Pope Benedict XVI: April 2008 Archives

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On April 5, 2008 the Holy Father addressed the Pontifical Council of the Family on "Grandparents: Their Witness and Presence in the Family." I was blessed to know all four of my grandparents, the Irish set and the Italian set, as well as my maternal great-grandparents from Italy. My own experience taught me that grandparents have an integral role in family life. Many of the things I cherish most in life were transmitted to me by my grandparents.

As a young teenager I volunteered at the local Home for the Aged of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Saint Andrew's Home was a vast old brick building with, at its heart, the chapel. The chaplain, Father Alfred DiMeo, lived in a charming little presbytery next to the Home. I recall his kindness to the "old people" and to the volunteers. My mentor at Saint Andrew's Home was Sister Ignace de la Trinité, L.S.P. By helping at the Home I learned to reverence the elderly and, even if I had few practical skills to offer at the time, acquired a tenderness for them.

The photo is of my Mom and Dad, loving grandparents of eleven grandchildren.

Grandparents in the Life of the Family

In the past, grandparents had an important role in the life and growth of the family. Even with their advancing age they continued to be present with their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren, giving a living witness of caring, sacrifice and a daily gift of themselves without reserve. They were witnesses of a personal and community history that continued to live on in their memories and in their wisdom. Today, the economic and social evolution has brought profound transformations to the life of families. The elderly, including many grandparents, find themselves in a sort of "parking area": some realize they are a burden to their family and prefer to live alone or in retirement homes with all the consequences that such decisions entail.

Reverence for Old Age

Unfortunately, it seems that the "culture of death" is advancing on many fronts and is also threatening the season of old-age. With growing insistence, people are even proposing euthanasia as a solution for resolving certain difficult situations. Old age, with its problems that are also linked to the new family and social contexts because of modern development, should be evaluated carefully and always in the light of the truth about man, the family and the community. It is always necessary to react strongly to what dehumanizes society. Parish and diocesan communities are forcefully challenged by these problems and are seeking today to meet the needs of the elderly. Ecclesial movements and associations exist which have embraced this important and urgent cause. It is necessary to join forces to defeat together all forms of marginalization, for it is not only they - grandfathers, grandmothers, senior citizens - who are being injured by the individualistic mindset, but everyone. If grandparents, as is said often and on many sides, are a precious resource, it is necessary to put into practice coherent choices that allow them to be better valued.

Spiritual and Moral Reference Points

May grandparents return to being a living presence in the family, in the Church and in society. With regard to the family, may grandparents continue to be witnesses of unity, of values founded on fidelity and of a unique love that gives rise to faith and the joy of living. The so-called new models of the family and a spreading relativism have weakened these fundamental values of the family nucleus. The evils of our society - as you justly observed during your work - are in need of urgent remedies. In the face of the crisis of the family, might it not be possible to set out anew precisely from the presence and witness of these people - grandparents - whose values and projects are more resilient? Indeed, it is impossible to plan the future without referring to a past full of significant experiences and spiritual and moral reference points. Thinking of grandparents, of their testimony of love and fidelity to life, reminds us of the Biblical figures of Abraham and Sarah, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joachim and Anne, as well as of the elderly Simeon and Anna and even Nicodemus: they all remind us that at every age the Lord asks each one for the contribution of his or her own talents.

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Last Thursday, 18 April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI spoke at the Ecumenical Prayer Service held in Saint Joseph’s Church in New York City. Tomorrow the monastic calendar will commemorate a woman whose life illustrates much of what the Holy Father said. Celebrating the saints is integral to what Pope Benedict XVI calls “diachronic koinonia — communion with the Church in every age” that saves us from the narrow uncatholic perspective of the immediate here and now of a given local community.

An Offering to the Father

Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagghedu, a Cistercian nun of Grottaferrata in Italy, died on April 23rd in 1939. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1983. In his encyclical on Christian Unity, Ut Unum Sint, he presented her again to the whole Church as a model of “the total and unconditional offering of one’s life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit."

Pope Benedict XVI said last Thursday that, “we must first recall that the unity of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the triune God. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his disciples might be one, “just as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Blessed Maria Gabriella offered her life that the unity of the Three Divine Persons might one day be manifested perfectly in the community of believers that is the Church.

Silence Turned to Praise

Blessed Maria Gabriella is one of those who, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, having heard the Word, held it in silence: in the silence of awe; in the silence that confesses God present; in the silence that allows the Word to sink into the deep and secret places of the heart. For Maria-Gabriella, this silence turned to praise: a praise that she found expressed in the priestly prayer of Christ given in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. At the end of her life she murmured: “I cannot say but these words, ‘My God, your Glory.’”

A Discerning Abbess

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The Trappist Cistercian monastery of Grottaferrata (moved to Vitorchiano in 1957) was governed by Mother Maria Pia Gulini (1892–1959), an intelligent and discerning abbess with a broad vision of all things Catholic. She corresponded with the Abbé Paul Couturier (1881–1953), the Apostle of Christian Unity. The Italian abbess nurtured a passion for Christian Unity and communicated that passion to her community. Maria Gabriella was receptive to Mother Gulini's spiritual teaching. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she asked permission of her abbess to offer her life for the Unity of Christians. The Father accepted her offering, drawing her into the prayer of Christ and into His sacrifice.

The Priestly Prayer of Christ

Blessed Maria Gabriella’s monastic life was brief; she entered the abbey of Grottaferrata in 1935 and died in 1939. She suffered from tuberculosis for fifteen months. The Bridegroom Christ came for her at the hour of the evening sacrifice on Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel of Mass that day had been from Saint John: “There will be one fold, and one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). After her death, her little New Testament, worn from use, opened by itself to the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. The pages of Jesus’ priestly prayer, so often touched by Madre Maria Gabriella’s feverish hands, had become almost transparent.

Turn to Jesus

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With my morning coffee: reflections on the homily given by the Holy Father yesterday in Yankee Stadium. The subtitles and comments in italics are my own.

A Spiritual Resurrection of the Church in America

And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”, follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!

In pondering these words of the Holy Father, I am reminded of Ezekiel's prophecy to the dry bones. "I mean to send my spirit into you, and restore you to life. . . . I will give you breath to bring you to life again; will you doubt, then, the Lord's power?" (Ez 37:5-6). The Holy Father calls for a spiritual resurrection of the Church in America.

The Church's Future

Yesterday, not far from here, I was moved by the joy, the hope and the generous love of Christ which I saw on the faces of the many young people assembled in Dunwoodie. They are the Church’s future, and they deserve all the prayer and support that you can give them. And so I wish to close by adding a special word of encouragement to them. My dear young friends, like the seven men, “filled with the Spirit and wisdom” whom the Apostles charged with care for the young Church, may you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, “the same, yesterday, and today and for ever” and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10; Heb 13:8).

Christ is unchanging, even as the Church moves forward in history. The truths of the faith are unchanging, even as each generation is called to proclaim them anew. "I, too, shall live on in his presence, and beget children to serve him; these to a later age shall speak of the Lord's name; these to a race that must yet be born shall tell the story of his faithfulness, Hear what the Lord did" (Ps 21:31-32).

Open Your Hearts to the Lord's Call

These are the truths that set us free! They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world – including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb. In a world where, as Pope John Paul II, speaking in this very place, reminded us, Lazarus continues to stand at our door (Homily at Yankee Stadium, October 2, 1979, No. 7), let your faith and love bear rich fruit in outreach to the poor, the needy and those without a voice. Young men and women of America, I urge you: open your hearts to the Lord’s call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life. Can there be any greater mark of love than this: to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was willing to lay down his life for his friends (cf. Jn 15:13)?

The Holy Father's appeal for openness to the call of the Lord is, I think, the pledge of a spiritual springtime for the Church in America. "Would you but listen to his voice today! Do not harden your hearts" (Ps 94:8). Fidelity to the unchanging truths of the faith guarantees the future of the Church and will characterize the priestly and religious vocations of rising generations.

Sure Hope

In today’s Gospel, the Lord promises his disciples that they will perform works even greater than his (cf. Jn 14:12). Dear friends, only God in his providence knows what works his grace has yet to bring forth in your lives and in the life of the Church in the United States. Yet Christ’s promise fills us with sure hope. Let us now join our prayers to his, as living stones in that spiritual temple which is his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Let us lift our eyes to him, for even now he is preparing for us a place in his Father’s house. And empowered by his Holy Spirit, let us work with renewed zeal for the spread of his Kingdom.

With admirable clarity, the Holy Father teaches that our works are the fruit of divine grace. How do we open ourselves to that grace? By lifting our eyes to Christ who, even now, is preparing a place for us in his Father's house. This "lifting our eyes to Christ" defines contemplation. Contemplata aliis tradere. We will spread the Kingdom only by passing on what we will have discovered in contemplating the Face of Christ.

Turn to Jesus

“Happy are you who believe!” (cf. 1 Pet 2:7). Let us turn to Jesus! He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world. Amen.

Turn to Jesus. This is the essence of conversion, of penitence. This is the first step of spiritual resurrection. "Ever look to him," says the psalmist, "and in him find happiness; here is no room for downcast looks" (Ps 33:6).

Holy Father to Young People

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What an extraordinary discourse this is! After sharing his the experience of his own youth marked by conflict and suffering, the Holy Father presented the example of the saints under four headings:

The Example of the Saints

Dear friends, the example of the saints invites us, then, to consider four essential aspects of the treasure of our faith:
1) personal prayer and silence,
2) liturgical prayer,
3) charity in action,
4) and vocations.

Prayer

What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer. God by his very nature speaks, hears, and replies. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us: we can and should “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). Far from turning in on ourselves or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, by praying we turn towards God and through him to each other, including the marginalized and those following ways other than God’s path (cf. Spe Salvi, 33). As the saints teach us so vividly, prayer becomes hope in action. Christ was their constant companion, with whom they conversed at every step of their journey for others.

Silent Contemplation

There is another aspect of prayer which we need to remember: silent contemplation. Saint John, for example, tells us that to embrace God’s revelation we must first listen, then respond by proclaiming what we have heard and seen (cf. 1 Jn 1:2-3; Dei Verbum, 1). Have we perhaps lost something of the art of listening? Do you leave space to hear God’s whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Friends, do not be afraid of silence or stillness, listen to God, adore him in the Eucharist. Let his word shape your journey as an unfolding of holiness.

The Liturgy

In the liturgy we find the whole Church at prayer. The word liturgy means the participation of God’s people in “the work of Christ the Priest and of His Body which is the Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). What is that work? First of all it refers to Christ’s Passion, his Death and Resurrection, and his Ascension – what we call the Paschal Mystery. It also refers to the celebration of the liturgy itself. The two meanings are in fact inseparably linked because this “work of Jesus” is the real content of the liturgy.

Through the liturgy, the “work of Jesus” is continually brought into contact with history; with our lives in order to shape them. Here we catch another glimpse of the grandeur of our Christian faith. Whenever you gather for Mass, when you go to Confession, whenever you celebrate any of the sacraments, Jesus is at work. Through the Holy Spirit, he draws you to himself, into his sacrificial love of the Father which becomes love for all. We see then that the Church’s liturgy is a ministry of hope for humanity. Your faithful participation, is an active hope which helps to keep the world – saints and sinners alike – open to God; this is the truly human hope we offer everyone (cf. Spe Salvi, 34).

This Beautiful Celebration

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The Holy Father's celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Saint Patrick's Cathedral this morning was, in every way, a moment of grace for the Church in the United States. The Holy Father's homily, a true meditatio, deserves to be prolonged in oratio, and in contemplatio. The music of the Mass was worthy of the Holy Mysteries, a sacrifice of praise, and a magnificent demonstration that the Church is, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "a place where beauty is at home."

Homily of His Holiness
Pope Benedict XVI

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York
Saturday, 19 April 2008


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Pursuit of Holiness

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you, who represent the Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women in consecrated life, and the seminarians of the United States. I thank Cardinal Egan for his warm welcome and the good wishes which he has expressed in your name as I begin the fourth year of my papal ministry. I am happy to celebrate this Mass with you, who have been chosen by the Lord, who have answered his call, and who devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness, the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church in faith, hope and love.

The Grace of a New Pentecost

Gathered as we are in this historic cathedral, how can we not think of the countless men and women who have gone before us, who labored for the growth of the Church in the United States, and left us a lasting legacy of faith and good works? In today’s first reading we saw how, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth from the Upper Room to proclaim God’s mighty works to people of every nation and tongue. In this country, the Church’s mission has always involved drawing people “from every nation under heaven” (cf. Acts 2:5) into spiritual unity, and enriching the Body of Christ by the variety of their gifts. As we give thanks for these precious past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!

The Heart of the New Evangelization

In this morning’s second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that spiritual unity – the unity which reconciles and enriches diversity – has its origin and supreme model in the life of the triune God. As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as “a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit” (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4), is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. Here in this cathedral, our thoughts turn naturally to the heroic witness to the Gospel of life borne by the late Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor. The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life – our salvation – can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift.

The Joy Born of Faith and the Experience of God's Love

This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: “Choose life!” (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and “institutional” to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.

Aures habent et non audient

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What is Useless

"A Church which only makes use of 'utility music' has fallen for what is, in fact, useless. She too becomes ineffectual. For her mission is a far higher one. As the Old Testament speaks of the Temple, the Church is to be the place of 'glory', and as such, too, the place where mankind's cry of distress is brought to the ear of God.

The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable, and beloved.

To Turn One's Back on Beauty

Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real 'apologia' for her history. It is this glory which witness to the Lord, not theology's clever explanations for all the terrible things which, lamentably, fill the pages of her history. The Church is to transform, improve, 'humanize' the world — but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection.

High Standards

The Church must maintain high standards; she must be a place where beauty can be at home; she must lead the struggle for that 'spiritualization' without which the world becomes 'the first circle of hell'. Thus to ask what is 'suitable' must always be the same as asking what is 'worthy': it must constantly challenge us to seek what is worthy of the Church's worship."

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
On the Theological Basis of Music
The Feast of Faith

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A recurring motif in the Holy Father's words to us is the call to repentance. Hope without repentance is a false hope. Repentance is the beginning of growth in holiness. Here is an excerpt from the Holy Father's homily at yesterday's Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit in Washington, D.C.

Growth in Holiness

Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness.

Prayer From the Depths of the Heart

Saint Paul speaks, as we heard in the second reading, of a kind of prayer which arises from the depths of our hearts in sighs too deep for words, in "groanings" (Rom 8:26) inspired by the Spirit. This is a prayer which yearns, in the midst of chastisement, for the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross. With this prayer, may the Church in America embrace ever more fully the way of conversion and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel. And may all Catholics experience the consolation of hope, and the Spirit’s gifts of joy and strength.

The Sacrament of Penance

In today’s Gospel, the risen Lord bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and grants them the authority to forgive sins. Through the surpassing power of Christ’s grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the Church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning. Let us trust in the Spirit’s power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of Penance! The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God’s merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.

Immersing Ourselves in Prayer

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Last evening, in speaking to the bishops of the Church in the United States, the Holy Father called "the imitation of Christ in holiness of life" exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. Concretely, what does this mean? "Cultivating the virtues," responds the Holy Father, "and immersing ourselves in prayer. Here are his words:

Holiness of Life

Indeed a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues, and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community.

Eucharistic Adoration

Time spent in prayer is never wasted, however urgent the duties that press upon us from every side. Adoration of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament prolongs and intensifies the union with him that is established through the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 66).

Rosary and Liturgy of the Hours

Contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary releases all their saving power and it conforms, unites and consecrates us to Jesus Christ (cf. Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11, 15). Fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours ensures that the whole of our day is sanctified and it continually reminds us of the need to remain focused on doing God's work, however many pressures and distractions may arise from the task at hand.

The Gifts We Need

Thus our devotion helps us to speak and act in persona Christi, to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful in the name of Jesus, to bring his reconciliation, his healing and his love to all his beloved brothers and sisters. This radical configuration to Christ, the Good Shepherd, lies at the heart of our pastoral ministry, and if we open ourselves through prayer to the power of the Spirit, he will give us the gifts we need to carry out our daunting task, so that we need never "be anxious how to speak or what to say" (Mt 10:19).

Welcome, Most Holy Father!

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"Did it never occur to you that we call the Pope Holy Father because we think of him as our father? That the unity of the Church is not the unity of a machine but the unity of a great family? That our obedience to the Holy Father in that very limited range of affairs in which he demands our obedience is not that of a workman towards the foreman who will sack him if he doesn't work, but is that of children towards their father — each eager to outdo the others in showing affection; each eager to outstrip the others in anticipating hs slightest wish? That we obey him in effect not because we fear him as the doorkeeper of heaven, but because we love him as the shepherd of Christians, of Christ's flock?"

Monsignor Ronald Knox
University Sermons, 379

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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