Pope Benedict XVI: December 2010 Archives

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.

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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