Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jesus and the Interpretation of Scripture

The Gospel reading for today's Sunday Mass was about the Transfiguration, where Jesus is seen with Moses (who represents the Law) and Elijah (who represents the Prophets), signifying, among other things, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

The Gospel reading for yesterday's Mass was from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-48 --

Jesus said to His disciples:
“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now, I have read that passage many, many times before and, like most, have focused on the "love your enemies" part. But recently, in preparing my Master Catechist Class presentation, I have been reflecting and meditating on the Ten Plagues of Egypt and on some of the more challenging scriptural passages in the Old Testament, which tend to depict God as angry, wrathful, vengeful, etc., such that I have been dealing with issues of scriptural interpretation. And when I heard the above reading yesterday, a new aspect jumped out at me.

"You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." Now, where was it said that? In scripture. That idea of loving neighbor and hating enemy is well supported in the plain meaning of the text of several Old Testament passages, including those referring to God's "anger," "wrath," and "hate" for this or that. And this obviously was the prevailing interpretation and understanding of that scripture at the time of Jesus.

In response to this plain meaning reading of scripture, which took the text at face-value, Jesus seems to say the exact opposite, "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."

In several other places, Jesus likewise says, "You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you . . ." Furthermore, Jesus goes on to say that He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them, that is, inter alia, He is not changing the Law or teaching anything different, He is only providing a correct and true understanding of scripture (the Law and Prophets).

In other words, what Jesus is saying here is, "You have understood scripture thusly, but even though that understanding is supported by the text, you have interpeted it wrong, you misunderstand what the scripture means."

Thus, what it appears that Jesus is saying here is that we should not always necessarily adopt a face-value reading of Old Testament scripture, that there is a deeper meaning than what the plain meaning of the text would suggest. Especially with respect to those passages where God in the Old Testament appears to be contrary to the God of Love and Truth, as revealed in the New Testament, given Jesus' words here, it would appear to not be inappropriate to go beyond the plain meaning of the text, we can feel comfortable in looking for the deeper meaning, a meaning that is more consistent with Love and Truth, and that if our interpretation has God acting contrary to Love and Truth, then we have interpreted it wrong. Such interpretation of deeper meaning would not be abolishing such scripture, even if it is different from the plain meaning, but would be fulfilling it.

"You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you . . ."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marriage and Holy Orders – Vocation and Sacrament

Seventh Grade CCD – February 24, 2010

I. Vocations – the Universal Call to Holiness

  • a vocation (from the Latin vocare, to call) is a particular state of life or occupation to which one is especially drawn or called
  • we are each called by God to a life of holiness, a common vocation to love God and love one another
  • there are two specific ways to realize, in its entirety, the vocation to love – either marriage or the religious life, e.g. the priesthood or religious brother or religious sister (nun)
  • in the Sacrament of Confirmation, our vocation is to be a complete Christian, to be an active participant in the mission of the Church to be a witness for Jesus to the world

II. The Paschal Mystery in the Sacraments of the Church
  • a Sacrament is (i) an outward visible sign (ii) instituted by Christ (iii) to convey the invisible reality of sacramental and sanctifying grace, so that we might be redeemed and sanctified
  • the “outward sign” is composed of the matter (e.g. water) and form (words) together with the right and proper intention of the minister, that is, celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church
  • since we are bodily creatures who experience and come to know things through our bodily senses, the Sacraments offer us a way for us to know the reality of being provided certain graces
    • In his Theology of the Body, in a catechesis on the creation of mankind in the Book of Genesis, Pope John Paul II said, “there is constituted a primordial sacrament, understood as a sign that transmits effectively in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial. And this is the mystery of Truth and Love, the mystery of divine life, in which man really participates. In the history of man, it is original innocence which begins this participation and it is also a source of original happiness. The sacrament, as a visible sign, is constituted with man, as a "body," by means of his "visible" masculinity and femininity. The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.” (General Audience of February 20, 1980)
  • the Sacraments were instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church, which has the authority to confer them or withhold them
  • it is Christ who acts in the Sacraments through the Holy Spirit
    • by virtue of the saving work of Christ, the Sacraments are efficacious ex opere operato – they convey the particular grace by the very fact that the sacramental action is performed
    • because it is Christ who is acting, the efficacy of the Sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness of the minister
  • “sacramental grace” is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament
  • the recipient must necessarily have the right disposition to receive the graces to be conferred
  • Baptism and Confession/Penance give sanctifying grace
  • the other Sacraments increase sanctifying graces in our souls, such that one must already be in a state of grace (rather than a state of sin) to receive them
  • additional ceremonies or actions are used in the rites in order to increase our reverence and devotion for the Sacraments and to explain their meaning and effects
  • the seven sacraments are --
    • the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist)
    • the Sacraments of Healing (Confession/Penance and Anointing of the Sick)
    • the Sacraments at the Service of Communion and Mission (Matrimony and Holy Orders)

III. Matrimony – as it was “in the beginning” and the blessing of Jesus at Cana

  • Marriage is the primordial sacrament – "All the sacraments of the new covenant find in a certain sense their prototype in marriage" – Pope John Paul II
    • the entirety of Salvation History can be seen as a kind of spousal relationship between God and mankind
  • at the Creation, God said that it is not good for Man to be alone
  • Man, male and female, is not merely a social creature, but a spousal creature made in the image of the Triune God, who is a loving communion of persons in one being
  • God made us to love and be loved and, in creating man and woman for each other, He gave us the ability to share in His creative power, telling us to be fruitful and multiply
  • in Matrimony, a man and woman are two made one in a communion of persons by Christ through the power of the Spirit of Love, and spouses should love each other as Christ loves the Church
  • the Sacrament is conferred upon the giving of matrimonial consent, that is, when a man and a woman manifest the will to give themselves to each other irrevocably in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love
  • such matrimonial consent is sealed by God, and the Sacrament establishes a perpetual and exclusive bond between the spouses
  • this communion of persons in marriage is not only unitive, such that it is indissoluble, but fruitful and procreative, just as the love between Christ and His Bride, the Church, is unitive, fruitful, and procreative
  • a special grace is conferred to give the husband and wife the ability to maintain their union in accord with the original divine plan, even in the face of threats to the unity and fruitfulness of marriage
  • the ministers of Matrimony are the man and woman to be married, with the priest receiving that consent in the name of the Church and giving her blessing to the union

IV. Holy Orders – the Sacrament of Apostolic Ministry
  • those who do not marry are still, by human nature, called to love in communion, thus, if we are not called to marry, we may be called to follow Christ, who is the fullness of Love
  • Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to His apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time
  • by Holy Orders, instituted by Jesus calling His apostles, the Church is passed on to the generations throughout time
  • some men may be called to follow Jesus in the ministerial priesthood, in which the one priesthood of Jesus Christ is made present, while other men and some women may be called to the religious or consecrated life (however, such religious or consecrated life, although holy, is not a sacrament)
  • the Sacrament is conferred by the laying on of hands, anointing with chrism oil, and the consecratory prayer proper to each grade of the Sacrament: deacon, priest, or bishop
  • anointing by the Spirit in ordination to the priesthood seals a baptized and confirmed man with an indelible, spiritual character that configures him to Christ the Bridegroom of the Church and Christ the High Priest, enabling him to act in His name (in persona Christi), especially in the Sacraments
  • being an alter Christus, just as Jesus is espoused to the His Bride the Church, so too is a priest “married” to the Church
  • episcopal ordination of a bishop as a successor of the Apostles confers the fullness of the Sacrament on him, including the offices of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling
  • the minister of Holy Orders is the bishop

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Master Catechist Class Project

    We are reaching the end of the Master Catechist certification course that I am enrolled in. There is no final exam, but we will spend the last few sessions giving presentations to the class in groups of three.

    Our group is not scheduled for a few more weeks yet, but we have tentatively decided on a topic -- Bible study/scriptural exegesis/lectio divina as applied to those passages in Exodus dealing with the Ten Plagues of Egypt.

    We wanted something that would be a little more challenging, something dealing with some of the "hard cases" concerning God -- those portions of scripture (typically in the Old Testament) where God appears to be acting inconsistently with the God of Love and Truth that is revealed in the New Testament, that is, those portions involving the "wrath" and "anger" of God, where God "smites" His enemies, and rains down destruction on them. (These issues have also been recently considered over at the Archdiocese of Washington Blog.)

    What are the different ways one might read and interpret and understand these passages from Exodus?

    In the case of the Ten Plagues, scripture informs us that, when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God inflicted various calamaties upon Egypt, including the death of the first-born. How does one reconcile a God of Love with the infliction of suffering like this? Also, scripture states that God "hardened Pharaoh's heart." That being the case, was it really fair and just to punish Pharaoh for his refusal? And was God depriving Pharaoh of free will? Or is there some other interpretation of this text?

    In addition to these questions concerning the "justice" (or apparent "injustice") of God, we have the questions of whether the Plagues really happened historically, and whether they were naturally caused or inflicted by God? Do the Plagues have any symbolic significance, individually or as a whole? Are they merely historical or is there prophetic meaning in them as well?

    So, these and many other questions are what I will be working on and researching and reflecting upon the next few weeks. Hopefully, I'll have an outline presentation not too long from now.

    Sunday, February 21, 2010


    Venerable Pope John Paul II of happy memory and others have written that freedom is not the right to do whatever you necessarily want to do, but the ability to do what you ought to do (and what we ought to do is the good). That is, freedom is not and cannot be the right to destroy your freedom, it is not the right to be not-free, because then you would no longer have that freedom, which means that you do not have a right to do wrong because wrong, i.e. error and sin, always has the result of enslaving us to further error and sin. Rather, freedom is the ability to do good, which is what you ought to do.

    And sometimes it is so that paradoxically, the man in prison might be more free than the one at large in society.

    Living as we do, here in the “land of the free,” are we free? We are freer than many other countries, (and certainly freer than Nazi Germany), but are we truly free (in the realm of action if not thought)? Do we have the ability to do what we ought, to do the good, or does society or government set up barriers or even work against that ability? Or has grossly obese government so interjected itself into every aspect of life, and usurped our own personal obligations, that we no longer have any breathing room or ability to move in order to do the good? Do we have the ability to think and believe as we ought, to believe what is good, i.e. the truth, or has society and government been destructive of truth as well?

    So long as we allow ourselves to be so caught up in society and/or government, in worldly things, then we can never be truly free. It is only by detaching ourselves from those chains and attaching ourselves to the good of love and truth (God) that we are set free.

    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.)

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Following Jesus in the Lenten Desert is Necessary to Participate in His Easter

    Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
    Basilica of S. Sabina on the Aventine Hill

    Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010
    "You love all creatures, Lord,
    And do not loath anything you have made;
    You forget the sins of those who convert and forgive them,
    Because you are the Lord our God"
    (Entrance Antiphon)
    Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate,
    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    With this moving invocation, taken from the Book of Wisdom (cf 11:23-26), the liturgy introduces the Eucharistic Celebration of Ash Wednesday. They are words that, in some way, open the whole Lenten journey, placing as their foundation the omnipotence of the love of God, His absolute lordship over every creature, which is translated in infinite indulgence, animated by a constant and universal will to live. In effect, to pardon someone is equivalent to saying: I do not want you to die, but that you live; I always and only want what is good for you.

    This absolute certainty sustained Jesus during the 40 days transpired in the desert of Judea after the baptism received from John in the Jordan. This long time of silence and fasting was for Him a complete abandonment to the Father and to His plan of love; it was in itself a "baptism," that is, an "immersion" in His will, and in this sense, an anticipation of the Passion and the Cross.

    To go into the desert and to stay there a long time, alone, meant to be willingly exposed to the assaults of the enemy, the tempter who made Adam fall and through whose envy death entered the world (cf Wisdom 2:24). It meant engaging in open battle with him, defying him with no other weapons than limitless confidence in the omnipotent love of the Father: Your love suffices me, my food is to do your will (cf John 4:34). This conviction dwelt in the mind and heart of Jesus during His "forty days."

    It was not an act of pride, a titanic enterprise, but a decision of humility, consistent with the Incarnation and the Baptism in the Jordan, in the same line of obedience to the merciful love of the Father, who "so loved the world that He gave His only Son" (John 3:16).

    The Lord did all this for us. He did it to save us and, at the same time, to show us the way to follow Him. Salvation, in fact, is a gift, it is God's grace, but to have effect in my existence it requires my consent, an acceptance demonstrated in fact, that is, in the will to live like Jesus, to walk after Him. To follow Jesus in the Lenten desert is thus a condition necessary to participate in His Easter, in His "exodus."

    Adam was expelled from the earthly Paradise, symbol of communion with God. Now, to return to that communion and, therefore, to true life, to eternal life, it is necessary to cross the desert, the trial of faith. Not alone, but with Jesus! He, as always, has preceded us and has already conquered in the battle against the spirit of evil. This is the meaning of Lent, the liturgical season that every year invites us to renew our choice to follow Christ on the path of humility in order to participate in his triumph over sin and death.

    Understood in this perspective also is the penitential sign of the ashes, which are imposed on the head of those who begin with good will the Lenten journey. It is essentially a gesture of humility, which means: I recognize myself for what I am, a frail creature, made of earth and destined to the earth, but also made in the image of God and destined to Him. I am dust, yes, but loved, formed by love, animated by His vital breath, capable of recognizing His voice and of responding to Him; free and, because of this, also able to disobey Him, yielding to the temptation of pride and self-sufficiency. This is sin, the mortal sickness that soon entered to contaminate the blessed earth that is the human being.

    Created in the image of the Holy and Righteous One, man lost his own innocence and he can now return to righteousness, to be justified, only through the justice of God, the justice of love that, as St. Paul writes, is manifested "through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:22).

    From these words of the Apostle, I took my inspiration for my Message, addressed to all the faithful on the occasion of this Lent: a reflection on the theme of justice in the light of Sacred Scriptures and their fulfillment in Christ.

    The theme of justice is present even in the Biblical readings for Ash Wednesday. Above all, the page from the prophet Joel and the responsorial Psalm - the Miserere - form a penitential diptych, which highlight that at the origin of every material and social injustice is what the Bible calls "iniquity," namely, sin, which consists fundamentally of disobedience to God, which means a lack of love.
    "For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
    Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
    and done that which is evil in thy sight"
    (Psalm 51(50):3-4). The first act of justice is therefore to recognize one's own iniquity, and recognize that this is rooted in the "heart," in the very core of the human person.

    "Fasting," "weeping", "mourning" (cf. Joel 2:12) and every penitential expression have value in the eyes of God only if they are the sign of hearts that have truly repented.

    Also the Gospel, taken from the "Sermon on the Mount," insists on the need to practice proper "justice" -- almsgiving, prayer and fasting -- not before men, but only in the eyes of God, who "sees in secret" (cf Matthew 6:1-6.16-18). The true "recompense" is not others' admiration, but friendship with God and the grace that derives from it, a grace that gives peace and strength to do good, to love also the one who does not deserve it, to forgive those who have offended us.

    The second reading, Paul's call to let ourselves to be reconciled with God (cf 2 Cor. 5:20), contains one of the famous Pauline paradoxes, which redirects all reflection on justice back to the mystery of Christ. St. Paul writes: "For our sake, He made Him who did not know sin to be sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

    In the heart of Christ, that is, in the center of His divine-human Person, the whole drama of freedom is played out in decisive and definitive terms. God takes His own plan for salvation to its extreme consequences, remaining faithful to His love even at the cost of giving His only-begotten Son to death, and to death on a cross. As I wrote in the Lenten Message, "here divine justice reveals itself as profoundly different from human justice . . . thanks to the action of Christ, we can enter into that 'greater' justice, which is that of love" (cf Romans 13:8-10).

    Dear brothers and sisters, Lent lengthens our horizon, it orients us to eternal life. On this earth, where we are on pilgrimage, we do not have a stable city, but we are in search of that future spoken of in the Letter to Hebrews. (13:14). Lent makes us understand the relativity of the goods of this earth and thus makes us capable of the necessary self-denials, free to do good. Let us open the earth to the light of heaven, to the presence of God in our midst. Amen.


    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Now That's Romance!

    For all you young lovers out there, this classic romantic scene from Futurama (wherein, after Bender is forced to become a fembot named "Coilette," from the Grand Duchy of Robonia, so he can pass gender testing after he fraudulently wins five gold medals in women's events in the 3004 Olympics, the great acting unit Calculon falls in love with him, er, her, and Coilette, filled with femzoil, starts to fall for Calculon) --

    Truly, a love that is every girl's dream --

    [Scene: Hot Air Balloon. Calculon and Coilette fly over the countryside.]
    Calculon: I have something for you.
    [He hands her a remote control.]
    Coilette: A remote control? You got me a TV?
    Calculon: No, my dearest, it's the remote control to my heart. It symbolizes the power you have to sway my emotions.
    Coilette: Will it work on my TV?
    Calculon: We don't need TVs, we have each other! Coilette, if I weren't able to spend my life with you I would leap from this very balloon.
    Coilette: Come on with that. . . . Really?
    Calculon: Yes! We were meant . . . to be.
    Coilette: So . . . you really and truly love me?
    Calculon: So much so that I'm prepared to give up show business itself to be with you.
    [Coilette gasps.]
    Coilette: But, you always said you'd rather burn down a convent than give up show business.
    Calculon: I always said many things. But now all I want is a peaceful life and a quiet villa overlooking a vineyard . . . with you.
    [Coilette starts to cry.]
    Coilette: Would we have donkeys?
    Calculon: All you could eat!

    -- "Bend Her," Futurama, Season 5, watch here

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    World Day of the Sick 2010

    Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
    Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes

    18th World Day of the Sick
    February 11, 2010

    Lord Cardinals,
    Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate,
    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    The Gospels, in the synthetic descriptions of the brief but intense public life of Jesus, attest that He proclaimed the Word and healed the sick, a sign par excellence of the closeness of the Kingdom of God. For example, Matthew writes: "And He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Matthew 4:23; cf 9:35). The Church, which has been entrusted with the task of prolonging the mission of Christ in space and time, cannot neglect these two essential works: evangelization and care of the sick in body and spirit. God, in fact, wishes to heal the whole man, and in the Gospel the healing of the body is a sign of a more profound healing, which is the remission of sins (cf Mark 2:1-12).

    Hence, it is not surprising that Mary, Mother and model of the Church, is invoked and venerated as "salus infirmorum," "health of the sick." As first and perfect disciple of her Son, she has always shown, accompanying the journey of the Church, special solicitude for the suffering. Testimony of this is given by the thousands of people who go to Marian shrines to invoke the Mother of Christ, and find strength and relief.

    The Gospel narrative of the Visitation (cf. Luke 1:39-56) shows us how the Virgin, after the evangelical announcement, did not keep to herself the gift received, but left immediately to go to help her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who for six months had been carrying John in her womb. In the support given by Mary to this relative who was, at an advanced age, living a delicate situation such as pregnancy, we see prefigured the whole action of the Church in support of life in need of care. . . .

    A most affectionate welcome goes naturally to you, dear sick people. Thank you for coming and above all for your prayer, enriched with the offer of your toil and sufferings. And my greeting goes also to the sick and volunteers joining us today from Lourdes, Fatima, Czestochowa and from other Marian shrines, and to all those following us on radio and television, especially from clinics or from their homes. May the Lord God, who constantly watches over his children, give everyone relief and consolation.

    Today's Liturgy of the Word presents two main themes: the first is of a Marian character, and it unites the Gospel and the first reading, taken from the last chapter of the Book of Isaiah, as well as the Responsorial Psalm, taken from Judith's canticle of praise. The other theme, which we find in the passage of the Letter of James, is of the prayer of the Church for the sick and, in particular, of the sacrament reserved for them.

    In the memorial of the apparitions of Lourdes, a place chosen by Mary to manifest her maternal solicitude for the sick, the liturgy appropriately makes the Magnificat resonate, the canticle of the Virgin who exalts the wonders of God in the history of salvation: the humble and the indigent, as all those who fear God, experience His mercy, He who reverses earthly fortunes and thus demonstrates the holiness of the Creator and Redeemer. The Magnificat is not the canticle of those on whom fortune smiles, who always "prosper," rather it is the thanksgiving of those who know the tragedies of life, but trust the redeeming work of God. It is a song that expresses the tested faith of generations of men and women who have placed their hope in God and have committed themselves personally, like Mary, to being of help to brothers in need. In the Magnificat, we hear the voice of so many men and women saints of charity, I am thinking in particular of those who consumed their lives among the sick and suffering, such as Camillus of Lellis and John of God, Damien de Veuster and Benito Menni. Whoever spends a long time near persons who suffer, knows anguish and tears, but also the miracle of joy, fruit of love.

    The maternity of the Church is a reflection of the solicitous love of God, of which the prophet Isaiah speaks: "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 66:13).

    A maternity that speaks without words, which arouses consolation in hearts, a joy that paradoxically co-exists with pain, with suffering. Like Mary, the Church bears within herself the tragedies of man, and the consolation of God, she keeps them together, in the course of her pilgrimage in history. Across the centuries, the Church shows the signs of the love of God, who continues to do great things in humble and simple people.

    Suffering that is accepted and offered, a sharing that is sincere and free, are these not, perhaps, miracles of love? The courage to face evils unarmed -- as Judith -- with the sole strength of faith and of hope in the Lord, is this not a miracle that the grace of God arouses continually in so many persons who spend time and energy helping those who suffer?

    For all this, we live a joy that does not forget suffering, on the contrary, it includes it. In this way, the sick and all the suffering are in the Church, not only as recipients of attention and care, but first and above all, protagonists of the pilgrimage of faith and hope, witnesses of the prodigies of love, of the paschal joy that flowers from the cross and the resurrection of Christ.

    In the passage of the Letter of James just proclaimed, the Apostle invites awaiting with constancy the already close coming of the Lord and, in this context, addresses a particular exhortation to the sick. This context is very interesting, because it reflects the action of Jesus, who, curing the sick, showed the closeness of the Kingdom of God.

    Sickness is seen in the perspective of the end times, with the realism of hope that is typically Christian. "Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise" (James 5:13). We seem to hear similar words in St. Paul, when he invites us to live everything in relation to the radical news of Christ, his death and resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

    "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15).

    Evident here is the prolongation of Christ in His Church; He is always the one who acts through the presbyters; it is His same Spirit that operates through the sacramental sign of the oil; it is to Him that faith is directed, expressed in prayer; and, as happened with the persons cured by Jesus, one can say to each sick person: Your faith, supported by the faith of brothers and sisters, has saved you.

    From this text, which contains the foundation and practice of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, is extracted at the same time a vision of the role of the sick in the Church: An active role as it "provokes," so to speak, prayer made with faith.

    "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church." In this Year for Priests, I wish to stress the bond between the sick and priests, a sort of alliance, of evangelical "complicity." Both have a task: The sick person must "call" the presbyters, and they must respond, to bring upon the experience of sickness the presence and action of the Risen One and of his Spirit.

    And here we can see all the importance of the pastoral care of the sick, the value of which is truly incalculable, because of the immense good it does in the first place to the sick person and to the priest himself, but also to relatives, to friends, to the community and, through hidden and unknown ways, to the whole Church and to the world. In fact, when the Word of God speaks of healing, of salvation, of the health of the sick, it understands these concepts in an integral sense, never separating soul and body: A sick person cured by Christ's prayer, through the Church, is a joy on earth and in heaven, a first fruit of eternal life.

    Dear friends, as I wrote in the encyclical "Spe Salvi," "The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer" (No. 38). By instituting a dicastery dedicated to health care ministry, the Church also wished to make her own contribution to promote a world capable of receiving and looking after the sick as persons. In fact, she has wished to help them to live the experience of sickness in a human way, without denying it, but giving it a meaning.

    I would like to end these reflections with a thought of the Venerable Pope John Paul II, to which he gave witness with his own life. In the apostolic letter "Salvifici Doloris," he wrote: "At one and the same time, Christ has taught man to do good by His suffering and to do good to those who suffer."

    May the Virgin Mary help us to live this mission fully. Amen!

    (Relics of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes, were present at the Mass.)


    Saturday, February 06, 2010

    The Justice of God has been Manifested Through Faith in Jesus Christ

    Believe it or not, although the Christmas season has just ended, Lent is just around the corner. Actually, it is no coincidence that Lent should follow so soon after Christmas. Or, more specifially, it is no coincidence that the Easter Triduum should follow three months after Christmas. Or, to be even more specific, that the Annunciation falls around Easter time, such that Christmas should follow about nine months after Good Friday. More on that here.

    In any event, Lent is soon upon us, as is the Message for Lent from the Holy Father Pope Benedict.

    Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
    Lent 2010

    Dear Brothers and Sisters!

    Each year, on the occasion of Lent, the Church invites us to a sincere review of our life in light of the teachings of the Gospel. This year, I would like to offer you some reflections on the great theme of justice, beginning from the Pauline affirmation: “The justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ” (cf. Rm 3:21-22).

    Justice: “dare cuique suum

    First of all, I want to consider the meaning of the term “justice,” which in common usage implies “to render to every man his due,” according to the famous expression of Ulpian, a Roman jurist of the third century. In reality, however, this classical definition does not specify what “due” is to be rendered to each person.

    What man needs most cannot be guaranteed to him by law. In order to live life to the full, something more intimate is necessary that can be granted only as a gift: we could say that man lives by that love which only God can communicate since He created the human person in His image and likeness. Material goods are certainly useful and required – indeed Jesus Himself was concerned to heal the sick, feed the crowds that followed Him and surely condemns the indifference that even today forces hundreds of millions into death through lack of food, water and medicine – yet “distributive” justice does not render to the human being the totality of his “due.” Just as man needs bread, so does man have even more need of God. Saint Augustine notes: if “justice is that virtue which gives every one his due ... where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God?” (De civitate Dei, XIX, 21).

    What is the Cause of Injustice?

    The Evangelist Mark reports the following words of Jesus, which are inserted within the debate at that time regarding what is pure and impure: “There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him … What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts” (Mk 7:14-15, 20-21).

    Beyond the immediate question concerning food, we can detect in the reaction of the Pharisees a permanent temptation within man: to situate the origin of evil in an exterior cause. Many modern ideologies deep down have this presupposition: since injustice comes “from outside,” in order for justice to reign, it is sufficient to remove the exterior causes that prevent it being achieved.

    This way of thinking – Jesus warns – is ingenuous and shortsighted. Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external roots; its origin lies in the human heart, where the seeds are found of a mysterious cooperation with evil. With bitterness the Psalmist recognises this: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:7).

    Indeed, man is weakened by an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into communion with the other. By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others: this is egoism, the result of original sin. Adam and Eve, seduced by Satan’s lie, snatching the mysterious fruit against the divine command, replaced the logic of trusting in Love with that of suspicion and competition; the logic of receiving and trustfully expecting from the Other with anxiously seizing and doing on one’s own (cf. Gn 3:1-6), experiencing, as a consequence, a sense of disquiet and uncertainty.

    How can man free himself from this selfish influence and open himself to love?

    Justice and Sedaqah

    At the heart of the wisdom of Israel, we find a profound link between faith in God who “lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Ps 113:7) and justice towards one’s neighbor. The Hebrew word itself that indicates the virtue of justice, sedaqah, expresses this well. Sedaqah, in fact, signifies, on the one hand, full acceptance of the will of the God of Israel; on the other hand, equity in relation to one’s neighbour (cf. Ex 20:12-17), especially the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Dt 10:18-19). But the two meanings are linked because giving to the poor for the Israelite is none other than restoring what is owed to God, who had pity on the misery of His people.

    It was not by chance that the gift to Moses of the tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai took place after the crossing of the Red Sea. Listening to the Law presupposes faith in God who first “heard the cry” of His people and “came down to deliver them out of hand of the Egyptians” (cf. Ex 3:8).

    God is attentive to the cry of the poor and in return asks to be listened to: He asks for justice towards the poor (cf. Sir 4:4-5, 8-9), the stranger (cf. Ex 22:20), the slave (cf. Dt 15:12-18). In order to enter into justice, it is thus necessary to leave that illusion of self-sufficiency, the profound state of closure, which is the very origin of injustice. In other words, what is needed is an even deeper “exodus” than that accomplished by God with Moses, a liberation of the heart, which the Law on its own is powerless to realize.

    Does man have any hope of justice then?

    Christ, the Justice of God

    The Christian Good News responds positively to man’s thirst for justice, as Saint Paul affirms in the Letter to the Romans: “But now the justice of God has been manifested apart from law … the justice of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:21-25).

    What then is the justice of Christ? Above all, it is the justice that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals himself and others. The fact that “expiation” flows from the “blood” of Christ signifies that it is not man’s sacrifices that free him from the weight of his faults, but the loving act of God who opens Himself in the extreme, even to the point of bearing in Himself the “curse” due to man so as to give in return the “blessing” due to God (cf. Gal 3:13-14).

    But this raises an immediate objection: what kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one? Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his “due”?

    In reality, here we discover divine justice, which is so profoundly different from its human counterpart. God has paid for us the price of the exchange in His Son, a price that is truly exorbitant. Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel, for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of Another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.

    So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me gratuitously “what is His.” This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the “greatest” justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13:8-10), the justice that recognises itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected. Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.

    Dear brothers and sisters, Lent culminates in the Paschal Triduum, in which this year, too, we shall celebrate divine justice – the fullness of charity, gift, salvation. May this penitential season be for every Christian a time of authentic conversion and intense knowledge of the mystery of Christ, who came to fulfill every justice. With these sentiments, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.

    From the Vatican, 30 October 2009