Monday, January 27, 2020

Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0327: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time 
Pope Benedict XVI 

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, on 29 January 2006, 28 January 2007, 3 February 2008, 1 February 2009, 31 January 2010, 30 January 2011, 29 January 2012, and 3 February 2013. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections delivered on these occasions prior to the recitation of the Angelus.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 29 January 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Encyclical published last Wednesday, by referring to the primacy of charity in the life of Christians and of the Church, I wanted to recall that the privileged witnesses of this primacy are the Saints, who made their lives a hymn to God-Love despite their thousands of different tones. We celebrate them every day of the year in the liturgy.

I am thinking, for example, of those whom we are commemorating in these days:  the Apostle Paul with his disciples Timothy and Titus, St Angela Merici, St Thomas Aquinas, St John Bosco. These saints are very different:  the first belong to the beginnings of the Church and were missionaries of the first evangelization; in the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas is the model of a Catholic theologian who found in Christ the supreme synthesis of truth and love; in the Renaissance, Angela Merici presented a path of holiness also to those who were living in a secular environment; in the modern epoch, Don Bosco, inflamed with love for Jesus the Good Shepherd, cared for the most underprivileged children and became their father and teacher.

In truth, the Church’s entire history is a history of holiness, animated by the one Love whose source is God. Indeed, only supernatural love, like the love that flows ever new from Christ’s heart, can explain the miraculous flourishing down the centuries of Orders, male and female religious Institutes and other forms of consecrated life.

In the Encyclical, I cited among the Saints most famous for their charity John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe Cottolengo, Luigi Orione and Teresa of Calcutta (see no. 40).

This array of men and women, molded by the Spirit of Christ who made them models of dedication to the Gospel, leads us to consider the importance of consecrated life as an expression and school of love.

The Second Vatican Council emphasized that the imitation of Christ in chastity, poverty and obedience should be entirely oriented to the achievement of perfect charity (see Perfectae Caritas, no. 1).

Precisely in order to shed light on the importance and value of consecrated life, the Church celebrates this coming 2 February, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, as the Day of Consecrated Life. In the afternoon of that day, just as John Paul II liked to do, I will preside at Holy Mass in the Vatican Basilica, to which the consecrated men and women who live in Rome are specially invited. Let us together thank God for the gift of consecrated life and pray that it may continue to be an eloquent sign of his merciful love in the world.

Let us now turn to Mary Most Holy, mirror of love. With her motherly help may Christians and especially consecrated persons walk expeditiously and joyfully on the path of holiness.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 28 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the liturgical calendar commemorates St Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Church. With his charism as a philosopher and theologian, he offered an effective model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit that are completely fulfilled in the encounter and dialogue with one another.

According to St Thomas’ thought, human reason, as it were, “breathes”: it moves within a vast open horizon in which it can express the best of itself. When, instead, man reduces himself to thinking only of material objects or those that can be proven, he closes himself to the great questions about life, himself and God and is impoverished.

The relationship between faith and reason is a serious challenge to the currently dominant culture in the Western world, and for this very reason our beloved John Paul II decided to dedicate an Encyclical to it, entitled, precisely, Fides et Ratio - Faith and Reason. Recently, I too returned to this topic in my Discourse to the University of Regensburg.

In fact, the modern development of the sciences brings innumerable positive effects, as we all see, that should always be recognized. At the same time, however, it is necessary to admit that the tendency to consider true only what can be experienced constitutes a limitation of human reason and produces a terrible schizophrenia now acclaimed, which has led to the coexistence of rationalism and materialism, hyper-technology and unbridled instinct.

It is urgent, therefore, to rediscover anew human rationality open to the light of the divine Logos and his perfect revelation which is Jesus Christ, Son of God made man.

When Christian faith is authentic, it does not diminish freedom and human reason; so, why should faith and reason fear one another if the best way for them to express themselves is by meeting and entering into dialogue? Faith presupposes reason and perfects it, and reason, enlightened by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing by opening itself to the content of faith, which, indeed, requires its free and conscious adherence.

St Thomas Aquinas, with farsighted wisdom, succeeded in establishing a fruitful confrontation with the Arab and Hebrew thought of his time, to the point that he was considered an ever up-to-date teacher of dialogue with other cultures and religions. He knew how to present that wonderful Christian synthesis of reason and faith which today too, for the Western civilization, is a precious patrimony to draw from for an effective dialogue with the great cultural and religious traditions of the East and South of the world.

Let us pray that Christians, especially those who work in an academic and cultural context, are able to express the reasonableness of their faith and witness to it in a dialogue inspired by love. Let us ask the Lord for this gift through the intercession of St Thomas Aquinas and above all, through Mary, Seat of Wisdom.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 3 February 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to entrust various intentions to your prayers. In the first place, remembering that yesterday, the liturgical Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we celebrated the World Day of Consecrated Life, I invite you to pray for those whom Christ calls to follow him more closely with a special consecration. Our gratitude goes to these brothers and sisters of ours who dedicate themselves with the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the total service of God and the Church. May the Blessed Virgin obtain many holy vocations to the consecrated life, which constitutes a precious treasure for the Church and for the world.

Another prayer intention is offered to us by the Pro-Life Day, being celebrated in Italy today, whose theme is “Serving Life”. I greet and thank all who are gathered here in St Peter’s Square in order to witness to their commitment to defend and promote life and to reassert that “a people’s civilization is measured by its capacity to serve life” (Message of the Italian Bishops’ Conference for the 30th National Pro-Life Day). May each one, according to his own possibilities, professionalism and competence, always feel impelled to love and serve life from its beginning to its natural end. In fact, welcoming human life as a gift to be respected, protected and promoted is a commitment of everyone, all the more so when it is weak and needs care and attention, both before birth and in its terminal phase. I join the Italian Bishops in encouraging all those who, with an effort but also with joy, discreetly and with great dedication, assist elderly or disabled relatives and those who regularly give part of their time to help those people of every age whose lives are tried by so many different forms of poverty.

Let us also pray that Lent, which begins next Wednesday with the Rite of Ashes - which I will celebrate, as I do every year, in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine - may be a time of authentic conversion for all Christians, called to bear an increasingly authentic and courageous witness to their faith. Let us entrust these prayer intentions to Our Lady. From yesterday until the end of 11 February, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions, it is possible to receive a Plenary Indulgence, applicable to the deceased, on the usual conditions - Confession, Communion and prayer for the Pope’s intentions - and by praying before a blessed image of Our Lady of Lourdes exposed for public veneration. The elderly and the sick may obtain the Indulgence through heartfelt prayer. May Mary, Mother and Star of Hope, light us on our way and make us ever more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 1st February 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year, among the Sunday celebrations, the liturgy proposes the Gospel of St Mark for our meditation. A unique characteristic of this Gospel is what is called the “messianic secret”: namely, the fact that, for the moment, Jesus does not want it to be known outside the small group of his disciples that he is the Christ, the Son of God. Moreover, at this point he warns both the Apostles and the sick whom he heals not to reveal his identity to anyone. For example, this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Mk 1: 21-28) tells of a man possessed by the devil who suddenly shouts: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God”. And Jesus commands the spirit: “Quiet! Come out of him!” And immediately the Evangelist notes the unclean spirit, with excruciating cries, came out of that man. Jesus not only drives demons out of people, freeing them from the worst slavery, but prevents the demons themselves from revealing his identity. And he insists on this “secret” because what is at stake is the success of his very mission, on which our salvation depends. Indeed, he knows that to liberate humanity from the dominion of sin he will have to be sacrificed on the Cross as the true Paschal Lamb. The devil, for his part, seeks to dissuade him so as to divert him instead toward the human logic of a powerful and successful Messiah. The Cross of Christ will be the devil’s ruin, and this is why Jesus always taught his disciples that in order to enter into his glory he must suffer much, he must be rejected, condemned and crucified (see Lk 24: 26), for suffering is an integral part of his mission.

Jesus suffered and died on the Cross for love. On close consideration, it was in this way that he gave meaning to our suffering, a meaning that many men and women of every age have understood and made their own, experiencing profound tranquility even in the bitterness of harsh physical and moral trials. And the theme that the Italian Bishops have chosen for their customary Message on the occasion of today’s Pro-Life Day is precisely “The strength of life in suffering”. I wholeheartedly make their words my own, in which is seen the love of Pastors for their people and their courage in proclaiming the truth the courage to say clearly, for example, that euthanasia is a false solution to the drama of suffering, a solution unworthy of man. Indeed, the true response cannot be to put someone to death, however “kindly”, but rather to witness to the love that helps people to face their pain and agony in a human way. We can be certain that no tear, neither of those who are suffering nor of those who are close to them, is lost before God.

The Virgin Mary kept her Son’s secret in her maternal heart and shared in the painful hour of the passion and crucifixion, sustained by her hope in the Resurrection. Let us entrust to her the people who are suffering and those who work every day to support them, serving life in all of its phases: parents, health care workers, priests, religious, researchers, volunteers and many others. Let us pray for them all.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 31 January 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Sunday’s Liturgy we read one of the most beautiful passages of the New Testament and of the whole Bible: the Apostle Paul’s “hymn to love” (1 Cor 12: 31-13: 13). In his First Letter to the Corinthians, after explaining through the image of the body that the different gifts of the Holy Spirit contribute to the good of the one Church, Paul shows the “way” of perfection. It does not, he says, consist in possessing exceptional qualities: in speaking new languages, understanding all the mysteries, having a prodigious faith or doing heroic deeds. Rather, it consists in love agape that is, in authentic love which God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Love is the “greatest gift” which gives value to all the others and yet it “is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant”; on the contrary it “rejoices in the right” and in the good of others. Whoever truly loves “does not insist on [his or her] own way”, “is “not irritable or resentful” but “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (see 1 Cor 13: 4-7). In the end, when we find ourselves face to face with God, all the other gifts will no longer matter; the only one that will last forever is love, because God is love and we will be like him, in perfect communion with him.

For now, while we are in this world, love is the sign of Christians. It sums up their entire life: what they believe and what they do. This is why at the beginning of my Pontificate I chose to dedicate my first Encyclical to this very subject of love: Deus Caritas Est. As you will remember, this Encyclical is made up of two parts that correspond to the two aspects of charity: its meaning and hence its practice. Love is the essence of God himself, it is the meaning of creation and of history, it is the light that brings goodness and beauty into every person’s existence. At the same time love is, so to speak, the “style” of God and of believers, it is the behavior of those who, in response to God’s love, make their life a gift of themselves to God and to their neighbour. In Jesus Christ these two aspects form a perfect unity: he is Love incarnate. This Love has been fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Fixing our gaze on him, we can confess with the Apostle John: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (see 1 Jn 4: 16; Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, no. 1).

Dear friends, if we think of the Saints, we recognize the variety of their spiritual gifts and also their human characteristics, but the life of each one of them is a hymn to charity, a living canticle to God’s love! Today, 31 January, we are commemorating in particular St John Bosco, the Founder of the Salesian Family and Patron of young people. In this Year for Priests, I would like to invoke his intercession so that priests may always be educators and fathers to the young; and that, experiencing this pastoral love, many young people may accept the call to give their lives for Christ and for the Gospel. May Mary Help of Christians, a model of love, obtain these graces for us.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 30 January 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Gospel presents the first great discourse that the Lord addresses to the people on the gentle hills encircling the Sea of Galilee. “Seeing the crowds,” St Matthew writes, “he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them” (Mt 5:1-2).

Jesus, the new Moses, “takes his seat on the cathedra of the mountain” (Jesus of Nazareth, Doubleday, New York 2007, p. 65) and proclaims “blessed” the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the merciful, those who hunger for righteousness, the pure in heart, the persecuted (see Mt 5:3-10). It is not a new ideology, but a teaching that comes from on high and touches the human condition, the condition that the Lord, in becoming flesh, wished to assume in order to save it.

Therefore “the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to the entire world, the entire present and future, and yet it demands discipleship and can be understood and lived out only by following Jesus and accompanying him on his journey” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 69).

The Beatitudes are a new programme of life, to free oneself from the false values of the world and to open oneself to the true goods, present and future. Indeed, when God comforts, he satisfies the hunger for righteousness, he wipes away the tears of those who mourn, which means that, as well as compensating each one in a practical way, he opens the Kingdom of Heaven. “The Beatitudes are the transposition of the Cross and Resurrection into discipleship” (ibid., p. 74). They mirror the life of the Son of God who let himself even be persecuted and despised until he was condemned to death so that salvation might be given to men and women.

An ancient hermit says: “The Beatitudes are gifts of God and we must say a great ‘thank you’ to him for them and for the rewards that derive from them, namely the Kingdom of God in the century to come and consolation here; the fullness of every good and mercy on God’s part … once we have become images of Christ on earth” (Peter of Damascus, In Filocalia, Vol. 3, Turin 1985, p. 79).

The Gospel of the Beatitudes is commented on with the actual history of the Church, the history of Christian holiness, because, as St Paul writes, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor 1:27-28).

For this reason the Church has no fear of poverty, contempt or persecution in a society which is often attracted by material well-being and worldly power. St Augustine reminds us that “it serves nothing to suffer these evils, but rather to bear them in the Name of Jesus, not only with a serene soul but also with joy” (see De sermone Domini in monte, i, 5,13: ccl 35, 13).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the Virgin Mary, the Blessed par excellence, asking her for the strength to seek the Lord (see Zeph 2:3) and to follow him always, with joy, on the path of the Beatitudes.



St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 29 January 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday’s Gospel (Mk 1:21-28) presents to us Jesus, who was preaching on the Sabbath in the Synagogue of Capernaum, the little town on the Sea of Galilee where Peter and his brother Andrew lived. His teaching, which gave rise to wonder among the people, was followed by the deliverance of “a man with an unclean spirit” (v. 23), who recognized Jesus as “the Holy One of God”, that is, the Messiah. In a short time his fame spread across the region which he passed through proclaiming the Kingdom of God and healing the sick of every kind: words and action. St John Chrysostom pointed out that the Lord “varies the mode of profiting his hearers, after miracles entering on words, and again from the instruction by his words passing to miracles” (Hom. in Matthæum 25, 1: PG 57, 328).

The words Jesus addresses to the people immediately give access to the will of the Father and to the truth about themselves. This was not the case for the scribes who instead had to make an effort to interpret the Sacred Scriptures with countless reflections. Moreover Jesus united the efficacy of the word with the efficacy of the signs of deliverance from evil. St Athanasius notes that “for his charging evil spirits and their being driven forth, this deed is not of man, but of God”; indeed the Lord “drove away from men all diseases and infirmities”.... Those “who saw his power... will no longer doubt whether this be the Son and Wisdom and Power of God?” (Oratio de Incarnatione Verbi 18,19: PG 25, 128 BC. 129 B).

The divine authority is not a force of nature. It is the power of the love of God that creates the universe and, becoming incarnate in the Only-Begotten Son, descending into our humanity, heals the world corrupted by sin. Romano Guardini wrote: “Jesus’ entire existence is the translation of power into humility... here is the sovereignty which lowers itself into the form of a servant” (Il Potere, Brescia 1999, 141-142).

Authority, for human beings, often means possession, power, dominion and success. Instead for God authority means service, humility and love; it means entering into the logic of Jesus who stoops to wash his disciples’ feet (see Jn 13:5), who seeks man’s true good, who heals wounds, who is capable of a love so great that he gives his life, because he is Love. In one of her Letters St. Catherine of Siena wrote: “It is necessary for us to see and know, in truth, with the light of the faith, that God is supreme and eternal Love and cannot want anything but our good” (Ep. 13 in: Le Lettere, vol. 3, Bologna 1999, 206).

Dear friends, next Thursday, 2 February, we shall celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, the World Day of Consecrated Life. Let us invoke Mary Most Holy with trust so that she may guide our hearts to draw always from divine mercy, which frees and guarantees our humanity, filling it with every grace and benevolence and with the power of love.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 3 February 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s Gospel — taken from chapter four of St Luke — is the continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel. Once again we find ourselves in the Synagogue of Nazareth, the village where Jesus grew up, where every knew him and his family. Then, after a period of absence, he returned there in a new way: during the Sabbath liturgy he read a prophecy on the Messiah by Isaiah and announced its fulfilment, making it clear that this word referred to him, that Isaiah had spoken about him. The event puzzled the Nazarenes: on the one hand they “all spoke well of him and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Lk 4:22).

St Mark reported what many were saying: “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him?” (6:2). On the other hand, however, his fellow villagers knew him too well: “He is one like us”, they say, “His claim can only be a presumption (see The Infancy Narratives, English edition, p. 3). “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22), as if to say “what can a carpenter from Nazareth aspire to?”

Well-acquainted with this imperviousness which confirms the proverb: “no prophet is acceptable in his own country”, to the people in the synagogue Jesus addressed words that resonate like a provocation. He cited two miracles wrought by the great prophets Elijah and Elisha for men who were not Israelites in order to demonstrate that faith is sometimes stronger outside Israel. At this point there was a unanimous reaction. All the people got to their feet and drove him away; and they even tried to push him off a precipice. However, passing through the midst of the angry mob with supreme calmness he went away. At this point it comes naturally to wonder: why ever did Jesus want to stir up this antagonism? At the outset the people admired him and he might perhaps have been able to obtain a certain consensus.... But this is exactly the point: Jesus did not come to seek the agreement of men and women but rather — as he was to say to Pilate in the end — “to bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18:37). The true prophet does not obey others as he does God, and puts himself at the service of the truth, ready to pay in person. It is true that Jesus was a prophet of love, but love has a truth of its own. Indeed, love and truth are two names of the same reality, two names of God.

In today’s liturgy these words of St Paul also ring out: “Love is not... boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (1 Cor 13:43-6). Believing in God means giving up our own prejudices and accepting the actual face in which he revealed himself: Jesus of Nazareth the man. And this process also leads to recognizing him and to serving him in others.

On this path Mary’s attitude is enlightening. Who could be more closely acquainted than her with the humanity of Jesus? Yet she was never shocked by him as were his fellow Nazarenes. She cherished this mystery in her heart and was always and ever better able to accept it on the journey of faith, even to the night of the Cross and the full brilliance of the Resurrection. May Mary also always help us to continue faithfully and joyfully on this journey. 

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