Reflection of His Holiness, Benedict XVI during the first general congregation.
Monday, 5 October 2009 (Part II)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Let us consider these three gifts one by one. Confessio: in the language of the Bible and of the ancient Church, this word has two essential meanings, apparently in opposition but in fact constitute a single reality. Confessio is first of all the confession of sins: it means recognizing our guilt and knowing that before God we are found wanting, we are in a state of sin, we are not in the right relationship with him. This is the first point: knowing ourselves in the light of God. Only in this light can we know ourselves, can we also understand what is evil in us and thus perceive all that must be renewed, transformed. Only in the light of God do we recognize one another and truly see the whole of reality. It seems to me that we should bear all this in mind in our analyses of reconciliation, justice and peace. Empirical analysis is important, it is important to know the reality of this world exactly. ...If we do not see that they are rooted in the Mystery of God, worldly things go wrong because the relationship with God is not properly in order. ..All our analyses of the world are insufficient if we do not reach this point, if we do not consider the world in the light of God, if we do not discover that at the root of injustices, of corruption, is a heart that is not upright, there is closure to God and, consequently, a falsification of the essential relationship on which all the others are founded. Confessio: to see reality in God's light, to understand that basically our realities depend on our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer, and thus lead to the truth, to the truth that saves. St Augustine, referring to Chapter three of the Gospel according to St John, defines the act of Christian confession as "he who makes truth comes to the light". Only by seeing in the light of God our faults, our sins, the insufficiency of our relationship with him do we walk in the light of the truth. And it is only the truth that saves. At last, let us work in truth: making truth is truly confessing in this depth of God's light.
...A second meaning of confession is that of thanking God, glorifying God, witnessing to God. We can recognize the truth of our being because there is a divine response. God did not leave us alone with our sins; even when our relationship with his majesty is impeded, he does not withdraw but comes and takes us by the hand. Confession therefore is the witness of God's goodness, it is evangelization. We could say that the second dimension of the word confession is identical to evangelization. We see this on the Day of Pentecost when St Peter, in his discourse, on the one hand accuses people for their sins you have killed the holy and the just but, at the same time he says: this Saint is risen and loves you, embraces you, calls you to be his followers in repentance and in Baptism, as well as in communion with his Body. In the light of God confessing necessarily becomes proclaiming God, evangelizing and thereby renewing the world.
The word confession reminds us of yet another element. In Chapter 10 of his Letter to the Romans St Paul interprets the confession of Chapter 30 of Deuteronomy. In the latter text it would seem that in the Holy Land, upon entering into the definitive form of the Covenant, the Jews were afraid and could not really respond to God as they ought. The Lord says to them: do not be afraid, God is not far away. God is not far away, he is not on the other side of the ocean or in these immense spaces of the universe. He is near. He is in your heart and on your lips, with the words of the Torah he enters your heart and is proclaimed by your lips. God is in you and with you, he is close.
Reflection of His Holiness Benedict XVI During the First General Congregation
Monday, 5 October 2009 (Part I)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the invocation of the Holy Spirit we have now begun our Synodal Meeting, knowing full well that we cannot do at this moment what needs to be done for the Church and for the world: only with the power of the Holy Spirit can we discover what is right and put it into practice. And every day we shall start by invoking the Holy Spirit with the prayer of the Hour of Terce: "Nunc, sancte, nobis Spiritus". I would therefore like to meditate with you briefly on this hymn with which we shall begin our work each day, now, during the Synod, and also afterwards in our daily life.
"Nunc, sancte, nobis Spiritus". We pray that Pentecost may not only be an event of the past, at the very beginning of the Church, but that it may be today, indeed now, "nunc, sancte, nobis Spiritus". Let us pray that the Lord may bring about the outpouring of his Spirit now and recreate his Church and the world. Let us remember that after the Ascension the Apostles did not begin as might perhaps have been expected to organize, to create the Church of the future. They waited for God to act. They waited for the Holy Spirit. They understood that the Church cannot be made, that she is not the product of our organization: the Church must be born of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Lord himself was conceived and born of the Holy Spirit so the Church must also be conceived and born of the Holy Spirit. Only through this creative act of God can we enter into God's activity, into the divine action, and cooperate with him. In this regard, all our work at the Synod also consists in collaborating with the Holy Spirit, with the power of God that precedes us. And we must always implore, over and over again, the fulfilment of this divine initiative in which we can become collaborators of God and contribute to ensuring that his Church is reborn and grows.
The second verse of this hymn: "Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor, / Confessionem, personent: / Flammescat igne caritas, / accendat ardor proximos" is the heart of this prayer. We ask of God three gifts, the essential gifts of Pentecost, of the Holy Spirit: confessio, caritas, proximos. Confessio: it is the tongue of fire that is "reasonable", that gives the right word and calls to mind the conquest of Babylon on the Feast of Pentecost. The confusion born from human egoism and pride, whose effect is the inability to understand each other, must be overcome by the power of the Spirit which unites without standardizing, which gives unity in plurality. Each one can understand the other, despite the diversity of languages. Confessio: the word, the tongue of fire that the Lord gives us, the common word in which we are all united, the City of God, Holy Church, in which all the wealth of our different cultures is present. Flammescat igne caritas. This confession is not a theory but life, love. The heart of Holy Church is love, God is love and communicates himself to us by communicating love to us. And lastly, our neighbour. The Church is never a closed group which lives for itself like so many of the groups that exist in the world; rather, she is distinguished by the universality of charity, of responsibility for her neighbour.
Catechesis on Christian prayer (part III)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the same period the Emperor Marcus Aurelius — who was also a philosopher who reflected on the human condition — affirmed the need to pray in order to establish a fruitful cooperation between divine action and human action. He wrote in his Meditations: “Who told you that the gods do not help us also in what depends on us? So begin to pray to them and you will see” (Dictionnaire de Spiritualité xii/2, col. 2213).
This advice of the Emperor philosopher was effectively put into practice by innumerable generations prior to Christ, thereby demonstrating that human life without prayer, which opens our existence to the mystery of God, lacks sense and direction. Always expressed in every prayer, in fact, is the truth of the human creature who on the one hand experiences weakness and impoverishment, who therefore addresses his supplication to Heaven, and on the other is endowed with an extraordinary dignity, so that, in preparing to receive the divine Revelation, finds himself able to enter into communion with God.
Dear friends, in these examples of prayer of different epochs and civilizations emerge the human being’s awareness of his creatural condition and of his dependence on Another superior to him and the source of every good. The human being of all times prays because he cannot fail to wonder about the meaning of his life, which remains obscure and discomforting if it is not put in relation to the mystery of God and if his plan for the world.
Human life is a fabric woven of good and of evil, of undeserved suffering and of joy and beauty that spontaneously and irresistibly impel us to ask God for that light and that inner strength which support us on earth and reveal a hope beyond the boundaries of death.
The pagan religions remain an invocation which from the earth awaits a word from Heaven. One of the last great pagan philosophers, who lived fully in the Christian era, Proclus of Constantinople, gives a voice to this expectation, saying: “unknowable, no one contains you. All that we think belongs to you. Our evils and our good come from you, on you our every yearning depends, O Ineffable One, whom our souls feel present, raising to you a hymn of silence” (Hymni, ed. Vogt, Wiesbaden 1957, in Preghiere dell’umanità, op. cit., p. 61).
In the examples of prayer of the various cultures which we have considered, we can see a testimony of the religious dimension and of the desire for God engraved on the heart of every human being, which receives fulfilment and full expression in the Old and in the New Testament. The Revelation, is in fact purifying and brings to its fullness man’s original yearning for God, offering to him, in prayer, the possibility of a deeper relationship with the heavenly Father.
At the beginning of our journey in the “school of prayer” let us now ask the Lord to illumine our minds and hearts so that the relationship with him in prayer may be ever more intense, affectionate and constant. Once again, let us say to him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1).
Catechesis on Christian prayer (Part II)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the pagan religion of ancient Greece, a very significant development may be seen: prayers, while still invoking divine help to obtain heavenly favors in every circumstance of daily life and to receive material benefits, gradually became orientated to more disinterested requests, which enabled the believer to deepen his or her relationship with God and to become a better person. For example, the great philosopher Plato records a prayer of his teacher, Socrates, held to be one of the founders of Western thought. This was Socrates’ prayer: “Grant to me that I be made beautiful in my soul within, and that all external possessions be in harmony with my inner man. May I consider the wise man rich; and may I have such wealth as only the self-restrained man can bear or endure” (Plato, Phaedrus, English trans.: Loeb, Harold North Fowler). Rather than to possess plenty of money, he wanted above all to be beautiful within and wise.
In the Greek tragedies, sublime masterpieces of the literature of all time which still, after 25 centuries, are read, thought about and performed today, there is a content of prayer which expresses the desire to know God and to worship his majesty. One of these tragedies says: “O Earth’s Upbearer, thou whose throne is Earth, Who’er thou be, O past our finding out, Zeus, be thou Nature’s Law, or Mind of man, Thee I invoke; for, treading soundless paths, To Justice’ goal thou bringest all mortal things” (Euripedes, Trojan Women, 884-886, English trans.: Loeb, Arthur S. Way). God remains somewhat nebulous, nevertheless man knows this unknown god and prays to the one who guides the ways of the world.
Also among the Romans who made up that great Empire in which Christianity first came into being and spread, prayer, even if it is associated with a utilitarian conception and fundamentally associated with the request for divine protection of the life of the civil community, sometimes begins with invocations that are wonderful for the fervour of personal devotion that is transformed into praise and thanksgiving. In the second century A.D., Apuleius, an author of Roman Africa, attested to this. In his writings he expresses his contemporaries’ dissatisfaction with the traditional religion and the desire for a more authentic relationship with God. In his masterpiece, entitled Metamorphoses, a believer addresses these words to a goddess: “You are holy, you are in every epoch a saviour of the human species, you, in your generosity, always help mortals, offer to the wretch in travail the tender affection of a mother. Neither a day nor a night nor even a second pass without you filling it with your benefits” (Apuleius of Madaura, Metamorphoses ix, 25).
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Catechesis on Christian prayer
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to begin a new series of Catecheses. After the series on the Fathers of the Church, on the great theologians of the Middle Ages and on great women, I would now like to choose a topic that is dear to all our hearts: it is the theme of prayer, and especially Christian prayer, the prayer, that is, which Jesus taught and which the Church continues to teach us. It is in fact in Jesus that man becomes able to approach God in the depth and intimacy of the relationship of fatherhood and sonship. Together with the first disciples, let us now turn with humble trust to the Teacher and ask him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1).
In the upcoming Catechesis, in comparing Sacred Scripture, the great tradition of the Fathers of the Church, of the Teachers of spirituality and of the Liturgy, let us learn to live our relationship with the Lord, even more intensely as it were at a “school of prayer”. We know well, in fact, that prayer should not be taken for granted. It is necessary to learn how to pray, as it were acquiring this art ever anew; even those who are very advanced in spiritual life always feel the need to learn from Jesus, to learn how to pray authentically. We receive the first lesson from the Lord by his example. The Gospels describe Jesus to us in intimate and constant conversation with the Father: it is a profound communion of the One who came into the world not to do his will but that of the Father who sent him for the salvation of man.
At this first Catechesis, as an introduction I would like to propose several examples of prayer in the ancient cultures, to show that practically always and everywhere they were addressed to God.
I shall start with ancient Egypt, as an example. Here a blind man, asking the divinity to restore his sight, testifies to something universally human. This is a pure and simple prayer of petition by someone who is suffering. This man prays: “My heart longs to see you.... You who made me see the darkness, create light for me, so that I may see you! Bend your beloved face over me” (A. Barucq — F. Daumas, Hymnes et prières de l’Egypte ancienne, Paris 1980). That I may see you; this is the essence of the prayer! In the religions of Mesopotamia an arcane, paralyzing sense of guilt predominated, but which was not devoid of the hope of redemption and liberation on God’s part. We may thus appreciate this entreaty by a believer of those ancient cultures, formulated in these words: “O God who are indulgent even in the greatest sin, absolve me from my sin.... Look, O Lord at your tired servant and blow your breeze upon him: forgive him without delay. Alleviate your severe punishment. Freed from bonds, grant that I may breathe anew, break my chains, loosen the fetters that bind me” (M.-J. Seux, Hymnes et Prières aux Dieux de Babylone et d’Assyrie, Paris 1976). These are words that demonstrate how the human being, in his search for God, had intuited, if vaguely, on the one hand his own guilt and on the other, aspects of divine mercy and goodness.