Monday, June 30, 2008

The Blessed Sacrament -- the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ (Part Two)

I cannot logically understand or wrap my mind around it enough to just accept it on faith. What is the philosophy behind this?

The answers to the questions of the Real Presence are to be found in Love and Truth, the two fundamental themes that run throughout the salvation history that is recorded in the Bible, and which are attributes of God Himself.

What is the truth of God? Again, although we can reason from observation and experience certain aspects of God, since He is so other worldly, it is imperative to look to those truths which have been revealed by Him if we are to gain a more satisfactory understanding.
(a) In the Bible, God reveals his name to be “I am” (Ex 3:13-15), i.e. the Ultimate Reality; He is Being itself and is therefore Truth itself. Indeed, if something lacks truth, it lacks reality and existence. This Truth is the first principle from which all else follows. He is not merely philosophical truth, not merely a cosmic force, but a personal being.
(b) God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word, that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. (Jn. 1:1-5) Jesus is not only God in a spiritual sense, He is God incarnate, God become man. Fully God, yet fully human, united in one.
(c) And yet again, God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. In Him, all things are made new. (Rev 21:1-7).
He exists beyond and outside of space -- the physical universe – and because time is a measurement of changes in space, He exists outside of time. He is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit -- a non-corporeal transcendent being. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality – all moments exist simultaneously and each moment exists in perpetuity.

However, God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. (1 Jn. 4:8) This is demonstrated again and again in salvation history. Now, love is by its very nature relational – it necessarily requires an “other.” Love does not exist in a vacuum. Accordingly, God is not one-dimensional, but exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a Holy Trinity – this is how He can be One God yet three Persons.

What is the truth of man? Man is a created being; he is not the accidental product of random forces of nature, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. Because we were and are created in truth and love, which is necessarily relational, human beings are social creatures, male and female, complementing and needing each other. (Gen. 1-2). Mankind was not created as merely a physical entity, like a stone, and God did not create us as merely spiritual beings, like the angels; rather, He created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, both transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love. Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved.

Now, God is Love, that is to say, love in the most perfect and complete sense, love in its totality. Not merely a lukewarm passive love, but a “passionate” and intimate kind of love. One of the themes in the Old Testament to describe God’s love for mankind is the spousal relationship. And, indeed, in our own lives, marriage is generally recognized as the highest and most personal and intimate kind of love.

Thus, because God loves us, as the name Emmanuel suggests, He wanted to be “with us,” and among us – not only at a single point in time, but always and forever. To be sure, after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus assured us that He would be with us always, to the end of time. Now, Jesus is indeed with us in a number of ways. He is not merely with us in our thoughts and in our prayers, He is not merely with us in the word that is written on the pages of the Bible, He is also with us always by and through His Holy Spirit, which we might call “grace.” Catholics would add that Jesus is with us as well in the sacraments. In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is His Real Presence, Body and Blood.

Let us get to the heart of the matter – Why? Why should Jesus make the bread and wine into His literal flesh and blood?

Remember the truth of the human person. We are not merely spiritual creatures, but bodily creatures as well. Sitting at home or walking outside or any number of places we can pray to Jesus and, in that way, obtain a certain spiritual communion with Him. We can experience a spiritual touching with Jesus. But to only touch Jesus spiritually is to only touch Him with only a part of ourselves, not our entire person; it is to be in communion only partially, not completely.

However, through the Eucharist in the one Mass, according to his Word, Jesus is with us, not merely spiritually or theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily, as well as spiritually. In a profoundly intimate way, we take His Body into our bodies. Only in this way is the totality of our person, body and spirit, able to be one with the totality of Him, Body and Spirit, fully and completely. Again, because we are creatures of both spirit and body, to receive Him in the entirety of our person, it is essential that we also experience the Body and Blood of Christ, which can be received only at Mass, in addition to His Spirit, which can be experienced at home. Only in this way can the Eucharist truly be called Holy Communion.

Moreover, consider in our everyday lives what it means to be truly intimate. Friends and even siblings certainly can be close, and great and intense love can exist between them, but they cannot be truly and fully intimate. There can only be such intimacy in marriage and motherhood. Marital intimacy entails a touching of each other's souls, a touching of each other's very being and, because the truth of the human person is that we are bodily beings, we can more easily, and often best, approach that spiritual uniting by physical touching, whether that touch is a hug, or a holding of the hand, or the caress of the face, or more. And there is nothing more physically intimate than one being inside another, either as between husband and wife, or the child within a mother’s womb.

The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is not the encounter of a friend or a mentor or a teacher. It is a parental and spousal encounter of love. It is because the Eucharist is the Real Presence that such an encounter is the most intimate of intimate touchings. The person literally takes Christ within him- or herself both bodily and spiritually, so as to become one with Him in a mystical fashion, as in conjugal marriage, which also involves entering into another bodily and spiritually so as to become one in a communion of persons (unitive) and so as to receive life (procreative).

Wait just a minute! Are you really making such a comparison? Are you not profaning and disrespecting the Eucharist, which is supposed to be holy?? This seems rather sacrilegious and scandalous.

No. Properly understood, this does not degrade or diminish the Eucharist, but raises up human sexuality to its proper level. (This reflection is already rather long, so we will leave the Theology of the Body for another day.) The Eucharist, because of the Real Presence, permits the reception of the Host to be a profoundly intimate encounter so as to attain a oneness with Christ in the totality of our persons and thereby receive life.

The food that we receive in Communion is not ordinary food, but extra-ordinary food. It is the bread of life; not merely earthly life, but the real life – life eternal in the one who is love and truth. Eating a slice of every day bread, be it Wonder sliced bread or a freshly baked French baguette, and drinking a glass of every day wine, even when that wine is Ch√Ęteau Lafite-Rothschild, is still ordinary in every sense and not at all spiritual. Neither Wonder nor baguette nor Lafite-Rothschild are endowed with a spirit, and so an encounter with them cannot be spiritual, and calling alcoholic beverages "spirits" does not make them spiritual. No matter how delicious and breath-taking they may be, such bread and wine are still totally grounded in the body. You cannot commune with them. Only when bread and wine are consecrated to become Eucharist, do such "eating" and "drinking" become extra-ordinary and transcendent of the body to the spiritual.

How does this transubstantiation happen? How do bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus?

(a) With respect to the natural physical process, transubstantiation, the changing of the substance of the bread and wine, that is, the inner reality of the bread and wine, is what is called a “mystery.” The Church recognizes that we human beings are limited in our capacity and ability to understand certain things, and it does not even attempt to provide a complete answer for all things. Instead, it accepts that some things remain a mystery, known to and knowable by God alone. However, this should not trouble us, because there are many things in life that neither science nor philosophy can fully explain either.
(b) With respect to the supernatural process, the transformation of bread and wine into Body and Blood of Christ occur the same way that the world itself was created – by the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” (John 1:1-3) And so it was that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . . God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen. 1:1-3) In like fashion, the priest at Mass, acting, not as himself, but in persona Christi, says the words of Christ at the Last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood,” and by the Word, Christ’s Real Presence comes to be with us.

Now, it is important to know that the consecration of the bread and wine at Mass to become the Blessed Sacrament is NOT a re-sacrificing of Jesus. There is only One Mass, and there is only One Sacrifice, which is re-presented, that is, made present again.

Remember, God transcends time and space, so that, not only does He extend across our concept of linear time, but for Him, specific points in time continue to exist forever. Thus, the Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross.

In the Mass, in some mystical but true way, we transcend space and time and are made present at the Last Supper, we are made present at the foot of the Cross. And because we partake of His glorified Resurrected Body and Blood, so too are we made present at the Resurrection, and made One with He who rose to eternal life.

The Blessed Sacrament -- the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ (Part One)

The Catholic Church recognizes the Eucharist as the source (beginning) and summit (end) of the Faith inasmuch as this Blessed Sacrament is Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus, even though under the appearance of bread and wine.

A friend who is not Catholic has struggled with this, as have many persons throughout history, and he has asked for an explanation. He says, "I cannot logically understand or wrap my mind around it enough to just accept it on faith. What is the philosophy behind this? the tradition behind this? and for the love of all that is good... is there any proof?"

Recognizing that the Eucharist is indeed the "mystery of faith," and cannot be fully understood by us creatures of limited capacity and knowledge, what follows is a reflection and meditation on these questions, so as to continue down the road in the search for truth and understanding.

Part One

It really should not trouble us too much that many aspects of the Real Presence will remain shrouded in mystery. There are many things in life that we cannot fully comprehend, and that should guide us in deciding exactly how much "proof" can be reasonably and realistically expected.

How is it that the universe exists, and in an ordered way? An ordered universe should not exist, you can't get something from nothing and entropy always increases, but we have it nevertheless. The secular agnostic/athiest scientist says, we don't know how exactly, it just does. A Christian or Jew or Muslim would say that it exists because God says it exists. (And the Catholic would say that the Real Presence is true for the same reason.) How is it that some physical matter is somehow able move about and interact with the environment and even reproduce, i.e. is alive? How is it that the mass of hydro-carbons reading this sentence is able to have a shared understanding with the writer and to form independent thought, and how does it have autonomy and a will, so as to be able to choose to continue reading? How are we able to do these things if, in a purely material world, we have no more significance than a rock? All of these things are clearly impossible -- and yet, they are so. They are mysteries, suffice to say that the ultimate reality of a person or a thing is not always what it appears to be on the surface. For example, this is not a purely material world. If this is true throughout life, we should not be surprised that it is so with the Eucharist as well.

I cannot logically understand or wrap my mind around it enough to just accept it on faith. What is the philosophy behind this? the tradition behind this? and for the love of all that is good... is there any proof?

Well, to speak of “the love of all that is good” is to be on the right track because the answers to the question of the mystery of the actual Body and Blood of Christ – the who, why, what, where, when, and how of the Eucharist -- may be found where the answers to most questions of the Faith are found – in Love and in Truth. The answers to this great mystery can only be found (a) in Love, the nature of love itself, as well as the love of God and love for God, and (b) in Truth, the truth of Jesus Christ and the truth of who we are as human persons.

What is the proof that the Eucharist is the Real Presence? What is your evidence?

A few more words about “proof” -- while reason and observation of the physical world (scientific-style proof) may take us quite far on the question of the Real Presence, because we are speaking of things that are beyond this world, ultimately we must turn to faith to enlighten our reason, specifically, the revealed truth of things that go beyond and transcend our limited physical understanding of reality and being. Such revelation is found in the Bible.

In the law, we prove things by the testimony of witnesses and, for the Catholic, the proof is this –- because Jesus said so. It’s as simple and direct as that. But in addition to that, we have the understanding of the Apostles and the early Church, as well as the understanding of the Jews and of the Romans.

Others have explained in detail some of the various scriptural references, so I will only highlight a few. First, the Eucharist is hinted at in the life and ministry of Jesus. Indeed, on the night of His birth, the baby Jesus is laid in the manger. When we reflect upon what a manger is, we understand that this was not merely a sign of His birth into a humble life. A manger is the box holding the hay that is eaten by the animals in the stable. It is a food trough, and the placement of Jesus in the manger, as if He were food himself, prefigures the Eucharist itself.

Of course, the doctrine of the Real Presence is explicitly set forth in the “bread of life” discourse. If it were only symbolic, the people who actually heard it when it was said by Jesus would not have reacted by turning away in disgust, saying "This teaching is too hard. Who can listen to it?" (John 6:60) They certainly thought He was being literal. Indeed, when the people were initially unsure of what He meant by claiming that He was the bread of life, instead of assuring them that he only meant it as a metaphor, He not only spoke even more explicitly about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He emphasized it by saying “Truly, truly, I say to you . . .”

At the Last Supper, Jesus is again quite direct in appropriating the elements of the Passover meal, the unleavened bread and wine, saying “This is by body . . . this is my blood,” and we must take Him at His word that He meant what He said and said what He meant. Jesus knew how to speak metaphorically, and if He meant it merely as a symbol, He certainly would have said so. One might suggest that, if Jesus meant His actual body, “He could have but didn't offer them his flesh to eat, or open a vein to fill the cup.” But that would not then be the Eucharist, but cannibalism, and the Eucharist is NOT cannibalism, and Christians are not ghouls, notwithstanding the later accusations of the Romans. Besides, the Body that is the Eucharist is not pre-crucifixion, but post-Resurrection. More on these points later, when we meditate in greater detail on the nature of the Real Presence.

As said before, the Apostles and early Church understood Jesus to be speaking literally. For example, Paul writes about the Real Presence and Justin Martyr writes in chapter 66 of his First Apology --

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

Now, the pagan Romans later thought that the Christians took the words of Jesus literally, going so far as to accuse them of cannibalism. Stating things in mere poetic symbolism would not be enough to get you scourged and crucified, nor would it have been enough to have your followers martyred.

Finally, you have the testimony of believers over the last 2,000 years. You have the testimony of those who have not only received Communion, but those who have merely been close by the Eucharist and had a palpable sense or feeling of the presence of some indescribable Other.

To be continued . . .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Anxiety in Everyday Life and "Fear" of God

In the Gospel reading for Mass this past Sunday, and in Pope Benedict's address before the Angelus, we are presented with the idea of "fear of God."

The Scriptures and the Church teach that we should have "fear of God." Indeed, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation is Fear of the Lord. However, at first blush, this is troubling and we must note our objection, given our contemporary worldly understanding and usage of the word "fear."

The Faith informs us that God is Love and God is Truth, so how is it that we should fear love and fear truth? Moreover, to fear God, as we use the word today, would seem to mean that God is not merciful after all, but merely vengeful and wrathful, someone who terrorizes and causes distress, rather than saves and protects, such that we
should be afraid, we should be very afraid; we should cower and raise our arms to shield our faces, lest we should be struck down. To be afraid of or scared of God would seem to be completely contrary to the idea that God is, again, Love and Truth, that He is Divine Mercy, which is not something that we should be afraid of, but something we should rejoice in and embrace. And indeed, the faithful do want to love Him and stand in His presence, not be frightened of Him. Clearly, then, we have an apparent contradiction in the Faith.

But perhaps the problem is not with the Faith, but in our understanding and usage of the word "fear" as it is used with respect to "fear of God." Perhaps this is another example of the limitations of language. In Sunday's Angelus, Pope Benedict explains and enlightens a little bit exactly what is meant when we speak of a proper "fear" of God:

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus, 22 June 2008

In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus teaches us on the one hand "not to be afraid of men" and on the other hand to "fear" God (cf. Matthew 10:26, 28). We are thus moved to reflect on the difference that exists between human fears and the fear of God.

Fear is a natural part of life. From the time we are children we experience forms of fear that are revealed to be imaginary or that disappear. There are other fears that follow them that have a precise basis in reality: These must be faced and overcome by human effort and confidence in God. But there is also -- and today above all -- a more profound form of fear of an existential type that sometimes overflows into anxiety: It is born from a sense of emptiness that is linked to a culture that is permeated by a widespread theoretical and practical nihilism.

In the face of the ample and diversified panorama of human fears, the word of God is clear: He who "fears" the Lord is "not afraid." The fear of God, which the Scriptures define as the "beginning of true wisdom," coincides with faith in God, with the sacred respect for his authority over life and the world. Being "without the fear of God" is equivalent to putting ourselves in his place, feeling ourselves to be masters of good and evil, of life and death.

But he who fears God feels interiorly the security of a child in the arms of his mother (cf. Psalm 130:2): He who fears God is calm even in the midst of storms, because God, as Jesus has revealed to us, is a Father who is full of mercy and goodness. He who loves God is not afraid: "In love there is no fear," writes the Apostle John. "Perfect love," he goes on, "casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment and whoever is afraid is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18).

The believer, therefore, is not afraid of anything, because he knows that he is in the hands of God, he knows that evil is irrational and does not have the last word, and that Christ alone is the Lord of the world and life, the Incarnate Word of God, he knows that Christ loved us to the point of sacrificing himself, dying on the cross for our salvation.

The more we grow in this intimacy with God, impregnated with love, the more easily we will defeat every kind of fear. In today's Gospel passage Jesus exhorts us twice not to be afraid. He reassures us as he did the apostles, as he did St. Paul, appearing to him is a vision one night in a particularly difficult moment in his preaching: "Do not be afraid," Jesus said to him, "for I am with you" (Acts 18:9). Strengthened by Christ's presence and comforted by his love, the Apostle of the Gentiles did not even fear martyrdom.

We are preparing to celebrate the bi-millennium of St. Paul's birth with a special jubilee year. May this great spiritual and pastoral event awaken in us, too, a renewed confidence in Jesus Christ, who calls us to announce and witness to his Gospel without being afraid of anything.

I invite you, then, dear brothers and sisters, to prepare yourselves to celebrate with faith this Pauline Year, which, if it may please God, I will solemnly open next Saturday evening at 6 p.m. in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, with the first vespers for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. From this moment we entrust this great ecclesial initiative to the intercession of St. Paul and Mary most holy, Queen of the Apostles and Mother of Christ, source of our joy and our peace.

Here, the Holy Father explains that to have fear of God does not mean to be afraid of God, but rather means to feel calm and secure. And yet, here we still only have the beginning of an explanation. More is needed if we are to fully understand.

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

Saint Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo
August 15, 2006

* * * 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. In addition to this fundamental act of faith, which is an existential act, a position taken for the whole of life, Mary adds another word: "His mercy extends to all those who fear him."

Together with the whole of Scripture, she is speaking of "fear of God". Perhaps this is a phrase with which we are not very familiar or do not like very much. But "fear of God" is not anguish or terror; it is something quite different. As children, we are not terrified of our father, but this "fear of God" is our concern not to destroy the love on which our life is based.

Fear of God is that sense of responsibility that we should have, a responsiblity for that portion of earth which is entrusted to us in life. A responsibility for administering well our share of the world and of its history, and thus contribute to building a just world, towards the triumph of good and of peace
. * * *

OK, this helps and adds to our understanding. "Concern" not to destroy the love (God) on which our life is based. This suggests a fear, not so much of God, but a fear of not harming our relationship with Him. But if that is what is meant, why not simply say that directly? Perhaps what is meant is that we should fear God in the sense that we should fear the loss of salvation by our sinful thoughts and deeds, that it is better to fear God rather than have contempt for Him? More explanation is needed.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Psalm 111(110) - To Fear the Lord

Wednesday Audience, 8 June 2005

* * * In this Psalm we find a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the many benefits that describe God in his attributes and his work of salvation * * * the heart of the Psalm becomes a hymn to the covenant (cf. vv. 4-9), that intimate bond which binds God to his people and entails a series of attitudes and gestures. Thus, the Psalmist speaks of "compassion and love" (cf. v. 4) in the wake of the great proclamation on Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34: 6).

"Compassion" is the divine grace that envelops and transfigures the faithful, while "love" is expressed in the original Hebrew with the use of a characteristic term that refers to the maternal "womb" of the Lord, even more merciful than that of a mother (cf. Is 49: 15). * * *

The end of Psalm 111(110) is sealed by contemplation of the divine face, the Lord's very person, symbolized by his holy and transcendent "name". Next, quoting a sapiential saying (cf. Prov 1: 7; 9: 10, 15: 33), the Psalmist invites every member of the faithful to cultivate "fear of the Lord," the beginning of true wisdom. It is not fear and terror that are suggested by this word, but serious and sincere respect which is the fruit of love, a genuine and active attachment to God the Liberator. * * *

At the end of our reflection, let us meditate with the ecclesial tradition of the early centuries of Christianity on the final verse with its celebrated declaration, which is reiterated elsewhere in the Bible (cf. Prov 1: 7): "to fear the Lord is the first stage of wisdom" (Ps 111(110):10).

The Christian writer Barsanuphius of Gaza (active in the first half of the sixth century) comments on this verse: "What is the first stage of wisdom if not the avoidance of all that is hateful to God? And how can one avoid it, other than by first asking for advice before acting, or by saying nothing that should not be said, and in addition, by considering oneself foolish, stupid, contemptible and of no worth whatsoever?" (Epistolario, 234: Collana di testi patristici, XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 265-266).

However, John Cassian (who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries) preferred to explain that "there is a great difference between love, which lacks nothing and is the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, and imperfect love, called "the first stage of wisdom'. The latter, which in itself contains the idea of punishment, is excluded from the hearts of the perfect because they have reached the fullness of love" (Conferenze ai monaci, 2, 11, 13: Collana di testi patristici, CLVI, Rome, 2000, p. 29).

Thus, on the journey through life towards Christ, our initial servile fear is replaced by perfect awe which is love, a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now, finally, we get to the heart of the matter. Here we find the understanding that allows us to see how "fear of God" and the God of Love and Truth are entirely consistent with each other. The "fear" that we speak of in this sense is not a kind of terror or fright due to imminent danger, but a reverential and respectful awe, a realization of just exactly how great God is, just exactly how great the "I AM" is, and just how small we mere creatures are in comparison. Instead of the prideful attitude that we are somehow God's equal, this fear of God is an act of humility, an act of profound respect that is rightly due the Creator of the universe and Author of Life.

In any event, here again we see the limitations of the English language, and learn again that we cannot simply apply ever-changing contemporary understandings to the eternal and universal Faith.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Eternal Youth and the First and Fundamental Choice

Meeting with the Young People of Genoa
Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI

Piazza Matteotti, Genoa
Sunday, 18 May 2008

We must all remain young in heart! It is beautiful to be young and today everyone wants to be young, to stay young, and they disguise themselves as young, even if the time of youth has passed, visibly passed. And I wonder - I have thought about it - why is it beautiful to be young? What is the reason for the dream of eternal youth? It seems to me that there are two crucial elements: youth still has the whole future before it. Everything is in the future, a time of hope. The future is full of promises. To be sincere, we must say that for many people the future is also dark, full of threats.

One wonders: will I find a job? Will I find somewhere to live? Will I find love? What will my true future be? And in the face of these threats, the future can also appear as a great void. Today, therefore, many desire to stop time for fear of a future in emptiness. They want to enjoy all the beauties of life instantly - and in this way the oil in the lamp is consumed just as life is beginning.

Thus, it is important to choose the true promises that pave the way to the future, even with sacrifices. Those who have chosen God still have before them in old age a future without end and without threats. It is therefore vital to choose well, not to destroy the future. And the first and fundamental choice must be God, God revealed in the Son Jesus Christ, and in the light of this choice which at the same time offers us company on the way, trustworthy company that never abandons me, in the light of this choice criteria are found to make the other necessary choices.

Being young implies being good and generous and once again true goodness is Jesus himself, that Jesus whom you know or whom your heart is seeking: he is the Friend who never betrays, faithful to the point of giving his life on the Cross. Surrender to his love! As you have printed on the tee-shirts made for this Meeting, "scioglietevi" [soften] before Jesus for he alone can melt your anxieties and fears and fulfill your expectations. He gave his life for us, for each one of us. Could he ever betray your trust? Could he lead you on the wrong paths? His are the ways of life, the ways that lead to the pastures of the soul, even if they rise steeply and are daunting. It is the spiritual life that I am asking you to cultivate, dear friends. Jesus said: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15: 5).

Jesus comes to the point, he is clear and direct. Everyone understands him and takes a stand. The life of the soul is the encounter with him, the actual Face of God; it is silent, persevering prayer, it is sacramental life, it is the Gospel meditated upon, it is spiritual guidance, it is cordial membership in the Church, in your Ecclesial Communities.

Yet how can one love, how can one enter into friendship with someone unknown? Knowledge is an incentive to love and love stimulates knowledge. This is how it is with Christ too. To find love with Christ, to truly find him as the companion of our lives, we must first of all be acquainted with him.

Like the two disciples who followed him after hearing the words of John the Baptist and asked him timidly, "Rabbi, where are you staying?", they wanted to know him better. It was Jesus himself, talking to his disciples who made the distinction: "Who do people say that I am", referring to those who knew him from afar, so to speak, by hear-say, and "Who do you say that I am?", referring to those who knew him personally, having lived with him and having truly penetrated his private life, to the point of witnessing his prayer, his dialogue with the Father. Thus, it is also important for us not to reduce ourselves merely to the superficiality of the many who have heard something about him - that he was an important figure, etc. - but to enter into a personal relationship to know him truly. And this demands knowledge of Scripture, especially of the Gospels where the Lord speaks to us.

These words are not always easy, but in entering into them, entering into dialogue, knocking at the door of words, saying to the Lord, "Let me in", we truly find words of eternal life, living words for today, as timely as they were then and as they will be in the future. This conversation with the Lord in Scripture must always be a conversation that is not only individual but communal, in the great communion of the Church where Christ is ever present, in the communion of the liturgy, of the very personal encounter with the Holy Eucharist and of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where the Lord says to me "I forgive you".

And another very important step to take is to help the poor in need, to make time for others. There are many dimensions for entering into knowledge of Jesus; also, of course the lives of saints. You have plenty of Saints here in Liguria, in Genoa, who help us discover the true Face of Jesus. Only in this way, by being personally acquainted with Jesus, can we also communicate this friendship to others. We can overcome indifference. Because even if it seems invincible - in fact, indifference sometimes appears not to need a God - in fact, everyone knows that something is missing in his life. Only after discovering Jesus do we realize "this is what I was waiting for". And, the truer a friend of Jesus we are, the better able we are to open our hearts to others so that they too may become truly young and have a great future before them.

At the end of our Meeting I shall have the joy of presenting the Gospel to some of you as a sign of a missionary mandate. Dear young people, venture forth into the milieus of life, your parishes, the most difficult districts, the streets! Proclaim Christ the Lord, the hope of the world. The further people drift from God, their Source, the more they lose themselves, the more difficult human coexistence becomes and the more society crumbles. Stay united to one another, help one another to live and to increase in faith and in Christian life to be daring witnesses of the Lord. Be united but not closed. Be humble but not fearful. Be simple but non-ingenuous. Be thoughtful but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with all, but be yourselves. Remain in communion with your Pastors: they are ministers of the Gospel, of the Divine Eucharist, of God's forgiveness. They are fathers and friends for you, your companions on the way. You need them and they - we all - need you.

If each one of you, dear young people, remains united to Christ and to the Church, he or she can do great things. This is the hope I leave you to carry out. I say goodbye until Sydney to those of you who have enrolled to go to the World Meeting in July, and I extend it to all, because anyone will be able to follow the event from here as well. I know that in those days the dioceses will be organizing some special community events so that there will truly be a new Pentecost for the young people of the whole world. I entrust you to the Virgin Mary, a model of availability and of humble courage in accepting the Lord's mission. Learn from her to make your life a "yes" to God! In this way Jesus will come to dwell within you and you will take him joyfully to all. With my Blessing!

Human Beings Are All Children of God

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Piazza della Vittoria, Genoa

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
May 18, 2008

. . . In the First Reading (Ex 34: 4b-6, 8-9) we heard a biblical text that presents to us the revelation of God's Name. It is God himself, Eternal and Invisible, who proclaims it, passing before Moses in the cloud on Mount Sinai. And his Name is: "The Lord, a God merciful, and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness". In the New Testament, St. John sums up this sentence in a single word: "Love" (cf. I Jn 4: 8, 16).

Today's Gospel also testifies to this: "God so loved the world that he gave his Only Son" (Jn 3: 16). Consequently, this Name clearly expresses that the God of the Bible is not some kind of monad closed in on itself and satisfied with his own self-sufficiency, but he is life that wants to communicate itself, openness, relationship. Words like "merciful", "compassionate", "rich in grace" all speak to us of a relationship, in particular, of a vital Being who offers himself, who wants to fill every gap, every shortage, who wants to give and to forgive, who desires to establish a solid and lasting bond. Sacred Scripture knows no other God than the God of the Covenant who created the world in order to pour out his love upon all creatures (cf. Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV) and chose a people with which to make a nuptial pact, to make it become a blessing for all the nations and so to form a great family of the whole of humanity (cf. Gn 12: 1-3; Ex 19: 3-6).

This revelation of God is fully delineated in the New Testament though the word of Christ. Jesus showed us the Face of God, one in Essence and Triune in Persons: God is Love, Father Love - Son Love - Holy Spirit Love. And it is precisely in this God's Name that the Apostle Paul greets the Community of Corinth: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God [the Father] and the fellowship of the Holy Sprit be with you all" (II Cor 13: 14). . . .

Our history depends on God's Name and our journey on the light of his Face. From this reality of God which he himself made known to us by revealing his "Name" to us comes a certain image of man, that is, the exact concept of the person. If God is a dialogical unity, a being in relation, the human creature made in his image and likeness reflects this constitution: thus he is called to fulfil himself in dialogue, in conversation, in encounter.

In particular, Jesus has revealed to us that man is essentially a "son", a creature who lives in the relationship with God the Father, and in this way in relationship with all his brothers and sisters. Man is not fulfilled in an absolute autonomy, deceiving himself that he is God but, on the contrary, by recognizing himself as a child, an open creature, reaching out to God and to his brethren in whose faces he discovers the image of their common Father. One can easily see that this concept of God and man is at the base of a corresponding model of the human community, and therefore of society. It is a model that comes before any normative, juridical or institutional regulations but I would say even before cultural specifications. It is a model of the human family transversal to all civilizations, which we Christians express confirming that human beings are all children of God and therefore all brothers and sisters. This is a truth that has been behind us from the outset and at the same time is always before us, like a project to strive for in every social construction. . . .