Pope Benedict XVI: October 2008 Archives


One of Barbara Pym's characters -- I don't remember which one -- sometimes exclaims, "Too much richness!" Exactly my sentiments concerning this past weekend! There was altogether too much going on: the Synod in Rome with the Ecumenical Patriarch's extraordinary address, the Holy Father's visit to the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Rosario at Pompei, the beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin at Lisieux, and the feasts of Saint Philip Howard, of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, of Blessed Agnès de Langeac, and of Saint Paul of the Cross. Finally, I decided to translate the Holy Father's address at Pompei for the dear readers of Vultus Christi. Here it is:

A Gift from the Heart of Our Lady

Before entering the Sanctuary to recite the Holy Rosary together with you, I paused briefly before the tomb of Blessed Bartolo Longo and, praying, I asked myself: "Whence did this great apostle of Mary draw the energy and constancy necessary to bring to completion so imposing a work, now known in all the world? Is it not from the Rosary that he received as a true gift from the heart of Our Lady?"

The School of the Virgin

Yes, it was really so! The experience of the saints witnesses to this: this popular Marian prayer is a precious spiritual means to grow in intimacy with Jesus and learn, at the school of the Holy Virgin, to carry out always the Divine Will.

The Rosary is contemplation of the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with Mary, as the Servant of God Paul VI emphasized in the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, and then, as my venerated predecessor John Paul II amply illustrated in the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which, ideally, I give again to the community of Pompei and to each one of you.

Authentic Apostles of the Rosary

You who live and work here at Pompei, especially you, dear priests, religious, and layfolk engaged in this singular portion of the Church, are called -- all of you -- to make the charism of Blessed Bartolo Longo your own and to become, in the measure and in the ways granted by God to each one, authentic apostles of the Holy Rosary.

Contemplate the Face of Christ

But, in order to be apostles of the Rosary, it is necessary to experience first hand the beauty and depth of this prayer that is simple and accessible to all. It is, above all, necessary to allow oneself to be led by the hand of the Holy Virgin to contemplate the Face of Christ: His joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious Face.

One who, like Mary and together with her, assiduously keeps and meditates the mysteries of Jesus, assimilates His sentiments more and more, and is conformed to Him. It pleases me, in this regard, to quote a beautiful consideration of Blessed Bartolo Longo.

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Familiarity with Jesus and Mary

"Just as two friends," he writes, "going about frequently together, are wont to conform themselves to each other in their manners, so too do we, conversing familiarly with Jesus and the Virgin in the meditation of the Mysteries of the Rosary, and forming together one and the same life by means of communion with them, become like them, whatever be our lowliness, and learn from these consummate examples how to live humbly, in poverty, in hiddenness, patience, and perfection."

Contemplation and Silence

The Rosary is a school of contemplation and of silence. At a first glance, it may seem like a prayer that accumulates words, one that it is difficult to reconcile with the silence rightly required for meditation and contemplation. In reality, the cadenced repetition of the Ave Maria does not disturb interior silence; on the contrary it calls it forth and sustains it.

Akin to the Divine Office

It is analogous to what happens with the psalms when one prays the Liturgy of the Hours. Silence flowers through the words and the phrases, not as a void, but as a presence of their ultimate meaning, which goes beyond the words themselves and, together with them, speaks to the heart.

Like the Whisper of a Gentle Breeze

Thus, in reciting the Ave Marias, one must pay attention in such wise that our voices do not "cover" the voice of God, which always speaks through silence, like "the whisper of a gentle breeze" (1 K 19:12).

Interior Silence in the Recitation of the Rosary

How important it is, then, to foster this silence full of God, be it in personal or communal recitation [of the Rosary]. Even when it happens that the Rosary is prayed in great assemblies, as we did, and as is done each day in this Sanctuary, it is necessary that the Rosary be perceived as a contemplative prayer, and this cannot happen if a climate of interior silence is lacking.

The Rosary: Response to the Word of God

I should like to add another reflection relative to the Word of God in the Rosary. This is particularly opportune at this period in which the Synod of Bishops on the theme "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" is taking place in the Vatican. If Christian contemplation cannot prescind from the Word of God, so too must the Rosary, if it is to be a contemplative prayer, emerge always from the silence of the heart as a response to the Word, modeled after the prayer of Mary.

Woven of Sacred Scripture

Considered well, one sees that the Rosary is entirely woven of Sacred Scripture. There is, first of all, the enunciation of the mystery, preferably done with words drawn from the Bible. Then follows the Our Father: by impressing upon our prayer its vertical orientation, it opens the mind of one reciting the Rosary to the correct filial attitude: "When you pray, say Father . . ." (Lk 11:2). The first part of the Hail Mary, also drawn from the Gospel, makes us each time hear anew the words with which God addressed the Virgin through the Angel, and the blessing of her cousin, Elizabeth. The second part of the Hail Mary resounds as the response of children who, in addressing petitions to their Mother, do nothing other than express their own adhesion to the saving plan revealed by God. In this way, the thought of the one praying remains always anchored to Scripture and to the mysteries presented therein.

Charity and Peace

Finally, remembering that today we are celebrating the World Day of Missions, I am pleased to recall the apostolic dimension of the Rosary, a dimension that Blessed Bartolo Longo lived intensely, drawing from it inspiration to undertake here in this place so many works of charity and of human and social promotion. Moreover, he wished that this Sanctuary should be open to the entire world, as a centre of irradiation of the prayer of the Rosary and a place of intercession for peace among peoples. Dear friends, I desire to confirm both of these aims -- the apostolate of charity and prayer for peace-- and I entrust them to your spiritual and pastoral labours. Following the example, and with the support of your venerated Founder, do not grow weary of working with passion in this part of the vineyard of the Lord for which the Madonna has shown a special love.


Dear brothers and sisters, the moment has come for me to take leave of you and of this beautiful Sanctuary. I thank you for the warm welcome and, above all, for your prayers. I thank the Archbishop Prelate and Pontifical Delegate and his collaborators, and those who worked to prepare my visit so well. I must leave you, but my heart remains close to this place and to this community. I entrust you all to the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary, and to each one, from the heart, I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

The Word Has A Face

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Pope Benedict XVI preaches like a monk! By this I mean that his preaching, like that of Saint Gregory the Great and others of the Fathers, is manifestly the fruit of 1) lectio, 2) meditatio, 3) oratio, and 4) contemplatio. It reveals an intimate familiarity with the Word of God, and notably with the Psalter, that can come only from a quotidian fidelity to the Opus Dei, the Divine Office.

A word about this picture of Pope Saint Gregory the Great: the work of Carlo Saraceni, it dates from about 1601. Note that the tiara rests upon the book. What book? Is it the Bible? Or is it an antiphonary? Peu importe. The message is that all authority in the Church, even the supreme authority, rests upon Tradition. Saint Gregory is shown writing. He is writing what he hears whispered to him by the Holy Ghost. In the form of a white dove, the Holy Ghost flutters quite close to the pontiff's head. Remark Saint Gregory's large ear! He was, after all, a son of Saint Benedict, whose Holy Rule begins with the words, "Listen my son to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart" (RSB, Pro 1).

In this homily/meditation delivered on the morning of October 6th, readers of Vultus Christi will rejoice to discover Pope Benedict XVI's allusions to the Face and Heart of the Word.

The Holy Father Meditates Psalm 118

Dear brothers in the episcopacy, dear brothers and sisters, at the beginning of our Synod the Liturgy of the Hours presents a passage from Psalm 118 on the Word of God: a praise of his Word, an expression of the joy of Israel in learning it and, in it, to recognize his will and his Face. I would like to meditate on some verses of this Psalm with you.

The Power of the Word

It begins like this: "In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet". This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid, it is the true reality on which one must base one's life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away". Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, a breath. As soon as it is pronounced it disappears. It seems to be nothing. But already the human word has incredible power. Words create history, words form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.

Building on Sand

Furthermore, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one's life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order.

The Foundation of Our Life

The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. The realist is the one who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.

All Things at the Service of the Word

The following verse says: "Omnia serviunt tibi". All things come from the Word, they are products of the Word. "In the beginning was the Word". In the beginning the heavens spoke. And thus reality was born of the Word, it is "creatura Verbi". All is created from the Word and all is called to serve the Word. This means that all of creation, in the end, is conceived of to create the place of encounter between God and his creature, a place where the history of love between God and his creature can develop. "Omnia serviunt tibi". The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature. In this sense, salvation history, the Covenant, precedes creation

All Creation is Ordered to Christ

During the Hellenistic period, Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely to make room for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love. The mystery of Christ already is mysteriously revealed here. This is what we are told in the Letter to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: Christ is the "protòtypos", the first-born of creation, the idea for which the universe was conceived. He welcomes all. We enter in the movement of the universe by uniting with Christ. One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the Covenant is the true cause of the cosmos. We reach the roots of being by reaching the mystery of Christ, his living word that is the aim of all creation.

Seeking the Word in the Words

"Omnia serviunt tibi". In serving the Lord we achieve the purpose of being, the purpose of our own existence. Let us take a leap forward: "Mandata tua exquisivi". We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit. We do not find the Word in the words.

In this context St Augustine recalls the scribes and pharisees who were consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Saviour of the world would be born. They know it, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem. They are great specialists who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Saviour. St Augustine says: they are signs on the road for others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of Scripture: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today in the words from the past. In this way we do not enter the interior movement of the Word, which in human words conceals and which opens the divine words. Therefore, there is always a need for "exquisivi". We must always search for the Word within the words.

Communion with the Word

Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming ourselves to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that he may help us search the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence.

Word, Church, and Mission

At the end: "Omni consummationi vidi finem, latum praeceptum tuum nimis". All human things, all the things we can invent, create, are finite. Even all human religious experiences are finite, showing an aspect of reality, because our being is finite and can only understand a part, some elements: "latum praeceptum tuum nimis". Only God is infinite. And therefore His Word too is universal and knows no boundaries. Therefore by entering into the Word of God we really enter into the divine universe. We escape the limits of our experience and we enter into the reality that is truly universal. Entering into communion with the Word of God, we enter a communion of the Church that lives the Word of God. We do not enter into a small group, with the rules of a small group, but we go beyond our limitations. We go towards the depths, in the true grandeur of the only truth, the great truth of God. We are truly a part of what is universal. And thus we go out into the communion of all our brothers and sisters, of all humanity, because the desire for the Word of God, which is one, is hidden in our heart.

Therefore even evangelization, the proclamation of the Gospel, the mission are not a type of ecclesial colonialism, where we wish to insert others into our group. It means going beyond the individual culture into the universality that connects all, unites all, makes us all brothers. Let us pray once again that the Lord may help us to truly enter the "breadth" of His Word and thus to open ourselves to the universal horizon that unites us with all our differences.

I am Yours

At the end, we return to a preceding verse: "Tuus sum ego: salvum me fac". The text translates as: "I am yours". The Word of God is like a stairway that we can climb and, with Christ, even descend into the depths of his love. It is a stairway to reach the Word in the words. "I am yours". The word has a Face, it is a person, Christ. Before we can say "I am yours", he has already told us "I am yours". The Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Psalm 39, says: "You gave me a body.... Then I said, "Here I am, I am coming'". The Lord prepared a body to come. With his Incarnation he said: I am yours. And in Baptism he said to me: I am yours. In the Holy Eucharist, He says ever anew: I am yours, so that we may respond: Lord, I am yours. In the way of the Word, entering the mystery of his Incarnation, of His being among us, we want to appropriate His being, we want expropriate our existence, giving ourselves to Him who gave Himself to us.

In the Heart of the Word

"I am yours". Let us pray the Lord that we may learn to say this word with our whole being. Thus we will be in the heart of the Word. Thus we will be saved.

Benedict XVI on Pius XII

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Pio XII a San Lorenzo 19.7.1943, 300-380.jpg

I was in first grade when Pope Pius XII died. The news reached our parish school in the early afternoon. We were instructed to lower the window shades in every classroom as a gesture of mourning. For some reason, that struck me, and has remained with me. We knelt on the floor -- all 48 of us -- as Sister M. Aloysia, R.S.M. led us in prayer for the repose of the Holy Father's soul.

The Pastor Angelicus Marked by Suffering

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Among thousands of the faithful, including "Synodal Fathers" from around the world, Benedict XVI led the Mass in St Peter's Basilica for the 50th anniversary of the death of the Pope who cried "Nothing is lost with peace; everything can be lost with war." Fifty years after the death of Pius XII on 9 October 1958 Benedict XVI is praying that his cause for beatification may "continue smoothly." He also looked at his predecessor's actions on behalf of the persecuted, Jews included, which Israeli leaders have acknowledged, also focusing on his magisterial action which led Paul VI to consider him a "precursor" of the Second Vatican Council whose documents cite him 188 times.
Benedict XVI draws the portrait of a pope, the last one born in Rome, by looking first at his personal and ascetic side, inspired by the Book of Sirach, which was read during the Mass and which says that those who want to follow the Lord must prepare themselves for trials, difficulties and suffering, and by Saint Peter who exhorted the Christians of Asia Minor to "rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials" (1 Pt, 1:6).

His Life in the Light of the Word

"In light of these Biblical texts we can read about the earthly life of Pope Pacelli," said the Pope. They "can help us, above all, to understand the source from which he drew courage and patience for his pontifical ministry during the troubled years of the Second World War and those that followed, no less complex, of reconstruction and difficult international relations known as the "Cold War'."

Work on Behalf of Jews

In discussing Pope Pacelli's life the Holy Father looked among other things at his actions as nuncio in Germany where "he left behind grateful memories, especially for his cooperation with Benedict XV in trying the stop the "useless slaughter" of the Great War and his early understanding of the danger of the monstrous ideology of National Socialism and its pernicious anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic roots."

But Pius XII's work is especially linked to the period of the Second World War. And here Benedict XVI firmly laid claim to what Pope Pacelli actually did on behalf of Jews.

I Will Not Leave Rome

"The war highlighted the love he felt for his 'beloved Rome', love expressed in the great charitable work he undertook on behalf of the persecuted without distinction of religion, ethnicity, nationality or political leanings. When, once the city was occupied, he was repeatedly advised to leave the Vatican to save himself, his answer was resolutely always the same: "I will not leave Rome and my post, even at the cost of my life" (cf. Summarium, p.186)".

Homage of Golda Meir

"How can we forget his radio message of Christmas 1942?" said the Pope. "In a voice stirred by emotion he deplored the situation of "hundreds of thousands of people who through no fault of their own, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, are bound for death or who slowly waste away (AAS, XXXV, 1943, p. 23), a clear reference to the deportation and extermination of the Jews. He often acted secretly and in silence because, given the actual situation of that complex historical moment, he saw that this was the only way to avoid the worse and save as many Jews as possible. At the end of the war and at the time of his death because of his many actions he received many and unanimous expressions of gratitude from the highest authorities of the Jewish world, people like Israel's Foreign Minister Golda Meir who wrote: "During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and commiserate with their victims," ending by movingly saying "We mourn a great servant of peace."

Teaching on a Vast Variety of Subjects

Unfortunately the historical debate over the Servant of God Pius XII, which has not always been untroubled, has overlooked all the aspects of his multi-faceted pontificate."

But Pius XII must also be remembered for his vast magisterial work. "He delivered many speeches, addresses and messages to scientists, doctors and people from a variety of walks of life, some of which are still extraordinarily relevant today and continue to be concrete points of reference."

Paul VI, who was a faithful aide for many years, described him as an erudite, an attentive scholar, open to modern ways of research and culture, with an ever-strong and coherent faith in the principles of human reasoning as well as in the intangible repository of the faith's truths. He considered him a precursor to the Second Vatican Council (cf the Angelus of 10 March 1974)".

Mystici Corporis

Among the many writings that "deserve mentioning" Benedict XVI cited "the Encyclical Mystici Corporis, released on 29 June 1943 when the war was still raging, in which he described the spiritual and visible relationships that unite men to the Word Incarnate and proposed integrating this perspective to all the main themes of ecclesiology, offering for the first time a dogmatic and theological synthesis that would provide the basis for the Conciliar Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium."

"How can we not mention the considerable impetus this pontiff gave to the Church's missionary activity with the Encyclicals Evangelii praecones (1951) and Fidei donum (1957), in which he stressed the duty of each community to announce the Gospels to the nations, as the Second Vatican Council would do, with courageous vigour."

"Lastly one of his constant pastoral concerns was the promotion of the role of lay people so that the Church community could take advantage of all the energy and resources available. For this too the Church and the world are grateful to him."

Pope Pacelli, Benedict XVI finally said, "promoted the causes of beatification and canonisation of people from different nations, representatives of all walks of life, roles and professions, especially given much space to women. And it was in Mary, the Woman of Salvation, whom he offered to humanity as a sign of certain hope, proclaiming the dogma of the Assumption in the Holy Year of 1950.

In this world of ours, which, like that of Pope Pacelli's time, is dogged by worries and anxieties about its future, in this world more than then where the departure from truth and virtue by many shows us scenarios without hope, Pius XII urged us to turn to Mary, who was assumed in the Glory of Heaven. He urged us to call upon her with confidence so that she may let us appreciate the value of life on earth and turn towards the true goal to which we are destined, that of eternal life which, as Jesus assured us, is already part of those who hear and heed his word."

Aliis agricolis

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Today at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Benedict XVI opened the Synod Assembly by preaching on the Gospel of the 27th Sunday of the Year A, Matthew 21, 33-43.

When God Resorts to Punishment

"This page of the Gospel applies to our own way of thinking and acting; it applies especially to those peoples who have received the proclamation of the Gospel. If we look at history, we are forced to recognize that it is not rare for inconsistent Christians to be cold and rebellious. As a result of this, although God never fails his promise of salvation, he has often had to resort to punishment.

Nations Once Rich in Faith and Vocations

It is spontaneous to think, in this context, of the first proclamation of the Gospel, which gave rise to Christian communities that at first were flourishing, but later disappeared and are now remembered only in the history books. Could not the same thing happen in our time? Nations that at one time were rich in faith and vocations are now losing their identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture.

Man Without God: Unhappy and Alone

There are those who, having decided that 'God is dead', declare themselves 'gods', believing themselves the sole creators of their own destiny and the absolute owners of the world. In casting off God and not awaiting salvation from him, man believes that he can do whatever he likes and set himself up as the sole measure of himself and his action. But when man eliminates God from his horizon, is he truly more happy? Does he truly become more free? When men proclaim themselves the absolute owners of themselves, and the sole masters of creation, can they truly build a society in which freedom, justice, and peace reign? Does it not instead happen - as daily events abundantly demonstrate - that there is the expansion of arbitrary power, egoistic interest, injustice and exploitation, violence in all of its expressions? The result, in the end, is that man finds himself more alone, and society is more divided and confused."

There Will Be Other Peoples Ready to Accept the Faith

But "there is a promise in the words of Jesus: the vineyard will not be destroyed. Although he leaves the unfaithful keepers of the vineyard to their fate, the owner does not abandon his vineyard, and he entrusts it to other servants, who are faithful. This indicates that, if in some regions faith becomes weak to the point of disappearing, there will always be other peoples ready to accept it."

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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