Pope Benedict XVI: January 2008 Archives

Christ Made Me His Own

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In the fall of 2006 the Holy Father gave five General Audiences on Saint Paul the Apostle. These five teachings are a marvelous preparation for the forthcoming Year of Saint Paul: there is one for each of the five months between now and June 29, 2008.

"It was precisely on the road to Damascus at the beginning of the 30s A.D. that, according to his words, "Christ made me his own" (Phil 3: 12). While Luke recounts the fact with abundant detail - like how the light of the Risen One touched him and fundamentally changed his whole life -, in his Letters he goes directly to the essential and speaks not only of a vision (cf. I Cor 9: 1), but of an illumination (cf. II Cor 4: 6), and above all of a revelation and of a vocation in the encounter with the Risen One (cf. Gal 1: 15-16).

In fact, he will explicitly define himself as "apostle by vocation" (cf. Rom 1: 1; I Cor 1: 1) or "apostle by the will of God" (II Cor 1: 1; Eph 1: 1; Col 1: 1), as if to emphasize that his conversion was not the result of a development of thought or reflection, but the fruit of divine intervention, an unforeseeable, divine grace.

Henceforth, all that had constituted for him a value paradoxically became, according to his words, a loss and refuse (cf. Phil 3: 7-10). And from that moment all his energy was placed at the exclusive service of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. His existence would become that of an Apostle who wants to "become all things to all men" (I Cor 9: 22) without reserve.

From here we draw a very important lesson: what counts is to place Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives, so that our identity is marked essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and with his Word. In his light every other value is recovered and purified from possible dross."

Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, 25 October 2006

Conversi ad Dominum

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In the context of yesterday's General Audience, the Holy Father spoke not only of the Vultus Christi, the Face of Christ, but also of turning toward the Lord in the Sacred Liturgy. While in the Mass of the Catechumens or Liturgy of the Word, the Face of Christ is turned toward us, in the Mass of the Faithful or Liturgy of the Eucharist, we follow Him in His contemplation of the Father, and in His priestly service in the heavenly sanctuary "within the veil" (Heb 6:19). "This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Unity will be the fruit of "turning together toward the Lord" or it will not be at all.

The Face of Christ

The world is suffering from the absence of God, from the inaccessibility of God, it has the desire to know the Face of God. But how can men and women today know the Face of God in the Face of Christ if we Christians are divided, if one teaches against another, if one stands against other? Only in unity can we truly show the Face of God, the Face of Christ, to a world which has such need to see it.

Prayer for Unity

It is also evident that it is not with our own strategies, with dialogue and with all that we do — which, however, is so necessary — that we are able to obtain this unity. That which we are able to obtain is our readiness and capacity to welcome this unity when the Lord gives it to us. This is the meaning of the prayer [for unity]: to open our hearts, to create in us that readiness that opens the way to Christ.

Ad Orientem

In the liturgy of the ancient Church, after the homily, the Bishop or the one presiding the celebration, the principle celebrant, used to say, "Conversi ad Dominum" [Turn toward the Lord]. Thereupon he himself and everyone would rise and face the East. All wanted to to look toward Christ. Only in the conversion of oneself, only in this conversion [turning toward] Christ, in this common looking to Christ, are we able to find the gift of unity.

Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, 23 January 2008

Abide in My Love

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Deus Caritas Est and the Treatise on the Love of God

Two years ago, on January 23, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the participants of a meeting of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum on the theme “But the Greatest of These is Love” (1 Cor 13:13). “Today,” he said, “the word love is so tarnished, so spoiled, and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one's lips. And yet it is a primordial word, an expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendor so that it might illuminate our life and lead it on the right path. This awareness led me to choose love as the theme of my first encyclical.” Pope Benedict XVI gave us Deus Caritas Est; Saint Francis de Sales gave us the Treatise on the Love of God.

Attraction, Union, and Fruition

Even as I study the Holy Father’s second encyclical, Spe Salvi, bits and pieces of Deus Caritas Est continue to echo in my heart. It occurs to me that the proper Gospel (John 15:9-17) given us in the lectionary today for the feast of Saint Francis de Sales engages us directly with the core message of Deus Caritas Est: a love that is at once desire (eros) and sacrificial self-gift (agápe), a love that is attraction, union, and fruition.

The Human Face and Heart of God

The Holy Father found some of his inspiration for Deus Caritas Est in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Poetry, and indeed all the arts, are rightly valued and used as the handmaids of theology. Such has always been the Catholic attitude toward the arts. Saint Francis de Sales knew well the distance separating the sensibility of Rome from that of Geneva. The Church of Dante, of Francis de Sales, and of Benedict XVI knows nothing of Calvinism’s cold disdain for the beauty that engages the senses. In the Catholic world-view, that which engages the senses with “the bands of love” (Hos 11:4) and draws the heart “with cords of compassion” (Hos 11:4) leads to the faith-vision of “the God who has assumed a human Face and a human Heart” (Benedict XVI, 23 January 2006).

Love Is Movement Toward the Good

In the Treatise on the Love of God Saint Francis de Sales speaks of the effect of what is loved on the one who loves. He calls it complaisance, meaning the pleasure or delight taken in something or someone. “Delight,” says the gentle bishop, “is the awakener of the heart, but love is its action; delight makes it get up, but love makes it walk. The heart spreads its wings by delight but love is its flight. Love then, to speak distinctly and precisely, is no other thing than the movement, effusion, and advancement of the heart towards good” (Treatise on the Love of God, Chapter XIV).

Thank you, Holy Father!

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"One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary."

I am profoundly moved by the Holy Father's message for the 2008 World Day of the Sick. Pope Benedict XVI is showing himself, in every way, as Marian a Pope as the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. Here is an excerpt of the message; my own comments are in italics.

The Immaculate Conception

The hundred and fifty years since the apparitions of Lourdes invite us to turn our gaze towards the Holy Virgin, whose Immaculate Conception constitutes the sublime and freely-given gift of God to a woman so that she could fully adhere to divine designs with a steady and unshakable faith, despite the tribulations and the sufferings that she would have to face. For this reason, Mary is a model of total self-abandonment to the will of God: she received in her heart the eternal Word and she conceived it in her virginal womb; she trusted to God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), she did not hesitate to share the Passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her 'Yes' of the Annunciation.

Is this not the mystery of Mary invoked and presented as Coredemptrix? "She did not hesitate to share the Passion of her Son." In the next section the Holy Father speaks of the "Yes" which "joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, the Redeemer of humanity."

Led by Mary's Hand

To reflect upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary is thus to allow oneself to be attracted by the 'Yes' which joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, the Redeemer of humanity; it is to allow oneself to be taken and led by her hand to pronounce in one's turn 'fiat' to the will of God, with all one's existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth.

To be taken and led by Mary's hand expresses what we means when we speak of total consecration to her. Consecration to Mary is ongoing and dynamic; for this reason the Holy Father speaks of "our pilgrimage on earth."

An Indissoluble Link Between the Mother and the Son

One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary. There is an indissoluble link between the Mother and the Son, generated in her womb by work of the Holy Spirit, and this link we perceive, in a mysterious way, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as the Fathers of the Church and theologians pointed out from the early centuries onwards.

The link between the Mother and the Son is prolonged in the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. One who contemplates Mary will be attracted to Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. One who contemplates Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love will perceive the presence of Mary. This is the experience of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, and of so many other saints.

Mother of the Eucharist

'The Flesh born of Mary, coming from the Holy Spirit, is Bread descended from heaven', observed Saint Hilary of Poitiers. In the ninth century "Bergomensium Sacramentary" we read: 'Her womb made flower a Fruit, a Bread that has filled us with an angelic gift. Mary restored to salvation what Eve had destroyed by her sin'. And Saint Peter Damian observed: 'That Body that the most Blessed Virgin generated, nourished in her womb with maternal care, that Body I say, without doubt and no other, we now receive from the sacred altar, and we drink its Blood as a sacrament of our redemption. This is what the Catholic faith believes, this the holy Church faithfully teaches'.

The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, overshadows the altar in every celebration of Holy Mass. The Body of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist is the very Body of Christ that the Blessed Virgin conceived, carried beneath her heart for nine months, brought into the world, and nourished at her breast. Is this not what the magnificent medieval prose, the "Ave, Verum Corpus," sings? "Hail, true body, / Born of the Virgin Mary, / Truly suffered, sacrificed / On the Cross for mankind, / Whose pierced side / Flowed with water and blood, / Be for us a foretaste / In the trial of death."

Mother of the Sacrificed Lamb

The link of the Holy Virgin with the Son, the sacrificed Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, is extended to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Mary, observes the Servant of God John Paul II, is a 'woman of the Eucharist' in her whole life, as a result of which the Church, seeing Mary as her model, 'is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery' (Encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," n. 53). In this perspective one understands even further why in Lourdes the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary is joined to a strong and constant reference to the Eucharist with daily Celebrations of the Eucharist, with adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, and with the blessing of the sick, which constitutes one of the strongest moments of the visit of pilgrims to the grotto of Massabielle.

Yes, the Holy Virgin is the Mother of the Immolated Lamb. This was illustrated in the apparition at Knock. Our Lady, appearing with Saint Joseph and with Saint John the Evangelist, stood with her hands raised in prayer in the presence of the Immolated Lamb who stood upon an altar with the Cross behind Him. The Holy Father alludes to the three grand Eucharistic moments that mark every experience at Lourdes. These are not of course, limited to Lourdes. I try to make them part of the retreats that I am asked to preach.

Through the Heart of His Most Holy Mother

The presence of many sick pilgrims in Lourdes, and of the volunteers who accompany them, helps us to reflect on the maternal and tender care that the Virgin expresses towards human pain and suffering. Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members, who bear the signs of the Passion of the Lord.

Yes, those who suffer bear the signs of the Passion of the Lord, His wounds. Saint Paul says, "I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body" (Gal 6:17). This is true, not only of the signs of physical suffering, but also of the wounds of the psyche and of the heart.

Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help. And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that 'the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the Heart of his Holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed'? (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, "Salvifici Doloris," n. 26).

"The Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the Heart of His Holy Mother." Is this not what we mean when we speak of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary is the Mother of the Suffering Servant, "despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity" (Is 53:3), and of all who resemble him.

The Eucharistic Congress

3. If Lourdes leads us to reflect upon the maternal love of the Immaculate Virgin for her sick and suffering children, the next International Eucharistic Congress will be an opportunity to adore Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of the altar, to entrust ourselves to Him as the Hope that does not disappoint, to receive Him as that Medicine of Immortality which heals the body and the spirit. Jesus Christ redeemed the world through His suffering, His death and His resurrection, and He wanted to remain with us as the 'Bread of Life' on our earthly pilgrimage.

The Holy Father emphasizes the healing virtue of the Most Holy Eucharist, the Medicine of Immortality. He invites us to entrust ourselves to Him as the Hope that does not disappoint. In the Sequence of the Mass of Easter, Mary Magdalene calls Our Lord "Spes mea — my Hope." In the Eucharist He remains our Hope, and the remedy for every despondency.

The Face of the Lord

'The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World': this is the theme of the Eucharistic Congress and it emphasizes how the Eucharist is the gift that the Father makes to the world of His only Son, incarnated and crucified. It is he who gathers us around the Eucharistic table, provoking in his disciples loving care for the suffering and the sick, in whom the Christian community recognises the Face of her Lord. As I pointed out in the Post-Synodal Exhortation "Sacramentum caritatis," 'Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become "bread that is broken" for others'. We are thus encouraged to commit ourselves in the first person to helping our brethren, especially those in difficulty, because the vocation of every Christian is truly that of being, together with Jesus, bread that is broken for the life of the world.

Every authentic passion for the adorable Mystery of the Eucharist leads to compassion for the suffering, for the sick, for those in difficulty. Contemplation of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus opens one's eyes to the Face of Jesus in the suffering and broken members of His Mystical Body.

A Living Offering for the Salvation of the World

4. It thus appears clear that it is specifically from the Eucharist that pastoral care in health must draw the necessary spiritual strength to come effectively to man's aid and to help him to understand the salvific value of his own suffering. As the Servant of God John Paul II was to write in the already quoted Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, the Church sees in her suffering brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of the supernatural power of Christ (cf. n. 27). Mysteriously united to Christ, the man who suffers with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world.

The spirituality of victimhood: to suffer with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God, thus becoming a living offering for the salvation of the world. The Blessed Virgin Mary Coredemptrix was the first to follow her Son, the Immolated Lamb, into the way of victimhood. Since that hour on Calvary she draws other souls after her in the same way of offering and victimhood.

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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