Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return

Gen. 3:6-13, 16-19

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And the LORD said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

The man said, "The woman you put here with me —- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." . . .

To the woman, the LORD said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."
To the man, He said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'
"Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for you are dust
and to dust you shall return

Psalm 51 - Miserere
Have mercy upon me, O God,
according to your great mercy
and according to the abundance
of your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my offense
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight
That you may be justified in your sentence
and vindicated when you judge.
Behold, in guilt was I born
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being, you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be purified:
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness;
and the bones which you have crushed shall rejoice.
Avert your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew in me a righteous spirit.
Cast me not out from thy presence;
and take not your holy spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your salvation;
and sustain me in a willing spirit.
I shall teach transgressors your ways;
and sinners shall return to you.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness,
O God, God of my salvation,
and my tongue shall exalt your justice.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

For you are not pleased with sacrifices,
else would I give them to you;
neither do you delight in burnt offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a contrite heart:
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
Be favorable and gracious
unto Zion O Lord,
build again the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you shall be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness,
oblations and burnt offerings;
they shall offer young bulls upon your altar.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Freedom and the Truth of Man

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Lectio Divina on Paul's Letter to Galatians

Visit to the Roman Major Seminary on the occasion of the Feast of Our Lady of Trust
February 20, 2009

Let us now see what St. Paul says to us with this text: "You were called to freedom." (Gal. 5:13) At all times, freedom has been humanity's great dream, since the beginning, but particularly in modern times. We know that Luther was inspired by this text of the Letter to the Galatians, and his conclusion was that the monastic Rule, the hierarchy, the magisterium seemed a yoke of slavery from which he had to free himself. Subsequently, the age of the Enlightenment was totally guided, penetrated by this desire for freedom, which it was thought had already been attained. However, Marxism also presented itself as the path to freedom.

Tonight we ask: What is freedom? How can we be free? St. Paul helps us to understand the complicated reality which freedom is by inserting this concept in a context of fundamental anthropological and theological divisions. He says: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another." (Gal. 5:13)

The rector has already told us that "flesh" is not the body, but, in St. Paul's language, it is the absolutizing of the "I," of the I that wants to be all and have everything for itself. In short, the absolute I, which does not depend on anything or anyone, seems really to possess freedom. I am free if I do not depend on anyone, if I can do everything I wish. However, precisely this absolutizing of the I is "flesh," namely, the degradation of man, it is not the victory of freedom: libertinism is not freedom, instead, it is the failure of freedom.

And Paul dares to propose a strong paradox: "Through charity, be of service " (in Greek "douleuete"); in other words, paradoxically, freedom is realized in service: We are free if we become one another's servants.

And so Paul puts the whole problem of freedom in the light of the truth of man. To reduce oneself to the flesh, apparently raising oneself to the rank of divinity -- "I, man alone" -- introduces a lie. Because in fact, it is not like this: Man is not an absolute, being able to isolate himself and behave according to his own will. This goes against the truth of our being. Our truth is, above all, that we are creatures, creatures of God and we live in relationship with the Creator. We are rational beings, and only by accepting this relationship do we enter into truth, otherwise we fall into falsehood and, in the end, are destroyed by it.

We are creatures, hence dependents of the Creator. In the age of the Enlightenment, especially for atheism, this dependency seemed like something from which it was necessary to free oneself. In reality, however, it would be a fatal dependency only if this Creator God was a tyrant, not a good Being, only if He was as human tyrants are. If, however, this Creator loves us and our dependence implies being in the realm of His love, in this case, in fact, dependency is freedom. Thus, we are, indeed, in the love of the Creator, we are united to Him, to the whole of His reality, to all His power. This, therefore, is the first point: To be a creature means to be loved by the Creator, to be in this relationship of love that He gives us, with which He provides for us. From this derives above all the truth about ourselves, which at the same time is a call to love.

And because of this, to see God, to orient oneself to God, to know God, to know the will of God, to insert oneself in His will, that is, in the love of God is to enter increasingly into the realm of truth. And this path of knowledge of God, of the relationship of love with God, is the extraordinary adventure of our Christian life: Because in Christ we know the face of God, the face of God who loves us even to the cross, to the gift of Himself.

However, the creaturely relationship also implies a second type of relationship: We are in relationship with God but, at the same time, as human family, we are also in relationship with one another. In other words, human freedom is, on one hand, to be in the joy and great realm of the love of God, but it also implies being only one thing with the other and for the other. There is no freedom in being against the other. If I absolutize myself, I become the other's enemy; we can no longer coexist on earth and the whole of life becomes cruelty and failure. Only a shared freedom is human freedom; in being together we can enter the symphony of freedom.

Hence, this is another point of great importance: Only by accepting the other, by accepting also the apparent limitation that respect for the other implies for my freedom, only by inserting myself in the network of dependencies that makes us, finally, only one human family, will I be on the way to common liberation.

A very important element appears here. What is the measure of this sharing of freedom? We see that man needs order and law, to be able to realize his freedom, which is a freedom lived in common. And how can we find this just order, in which no one is oppressed, but each one can make his own contribution to form this sort of concert of freedom? If there is no common truth of man as it appears in the vision of God, only positivism remains, and one has the impression of something imposed even in a violent manner. Hence, the rebellion against order and law as if it were a question of slavery.

However, if we can find the order of the Creator in our nature, the order of truth that gives each one his place, order and law can be, in fact, instruments of freedom against the slavery of egoism. To serve one another becomes an instrument of freedom, and here we can include a whole philosophy of politics according to the social doctrine of the Church, which helps us to find this common order that gives each one his place in the common life of humanity. The first reality that must be respected, therefore, is truth: Freedom against truth is not freedom. To serve one another creates the common realm of freedom.

And then Paul continues, saying: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Gal. 5:14) After this affirmation the mystery of the Incarnate God appears, the mystery of Christ appears who, in His life, Death and Resurrection, becomes the living law.

Immediately, the first words of our reading -- "You were called to freedom" -- point to this mystery. We have been called by the Gospel, we have really been called in Baptism, to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ, and in this way we have passed from the "flesh," from egoism, to communion with Christ. And so we are in the fullness of the law.

You probably all know St. Augustine's beautiful words: "Dilige et fac quod vis -- Love, and do what you will." What Augustine says is the truth, if we have truly understood the word "love."

"Love, and do what you will," but we must really be penetrated by communion with Christ, having identified ourselves with His death and resurrection, being united to Him in the communion of His Body. By participation in the sacraments, by listening to the Word of God, the Divine Will, the divine law really enters our will, our will identifies with His, they become only one will and thus we are really free, we can really do what we will, because we love with Christ, we love in truth and with truth.

Therefore, let us pray to the Lord that He will help us on this path that began with Baptism, a path of identification with Christ that is always realized again in the Eucharist. In the third Eucharistic Prayer we say: "To be one body and one spirit in Christ." It is a moment in which, through the Eucharist and through our true participation in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, we become one spirit with Him, we identify with His will, and thus we truly attain freedom.

After this word -- the law has been fulfilled -- after this unique word that becomes reality in communion with Christ, all the figures of the saints who have entered into this communion with Christ appear behind the Lord, in this unity of being, in this unity with His will.

Above all, the Virgin appears, in her humility, her goodness, her love. The Virgin gives us this confidence, she takes us by the hand, guides us and helps us on the path of uniting ourselves with the will of God, as she was from the first moment, expressing this union in her "Fiat."

And, finally, after these beautiful things, the letter points out once more the rather sad situation of the community of the Galatians, when Paul says: "But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another ... walk by the Spirit." (Gal. 5:15-16) It seems to me that in this community -- which was no longer on the path of communion with Christ, but in the external law of the "flesh" -- naturally controversies also emerged and Paul says: "You become wild beasts, one bites the other." He refers thus to the controversies that arise when faith degenerates into intellectualism and humility is substituted by the arrogance of being better than the other.

We see clearly that also today there are similar things when, instead of being inserted in communion with Christ, in the Body of Christ which is the Church, each one wants to be better than the other and with intellectual arrogance wants to be regarded as the best. And, thus, controversies arise which are destructive; born is a caricature of the Church, which should be one soul and one heart.

In St. Paul's warning, we should find today a reason to examine our conscience: not to think of being better than the other, but to meet one another in the humility of Christ, in the humility of the Virgin, to enter into the obedience of the faith. Precisely in this way the great realm of truth and freedom in love is really opened also for us.

Finally, we want to thank God because He has shown us His face in Christ, because He has given us the Virgin, the saints, because He has called us to be only one body, one spirit with Him. And let us pray that He will help us to insert ourselves ever more in this communion with His will, so as to find love and joy in freedom.

Monday, February 16, 2009

In His Passion, Jesus Became Like a Leper, Made Impure by Our Sins

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus Address of February 15, 2009

On these Sundays, the Evangelist Mark offers a sequence of various miraculous healings for our reflection. Today he presents a very special one -- that of a healed leper (cf. Mark 1:40-45) -- who, coming to Jesus, gets on his knees and says: “If you wish, you can make me clean!” Jesus, moved, stretches out His hand, touches him and says: “I do wish it. Be made clean!”

The man is healed instantly and Jesus asks him not to tell anyone and present himself to the priests to offer the sacrifice prescribed by the Mosaic law. The healed leper is unable to be quiet and proclaims to everyone what happened to him so that, the evangelist reports, still more sick people ran to Jesus from every part to the point of forcing Him to stay out of the cities so as not to be besieged by the crowds.

Jesus says to the leper: “Be made clean!” According to the ancient Jewish law (Lev. 13-14), leprosy was not only considered a sickness but the gravest form of “impurity.” It was the duty of the priests to diagnose it and declare the person afflicted with leprosy unclean. This person then had to keep his distance from the community and stay away from towns until he was certified to be healed.

Leprosy thus constituted a kind of religious and civil death, and its healing was a kind of resurrection. We might see in leprosy a symbol of sin, which is the true impurity of heart, distancing us from God. It is not, in effect, physical malady that distances us from Him, as the ancient norms supposed, but sin, the spiritual and moral evil.

This is way the Psalmist exclaims:

Blessed is he whose fault is taken away
and whose sin is covered

And then, turning to God:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said: "I shall confess my faults to the Lord,"
and you took away my guilt and my sin

(Ps. 31:1, 5 [32:1, 5]).

The sins we commit distance us from God, and, if they are not humbly confessed, trusting in the divine mercy, they will finally bring about the death of the soul. This miracle thus has powerful symbolic value. Jesus, as Isaiah prophesied, is the servant of the Lord who “bore our infirmities, endured our sufferings” (Isaiah 53:4). In His passion, Jesus will become like a leper, made impure by our sins, separated from God: He will do all this for love, with the aim of obtaining reconciliation, forgiveness and salvation for us.

In the Sacrament of Penance, Christ crucified and risen, through His ministers, purifies us with His infinite mercy, restores us to communion with the heavenly Father and our brothers, and makes a gift of His love, joy and peace to us.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the Virgin Mary, whom God preserved from every stain of sin, that she help us to avoid sin and to have frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Confession, the Sacrament of Forgiveness, whose value and importance for our Christian life needs to be rediscovered today.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

Saints are not supposed to rest in peace; they're expected to keep busy: to perform miracles, to intercede.
Being in jail or dead is no excuse for non-performance of the supernatural.

--from a biography of St. Valentine, priest and martyr.

The Roman Martyrology states that, after having cured and instructed many persons, Valentine was beaten with clubs and beheaded this day, February 14, at Rome, on the Flaminian Way, in the time of Emperor Claudius II.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Kingdom of God is Healing in the Depths of Our Being

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus Address of February 8, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today the Gospel (cf. Mark 1:29-39) -- in direct continuation with last Sunday -- presents us with Jesus, who after having preached on the Sabbath in the synagogue of Capernaum, cured many ill people, beginning with Simon's mother-in-law. Entering his house, he found her in bed with a fever and immediately, taking her by the hand, he healed her and had her get up. After sunset, he healed a multitude of people afflicted with all sorts of ills.

The experience of the healing of the sick occupies a good portion of the public mission of Christ and it invites us once again to reflect on the meaning and value of illness in every situation in which the human being can find himself. This opportunity comes also because of the World Day of the Sick, which we will celebrate next Wednesday, February 11, liturgical memorial of the Virgin Mary of Lourdes.

Despite the fact that illness is part of human existence, we never manage to get used to it, not only because sometimes it comes to be burdensome and grave, but essentially because we are made for life, for complete life. Precisely our "internal instinct" makes us think of God as plenitude of life, and even more, as eternal and perfect Life. When we are tested by sickness and our prayers seem in vain, doubt wells up in us and, filled with anguish, we ask ourselves: What is God's will?

It is precisely to this question that we find an answer in the Gospel. For example, in the passage of today we read: "He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him" (Mark 1:34). In another passage from St. Matthew, it says: "He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people" (Matthew 4:23).

Jesus does not leave room for doubt: God -- whose face he himself has revealed -- is the God of life, who frees us from all evil. The signs of this, his power of love are the healings that he carries out: He thus shows that the Kingdom of God is near, restoring men and women to their full integrity in spirit and body. I refer to these healings as signs: They guide toward the message of Christ, they guide us toward God and make us understand that man's truest and deepest illness is the absence of God, who is the fount of truth and love. And only reconciliation with God can give us true healing, true life, because a life without love and without truth would not be a true life. The Kingdom of God is precisely the presence of truth and love, and thus it is healing in the depths of our being.

Thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus is prolonged in the mission of the Church. Through the sacraments, it is Christ who communicates his life to the multitude of brothers and sisters, as he cures and comforts innumerable sick people through so many activities of health care service that Christian communities promote with fraternal charity, thereby showing the face of God, his love. It is true: How many Christians all over the world -- priests, religious and laypeople -- have given and continue giving their hands, eyes and hearts to Christ, true physician of bodies and souls!

Let us pray for all the ill, especially for those who are most grave, and who can in no way take care of themselves, but depend entirely on the care of others; may every one of them be able to experience, in the solicitude of those who are near to them, the power of the love of God and the richness of his grace that saves us. Mary, health of the sick, pray for us.