Benedict XVI: Holy Saturday (2) Saturday, Mar 30 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVI(Following on from here…)

These words of the Psalm [138], read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism.

Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life.

The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been “grafted” onto Christ by likeness to his death.

In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ – he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others.

In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute.

On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary.

Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: “For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labour fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart – by being executed – and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account” (cf. 1:21ff.).

On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ – there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: “Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me” (Ps 138[139]:5).

To the Romans Paul wrote: “No one … lives to himself and no one dies to himself… Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom14:7ff.).

Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves.

As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives forever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death.

At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go – he who is Life itself.

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

Benedict XVI: Holy Saturday (1) Saturday, Mar 30 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIFrom ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: “I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me.”

The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living.

The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus he could rise again.

These words are taken from Psalm 138, where originally they had a different meaning. That Psalm is a song of wonder at God’s omnipotence and omnipresence, a hymn of trust in the God who never allows us to fall from his hands.

And his hands are good hands. The Psalmist imagines himself journeying to the farthest reaches of the cosmos – and what happens to him?

“If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me’…, even the darkness is not dark to you…; for darkness is as light with you” (Ps 138[139]:8-12).

On Easter day the Church tells us that Jesus Christ made that journey to the ends of the universe for our sake.

In the Letter to the Ephesians we read that he descended to the depths of the earth, and that the one who descended is also the one who has risen far above the heavens, that he might fill all things (cf. 4:9ff.).

The vision of the Psalm thus became reality. In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light – the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light.

And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: “Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld forever by your hands.”

But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: “I arose and now I am still with you,” he says to each of us. My hand upholds you.

Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. I am present even at the door of death. Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light.

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

Benedict XVI: Letting God Act On Us – That Is Christian Sacrifice Thursday, Feb 28 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVITo many, many Christians…it looks as if the Cross is to be understood as part of a mechanism of injured and restored right.

It is the form, so it seems, in which the infinitely offended righteousness of God was propitiated again by means of an infinite expiation.

[…] Many devotional texts actually force one to think that Christian faith in the Cross visualises a God whose unrelenting righteousness demanded a human sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own Son, and one turns away in horror from a righteousness whose sinister wrath makes the message of love incredible.

[…] The expiatory activity by which men hope to conciliate the divinity and put him in a gracious mood stands at the heart of the history of religion.

In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man in order to give to him.

He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy.

His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man straight, that is, bends him straight, makes him right.

[…] The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they who have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).

[…]  God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the incarnation, of the Cross.

Accordingly, in the New Testament the Cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below.

It does not stand there as the work of expiation which mankind offers to the wrathful God, but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way about.

With this twist in the idea of expiation, and thus in the whole axis of religion, worship too, man’s whole existence, acquires in Christianity a new direction.

Worship follows in Christianity first of all in thankful acceptance of the divine deed of salvation. The essential form of Christian worship is therefore rightly called “Eucharistia”, thanksgiving.

Christian sacrifice does not consist in a giving of what God would not have without us but in our becoming totally receptive and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him.

Letting God act on us – that is Christian sacrifice.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pp. 281-283; a longer extract from this passage can be read at the excellent Eclectic Orthodoxy.

With thanks to The Ironic Catholic for the suggestion that bloggers should pay tribute to Benedict the XVI on this particular day by posting a favourite quotation or extract from his writings.

Benedict XVI: The Mystery of the Transfiguration and the Agony in Gethsemane Monday, Feb 25 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIOn the Second Sunday of Lent, the Evangelist Luke emphasizes that Jesus went up on the mountain “to pray” (9:28), together with the Apostles Peter, James and John, and it was “while he prayed” (9:29) that the luminous mystery of his Transfiguration occurred.

Thus, for the three Apostles, going up the mountain meant being involved in the prayer of Jesus, who frequently withdrew in prayer especially at dawn and after sunset, and sometimes all night.

However, this was the only time, on the mountain, that he chose to reveal to his friends the inner light that filled him when he prayed: his face, we read in the Gospel, shone and his clothes were radiant with the splendour of the divine Person of the Incarnate Word (cf. Lk 9:29).

There is another detail proper to St Luke’s narrative which deserves emphasis: the mention of the topic of Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah, who appeared beside him when he was transfigured.

As the Evangelist tells us, they “talked with him… and spoke of his departure” (in Greek, éxodos), “which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31).

Therefore, Jesus listens to the Law and the Prophets who spoke to him about his death and Resurrection.

In his intimate dialogue with the Father, he did not depart from history, he did not flee the mission for which he came into the world, although he knew that to attain glory he would have to pass through the Cross.

On the contrary, Christ enters more deeply into this mission, adhering with all his being to the Father’s will; he shows us that true prayer consists precisely in uniting our will with that of God.

For a Christian, therefore, to pray is not to evade reality and the responsibilities it brings but rather, to fully assume them, trusting in the faithful and inexhaustible love of the Lord.

For this reason, the verification of the Transfiguration is, paradoxically, the Agony in Gethsemane (cf. Lk 22:39-46).

With his impending Passion, Jesus was to feel mortal anguish and entrust himself to the divine will; his prayer at that moment would become a pledge of salvation for us all.

Indeed, Christ was to implore the Heavenly Father “to free him from death” and, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: “he was heard for his godly fear” (5:7). The Resurrection is proof that he was heard.

Dear brothers and sisters, prayer is not an accessory or “optional”, but a question of life or death. In fact, only those who pray, in other words, who entrust themselves to God with filial love, can enter eternal life, which is God himself.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Angelus Address, Second Sunday of Lent, 4 March 2007 @ Vatican Website.

Benedict XVI: Gregory Nazianzen – “What Has Not Been Assumed Has Not Been Healed” Wednesday, Jan 2 2013 

Pope_Benedictus_XVISt Gregory Nazianzen…wrote: “Nothing seems to me greater than this: to silence one’s senses, to emerge from the flesh of the world, to withdraw into oneself, no longer to be concerned with human things other than what is strictly necessary;

“to converse with oneself and with God, to lead a life that transcends the visible; to bear in one’s soul divine images, ever pure, not mingled with earthly or erroneous forms;

“truly to be a perfect mirror of God and of divine things, and to become so more and more, taking light from light…;

“to enjoy, in the present hope, the future good, and to converse with angels; to have already left the earth even while continuing to dwell on it, borne aloft by the spirit”.

[…] Nazianzen…felt deeply the yearning to draw close to God, to be united with him. He expressed it in one of his poems in which he writes:

“Among the great billows of the sea of life, here and there whipped up by wild winds… one thing alone is dear to me, my only treasure, comfort and oblivion in my struggle, the light of the Blessed Trinity”.

Thus, Gregory made the light of the Trinity shine forth, defending the faith proclaimed at the Council of Nicea: one God in three persons, equal and distinct – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – “a triple light gathered into one splendour”.

Therefore, Gregory says further, in line with St Paul (1 Cor 8: 6): “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom is all; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom is all; and one Holy Spirit, in whom is all”.

Gregory gave great prominence to Christ’s full humanity: to redeem man in the totality of his body, soul and spirit, Christ assumed all the elements of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved.

Disputing the heresy of Apollinaris, who held that Jesus Christ had not assumed a rational mind, Gregory tackled the problem in the light of the mystery of salvation:

“What has not been assumed has not been healed”, and if Christ had not been “endowed with a rational mind, how could he have been a man?”

It was precisely our mind and our reason that needed and needs the relationship, the encounter with God in Christ.

Having become a man, Christ gave us the possibility of becoming, in turn, like him. Nazianzus exhorted people:

“Let us seek to be like Christ, because Christ also became like us: to become gods through him since he himself, through us, became a man. He took the worst upon himself to make us a gift of the best”.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): St Gregory Nazianzen (General Audience, 8th August 2007 and 22nd August 2007).

Benedict XVI: The Tenderness and Love of God Who Stoops to Our Limitations Sunday, Dec 23 2012 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIChristmas and Easter are both feasts of redemption.

Easter celebrates it as a victory over sin and death; it marks the final moment when the glory of the Man-God shines out like the light of day.

Christmas celebrates it as God’s entry into history, his becoming man in order to restore mankind to God.

[…] The Church Fathers always interpreted Christ’s Birth in the light of the whole redemptive work which culminates in the Paschal Mystery.

The Incarnation of the Son of God not only appears as the beginning and condition for salvation, but as the very presence of the Mystery of our salvation: God is made man, he is born an infant, like us, he takes our flesh to conquer death and sin.

Two important texts of St Basil illustrate this clearly.

St Basil said to the faithful: “God takes flesh precisely in order to destroy death that is concealed in it.

“Just as antidotes to poison neutralize its effects as soon as they are ingested and as the shadows in a house are dispelled by sunlight, so death that held sway over human nature was destroyed by God’s presence.

“But just as ice in water remains solid as long as night lasts and darkness prevails, it quickly melts in the heat of the sun, so death, that reigned until Christ’s coming, as soon as God the Saviour’s grace appeared and the sun of justice arouse, unable to coexist with life, ‘is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor 15:54)” (Homily on the Birth of Christ).

In another text St Basil again formulates this invitation: “Let us celebrate the salvation of the world, the birth of the human race. Today, Adam’s sin has been pardoned.

“Now we can no longer say ‘you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ (Gen 3:19), but, united to him who came from heaven, you will be admitted to heaven” (Homily on the Birth of Christ).

In Christmas we find the tenderness and love of God who stoops to our limitations, to our weaknesses, to our sins, and who bends down even to us.

St Paul declares that Jesus Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God… emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).

[…] God humbled himself to the point of being laid in a manger, already a prelude to the humbling of himself in the hour of his passion.

The culmination of the love story between God and man passes through the manger in Bethlehem and the tomb in Jerusalem.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Holy Christmas (General Audience, 21st December 2011).

Benedict XVI: St John Damascene – “The Great Sea of Love that God Bears Towards Man” Tuesday, Dec 4 2012 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIJohn Damascene was able serenely to deduce: “God, who is good…created him [man] envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought, enriched with the word, and orientated towards the spirit”.

And to clarify this thought further, he adds: “We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder at all the works of Providence, to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, and admitting instead that the project of God goes beyond man’s capacity to know or to understand, while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future”.

Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.

The optimism of the contemplation of nature, of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it.

From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, “should be strengthened and renewed” by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in “being”, but also in “well-being”.

With passionate eagerness John explains: “It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught, the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life…. So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)”….

It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man.

John Damascene continues: “he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example…. And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended… to his servants… achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God”.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On St John Damascene [c.675-749] (General Audience, 6 May 2009).

Benedict XVI: The Magnificat – a Portrait of Mary’s Soul Thursday, May 10 2012 

In the Gospel of Luke we find her [Mary] engaged in a service of charity to her cousin Elizabeth, with whom she remained for “about three months” so as to assist her in the final phase of her pregnancy.

Magnificat anima mea Dominum”, she says on the occasion of that visit, “My soul magnifies the Lord”.

In these words she expresses her whole programme of life: not setting herself at the centre, but leaving space for God, who is encountered both in prayer and in service of neighbour—only then does goodness enter the world.

Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself. She is lowly: her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord.

She knows that she will only contribute to the salvation of the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives.

Mary is a woman of hope: only because she believes in God’s promises and awaits the salvation of Israel, can the angel visit her and call her to the decisive service of these promises.

Mary is a woman of faith: “Blessed are you who believed”, Elizabeth says to her.

The Magnificat—a portrait, so to speak, of her soul—is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the Word of God.

Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the Word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it.

She speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God.

Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God.

Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.

Finally, Mary is a woman who loves. How could it be otherwise?

As a believer who in faith thinks with God’s thoughts and wills with God’s will, she cannot fail to be a woman who loves.

We sense this in her quiet gestures, as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel.

We see it in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus.

We see it in the humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus’ public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and that the Mother’s hour will come only with the Cross, which will be Jesus’ true hour.

When the disciples flee, Mary will remain beneath the Cross; later, at the hour of Pentecost, it will be they who gather around her as they wait for the Holy Spirit.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Deus Caritas Est, 41.

Benedict XVI: We Can All Let Our Hearts Be Transformed and Learn to Love Like Christ Thursday, May 3 2012 

In a vision that was ever present in Catherine’s heart and mind Our Lady presented her to Jesus who gave her a splendid ring, saying to her:

“I, your Creator and Saviour, espouse you in the faith, that you will keep ever pure until you celebrate your eternal nuptials with me in Heaven”.

This ring was visible to her alone. In this extraordinary episode we see the vital centre of Catherine’s religious sense, and of all authentic spirituality: Christocentrism.

For her Christ was like the spouse with whom a relationship of intimacy, communion and faithfulness exists; he was the best beloved whom she loved above any other good.

This profound union with the Lord is illustrated by another episode in the life of this outstanding mystic: the exchange of hearts.

According to Raymond of Capua who passed on the confidences Catherine received, the Lord Jesus appeared to her “holding in his holy hands a human heart, bright red and shining”.

He opened her side and put the heart within her saying: “Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it for ever”.

Catherine truly lived St. Paul’s words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Like the Sienese Saint, every believer feels the need to be conformed with the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and his neighbour as Christ himself loves.

And we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ in a familiarity with him that is nourished by prayer, by meditation on the Word of God and by the sacraments, above all by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion.

[…] She said before she died: “in leaving my body, truly I have consumed and given my life in the Church and for the Holy Church, which is for me a most unique grace”.

Hence we learn from St Catherine the most sublime science: to know and love Jesus Christ and his Church.

In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, she describes Christ, with an unusual image, as a bridge flung between Heaven and earth.

This bridge consists of three great stairways constituted by the feet, the side and the mouth of Jesus.

Rising by these stairways the soul passes through the three stages of every path to sanctification: detachment from sin, the practice of the virtues and of love, sweet and loving union with God.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On St Catherine of Siena (General Audience, Nov. 24th, 2010).

Benedict XVI: The Oil of Gladness Thursday, Apr 5 2012 

The Fathers of the Church were fascinated by a phrase from Psalm 45 (44) – traditionally held to be Solomon’s wedding psalm – which was reinterpreted by Christians as the psalm for the marriage of the new Solomon, Jesus Christ, to his Church.

To the King, Christ, it is said: “Your love is for justice; your hatred for evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above other kings” (v. 8).

What is this oil of gladness with which the true king, Christ, was anointed?

The Fathers had no doubt in this regard: the oil of gladness is the Holy Spirit himself, who was poured out upon Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is the gladness that comes from God.

From Jesus this gladness sweeps over us in his Gospel, in the joyful message that God knows us, that he is good and that his goodness is the power above all powers; that we are wanted and loved by him.

Gladness is the fruit of love. The oil of gladness, which was poured out over Christ and comes to us from him, is the Holy Spirit, the gift of Love who makes us glad to be alive.

Since we know Christ, and since in him we know the true God, we know that it is good to be a human being.

It is good to be alive, because we are loved, because truth itself is good.

In the early Church, the consecrated oil was considered a special sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who communicates himself to us as a gift from Christ. He is the oil of gladness.

[…]  The gladness that comes to us from Christ…does indeed make us happy, but it can also perfectly well coexist with suffering.

It gives us the capacity to suffer and, in suffering, to remain nevertheless profoundly glad.

It gives us the capacity to share the suffering of others and thus by placing ourselves at one another’s disposal, to express tangibly the light and the goodness of God.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Homily at Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, 2010.

« Previous PageNext Page »