Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let Us Make Room

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Midnight Mass, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
December 25, 2007

"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. . . . In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others. . . .

Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves? . . .

There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or "wise men" - the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.
In the year 5,199 from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;

In the year 2,957 from the flood;

In the year 2,051 from the birth of Abraham;

In the year 1,510 from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses;

In the year 1,032 from the anointing of David as king;

In the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

In the 194th Olympiad;

In the year 752 from the foundation of the city of Rome;

In the 42nd year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus;

When the whole world was at peace, in the sixth age of the world:

Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, having become man.

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

St. Joseph, Model of Faith and Love

At first, it appears that we know very little about St. Joseph, and it is true that not much is said about him in the Gospels. Nevertheless, what is recorded about him says a lot. As with John the Baptist, Joseph prepares a way for the Lord and His Kingdom and, because he is an ancestor of David, like the Baptist, Joseph provides a link between the old covenant with Abraham and Moses and the new and everlasting covenant of Jesus Christ. However, perhaps his greatest roles are those of faithful protector and provider.

As with Mary, God chose Joseph for his role in salvation history. When an angel appeared to tell him to not be afraid to take the pregnant Mary into his home as his wife, that she had conceived through the Holy Spirit, and that he should name the child “Jesus,” Joseph complied and placed himself at the service of the Lord without hesitation. He took Mary, not only into his home, but into his heart, as his wife, and he took Jesus as his own son, accepting the vocations of faithful spouse and father.

Indeed, Joseph’s “Yes” to God was arguably a greater act of faith than the “Yes” given by Mary at the Annunciation. After Mary told him that she was with child through the Holy Spirit, a story lacking all credibility, Joseph could have very easily disbelieved the visit from the angel as merely an act of his subconscious during a dream. Mary, too, could have easily dismissed the visit from the angel at the Annunciation as an overactive imagination, but the message to her was soon confirmed by her pregnancy and the fact that Mary also knew that she had not been with a man. However, Joseph had nothing of this world to confirm that she had not been with another man, but had instead conceived through the Holy Spirit. Joseph had only Mary’s word for it, and the word of what easily could have been his imagination in a dream.

The Gospels state that Joseph was a “just” man, but in saving Mary from stoning to death – which he had decided to do before the visit from the angel -- his was an act of mercy, not justice, because the penalty under the Law for infidelity was death. After the angel’s revelation, notwithstanding good reason for doubt, Joseph placed his trust in Mary and his faith in God. Instead of demanding proof, instead of putting God to the test, Joseph acted on faith. Joseph acted on love.

It was not until the shepherds showed up at the stable after the birth of Jesus, claiming that an angel had appeared to them announcing the good news of the birth, that Joseph had any tangible confirmation that he was right to believe in Mary – he was right to act on love and have faith in God.

Joseph was a model of love – true love – not the false so-called “love” of feelings and emotions, of making himself happy, of satisfying his own wants and desires, but the true and perfect love of consciously deciding to empty himself and make a gift of self in seeking the good of others. Joseph set aside his own wants and aspirations of a typical marriage and family life and instead, in true love, devoted himself to Mary and Jesus.

In complete fidelity, Joseph placed himself entirely at their service. As the model husband and father, in addition to servant, Joseph was defender, protector, and provider. He took Mary and Jesus into his home and into his heart. He found shelter when there was no room at the inn; he took his family to Egypt when Herod was determined to destroy Jesus in Bethlehem; he kept them safely in Egypt until Herod’s demise, when they could safely return home to Nazareth; he worked as a craftsman, a carpenter, to provide a home for his family. When Mary and Jesus encountered the hardships of everyday life, it was Joseph who stood at their side, providing them help and encouragement.

Joseph was also counsellor and teacher to the young Jesus, providing him the usual education, instructing him in a trade, and proclaiming the faith to him. Joseph arranged for the circumcision of baby Jesus, the entrance into the covenant with God, and he presented him to the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem. Joseph took Jesus to the synagogue to hear the word of God and, each Passover, Joseph took his family on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where, at age 12, Jesus was found discussing the faith with teachers in the Temple.

Aside from Mary, Joseph was closer to and knew Jesus more than any other person in history. Until his death, Joseph observed, participated in, and knew all the intimate details of Jesus’ life. It was Joseph who, together with Mary, most influenced and prepared Jesus for his adult and public life. Whereas John the Baptist prepared the world for Jesus, preparing the way for the Lord on a public level, it was Joseph who prepared the way for the Lord on a private level.

Indeed, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are the family of God. In them is the Church in miniature, the model for all of us in faith, love, hope, and truth.

Now, Joseph could have said “No.” Just as Mary the Immaculate retained free will, so too did Joseph have the freedom to refuse to be husband and father. He had the freedom to reject the message of the angel and allow Mary (and the unborn Jesus, because the Incarnation had already occurred) to be stoned to death, thereby defeating God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Just as God placed Himself at the mercy of Mary, making Himself small and defenseless in her womb, so too did God entrust Himself to Joseph, totally and completely vulnerable and defenseless. But God also knew Joseph to be just and righteous and, just as He chose Mary, the Father of Jesus in heaven specifically chose Joseph to be the father of Jesus on earth.

God knew, as we know now, that Joseph was and is a model of love and fidelity, a good and righteous man to whom He could entrust His Son. And so, we understand that, because he was protector and defender of Jesus, so too is Joseph protector and defender of the Church. Thus, as with Mary, we can turn to St. Joseph in heaven to protect us always.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Open the Window of Your Hearts and Be Transformed by the Light and Joy of the Holy Spirit

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Address to the University Students of Rome
St. Peter's Basilica
December 13, 2007

Dear university youth, allow me to offer you at this familial encounter two brief reflections.

The first addressed the course of your spiritual formation. The Diocese of Rome has highlighted the preparation of university youth for Holy Confirmation. Thus, your pilgrimage to Assisi last November 10 represented the moment of 'calling' and tonight is your 'response.'

In fact, some 150 among you have applied as candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation, which they will receive on the vigil of Pentecost. This is a very relevant initiative that fits very well into the itinerary of preparation for the World Youth Day to be held in Sydney in July 2008.

To these candidates for Confirmation, and to all of you, dear young friends, I wish to say: turn your attention to the Virgin Mary and from her Yes, learn to say your own Yes to the divine calling. The Holy Spirit enters our life to the degree that we open our heart with our Yes: the fuller this Yes is, the fuller will be the gift of his presence.

To better understand this, we can refer to a very simple fact: light. If the windows are hermetically sealed, the sun, no matter how bright, will never enter the house. If there is a small fissure, then a ray of light enters; if the shutter is opened a little bit more, the room begins to light up; but only when the shutters are completely thrown open will the sun illuminate and warm the room.

Dear friends, Mary was greeted by the angel with the words 'full of grace' which means this: her heart and her life were totally open to God and therefore completely pervaded by his grace. May she help you to give your full and free Yes to God, so that you may be renewed, or better yet, transformed by the light and joy of the Holy Spirit.

The second reflection that I wished to offer is my recent encyclical on Christian hope entitled, as you know, Spe salvi - saved in hope - words taken from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans (8,24). I offer it to you symbolically, dear university students of Rome, and through you, to the entire world of the universities, schools, culture and education. The theme of hope, I think, would be particularly congenial to young people.

In particular, I invite you to reflect and confront - in discussion groups, even - the part of the encyclical in which I wrote about hope in the modern era. In the 17th century, Europe underwent an authentic epochal turn, and since then, has gone on affirming ever more a mentality according to which human progress can only be the product of science and technology, while faith can only be concerned with the salvation of the soul, a salvation that is purely personal.

The two great motivating ideas of modernity - reason and freedom - were dissociated from God to become autonomous forces that would work together to construct a 'kingdom of man', virtually in opposition to the Kingdom of God. Thus, the spread of a materialistic concept, nourished by the hope that, by changing economic and political structures, there would finally be a just society, in which peace, liberty and equality would reign.

This process, which is not without its values and historical reasons, nevertheless contained a fundamental error: man, in fact, is not just the product of specific social and economic conditions; technological progress does not necessarily come with the moral growth of humanity, but rather, without ethical principles, science, technology and politics may be used - as it has and as it continues to be unfortunately - not for good but for evil, and not just of the individual but all mankind.

Dear friends, these are themes that are so actual today that they should stimulate your reflection and favor even more the positive confrontation and collaboration which now exists among all the state, private and pontifical universities in Rome.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Believer and Reason -- the Question of Evil

Faith is not an act of the blind; it is an act of reason. The believer sees the existence of evil and considers all of the possible hypotheses for the existence of evil, including the hypothesis that God is Himself a sadist. After all, if God created everything and evil exists, then does that mean that God created evil? In his many works on the existence of evil, Augustine of Hippo considers this possibility many times.

The believer, properly utilizing reason, will consider the logical implications of (1) the existence of God and (2) a God who is or can be sadistic and evil. Such a hypothesis invariably leads to nihilistic existentialism, that is, if it does not twist itself up in logical knots first. As Augustine demonstrated, in answer to the Manicheians, "evil" (including the evil of sadism), does not and cannot have an existence in and of itself. That which we call "evil" is really nothing more than a privation, detraction, distortion, or perversion of the "good," which is to say it is a privation, detraction, distortion, or perversion of truth.

If God is the creator of this reality, then He is necessarily reality itself. He is the "Is" from which all else comes. He is not merely truly real, then, but is Truth itself in its fullest transcendent sense. So, for God to be evil is to say that God is contrary to truth, that is, that God is contrary to Himself. And, logically, a thing cannot both be and not-be at the same time; God cannot be both truth and untruth.

Now, reason will also dictate that a sadist-God is not the only answer to the question of evil; there are other possibilities.

The believer will also consider the question of evil from a premise of faith -- that God is good and God is love, and is therefore incapable of evil. Starting from that premise, what reasonable other explanations could there be for evil, what reasonable other explanations could there be for the appearance of abandonment, for remaining silent?

One explanation could be that things are not always as they seem to our fallible eyes. There might have been times when Blessed Teresa of Calcutta thought that she was alone, but that is not necessarily true. I remember watching "Mother Teresa," a movie starring Olivia Hussey, and there was this scene where she sees this old and frail man, near death, and the implication of the film is that she is seeing Jesus.

Such an implication, of course, is entirely consistent with Matthew 25:35-40,
"'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
(Also consistent with Joan Osborne's song "One of Us.")

I have no doubt that Blessed Teresa saw Jesus everyday; she saw Him everyday in the faces of the sick and diseased and dying. But why should He remain silent? Why shouldn't He shout out, "Here I am"? Perhaps it was the silence that allowed her to exhibit the love for others that she exhibited in abundance, much like any parent (or teacher) might remain silent when a child or student seeks to be spoon-fed knowledge. Perhaps it was to allow her to participate in Christ's Passion, where He was abandoned (not by God), but by mankind.
These could be the explanations, or there could be other explanations, but the claim of "God is a sadist," which believers are perfectly willing to consider as a hypothesis, is not the only explanation, nor is it even the best explanation that reason might suggest.

God Invites Everyone to Form Part of His Holy People

Pope Benedict XVI
Address at the Angelus
November 1, 2007

On this solemnity of All Saints' Day, our hearts surpass the limits of time and space and open up to the vastness of heaven. In the early days of Christianity, the members of the Church were also called "saints." In the first Letter to the Corinthians, for example, St. Paul addresses "you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2). In fact, the Christian is already holy, because baptism unites him to Jesus and the paschal mystery, but at the same time he has to become holy, conforming himself to Jesus ever more intimately.

Sometimes it is thought that sainthood is a privilege reserved only for the chosen few. Actually, to become a saint is the task of every Christian, and what's more, we could even say it's the task of everyone! The Apostle wrote that God has blessed us from all eternity and has chosen us in Christ "to be holy and without blemish before him" (Ephesians 1:3-4). All human beings are therefore called to sainthood, which ultimately consists in living as children of God, in that "likeness" to him according to which humanity was created.

All human beings are children of God, and they all should become what they are through the demanding path of freedom. God invites everyone to form part of his holy people. The "way" is Christ, the son, the Holy One of God: No one reaches the Father if not through him (cf. John 14:6).

The Church has wisely placed in close succession the feast of All Saints' Day with the commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. May our prayers of praise to God and veneration of the beatific souls, whom today's liturgy presents to us as "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue" (Revelation 7:9), be united to our intercessory prayers for those who have preceded us in the passage from this world to eternal life. To them we will dedicate our prayers tomorrow in a special manner, and celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice. In fact, the Church invites us to pray for them every day, offering our daily sufferings and weariness so that, completely purified, they may enjoy forever the light and peace of the Lord.

In the center of the assembly of saints shines the Virgin Mary, "humble and more exalted than any creature" (Dante, Paradise, XXXIII, 2). Placing our hand in hers, we feel ready to walk with more energy along the way of sainthood. To her we entrust our daily tasks, and we pray to her today for our dearly departed with the profound hope of one day finding ourselves together again with them in the glorious community of saints.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Let us pray --

Lord Jesus Christ, appearing to your disciples after your resurrection, you said to them: “Go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I have commanded you to do. I will be with you to the end of your days, to the end of the world.” (Mt 29, 19).

Because you want all men to reach salvation, you also want all men to know the truth which alone can lead us to salvation (cfr 1 Tim 2,6). You are the Truth. Through you, the truth has become for us the way to follow and which will lead us to life. Without you, we find ourselves in the dark regarding the essential demands of our life. Without you, we are like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6, 34).

But you, in ascending up to Heaven, have not left us orphans (cfr Jn 14, 18). To your disciples, you did not only give the task of teaching to all men the right way to live. You promised them, for all time, the Holy Spirit who, from generation to generation, will guide them to the truth (cfr Jn, 16, 13).

Sustained by the Holy Spirit, the community of your disciples -– the Church -– will carry your words across time. In the Church, your word lives; in the Church, your word is always present and reveals the future, because truth is always young and never grows old.

Help us so that, through the word announced by the Church, we may learn to follow all that you have commanded.

Help us to take up with joy the “sweet yoke” of truth (Mt 11, 30), which does not oppress, but which makes us become, through you, the children of God, and which therefore makes us free.

Help us to find you in the word of faith, to learn to know you and to love you.

Help us to become friends of the truth, friends of yours, friends of God.

Help your Church to carry out your mission peaceably without being discouraged amid the disturbances of our time.

Help us to announce your message with frankness, without betraying its genuineness.

Guide us through the Holy Spirit and introduce him into the broad spaces of the truth.

Lord, make us grateful for your word, grateful for the message of the Catechism, in which your word comes forth to us, so that we can learn to say with the psalmist: “How I love your law, my Lord!” (Sl 119, 97). Yes, “A lamp unto my steps is your word, a light along my way.” (Sl 119, 105). Amen

-- Pope Benedict XVI (2005)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Persevere in prayer so that together you may face every day the good battle of the Gospel

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, Pastoral Visit to Naples

October 21, 2007

Meditating on the Biblical readings of this Sunday and reflecting on the realities of Naples, I am struck by the fact that the Word of God today has prayer as its principal theme, "the need to pray always without tiring," as the Gospel says (Lk 18,1).

At first glance, this may seem like a message that is not very pertinent, hardly incisive with respect to a social reality with as many problems as yours. But, reflecting on it, we understand that this Word contains a message that is certainly against the current but destined nevertheless to illuminate profoundly the conscience of your Church and your city.

I would summarize it this way: the power, which in silence and without great clamor, changes the world and transforms it to the Kingdom of God, is faith -- and prayer is the expression of faith. When faith is filled with the love of God, whom we recognize as our good and just Father, prayer becomes persevering and insistent, it becomes a plaint of the spirit, a cry from the soul which penetrates the heart of God.

Thus, prayer becomes the greatest force for transforming the world. In the face of difficult and complex social realities, as yours is certainly, we must strengthen hope, which is founded on faith and is expressed in tireless prayer.

It is prayer which keeps the flame of faith alight. Jesus asks: "When the son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18,8). What shall be our reply to this disquieting question?

Today, let us be together in repeating with humble courage: Lord, may your coming to us in this Sunday celebration find us united with the lamp of faith alight. We believe and trust in you! Make our faith grow!

The Biblical readings we heard present us with some models to inspire us in our profession of faith. They are the figures of the widow whom we meet in the Gospel parable, and that of Moses as recounted in Exodus.

The widow of the Gospel (Lk 18,1-8) makes us think of the "little people," the least, but also of so many simple and honest persons who suffer from oppression, who feel helpless in the face of persistent social ills and are prey to discouragement. To them, Jesus says: Look at this poor widow, the tenacity with which she insists and finally gets a hearing from a dishonest judge! How can you think that your heavenly Father, who is good and faithful, who wants only what is good for is children, will not do you justice in his time?

Faith assures us that God hears our prayers and will answer us at the right time, even if our daily experience may seem to belie this certainty. Indeed, before certain facts of daily news, or even all the daily discomforts of life which are not reported in the newspapers, the cry of the ancient prophet comes spontaneously to mind: "How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene" (Hab 1,2).

There is only one answer to this heartfelt cry: God cannot change things without our own conversion, and our conversion begins with the cry of the soul, which asks for forgiveness and salvation.

Christian prayer is not the expression of fatalism and inertia. Rather, it is everything but an escape from reality or a comforting intimacy. It is the force of hope, maximum expression of faith in the power of God who is Love and will not abandon us.

The prayer which Jesus taught us, culminating in Gethsemane, has the character of agony, that is, of struggle, because we align ourselves decisively beside the Lord to combat injustice and conquer evil with good. It is the weapon of the little people and the poor in spirit who repudiate every type of violence. Instead, they answer violence with evangelical non-violence, testifying thereby to the truth that Love is stronger than hate and death.

This also emerges in the first Reading -- the famous story of the battle between the Israelites an the Amalekites (Ex 17,8-13a). Decisive for the outcome of that hard battle was prayer addressed with faith to the true God. While Joshua and his men faced the enemy on the battlefield, Moses was on the mountaintop with his hands raised, in the position of one in prayer. The raised hands of the great leader would guarantee the victory of Israel.

God was with His people, He wanted their victory, but He conditioned His intervention on the fact of Moses raising his hands. It seems incredible, but so it was: God needs the raised hands of his servants.

The raised hands of Moses make us think of Jesus's arms on the Cross -- arms open wide, hands nailed down, with which the Redeemer won the decisive battle against the infernal enemy.

His struggle -- the hands raised to the Father and open wide to the world -- demands other arms, other hearts, who will continue to offer themselves with the same love he had, to the end of the world

I address myself particularly to you, dear pastors of the Church in Naples, taking on the words that St. Paul addressed to Timothy: "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4,2). And like Moses on the mountain, persevere in prayer for and with the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, so that together you may face every day the good battle of the Gospel.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Biomedical Science Must Respect the Dignity of Human Life and Not Treat a Human Being as a Mere Instrument for Experimentation

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
to the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea
October 11, 2007

* * * no cost is too great for persevering in fidelity to the truth. Regrettably, in our contemporary pluralist world some people question or even deny the importance of truth. Yet objective truth remains the only sure basis for social cohesion. Truth is not dependent upon consensus but precedes it and makes it possible, generating authentic human solidarity. The Church—always mindful of the truth’s power to unite people, and ever attentive to mankind’s irrepressible desire for peaceful coexistence—eagerly strives to strengthen concord and social harmony both in ecclesial life and civic life, proclaiming the truth about the human person as known by natural reason and fully manifested through divine revelation. * * *

Discoveries in the field [of biotechnology] invite man to a deeper awareness of the weighty responsibilities involved in their application. The use society hopes to make of biomedical science must constantly be measured against robust and firm ethical standards (cf. Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 6 November 2006). Foremost among these is the dignity of human life, for under no circumstances may a human being be manipulated or treated as a mere instrument for experimentation. The destruction of human embryos, whether to acquire stem cells or for any other purpose, contradicts the purported intent of researchers, legislators and public health officials to promote human welfare. The Church does not hesitate to approve and encourage somatic stem-cell research—not only because of the favourable results obtained through these alternative methods, but more importantly because they harmonize with the aforementioned intent by respecting the life of the human being at every stage of his or her existence (cf. Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life Symposium, 16 September 2006).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Natural Law is the True Guarantee Offered to Every Person so He can Live Free and be Respected in His Dignity

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Address to the International Theological Commission
October 5, 2007

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the central content of the doctrine on natural law, stressing that it "indicates the primary and essential norms which regulate moral life. Its pivot is the aspiration towards God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of every good, as well as our sense of other persons as equal to ourselves." In its principal precepts, natural law is expressed in the Decalogue. This law is called natural not in relation to irrational beings, but because the reason that promulgates it is part of human nature. (n. 1955).

This doctrine allows us to reach two essential objectives. On the one hand, we understand that the ethical content of Christian faith does not constitute an externally dictated imposition on the conscience of man, but it has its basis in human nature itself. On the other hand, starting with natural law which is itself accessible to every rational creature, we have a basis for entering into dialog with all men of good will, and more generally, with civilian and secular society.

But precisely because of the influence of ideological and cultural factors, civilian and secular society today is in a situation of disorientation and confusion -- it has lost the original evidence of the foundations for the human being and his ethical behavior, and the doctrine of natural moral law is opposed by concepts which are a direct negation of it. All this has enormous and serious consequences for the civilian and social order.

Among not a few thinkers today, it is the positivist concept of right which prevails. According to them, humanity, or society, or even, the majority of citizens, is the ultimate source of civil law. Therefore, the problem they pose is not the quest for good, but for power, or rather of a balance of power.

At the root of this tendency is ethical relativism, which some see as one of the principal conditions of democracy, because relativism would guarantee tolerance and reciprocal personal respect. But if that were so, then the majority at any given time would become the ultimate source of right. History shows with great clarity that the majority can be wrong.

True rationality is not guaranteed by the consensus of a great number of persons, but only by the transparency of human reason to Creative Reason, and a common attentiveness to this source of our own rationality. When the fundamental demands of human dignity, of the family as an institution, of equity in the social order, that is, the fundamental rights of man, when these are in play, then no law made by man can subvert the norms inscribed by the Creator himself in the hearts of man. Otherwise, society itself would be struck dramatically in what constitutes its irrenunciable base.

Thus, natural law becomes the true guarantee offered to every person so he can live free and respected in his dignity, protected from every ideological manipulation and from every whim and abuse by stronger persons. No one can exempt himself from this claim. If, through a tragic blackout of collective consciousness, skepticism and relativism should end up nullifying the fundamental principles of natural moral law, then that very democratic order itself would be mortally wounded in its foundations.

Against this blacking out, which is a crisis of human civilization even before it is one of Christianity, it is necessary to mobilize the conscience of all men of good will, laymen and even religious persons belonging to all of mankind's various religions, so that together, and proactively, they may commit themselves to creating -- in our culture, and in political and civilian society -- the conditions necessary for a full awareness of the inalienable value of natural moral law.

Indeed, the advancement of individuals and society along the way of authentic progress in conformity with right reason -- which is participation in God's eternal Reason -- depends on respect for natural moral law.

The Lord is always knocking at the doors of the human heart.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, Feast of the Archangels
September 29, 2007

Gabriel is the messenger of the Incarnation of God. He knocks at Mary's door, and through him, God himself asks Mary for her Yes to the proposal to become the Mother of the Redeemer, to give her human flesh to the eternal Word of God, to the Son of God.

The Lord is always knocking at the doors of the human heart. In the Apocalypse, He tells the "angel" of the Church of Laodicea, and through Him, to men of all time: "Behold, I am knocking at the door. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will come to him, I will sup with him and he with me" (3,20).

The Lord is at the door -- at the door of the world and at the door of every single heart. He knocks to be allowed to enter: the Incarnation of God, His becoming flesh, should continue to the end of time. Everyone should be reunited in Christ in a single body: that is what we are told by the great hymns to Christ in the Letter to the Ephesians and that to the Colossians.

Christ is knocking. Even today, He needs persons who, so to speak, place their own flesh at His disposal, who give Him the substance of the world and of their life, serving this way the unification of God and the world, the reconciliation of the Universe.

Dear friends, it is your task to knock in the name of Christ at the hearts of men. By entering yourself into union with Christ, you too will take on the function of Gabriel: to bring the call of God to man.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Review -- the Birth of the Church and the Sacrament of Confirmation

The Church is considered to have had her “birth” at Pentecost. This was when the Holy Spirit descended on the faithful, just as it descends in the Sacrament of Confirmation. In receiving this “sacrament of Christian initiation,” we complete what began in Baptism. That is, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. The Greek word “Christ” means “anointed one,” and in Confirmation, we too are anointed, so that we are made fully “Christian” ourselves. We receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, including the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we become adults in the Faith. Confirmation does not mark the end of the process of religious education; Confirmation instead radically changes us, such that it is the beginning of a new life in the Faith.

OK, so what does that mean??

The concept of Confirmation might be difficult to grasp at first; we might not understand its importance or how it might change us. Thus, as an example, it might be helpful to consider in context how it changed the faithful at Pentecost. Before then, the Apostles and disciples had abandoned Jesus – they ran away when Jesus was arrested, and they hid in fear when Jesus was tried and crucified. Even after the resurrection, they were afraid to go out in public. But after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, after their “confirmation,” they were given the grace and strength and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. With these graces of the Holy Sprit, especially the gift of fortitude, they were able to do what they otherwise could not do on their own. It is by such graces of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles and others were able to endure sufferings, tortures, and martyrdom (the word “martyr” is Greek, and it means “witness”).

So, too, your Confirmation will strengthen you, and you will be made soldiers of Christ in order to fulfill your duty of witnessing to and defending the Faith. If you accept in your heart and cooperate with the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit that are imparted by the Sacrament, you will also be affected in a particular practical way, that is, by working with the gifts given to you, you will more easily bear certain “fruits” of the Holy Spirit. By embracing the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, we are more able to experience the fruits of love (charity), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. Likewise, these gifts help a person attain sanctification and bring to perfection virtues -- both the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) and the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance).

Now, it may also appear after receiving the Sacrament that nothing has happened, that you are the same as before. If no one breaks out speaking in tongues, you may be tempted to conclude that you have not received any graces. But do not be misled by such superficial appearances. By the Sacrament, your very being is altered in a fundamental way. As with the Eucharist, you may look the same, but you are radically transformed by the fire of the Holy Spirit; an indelible spiritual mark or seal is left. This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ. We may not notice because sin and the contemporary world have so corrupted us that we cannot always immediately recognize God’s presence within us. But He is present nonetheless. If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you, and, like the Apostles, disciples, martyrs, and saints, you will be able to do that which is impossible to do on your own.

But a gift, any gift, is not completed and is completely useless unless it is accepted by the recipient. If a gift is simply put in a closet, unopened, it is as if it was never received. Thus, it is necessary that you accept those graces and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Although Confirmation alters our very nature by leaving an indelible spiritual mark upon us, grace from God presupposes nature, it does not replace it. God does not simply override our will and wipe out our humanity in offering us His grace. He does not impose Himself upon us against our will and treat us as puppets. Rather, grace builds on and works within our nature to heal it, to perfect, elevate, and transform it. We must allow the Holy Spirit and gift of grace to come into our hearts, and not simply set that grace aside and ignore it. If we resist and ignore those graces, if we shut ourselves off from the Truth and Love which are the Holy Spirit, then life becomes much harder and unsatisfactory. If we turn away from the Light, it is much more difficult to find our way through life in the darkness.

As St. Ambrose wrote, “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.”

Meanwhile, St. Thomas Aquinas explained the Sacrament of Confirmation this way --

Summa Theologica III, q. 72
art. 1 * * * Christ instituted this sacrament not by bestowing, but by promising it, according to Jn. 16:7: "If I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you, but if I go, I will send Him to you." And this was because in this sacrament the fullness of the Holy Ghost is bestowed, which was not to be given before Christ's Resurrection and Ascension; according to Jn. 7:39: "As yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." * * *

Those who receive Confirmation, which is the sacrament of the fullness of grace, are conformed to Christ, inasmuch as from the very first instant of His conception He was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). This fullness was made known at His Baptism, when "the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape . . . upon Him" (Luke 3:22).

art. 5 * * * just as Baptism is a spiritual regeneration unto Christian life, so also is Confirmation a certain spiritual growth bringing man to perfect spiritual age. But it is evident, from a comparison with the life of the body, that the action which is proper to man immediately after birth, is different from the action which is proper to him when he has come to perfect age. And therefore, by the sacrament of Confirmation man is given a spiritual power in respect of sacred actions other than those in respect of which he receives power in Baptism. For in Baptism he receives power to do those things which pertain to his own salvation, forasmuch as he lives to himself: whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith. This is evident from the example of the apostles, who, before they received the fullness of the Holy Ghost, were in the "upper room . . . persevering . . . in prayer" (Acts 1:13-14); whereas afterwards they went out and feared not to confess their faith in public, even in the face of the enemies of the Christian Faith. And therefore it is evident that a character is imprinted in the sacrament of Confirmation.

art. 6. The character of Confirmation, of necessity supposes the baptismal character: so that, in effect, if one who is not baptized were to be confirmed, he would receive nothing, but would have to be confirmed again after receiving Baptism. The reason of this is that, Confirmation is to Baptism as growth to birth, as is evident from what has been said above. Now it is clear that no one can be brought to perfect age unless he be first born: and in like manner, unless a man be first baptized, he cannot receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

The Divine power is not confined to the sacraments. Hence man can receive spiritual strength to confess the Faith of Christ publicly, without receiving the sacrament of Confirmation: just as he can also receive remission of sins without Baptism. Yet, just as none receive the effect of Baptism without the desire of Baptism; so none receive the effect of Confirmation, without the desire of Confirmation.

art. 7. In this sacrament, as stated above (1 and 4), the Holy Ghost is given to the baptized for strength: just as He was given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2; and just as He was given to the baptized by the imposition of the apostles' hands, as related in Acts 8:17. * * * the Holy Ghost is not sent or given except with sanctifying grace. Consequently it is evident that sanctifying grace is bestowed in this sacrament.

Sanctifying grace does indeed take away sin; but it has other effects also, because it suffices to carry man through every step as far as eternal life. * * * Therefore sanctifying grace is given not only for the remission of sin, but also for growth and stability in righteousness.

Further, as appears from its very name, this sacrament is given in order "to confirm" what it finds already there. And consequently it should not be given to those who are not in a state of grace. For this reason, just as it is not given to the unbaptized, so neither should it be given to the adult sinners, except they be restored by Penance.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Openness to transcendence is an indispensable guarantee of human dignity

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
to Catholic Parliamentarians
September 21, 2007

In effect, when human rights are violated, the dignity of the human person suffers; when justice is compromised, peace itself is jeopardized. On the other hand, justice is truly human only when the ethical and moral vision grounding it is centred on the human person and his inalienable dignity. . . .

There are those who maintain that human reason is incapable of grasping the truth, and therefore of pursuing the good that corresponds to personal dignity. There are some who believe that it is legitimate to destroy human life in its earliest or final stages.

Equally troubling is the growing crisis of the family, which is the fundamental nucleus of society based on the indissoluble bond of marriage between a man and a woman. Experience has shown that when the truth about man is subverted or the foundation of the family undermined, peace itself is threatened and the rule of law is compromised, leading inevitably to forms of injustice and violence.

Another cause highly esteemed by all of you is the defence of religious liberty, which is a fundamental, irrepressible, inalienable and inviolable right rooted in the dignity of every human being and acknowledged by various international documents, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The exercise of this freedom also includes the right to change religion, which should be guaranteed not only legally, but also in daily practice. In fact, religious liberty corresponds to the human person’s innate openness to God, who is the fullness of truth and the supreme good.

An appreciation for religious freedom is a fundamental expression of respect for human reason and its capacity to know the truth. Openness to transcendence is an indispensable guarantee of human dignity since within every human heart there are needs and desires which find their fulfilment in God alone.

For this reason, God can never be excluded from the horizon of man and world history! That is why all authentically religious traditions must be allowed to manifest their own identity publicly, free from any pressure to hide or disguise it.

Moreover, due respect for religion helps to counter the charge that society has forgotten God: an accusation shamelessly exploited by some terrorist networks in an attempt to justify their threats against global security.

Terrorism is a serious problem whose perpetrators often claim to act in God’s name and harbour an inexcusable contempt for human life. Society naturally has a right to defend itself, but this right must be exercised with complete respect for moral and legal norms, including the choice of ends and means. In democratic systems, the use of force in a manner contrary to the principles of a constitutional State can never be justified. Indeed, how can we claim to protect democracy if we threaten its very foundations? Consequently, it is necessary both to keep careful watch over the security of civil society and its citizens while at the same time safeguarding the inalienable rights of all.

Terrorism needs to be fought with determination and effectiveness, mindful that if the mystery of evil is widespread today, the solidarity of mankind in goodness is an even more pervasive mystery. In this regard, the social teaching of the Catholic Church offers some points for reflection on how to promote security and justice both at the national and international levels. This teaching is based on reason, natural law and the Gospel: that is, principles that both accord with and transcend the nature of every human being.

The Church knows that it is not her specific task to see to the political implementation of this teaching: her objective is to help form consciences in political life, to raise awareness of the authentic requirements of justice, and to foster a greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 28). In this her mission, the Church is moved only by love for humanity and the desire to work together with all people of goodwill to build a world in which the dignity and inalienable rights of all persons will be safeguarded.

For those of you who share a faith in Christ, the Church asks you to bear witness to that faith today with even greater courage and generosity. The integrity of Christians in political life is indeed more necessary than ever so that the "salt" of apostolic zeal does not lose its "flavor," and so that the "lamp" of Gospel values enlightening the daily work of Christians is not obscured by pragmatism or utilitarianism, suspicion or hate.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why I Believe, or, How I Know that God Exists

I believe in Truth, in Reason, and in Love. I believe that there is truth, not only physical truth, transcendent moral truth -– right and wrong, good and evil -– and that this morality is not relative, otherwise, it would not be truth. In a world without God, any evil thing is possible. But in a world with God, love and salvation and freedom are possible; life is possible.

Indeed, Christ has already saved the world in a very tangible way. He has redeemed the world. Without Christian love and forgiveness and reconciliation, the world would have destroyed itself long ago. One wrong would lead to retaliation, which would lead only to retaliation for that act, in never-ending cycles of wars of vengeance, on both a personal and national level. We only need to look at some non-Christian cultures in the world today to see that they differ from Christian values and morality.

Yet, although I believe, I am also a sinner. My sins are great and many, and I am greatly in need of a savior to pay my debts, to ransom me. Maybe others believe that they can live well without Christ, and that they can have eternal life without Him. Maybe they don’t need Him. But I do need Him. I do need, not only His forgiveness, but His grace –- the power to do things that I could never do or accomplish on my own, things like love and forgiveness and perseverance and peace of heart and hope.

If it were just me, I’d probably want to nuke the entire Muslim world as payback for the bastards that do things like fly planes into buildings and set off car bombs and suicide bombs, killing thousands of innocent people. But Christ commands me to love my enemies, and He gives me the grace to do the impossible -- to let go of hate, to let go of the thirst for vengeance. He gives me the grace to do things like love and forgive such people.

Yes, He gives me the grace to be able, when we hopefully have peace, to live together with them as children of God. Left to myself, I would not want to accomplish any of these things, and I could not do any of these things myself. It is only because God does exist, that such things are possible. We do not have peace now, and because peace requires both sides to set aside their arms, it may still be necessary to implement the tragic tools of war, but we should do so, not out of hate and vengeance, but only in order to gain that peace.

So, pray for true peace. Pray for our enemy, that God grant them grace and wisdom to choose peace. Pray for us, that, as we must necessarily destroy that enemy to obtain the peace, that God grant us grace and strength to not hate those He commands us to love, that we kill not for vengeance, but to end the violence and the capacity and will of the enemy to make war on us, until the day we again may live in peace with these children of God.
Eternal and Merciful God, at times of tragedy our intellects seek understanding, our hearts seek healing, and our souls turn to You: our source of hope and solace. Heal our troubled nation as our nation turns its eyes to You and comfort those whose lives are changed forever: those who have perished, those who have lost family, friends or loved ones, and those who now live in the aftermath of these acts of terror. May God bless our national leadership, may God bless our servicepersons, and may God bless America. Amen

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, let thy protection be upon all those who are in the service of our country; guard them from all harm and danger of body and soul; sustain and comfort those at home, especially in their hours of loneliness, anxiety, and sorrow; prepare the dying for death and the living for your service; give success to our arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just and lasting peace. Amen.

News From the Morning Paper

The Morning Washington Post
September 11, 2001

Afghan Rebel Leader Is Victim of Bombing; Some Reports Say Attack Killed Commander Who Led Charge Against Taliban

Ahmed Shah Massoud, the guerrilla commander most responsible for preventing the radical Islamic Taliban movement from taking control of all of Afghanistan, was seriously wounded in a suicide bombing Sunday, and conflicting reports today indicated he might be dead. Two assassins posing as Arab journalists reportedly detonated a bomb during an interview with Massoud at his field headquarters in northern Afghanistan, the last corner of the nation that remains outside Taliban control, according to spokesmen for the Afghan commander. . . .

Many of Massoud's associates blamed the attack on reputed terrorist Osama bin Laden, a close ally of the Taliban who lives in Afghanistan under its protection. . . . Many sources close to Massoud said the attack was commissioned by bin Laden, a Saudi dissident who is wanted by U.S. authorities on charges of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

“Show us Jesus!”

Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Solemn Eucharistic Celebration

Mariazell, Saturday, 8 September 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With our great pilgrimage to Mariazell, we are celebrating the patronal feast of this Shrine, the feast of Our Lady’s Birthday. For 850 years pilgrims have been travelling here from different peoples and nations . . . Today we join in this great centuries-old pilgrimage. We rest awhile with the Mother of the Lord, and we pray to her: Show us Jesus. Show to us pilgrims the one who is both the way and the destination: the truth and the life.

The Gospel passage we have just heard (Mt 1:1-16, 18-23) broadens our view. It presents the history of Israel from Abraham onwards as a pilgrimage, which, with its ups and downs, its paths and detours, leads us finally to Christ. The genealogy with its light and dark figures, its successes and failures, shows us that God writes straight even on the crooked lines of our human history.

God allows us our freedom, and yet in our failures He can always find new paths for His love. God does not fail. Hence this genealogy is a guarantee of God’s faithfulness; a guarantee that God does not allow us to fall, and an invitation to direct our lives ever anew towards Him, to walk ever anew towards Jesus Christ.

Making a pilgrimage means setting out in a particular direction, travelling towards a destination. This gives a beauty of its own even to the journey and to the effort involved. Among the pilgrims of Jesus’s genealogy there were many who forgot the goal and wanted to make themselves the goal. Again and again, though, the Lord called forth people whose longing for the goal drove them forward, people who directed their whole lives towards it.
The awakening of the Christian faith, the dawning of the Church of Jesus Christ was made possible, because there were people in Israel whose hearts were searching –- people who did not rest content with custom, but who looked further ahead, in search of something greater: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph, the Twelve and many others. Because their hearts were expectant, they were able to recognize in Jesus the one whom God had sent, and thus they could become the beginning of His worldwide family.

The Church of the Gentiles was made possible, because both in the Mediterranean area and in those parts of Asia to which the messengers of Jesus Christ travelled, there were expectant people who were not satisfied by what everyone around them was doing and thinking, but who were seeking the star which could show them the way towards Truth itself, towards the living God.

We too need an open and restless heart like theirs. This is what pilgrimage is all about. Today as in the past, it is not enough to be more or less like everyone else and to think like everyone else. Our lives have a deeper purpose. We need God, the God who has shown us His face and opened His heart to us: Jesus Christ.

Saint John rightly says of Him that only He is God and rests close to the Father’s heart (cf. Jn 1:18); thus only He, from deep within God himself, could reveal God to us -– reveal to us who we are, from where we come and where we are going.

Certainly, there are many great figures in history who have had beautiful and moving experiences of God. Yet these are still human experiences, and therefore finite. Only He is God and therefore only He is the bridge that brings God and man together. So if we call Him the one universal Mediator of salvation, valid for everyone and, ultimately, needed by everyone, this does not mean that we despise other religions, nor are we arrogantly absolutizing our own ideas; on the contrary, it means that we are gripped by Him who has touched our hearts and lavished gifts upon us, so that we, in turn, can offer gifts to others.

In fact, our faith is decisively opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth –- as if this were more than he could cope with. This attitude of resignation with regard to truth lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe.

If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world.

We need truth. Yet admittedly, in the light of our history we are fearful that faith in the truth might entail intolerance. If we are gripped by this fear, which is historically well grounded, then it is time to look towards Jesus as we see Him in the shrine at Mariazell.

We see Him here in two images: as the child in His Mother’s arms, and above the high altar of the Basilica as the Crucified. These two images in the Basilica tell us this: truth prevails not through external force, but it is humble and it yields itself to man only via the inner force of its veracity.

Truth proves itself in love. It is never our property, never our product, just as love can never be produced, but only received and handed on as a gift. We need this inner force of truth. As Christians we trust this force of truth. We are its witnesses. We must hand it on as a gift in the same way we have received it.

“To gaze upon Christ” is the motto of this day. For one who is searching, this summons repeatedly turns into a spontaneous plea, a plea addressed especially to Mary, who has given us Christ as her Son: “Show us Jesus!” Let us make this prayer today with our whole heart; let us make this prayer above and beyond the present moment, as we inwardly seek the Face of the Redeemer. “Show us Jesus!”

Mary responds, showing Him to us in the first instance as a child. God has made Himself small for us. God comes not with external force, but He comes in the powerlessness of His love, which is where His true strength lies. He places Himself in our hands. He asks for our love. He invites us to become small ourselves, to come down from our high thrones and to learn to be childlike before God. He speaks to us informally. He asks us to trust Him and thus to learn how to live in truth and love.

The child Jesus naturally reminds us also of all the children in the world, in whom He wishes to come to us. Children who live in poverty; who are exploited as soldiers; who have never been able to experience the love of parents; sick and suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy.

Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished -– when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future.

“To gaze upon Christ”: let us look briefly now at the Crucified One above the high altar. God saved the world not by the sword, but by the Cross. In dying, Jesus extends His arms. This, in the first place, is the posture of the Passion, in which He lets himself be nailed to the Cross for us, in order to give us His life.

Yet outstretched arms are also the posture of one who prays, the stance assumed by the priest when he extends his arms in prayer: Jesus transformed the Passion, His suffering and His death, into prayer, into an act of love for God and for humanity.

That, finally, is why outstretched arms are also a gesture of embracing, by which He wishes to draw us to Himself, to enfold us in His loving hands. In this way He is the image of the living God, He is God Himself, and we may entrust ourselves to Him.

“To gaze upon Christ!” If we do this, we realize that Christianity is more than and different from a moral code, from a series of requirements and laws. It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death: “No longer do I call you servants, but friends” (Jn 15:15), the Lord says to His disciples. We entrust ourselves to this friendship. Yet precisely because Christianity is more than a moral system, because it is the gift of friendship, for this reason it also contains within itself great moral strength, which is so urgently needed today on account of the challenges of our time.

If with Jesus Christ and His Church we constantly re-read the Ten Commandments of Sinai, entering into their full depth, then a great teaching unfolds before us: It is first and foremost a “yes” to God, to a God who loves us and leads us, who carries us and yet allows us our freedom: indeed, it is He who makes our freedom real (the first three commandments). It is a “yes” to the family (fourth commandment), a “yes” to life (fifth commandment), a “yes” to responsible love (sixth commandment), a “yes” to solidarity, to social responsibility and to justice (seventh commandment), a “yes” to truth (eighth commandment) and a “yes” to respect for other people and for what is theirs (ninth and tenth commandments). By the strength of our friendship with the living God we live this manifold “yes” and at the same time we carry it as a signpost into our world.

“Show us Jesus!” It was with this plea to the Mother of the Lord that we set off on our journey here. This same plea will accompany us in our daily lives. And we know that Mary hears our prayer: yes, whenever we look towards Mary, she shows us Jesus. Thus we can find the right path, we can follow it step by step, filled with joyful confidence that the path leads into the light -– into the joy of eternal Love.


We must Create a Society Where Children are Again Seen as a Gift for All, Rather than a Burden or Illness

Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Meeting with Austrian Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

Vienna, Hofburg
Friday, 7 September 2007

The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right -– it is the very opposite. It is “a deep wound in society,” as the late Cardinal Franz König never tired of repeating.

In stating this, we are not expressing a specifically ecclesial concern. Rather, we are acting as advocates for a profoundly human need, speaking out on behalf of those unborn children who have no voice. I do not close my eyes to the difficulties and the conflicts which many women are experiencing, and I realize that the credibility of what we say also depends on what the Church herself is doing to help women in trouble.

I appeal, then, to political leaders not to allow children to be considered as a form of illness, nor to abolish in practice your legal system’s acknowledgment that abortion is wrong. I say this out of a concern for humanity. But that is only one side of this disturbing problem.

The other is the need to do everything possible to make European countries once again open to welcoming children. Encourage young married couple to establish new families and to become mothers and fathers! You will not only assist them, but you will benefit society as a whole. We also decisively support you in your political efforts to favour conditions enabling young couples to raise children. Yet all this will be pointless, unless we can succeed in creating once again in our countries a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden, but rather as a gift for all.

Another great concern of mine is the debate on what has been termed “actively assisted death.” It is to be feared that at some point the gravely ill or elderly will be subjected to tacit or even explicit pressure to request death or to administer it to themselves. The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care and accompaniment on the journey towards death –- especially with the help of palliative care –- and not “actively assisted death.”

But if humane accompaniment on the journey towards death is to prevail, urgent structural reforms are needed in every area of the social and healthcare system, as well as organized structures of palliative care. Concrete steps would also have to be taken: in the psychological and pastoral accompaniment of the seriously ill and dying, their family members, and physicians and healthcare personnel. In this field the hospice movement has done wonders.

The totality of these tasks, however, cannot be delegated to it alone. Many other people need to be prepared or encouraged in their willingness to spare neither time nor expense in loving care for the gravely ill and dying.

Finally, another part of the European heritage is a tradition of thought which considers as essential a substantial correspondence between faith, truth and reason. Here the issue is clearly whether or not reason stands at the beginning and foundation of all things. The issue is whether reality originates by chance and necessity, and thus whether reason is merely a chance by-product of the irrational and, in an ocean of irrationality, it too, in the end, is meaningless, or whether instead the underlying conviction of Christian faith remains true: In principio erat Verbum – in the beginning was the Word; at the origin of everything is the creative reason of God who decided to make himself known to us human beings. . . .

Upon you and all the people of Austria, especially the elderly and infirm, as well as the young whose lives lie ahead of them, I invoke hope, confidence, joy and God’s blessings!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

In the Cross, there is Hope

Peruvians weep at church statues that survive quake

PISCO, Peru (Reuters) - Peruvian earthquake survivors on Saturday wept and hugged statues of Jesus Christ and Catholic saints dug out intact from the rubble of a church where at least 150 people died three days earlier.

Rescue workers placed the life-sized statues in the main square in Pisco, the Pacific coast town that was among the hardest hit by a 8.0 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday that killed more than 500 people in Peru. The Church of San Clemente, where most of the Pisco victims died, was crushed during a funeral mass.

Desperate and ragged residents, most of them hungry people who haven't slept under a roof since the quake, thronged around the Christ statue in amazement as it was carried in procession into the square by half a dozen men in hard hats and masks. The survival of the religious figures gave people hope and something to celebrate in their desolation in this predominantly Catholic country.

"The Lord is present here with us, along with the saints, it's a miracle they weren't destroyed," said Amelia Ugaz de Aria, 69, whose home was flattened by the earthquake. . . .

Lourdes Girau, 42, sobbed as she kneeled before Jesus and with a rag dusted off the wooden cross he was staked to. "The fact that he's here, shows Jesus continues to live to fight so much tragedy," Girau said.

Townspeople rushed to hold the hands of San Clemente or caress the face of Jesus, their fingers tracing the painted blood stains streaming down his skin.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Lord Dwells in Mary, Body and Soul

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Parish Church of St Thomas of Villanova, Castel Gandolfo
Tuesday, 15 August 2006

* * * We do not praise God sufficiently by keeping silent about his saints, especially Mary, "the Holy One" who became his dwelling place on earth. The simple and multiform light of God appears to us exactly in its variety and richness only in the countenance of the saints, who are the true mirrors of his light. And it is precisely by looking at Mary's face that we can see more clearly than in any other way the beauty, goodness and mercy of God. In her face we can truly perceive the divine light.

"All generations will call me blessed". We can praise Mary, we can venerate Mary for she is "blessed", she is blessed for ever. And this is the subject of this Feast. She is blessed because she is united to God, she lives with God and in God.

On the eve of his Passion, taking leave of his disciples, the Lord said: "In my Father's house are many rooms... I go to prepare a place for you".

By saying, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word", Mary prepared God's dwelling here on earth; with her body and soul, she became his dwelling place and thereby opened the earth to heaven.

In the Gospel we have just heard, St Luke, with various allusions, makes us understand that Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, that the mystery of the Temple - God's dwelling place here on earth - is fulfilled in Mary. God, who became present here on earth, truly dwells in Mary. Mary becomes his tent. What all the cultures desire - that God dwell among us - is brought about here.

St Augustine says: "Before conceiving the Lord in her body she had already conceived him in her soul". She had made room for the Lord in her soul and thus really became the true Temple where God made himself incarnate, where he became present on this earth.

Thus, being God's dwelling place on earth, in her the eternal dwelling place has already been prepared, it has already been prepared for ever. And this constitutes the whole content of the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heavenly glory, expressed here in these words. Mary is "blessed" because - totally, in body and soul and for ever - she became the Lord's dwelling place. If this is true, Mary does not merely invite our admiration and veneration, but she guides us, shows us the way of life, shows us how we can become blessed, how to find the path of happiness.

Let us listen once again to Elizabeth's words fulfilled in Mary's Magnificat: "Blessed is she who believed". The first and fundamental act in order to become a dwelling place of God and thus find definitive happiness is to believe: it is faith, faith in God, in that God who showed himself in Jesus Christ and makes himself heard in the divine Word of Holy Scripture.

Believing is not adding one opinion to others. And the conviction, the belief, that God exists is not information like any other. Regarding most information, it makes no difference to us whether it is true or false; it does not change our lives. But if God does not exist, life is empty, the future is empty. And if God exists, everything changes, life is light, our future is light and we have guidance for how to live. Therefore, believing constitutes the fundamental orientation of our life. To believe, to say: "Yes, I believe that you are God, I believe that you are present among us in the Incarnate Son", gives my life a direction, impels me to be attached to God, to unite with God and so to find my dwelling place, and the way to live.

To believe is not only a way of thinking or an idea; as has already been mentioned, it is a way of acting, a manner of living. To believe means to follow the trail indicated to us by the Word of God. * * *

"All generations will call you blessed": this means that the future, what is to come, belongs to God, it is in God's hands, that it is God who conquers.

Nor does he conquer the mighty dragon of which today's First Reading speaks, the dragon that represents all the powers of violence in the world. They seem invincible but Mary tells us that they are not invincible.

The Woman - as the First Reading and the Gospel show us - is stronger, because God is stronger. Of course, in comparison with the dragon, so heavily armed, this Woman who is Mary, who is the Church, seems vulnerable or defenceless. And truly God is vulnerable in the world, because he is Love and love is vulnerable. Yet he holds the future in his hands: it is love, not hatred, that triumphs; it is peace that is victorious in the end.

This is the great consolation contained in the Dogma of Mary's Assumption body and soul into heavenly glory
. Let us thank the Lord for this consolation but let us also see it as a commitment for us to take the side of good and peace. And let us pray to Mary, Queen of Peace, to help peace to be victorious today: "Queen of Peace, pray for us!" Amen!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Church Reflects the Light of the Lord

Why I am a Catholic
By Joseph Ratzinger, c. 1971

We can think of the Catholic Church by comparing it to the moon, [which] does not have its own light. It receives light from the sun, without which it would be in total darkness. The moon shines, but its light is not its own. Lunar probes and astronauts have seen that the moon is nothing but a rocky and desert-like wasteland. They saw rock and sand, the reality quite different from the image we held about it from antiquity. The moon is by and of itself nothing but rock and sand, but it does reflect light.

Is this not an exact image of the Church? Whoever explores it and digs into it with a probe will discover, as in the moon, nothing but desert, sand and rock – the weaknesses of mankind seen as dust, stones, waste. But the decisive fact is that even if she is nothing but sand and stones, she is also Light, by virtue of the Lord.

I am a Catholic because I believe that now as in the past, and independent of us, the Lord stands behind the Church, and we cannot be near Him without staying within His Church. I belong to the Catholic Church because despite everything, I believe that it is His Church, not “ours.”

It is the Church which, despite all the human weaknesses present in her, brings us to Jesus Christ. Only through the Church can I receive Him as a living and powerful reality, here and now. Without the Church, the image of Christ would evaporate, it would crumble, it would disappear. And what would become of mankind deprived of Christ?

I am in the Church for the same reasons that I am a Christian. Because one cannot believe in isolation. Faith is possible in communion with other believers. Faith by its very nature is a force that binds. And this faith must be ecclesial, or it is not faith at all. And just as one does not believe in isolation, but only in communion with others, neither can one have faith out of one’s own initiative or invention.

I remain in the Church because I believe that faith, realizable only in the Church and not against her, is a true necessity for the human being and for the world.

I remain in the Church because only the faith the Church professes can save man. The great ideal of our generation is a society free of tyranny, suffering and injustice. In this world, suffering does not come only from inequalities in material wealth and power. There are those who would have us believe that we can realize our humanity without mastery of self, without the patience of surrender and the effort to overcome difficulties; that it is not necessary to make any sacrifice to keep compromises which we accept, nor to bear with patience the constant tension between what should be and what actually is.

In reality, man can only be saved through the Cross and the acceptance of one’s own suffering as well as those of the world, which find their resolution in the Passion of the Lord. Only thus can man become free. All the other “offers at a better price” can only end in failure.

Love is not simply aesthetic and uncritical. The only possibility to change man in a positive sense is to love him truly by transforming him gradually from who he is to who he can be. That is what the Church can do.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It is Important to Help Youth Discover God and True Love

Question-and-Answer Session with Priests of the Dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso
Church of St. Justina Martyr
Auronzo di Cadore
July 25, 2007

Number 6 -- I'm Don Alberto. Holy Father, the youth are our future and our hope, but many now see in life not an opportunity but difficulty; not a gift to them and to others, but something to consume right away; not a project to build, but to wander about without a direction. Today's mentality imposes on the young the obligation to be always happy, always 'perfect', so that every small failure, every difficulty, is no longer seen as an opportunity for growth but as a defeat. All this sometimes leads to irreparable gestures like suicide, which breaks the hearts of those who love them and burdens society itself. What could you tell us educators who often feel helpless, with hands bound and without answers? Thank you.

Pope Benedict -- I think you have given a precise description of a life in which God does not appear. At first glance, it seems like the world today does not have any need of God, and even that, without God, we would all be more free and the world would be a wider place.

But after some time, even among our new generations, they see what happens when God disappears. Nietzsche said, "The great light has been extinguished, the sun has gone out." Life then becomes something casual, a “thing,” and one seeks to make the most of this thing and use life as a thing to gain happiness which is immediate, tangible and realizable.

But the great problem is that if there is no God, and there is no Creator of my life, then life becomes nothing but a part of evolution and has no sense in and of itself. Instead, I should seek to make sense of this piece of being.

Today I see in Germany, and even in the United States, a rather dogged debate between so-called creationism and evolutionism, presented as though they were alternatives which are mutually exclusive. This opposition is an absurdity, because on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution that seem to be a reality that we must look at, and which can enrich our knowledge of life and of being.

But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all the questions, and above all, does not answer the great philosophical question: Where does everything come from? And how did everything converge into a path that finally arrived at man?

I think it is very important -- and this is what I wanted to convey in my lecture at Regensburg -- that reason opens up increasingly, that it should see all this knowledge, but that it also sees that it is not enough to explain all reality. It is not enough -- and our reason can be widened to see that even our own reason is not something irrational, not the product of irrationality, but that reason precedes everything, Creative Reason does -- and that we are the reflections of that Creative Reason.

We are all preconceived and willed -- there is an idea that preceded my being, a sense that came before me, and which I should discover and follow because it ultimately gives significance to my life.

So that should be the first point: to truly discover that my being is rational, it was thought, it has a sense, and my great mission is to discover this sense, live it, and that way, add a new element to the great cosmic harmony planned by the Creator.

If that is so, then even the elements of difficulty will become moments of maturation, of process, of progress in my being, which has a sense from the moment of conception up to the last moment of life. And we can know this reality of the sense that preceded us all, just as we can rediscover the sense of suffering and pain.

Of course, there is one pain that we should avoid and which we should eliminate from the world: all the many useless sufferings provoked by dictatorships, by mistaken systems, by hate and by violence. But even pain has a profound sense, and our life can only mature when we can give sense to our pain and suffering.

I would even say that love is not possible without some pain, because love always implies renouncing something in me, leaving something of myself, accepting the other in his or her otherness, and therefore implies giving myself, going out of myself. All this can be painful, but in this suffering of losing myself for the other, for the loved one and therefore for God, I become something more. And my life finds sense in that love.

So even this inseparability of love and pain, of love and God, are elements that should enter into the modern consciousness and help modern man to live.

In this sense, therefore, it is important to help the youth discover God, make them discover true love that becomes greater in renunciation, make them discover the interior value of suffering that can make one more free, a bigger person.

And to make young people discover these elements, they will always need companions and providers, be it Catholic Action or a movement. Together with their contemporaries, the new generations will find it easier to discover this wide dimension of being.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses "

Message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Young People of the World on the Occasion of World Youth Day 2008

My dear young friends!

1. The XXIII World Youth Day

I always remember with great joy the various occasions we spent together in Cologne in August 2005. At the end of that unforgettable manifestation of faith and enthusiasm that remains engraved on my spirit and on my heart, I made an appointment with you for the next gathering that will be held in Sydney in 2008. This will be the XXIII World Youth Day and the theme will be: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8).
The underlying theme of the spiritual preparation for our meeting in Sydney is the Holy Spirit and mission. In 2006 we focused our attention on the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. Now in 2007 we are seeking a deeper understanding of the Spirit of Love. We will continue our journey towards World Youth Day 2008 by reflecting on the Spirit of Fortitude and Witness that gives us the courage to live according to the Gospel and to proclaim it boldly. Therefore it is very important that each one of you young people -- in your communities, and together with those responsible for your education -- should be able to reflect on this Principal Agent of salvation history, namely the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Jesus. In this way you will be able to achieve the following lofty goals: to recognize the Spirit's true identity, principally by listening to the Word of God in the Revelation of the Bible; to become clearly aware of his continuous, active presence in the life of the Church, especially as you rediscover that the Holy Spirit is the "soul", the vital breath of Christian life itself, through the sacraments of Christian initiation -- Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist; to grow thereby in an understanding of Jesus that becomes ever deeper and more joyful and, at the same time, to put the Gospel into practice at the dawn of the third millennium.

In this message I gladly offer you an outline for meditation that you can explore during this year of preparation. In this way you can test the quality of your faith in the Holy Spirit, rediscover it if it is lost, strengthen it if it has become weak, savour it as fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, brought about by the indispensable working of the Holy Spirit. Never forget that the Church, in fact humanity itself, all the people around you now and those who await you in the future, expect much from you young people, because you have within you the supreme gift of the Father, the Spirit of Jesus.

2. The promise of the Holy Spirit in the Bible

Attentive listening to the Word of God concerning the mystery and action of the Holy Spirit opens us up to great and inspiring insights that I shall summarize in the following points.

Shortly before his Ascension, Jesus said to his disciples: "And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you" (Luke 24:49). This took place on the day of Pentecost when they were together in prayer in the Upper Room with the Virgin Mary. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the nascent Church was the fulfilment of a promise made much earlier by God, announced and prepared throughout the Old Testament.

In fact, right from its opening pages, the Bible presents the spirit of God as the wind that "was moving over the face of the waters" (cf. Genesis 1:2). It says that God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life (cf. Genesis 2:7), thereby infusing him with life itself. After original sin, the life-giving spirit of God is seen several times in the history of humankind, calling forth prophets to exhort the chosen people to return to God and to observe his commandments faithfully. In the well-known vision of the prophet Ezekiel, God, with his spirit, restores to life the people of Israel, represented by the "dry bones" (cf. 37:1-14). Joel prophesied an "outpouring of the spirit" over all the people, excluding no one. The sacred author wrote: "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh ... Even upon the menservants and maidservants, in those days, I will pour out my spirit" (3:1-2).

In "the fullness of time" (cf. Galatians 4:4), the angel of the Lord announced to the Virgin of Nazareth that the Holy Spirit, "the power of the Most High", would come upon her and overshadow her. The child to be born would be holy and would be called Son of God (cf. Luke 1:35). In the words of the prophet Isaiah, the Messiah would be the one on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest (cf. 11:1-2; 42:1). This is the prophecy that Jesus took up again at the start of his public ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth. To the amazement of those present, he said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4:18-19; cf. Is 61:1-2). Addressing those present, he referred those prophetic words to himself by saying: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). Again, before his death on the Cross, he would tell his disciples several times about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the "Counselor" whose mission would be to bear witness to him and to assist believers by teaching them and guiding them to the fullness of Truth (cf. John 14:16-17,25-26; 15:26; 16:13).

3. Pentecost, the point of departure for the Church's mission

On the evening of the day of resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, "he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). With even greater power the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. We read in the Acts of the Apostles: "And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them" (2:2-3).

The Holy Spirit renewed the Apostles from within, filling them with a power that would give them courage to go out and boldly proclaim that "Christ has died and is risen!" Freed from all fear, they began to speak openly with self-confidence (cf. Acts 2:29; 4:13; 4:29,31). These frightened fishermen had become courageous heralds of the Gospel. Even their enemies could not understand how "uneducated and ordinary men" (cf. Acts 4:13) could show such courage and endure difficulties, suffering and persecution with joy. Nothing could stop them. To those who tried to silence them they replied: "We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). This is how the Church was born, and from the day of Pentecost she has not ceased to spread the Good News "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

4. The Holy Spirit, soul of the Church and principle of communion

If we are to understand the mission of the Church, we must go back to the Upper Room where the disciples remained together (cf. Luke 24:49), praying with Mary, the "Mother", awaiting the Spirit that had been promised. This icon of the nascent Church should be a constant source of inspiration for every Christian community. Apostolic and missionary fruitfulness is not principally due to programmes and pastoral methods that are cleverly drawn up and "efficient", but is the result of the community's constant prayer (cf. "Evangelii Nuntiandi," 75). Moreover, for the mission to be effective, communities must be united, that is, they must be "of one heart and soul" (cf. Acts 4:32), and they must be ready to witness to the love and joy that the Holy Spirit instils in the hearts of the faithful (cf. Acts 2:42). The Servant of God John Paul II wrote that, even prior to action, the Church's mission is to witness and to live in a way that shines out to others (cf. "Redemptoris Missio," 26). Tertullian tells us that this is what happened in the early days of Christianity when pagans were converted on seeing the love that reigned among Christians: "See how they love one another" (cf. Apology, 39 § 7).

To conclude this brief survey of the Word of God in the Bible, I invite you to observe how the Holy Spirit is the highest gift of God to humankind, and therefore the supreme testimony of his love for us, a love that is specifically expressed as the "yes to life" that God wills for each of his creatures. This "yes to life" finds its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth and in his victory over evil by means of the redemption. In this regard, let us never forget that the Gospel of Jesus, precisely because of the Spirit, cannot be reduced to a mere statement of fact, for it is intended to be "good news for the poor, release for captives, sight for the blind ...". With what great vitality this was seen on the day of Pentecost, as it became the grace and the task of the Church towards the world, her primary mission!

We are the fruits of this mission of the Church through the working of the Holy Spirit. We carry within us the seal of the Father's love in Jesus Christ which is the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget this, because the Spirit of the Lord always remembers every individual, and wishes, particularly through you young people, to stir up the wind and fire of a new Pentecost in the world.

5. The Holy Spirit as "Teacher of the interior life"

My dear young friends, the Holy Spirit continues today to act with power in the Church, and the fruits of the Spirit are abundant in the measure in which we are ready to open up to this power that makes all things new. For this reason it is important that each one of us know the Spirit, establish a relationship with Him and allow ourselves to be guided by Him.

However, at this point a question naturally arises: who is the Holy Spirit for me? It is a fact that for many Christians He is still the "great unknown". This is why, as we prepare for the next World Youth Day, I wanted to invite you to come to know the Holy Spirit more deeply at a personal level. In our profession of faith we proclaim: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son" (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). Yes, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the love of the Father and of the Son, is the Source of life that makes us holy, "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). Nevertheless, it is not enough to know the Spirit; we must welcome Him as the guide of our souls, as the "Teacher of the interior life" who introduces us to the Mystery of the Trinity, because He alone can open us up to faith and allow us to live it each day to the full. The Spirit impels us forward towards others, enkindles in us the fire of love, makes us missionaries of God's charity.

I know very well that you young people hold in your hearts great appreciation and love for Jesus, and that you desire to meet Him and speak with Him. Indeed, remember that it is precisely the presence of the Spirit within us that confirms, constitutes and builds our person on the very Person of Jesus crucified and risen. So let us become familiar with the Holy Spirit in order to be familiar with Jesus.

6. The Sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist

You might ask, how can we allow ourselves to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and to grow in our spiritual lives? The answer, as you know, is this: we can do so by means of the Sacraments, because faith is born and is strengthened within us through the Sacraments, particularly those of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, which are complementary and inseparable (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285). This truth concerning the three Sacraments that initiate our lives as Christians is perhaps neglected in the faith life of many Christians. They view them as events that took place in the past and have no real significance for today, like roots that lack life-giving nourishment. It happens that many young people distance themselves from their life of faith after they have received Confirmation. There are also young people who have not even received this sacrament. Yet it is through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and then, in an ongoing way, the Eucharist, that the Holy Spirit makes us children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, capable of a true witness to the Gospel, and able to savour the joy of faith.

I therefore invite you to reflect on what I am writing to you. Nowadays it is particularly necessary to rediscover the sacrament of Confirmation and its important place in our spiritual growth. Those who have received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation should remember that they have become "temples of the Spirit": God lives within them. Always be aware of this and strive to allow the treasure within you to bring forth fruits of holiness. Those who are baptized but have not yet received the sacrament of Confirmation, prepare to receive it knowing that in this way you will become "complete" Christians, since Confirmation perfects baptismal grace (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1302-1304).

Confirmation gives us special strength to witness to and glorify God with our whole lives (cf. Romans 12:1). It makes us intimately aware of our belonging to the Church, the "Body of Christ", of which we are all living members, in solidarity with one another (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-25). By allowing themselves to be guided by the Spirit, each baptized person can bring his or her own contribution to the building up of the Church because of the charisms given by the Spirit, for "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). When the Spirit acts, he brings his fruits to the soul, namely "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). To those of you who have not yet received the sacrament of Confirmation, I extend a cordial invitation to prepare to receive it, and to seek help from your priests. It is a special occasion of grace that the Lord is offering you. Do not miss this opportunity!

I would like to add a word about the Eucharist. In order to grow in our Christian life, we need to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, we are baptized and confirmed with a view to the Eucharist (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1322; "Sacramentum Caritatis," 17). "Source and summit" of the Church's life, the Eucharist is a "perpetual Pentecost" since every time we celebrate Mass we receive the Holy Spirit who unites us more deeply with Christ and transforms us into Him. My dear young friends, if you take part frequently in the eucharistic celebration, if you dedicate some of your time to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Source of love which is the Eucharist, you will acquire that joyful determination to dedicate your lives to following the Gospel. At the same time it will be your experience that whenever our strength is not enough, it is the Holy Spirit who transforms us, filling us with his strength and making us witnesses suffused by the missionary fervour of the risen Christ.

7. The need and urgency of mission

Many young people view their lives with apprehension and raise many questions about their future. They anxiously ask: How can we fit into a world marked by so many grave injustices and so much suffering? How should we react to the selfishness and violence that sometimes seem to prevail? How can we give full meaning to life? How can we help to bring it about that the fruits of the Spirit mentioned above, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (No. 6), can fill this scarred and fragile world, the world of young people most of all? On what conditions can the life-giving Spirit of the first creation and particularly of the second creation or redemption become the new soul of humanity?

Let us not forget that the greater the gift of God -- and the gift of the Spirit of Jesus is the greatest of all -- so much the greater is the world's need to receive it and therefore the greater and the more exciting is the Church's mission to bear credible witness to it. You young people, through World Youth Day, are in a way manifesting your desire to participate in this mission. In this regard, my dear young friends, I want to remind you here of some key truths on which to meditate.

Once again I repeat that only Christ can fulfil the most intimate aspirations that are in the heart of each person. Only Christ can humanize humanity and lead it to its "divinization". Through the power of his Spirit he instils divine charity within us, and this makes us capable of loving our neighbour and ready to be of service. The Holy Spirit enlightens us, revealing Christ crucified and risen, and shows us how to become more like Him so that we can be "the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ" ("Deus Caritas Est," 33).

Those who allow themselves to be led by the Spirit understand that placing oneself at the service of the Gospel is not an optional extra, because they are aware of the urgency of transmitting this Good News to others. Nevertheless, we need to be reminded again that we can be witnesses of Christ only if we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit who is "the principal agent of evangelization" (cf. "Evangelii Nuntiandi," 75) and "the principal agent of mission" (cf. "Redemptoris Missio," 21). My dear young friends, as my venerable predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II said on several occasions, to proclaim the Gospel and bear witness to the faith is more necessary than ever today (cf. "Redemptoris Missio," 1). There are those who think that to present the precious treasure of faith to people who do not share it means being intolerant towards them, but this is not the case, because to present Christ is not to impose Him (cf. "Evangelii Nuntiandi," 80).

Moreover, two thousand years ago, twelve Apostles gave their lives to make Christ known and loved. Throughout the centuries since then, the Gospel has continued to spread by means of men and women inspired by that same missionary fervour. Today too there is a need for disciples of Christ who give unstintingly of their time and energy to serve the Gospel. There is a need for young people who will allow God's love to burn within them and who will respond generously to his urgent call, just as many young blesseds and saints did in the past and also in more recent times. In particular, I assure you that the Spirit of Jesus today is inviting you young people to be bearers of the good news of Jesus to your contemporaries.

The difficulty that adults undoubtedly find in approaching the sphere of youth in a comprehensible and convincing way could be a sign with which the Spirit is urging you young people to take this task upon yourselves. You know the ideals, the language, and also the wounds, the expectations, and at the same time the desire for goodness felt by your contemporaries. This opens up the vast world of young people's emotions, work, education, expectations, and suffering ... Each one of you must have the courage to promise the Holy Spirit that you will bring one young person to Jesus Christ in the way you consider best, knowing how to "give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but [to] do it with gentleness and reverence" (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

In order to achieve this goal, my dear friends, you must be holy and you must be missionaries since we can never separate holiness from mission (cf. "Redemptoris Missio," 90). Do not be afraid to become holy missionaries like Saint Francis Xavier who travelled through the Far East proclaiming the Good News until every ounce of his strength was used up, or like Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus who was a missionary even though she never left the Carmelite convent. Both of these are "Patrons of the Missions". Be prepared to put your life on the line in order to enlighten the world with the truth of Christ; to respond with love to hatred and disregard for life; to proclaim the hope of the risen Christ in every corner of the earth.

8. Invoking a "new Pentecost" upon the world

My dear young friends, I hope to see very many of you in Sydney in July 2008. It will be a providential opportunity to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit's power. Come in great numbers in order to be a sign of hope and to give appreciative support to the Church community in Australia that is preparing to welcome you. For the young people of the country that will host you, it will be an exceptional opportunity to proclaim the beauty and joy of the Gospel to a society that is secularized in so many ways. Australia, like all of Oceania, needs to rediscover its Christian roots. In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, Pope John Paul II wrote: "Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church in Oceania is preparing for a new evangelization of peoples who today are hungering for Christ... A new evangelization is the first priority for the Church in Oceania" (No. 18).

I invite you to give time to prayer and to your spiritual formation during this last stage of the journey leading to the XXIII World Youth Day, so that in Sydney you will be able to renew the promises made at your Baptism and Confirmation. Together we shall invoke the Holy Spirit, confidently asking God for the gift of a new Pentecost for the Church and for humanity in the third millennium.

May Mary, united in prayer with the Apostles in the Upper Room, accompany you throughout these months and obtain for all young Christians a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit to set their hearts on fire. Remember: the Church has confidence in you! We Pastors, especially, pray that you may love and lead others to love Jesus more and more and that you may follow Him faithfully. With these sentiments I bless you all with deep affection.

From Lorenzago, 20 July 2007