Thursday, December 31, 2009

At Year's End: Give Thanks to the Lord of Time and History

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Mary, Mother of God

December 31, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters!

At the end of a year rich in events for the Church and for the world, we are here this evening at the Vatican Basilica to celebrate the First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Mary, Mother of God, and to raise a hymn of thanks to the Lord of time and history.

Above all, it is the words of the Apostle Paul that we heard just now, which throws a particular light on this time of year: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman . . . so that we might receive adoption" (Gal 4,4-5).

This dense Pauline passage speaks to us of "the fullness of time" and enlightens us on the content of the expression. In the story of the human family, God introduced His eternal Word, making it take on humanity like ours. With the Incarnation of the Son of God, eternity entered time, and the history of man was opened to absolute fulfillment in God. Time had been, so to speak, "touched" by Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, and had received new and surprising significances: it had become a time of salvation and grace.

It is precisely in this perspective that we could consider time at year's end, and that which is to come, in order to place the most diverse events of our life -- important or trivial, simple or indecipherable, joyous or sad -- under the sign of salvation and accept the call that God addresses to us to lead us towards a goal that is beyond time itself: eternity.

The Pauline text also underscores the mystery of the nearness of God to all mankind. It is the nearness itself of the mystery of Christmas: God became man, and thereby gave man the unprecedented possibility to become a child of God.

All this fills us with great joy and brings us to raise praises to God. We are called to express with our voices, our hearts and our lives our thanks to the Lord for the gift of His Son, source and fulfillment of all the other gifts with which divine love fills the existence of each of us, of families, of communities, of the Church and of the world.

Singing the Te Deum, which resounds today in Churches around the world, is a sign of the joyous gratitude which we address to God for all that He has given us in Christ. Truly, "from His fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace" (Jn 1,16). . . .

I wish to encourage the faithful to participate in great numbers in the assemblies taking place in their parishes, in order to offer a valid contribution to the edification of the Church. Even today, the Lord wants to make His love for humanity known to the residents of Rome and entrusts to each one, in the diversity of their ministries and responsibilities, the mission of announcing His words of truth and bearing witness through charity and brotherly solidarity.

Only by contemplating the mystery of the Word Incarnate can man find the answers to the great questions of human existence and thus discover the truth of his own identity. Because of this, the Church, in all the world and here in the city, is committed to promoting the integral development of the human being. . . .

For many years, so many families, numerous educators and the parochial communities have been dedicated to helping young people construct their future on solid foundations, particularly on the rock that Jesus Christ is. I hope that this renewed educational commitment may increasingly lead to a fruitful synergy between the church community and the city in order to help young people plan their lives. . . .

In order to be authoritative witnesses to the truth about man, prayerful listening to the Word of God is necessary. In this regard, I wish above all to recommend the ancient tradition of the lectio divina. . . .

The Word -- believed, announced and lived -- urges us to behave with solidarity and sharing. In praising the Lord for the help that the Christian communities have offered with generosity to those who have knocked on their doors, I wish to encourage everyone to follow through with this commitment to alleviate difficulties in which so many families still find themselves due to the economic crisis and unemployment. May the Nativity of the Lord -- which reminds us of the gratuitousness with which God came to save us, in taking on our humanity and giving us His divine life -- help every man and woman of good will to understand that only by opening up to the love of God can human behavior change and be transformed, becoming the yeast for a better future for everyone.

Dear brothers and sisters, Rome needs priests who can be courageous announcers of the Gospel, and at the same time, reveal the merciful face of the Lord. I invite all young people not to be afraid to answer with the complete gift of their own existence the call that the Lord makes for them to follow Him in the way of priesthood or the consecrated life. . . .

As we take leave of the year that is ending and as we face the new year, the liturgy today introduces us to the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Mary, Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin is the Mother of the Church and mother of each of her members, that is, the mother of each of us, in Christ.

Let us ask her to accompany us with her thoughtful protection today and always, so that Christ may welcome us one day, in His glory, to the assembly of saints: Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari (Make them to be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting). Amen!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!

A baby is the salvation of the world.

Merry Christmas to all!

Urbi et Orbi
Christmas 2009

Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Urbi et Orbi - To the City and to the World

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
December 25, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world,
and all men and women, whom the Lord loves!

Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,
quia natus est nobis Dominus
A light will shine on us this day,
the Lord is born for us”

(Roman Missal, Christmas, Entrance Antiphon for the Mass at Dawn)

The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us.

The Bible and the Liturgy do not, however, speak to us about a natural light, but a different, special light, which is somehow directed to and focused upon “us,” the same “us” for whom the Child of Bethlehem “is born." This “us” is the Church, the great universal family of those who believe in Christ, who have awaited in hope the new birth of the Saviour, and who today celebrate in mystery the perennial significance of this event.

At first, beside the manger in Bethlehem, that “us” was almost imperceptible to human eyes. As the Gospel of Saint Luke recounts, it included, in addition to Mary and Joseph, a few lowly shepherds who came to the cave after hearing the message of the Angels. The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light “that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9). And yet all this took place in simplicity and hiddenness, in the way that God works in all of salvation history.

God loves to light little lights, so as then to illuminate vast spaces. Truth and Love, which are its content, are kindled wherever the light is welcomed; they then radiate in concentric circles, as if by contact, in the hearts and minds of all those who, by opening themselves freely to its splendour, themselves become sources of light.

Such is the history of the Church: she began her journey in the lowly cave of Bethlehem, and down the centuries she has become a People and a source of light for humanity. Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the “sign” of His saving and liberating presence and to extend the “us” of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

Wherever there is an “us” which welcomes God’s love, there the light of Christ shines forth, even in the most difficult situations. The Church, like the Virgin Mary, offers the world Jesus, the Son, whom she herself has received as a gift, the One who came to set mankind free from the slavery of sin. Like Mary, the Church does not fear, for that Child is her strength. But she does not keep Him for herself: she offers Him to all those who seek Him with a sincere heart, to the earth’s lowly and afflicted, to the victims of violence, and to all who yearn for peace. Today too, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church, in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with the shepherds: “Let us go to Bethlehem” (Lk 2:15), for there we shall find our hope.

The “us” of the Church is alive in the place where Jesus was born, in the Holy Land, inviting its people to abandon every logic of violence and vengeance, and to engage with renewed vigour and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence. The “us” of the Church is present in the other countries of the Middle East. How can we forget the troubled situation in Iraq and the “little flock” of Christians which lives in the region? At times it is subject to violence and injustice, but it remains determined to make its own contribution to the building of a society opposed to the logic of conflict and the rejection of one’s neighbour. The “us” of the Church is active in Sri Lanka, in the Korean peninsula and in the Philippines, as well as in the other countries of Asia, as a leaven of reconciliation and peace. On the continent of Africa she does not cease to lift her voice to God, imploring an end to every injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo; she invites the citizens of Guinea and Niger to respect for the rights of every person and to dialogue; she begs those of Madagascar to overcome their internal divisions and to be mutually accepting; and she reminds all men and women that they are called to hope, despite the tragedies, trials and difficulties which still afflict them. In Europe and North America, the “us” of the Church urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality, to advance the common good and to show respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn. In Honduras, she is assisting in process of rebuilding institutions; throughout Latin America, the “us” of the Church is a source of identity, a fullness of truth and of charity which no ideology can replace, a summons to respect for the inalienable rights of each person and his or her integral development, a proclamation of justice and fraternity, a source of unity.

In fidelity to the mandate of her Founder, the Church shows solidarity with the victims of natural disasters and poverty, even within opulent societies. In the face of the exodus of all those who migrate from their homelands and are driven away by hunger, intolerance or environmental degradation, the Church is a presence calling others to an attitude of acceptance and welcome. In a word, the Church everywhere proclaims the Gospel of Christ, despite persecutions, discriminations, attacks and at times hostile indifference. These, in fact, enable her to share the lot of her Master and Lord.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how great a gift it is to be part of a communion which is open to everyone! It is the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, from whose heart Emmanuel, Jesus, “God with us,” came into the world. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, let us contemplate, filled with wonder and gratitude, this mystery of love and light!

Happy Christmas to all!

Let us go over to Bethlehem

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

December 24, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"A child is born for us, a son is given to us" (Is 9:5).

What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: "To you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11).

The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly "God with us." No longer is He the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us.

The words of the risen Christ to His followers are addressed also to us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). For you the Savior is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything.

If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received.

What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch -- they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people.

What does this mean?

The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His "self" is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another.

Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which He chooses to guide us; for the many indications of His presence.

There are people who describe themselves as "religiously tone deaf." The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed, our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us "tone deaf" towards Him. And yet, in every soul the desire for God, the capacity to encounter Him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly.

In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear "tone deaf" and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest Himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. Lk 2:3-9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: "‘Let us go over to Bethlehem’ … they went at once" (Lk 2:15f.). "They made haste" is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately.

In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Savior is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste -- they went at once.

In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly, and so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First, we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities, God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think.

The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)." For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone.

God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place -- however important they may be -- so as to make our way towards God, to allow Him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in His name, to our neighbor is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, His neighbours and they can easily go to see Him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us.

We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to Him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: "Come on, ‘let us go over’ to Bethlehem -- to the God who has come to meet us."

Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves, we could not reach Him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now He invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here.

Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards Him, but also along very concrete paths – the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbor, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally, the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh.

The God of whom no image may be made -- because any image would only diminish, or rather distort Him -- this God has Himself become visible in the One who is His true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of His life and ministry, in His dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God Himself. This is what God is like.

The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16).

God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is His humility. God’s sign is that He makes Himself small; He becomes a child; He lets us touch Him and He asks for our love.

How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But His sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, He is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like Him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.

Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood." Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see Him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened.

In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if He did not enter your soul? Let us pray that He may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)."

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Today, in the city of David, a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.

The Word became flesh
and made His dwelling among us,
and we saw His glory,
the glory as of the Father's only Son,
full of grace and truth.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

God Manifests Himself as a Helpless Baby

Catechesis of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, December 23, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters,

With the Novena of Christmas which we have been celebrating these days, the Church invites us to live intensely and profoundly the preparation for the Birth of the Savior, which is now imminent.

The wish that we all have at heart is that the coming Christmas may give us, in the midst of the frenetic activity of our days, a serene and profound joy for being able to touch with our hand the goodness of our God and thereby draw new courage.

To better understand the significance of the Nativity of the Lord, I wish to make a brief reference to the historical origin of this solemnity. Indeed, the liturgical year of the Church as it developed does not start with the birth of Christ, but from faith in his resurrection. That is why the oldest feast of Christianity is not Christmas but Easter.

The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of Christian faith, it is the basis for the announcement of the Gospel, and it gave birth to the Church. Therefore, to be a Christian means to live in the Paschal way, becoming involved in the dynamism that begins with Baptism and leads to our dying to sin in order to live with God (cf. Rom 6:4).

The first to state firmly that Jesus was born on December 25 was Hippolytus of Rome, in his commentary to the Book of the prophet Daniel, written around 204.

Some exegete later noted that that day was also the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, instituted by Judas Maccabeus in 164 B.C. The coincidence would be taken to signify that with Jesus, who appeared in the night as the light of God, the consecration of the temple was truly realized in God's Advent on earth.

In Christianity, the feast of Christmas took a definite form in the fourth century when it took the place of the Roman feast of Sol invictus - the invincible sun. This highlighted the fact that the birth of Christ is the victory of true light over the shadows of evil and sin.

Nonetheless, the particularly intense spiritual atmosphere surrounding Christmas developed during the Middle Ages, thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, who was profoundly enamored of the man Jesus, the God-with-us. His first biographer, Tommaso da Celano, recounts that St. Francis, "above every other solemnity, celebrated with ineffable attentiveness the Birth of the Baby Jesus, calling the day on which God, as a little baby, first suckled on a human breast, the feast of feasts" (Fonti Francescane, n. 199, p. 492).

The famous Christmas celebration in Greccio arose from this special devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation. It was probably inspired by Francis's pilgrimage to the Holy Land and by the manger in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

What animated the Poverello of Assisi was the desire to experience in a concrete, living and actual manner the humble grandeur of the event of Christ's birth and to communicate its joy to everyone.

In his first biography of Francis, Tommaso da Celano describes the night of the creche in Greccio in a vivid and touching manner, making a decisive contribution to the dissemination of the most beautiful of Christmas traditions, the Christmas Nativity Scene. The night in Greccio, in fact, gave back to Christianity the intensity and beauty of Christmas, and educated the People of God to grasp its most authentic message, its special warmth, to love and adore the humanity of Christ.

Such an approach to Christmas gave the Christian faith a new dimension. Easter had focused attention on the power of God who conquers death, inaugurates new life, and teaches hope for the world to come. With St. Francis and his Christmas manger, what comes forth is the helpless love of the infant God, His humility and His goodness, who, in the Incarnation of the Word, shows Himself to men to teach them a new way to live and to love.

Celano recounts that on that Christmas night in Greccio, a miraculous vision was granted to Francis. He saw a small baby lying in the manger who awoke from sleep when Francis came near. Celano adds: "Nor was this vision in discord with the facts because, through the divine grace that acted through His holy servant Francis, the Baby Jesus re-awakened, in the hearts of many who had forgotten Him and was profoundly impressed in their loving memory" (Vita prima, op. cit., n. 86, p. 307).

This picture describes precisely how much Francis's living faith and love for the humanity of Christ contributed to the Christian feast of the Lord's Nativity - the discovery that God revealed Himself in the tender body of the Baby Jesus.

Thanks to St. Francis, Christians have been able to perceive at Christmas that God truly became "Emmanuel," God-with-us, from whom no barrier and no distance separates us. In that Baby, God has become so near to each of us, so close, that we can talk to him familiarly and undertake with him a confidential relationship of profound affection such as we have for a newborn baby.

Indeed, God-Love manifests Himself in that Baby. God comes without weapons, without force, because He does not intend to conquer externally, so to speak, but wishes to be accepted freely by man. God became a helpless baby to conquer pride, violence, and man's desire for possession. In Jesus, God took on this poor and disarming condition to win us over with love and lead us to our true identity.

We must not forget that the greatest title of Jesus Christ is precisely that of "Son," Son of God. Divine dignity is described with a word that extends the memory of the humble condition of the manger in Bethlehem, even as it corresponds in a unique way to His divinity, which is the divinity of the Son.

His condition as a baby also shows us how we can encounter God and enjoy His presence. It is in the light of Christmas that we can understand the words of Jesus: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18,3).

He who has not understood the mystery of Christmas has not understood the decisive element of Christian existence. He who who does not receive Jesus with the heart of a child cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. This is what Francis wanted to remind the Christians in his time and of all times, up to the present.

Let us pray to the Father so that He may grant to our hearts that simplicity which recognizes the Lord in the Baby, just as Francis did in Greccio. Then we too may experience what Tommaso da Celano - recallingthe experience of the shepherds on that Holy Night (cf. Lk 2,20) - tells us about those who were present in Greccio: "Everyone went home filled with ineffable joy" (Vita prima, op. cit., n. 86, p. 479).

This is the wish that I express with affection to all of you, your families and others dear to you. A merry Christmas to all!

After this address in Italian, Pope Benedict said in English:

In these last days before Christmas, the Church invites us to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s Birth and to experience the joy and hope which the newborn Saviour brings into our world. Gazing on the Christ Child lying in the manger, we contemplate the love of a God who humbly asks us to welcome Him into our hearts and into our world.

By coming among us as a helpless Child, God conquers our hearts not by force, but by love, and thus teaches us the way to authentic freedom, peace and fulfilment.

This Christmas, may the Lord grant us simplicity of heart, so that we may recognize His presence and love in the lowly Babe of Bethlehem, and, like the shepherds, return to our homes filled with ineffable joy and gladness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why Did God Become Man? (part two)

The name Jesus (Joshua or Yeshua in Hebrew) means "God saves."

We have need of a savior, of course, because of mankind rejecting God. Early on, Adam and Eve, not satisfied with being mere creatures, ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge because they wanted to be like gods themselves. It was this Original Sin that ushered in death -- real death, eternal death -- because the very nature of sin is to separate us from God, who is Life itself. Consequently, because He loves us, God sent us His only Son, Jesus Christ, who is the salvation of the world.

The irony of Adam and Eve sinning by wanting to be like gods (which ultimately is the root of every sin that we commit) is that it didn't have to be that way. It did not have to be a sin. The irony is that God Himself wants us to be like gods!

As St. Athanasius wrote, "The Son of God became man so that we might become God." (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei 54, 3: PG 25, 192B) Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods." (Opusc. 57, 1-4)

The problem is that we (mankind) wanted and want to be gods on our own terms. We want to be gods by our own will, by our own doing. We want our divinity to be self-actualized, without the involvement of He who is already God.

God does want us to be "gods," but He wants us to be gods on His terms, He wants us to be gods by His doing. Not because He is a "jealous God" who can't bear to have competition, but because He is Truth. He is the One and only God, thus, only He can make us like "gods."

For us to be gods on our own, by our own doing (or for us to be our own saviors, to attain salvation all by our own merits) would not be consistent with truth, it would be a lie, it would be contrary to the very idea of God. No, to be true, man can become gods only by the action of the God who is Truth.

We can become gods only by God joining us to Himself, by Him taking us unto Himself in the entirety of our being -- our soul joined to His Spirit, our body joined to His Body -- so that we are in Him and He is in us to such a degree that we truly are a loving communion of persons, no longer separate and apart, but two become one, not merely in a symbolic or poetic sense, but in a very real, authentic and true sense.

"Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect," Jesus said. Only God is perfect, but by joining fully in communion with Him, in allowing ourselves to be truly sanctified by the Spirit of Sanctification, we can be made perfect as commanded by Jesus. The Lord does not demand the impossible of us, He makes the "impossible" possible. He makes us imperfect humans perfect, He -- and only He -- makes us like gods.

Why did God become man? "The Son of God became man so that we might become God."

(coming soon -- Part three)

Why did God become man?

In his book, The Belief of Catholics, Msgr. Ronald Knox writes, "God became Man in order that, dying, he might atone for our sins, and win us the graces normally necessary to the attainment of salvation."

There is absolutely nothing unusual or extraordinary about this statement. It is one hundred percent absolutely fundamental true Church doctrine.

That being said, reading it made me wonder -- if Adam and Eve had never sinned, if all of mankind was still totally innocent, even frolicking fancy free in the Garden (with no shame), would God still have become man?

Certainly He would not do so for salvation purposes, but could there be another reason that God became man?

It seems to me that He would have. Salvation is not the only reason for Emmanuel, God with us. It seems that He because man also because He loves us and wanted to join us to Him more fully.

Pope Benedict speaks of the Annunciation as a marriage proposal. There is something in that -- that Jesus wanted to "marry" humanity. God wanted to establish, not merely a parental relationship with us, but a spousal relationship as well, a loving communion of persons that is both unitive and fruitful. In love, He wanted to join fully with humanity, not merely spiritually, which is only partially, but in the fullness of our being, spirit and body, two become one, wholly apart from the issue of salvation.

(See also CCC 458, 460)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Celebration of Vespers with Roman University Students

December 17, 2009

Eminent Cardinals,
Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear brothers and sisters:

What wisdom was born in Bethlehem? This is the question I wish to pose to myself and to you at this traditional pre-Christmas encounter with the Roman university world. Today, instead of Holy Mass, we celebrate Vespers together, and the happy coincidence with the start of the Christmas novena will lead us shortly to sing the first of the so-called Major Antiphons:

"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come and show your people the way to salvation
(Liturgy of the Hours, Vespers for Dec. 17)

This stupendous invocation is addressed to 'Wisdom', the central figure in the Books of the Proverbs - Wisdom and Ecclesiastes - which are therefore called the 'wisdom books' and in which Christian tradition sees a prefiguration of Christ.

Such an invocation becomes truly stimulating and even provocative, when we are in front of the manger, that is, before the paradox of a Wisdom which, having come out "of the mouth of the Most High', lies wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger (cfr Lk 2,7,12,16).

We can already anticipate the answer to our initial question: what was born in Bethlehem is the Wisdom of God. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, uses this expression: "God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden" (1 Cor 2,7), that is, in a divine plan which remained hidden a long time and which God himself revealed in the story of salvation.

In the fullness of time, this Wisdom took on a human face, the face of Jesus, who - as the Apostolic Creed says - "was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, descended into hell, the third day arose from the dead, ascended into heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead".

The Christian paradox consists precisely in the identification of divine Wisdom, the Eternal Logos, with the man Jesus of Nazareth and his story. There is no solution to this paradox outside of the word 'Love', which in this case must be written with a capital L, because it is a Love that infinitely surpasses human and historical dimensions.

Therefore, the Wisdom that we invoke this evening is the Son of God himself, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity. It is the Word, which, as we read in the Prologue to John's Gospel, "was in the beginning with God", and "was God", who with the Father and the Holy Spirit created all things and who "became flesh" to reveal the God that no one had ever seen (cfr Jn 1,2-3.14.18).

Dear friends, a Christian professor, or a young Christian student, carries in himself passionate love for this Wisdom! Read everything in his light; take hold of him in elementary particles and the verses of poets, in juridical codes and the events of history, in artistic works and in mathematical expressions.

Without him, nothing came to be (cfr Jn 1,3), and therefore in every created reality, one can see his reflection, obviously in different degrees and modalities.

Everything that can be received by the human intelligence is possible because in some way and to some measure, they are part of creative Wisdom. And so, in the ultimate analysis, it is the possibility itself of study, of research, of scientific dialog in every field of knowledge.

At this point, I cannot avoid a reflection that is perhaps rather discomforting, but useful for us who are here and who belong for the most part to the academic field.

Let us ask ourselves: on Christmas night, who were there at the cave in Bethlehem? Who welcomed Wisdom at its birth? Who ran to see him, acknowledged and adored him?

Not doctors of the law, scribes or sages. There were Mary and Joseph, and then the shepherds. What does it mean? Jesus would say one day: "Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will" (Mt 11,26): you have revealed your mystery to the little ones [cfr Mt 11,25).

But does it not serve anything then to study? Is it outright harmful, counter-productive to knowing the truth? The history of 2000 years of Christianity excludes this last hypothesis and suggests to us the right answer: that one must study and deepen one's knowledge while keeping a 'childlike' spirit, a humble and simple spirit, like that of Mary, Seat of Wisdom.

How many times have we feared to approach the cave in Bethlehem because we have been concerned that this would be an obstacle to our critical faculties and our 'modernity'! Instead, if we came near, then each of us can discover the truth about God and that human being: they met in that baby, born of the Virgin Mary. Man's yearning for eternal life had softened the heart of God who did not recoil to take on the human condition.

Dear friends, to help others discover the true face of God is the first form of charity, which for you assumes the form of intellectual charity. I have noted with pleasure that the theme for the diocesan pastoral ministry in the universities this year is "The Eucharist and intellectual charity" - a demanding but appropriate choice.

In fact, in every Eucharistic celebration, God enters history in Jesus Christ, in his Word and his Body, giving us that charity which allows us to serve man in his concrete existence.

The project "A culture for the city" offers a promising proposition of Christ's presence in the cultural field. So while I hope that your pastoral course will be fruitful, I must also invite all the universities to be places of formation for authentic workers in intellectual charity. The future of society will depend largely on them, especially in the elaboration of a new humanistic synthesis and a new capacity to apply it (cfr Enc. Caritas in Veritate, 21).

I encourage all the responsible officials in academic institutions to proceed together, collaborating in the construction of communities in which all young people are formed to become mature and responsible men who can realize the 'civilization of love'.

At the end of this celebration, an Australian university delegation will turn over to an African delegation the icon of Mary Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of wisdom). Let us entrust to the Blessed Virgin all the university students on the African continent, along with the commitment for cooperation which in the months following the Special Synodal Assembly for Africa, has been developing between the universities of Rome and Africa.

I renew my encouragement for this new prospect of cooperation and I hope that it may give rise to cultural projects that are able to promote the integral development of man.

Dear friends, may the coming Christmas bring joy and hope to you, your families and the entire university community in Rome and around the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Venerable John Paul II


Oggi, 19 dicembre 2009, il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI ha ricevuto in Udienza privata S.E. Mons. Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefetto della Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi. Nel corso dell’Udienza il Santo Padre ha autorizzato la Congregazione a promulgare i Decreti riguardanti:

- le virtù eroiche del Servo di Dio Giovanni Paolo II (Carlo Wojtyła), Sommo Pontefice; nato il 18 maggio 1920 a Wadowice (Polonia) e morto a Roma il 2 aprile 2005

I do not speak or read Italian, so I am guessing at this translation --


Today, 19 December 2009, the Holy Father Benedict XVI has received in private audience S.E. Mons. Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In the course of the audience, the Holy Father has authorized the Congregation to promulgate decrees regarding:

- the heroic virtue of the Servant of God John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla), Supreme Pontiff; born 18 May 1920 in Wadowice (Poland) and died in Rome 2 April 2005

Deo Gratias!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Prayer and Baby Jesus

Law professor Ann Althouse blogs today about prayer, specifically commenting on (a) a mother who tweeted to followers to pray for her son who had fallen into the pool and later died, and (b) a couple of contestants on Survivor who had "prayed" to God for victory in some stupid game involving coconuts.

They started praying to God for victory. Like God should pay attention to whether coconuts are falling. I know Jesus said that God pays attention to every sparrow that falls, but he said nothing about coconuts. Or who wins on "Survivor." . . .
Why would God help you win games? And, for that matter, why would God save a dying boy based on whether he had someone who knew he was dying and thought prayer might help? Why wouldn't He be irritated that you imagine him making decisions like that?

With respect to the Survivor contestants, and a comment that "God answers every prayer - it’s just that sometimes we don't like the answer," I responded:

Regarding inappropriate "prayer" by idiots who cause scandal by their coconut idiocy while claiming to be Christian --

Notwithstanding the widespread assertion that God listens to and answers every prayer, but sometimes says "no" -- actually, sometimes He does pay no attention. God is under no obligation to listen to or answer a "prayer" that borders on being blasphemous by being so improper and inappropriate. Consider what happened when Herod effectively prayed that Jesus perform tricks for him --

"When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. From what he had heard about Him, he hoped to see Him perform some miracle. He plied Him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer." -- Luke 23:8-9

Jesus, that is, God, gave Herod the attention he deserved -- none.

Even when the person praying is doing so respectfully, humbly, and in good faith, God sometimes purposely does not answer. In the case of one making a good faith prayer, He may listen, but He might not respond, at least not right away. We have only to look at not a few of the great saints who have experienced the "dark night of the soul" to understand this. Sometimes, God will withdraw. You may call out, "God? Are you there?" And receive nothing but silence in return. It does not mean that God has abandoned you. Sometimes, He will withdraw so that you might go looking for Him.

With respect to the mother whose son tragically died, and in response to the bigger question in the comments as to the efficacy of prayer, "Where does prayer fit in? Can God change things on the fly?" I responded:

Regarding prayer for the life or health, etc., of another person --

No, prayer has no effect, and
Yes, prayer does have an effect.

(1) On the one hand, God is going to do what He is going to do, such that He does not change His mind, but that is because, being eternal, He has already done it. God exists outside of time, so that whatever might happen in our future has already happened for Him. All of human time is in God's present. One consequence of that is that Jesus was not simply crucified 2000 years ago, rather, He is perpetually hanging on the Cross. Another consequence is that He knows what will happen because it has already happened.

Moreover, God being perfect, does not make mistakes. To change one's mind is to say, to some extent that one was wrong before.

So, in these senses, prayer does not lead to God to do something, like save someone's life, if He was not going to already do it.

(2) On the other hand, prayer does have an effect because God made us as social beings, He made us to exist, not in isolation, not in individualistic solitude, but in communion -- in communion not only with Him, but if each of us is one with Him, we are necessarily one with each other. Although God, and God alone, provides us salvation (in Christ), and although He is all-powerful, dependent upon none, He has chosen to need the assistance of humanity to accomplish the work of salvation. God has chosen not to do it all by Himself -- He wants our help. He wants us to participate in saving others by, among other things, praying for them, which has the transcendent effect of joining all the faithful together as one in communion with God.

Indeed, in these days before Christmas, we see that God has very much chosen to need the help and participation of humanity in saving others. We see this in the very fact that He depended upon Mary for His very life, and depended upon her and Joseph to raise Jesus.

In like way, God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, needs our help as well. The Jesus who saves by the Cross and Resurrection is always the Baby Jesus as well. The Baby Jesus who requires us to help Him.

Prayer for other people helps Him. Not because He needs our help, but because He wants our help. He wants that help, He wants us to love one another and care about the welfare of one another.

So, yes, pray for others.

UPDATE (8 p.m.)

Jan: are you implying by what you say in comment number 2, that we are only to pray as an academic exercise? What's the point in praying for someone/something if there is no chance for the outcome we desire?
It almost seems as though you are introducing 'fate' into the mix. Doesn't our free will have anything to do with this besides prompting us to be 'good,' day to day? Again, why pray for something that has already been decided?

No, prayer is not at all an academic exercise. God might do X only because we have prayed for X. However, being eternal, God already knows what happens before it happens. So, He knew not only what He was going to do, He already knew that we would pray for X. If we didn't pray for X, the God might not have done X, but He knows that too before we pray it. Either way, God already knowing what we are going to do before we do it doesn't detract from our free choice of the will.

A similar discussion was held at Commonweal some time back. As I said there:

If you pray for a sick person, does that move God to heal him or her, or is that something that He would have done anyway? Does prayer have any real effect on God?

Yes and no.

No. It does not have any real effect on what God is going to do in the sense that, being timeless, God already knows what He is going to do (from the human temporal perspective) and, indeed, has already done (from God’s out-of-time perspective). However, God not only knows what He is going to do before you pray for it, He also knows that you are going to make that prayer (or not). Thus –

Yes. God already knowing that you are going to make that prayer before He does what He is going to do does indeed have an effect on what does. If you do not make the prayer, as you might if reality were something other than what it is, which He would already know before you do not do it, then He might very well not do what He might have done had the prayer been made. With the prayer for the sick, which He already knows, He heals. However, if there were “an alternate reality” where the prayer is not made, He would not.

Being eternal and transcendent of time, so that everything that has ever happened and ever will happen in the human timeline is in God’s present, all of time being a singularity, the fact that He already knows and has already done it does not mean that what we have prayed for did not play a factor in whether it was done or not.

Whether God has in fact intervened in a given situation and altered what would have happened if He had not intervened is ultimately a matter of faith. It cannot be submitted to the scientific method. God cannot be put under the microscope. Either one believes that a healing was miraculous or he doesn’t. “All I know is that I was blind, and now I see.”

Consider the matter of grace.

Grace is a gift. But the gift of grace from God is not an action. It is a transaction. God does not unilaterally confer grace upon someone. That would be an imposition contrary to love.

Rather, for grace to be conferred, (1) you must ask God for it and, once offered, (2) you must accept the gift. If you don’t ask and you don’t accept, you ain’t getting it. It is a two-way street, a bi-lateral communication. Even if only in a de minimus manner, if that is all you are capable of at that time, you must ask or otherwise indicate your willingness to accept if offered.

There are conditions precedent to some of God’s actions. You must ask and/or accept before He will do it. It is not a case of God merely doing what He would have done anyway. Without your doing that condition precedent, He would not have done it, even if He does know what the ultimate outcome is before it happens. God already knew that Mary would say “yes,” but that does not mean that her “yes” was not required before the Holy Spirit would come upon her.

The real difficulty here, or rather, the root difficulty here, it seems to me, is not the matter of free will or the matter of God's will, but the mystery of the eternal God. In the area of prayer, we run smack dab into the mystery of eternity.

We live in linear time and space. On the other hand, God lives in eternity. For Him, time is not linear. Rather, for Him, all time is now. All time is one. He is not billions of years old, even though the universe is billions of years old. Rather, God is ever new.

It is much easier to comprehend Jesus, who entered into human history, who entered into human time. For Jesus, while He was on earth, there was a yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And He subjected Himself to the limitations of humanity. He could "change" His mind in the temporal sense. He could be surprised. At the "same time," when He wanted to, He could access His divinity so as to know what was going to happen before it happened, as He apparently did in the case of the betrayal by Judas. But even though He knew what Judas was going to do, still Judas had the free will to do it or to not do it.

Even if we were to take God out of the picture and look at it from a purely secular scientific perspective, temporal mechanics will end up hurting your head. We can grasp a little of it, and it might make a little bit of sense, but much of it we simply need to acknowledge and move on. Time is a mystery. Reality is a mystery. And God is the biggest mystery of all.

Suffice to say, getting back to the main point -- Baby Jesus. God doesn't need our help, but He wants our help. He has chosen to depend upon us, including in the work of salvation. He has chosen to make this a group effort. Or, if you will, a family effort. The Almighty does not need our help, but He asks for it anyway. And if we do not provide that help, it isn't going to be done. That is one of the main points of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

If Mary didn't help God; if Mary didn't say "yes" and carry Jesus in her womb, and raise Him and teach Him and feed Him and clothe Him and shelter Him, the salvation of the world would have never come. God chose to need her. God chooses to need us. If we do not do things like pray, it might not get done. That God already knows what we will do and what He will do does not detract from that. We need to help. We need to pray.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Baby at the Center of Everything

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus, Sunday, 13 December 2009

It is a beautiful tradition that, on this Sunday, the children of Rome come to have the Pope bless little statues of Baby Jesus, which they will place in their crèches. And, indeed, I see many children and young people, together with their parents, teachers and catechists here in St. Peter's Square.

Dear friends, I greet all of you with great affection and I thank all of you for having come. It is a cause of joy for me to know that in your families you continue the custom of making the crèche. But it is not enough to repeat a traditional gesture, however important. It is necessary to try to live every day what the crèche represents, that is, Christ's love, His humility, His poverty. That is what St. Francis did at Greccio: He represented the scene of the Nativity to try to contemplate and adore it, but above all to know better how to put into practice the message of the Son of God, who left everything behind and became a little child out of love for us.

The blessing of the "babies" -- as one says in Rome -- reminds us that the crèche is a school of life, where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having a lot of things, but in feeling loved by the Lord, in making oneself a gift for others, in loving.

We look at the crèche: The Madonna and St. Joseph do not seem to be a very fortunate family; they had their first child in the midst of great hardships; and yet they are full of deep joy. Because they love each other, they help each other and above all they are certain that God is at work in their history, God who made Himself present in the little Jesus.

And the shepherds? What reason would they have to rejoice? That newborn certainly would not change the facts of poverty and marginalization in their lives. But faith helps them to recognize in the "child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" the "sign" of the accomplishment of God's promises for all men, "whom He loves" (Luke 2:12, 14), even them!

Behold, dear friends, what true joy consists in: It is feeling that our personal and communal existence is visited and filled by a great mystery, the mystery of God's love.

To be joyful, we do not just have need of things, but love and truth
: We need a God who is near, who warms our heart, and responds to our profound desires. This God is manifested in Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. This is why that Baby, whom we place in the stable or the cave, is the center of everything, the heart of the world.

Let us pray that every person, like the Virgin Mary, may welcome into the center of their lives the God who became a Child, font of true joy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaudete! Rejoice in the Lord for He is Near at Hand.

Luke 3:15-18 -

Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
The Baptist answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but One mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in His hand to clear His threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into His barn,
but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people.

Born into the priestly class as a descendant of Aaron, John the Baptist would have been instructed in priestly duties and would have known the Temple well. Indeed, his very birth was announced by God's messenger to his father in the Temple when he was serving as priest. However, instead of serving in the Temple, John's ministry was conducted in the desert, where the people of Israel began after being led out of bondage in Egypt and where the Lord appeared to them and made His covenant with them.

There was a reason that John went out into the desert wilderness. In order to see him, the people were required to return to that desert. And there was a reason that John baptized in the Jordan River, the place where the people of Israel had crossed into the promised land, led by Joshua. John's ministry and baptism of repentence was a call for the people to reaffirm their identity, to reaffirm their fidelity to God, by going back into the desert, where they relied totally on God for their very sustenance and survival, so as to symbolically reenter the Promised Land through water, leaving behind sin and death. It was a new Exodus, but instead of bondage in Egypt, they were led out of the bondage of sin and death into new life.

Jesus of Nazareth (2007)
Chapter One
Pope Benedict XVI

The Baptist’s appearance on the scene was something completely new. The Baptism that he enjoined is different from the usual religious ablutions. It cannot be repeated, and it is meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever. It is connected with an ardent call to a new way of thinking and acting, but above all with the proclamation of God’s judgment and with the announcement that one greater than John is to come. The Fourth Gospel tells us that the Baptist “did not know” (cf. Jn 1:30-33) this greater personage whose way he was to prepare. But he does know that his own role is to prepare a path for this mysterious Other, that his whole mission is directed toward him. * * *

We can imagine the extraordinary impression that the figure and message of John the Baptist must have produced in the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem at that particular moment of history. At last there was a prophet again, and his life marked him out as such. God’s hand was at last plainly acting in history again. John baptizes with water, but one even greater, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, is already at the door. Given all this, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that Mark is exaggerating when he reports that “there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mk 1:5). John’s baptism includes the confession of sins. * * * The goal is truly to leave behind the sinful life one has led until now and to start out on the path to a new, changed life.

The actual ritual of Baptism symbolizes this. On one hand, immersion into the waters is a symbol of death, which recalls the death symbolism of the annihilating, destructive power of the ocean flood. The ancient mind perceived the ocean as a permanent threat to the cosmos, to the earth; it was the primeval flood that might submerge all life. The river (Jordan) could also assume this symbolic value for those who were immersed in it. But the flowing waters of the river are above all a symbol of life. The great rivers—the Nile, the Euphrates, the Tigris—are the great givers of life. The Jordan, too, is—even today—a source of life for the surrounding region. Immersion in the water is about purification, about liberation from the filth of the past that burdens and distorts life—it is about beginning again, and that means it is about death and resurrection, about starting life over again anew. So we could say that it is about rebirth. * * *


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Patroness of the Americas and Protector of the Unborn

O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church,
you reveal your clemency and your pity
to all those who ask for your protection.
Hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust,
and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer.

Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice,
to you, who come to meet us sinners,
we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love.
We also dedicate to you our life, our work,
our joys, our infirmities and our sorrows.

Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples;
for we entrust to your care all that we have
and all that we are, our Lady and Mother.
We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you
along the way of complete faithfulness
to Jesus Christ in His Church;
hold us always with your loving hand.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas,
we pray to you for all the Bishops,
that they may lead the faithful
along paths of intense Christian life,
of love and humble service of God and souls.

Contemplate this immense harvest,
and intercede with the Lord
that He may instill a hunger for holiness
in the whole people of God,
and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious,
strong in the faith
and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.

Grant to our homes
the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings,
with the same love with which you conceived in your womb
the life of the Son of God.

Blessed Virgin Mary,
protect our families,
so that they may always be united,
and bless the upbringing of our children.

Our hope,
look upon us with compassion,
teach us to go continually to Jesus
and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him,
by means of the confession of our faults and sins
in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul.

We beg you to grant us a great love
for all the holy Sacraments, which are,
as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth.

Thus, Most Holy Mother,
with the peace of God in our conscience,
with our hearts free from evil and hatred,
we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace,
which come to us from your son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit,
lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

--Prayer of His Holiness Pope John Paul II

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hanukkah and the Light of Christ
The Rededication of the Temple and the Festival of Lights

Hanukkah begins today, December 11, 2009, at sundown.

The Jewish Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was instituted in the year 165 B.C. It is celebrated annually as a memorial of the rededication of the Temple with a new altar and purification of the sanctuary. Three years earlier, Antiochus Epiphanes had caused a pagan altar to be set up at the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple and sacrifices to be offered to his idol, called "Zeus Olympius."

The Maccabean revolt followed, led by Judas Maccabeus (Yehuda HaMakabi, "Judah the Hammer"). After many battles, the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple were recovered.

1 Maccabees 4:36-59
Judas Maccabeus and his brothers said, "Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it." So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion. They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts as in a forest or on some mountain, and the priests' chambers demolished.

Then they tore their clothes and made great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes and fell with their faces to the ground. And when the signal was given with trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Judas appointed men to attack those in the citadel, while he purified the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests, devoted to the law; these purified the sanctuary and carried away the stones of the Abomination to an unclean place.

They deliberated what ought to be done with the altar of holocausts that had been desecrated. The happy thought came to them to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar. They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple hill, until a prophet should come and decide what to do with them.

Then they took uncut stones, according to the law, and built a new altar like the former one. They also repaired the sanctuary and the interior of the temple and purified the courts. They made new sacred vessels and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these illuminated the temple. They also put loaves on the table and hung up curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts that they had made. On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals. All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests' chambers and furnished them with doors. There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev. (see also 2 Macc 1:18-2:19; 10:1-8)
Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration", is also known as the Festival of Lights due to a miracle that allowed the Eternal Light of the Temple to burn for eight days, even though there was only enough oil to last one day.

This miracle is recounted in the Talmud (Shabbat 2),
The rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, Hanukkah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting (in commemoration of the dead) and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Asmoneans prevailed and conquered them, oil was sought (to feed the holy lamp in the sanctuary) and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and it fed the holy lamp eight days in succession. These eight days were the following year established as days of good cheer, on which psalms of praise and acknowledgment (of God's wonders) were to be recited.
The Eternal Light of the Temple represented God's everlasting presence, just as the sanctuary lamp placed before the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament in Catholic churches are kept lit to indicate and honour the presence of Christ. In the synagogue, a perpetual lamp signifies the Lord's presence in the Torah, the Word of God.

Although a Jewish holiday -- one celebrated by Jesus -- Hanukkah can also be a time for Christians to remember that it is God Himself who is a Light that is everlasting and can never be extinguished. These days of rededication and the manifestation of God's eternal light remind us that evil will be defeated and, even if the evil has defiled the good in the meantime, God cannot be defeated. His light is everlasting. More than light from oil, which runs out, His is the Eternal Light which cannot be extinguished. Thus, this is a time of hope.

It is fitting, then, that the Lord -- God from God, Light from Light -- should be born and revealed to the world during this time of celebration of the Light.
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. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Creation and the Fall of Mankind

Seventh Grade CCD
Class Three Outline

A. Creation

1. “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen”
(a) creation of universe ex nihilo (out of nothing) and ab initio temporis (at the beginning of time)
(b) creation of angels
(c) creation of mankind
(d) the universe, angels, and human beings are not accidental or arbitrary products of chance, but willed by God
(e) Divine Providence – God sustaining what He has created

B. The Creation and Nature of Man (CCC 355-421, 1846-1876)

1. Who and What is “Man”?
(a) created by God in Love and Truth, contingent and dependent upon Him
(b) Man – male and female, equal and complementary – is made in the image of the Triune God
(c) “not good for the man to be alone” – emptiness of individual solitude
-- (i) social-relational beings, incomplete in ourselves, in need of an other and Other in order to be true to ourselves
-- (ii) meant to exist both in general society and in a specific loving communion of persons
(d) body and soul, having one nature of matter and spirit, which is temporal and transcendent
(e) a human being is a person – a free subject with an inherent dignity, not an object or thing, possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love
(f) God does not force His love or truth on us against our will – God does not even save us without our consent, we are free to choose to return His love or to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him
(g) the existence of free will means that we are morally responsible for our own willful choices

2. What is the Meaning of Life?
(a) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself”
(b) love one another, as Jesus loves us, so too should we love one another
(c) God reveals meaning of life in scripture and in our very bodies, male and female
(d) we are made to love and be loved in truth
-- (i) made in the image of the Triune God, who is Love and Truth, this love is not merely relational, but spousal in nature, a love which is unitive and fruitful (procreative)

C. The Fall of Mankind

1. Original Sin
(a) sin – Original and personal – necessarily is in opposition to God, who is Truth and Love
(b) More than merely disobeying God, Adam and Eve erroneously believed that they did not need God, but could be gods themselves with the power to choose their own truth, their own concepts of right and wrong. Mankind effectively rejected God.
-- (i) this Original Sin has affected and infected us all, leaving a stain on our very being
-- (ii) the stain of Original Sin cannot be removed by our own efforts, but requires the transformative power of God, which we receive in Baptism

2. The Consequences of Original (and Personal) Sin
(a) a wide gulf of separation between humanity and God was created, so great that human beings are incapable of crossing it on his own
(b) death – ultimately, sin so removes us from Truth and Love, that is, Life, that we are “doomed to die”
(c) corruption of human nature, including ability to love and discern truth
(d) weakened will and impairment of reason, judgment, and ability to see and know God, rejection of Light has thrown us into darkness
(e) intrinsic punishment of being a slave to error and further sin, and temptations overwhelm us
(f) poisons relations not only with God, but other humans as well – instead of living a life of love and truth toward others, mankind has lived a life of selfish self-gratification and exploitation of others; instead of harmony, there is discord
-- (i) Adam and Eve – each blames the other
-- (ii) Cain and Abel – Cain murders his brother
-- (iii) Tower of Babel – the sin of mankind led to social disunity and division – (compare this with sanctification by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost leading to social unity)

3. Mankind forgets knowledge of God
(a) Humanity fell so far away from God that eventually we forgot all about the truth of God. Instead of knowing the truth of who and what God is, mankind embraced all sorts of false ideas and religious practices, including –
-- (i) polytheism – belief in multiple gods and goddesses, often limited to places, actions, etc.
-- (ii) animism – belief in animal gods/spirits, etc.
-- (iii) idol worship
-- (iv) appeasement (including human sacrifice)
-- (v) divinity of worldly rulers

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

St. Juan Diego, son of Santa Maria de Guadalupe
Feast Day December 9

It is indisputable that the Aztec empire had made many remarkable architectural and artistic accomplishments. However, the Aztecs most striking and remarkable features were, perhaps, the practice of human sacrifice and slavery. While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, if their own accounts are to be believed, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. Some estimate the number of persons sacrificed in central Mexico in the 15th century as high as 250,000 per year.

The Aztecs had 18 festivities each year, one for each Aztec month, and in those festivities sacrifices were made. Each god required a different kind of victim: young women were drowned for Xilonen; children were sacrificed to Tláloc; Nahuatl-speaking prisoners to Huitzilopochtli, and a single Nahua would volunteer for Tezcatlipoca.

One contemporary report gives this description:

“They strike open the wretched Indian's chest with flint knives and hastily tear out the palpitating heart which, with the blood, they present to the idols . . . They cut off the arms, thighs and head, eating the arms and thighs at ceremonial banquets. The head they hang up on a beam, and the body is given to the beasts of prey.”

For the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs recounted that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself. Four tables were arranged at the top so that the victims could be jettisoned down the sides of the temple pyramid.

It was into this bloody culture of death that one Cuauhtlatoatzin was born, in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, about 14 miles north of Tenochtitlan, which is present-day Mexico City. His given birth name could be translated as “One who talks like an eagle” or “eagle that talks,” but he took the name "Juan Diego" upon being converted to Christianity and baptized when he was about 50 years old, the Spanish having brought Christ to the New World a few years earlier.

In December 1531, Juan Diego was walking through the Tepayac hill country in central Mexico when he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady identified herself,

"My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard."

When Juan Diego asked the lady her name, she responded in his native language of Nahuatl, "Tlecuatlecupe," which means "the one who crushes the head of the serpent" (a clear reference to Genesis 3:15 and perhaps to the prominent symbol of the Aztec religion). "Tlecuatlecupe" when correctly pronounced, sounds remarkably similar to "Guadalupe." Juan, who had never been to Tenochtitlan, nonetheless immediately responded to Mary's request. Bishop Zumarraga told Juan that he would consider the request.

Juan returned to the hill and found the Lady there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded,

"My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen."

She then told him to return the next day to the bishop and repeat the request. On Sunday, after again waiting for hours, Juan met with the bishop who, on re-hearing his story, asked him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was. Juan dutifully returned to the hill and told Mary. She responded,

"My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son."

Unfortunately, Juan was not able to return to the hill the next day. His uncle had become mortally ill and Juan stayed with him to care for him. After two days, with his uncle near death, Juan left his side to find a priest. Juan had to pass Tepayac Hill to get to the priest. As he was passing, he found Mary waiting for him. She spoke,

"Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me."

While it was freezing on the hillside, Juan obeyed Mary's instructions and went to the top of the hill where he found a full bloom of Castilian roses. Removing his tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, he cut the roses and carried them back to Mary. She rearranged the roses and told him,

"My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him."

At the palace, Juan once again came before the bishop. He opened the tilma, letting the flowers fall out. But it wasn't the beautiful roses that caused the bishop and his advisors to fall to their knees; for there, on the tilma, was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely as Juan had described her.

The next day, after showing the tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle,

"Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe."

Within six years of the apparitions, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism, and thereby rejected their previous culture of death. The tilma shows Mary as the God-bearer -- she is pregnant with her Divine Son.

Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, it has been subject to a variety of environmental hazards including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods and torrential downpours and, in 1921, a bomb which was planted by anti-clerical forces on an altar under it. There was also a cast-iron cross next to the tilma and when the bomb exploded, the cross was twisted out of shape, the marble altar rail was heavily damaged and the tilma was...untouched! Indeed, no one was injured in the Church despite the damage that occurred to a large part of the altar structure.

In 1977, the tilma was examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike any painting, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting. Further, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production. It can be seen today in a large basilica built to house up to 10,000 worshipers. A list of miracles, cures and interventions are attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yearly, an estimated 10 million visit her Basilica, making it the most visited Catholic church in the world next to the Vatican.

Lord God, through St. Juan Diego you made known the love of Our Lady of Guadalupe toward your people. Grant by his intercession that we who follow the counsel of Mary, our Mother, may strive continually to do your will. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

See also, Vatican biography of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin

Official Site for the Cause of St. Juan Diego

Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mary Immaculate -- Purity Personified

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Monument to the Immacolata, Piazza di Spagna

December 8, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the heart of Christian cities, Mary constitutes a sweet and reassuring presence. With her discreet style she gives everyone peace and hope in happy and sad moments of life. In the churches, in the chapels, on the walls of palaces: a painting, a mosaic, a statue recalls the presence of the Mother who constantly watches over her children.

Also here, in Piazza di Spagna, Mary is placed on high, almost to watch over Rome.

What does Mary say to the city? Of what does she remind everyone with her presence?

She reminds that "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20) -- as the Apostle Paul writes. She is the Immaculate Mother who repeats also to the men of our time: Do not be afraid, Jesus has conquered evil; he has conquered it at the root, freeing us from its dominion.

How much we have need of this beautiful news! Every day, in fact, through newspapers, the television and the radio, evil is recounted, repeated, amplified, accustoming us to the most horrible things, making us become insensitive and, in some way, intoxicating us, because the negative is not fully disposed of and accumulates day after day. The heart hardens and thoughts become dark. Because of this, the city has need of Mary, who with her presence speaks to us of God, reminds us of the victory of grace over sin, and induces us to hope even in humanly more difficult situations.

In the city live - or survive - invisible persons, who every now and then leap onto the front page or on television screens, and are exploited to the end, so that the news and the image attract attention. It is a perverse mechanism, to which unfortunately one finds it hard to resist. The city first hides and then exhibits to the public, without pity, or with false pity. There is instead in every man the desire to be received as a person and considered a sacred reality, because every human history is a sacred history, and requires the greatest respect.

The city, dear brothers and sisters, is all of us! Each one contributes to its life and its moral climate, for good or evil. In the heart of every one of us passes the boundary between good and evil, and not one of us should feel the right to judge others, but rather each one must feel the duty to improve himself!

The mass media tends to make us feel always as "spectators," as if evil refers only to others, and certain things could never happen to us. Instead we are all "actors" and, in evil as in good, our behavior has an influence on others.

We often lament the pollution of the air, which in certain places of the city is unbreathable. It is true: We need everyone's commitment to make the city cleaner.

And yet, there is another pollution, less perceptible to the senses, but just as dangerous. It is the pollution of the spirit; it is that which renders our faces less smiling, more gloomy, which leads us not to greet one another, to not look at one another in the face. The city is made up of faces, but unfortunately the collective dynamics can make the perception of their depth disappear. We see everything on the surface. Persons become bodies, and these bodies lose the soul, become things, objects without a face, to be exchanged and consumed.

Mary Immaculate helps us to rediscover and defend the depth of persons, because in her there is perfect transparency of the soul in the body. She is purity personified, in the sense that the spirit, soul and body are in her, fully consistent between themselves and with the will of God. The Madonna teaches us to open ourselves to God's action, to look at others as he looks at them -- from the heart. And to look at them with mercy, with love, with infinite tenderness, especially those who are most alone, most looked down upon, most exploited. "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

I wish to pay tribute publicly to all those who in silence, not with words, but with deeds, make an effort to practice this evangelical law of love, which sends the world forward. They are so many, also here in Rome, and rarely do they make news. Men and women of every age, who have understood that it is no use to condemn, to lament, to recriminate, but it is better to respond to evil with good. This changes things, it changes persons and, in consequence, improves society.

Dear Roman friends, and all of you who live in this city! While we are busy in daily activities, let us listen to Mary's voice. Let us hear her silent but pressing appeal. She says to each one of us: Where sin increased, grace can overflow, beginning precisely from your heart and your life! And the city will be more beautiful, more Christian, more human.

Thank you, Holy Mother, for this your message of hope. Thank you for your silent but eloquent presence in the heart of our city. Immaculate Virgin, "Salus Populi Romani," pray for us!