Monday, August 28, 2023

Reflections on the Twenty-Second Sunday of
Ordinary Time by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0296: Reflections on the Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary 

Time by Pope Benedict XVI 

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, on 28 August 2005, 3 September 2006, 2 September 2007, 31 August 2008, 30 August 2009, 29 August 2010, 28 August 2011, and 2 September 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and three homilies delivered on these occasions.



Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 28 August 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My ecclesial experience in Cologne last week with a vast number of young people from every corner of the world, accompanied by many Bishops, priests, and men and women religious on the occasion of World Youth Day, was truly extraordinary. It was an event of grace for the entire Church.

When I spoke to the Bishops of Germany shortly before returning to Italy, I said that young people were addressing a request to us: “Help us to be disciples and witnesses of Christ. Like the Magi we have come to find him and to worship him”.

The young people left Cologne for their own cities and nations, enlivened by great hope but without losing sight of the many difficulties, obstacles and problems that accompany an authentic search for Christ and faithful adherence to his Gospel.

Not only youth, but also communities and the Pastors themselves must become more and more aware of a fundamental fact about evangelization: wherever God does not have pride of place, wherever he is not recognized and worshipped as the Supreme Good, human dignity is at risk.

It is therefore urgent to bring our contemporaries to “rediscover” the authentic face of God, who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. Thus, the humanity of our time will also be able, like the Magi, to fall to their knees and adore him.

In speaking to the German Bishops, I recalled that worship is “not a luxury... but a priority”. To seek Jesus must be the constant desire of believers, young people and adults, of the faithful and of their pastors. This seeking must be encouraged, supported and guided.

Faith is not merely the attachment to a complex of dogmas, complete in itself, that is supposed to satisfy the thirst for God, present in the human heart.

On the contrary, it guides human beings on their way through time toward a God who is ever new in his infinity.

Christians, therefore, are at the same time both seekers and finders. It is precisely this that makes the Church young, open to the future, rich in hope for the whole of humanity.

St Augustine, whom we are commemorating today, has some marvellous thoughts about the invitation found in Psalm 105[104]: “Quaerite faciem eius semper - constantly seek his face” (v. 3).

He points out that this invitation is not only valid for this life but also for eternity. The discovery of “God’s Face” is never ending. The further we penetrate into the splendour of divine love, the more beautiful it is to pursue our search, so that “amore crescente inquisitio crescat inventi - the greater love grows, the further we will seek the One who has been found” (Enarr. in Ps 105[104]: 3; CCL 40, 1537).

This is the experience to which, deep down, we too aspire. May the intercession of the great Bishop of Hippo obtain it for us! May the motherly help of Mary, the Star of Evangelization whom we now invoke with the prayer of the Angelus, obtain it for us.



Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 3 September 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, 3 September, the Roman calendar commemorates St Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church (c. 540-604).

His exceptional, I would say, almost unique figure is an example to hold up both to pastors of the Church and to public administrators: indeed, he was first Prefect and then Bishop of Rome. As an imperial official, he was so distinguished for his administrative talents and moral integrity that he served in the highest civil office, Praefectus Urbis, when he was only 30 years old.

Within him, however, the vocation to the monastic life was maturing; he embraced it in 574, upon his father’s death. The Benedictine Rule then became the backbone of his existence. Even when the Pope sent him as his Representative to the Emperor of the East in Constantinople, he maintained a simple and poor monastic lifestyle.

Called back to Rome, Gregory, although living in a monastery, was a close collaborator of Pope Pelagius II, and when the Pope died, the victim of a plague epidemic, Gregory was acclaimed by all as his Successor.

He sought in every way to escape this appointment but in the end was obliged to yield. He left the cloister reluctantly and dedicated himself to the community, aware of doing his duty and being a simple and poor “servant of the servants of God”.

“He is not really humble,” he wrote, “who understands that he must be a leader of others by decree of the divine will and yet disdains this pre-eminence. If, on the contrary, he submits to divine dispositions, and does not have the vice of obstinacy, and is prepared to benefit others with those gifts when the highest dignity of governing souls is imposed on him, he must flee from it with his heart, but against his will, he must obey” (Pastoral Rule, I, 6). It is like a dialogue that the Pope has with himself at that time.

With prophetic foresight, Gregory intuited that a new civilization was being born from the encounter of the Roman legacy with so-called “barbarian” peoples, thanks to the cohesive power and moral elevation of Christianity. Monasticism was proving to be a treasure not only for the Church but for the whole of society.

With delicate health but strong moral character St Gregory the Great carried out intense pastoral and civil action. He left a vast collection of letters, wonderful homilies, a famous commentary on the Book of Job and writings on the life of St Benedict, as well as numerous liturgical texts, famous for the reform of song that was called “Gregorian”, after him.

However, his most famous work is certainly the Pastoral Rule, which had the same importance for the clergy as the Rule of St Benedict had for monks in the Middle Ages.

The life of a pastor of souls must be a balanced synthesis of contemplation and action, inspired by the love “that rises wonderfully to high things when it is compassionately drawn to the low things of neighbours; and the more kindly it descends to the weak things of this world, the more vigorously it recurs to the things on high” (II, 5).

In this ever timely teaching, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council found inspiration to outline the image of today’s Pastor.

Let us pray to the Virgin Mary that the example and teaching of St Gregory the Great may be followed by pastors of the Church and also by those in charge of civil institutions.




Plain of Montorso, Sunday, 2 September 2007

At the end of this solemn Eucharistic celebration, dear young people, let us recite the prayer of the Angelus in spiritual communion with all those who are connected with us via radio and television.

Loreto, after Nazareth, is the ideal place to pray while meditating on the mystery on the Incarnation of the Son of God.

Therefore, at this moment, my invitation is to enter together, in heart and mind, the Shrine of the Holy House, within those walls that according to tradition came from Nazareth, the place where the Virgin said “yes” to God and conceived in her womb the eternal Incarnate Word.

Before ending our assembly, let us leave the “agora”, the square, for a moment and in spirit enter the Holy House. There is a reciprocal link between the square and the house.

The square is large, open, it is the place for meeting others, for dialogue, for confrontation.

The house, on the other hand, is the place for recollection and for inner silence, where the Word may be received in depth.

To bring God to the square, one first needs to have interiorized him in the house, like Mary at the Annunciation.

And vice versa, the house is open to the square. This is also suggested by the fact that the Holy House of Loreto has three walls, not four: it is  an open House, open to the world, to life, even to this Agora of Italian youth.

Dear friends, it is a great privilege for Italy to have the Shrine of the Holy House in this sweet corner of the Marches. Be justly proud of this and make the most of it!

At the most important moments of your lives come here, at least in your hearts, in spiritual recollection within the walls of the Holy House.

Pray to the Virgin Mary that she may obtain for you the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, so that you may respond fully and generously to the voice of God.

You will then become his true witnesses in the “square”, in society, bearers of a Gospel which is not abstract but incarnate in your lives.




Plain of Montorso, Sunday, 2 September 2007

After last night’s Vigil, our Meeting in Loreto is now coming to an end around the altar with the solemn Eucharistic celebration. Once again, my most cordial greeting to you all. I extend a special greeting to the Bishops and I thank Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco who has expressed your common sentiments. I greet the Archbishop of Loreto who has welcomed us with affection and kindness. I greet the priests, the men and women religious and all those who have carefully prepared this important event of faith. I offer a respectful greeting to the Civil and Military Authorities present, with a particular remembrance for Hon. Mr Francesco Rutelli, Vice-President of the Council of Ministers.

This is truly a day of grace! The Readings we have just heard help us to understand the marvellous work the Lord has done in bringing so many of us here to Loreto, to meet in a joyful atmosphere of prayer and festivity. In a certain sense, our gathering at the Virgin’s Shrine fulfils the words of the Letter to the Hebrews: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God”. Celebrating the Eucharist in the shadow of the Holy House, we too come to the “festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven”. Thus, we can experience the joy of having come “to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect”. With Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and our Mother, let us above all go to meet “the Mediator of a New Covenant”, Our Lord Jesus Christ (see Heb 12: 22-24). The Heavenly Father, who in many and various ways spoke to our fathers (see Heb 1: 1), offering his Covenant and often encountering resistance and rejection, desired in the fullness of time to make a new, definitive and irrevocable agreement with human beings, sealing it with the Blood of his Only-Begotten Son, who died and rose for the salvation of all humanity. Jesus Christ, God made man, took on our own flesh in Mary, participated in our life and chose to share in our history. To realize his Covenant God sought a young heart and he found it in Mary, “a young woman”.

God also seeks young people today. He seeks young people with great hearts who can make room for him in their lives to be protagonists of the New Covenant. To accept a proposal as fascinating as the one Jesus offers us, to make the covenant with him, it is necessary to be youthful within, to be capable of letting oneself be called into question by his newness, to set out with him on new roads. Jesus has a fondness for young people, as the conversation with the rich young man clearly shows (see Mt 19: 16-22; Mk 10: 17-22); he respects their freedom but never tires of proposing loftier goals for life to them: the newness of the Gospel and the beauty of holy behaviour. Following her Lord’s example, the Church continues to show the same attention. This is why, dear young people, she looks at you with immense affection, she is close to you in moments of joy and festivity, in trials and in loss. She sustains you with the gifts of sacramental grace and accompanies you in the discernment of your vocation. Dear young people, let yourselves be involved in the new life that flows from the encounter with Christ and you will be able to be apostles of his peace in your families, among your friends, within your Ecclesial Communities and in the various milieus in which you live and work.

But what is it that makes people “young” in the Gospel sense? Our Meeting, which is taking place in the shadow of a Marian Shrine, invites us to look to Our Lady. Let us therefore ask ourselves: How did Mary spend her youth? Why was it that in her the impossible became possible? She herself reveals it to us in the Canticle of the Magnificat. God “regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (Lk 1: 48a). It was Mary’s humility that God appreciated more than anything else in her. And it is precisely of humility that the other two Readings of today’s liturgy speak to us. Is it not a happy coincidence that this message is addressed to us exactly here in Loreto? Here, we think spontaneously of the Holy House of Nazareth, which is the Shrine of humility: the humility of God who took flesh, who made himself small, and the humility of Mary who welcomed him into her womb; the humility of the Creator and the humility of the creature. Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, was born from this encounter of humility. “The greater you are, the more you humble yourself, so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord” (3: 18-20) says the passage in Sirach; and in the Gospel, after the Parable of the Wedding Feast, Jesus concludes: “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14: 11). Today, this perspective mentioned in the Scriptures appears especially provocative to the culture and sensitivity of contemporary man. The humble person is perceived as someone who gives up, someone defeated, someone who has nothing to say to the world. Instead, this is the principal way, and not only because humility is a great human virtue but because, in the first place, it represents God’s own way of acting. It was the way chosen by Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, who “being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2: 8).

Dear young people, I seem to perceive in these words of God about humility an important message which is especially current for you who want to follow Christ and belong to his Church. This is the message: do not follow the way of pride but rather that of humility. Go against the tide: do not listen to the interested and persuasive voices that today are peddling on many sides models of life marked by arrogance and violence, by oppression and success at any cost, by appearances and by having at the expense of being. How many messages, which reach you especially through the mass media, are targeting you! Be alert! Be critical! Do not follow the wave produced by this powerful, persuasive action. Do not be afraid, dear friends, to prefer the “alternative” routes pointed out by true love: a modest and sound lifestyle; sincere and pure emotional relationships; honest commitment in studies and work; deep concern for the common good. Do not be afraid of seeming different and being criticized for what might seem to be losing or out of fashion; your peers but adults too, especially those who seem more distant from the mindset and values of the Gospel, are crying out to see someone who dares to live according to the fullness of humanity revealed by Jesus Christ.

Therefore, dear friends, the way of humility is not the way of renunciation but that of courage. It is not the result of a defeat but the result of a victory of love over selfishness and of grace over sin.

In following Christ and imitating Mary, we must have the courage of humility; we must entrust ourselves humbly to the Lord, because only in this way will we be able to become docile instruments in his hands and allow him to do great things in us. The Lord worked great miracles in Mary and in the Saints! I am thinking, for example, of Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena, Patrons of Italy. I am thinking also of splendid young people like St Gemma Galgani, St Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, St Louis Gonzaga, St Dominic Savio, St Maria Goretti, born not far from here, and the Blesseds, Piergiorgio Frassati and Alberto Marvelli. And I am also thinking of numerous young men and women who belong to the ranks of the “anonymous” Saints, but who are not anonymous to God. For him, every individual person is unique, with his or her own name and face. All, and you know it, are called to be Saints!

As you see, dear young people, the humility the Lord has taught us and to which the Saints have borne witness, each according to the originality of his or her own vocation, is quite different from a renunciatory way of life. Let us look above all at Mary. At her school, we too, like her, can experience that “yes” of God to humanity from which flow all the “yeses” of our life. It is true, the challenges you must face are many and important. The first however, is always that of following Christ to the very end without reservations and compromises. And following Christ means feeling oneself a living part of his body which is the Church. One cannot call oneself a disciple of Jesus if one does not love and obey his Church. The Church is our family in which love for the Lord and for our brothers and sisters, especially through participation in the Eucharist, enables us to experience the joy of already having a foretaste, now, of the future life that will be totally illuminated by Love. May our daily commitment be to live here below as though we were already in Heaven above.

Thus, feeling oneself as Church is a vocation to holiness for all; it is a daily commitment to build communion and unity, overcoming all resistance and rising above every incomprehension. In the Church we learn to love, teaching ourselves to accept our neighbour freely, to show caring attention to those in difficulty, to the poor and to the lowliest. The fundamental motivation that unites believers in Christ is not success but goodness, a goodness that is all the more authentic the more it is shared, and which does not primarily consist in having or in being powerful, but in being. In this way one builds the city of God with human beings, a city which at the same time grows on earth and comes down from Heaven because it develops in the encounter and collaboration between people and God (see Rv 21: 2-3).

Following Christ, dear young people, also entails the constant effort to make one’s own contribution to building a society that is more just and sober and in which all may enjoy the goods of the earth.

I know that many of you are generously dedicated to witnessing to your faith in the various social environments, active as volunteers and working to promote the common good, peace and justice in every community. There is no doubt that one of the fields in which it seems urgent to take action is that of safeguarding creation. The future of the planet is entrusted to the new generations, in which there are evident signs of a development that has not always been able to protect the delicate balances of nature. Before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions that can recreate a strong alliance between humankind and the earth. A decisive “yes” is needed to protect creation and also a strong commitment to invert those trends which risk leading to irreversibly degrading situations. I therefore appreciated the Italian Church’s initiative to encourage sensitivity to the problems of safeguarding creation by establishing a National Day, which occurs precisely on 1 September. This year attention is focused above all on water, a very precious good which, if it is not shared fairly and peacefully, will unfortunately become a cause of harsh tensions and bitter conflicts.

Dear young friends, after listening to your reflections yesterday evening and last night, letting myself be guided by God’s Word, I now want to entrust to you my considerations which are intended as a paternal encouragement to follow Christ in order to be witnesses of his hope and love. For my part, I will continue to be beside you with my prayers and affection, so that you may persevere enthusiastically on the journey of the Agora, this unique triennial journey of listening, dialogue and mission. Today, concluding the first year with this wonderful Meeting, I cannot fail to invite you to look ahead already to the great event of World Youth Day that will be held in July next year in Sydney. I ask you to prepare yourselves for this important manifestation of youthful faith by meditating on the Message which examines in depth the theme of the Holy Spirit, to live together a new springtime of the Spirit. Therefore, I am expecting many of you even in Australia, at the end of your second year of the Agora. Lastly, let us turn our gaze, our eyes, once again to Mary, model of humility and courage. Virgin of Nazareth, help us to be docile to the work of the Holy Spirit, as you were; help us to become ever more holy, disciples in love with your Son Jesus; sustain and guide these young people so that they may be joyful and tireless missionaries of the Gospel among their peers in every corner of Italy. Amen!



Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 31 August 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today too, the Apostle Peter, like last Sunday, appears in the foreground of the Gospel. However, whereas last Sunday we admired him for his forthright faith in Jesus, whom he proclaimed the Messiah and Son of God, this time, in the episode that immediately follows, he shows a faith that is still immature and too closely bound to the mentality of “this world” (see Rm 12: 2). Indeed, when Jesus begins to speak openly of the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem, in other words that he will have to suffer many things and be killed in order subsequently to be raised, Peter protests saying: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Mt 16: 22). It is obvious that the Teacher and the disciple follow two opposite ways of thinking. Peter, in accordance with a human logic, is convinced that God would never permit his Son to end his mission by dying on the Cross. Jesus, on the contrary, knows that in his immense love for mankind the Father sent him to give his life for them and that if this should involve the Passion and the Cross, it is right that it should happen in this manner. Moreover he knows that the last word will be the Resurrection. Although Peter’s protest was spoken in good faith and for sincere love of the Master, to Jesus it sounds like a temptation, an invitation to save himself, whereas it is only by losing his life that he will receive new and eternal life for us all.

If, to save us, the Son of God had to suffer and die on the Cross, it was certainly not by a cruel design of the heavenly Father. The reason is the gravity of the illness from which he came to heal us: it was such a serious, mortal disease that it required all his Blood. Indeed, it was with his death and Resurrection that Jesus defeated sin and death and re-established God’s lordship. Yet the battle is not over. Evil exists and resists in every generation, as we know, in our day too. What are the horrors of war, violence to the innocent, the wretchedness and injustice unleashed against the weak other than the opposition of evil to the Kingdom of God? And how is it possible to respond to so much wickedness except with the unarmed and disarming power of love that conquers hatred and of life that has no fear of death? It is the same mysterious power that Jesus used, at the cost of being misunderstood and abandoned by many of his own.

Dear brothers and sisters, in order to bring the work of salvation fully to completion, the Redeemer continues to associate to himself and his mission men and women who are prepared to take up their cross and follow him. Consequently, just as for Christ carrying the cross was not an option but a mission to be embraced for love, so it is for Christians too. In our world today, where the forces that divide and destroy seem to dominate, Christ does not cease to offer to all his clear invitation: anyone who wants to be my disciple must renounce his own selfishness and carry the cross with me. Let us invoke the help of the Blessed Virgin who followed Jesus first and to the very end on the way of the Cross. May she help us to walk in the Lord’s footsteps with determination, to experience from this moment, even in trial, the glory of the Resurrection.



Courtyard of the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Three days ago, on 27 August, we celebrated the liturgical Memorial of St Monica, Mother of St Augustine, considered the model and patroness of Christian mothers. We are provided with a considerable amount of information about her by her son in his autobiography, Confessions, one of the widest read literary masterpieces of all time. In them we learn that St Augustine drank in the name of Jesus with his mother’s milk, and that his mother brought him up in the Christian religion whose principles remained impressed upon him even in his years of spiritual and moral dissipation. Monica never ceased to pray for him and for his conversion and she had the consolation of seeing him return to the faith and receive Baptism. God heard the prayers of this holy mother, of whom the Bishop of Tagaste had said: “the son of so many tears could not perish”. In fact, St Augustine not only converted but decided to embrace the monastic life and, having returned to Africa, founded a community of monks. His last spiritual conversations with his mother in the tranquillity of a house at Ostia, while they were waiting to embark for Africa, are moving and edifying. By then St Monica had become for this son of hers, “more than a mother, the source of his Christianity”. For years her one desire had been the conversion of Augustine, whom she then saw actually turning to a life of consecration at the service of God. She could therefore die happy, and in fact she passed away on 27 August 387, at the age of 56, after asking her son not to trouble about her burial but to remember her, wherever he was, at the Lord’s altar. St Augustine used to say that his mother had “conceived him twice”.

The history of Christianity is spangled with innumerable examples of holy parents and authentic Christian families who accompanied the life of generous priests and pastors of the Church. Only think of St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nazianzus, both of whom belonged to families of saints. Let us think of Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, a husband and wife, very close to us, who lived at the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th and whose beatification by my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II in October 2001 coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. In addition to illustrating the value of marriage and the tasks of the family, this Document urged spouses to be especially committed to the path of sanctity which, drawing grace and strength from the Sacrament of Marriage, accompanies them throughout their life (see no. 56). When married couples devote themselves generously to the education of children, guiding them and orienting them to the discovery of God’s plan of love, they are preparing that fertile spiritual ground from which vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life spring up and develop. This reveals how closely connected they are, and marriage and virginity illumine each other on the basis of their common roots in the spousal love of Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, in this Year for Priests, let us pray “through the intercession of the Holy Curé d’Ars, [that] Christian families become churches in miniature in which all vocations and all charisms, given by the Holy Spirit, are welcomed and appreciated” (from the Prayer for the Year for Priests). May the Blessed Virgin, whom we shall now invoke together, obtain this grace for us.



Mariapoli Congress Centre, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We find in the Gospel one of the fundamental themes of humanity’s religious history: the question of the purity of the human being before God. In turning his gaze to God, man recognizes that he is “contaminated” and finds himself in a condition in which he has no access to the Holy One. Thus the question arises as to how he can be purified, and rid himself of the “dirt” that separates him from God. This has given rise in the different religions to rites of purification, to processes of interior and exterior cleansing. In today’s Gospel we encounter rites of purification that are rooted in the Old Testament tradition but are nonetheless performed in a very unilateral manner. Consequently they no longer serve to open man to God, they no longer lead to purification and salvation but become elements of a self-contained system of fulfilment which to be fully implemented even requires specialists. The human heart is no longer touched. Man, who moves within this system, either feels enslaved or falls into the arrogance of being able to justify himself.

Liberal exegesis says that this Gospel seems to reveal that Jesus would have replaced worship with morals, he would have set aside worship with all its empty practices. The relationship between man and God would then have been based solely on morals. If this were true it would mean that Christianity was essentially morality that is, that we make ourselves pure and good through our moral action. If we reflect more deeply on this opinion, it is obvious that this cannot be Jesus’ complete answer to the question on purity. If we want to hear and understand the Lord’s message fully we must listen carefully we cannot be content with a detail, we must pay attention to the whole of his message. In other words we must read the Gospels, the whole of the New and the Old Testament in their entirety and together.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy offers us important details that provide an answer and make us take a step forward. We are listening here to something that we may find surprising: God himself asks Israel to be grateful and to feel humbly proud of knowing God’s will and therefore of being wise. In that very period humanity, in both the Greek and Semitic contexts, was seeking wisdom: it was seeking to understand what matters. Science says many things and many aspects of it are useful to us, but wisdom is knowledge of the essential knowledge of the aim of our life and of how we should live in order to live life in the best possible way. The Reading from Deuteronomy mentions the fact that wisdom, in the final analysis, is identical to the Torah to the Word of God that reveals to us what is essential, for what purpose and in what way we should live. Thus the Law does not appear as a form of slavery, but is as the great Psalm 119 states a cause of great joy: we do not grope in the dark, we do not wander in vain seeking what might be righteous, we are not like sheep without a shepherd who do not know which is the right path. God has manifested himself. He himself shows us the way. We know his will and with it, the truth that counts in our life. We are told two things about God: on the one hand, that he manifested himself and that he shows us the right path to take; on the other, that God is a God who listens, who is close to us, answers us and guides us. With this we also come to the topic of purity: his will purifies us, his closeness guides us.

I believe that it is worth reflecting for a moment on Israel’s joy at knowing God’s will and thus having received as a gift wisdom which heals us and which we cannot find on our own. Is there among us, in the Church today, a similar sentiment of joy at God’s closeness and at the gift of his Word? Anyone who wished to show this joy would soon be accused of triumphalism. In fact it is not our ability that shows us God’s true will. It is an undeserved gift that makes us at the same time humble and glad. If we reflect on the world’s perplexity in the face of the great issues of the present and the future, joy should arise again within us at the fact that God has freely shown us his Face, his will, himself. Should this joy manifest itself again in us it would also move the hearts of non-believers. Without this joy we are not convincing. However, where this joy is present even involuntarily it has a missionary power. Indeed, it makes human beings wonder if this might not truly be the way if this joy might not effectively guide us in God’s footsteps.

All this is found in greater depth in the passage from the Letter of James that the Church presents to us today. I especially like the Letter of St James because it gives us an idea of the devotion of Jesus’ family. It was an observant family. Observant in the sense that it lived the joy at God’s closeness, described in Deuteronomy and which is given to us in his Word and in his Commandment. It is quite a different kind of observance from what we encounter in the Pharisees of the Gospel, who had made it into an exteriorized and enslaving system. Moreover it is a kind of observance unlike that which Paul, as a rabbi, had learned: that was as we see from his Letters the observance of an expert who knew everything; who was proud of his knowledge and of his righteousness but nevertheless suffered under the burden of the Law’s prescriptions, so that the Law no longer appeared as a joyous guide to God but rather as an exigency which, ultimately, it was impossible to fulfil.

In the Letter of St James we find that observance which does not look inwards but turns joyfully towards the caring God who gives us his closeness and points out to us the right way. Thus the Letter of St James speaks of the perfect Law of freedom that perseveres to reach a new and deeper understanding of the Law given to us by the Lord. For James the Law is not a requirement that demands too much of us, which stands before us and can never be satisfied. He is thinking in the perspective that we find in a sentence of Jesus’ farewell discourse: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15: 15). The one to whom all is revealed is part of the family; he is no longer a servant but is free precisely because he himself belongs to the household. A similar, initial introduction into the thought of God himself happened in Israel on Mount Sinai. It happened again in a definitive and grand way at the Last Supper and, generally through the work, the life, the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus; in him God told us everything, he manifested himself completely. We are no longer servants, but friends. And the Law is no longer a prescription for people who are not free but is contact with God’s love being introduced to become part of the family, an act that makes us free and “perfect”. It is in this sense that James says in today’s Reading that the Lord has created us by means of his Word, that he planted his Word deep within us as a life force. Here he also speaks of “pure religion” which consists in love for our neighbour particularly for orphans and widows who are needier than we are and in freedom from the ways of the world that contaminate us. The Law, like a word of love, is not a contradiction of freedom but a renewal from within by means of friendship with God. Something similar occurs when Jesus, in the discourse on the vine, says to the disciples: “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you” (Jn 15: 3). And the same thing appears again in the Priestly Prayer: sanctify them in the truth (see Jn 17: 17-19). Thus we now find the right structure for the process of purification and of purity: we do not create what is good that would be mere moralism but Truth comes to us. He himself is Truth, Truth in person. Purity happens through dialogue. It begins with the fact that he comes to us he who is Truth and Love he takes us by the hand and penetrates our being. Insofar as we allow him to touch us, insofar as the encounter becomes friendship and love, we ourselves, on the basis of his purity, become pure people and then people who love with his love, people who introduce others to his purity and his love.

Augustine summed all this up in a beautiful saying: Da quod iubes et iube quod vis grant what you command, and command what you will. Let us now bring this request before the Lord and pray to him: yes, purify us in the truth. May you be the Truth that makes us pure. Obtain that through friendship with you we may become free and thus truly children of God, make us capable of sitting at your table and spreading in this world the light of your purity and goodness. Amen.



Courtyard of the Papal Residence, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 29 August 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 14: 1, 7-14), we find Jesus as a guest dining at the house of a Pharisee leader. Noting that the guests were choosing the best places at table, he recounted a parable in the setting of a marriage feast. “When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come, and say to you, “Give place to this man’.... But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place” (Lk 14: 8-10). The Lord does not intend to give a lesson on etiquette or on the hierarchy of the different authorities. Rather, he insists on a crucial point, that of humility: “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14: 11). A deeper meaning of this parable also makes us think of the position of the human being in relation to God. The “lowest place” can in fact represent the condition of humanity degraded by sin, a condition from which the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten Son alone can raise it. For this reason Christ himself “took the lowest place in the world the Cross and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, no. 35).

At the end of the parable Jesus suggests to the Pharisee leader that he invite to his table not his friends, kinsmen or rich neighbours, but rather poorer and more marginalized people who can in no way reciprocate (see Lk 14: 13-14), so that the gift may be given freely. The true reward, in fact, will ultimately be given by God, “who governs the world.... We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, no. 35). Once again, therefore, let us look to Christ as a model of humility and of giving freely: let us learn from him patience in temptation, meekness in offence, obedience to God in suffering, in the hope that the One who has invited us will say to us: “Friend, go up higher” (see Lk 14: 10). Indeed, the true good is being close to him. St Louis IX, King of France whose Memorial was last Wednesday put into practice what is written in the Book of Sirach: “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord” (3: 18). This is what the King wrote in his “Spiritual Testament to his son”: “If the Lord grant you some prosperity, not only must you humbly thank him but take care not to become worse by boasting or in any other way, make sure, that is, that you do not come into conflict with God or offend him with his own gifts” (see Acta Sanctorum Augusti 5 [1868], 546).

Dear friends, today we are also commemorating the Martyrdom of St John the Baptist, the greatest among the prophets of Christ, who was able to deny himself to make room for the Saviour and who suffered and died for the truth. Let us ask him and the Virgin Mary to guide us on the path of humility, in order to become worthy of the divine reward.



Courtyard of the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 28 August 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s Gospel Jesus explains to his disciples that he must “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21).

Everything seems to have been turned upside down in the disciples’ hearts! How could “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16) suffer unto death? The Apostle Peter rebels, he refuses to accept this route, he rebukes the Teacher saying: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22). The divergence between the Father’s loving plan — which even went as far as the gift of the Only-Begotten Son on the Cross to save humanity — and the disciples’ expectations, wishes and projects stands out clearly. And today too this contrast is repeated: when the fulfilment of one’s life is geared solely to social success and to physical and financial well-being, one no longer reasons according to God but according to men (v. 23).

Thinking as the world thinks is to set God aside, not accepting his plan of love, preventing him, as it were, from doing his wise will. For this reason Jesus says some particularly harsh words to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (ibid.). The Lord teaches that “the way of discipleship [is] the way to follow him [walk behind him], the Crucified. In all three Gospels he also interprets this ‘following’ on the way of the Cross” as “the indispensable way for man to ‘lose his life’, without which it is impossible for him to find” himself” (Jesus of Nazareth, English edition, New York, p. 287).

As he invited the disciples, Jesus also addresses an invitation to us: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). A Christian follows the Lord when he accepts lovingly his own cross, which in the world’s eyes seems a defeat and to “lose life” (see vv. 25-26), knowing that he is not carrying it alone but with Jesus, sharing his same journey of self-giving.

The Servant of God Paul VI wrote: “In a mysterious way, Christ himself accepts death... on the Cross, in order to eradicate from man’s heart the sins of self-sufficiency and to manifest to the Father a complete filial obedience” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino, 9 May 1975). By willingly accepting death, Jesus carries the cross of all human beings and becomes a source of salvation for the whole of humanity.

St Cyril of Jerusalem commented: “The glory of the Cross led those who were blind through ignorance into light, loosed all who were held fast by sin and brought redemption to the whole world of mankind” (Catechesis Illuminandorum XIII, 1: de Christo crucifixo et sepulto: PG 33, 772 B).

Dear friends, Let us entrust our prayers to the Virgin Mary and also to St Augustine whose Memorial we are celebrating today, so that each one of us may be able to follow the Lord on the way of the cross and let ourselves be transformed by divine grace, renewing — as St Paul says in the liturgy today — our minds so that we “may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).



Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 2 September 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The theme of God’s Law, of his commandments, makes its entrance in the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday. It is an essential element of the Jewish and Christian religions, where the complete fulfilment of the law is love (cf. Rom 13:10). God’s Law is his word which guides men and women on the journey through life, brings them out of the slavery of selfishness and leads them into the “land” of true freedom and life. This is why the Law is not perceived as a burden or an oppressive restriction in the Bible. Rather, it is seen as the Lord’s most precious gift, the testimony of his fatherly love, of his desire to be close to his People, to be its Ally and with it write a love story.

This is what the devout Israelite prays: “I will delight in your statutes, / I will not forget your word.... Lead me in the path of your commandments, / for I delight in it” (Ps 119[118]:16, 35). In the Old Testament the person who passes on the Law to the People on God’s behalf is Moses. After the long journey in the wilderness, on the threshold of the promised land, he proclaims: “Now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, gives you” (Deut 4:1). And this is the problem: when the People put down roots in the land and are the depository of the Law, they are tempted to place their security and joy in something that is no longer the Word of God: in possessions, in power, in other ‘gods’ that in reality are useless, they are idols. Of course, the Law of God remains but it is no longer the most important thing, the rule of life; rather, it becomes a camouflage, a cover-up, while life follows other paths, other rules, interests that are often forms of egoism, both individual and collective.

Thus religion loses its authentic meaning, which is to live listening to God in order to do his will — that is the truth of our being — and thus we live well, in true freedom, and it is reduced to practising secondary customs which instead satisfy the human need to feel in God’s place. This is a serious threat to every religion which Jesus encountered in his time and which, unfortunately, is also to be found in Christianity. Jesus’ words against the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel should therefore be food for thought for us as well.

Jesus makes his own the very words of the Prophet Isaiah: “This People honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mk 7:6-7; cf. Is 29,13). And he then concludes: “You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men” (Mk 7:8).

The Apostle James too alerts us in his Letter to the danger of false piety. He writes to the Christians: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Jas 1:22). May the Virgin Mary, to whom we now turn in prayer, help us to listen with an open and sincere heart to the word of God so that every day it may guide our thoughts, our decisions and our actions.



Mariapoli Centre, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 2 September 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The words of Cardinal Schönborn’s exegesis, three years ago, of this Gospel passage still resonate within me: the mysterious correlation of the intimate and the exterior are what makes man impure, that which contaminates him and what is pure. Therefore, today I do not wish to comment on this same Gospel passage, or I will only touch upon it. I will try instead to say a word on the two Readings.

In Deuteronomy we see the “joy of the law”: law not as a constraint, as something that takes from us our freedom, but as a present and a gift. When other nations look at this great people — as the Letter says, as Moses says — they will say: What wise people! They will admire the wisdom of this people, the justice of the law and the closeness of God who is at their side and answers them when called upon. This is the humble joy of Israel: to receive a gift from God. This is different from triumphalism, from the pride that comes from ourselves: Israel is not proud of her law like Rome may have been of the Roman Law that it gave to humanity, perhaps like France of the Napoleonic Code, like Prussia of the “Preussisches Landrecht”, etc. — legislation we all recognize. But Israel knows: this law was not made by her, it was not the fruit of her genius, it was a gift. God showed them what the law was. God gave them wisdom. The law is wisdom. Wisdom is the art of being human, the art of being able to live well and of being able to die well. And one can live and die well only when the truth has been received and shows us the way: to be grateful for the gift that we did not invent, but that we were given, and to live in wisdom; to learn, thanks to the gift of God, how to be human in the right way.

The Gospel shows us, however, that there is also a danger — as it says right at the beginning of today’s passage from Deuteronomy: “Do not add anything and do not take anything away”. It teaches us that with the passing of time applications, works, and human customs have been added to this gift from God that increasingly hide what is proper to the wisdom given by God, so as to become true bondage that needs to be broken, or to lead us to presumption: we invented it!

But let us now turn to ourselves, to the Church. According to our faith, in deed, the Church is the Israel made universal, in which all become, through the Lord, children of Abraham; Israel has become universal, in it the essential nucleus of the law endures, free from the contingencies of time and people. This nucleus is simply Christ himself, the love of God for us and our love for him and for all men. He is the living Torah, God’s gift to us, in whom we now receive all the wisdom of God. In being united to Christ, in the “co-journey” and “co-life” with him, we ourselves learn how to be upright men, we receive the wisdom that is truth, we know how to live and to die, because he is the Life and the Truth.

It is fitting, then, for the Church, as for Israel, to be full of gratitude and joy. “What people can say that God is so close to them? What people have received this gift?”. We did not make it; it was given to us. Joy and gratitude for the fact that we can know that we have received the wisdom to live well, that it is what should distinguish the Christian. In fact, in early Christianity it was like this: being free from the shadow of groping along in ignorance — what am I? why am I? how should I move forward? — being made free, being in the light, in the fullness of the truth. This was the fundamental awareness. A gratitude that radiated around and united people in the Church of Jesus Christ.

But even in the Church there is the same phenomenon: human elements are added and they lead either to presumption, the so-called triumphalism of praising self rather than God, or to bondage, which needs to be removed, broken and smashed. What must we do? What must we say? I think that we are precisely at that impasse in which we see in the Church only what we ourselves have made, and our joy in the faith is marred; that we no longer believe and no longer dare to say: he has shown us who the truth is, what the truth is; he has shown us what man is; he has given us the law for an upright life. We are concerned only with praising ourselves and we fear being bound by rules that hinder our freedom and the newness of life.

If we read today, for example, in the Letter of James: “You were made in the word and in the truth”, which of us would dare to rejoice in the truth that we have been given? The question immediately arises: but how can one have the truth? This is intolerance! Today the idea of truth and that of intolerance are almost completely fused, and so we no longer dare to believe in the truth or to speak of the truth. It seems to be far away, it seems something better not to refer to. No one can say: I have the truth — this is the objection raised — and, rightly so, no one can have the truth. It is the truth that possesses us, it is a living thing! We do not possess it but are held by it. Only if we allow ourselves to be guided and moved by the truth, do we remain in it. Only if we are, with it and in it, pilgrims of truth, then it is in us and for us. I think that we need to learn anew about “not-having-the-truth”. Just as no one can say: I have children — they are not our possession, they are a gift, and as a gift from God, they are given to us as a responsibility — so we cannot say: I have the truth, but the truth came to us and impels us. We must learn to be moved and led by it. And then it will shine again: if the truth itself leads us and penetrates us.

Dear friends, let us ask the Lord to give us this gift. St James tells us today in the Reading: you must not limit yourselves to hearing the Word, you must put it into practice. This is a warning about the intellectualization of the faith and of theology. It is one of my fears at this time, when I read so many intellectual things: they become an intellectual game in which “we pass each other the ball”, in which everything is an intellectual sphere that does not penetrate and form our lives, and, thus, does not lead us to the truth. I think that these words of St James are directed to us theologians: do not just listen, do not just intellectualize — be doers, let yourself be formed by the truth, let yourself be led by it! Let us pray to the Lord that this may happen, and that like this the truth may have power over us, and acquire power in the world through us.

The Church has set the words of Deuteronomy — “Where is there a people to whom God is so close as our God is close to us, every time we invoke him?” — at the centre of the Divine Office of Corpus Christi, and gave it new meaning: where is there a people to whom God is as close as our God is to us? In the Eucharist this has become the full reality. It is of course not merely an exterior aspect: someone can stand near the tabernacle and, at the same time, be far from the living God. What matters is inner closeness! God came so close to us that he himself became a man: this should disconcert and surprise us again and again! He is so close that he is one of us. He knows the human being, he knows the “feeling” of the human being, he knows it from within; he has experienced all its joys and all its suffering. As a man, he is close to me, close “within earshot” — so close that he hears me and I am aware: He hears me and answers me, even though perhaps not quite as I imagined.

Let us be filled again with this joy: where is there a people to whom God is so close as our God is to us? So close that he is one of us, touches me from within. Yes, he enters me in the holy Eucharist. A bewildering thought. On this process, St Bonaventure once used in his communion prayers a formula that shakes, almost frightens, one. He said: my Lord, how did you ever think of entering the dirty latrine of my body? Yes, he enters into our misery, he does it knowingly and in order to penetrate us, to clean us and to renew us, so that, through us, in us, the truth may be in the world and bring salvation. Let us ask the Lord forgiveness for our indifference, for our misery that makes us think only of ourselves, for our selfishness that does not seek the truth but follows habit, and that perhaps often makes Christianity resemble a mere system of habits. Let us ask that he come with power into our souls, that he be present in us and through us — and that in this way joy may be born in us again: God is here, and loves me. He is our salvation! Amen. 

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