Saturday, February 20, 2010

Remain in My Love: Love One Another as I Love You

Lectio Divina on John 15:4-17 --

"Remain in me, as I remain in you.
"Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
"Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.
"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
"As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
"This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
"This I command you: love one another."

Meditation of Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with Seminarians of Rome

Pontificio Seminario Romano Maggiore
February 12, 2010

Your Eminence, Excellencies,
Dear friends:

Every year it is a great joy for me to be with the seminarians of the Diocese of Rome, with the young people who are preparing to answer the call of the Lord to be workers in his vineyard, priests of his mystery. It is the joy of seeing that the Church lives, that the future of the Church is present here in our land, here in Rome itself.

In this Year for Priests, we must be particularly attentive to the words of the Lord concerning our service. The Gospel passage that was read just now speaks indirectly but profoundly of our Sacrament, our call to be in the vineyard of the Lord, to be servants of his mystery.

In this brief passage (John 15:4-17), we find some key words which give an indication of the announcement that the Lord wants to make in this text.

"To remain" -- In this brief passage, we find the word ten times; and then the new commandment, "Love each other as I have loved you"; "No longer servants but friends"; "Bear fruit"; and finally, "Ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you" -- you will be given joy.

Let us pray to the Lord so that he may help us enter into the meaning of his words, so that these words may penetrate our hearts, and can be the way and the life in us, with us and through us.

The first statement is "Remain in me . . . in my love."

Remaining with the Lord is the fundamental first theme of this passage. But to remain where? In love, in the love of Christ, in being loved and in loving the Lord.

All of Chapter 15 concretizes the place where we must remain, because the first eight verses explain and present the parable of the vine: "I am the vine and you are the branches." The vine is an Old Testament image which we find in the Prophets and in Psalms, and has a double meaning: It is a parable for the People of God, who are his vineyard. He planted a vine in this world, he cultivated it, he cultivated the vineyard, protected this vineyard, and for what purpose? Of course, to find fruit, to find the precious gift of the grape, of the good wine.

And thus emerges the second meaning: the vine is a symbol, an expression of the joy of love. The Lord created his people to find a response to his love, and so this image of the vine, of the vineyard, has a spousal meaning. It is an expression of the fact that God seeks the love of his creature, he wants to enter into a relationship of love, a spousal relation with the world, through the people chosen by him.

But then, concrete history is a story of infidelity: instead of the precious grape, the vineyard only produces small "inedible things." This is not the answer to God's great love, this does not give rise to a unity, to the unconditional union between man and God, in the communion of love.

Man retreats into himself, he wants to have himself all to himself, he wants God for himself, he wants the world for himself. In this way, the vineyard is devastated, the wild boar from the forest, all the enemies come in, and the vineyard becomes a desert.

But God does not give up: God finds a new way to arrive at a free and irrevocable love, to the fruit of this love, to the true grape: God becomes man, and thus, he himself becomes the root of the vine, he himself becomes the vine which is therefore indestructible.

This people of God cannot be destroyed because God himself has entered into them, he implanted himself on this earth. The new People of God is truly founded on God himself who became man, and thus calls us to be, in him, the new vine - he calls us to be with him and to "remain in him."

We must keep in mind also, that in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, we find the discourse on bread, which becomes the great discourse on the Eucharistic mystery. In this Chapter 15, we have the discourse on the vine.

The Lord does not speak explicitly of the Eucharist, but of course, behind the mystery of wine is the reality that he became bread and wine for us, that his blood is the fruit of the love born from the earth for always, and in the Eucharist, his blood becomes our blood, we become new men: we receive a new identity when the blood of Christ becomes ours. Thus, we are kin to God through his Son, and in the Eucharist, the great reality of the vine -- of which we are the branches united with the Son and thus with eternal love -- becomes actual.

"Remain with me." To remain in this great mystery, to remain in this great gift of the Lord who made us part of himself, in his body and with his blood. I think we should meditate well on this mystery, that God himself took on flesh, one with us, and blood, one with us; and that, remaining in this mystery, we can remain in communion with God himself, in this great story of love, which is the story of true happiness.

Meditating on this gift -- God became one with all of us, and at the same time, he makes us all one, one life -- we must also begin to pray so that the more this mystery penetrates our mind, the more we become capable of seeing and living the greatness of the mystery, and thus we start to comply with the command, "Remain with me."

If we continue to attentively read this Gospel passage from John, after "Remain with me," we also find a second imperative: "Observe my commandments."

"Observe" is only the second level - the first is still "remain," the ontological level: namely, that we are united with him, that he has given us himself as an earnest, he has already given us his love, the fruit. It is not we who must produce this great fruit. Christianity is not a moralism. It is not we who have to do what God expects of the world, but we must enter, above all, into this ontological mystery: God has given himself. God gives himself - his being, his love; he precedes our actions, and in the context of his body, in the context of being with him, identified with him, ennobled by his blood, we too can act with Christ.

Ethics is a consequence of being. First, the Lord gives us a new being, this is the great gift -- being precedes action: from this being comes action, like an organic reality, because what we are, we can be, even in our actions. Thus, we thank the Lord because he has removed us from pure moralism, that is, we do not have to obey a law laid down before us, we only need to act in accordance with our new identity. Thus, it is no longer obedience, an external thing, but a realization of the gift of our new being.

I say it once again: Let us thank the Lord because he goes before us, he gives us what we should give ourselves, so that we can then become, in truth. and with the power of our new being, actors of his reality.

To remain and to observe: Observing is the sign of remaining, and remaining with the gift that he gives us, which has to be renewed every day of our lives.

Then follows the new commandment: "Love one another as I love you. . . . No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

What does it mean? This too is no moralism.

One could say, "It's not a new commandment; the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself already exists in the Old Testament." And some will say, "Such love for others must be radicalized further: loving others should mean to imitate Christ who gave himself for us. It should be a heroic love, to the point of making the gift of oneself." But in this case, Christianity would be a heroic moralism.

It is true that we should come to this radicality of love that God has shown and given us, but even in this, the true novelty is not what we do -- the true novelty is what He did: The Lord gave us himself, and the Lord gave us the true novelty of being members of his body, branches of the vine that He is.

And so the novelty is the gift, the great gift, and from this gift, from its novelty, as I have said, follows new action.

St. Thomas Aquinas says it in a more precise manner when he writes: "The new law is the grace of the Holy Spirit" (Summa theologiae, I-IIae, q. 106, a. 1). The new law is not a new command more difficult than others: the new law is a gift, the new law is the presence of the Holy Spirit given to us in the Sacrament of Baptism, in Confirmation, and given us daily in the Eucharist.

The Fathers of the Church distinguished between sacramentum and exemplum. "Sacramentum" is the gift of new being, and this gift becomes an example for our action. But sacramentum comes before, and we live from the sacrament. Thus, the centrality of sacrament, which is the centrality of gift.

Let us proceed with our reflection. The Lord says: "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father."

No longer servants who obey a command, but friends who know each other, who are united in the same will, the same love. The novelty then is that God has made himself known, that God showed himself, that God is no longer the unknown, the one sought but not found or only guessed at from afar. God has made himself seen: In the face of Christ, we see God, God has made himself known to us, thus he has made us his friends.

Let us consider that, in the story of mankind, in all the archaic religions, man knew there is a God. This is a knowledge immersed in the heart of man - that God is one, that the gods are not the God. But this God still remained quite remote, as though he did not want to make himself known, did not make himself loved, not a friend, but a distant God.

That is why religions did not concern themselves much with this God: the concrete life was occupied with spirits, and with the concrete realities one faces every day and that must be dealt with everyday. God remained distant.

Then there came the great philosophical movement. Think of Plato, Aristotle, who started to have the intuition that "God" is agathon, goodness itself -- the eros that moves the world. But this still remained a human thought -- an idea of God that comes close to the truth, but it is our idea, and God remained the hidden God.

Not long ago, a professor of physics from Regensburg wrote me after having read only recently my lecture at the University, to tell me that he could not agree with my reasoning, or could agree only in part. He said, "Of course, I am convinced by the idea that the rational structure of the world demands a creative reason who created this rationality, which cannot be explained by itself alone." He continued, "But that could be a demiurge," he said, "which seems to me more certain than what you say. I cannot see it as God-Love, who is good, just and merciful. And I can see that there could be a reason that precedes the rationality of the cosmos. But the rest of it, I do not see."

And so, God remains hidden to him -- because he sees a reason that precedes our reason and our rationality, that precedes the rationality of existence, but he does not see that there is eternal love, that there is great mercy which is given to us so we may live.

And yet, in Christ, God has shown himself in his full truth, he has shwon that he is reason and love, that eternal reason is love, and is therefore creative.

Unfortunately, even today, many live far from Christ, they do not know his face. Hence the eternal temptation of dualism, which is hidden even in the professor's letter, and which is always being revived, namely, that there is not only a principle for good, but a bad one, a principle for evil; that the world is divided into realities that have equal power, and that the good God is just one part of reality.

Even in theology, including Catholic theology, the thesis that God is not omnipotent is being disseminated. This is the way they seek to make an apologia (an argument in defense) for God, who can therefore not be responsible for the evil that we find widespread in the world.

But what a poor argument! A God who is not omnipotent? Evil not under his power? How could we trust in such a God? How can we be sure of his love if it ends where the power of evil begins?

God is no longer unknown. In the face of the Crucified Jesus we see God, and we see true omnipotence, not the myth of omnipotence. For us men, power and authority are always identical to the capacity to destroy and to make trouble. But the true concept of omnipotence, which appears in Christ, is the very opposite: in him, true omnipotence is to love to the point that God can suffer. Here, he shows his true omnipotence, one that can reach the point of a love that suffers for us.

And so we see he is the true God; and the true God, who is Love, is power -- the power of love. We can trust in his omnipotent love and live in and with this omnipotent love.

I think we should always meditate anew on this reality, and to thank God because he has shown himself to us, because we know him by face, one on one, no longer like Moses who could only see the Lord from behind. But even this is a beautiful idea, about which St. Gregory of Nyssa said: "To see only his back means that we must always walk behind Christ."

Yet, God showed his face in Christ. The veil of the temple was torn apart, it is open, and the mystery of God is visible. The first commandment that prohibited images of God because they could only debase reality, was changed, renewed, took on another form. Because now in Christ the man, we can see the face of God. We can have icons of Christ and thus see who God is.

I think that whoever understand this, whoever has let himself be touched by this mystery -- that God revealed himself -- has torn wide open the veil of the temple, seen his face, and found a source of permanent joy.

All we can say is, "Thank you. Yes, we know who you are, who God is, and how to respond to him." I think that this joy of knowing the God who has shown himself, to the most intimate of his being, also implies the joy of communicating him. He who understands this, who lives touched by this reality, should do as the first disciples did when they went among their brothers and friends, saying, "We have found him about whom the prophets spoke. He is here now."

Mission is not a thing that is added externally to the faith, it is the dynamism of faith itself. He who has seen and met Jesus should go forth among others and tell them: "We have found God -- and it is Jesus who was crucified for us."

Continuing, the text says: "I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain."

And with this, we go back to the start, to the image, the parable of the vine: it is created to bear fruit.

And what is the fruit? As we said earlier, the fruit is love. In the Old Testament, with the Torah as the first stage of God's self-revelation, the fruit was understood as justice, namely, to live according to the Word of God, to live in God's will, and thus live well. That remains, but at the same time, it is transcended: true justice does not consist in obedience to some norms, but it is love, creative love, which by itself finds the richness and abundance of goodness.

"Abundance" is one of the key words in the New Testament -- God himself always gives in abundance. In creating man, he created the abundance of an immense cosmos; to redeem man, he gives himself; in the Eucharist, he gives himself.

And whoever is united with Christ, who is a branch of his vine, lives from this law and does not ask, "Can I do this or not? Should I do this or not?" He lives in the enthusiasm of a love that does not ask, "Is this necessary or is it prohibited?" but simply, in the creativity of love, which desires to live with Christ and for Christ, and give all of himself for him, thus realizing the joy of bearing fruit.

Let us also keep in mind that the Lord says, "I have chosen you to go and bear fruit . . ."

This is the dynamism that lives in Christ's love. To go forth, namely, not to remain in myself and for myself, to look to my perfection, to guarantee eternal happiness for myself, but to forget myself, to go forth as Christ did, to go forth like God went forth from his majesty towards our poverty, in order to find fruit, to help us and give us the possibility of bearing the true fruit of love. The more we are filled with the joy of having discovered the face of God, the more the enthusiasm of love will be real in us and bear fruit.

Finally, we come to the last word in this passage: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you."

It is a brief catechesis on prayer, which always surprises us anew.

Twice in this Chapter 15, the Lord says, "Whatever you ask, I will give," and once in Chapter 16. And we will say: "No, Lord, that is not true." So many good and profound prayers by mothers who pray for their sons who are dying are not answered; so many prayers in order for a good thing to happen, that the Lord does not grant.

So what does this promise of Jesus mean? The Lord offers us the key to understanding it in Chapter 16. He tells us how much he gives us, what it all means -- charĂ , joy! If one finds joy, one has found everything and sees everything in the light of divine love.

Like St. Francis who composed his great poem on creation in a desolate place, yet it was precisely there, close to the suffering Lord, that he rediscovered the beauty of existence, the goodness of God, and composed his great poem.

It is useful to recall, at the same time, some verses from the Gospel of Luke, in which the Lord, speaking of prayer, says: "If you who are wicked can give good things to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give you, his children, the Holy Spirit."

The Holy Spirit, in the Gospel of Luke, is joy, and in the Gospel of John, he is the same thing: joy is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is joy. In other words, we ask of God not some small or big thing: we ask of God the divine gift, God himself, the great gift that he gives us.

It is in this sense that we should learn to pray, to pray for the great reality, the divine reality, that he may give himself to us, that he may give us his Spirit so we can respond to the demands of life and help others in their suffering. Of course, the "Our Father" teaches us to do this.

We can pray for many things, and for all our needs, we can pray, "Help me!" This is very human, and God is also human, as we have seen. Therefore, it is right to pray to God even for the little things in our everyday life.

But at the same time, prayer is a journey -- I would say a ladder upwards. We must learn increasingly better what things we can pray for, and what things we cannot pray for because they are expressions of one's selfishness. I cannot pray for things which are harmful to others, I cannot pray for things that will aid my selfishness, my pride. Therefore praying, in the eyes of God, becomes a process of purifying our thoughts and our desires.

As the Lord says in the parable of the vine: we must be trimmed back, purified, everyday. To live with Christ, in Christ, to remain in Christ, is a process of purification. Only this process of slow purification, of liberation from ourselves and the desire to think only of ourselves, is the true journey of life, which opens up the road to joy.

As I have indicated, all these words of the Lord have a sacramental background. The fundamental background for the parable of the vine is Baptism: we are planted in Christ. It is the Eucharist: with Christ, we are bread, body, blood, life.

And this process of purification has its sacramental background in the sacrament of Penance, of Reconciliation, in which we accept the divine pedagogy that, day by day, throughout life, purifies us and makes us true members of his body.

In this way, we can also learn that God does answer our prayers, he often responds with his goodness even to small prayers, but often, eh also corrects them, transforms them and directs them so that we may finally and truly be branches of his Son, of true life, members of his body.

Let us thank God for the greatness of his love, let us pray that he may help us to grow in his love, and truly remain in his love.

(The preceding reflections by Pope Benedict were delivered largely extemporaneously.)

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