Pope Benedict XVI's last general audience address! Part II
We are in the Year of Faith, which I desired in order to strengthen our own faith in God in a context that seems to push faith more and more toward the margins of life. I would like to invite everyone to renew firm trust in the Lord. I would like that we all entrust ourselves as children to the arms of God, and rest assured that those arms support us and help us to walk every day, even in times of struggle. I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave His Son for us and showed us His boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. In a beautiful prayer to be recited daily in the morning says, “I adore you, my God, I love you with all my heart. I thank You for having created me, for having made me a Christian.” Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith: it is the most precious good, that no one can take from us! Let us thank God for this every day, with prayer and with a coherent Christian life. God loves us, but He also expects that we love Him!
At this time, however, it is not only God, whom I desire to thank. A Pope is not alone in guiding St. Peter’s barque, even if it is his first responsibility – and I have not ever felt myself alone in bearing either the joys or the weight of the Petrine ministry. The Lord has placed next to me many people, who, with generosity and love for God and the Church, have helped me and been close to me. First of all you, dear Brother Cardinals: your wisdom, your counsels, your friendship, were all precious to me. My collaborators, starting with my Secretary of State, who accompanied me faithfully over the years, the Secretariat of State and the whole Roman Curia, as well as all those who, in various areas, give their service to the Holy See: the many faces which never emerge, but remain in the background, in silence, in their daily commitment, with a spirit of faith and humility. They have been for me a sure and reliable support. A special thought [goes] to the Church of Rome, my diocese! I cannot forget the Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, the consecrated persons and the entire People of God: in pastoral visits, in public encounters, at Audiences, in traveling, I have always received great care and deep affection; I also loved each and every one, without exception, with that pastoral charity which is the heart of every shepherd, especially the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Every day I carried each of you in my prayers, with the father's heart.
To read the rest of his address go to:
"Believing in charity calls forth charity"
“We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The celebration of Lent, in the context of the Year of Faith, offers us a valuable opportunity to meditate on the relationship between faith and charity: between believing in God – the God of Jesus Christ – and love, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which guides us on the path of devotion to God and others.
1. Faith as a response to the love of God
In my first Encyclical, I offered some thoughts on the close relationship between the theological virtues of faith and charity. Setting out from Saint John’s fundamental assertion: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), I observed that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction … Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (Deus Caritas Est, 1). Faith is this personal adherence – which involves all our faculties – to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and “passionate” love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ. The encounter with God who is Love engages not only the heart but also the intellect: “Acknowledgement of the living God is one path towards love, and the ‘yes’ of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never ‘finished’ and complete” (ibid., 17). Hence, for all Christians, and especially for “charity workers”, there is a need for faith, for “that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love” (ibid., 31a). Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love – “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14) – they are profoundly open to loving their neighbour in concrete ways (cf. ibid., 33). This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God’s love.
“Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! … Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working” (ibid., 39). All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing mark of Christians is precisely “love grounded in and shaped by faith” (ibid., 7).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our yearly Lenten journey of conversion in preparation for Easter. The forty days of Lent recall Israel’s sojourn in the desert and the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. The desert, as the place of silent encounter with God and decision about the deepest meaning and direction of our lives, is also a place of temptation. In his temptation in the desert, Jesus showed us that fidelity to God’s will must guide our lives and thinking, especially amid today’s secularized society. While the Lord continues to raise up examples of radical conversion, like Pavel Florensky, Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day, he also constantly challenges those who have been raised in the faith to deeper conversion. In this Lenten season, Christ once again knocks at our door (cf. Rev 3:20) and invites us to open our minds and hearts to his love and his truth. May Jesus’ example of overcoming temptation inspire us to embrace God’s will and to see all things in the light of his saving truth.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Liturgy brings together two separate passages of Luke’s Gospel and presents them to us. The first (1:1-4) is the Prologue, addressed to a certain “Theophilus”. Since this name in Greek means “friend of God” we can see in him every believer who opens himself to God and wants to know the Gospel. Instead the second passage (4:14-21) presents Jesus who, “in the power of the Spirit”, goes to the Synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath. As a strict observer, the Lord does not disregard the pattern of the weekly liturgy and joins the assembly of his fellow citizens in prayer and in listening to the Scriptures. The ritual provides for the reading of a text from the Torah or the Prophets, followed by a commentary. That day Jesus stood up to read and found a passage from the Prophet Isaiah that begins this way: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted” (61:1-2). Origen’s comment was: “It is no coincidence that he opened the scroll and found the chapter of the reading that prophesies about him, this, too, was the work of God’s providence” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke, 32, 3). In fact when the reading was over in a silence charged with attention, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has [now] been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). St Cyril of Alexandria says that “today”, placed between the first and the final coming of Christ, is related to the believer’s ability to listen and to repent (PG 69, 1241). But in an even more radical sense, Jesus himself is “the today” of salvation in history, because he brings to completion the work of redemption. The word “today”, very dear to St Luke (19:9, 23:43), brings us back to the Christological title preferred by the Evangelist himself, namely: “Saviour” (sōtēr). Already in the infancy narratives, it is present in the words of the Angel to the shepherds: “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11).
Dear friends, this Gospel passage also challenges us “today”. First of all, it makes us think about how we live Sunday, a day of rest and a day for the family. Above all, it is the day to devote to the Lord, by participating in the Eucharist, in which we are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ and by his life-giving Word. Second, in our diversified and distracted time, this Gospel passage invites us to ask ourselves whether we are able to listen. Before we can speak of God and with God we must listen to him, and the liturgy of the Church is the “school” of this listening to the Lord who speaks to us. Finally, he tells us that every moment can be the propitious “day” for our conversion. Every day (kathçmeran) can become the today of our salvation, because salvation is a story that is ongoing for the Church and for every disciple of Christ. This is the Christian meaning of “carpe diem”: seize the day in which God is calling you to give you salvation!
May the Virgin Mary always be our model and our guide in knowing how to recognize and welcome the presence of God our Saviour and of all humanity every day of our lives.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Indeed, at the beginning of our life as Christians there is Baptism, which causes us to be reborn as children of God and makes us share in the filial relationship that Jesus has with the Father. And I would like to point out that Baptism is received, we “are baptized” — it is passive — because no one can become a son of God on his own. It is a gift that is freely given. St Paul recalls this adoptive sonship of Christians in a central passage of his Letter to the Romans, where he writes: “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:14-16), not slaves. Only if we open ourselves to God’s action, like Mary, only if we entrust our life to the Lord as to a friend whom we totally trust, will everything change, will our whole life acquire a new meaning, a new aspect: that of children with a father who loves us and never deserts us.
We have spoken of two elements: the first was the Spirit moving on the surface of the waters, the Creator Spirit: there is another element in the words of the Annunciation. The Angel said to Mary: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you”. This is a re-evocation of the holy cloud that, during the Exodus, halted over the tent of meeting, over the Ark of the Covenant that the People of Israel were carrying with them and that indicated God’s presence (cf. Ex 40:34-38).
Mary, therefore, is the new holy tent, the new ark of the covenant: with her “yes” to the Archangel’s words, God received a dwelling place in this world, the One whom the universe cannot contain took up his abode in a Virgin’s womb.
Let us therefore return to the initial question, the one about Jesus’ origins that is summed up by Pilate’s question: “where are you from?”. What Jesus’ true origins are is clear from our reflections, from the very beginning of the Gospels: he is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, he comes from God. We have before us the great and overwhelming mystery which we are celebrating in this Christmas season. The Son of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is an announcement that rings out ever new and in itself brings hope and joy to our hearts because, every time, it gives us the certainty that even though we often feel weak, poor and incapable in the face of the difficulties and evil in the world, God’s power is always active and works miracles through weakness itself. His grace is our strength (cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10). Many thanks.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
If we consider carefully the words: “by the Holy Spirit [he] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, we notice that they include four active subjects. The Holy Spirit and Mary are mentioned explicitly, but “he”, namely, the Son, who took flesh in the Virgin’s womb, is implicit. In the Profession of Faith, the Creed, Jesus is described with several epithets: “Lord... Christ, Only-Begotten Son of God... God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God... consubstantial with the Father” (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed). We can therefore see that “he” refers to another person, the Father. Consequently the first subject of this sentence is the Father who, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, is the one God.
This affirmation of the Creed does not concern God’s eternal being but, rather, speaks to us of an action in which the three divine Persons take part and which is brought about “ex Maria Virgine”. Without Mary God’s entry into the history of humanity would not have achieved its purpose, and what is central to our Profession of Faith would not have taken place: God is a “God-with-us”. Thus Mary belongs irrevocably to our faith in God who acts, who enters history. She makes her whole person available, she “agrees” to become God’s dwelling place.
Sometimes, on our journey and in our life of faith, we can sense our poverty, our inadequacy in the face of the witness we must offer to the world. However God chose, precisely, a humble woman, in an unknown village, in one of the most distant provinces of the great Roman Empire. We must always trust in God, even in the face of the most gruelling difficulties, renewing our faith in his presence and action in our history, just as in Mary’s. Nothing is impossible to God! With him our existence always journeys on safe ground and is open to a future of firm hope.
In professing in the Creed: “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, we affirm that the Holy Spirit, as the power of the Most High God, mysteriously brought about in the Virgin Mary the conception of the Son of God. The Evangelist Luke recorded the Archangel Gabriel’s words: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35).
Two references are obvious: the first is to the moment of the Creation. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis we read that “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (1:2); this is the Creator Spirit who gave life to all things and to the human being. What is brought about in Mary, through the action of this same divine Spirit, is a new creation: God, who called forth being from nothing, by the Incarnation gives life to a new beginning of humanity. The Fathers of the Church sometimes speak of Christ as the new Adam in order to emphasize that the new creation began with the birth of the Son of God in the Virgin Mary’s womb. This makes us think about how faith also brings us a newness so strong that it produces a second birth.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Once again the Nativity of the Lord illuminates the gloom that often envelops our world and our hearts and with its light brings hope and joy. Where does this light come from? From the Bethlehem Grotto where the shepherds found “Mary and Joseph, and the babe, lying in a manger” (Lk 2:16). Another, deeper question arises before this Holy Family: how can that tiny, frail Child have brought into the world a newness so radical that it changed the course of history? Is there not perhaps something mysterious about his origins which goes beyond that grotto?
The question of Jesus’ origins recurs over and over again. It is the same question that the Procurator Pontius Pilate asked during the trial: “where are you from?” (Jn 19:9). Yet his origins were quite clear. In John’s Gospel when the Lord says: “I am the bread which came down from heaven”, the Jews reacted, murmuring: “is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:41, 42).
Moreover, a little later the citizens of Jerusalem strongly opposed Jesus’ messianic claim, asserting that “where this man comes from” was well known; and that “when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from” (Jn 7:27). Jesus himself points out how inadequate their claim to know his origins is and by so doing he already offers a clue to knowing where he came from: “I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know” (Jn 7:28). Jesus was of course a native of Nazareth, he was born in Bethlehem; but what is known of his true origins?
In the four Gospels, the answer is clear as to where Jesus “comes from”. His true origins are in the Father, God; he comes totally from him [God], but in a different way from that of any of God’s prophets or messengers who preceded him. This origin in the mystery of God, “whom no one knows” is already contained in the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that we are reading during this Christmastide. The Angel Gabriel proclaimed: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35).
We repeat these words every time we recite the Creed, the Profession of Faith: “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto, ex Maria Virgine”, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”. At this sentence we kneel, for the veil that concealed God is lifted, as it were, and his unfathomable and inaccessible mystery touches us: God becomes the Emmanuel, “God-with-us”. When we hear the Masses written by the great composers of sacred music — I am thinking, for example, of Mozart’s Coronation Mass — we immediately notice how they pause on this phrase in a special way, as if they were trying to express in the universal language of music what words cannot convey: the great mystery of God who took flesh, who was made man.
The Gospel passage finishes with a mention of the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, eight days after birth, baby boys were to be circumcised and then given their name. Through his messenger, God himself had said to Mary – as well as to Joseph – that the Name to be given to the child was “Jesus” (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31); and so it came to be. The Name which God had already chosen, even before the child had been conceived, is now officially conferred upon him at the moment of circumcision. This also changes Mary’s identity once and for all: she becomes “the mother of Jesus”, that is the mother of the Savior, of Christ, of the Lord. Jesus, who is not a man like any other, but the Word of God, one of the Divine Persons, the Son of God: therefore the Church has given Mary the title Theotokos or Mother of God.
The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift from God and is linked to the splendor of the face of God, according to the text from the Book of Numbers, which hands down the blessing used by the priests of the People of Israel in their liturgical assemblies. This blessing repeats three times the Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time it is linked to two words indicating an action in favour of man: “The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (6:24-26). So peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favour, in which he turns towards us the splendor of his face.
For sacred Scripture, contemplating the face of God is the greatest happiness: “You gladden him with the joy of your face” (Ps 21:7). From the contemplation of the face of God are born joy, security and peace. But what does it mean concretely to contemplate the face of the Lord, as understood in the New Testament? It means knowing him directly, in so far as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ in whom he is revealed. To rejoice in the splendor of God’s face means penetrating the mystery of his Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of his interior life and of his will, so that we can live according to his plan of love for humanity. In the second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), Saint Paul says as much as he describes the Spirit who, in our inmost hearts, cries: “Abba! Father!” It is the cry that rises from the contemplation of the true face of God, from the revelation of the mystery of his Name. Jesus declares, “I have manifested thy name to men” (Jn 17:6). God’s Son made man has let us know the Father, he has let us know the hidden face of the Father through his visible human face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, he has led us to understand that, in him, we too are children of God, as Saint Paul says in the passage we have just heard: “The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6). Here, ... is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ the splendor of the face of God the Father, of being sons in the Son, and thus of having, on life’s journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a loving and all-powerful Father. The splendor of the face of God, shining upon us and granting us peace, is the manifestation of his fatherhood: the Lord turns his face to us, he reveals himself as our Father and grants us peace. Here is the principle of that profound peace – “peace with God” – which is firmly linked to faith and grace, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome (Rom 5:2). Nothing can take this peace from believers, not even the difficulties and sufferings of life. Indeed, sufferings, trials and darkness do not undermine but build up our hope, a hope which does not deceive because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (5:5).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“May God bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” We proclaimed these words from Psalm 66 after hearing in the first reading the ancient priestly blessing upon the people of the covenant. It is especially significant that at the start of every new year God sheds upon us, his people, the light of his Holy Name, the Name pronounced three times in the solemn form of biblical blessing. Nor is it less significant that to the Word of God – who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) as “the true light that enlightens every man” (1:9) – is given, as today’s Gospel tells us, the Name of Jesus eight days after his birth (Lk 2:21).
It is in this Name that we are gathered here today. I cordially greet all present, beginning with the Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I greet with affection Cardinal Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Turkson, with all the officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; I am particularly grateful to them for their effort to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace, which this year has as its theme “Blessed are the Peacemakers”.
Although the world is sadly marked by “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism,” as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that “the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God’s gift. All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt 5:9)” (Message, 1). This beatitude “tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort … It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbors and all creation” (ibid., 2, 3). Indeed, peace is the supreme good to ask as a gift from God and, at the same time, that which is to be built with our every effort.
This is the interior peace which we ought to have amid the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events whose meaning we often do not grasp and which disconcert us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In his First Letter to the Corinthians he writes: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:1-2).
The first real fact, therefore, is that Paul does not speak of a philosophy that he developed, he does not speak of ideas that he found elsewhere or invented, but of a reality of his life, he speaks of the God who entered his life, he speaks of a real God who is alive, who spoke with him and will speak with us, he speaks of the Crucified and Risen Christ.
The second real fact is that Paul does not seek himself, he does not want to make a fan club for himself, he does not wish to go down in history as the head of a school of great knowledge, he is not self-seeking; rather, St Paul proclaims Christ and wants to gain people for the true and real God. Paul’s wish is to speak of and preach the One who entered his life and who is true life, who won him over on the road to Damascus. Therefore, talking about God means making room for the One who enables us to know him, who reveals his face of love to us; it means emptying ourselves of our own ego, offering it to Christ, in the awareness that it is not we who can win over others for God, but that we must expect God to send them, we must entreat God for them. Talking about God therefore stems from listening, from our knowledge of God which is brought about through familiarity with him, through the life of prayer and in accordance with the Commandments.
Communicating faith, for St Paul, did not mean putting himself forward, but rather saying openly and publicly what he had seen and heard in his encounter with Christ, what he had experienced in his life that was transformed by that encounter: it meant putting forward Jesus whom he felt present within him and who became the true orientation of his existence, to make it clear to all that Jesus is necessary to the world and crucial to every person’s freedom. The Apostle is not satisfied with proclaiming words but expends his whole life in the great work of faith. To speak of God, we must leave him room, trusting that he will act in our weakness: we must make room for him without fear but with simplicity and joy, in the deep conviction that the more we put him at the centre rather than ourselves, the more fruitful our communication will be. And this is also true for Christian communities: they are called to show the transforming action of God’s grace, by overcoming individualism, closure, selfishness, indifference, by living out God’s love in their daily relations. Let us ask ourselves whether our communities really are like this. To be so, we must, always and truly proclaim Christ and not ourselves.