same time, his actions: His signs and miracles indicate that the Kingdom is now present in the world, which in the end coincides with himself. In this sense, one must recall that even in this idea of the "primacy" of proclamation, word and sign are inseparable.

Christian proclamation does not proclaim "words," but the Word, and the proclamation coincides with the very person of Christ, ontologically open to the relationship with the Father and obedient to his will. Therefore, authentic service to the Word requires from the priest that he strains toward a deep abnegation of himself, until being able to say with the Apostle, "It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me."

Servant of the Word

The priest cannot consider himself "lord" of the word, but rather its servant. He is not the word, but rather, as John the Baptist proclaimed, (precisely today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist), he is the "voice" of the Word: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths'" (Mark 1:3).

Victimhood of the Priest

Now then, to be the "voice" of the Word doesn't constitute for the priest a merely functional element. On the contrary, it presupposes a substantial "losing oneself" in Christ, participating in his mystery of death and resurrection with all of oneself: intelligence, liberty, will, and the offering of one's own body as a living sacrifice (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Only participation in the sacrifice of Christ, in his kenosis, makes the proclamation authentic! And this is the path that should be walked with Christ to the point of saying with him to the Father: Let it be done, "not what I will but what you will" (Mark 14:36). The proclamation, therefore, always implies as well the sacrifice of oneself, the condition so that the proclamation can be authentic and effective.

Abiding Heart to Heart With Christ

Alter Christus, the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father, who in incarnating himself, has taken the form of a slave, has made himself a slave (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). The priest is a slave of Christ in the sense that his existence, ontologically configured to Christ, takes on an essentially relational character: He is in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ at the service of man. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: He is the minister of their salvation, of their happiness, of their authentic liberation -- maturing, in this progressive taking up of the will of Christ, in prayer, in this "remaining heart to heart" with him. This is therefore the essential condition of all proclamation, which implies participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church.

Sayings of the Curé d'Ars

The holy Curé d'Ars often repeated with tears in his eyes: "What a frightening thing to be a priest!" And he added: "How we ought to pity a priest who celebrates Mass as if he were engaged in something routine. How wretched is a priest without interior life!"

Entrustment to Our Lady

May this Year of the Priest bring all priests to identify themselves totally with Jesus, crucified and risen, so that in imitation of St. John the Baptist, we are willing to "decrease" so that he increases; so that, following the example of the Curé d'Ars, they constantly and deeply understand the responsibility of their mission, which is sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God. Let us entrust to the Virgin, Mother of the Church, this Year for Priests just begun and all the priests of the world.

[Translation by Zenit]

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Like all great men of God, Padre Pio had himself become prayer, soul and body. His days were a living rosary, that is, a continuous meditation and assimilation of the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary. This explains the unusual presence within him of supernatural gifts and of human existence. And everything had its climax in the celebration of Holy Mass: there he joined himself fully to the crucified and risen Lord. From prayer, as from an ever-living source, love flowed. The love that he bore in his heart and transmitted to others was full of tenderness, always attentive to the real situations of individuals and families. Especially towards the sick and suffering, he cultivated the predilection of the Heart of Christ, and precisely from this origin the form of a great work dedicated to the "relief of suffering" took shape. One cannot understand or properly interpret this institution divorced from its inspirational source, which is evangelical charity, which in turn, is inspired by prayer.

Here is the Holy Father's homily at San Giovanni Rotondo on this first Sunday of the Anno Sacerdotale:

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LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI
PROCLAIMING A YEAR FOR PRIESTS
ON THE 150th ANNIVERSARY OF THE "DIES NATALIS" OF THE CURÉ OF ARS


Dear Brother Priests,

On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 - a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy -, I have decided to inaugurate a "Year for Priests" in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the "dies natalis" of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide.[1] This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. "The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus", the saintly Curé of Ars would often say.[2] This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ's words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labours, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as "friends of Christ", whom he has called by name, chosen and sent?

I still treasure the memory of the first parish priest at whose side I exercised my ministry as a young priest: he left me an example of unreserved devotion to his pastoral duties, even to meeting death in the act of bringing viaticum to a gravely ill person. I also recall the countless confreres whom I have met and continue to meet, not least in my pastoral visits to different countries: men generously dedicated to the daily exercise of their priestly ministry. Yet the expression of Saint John Mary also makes us think of Christ's pierced Heart and the crown of thorns which surrounds it. I am also led to think, therefore, of the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister. How can we not also think of all those priests who are offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission and persecuted, even at times to offering the supreme testimony of their own blood?

There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God's gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of Saint John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Curé of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: "A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy".[3] He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: "O, how great is the priest! ... If he realized what he is, he would die... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host...".[4] Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: "Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is".[5] These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the sacrament of the priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: "Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you".[6]

He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his Bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: "There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there". As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ's presence and to bear witness to his saving mercy: "[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!": with this prayer he entered upon his mission.[7] The Curé devoted himself completely to his parish's conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of Saint John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ's saving activity was, and is, an expression of his "filial consciousness" which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to his will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry's objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Curé of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonizing his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to "live", physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: "Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed".[8]

The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Curé also knew how to "live" actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organized popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for his charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the "Providence" (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.

His example naturally leads me to point out that there are sectors of cooperation which need to be opened ever more fully to the lay faithful. Priests and laity together make up the one priestly people[9] and in virtue of their ministry priests live in the midst of the lay faithful, "that they may lead everyone to the unity of charity, 'loving one another with mutual affection; and outdoing one another in sharing honour'" (Rom 12:10).[10] Here we ought to recall the Second Vatican Council's hearty encouragement to priests "to be sincere in their appreciation and promotion of the dignity of the laity and of the special role they have to play in the Church's mission. ... They should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes, and acknowledge their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able together with them to discern the signs of the times".[11]

Saint John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life. It was from his example that they learned to pray, halting frequently before the tabernacle for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.[12] "One need not say much to pray well" - the Curé explained to them - "We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to him, let us rejoice in his sacred presence. That is the best prayer".[13] And he would urge them: "Come to communion, my brothers and sisters, come to Jesus. Come to live from him in order to live with him...[14] "Of course you are not worthy of him, but you need him!".[15] This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Those present said that "it was not possible to find a finer example of worship... He gazed upon the Host with immense love".[16] "All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass" - he would say - "since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God".[17] He was convinced that the fervour of a priest's life depended entirely upon the Mass: "The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!".[18] He was accustomed, when celebrating, also to offer his own life in sacrifice: "What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!".[19]

This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him - by a sole inward movement - from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a "virtuous" circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become "a great hospital of souls".[20] His first biographer relates that "the grace he obtained [for the conversion of sinners] was so powerful that it would pursue them, not leaving them a moment of peace!".[21] The saintly Curé reflected something of the same idea when he said: "It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him".[22] "This good Saviour is so filled with love that he seeks us everywhere".[23]

We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: "I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite".[24] From Saint John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the "dialogue of salvation" which it entails. The Curé of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God's forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the "flood of divine mercy" which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God's love in these beautiful and touching words: "The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again, yet he still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: he even forces himself to forget the future, so that he can grant us his forgiveness!".[25] But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how "abominable" this attitude was: "I weep because you don't weep",[26] he would say. "If only the Lord were not so good! But he is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!".[27] He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God's own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God's love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence: "Everything in God's sight, everything with God, everything to please God... How beautiful it is!".[28] And he taught them to pray: "My God, grant me the grace to love you as much as I possibly can".[29]

In his time the Curé of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord's merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love: Deus caritas est (1 Jn: 4:8). Thanks to the word and the sacraments of Jesus, John Mary Vianney built up his flock, although he often trembled from a conviction of his personal inadequacy, and desired more than once to withdraw from the responsibilities of the parish ministry out of a sense of his unworthiness. Nonetheless, with exemplary obedience he never abandoned his post, consumed as he was by apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls. He sought to remain completely faithful to his own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism: "The great misfortune for us parish priests - he lamented - is that our souls grow tepid"; meaning by this that a pastor can grow dangerously inured to the state of sin or of indifference in which so many of his flock are living.[30] He himself kept a tight rein on his body, with vigils and fasts, lest it rebel against his priestly soul. Nor did he avoid self-mortification for the good of the souls in his care and as a help to expiating the many sins he heard in confession. To a priestly confrere he explained: "I will tell you my recipe: I give sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place".[31] Aside from the actual penances which the Curé of Ars practiced, the core of his teaching remains valid for each of us: souls have been won at the price of Jesus' own blood, and a priest cannot devote himself to their salvation if he refuses to share personally in the "precious cost" of redemption.

In today's world, as in the troubled times of the Curé of Ars, the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a forceful witness to the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI rightly noted, "modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses".[32] Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: "Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?".[33] Just as Jesus called the Twelve to be with him (cf. Mk 3:14), and only later sent them forth to preach, so too in our days priests are called to assimilate that "new style of life" which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles.[34]

It was complete commitment to this "new style of life" which marked the priestly ministry of the Curé of Ars. Pope John XXIII, in his Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii nostri primordia, published in 1959 on the first centenary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney, presented his asceticism with special reference to the "three evangelical counsels" which the Pope considered necessary also for priests: "even though priests are not bound to embrace these evangelical counsels by virtue of the clerical state, these counsels nonetheless offer them, as they do all the faithful, the surest road to the desired goal of Christian perfection".[35] The Curé of Ars lived the "evangelical counsels" in a way suited to his priestly state. His poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk, but that proper to a priest: while managing much money (since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works), he realized that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his "Providence",[36] his families of modest means. Consequently, he "was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself".[37] As he would explain: "My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back".[38] When he lacked money, he would say amiably to the poor who knocked at his door: "Today I'm poor just like you, I'm one of you".[39] At the end of his life, he could say with absolute tranquillity: "I no longer have anything. The good Lord can call me whenever he wants!".[40] His chastity, too, was that demanded of a priest for his ministry. It could be said that it was a chastity suited to one who must daily touch the Eucharist, who contemplates it blissfully and with that same bliss offers it to his flock. It was said of him that "he radiated chastity"; the faithful would see this when he turned and gazed at the tabernacle with loving eyes".[41] Finally, Saint John Mary Vianney's obedience found full embodiment in his conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of his ministry. We know how he was tormented by the thought of his inadequacy for parish ministry and by a desire to flee "in order to bewail his poor life, in solitude".[42] Only obedience and a thirst for souls convinced him to remain at his post. As he explained to himself and his flock: "There are no two good ways of serving God. There is only one: serve him as he desires to be served".[43] He considered this the golden rule for a life of obedience: "Do only what can be offered to the good Lord".[44]

In this context of a spirituality nourished by the practice of the evangelical counsels, I would like to invite all priests, during this Year dedicated to them, to welcome the new springtime which the Spirit is now bringing about in the Church, not least through the ecclesial movements and the new communities. "In his gifts the Spirit is multifaceted... He breathes where he wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places, and in ways previously unheard of... but he also shows us that he works with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body".[45] In this regard, the statement of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis continues to be timely: "While testing the spirits to discover if they be of God, priests must discover with faith, recognize with joy and foster diligently the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or more exalted kind".[46] These gifts, which awaken in many people the desire for a deeper spiritual life, can benefit not only the lay faithful but the clergy as well. The communion between ordained and charismatic ministries can provide "a helpful impulse to a renewed commitment by the Church in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world".[47] I would also like to add, echoing the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis of Pope John Paul II, that the ordained ministry has a radical "communitarian form" and can be exercised only in the communion of priests with their Bishop.[48] This communion between priests and their Bishop, grounded in the sacrament of Holy Orders and made manifest in Eucharistic concelebration, needs to be translated into various concrete expressions of an effective and affective priestly fraternity.[49] Only thus will priests be able to live fully the gift of celibacy and build thriving Christian communities in which the miracles which accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel can be repeated.

The Pauline Year now coming to its close invites us also to look to the Apostle of the Gentiles, who represents a splendid example of a priest entirely devoted to his ministry. "The love of Christ urges us on" - he wrote - "because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died" (2 Cor 5:14). And he adds: "He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them" (2 Cor 5:15). Could a finer programme be proposed to any priest resolved to advance along the path of Christian perfection?

Dear brother priests, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney (1859) follows upon the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Lourdes (1858). In 1959 Blessed Pope John XXIII noted that "shortly before the Curé of Ars completed his long and admirable life, the Immaculate Virgin appeared in another part of France to an innocent and humble girl, and entrusted to her a message of prayer and penance which continues, even a century later, to yield immense spiritual fruits. The life of this holy priest whose centenary we are commemorating in a real way anticipated the great supernatural truths taught to the seer of Massabielle. He was greatly devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; in 1836 he had dedicated his parish church to Our Lady Conceived without Sin and he greeted the dogmatic definition of this truth in 1854 with deep faith and great joy."[50] The Curé would always remind his faithful that "after giving us all he could, Jesus Christ wishes in addition to bequeath us his most precious possession, his Blessed Mother".[51]

To the Most Holy Virgin I entrust this Year for Priests. I ask her to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Curé of Ars. It was his fervent prayer life and his impassioned love of Christ Crucified that enabled John Mary Vianney to grow daily in his total self-oblation to God and the Church. May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their Bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary. Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to his Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: "In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33). Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Curé of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!

With my blessing.

From the Vatican, 16 June 2009.

BENEDICTVS PP. XVI

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Here is a translation of the address the Holy Father gave Saturday evening at the Lourdes Grotto in the Vatican Gardens at the annual Marian celebration closing the month of May.

Venerable Brothers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Persevering and United in Prayer With Mary

I greet all of you with affection at the end of the traditional Marian vigil that concludes the month of May in the Vatican. This year it has acquired a very special value since it falls on the eve of Pentecost. Gathering together, spiritually recollected before the Virgin Mary, contemplating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, you have relived the experience of the first disciples, gathered together in the room of the Last Supper with "the Mother of Jesus," "persevering and united in prayer" awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14). We too, in this penultimate evening of May, from the Vatican hill, ask for the pouring out of the Spirit Paraclete upon us, upon the Church that is in Rome and upon the whole Christian people.

The Holy Spirit and the Heart of Mary

The great Feast of Pentecost invites us to meditate upon the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Mary, a very close, privileged, indissoluble relationship. The Virgin of Nazareth was chosen beforehand to become the Mother of the Redeemer by the working of the Holy Spirit: in her humility, she found grace in God's eyes (cf. Luke 1:30). In effect, in the New Testament we see that Mary's faith "draws," so to speak, the Holy Spirit. First of all in the conception of the Son of God, which the archangel Gabriel explains in this way: "The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35). Immediately afterward Mary went to help Elizabeth, and when her greeting reached Elizabeth's ears, the Holy Spirit made the child jump in the womb of her elderly cousin (cf. Luke 1:44); and the whole dialogue between the two mothers is inspired by the Spirit of God, above all the "Magnificat," the canticle of praise with which Mary expresses her sentiments. The whole event of Jesus' birth and his early childhood is guided in an almost palpable manner by the Holy Spirit, even if he is not always mentioned. Mary's heart, in perfect consonance with the divine Son, is the temple of the Spirit of truth, where every word and every event are kept in faith, hope and charity (cf. Luke 2:19, 51).

The Two Hearts and the Precious Blood

We can thus be certain that the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, in his whole hidden life in Nazareth, always found a "hearth" that was always burning with prayer and constant attention to the Holy Spirit in Mary's Immaculate Heart. The wedding feast at Cana is a witness to this singular harmony between Mother and Son in seeking God's will. In a situation like the wedding feast, charged with symbols of the covenant, the Virgin Mary intercedes and, in a certain sense, provokes, a sign of superabundant divine grace: the "good wine" that points to mystery of the Blood of Christ. This leads us directly to Calvary, where Mary stands under the cross with the other women and the Apostle John. Together the Mother and the disciple spiritually taken in Jesus' testament: his last words and his last breath, in which he begins to send out the Spirit; and they take in the silent crying out of his Blood, poured out completely for us (cf. John 19:25-34). Mary knew where the Blood came from: it was formed in her by the work of the Holy Spirit, and she knew that this same creative "power" would raise Jesus up, as he promised.

Mary's Universal Maternity

In this way Mary's faith sustains the faith of the disciples until the meeting with the risen Lord, and will continue to accompany them even after his ascension into heaven, as they await the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" (cf. Acts 1:5). At Pentecost, the Virgin Mary appears again as Bride of the Spirit, having a universal maternity with respect to those who are born from God through faith in Christ. This is why Mary is for all generations the image and model of the Church, who together with the Holy Spirit journeys through time invoking Christ's glorious return: "Come, Lord Jesus" (cf. Revelation 22:17, 20).

In Mary's School

Dear friends, in Mary's school we too learn to recognize the Holy Spirit's presence in our life, to listen to his inspirations and to follow them with docility. He makes us grow in the fullness of Christ, in those good fruits that the apostle Paul lists in the Letter to the Galatians: "Love, joy, peace, magnanimity, benevolence, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22). I hope that you will be filled with these gifts and will always walk with Mary according to the Spirit and, as I express my praise for your participation in this evening celebration, I impart my Apostolic Benediction to all of you from my heart.

[Zenit Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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Homily of Pope Benedict XVI for the Solemnity of Pentecost 2009

Apart from being a magnificent example of mystagogical preaching, the Holy Father's Pentecost homily reveals an exquisite sensitivity to role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in preparing the Church for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI continues to offer us a wealth of Mariological insights masterfully harmonized with the liturgical cycle of feasts and mysteries. The subtitles and italics are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The One Center of the Liturgy and of the Christian Life

Every time that we celebrate the Eucharist we experience in faith the mystery that is accomplished on the altar, that is, we participate in the supreme act of love that Christ realized with his death and resurrection. The one center of the liturgy and of Christian life -- the paschal mystery -- then assumes specific "forms," with different meanings and particular gifts of grace, in the different solemnities and feasts.

The Holy Spirit, the True Fire

Among all the solemnities, Pentecost is distinguished by its importance, because in it that which Jesus himself proclaimed as being the purpose of his whole earthly mission is accomplished. In fact, while he was going up to Jerusalem, he declared to his disciples: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish for it to be kindled!" (Luke 12:49). These words find their most obvious realization 50 days after the resurrection, in Pentecost, the ancient Jewish feast that, in the Church, has become the feast of the Holy Spirit par excellence: "There appeared to them parted tongues as of fire ... and all were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3-4). The Holy Spirit, the true fire, was brought to earth by Christ. He did not steal it from the gods -- as Prometheus did according to the Greek myth -- but he became the mediator of the "gift of God," obtaining it for us with the greatest act of love in history: his death on the cross.

Receive the Holy Spirit

God wants to continue to give this "fire" to every human generation, and naturally he is free to do this how and when he wants. He is spirit, and the spirit "blows where he wills" (cf. John 3:8). However, there is an "ordinary way" that God himself has chosen for "casting fire upon the earth": Jesus is this way, the incarnate only begotten Son of God, dead and risen. For his part, Jesus constituted the Church as his mystical body, so that it prolongs his mission in history. "Receive the Holy Spirit" -- the Lord says to the Apostles on the evening of his resurrection, accompanying those words with an expressive gesture: he "breathed" upon them (cf. John 20:22). In this way he showed them that he was transmitting his Spirit to them, the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The Grace of the Cenacle: Prayer and Concord

Now, dear brothers and sisters, in today's solemnity Scripture tells us how the community must be, how we must be to receive the Holy Spirit. In his account of Pentecost the sacred author says that the disciples "were together in the same place." This "place" is the Cenacle, the "upper room," where Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples, where he appeared to them after his resurrection; that room that had become the "seat," so to speak, of the nascent Church (cf. Acts 1:13). Nevertheless, the intention in the Acts of the Apostles is more to indicate the interior attitude of the disciples than to insist on a physical place: "They all persevered in concord and prayer" (Acts 1:14). So, the concord of the disciples is the condition for the coming of the Holy Spirit; and prayer is the presupposition of concord.

A Church Less Preoccupied With Activities and More Dedicated to Prayer

This is also true for the Church today, dear brothers and sisters. It is true for us who are gathered together here. If we do not want Pentecost to be reduced to a mere ritual or to a suggestive commemoration, but that it be a real event of salvation, through a humble and silent listening to God's Word we must predispose ourselves to God's gift in religious openness. So that Pentecost renew itself in our time, perhaps there is need -- without taking anything away from God's freedom [to do as he pleases] -- for the Church to be less "preoccupied" with activities and more dedicated to prayer.

Mary Most Holy, the Mother of the Church and Bride of the Holy Spirit

Mary Most Holy, the Mother of the Church and Bride of the Holy Spirit, teaches us this. This year Pentecost occurs on the last day of May, when the Feast of the Visitation is customarily celebrated. This event was also a little "Pentecost," bringing forth joy and praise from the hearts of Elizabeth and Mary -- the one barren and the other a virgin -- who both became mothers by an extraordinary divine intervention (cf. Luke 1:41-45).

The Hayden Harmoniemesse

The music and singing that is accompanying our liturgy, also help us to united in prayer, and in this regard I express a lively recognition of the choir of the Cologne cathedral and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Joseph Haydn's "Harmoniemesse," the last of the Masses composed by this great musician, and a sublime symphony for the glory of God, was chosen for today's Mass. The Haydn Mass was a fitting choice given that it is the bicentennial of the composer's death. I address a cordial greeting to all those who have come for this.

The Air We Breathe

To indicate the Holy Spirit, the account in the Acts of the Apostles uses two great images, the image of the tempest and the image of fire. Clearly, St. Luke had in mind the theophany of Sinai, recounted in Exodus (19:16-19) and Deuteronomy (4:10-12:36). In the ancient world the tempest was seen as a sign of divine power, in whose presence man felt subjugated and terrified. But I would like to highlight another aspect: the tempest is described as a "strong driving wind," and this brings to mind the air that distinguishes our planet from others and permits us to live on it. What air is for biological life, the Holy Spirit is for the spiritual life; and as there is air pollution, that poisons the environment and living things, there is also pollution of the heart and the spirit, that mortifies and poisons spiritual existence. In the same way that we should not be complacent about the poisons in the air -- and for this reason ecological efforts are a priority today -- we should also not be complacent about that which corrupts the spirit. But instead it seems that our minds and hearts are menaced by many pollutants that circulate in society today -- the images, for example, that make pleasure a spectacle, violence that degrades men and women -- and people seem to habituate themselves to this without any problem. It is said that this is freedom but it is just a failure to recognize all that which pollutes, poisons the soul, above all of the new generations, and ends up limiting freedom itself. The metaphor of the strong driving wind of Pentecost makes one think of how precious it is to breathe clean air, be it physical air without lungs, or spiritual air -- the healthy air of the spirit that is love -- with our heart.

Fire From Heaven

Fire is the other image of the Holy Spirit that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. I compared Jesus with the mythological figure of Prometheus at the beginning of the homily. The figure of Prometheus suggests a characteristic aspect of modern man. Taking control of the energies of the cosmos -- "fire" -- today human beings seem to claim themselves as gods and want to transform the world excluding, putting aside or simply rejecting the Creator of the universe. Man no longer wants to be the image of God but the image of himself; he declares himself autonomous, free, adult. Obviously that reveals an inauthentic relationship with God, the consequence of a false image that has been constructed of him, like the prodigal son in the Gospel parable who thought that he could find himself by distancing himself from the house of his father. In the hands of man in this condition, "fire" and its enormous possibilities become dangerous: they can destroy life and humanity itself, as history unfortunately shows. The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which atomic energy, used as a weapon, ended up bringing death in unheard of proportions, remain a perennial warning.

With Mary in the Cenacle

We could of course find many examples, less grave and yet just as symptomatic, in the reality of everyday life. Sacred Scripture reveals that the energy that has the ability to move the world is not an anonymous and blind power, but the action of the "spirit of God that broods over the waters" (Genesis 1:2) at the beginning of creation. And Jesus Christ "cast upon the earth" not a native power that was already present but the Holy Spirit, that is, the love of God, who "renews the face of the earth," purifying it of evil and liberating it from the dominion of death (cf. Psalm 103 [104]: 29-30). This pure "fire," essential and personal, the fire of love, descended upon the Apostles, gathered together with Mary in prayer in the Cenacle, to make the Church the extension of Christ's work of renewal.

The Holy Spirit Overcomes Fear

Finally, a last thought also taken from the Acts of the Apostles: the Holy Spirit overcomes fear. We know that the disciples fled to the Cenacle after the Master's arrest and remained there out of fear of suffering the same fate. After Jesus' resurrection this fear did not suddenly disappear. But when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, those men went out without fear and began to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen. They had no fear, because they felt that they were in stronger hands.

His Infinite Love Will Not Abandon Us

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, where the Spirit of God enters, he chases out fear; he makes us know and feel that we are in the hands of an Omnipotence of love: whatever happens, his infinite love will not abandon us. The witness of the martyrs, the courage of the confessors, the intrepid élan of missionaries, the frankness of preachers, the example of all the saints -- some who were even adolescents and children -- demonstrate this. It is also demonstrated by the very existence of the Church, which, despite the limits and faults of men, continues to sail across the ocean of history, driven by the breath of God and animated by his purifying fire. With this faith and this joyous hope we repeat today, through Mary's intercession: "Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!"

[Zenit Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

Pray much and pray well

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For the Year of the Priest


I just translated (rather quickly) a section of the splendid homily given yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI at the Ordination to the Priesthood of nineteen deacons in Saint Peter's Basilica. In my own service to my brother priests, I find that a recurring question is how best a priest can go about praying . . . praying in such a way that his life is prayer, and that prayer is his life. This is precisely the question that the Holy Father addressed yesterday. My own comments follow each section. I dedicate this little entry to my dear brother and son in Christ, Father B.J.

Prayer and Priestly Service
Here I would like to touch upon a point that is particularly close to my heart: prayer and its link to service. We saw that to be ordained priests means to enter, in a sacramental and existential way into the prayer of Christ for "His own." Out of this, for us priests, flows a particular vocation to prayer, in a strongly Christocentric sense: we are called, that is, to "abide" in Christ -- as the Evangelist John loved to repeat (cf. Jn 1, 35-39; 15, 4-10) -- and this is realized especially in prayer. Our ministry is totally bound up with this "abiding", which equals praying, and from this derives its efficacy.

There is an extraordinary density in this excerpt. First of all, the Holy Father confesses that the relationship of prayer to service (diakonìa) is particularly close to his own heart. Then, like the Johannine eagle, he rises to the heights of the mystery of priestly prayer; it is nothing other than an ongoing entrance -- or "passing into" -- the prayer of Christ for His own, for all whom the Father has given Him. "I came," He says, "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

Pope Benedict XVI then affirms that priests have a particular vocation to prayer. "Wait just a minute," I can hear some of my brother priests saying, "I thought that monks had a particular vocation to prayer. My vocation is to ministry." (I've heard this old slogan before.) From the beginning of his pontificate Pope Benedict has sought to close the artificial gap between monastic spirituality and ministerial spirituality. The tired slogan, "We are not monks" has been used to justify slacking off in a multitude of ways. The Curé of Ars was not a monk -- he was the quintessential parish priest -- and yet his life surpassed in prayer and in austerity that of the most observant monks in their cloisters.

Let's allow the Holy Father to address the issue. The priest, before being sent forth to minister, is called to abide in Christ. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his hymn for Lauds of Corpus Christi, has us sing:

Verbum supernum prodiens,
Nec Patris linquens dexteram,
Ad opus suum exiens,
Venit ad vitæ vesperam.

The heavenly Word proceeding forth,
Yet leaving not his Father's right side,
And going to His work on Earth,
Has reached at length life's eventide.


Just as Christ, on His mission of salvation, came into this world from the bosom of His Father, without leaving the Father's side, so too does the priest go forth on His mission from the Side of Christ, and without leaving the Side of Christ or, if you will, the tabernacle of His Sacred Heart. The priest is called to "abide" in ceaseless prayer, to go forth enveloped in prayer and to bring the sweet fragrance of his prayer wherever he goes. "But thanks be to God," says the Apostle, "who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2 Cor 2, 14-15).

The Priest's Daily Rule of Prayer
In such a perspective we must think of the various forms of the prayer of a priest, first of all daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the center and wellspring from which all the forms receive their "lifeblood": the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, and meditation. All these expressions of prayer have their centre in the Eucharist, and together bring about in the day of the priest and in all his life the fulfillment of the word of Jesus: "I am the good shepherd, I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" (Jn 10, 14-15).

Concretely, how does a priest go about abiding in Christ, remaining in His Heart, just as He abides in the bosom of the Father? By persevering in prayer. "Pray constantly," says Saint Paul (1 Th 5,17). The Holy Father presents priests with a Rule of Prayer: note well that this represents the daily minimum requirement. If you are too busy to do this, you are simply too busy. If you are too tired to do this, you are simply too tired. If you have no interest in doing this, your vocation is in danger and you are cheating your people of the "fragrance of Christ" that only a priest who prays always can spread.

What is Father Everypriest's daily Rule of Prayer according to Pope Benedict XVI? Let's consider the elements of the Rule in the order in which the Holy Father presents them.

1) Daily Holy Mass. Daily. Not 6 days week, not 5, or 4 days a week, but daily. The liturgical cycle in its hourly, daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms is given us precisely to facilitate our "abiding" in Christ hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and year after year. Integral to the liturgical cycle is daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic Sacrifice sends the divine lifeblood coursing through one's spiritual organism. Without daily Mass, the priest will succumb to spiritual anemia.

2) The Liturgy of the Hours. The Hours give rhythm and grace to daily life. They are a school of discipline (discipleship), a supernatural system of irrigation channeling grace into every moment of the day, a privileged way of offering thanks in communion with all who, "in heaven, on earth, and under the earth," confess the Name of Jesus and bend the knee before Him. A priest who loves the Divine Office will enjoy an interior life that is sane, and sound, and wholly ecclesial. Fidelity to the Divine Office refines the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, sharpens one's discernment, and imparts to everything the priest does a certain Eucharistic and doxological quality.

3) Eucharistic Adoration. Are you surprised? Eucharistic adoration has known a kind of springtime since The Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005) that was also the year of the death of Pope John Paul II and of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Two Americans known for loving their brother priests and ministering to them tirelessly -- Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Father Gerald Fitzgerald of the Holy Spirit -- insisted on a daily hour before the Blessed Sacrament as a sine qua non of priestly spirituality. The priest who adores the Blessed Sacrament exposes his weaknesses and wounds to the healing radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. Moreover, he abides before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus as the representative of his people: of the sick, the poor, the bereaved, and of those locked in spiritual combat. The priest who looks to the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, and draws near to His Open Heart in the Sacrament of the Altar, will, just as the psalm says, be radiant, and he will not be put to shame.

4) Lectio Divina. Again -- a monastic thing? No, a Catholic thing. The quality of a priest's preaching is directly proportionate to his commitment to lectio divina. Neglect of lectio divina leads to mediocre preaching. Opening the Scriptures is like opening the tabernacle: therein the priest finds the "hidden manna" his soul craves. The four steps of lectio divina can be accommodated to any length of time: 1) lectio, i.e. the Word heard; 2) meditatio, i.e. the Word repeated; 3) oratio, i.e. the Word prayed; 4) contemplatio; i.e. the indwelling Word. Lectio divina cannot be occasional; it is not a random pursuit. Learn to say, "I am not available." Get over feeling guilty about taking time for God!

5) Holy Rosary. Yes, the daily Rosary. It's a spiritual lifeline that has saved many a priest from spiritual shipwreck. The brilliant and holy exegete and founder of the École biblique in Jerusalem, Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, was observed praying fifteen mysteries of the Rosary each day, and asked, "Why, Father, do you, a great exegete, need to pray the Rosary?" "Because, " he answered, "it decapitates pride." I would add that not only does the Rosary decapitate pride; it decapitates each of the seven capital sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. With the passing of the years I have come to appreciate the profound wisdom of an old Dominican priest to whom I used to make my confession years ago. Invariably, after confessing my miseries, Father would ask, "Do you say the Rosary, son?" And invariably I would reply, "Yes, Father." And then he would say, "Aye, then you'll be alright." A priest who prays the Rosary daily will be alright and, almost imperceptibly, will grow in purity and humility.

6) Meditation. Meditation can mean many things, even within our Catholic tradition. It is integral to the prayerful celebration of Holy Mass and the Hours. "it nourishes Eucharistic adoration. It is the second "moment" of lectio divina. It is the soul of the Rosary. In my own experience, meditation is related to "remembering the things the Lord has done." Saint Gertrude the Great, a model of the mystical life grounded in the liturgy, used to say, "A grace remembered is a grace renewed." Understood in this sense, meditation, by recalling the mercies of the Lord in the past, infuses the present with hope, and allows the priest to go forward with a holy boldness.

Is it necessary to set a period of time apart for meditation as such? That depends on whom you ask. The Carmelite, Jesuit and Sulpician traditions would hold fast to some form of meditation as a daily exercise. The monastic tradition has, on the whole, taken a more supple approach to meditation. It is a daily practice, but one diffused in every form of prayer, including the liturgy itself. One learns to pace one's prayer, to pause, to breathe, to linger over a phrase, a word, or an image. Whether one espouses the Ignatian way or the monastic approach, meditation is an integral to every priest's daily Rule of Prayer.

The Priest Who Prays Much and Prays Well
In fact, this "knowing" and "being known" in Christ and, through Him, in the Most Holy Trinity, is nothing other than the truest and deepest reality of prayer. The priest who prays much, and who prays well, progressively becomes expropriated of himself and ever more united to Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Servant of the brethren. In conformity with Him, the priest also "gives his life" for the sheep entrusted to him. No one takes it from him; of himself he offers his life, in union with Christ the Lord, Who has the power to give His life and to take it upon again, not only for Himself, but also for His friends, bound to Him by the Sacrament of Orders. In this way the very life of Christ, Lamb and Shepherd, is communicated to the whole flock, through the mediation of consecrated ministers.

"The priest who prays much and prays well" -- what a marvelous phrase! It sums up the Holy Father's teaching on the subject. What is the fruit of praying much and praying well? A progressive, and I would add almost imperceptible, death to self and rising to newness of life in Christ Jesus, for the sake of His Spouse, the Church. The priest who prays much and prays well will, sooner or later, find himself drawn into the mystery of Christ Priest and Victim. He will learn to stand at the altar not only as the one who offers the Sacrifice, but as the one who is sacrificed, becoming one with the immolated Lamb. This is the secret of a fruitful priesthood. "Give your blood," said one of the Desert Fathers, "and receive the Spirit." Through the victimhood of the priest, the entire Body is quickened and sanctified. "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17, 19).


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Tomorrow, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is the 46th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In his message for this occasion Pope Benedict XVI writes:

The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: "Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really "have ever greater faith and hope in God's providence" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer.

The following prayer, presented both in traditional and contemporary language, is a response to the Holy Father's pressing invitation to prayer for vocations. Although written for the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of my own diocese of Tulsa, I am happy to make it available to all who might wish to use it. Pastors might want to print it in the parish bulletin for The Year of the Priest.

A Prayer for Vocations

Traditional Language

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who callest to Thy service whomsoever Thou wilt,
let the light of Thy Face and the tenderness of Thy Heart
rest upon the young men of our own parishes and families.
Grant that those whom Thou hast chosen from among us
may hear Thy invitation and respond to Thy call
with generosity and courage.
For our part, we are resolved
to welcome and support priestly vocations in our midst
with gratitude, humility, and joy.
We promise to pray tirelessly
for those whom Thou hast set apart to preach Thy Word,
to offer Thy Sacrifice, and to nourish, heal, and comfort our souls.
Confident that Thou hast already heard our prayer,
we entrust the future priests among us
to the Immaculate Heart of Thy Virgin Mother
that, for each one, she may be a guiding star in the night
and, day by day, a perpetual help.
Amen.

Contemporary Language

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who call to Your service whomsoever You will,
let the light of Your Face and the tenderness of Your Heart
rest upon the young men of our own parishes and families.
Grant that those whom You have chosen from among us
may hear Your invitation and respond to Your call
with generosity and courage.
For our part, we are resolved
to welcome and support priestly vocations in our midst
with gratitude, humility, and joy.
We promise to pray tirelessly
for those whom You have set apart to preach Your Word,
to offer Your Sacrifice, and to nourish, heal, and comfort our souls.
Confident that You have already heard our prayer,
we entrust the future priests among us
to the Immaculate Heart of Your Virgin Mother
that, for each one, she may be a guiding star in the night
and, day by day, a perpetual help.
Amen.

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Be sure to read Msgr. Massimo Camisasca's article on The Method of Benedict XVI. The full text is here. Here is an excerpt. Subtitles are my own.

God Can Change the Heart of Ecclesiastics

He is convinced that God can do anything, even change the heart of the ecclesiastics and open them to a truer account of the good of the Church and their own lives.

Focus on the Liturgy

What are the lines of this concentration? First, its focus is directed at the liturgy. One of the last books published before his accession to the papacy, Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy, if reviewed today, may be a useful key to understanding the totality of this pontificate in its development so far. I do not want here to refer to the motu proprio concerning the rehabilitation of the Mass of St. Pius V, but something much deeper, the same concept that Ratzinger has of the liturgy as the moment of the manifestation of God's absolute prior initiative in human life, his grace, his mercy, and at the same time his ability to intervene in history, to give shape to existence, to accompany, visibly and invisibly, the paths of the cosmos toward their recapitulation.

His Liturgical Preaching

Whoever wants to understand something of this pontificate must read and reread carefully the homilies of Benedict XVI, especially those given during important liturgical moments, Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, Pentecost. This was noted several times by Sandro Magister in his articles. In those texts, Josef Ratzinger clearly appears as a new Leo the Great, a new Ambrose, a new Augustine, one who is able to draw an existential pedagogy from the liturgical itinerary, revealing all the way of man towards God and of God towards man.

Continuity of Tradition

There is no lack, of course, in these homilies, of the depth of the history of the Church, the ancient liturgical prayers, especially Latin, from which Ratzinger draws freely to show the continuity of tradition and its efficacy. But also the liturgical gestures, timing, space. For him, everything is revealing a pedagogy of the renewed world. It is as if Benedict XVI had renounced discerning what to do depending on its immediate efficacy. He knows that the crisis of the Church and in the Church is profound. He wants to sow deeply.

The Pauline Year

In light of these considerations, we understand two other initiatives that I put at the same level as attention to the liturgy. I'm talking about the Pauline year and the announcement of the year dedicated to the priesthood. Through the current Pauline year, Benedict XVI wants to return to the roots of the Church and at the same time promote an exposition focused entirely on the faith in Christ and on Christian doctrine. For Paul, there is only Christ, and Christ crucified and risen. He never addressed in his letters the childhood of Jesus (everything is concentrated in four words: born of a woman), he did not speak of life in Nazareth, or even three years in the apostolic community. For Paul, the Jesus that interests him is specifically the Jesus of the passion, death and resurrection, who has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son of God made flesh. The Pauline year permits sensitive and attentive pastors to repropose the heart of Christian experience in such a vital way.

Priests and the Year of the Priest

Similarly, and with the same radicality, Benedict XVI knows that the most serious crisis of the Church today is the priestly life: teachers are scarce, uncertain lessons are taught in many schools of theology. There remains an emotional crisis for many priests, marked by loneliness and withdrawal. But most of all in many countries, there is a progressive reduction of the People of God, whose education and growth is the primary purpose of the life of the priest. It is therefore no accident that Pope Ratzinger wanted this year of the priesthood, linking it to the 150th anniversary of the death of the holy Cure D'ars.

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An attentive study of Pope Benedict XVI's writings and addresses to date reveal his lively interest in the monastic face of the Church, and his desire to see Benedictine monasticism, in all its expressions, recover the energy and beauty of holiness that in past ages so enriched the Body of Christ. To my mind, his most compelling discourse on this subject remains the discourse he gave at Heiligenkreuz on 9 September 2007. You will find that text here.

In his General Audience this morning, Pope Benedict XVI presented Ambrosius Autpertus (730-784), monk, abbot