Benedict XVI: St Hilary of Poitiers – “God Knows Not How To Be Anything Other Than Love” Monday, Jan 13 2014 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIJanuary 13th is the feast of St Hilary of Poitiers (c.300-368).

In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus “has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28:19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift.

The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. 1 Cor 8:6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:4), a gift in all….

In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit”.

God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary:

“God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others”.

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. “The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all” (ibid., 2, 8).

Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, “he has become the flesh of us all”; “he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot”.

For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all – because he has drawn all into his being as a man – even if personal conversion is always required:

“Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)”.

Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): St Hilary of Poitiers (General Audience, 10th October 2007.

Advertisements

Benedict XVI: Gregory of Nyssa – Pressing Onwards Towards Perfection Friday, Jan 10 2014 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIJanuary 10th is the feast of St Gregory of Nyssa (OrthooxWiki here; Pope Benedixt XVI here and here; Georges Florovsky here).

Gregory of Nyssa had a very lofty concept of human dignity.

Man’s goal, the holy Bishop said, is to liken himself to God, and he reaches this goal first of all through the love, knowledge and practice of the virtues, “bright beams that shine from the divine nature”, in a perpetual movement of adherence to the good like a corridor outstretched before oneself.

In this regard, Gregory uses an effective image already present in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: épekteinómenos (3: 13), that is, “I press on” towards what is greater, towards truth and love.

This vivid expression portrays a profound reality: the perfection we desire to attain is not acquired once and for all; perfection means journeying on, it is continuous readiness to move ahead because we never attain a perfect likeness to God; we are always on our way.

The history of every soul is that of a love which fills every time and at the same time is open to new horizons, for God continually stretches the soul’s possibilities to make it capable of ever greater goods.

God himself, who has sown the seeds of good in us and from whom every initiative of holiness stems, “models the block…, and polishing and cleansing our spirit, forms Christ within us”.

Gregory was anxious to explain: “In fact, this likeness to the Divine is not our work at all; it is not the achievement of any faculty of man; it is the great gift of God bestowed upon our nature at the very moment of our birth”. For the soul, therefore, “it is not a question of knowing something about God but of having God within”.

Moreover, as Gregory perceptively observes, “Divinity is purity, it is liberation from the passions and the removal of every evil: if all these things are in you, God is truly in you”.

When we have God in us, when man loves God, through that reciprocity which belongs to the law of love he wants what God himself wants; hence, he cooperates with God in fashioning the divine image in himself, so that “our spiritual birth is the result of a free choice, and we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we ourselves wish to be, and through our will forming ourselves in accordance with the model that we choose”.

To ascend to God, man must be purified. […] In this journey of spiritual ascesis Christ is the Model and Teacher, he shows us the beautiful image of God. Each of us, looking at him, finds ourselves “the painter of our own life”, who has the will to compose the work and the virtues as his colours.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): St Gregory of Nyssa (General Audience, 5th September 2007.

Benedict XVI: Ignatius of Antioch – “Permit Me to be an Imitator of the Passion of My God!” Thursday, Oct 17 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIOctober 17th is the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch

No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius.

We therefore read the Gospel passage on the vine, which according to John’s Gospel is Jesus.

In fact, two spiritual “currents” converge in Ignatius, that of Paul, straining with all his might for union with Christ, and that of John, concentrated on life in him.

In turn, these two currents translate into the imitation of Christ, whom Ignatius several times proclaimed as “my” or “our God”.

Thus, Ignatius implores the Christians of Rome not to prevent his martyrdom since he is impatient “to attain to Jesus Christ”.

And he explains, “It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ than to reign over all the ends of the earth…. Him I seek, who died for us: him I desire, who rose again for our sake…. Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God!” (Romans, 5-6).

One can perceive in these words on fire with love, the pronounced Christological “realism” typical of the Church of Antioch, more focused than ever on the Incarnation of the Son of God and on his true and concrete humanity:

“Jesus Christ”, St Ignatius wrote to the Smyrnaeans, “was truly of the seed of David”, “he was truly born of a virgin”, “and was truly nailed [to the Cross] for us” (1: 1).

Ignatius’ irresistible longing for union with Christ was the foundation of a real “mysticism of unity”. He describes himself: “I therefore did what befitted me as a man devoted to unity” (Philadelphians, 8: 1).

[…] The insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony.

The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear. This applies first of all to their invitation to love and unity. “Be one”, Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper:

“one supplication, one mind, one hope in love…. Therefore, all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one” (7: 1-2).

Ignatius was the first person in Christian literature to attribute to the Church the adjective “catholic” or “universal”: “Wherever Jesus Christ is”, he said, “there is the Catholic Church” (Smyrnaeans, 8: 2). And precisely in the service of unity to the Catholic Church, the Christian community of Rome exercised a sort of primacy of love

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): St Ignatius of Antioch (General Audience, 14th March 2007.

Benedict XVI: Gregory the Great – “The Preacher Must Dip His Pen into the Blood of His Heart” Tuesday, Sep 3 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVI(September 3rd is the feast of St Gregory the Great)

He was a passionate reader of the Bible, which he approached not simply with a speculative purpose:

from Sacred Scripture, he thought, the Christian must draw not theoretical understanding so much as the daily nourishment for his soul, for his life as man in this world.

For example, in the Homilies on Ezekiel, he emphasized this function of the sacred text:

to approach the Scripture simply to satisfy one’s own desire for knowledge means to succumb to the temptation of pride and thus to expose oneself to the risk of sliding into heresy.

Intellectual humility is the primary rule for one who searches to penetrate the supernatural realities beginning from the sacred Book.

Obviously, humility does not exclude serious study; but to ensure that the results are spiritually beneficial, facilitating true entry into the depth of the text, humility remains indispensable.

Only with this interior attitude can one really listen to and eventually perceive the voice of God.

On the other hand, when it is a question of the Word of God understanding it means nothing if it does not lead to action.

In these Homilies on Ezekiel is also found that beautiful expression according which “the preacher must dip his pen into the blood of his heart; then he can also reach the ear of his neighbour”.

Reading his homilies, one sees that Gregory truly wrote with his life-blood and, therefore, he still speaks to us today.

[…] Of notable importance and beauty are also the Homilies on the Gospel.

[…]  The guiding principle, which links the different homilies, is captured in the word preacher: not only the minister of God, but also every Christian, has the duty “to preach” of what he has experienced in his innermost being, following the example of Christ who was made man to bring to all the good news of salvation.

[…] The expectation of the fulfilment of all things in Christ…ended by becoming the guiding reason of his every thought and activity. From here sprang his incessant reminders to be vigilant and to perform good works.

[…] The great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor’s duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished.

For this the final chapter of the Pastoral Rule is dedicated to humility: “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”.

All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the ars artium, the art of arts.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): St Gregory the Great (General Audience, 4th June 2008.

Benedict XVI: The Mystery of the Heart of a God Who Feels Compassion Friday, Jun 7 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIIn a little while we shall sing in the antiphon to the MagnificatThe Lord has drawn us to his heart—Suscepit nos Dominus in sinum et cor suum”.  

God’s heart, as the expression of his will, is spoken of twenty-six times in the Old Testament.

Before God’s heart men and women stand judged.  His heartfelt pain at sins of mankind makes God decide on the flood, but then he is touched by the sight of human weakness and offers his forgiveness.

Yet another passage of the Old Testament speaks of God’s heart with absolute clarity: it is in the eleventh chapter of the book of the Prophet Hosea, whose opening lines portray the Lord’s love for Israel at the dawn of its history: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).

Israel, however, responds to God’s constant offer of love with indifference and even outright ingratitude. “The more I called them”, the Lord is forced to admit, “the more they went from me” (v. 2).

Even so, he never abandons Israel to the power of its enemies, because “my heart”—the the Creator of the universe observes—”recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender” (v. 8).

The heart of God burns with compassion!  On today’s solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church presents us this mystery for our contemplation: the mystery of the heart of a God who feels compassion and who bestows all his love upon humanity.

A mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind.

God does not lose heart in the face of ingratitude or rejection by the people he has chosen; rather, with infinite mercy he sends his only-begotten Son into the world to take upon himself the fate of a shattered love, so that by defeating the power of evil and death he could restore to human beings enslaved by sin their dignity as sons and daughters.

But this took place at great cost—the only-begotten Son of the Father was sacrificed on the Cross: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (cf. John 13:1).

The symbol of this love which transcends death is his side, pierced by a spear.  The Apostle John, an eyewitness, tells us: “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (cf. Jn 19:34).

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Homily on the Solemnity of the sacred Heart of Jesus, 2009.

Benedict XVI: The Invisible Presence of Jesus Working through the Power of His Spirit Friday, May 10 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIThe Evangelist Luke says that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (24: 52).

Their joy stems from the fact that what had happened was not really a separation, the Lord’s permanent absence.

On the contrary, they were then certain that the Crucified-Risen One was alive and that in him God’s gates, the gates of eternal life, had been opened to humanity for ever.

In other words, his Ascension did not imply a temporary absence from the world but rather inaugurated the new, definitive and insuppressible form of his presence by virtue of his participation in the royal power of God.

It was to be up to them, the disciples emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make his presence visible by their witness, preaching and missionary zeal.

The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy”.

Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel”, must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection.

His very words, with which the Gospel according to St Matthew ends, accompany and comfort us: “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28: 19).

Dear brothers and sisters, the historical character of the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension helps us to recognize and understand the transcendent condition of the Church which was not born and does not live to compensate for the absence of her Lord who has “disappeared” but on the contrary finds the reason for her existence and mission in the invisible presence of Jesus, a presence working through the power of his Spirit.

In other words, we might say that the Church does not carry out the role of preparing for the return of an “absent” Jesus, but, on the contrary, lives and works to proclaim his “glorious presence” in a historical and existential way.

Since the day of the Ascension, every Christian community has advanced on its earthly pilgrimage toward the fulfilment of the messianic promises, fed by the word of God and nourished by the Body and Blood of her Lord.

This is the condition of the Church, the Second Vatican Council recalls, as she “presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God’, announcing the Cross and death of the Lord until he comes” (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension, 2009.

Benedict XVI: We Enter Heaven when We Draw Close to Jesus and Enter into Communion with Him Wednesday, May 8 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVI“As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

This is the mystery of the Ascension that we are celebrating today. But what do the Bible and the Liturgy wish to tell us by saying that Jesus “was lifted up”?

We cannot understand the meaning of these words from a single text or from a single book of the New Testament but rather by listening attentively to the whole of Sacred Scripture.

In fact the verb “to lift up” was originally used in the Old Testament and refers to royal enthronement. Thus Christ’s Ascension means in the first place the enthronement of the Crucified and Risen Son of Man, the manifestation of God’s kingship over the world.

However, there is an even deeper meaning that is not immediately perceptible. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles it is said first that Jesus was “lifted up” (v. 9) and then it says “taken up” (v. 11).

The event is not described as a journey to on high but rather as an action of the power of God who introduces Jesus into the space of closeness to the Divine.

The presence of the cloud that “took him out of their sight” (v. 9), recalls a very ancient image of Old Testament theology and integrates the account of the Ascension into the history of God with Israel, from the cloud of Sinai and above the tent of the Covenant in the desert, to the luminous cloud on the mountain of the Transfiguration.

To present the Lord wrapped in clouds calls to mind once and for all the same mystery expressed in the symbolism of the phrase, “seated at the right hand of God”.

In Christ ascended into Heaven, the human being has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; man henceforth finds room in God for ever.

“Heaven”: this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and for ever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united for ever.

Man’s being in God, this is Heaven. And we draw close to Heaven, indeed, we enter Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him.

For this reason today’s Solemnity of the Ascension invites us to be in profound communion with the dead and Risen Jesus, invisibly present in the life of each one of us.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension, 2009.

Benedict XVI: “He is the Image of the Invisible God” Friday, Apr 26 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVI(On Colossians 1:15-20)

The Greek term eikon, “icon”, is dear to the Apostle: in his Letters he uses it nine times, applying it both to Christ, the perfect icon of God (cf. II Cor 4:4), and to man, the image and glory of God (cf. I Cor 11:7).

However, by sin, men and women “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images representing mortal man” (Rom 1: 23), choosing to worship idols and become like them.

We must therefore continuously model our being and life on the image of that of the Son of God (cf. II Cor 3:18), so that we may be “delivered…from the dominion of darkness” and “transferred… to the Kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1: 13).

This is a first imperative in this hymn: to model our life on the image of the Son of God, entering into his sentiments, his will and his thoughts.

Christ is then proclaimed the “firstborn” of “all creation” (v. 15). Christ is before all things (cf. v. 17) because he has been begotten since eternity, for “all things were created through him and for him” (v. 16). The ancient Jewish tradition also says that “the whole world was created in view of the Messiah” (Sanhedrin, 98b).

For the Apostle, Christ is the principle of coherence (“in him all things hold together”), the mediator (“through him”) and the final destination toward which the whole of creation converges.

He is the “firstborn of many brothers” (Rom 8: 29), that is, the Son par excellence in the great family of God’s children, into which we are incorporated by Baptism.

At this point, our gaze turns from the world of creation to that of history. Christ is “the Head of the Body, the Church” (Col 1: 18); he already became this through his Incarnation.

Indeed, he entered the human community to support it and make it into a “body”, that is, in harmonious and fruitful unity. Christ is the root, the vital pivot and “the beginning” of the coherence and growth of humanity.

Precisely with this primacy Christ can become the principle of the resurrection of all, the “firstborn from the dead”, so that “in Christ all will come to life again”: first Christ, the first fruits; then, at his coming, all those who belong to Christ (cf. I Cor 15:22-23).

The Canticle draws to a close celebrating the “fullness”, in Greek pleroma, which Christ possesses in himself as a gift of love of the Father. It is the fullness of divinity that shines out, both in the universe and in humanity, becoming a source of peace, unity and perfect harmony (Col 1: 19-20).

[…] By pouring out his Blood and giving himself, Christ has spread peace, which in biblical language is a synthesis of the Messianic goods and saving fullness extended to the whole of created reality.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Commentary on the Psalms and Canticles of Vespers (General Audience, 7th September 2005).

Benedict XVI: Holy Saturday (4) Saturday, Mar 30 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVI(Following on from here…)

But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ?

The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new?

The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall.

But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights.

And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment.

Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. “Out of the depths I cry to you…”

Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us.

Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home.

Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God.

Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil.

Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends – the power by which he brings us with him.

In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world’s darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him.

On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death.

Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth!

Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you!

Help us to bring them your light! “Help us to say the “yes” of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you. Amen!

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Homily for Holy Saturday, St Peter’s Basilica, 7 April 2007.

Benedict XVI: Holy Saturday (3) Saturday, Mar 30 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVI(Following on from here…)

Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.”

What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate.

Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery.

The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!”

The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer.

His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors.

This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf. Ps 138[139]12).

Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death.

He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jn 2:2).

In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion.

By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Homily for Holy Saturday, St Peter’s Basilica, 7 April 2007.

Next Page »