Pope Benedict XVI: February 2007 Archives

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The coincidence of the Holy Father's Lenten Message with the liturgical memorial of Saint Claude La Colombière prompts me to post an article that I wrote in May 2005. In June of the same year, it was published in the Italian, English, and Portuguese editions of L'Osservatore Romano.

Toward A Theology of the Sacred Heart

“Knowing the Mystery of God in the Pierced Heart of the Crucified”

“In the pierced heart of the Crucified, God’s own heart is opened up — here we see who God is and what he is like. Heaven is no longer locked up. God has stepped out of his hiddenness. That is why St. John sums up both the meaning of the Cross and the nature of the new worship of God in the mysterious promise made through the prophet Zechariah (cf. 12:10). ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced’ (Jn 19:37).”

Pope Benedict XVI: Theologian of the Heart of Christ

In July of 1985, I was standing in the bookstore of the Abbey of Sainte-Cécile of Solesmes in France when, by a wonderful providence of God, I met the Benedictine scholar, Mother Elisabeth de Solms. The encounter remains unforgettable. I had long studied and used her admirable translation of the Life and Rule of Saint Benedict, as well as her Christian Bible, a series of volumes setting the commentaries of the Church Fathers line by line alongside the Scriptures. The simplicity of so great a woman was a marvel. She engaged me in conversation, asking if I had read the works of Cardinal Ratzinger. I admitted that I was familiar with certain writings of his, surely not with everything published. “Read him,” she said. “You will see. God will make of him a great gift to his Church.” That was twenty years ago.

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The Antiphon, O quantum in cruce, found in Laudes Vespertinae, the Cistercian collection for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, is the perfect meditation on the Holy Father's Lenten Message. The melody is full of compunction and a tender, pleading love. In the past I have often had the schola sing it with a faux–bourdon (a fourth below the melody), changing the si bémols (flats) to si naturals. The effect is extraordinary.

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Here is an English translation of the Latin text:

O, how much upon the Cross
didst thy bowed head, O Christ,
thy hands flung wide,
thy open heart
breathe forth love.

Son of God who didst come to redeem the lost,
condemn not the redeemed
crying out to Thee from the valley of tears.

Good Iesu, hear thou our groaning,
and take not the measure of our crimes.
We implore thy wounded Heart,
O tender God.

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“They shall look on Him
whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“They shall look on Him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37). This is the biblical theme that this year guides our Lenten reflection. Lent is a favourable time to learn to stay with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, close to Him who on the Cross, consummated for all mankind the sacrifice of His life (cf. Jn 19:25). With a more fervent participation let us direct our gaze, therefore, in this time of penance and prayer, at Christ crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God. In the Encyclical Deus caritas est, I dwelt upon this theme of love, highlighting its two fundamental forms: agape and eros.

God’s love: agape and eros

The term agape, which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros, on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved. The love with which God surrounds us is undoubtedly agape. Indeed, can man give to God some good that He does not already possess? All that the human creature is and has is divine gift. It is the creature then, who is in need of God in everything. But God’s love is also eros.

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In the Old Testament, the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom He has chosen as His own a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman (cf. 3:1-3). For his part, Ezekiel, speaking of God’s relationship with the people of Israel, is not afraid to use strong and passionate language (cf. 16:1-22).

These biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God’s very heart: the Almighty awaits the “yes” of His creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride. Unfortunately, from its very origins, mankind, seduced by the lies of the Evil One, rejected God’s love in the illusion of a self-sufficiency that is impossible (cf. Gn 3:1-7). Turning in on himself, Adam withdrew from that source of life who is God Himself, and became the first of “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2:15). God, however, did not give up. On the contrary, man’s “no” was the decisive impulse that moved Him to manifest His love in all of its redeeming strength.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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