Benedict XVI on death

November 2, 2013

As we remember the departed this All Souls Day in the Year of Faith, it would be good to ponder Benedict XVI’s 2006 reflection on death.
Here’s an excerpt:

Faith reminds us that there is no need to be afraid of the death of the body because, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s [Rm 14: 8]. And with St Paul, we know that even if we are separated from our bodies we are with Christ, whose Risen Body, which we receive in the Eucharist, is our eternal and indestructible dwelling place.

True death, on the other hand, which is to be feared, is the death of the soul which the Book of Revelation calls “the second death” (cf. Rv 20: 14-15; 21: 8). In fact, those who die in mortal sin without repentance, locked into their proud rejection of God’s love, exclude themselves from the Kingdom of life.

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DO NOT MISS….

February 10, 2012

…..Pope Benedict’s Message for Lent 2012It is tremendously relevant to Community life!!  As well as to our lives as Catholics in general.


School of prayer – Class #5

June 7, 2011

Pope Benedict’s fifth session of his school of prayer examines the prayer of the greatest Old Testament prefigurer of Christ:  Moses.  As with Abraham, our Holy Father chooses to focus on Moses as an example of intercessory prayer.  The Pope tells us why intercessory prayer is important:

Intercessory prayer makes divine mercy so active within the corrupted reality of the sinful man, that it finds a voice in the supplication of one who prays and through him becomes present where salvation is needed.

The Scriptural basis for this class is Exodus 32, specifically Moses’ prayer of intercession found in Ex 32:11-13.  Pope Benedict points out the approach that Moses takes in his prayer:

Moses’ prayer is wholly centered on the Lord’s fidelity and grace….The work of salvation begun must be brought to completion; if God were to allow his people to perish, this could be interpreted as a sign of a divine inability to bring to completion the project of salvation. God cannot permit this: He is the good Lord who saves, the guarantor of life, he is the God of mercy and forgiveness, of liberation from sin which kills. And so Moses appeals to God, to the interior life of God, against the exterior pronouncement….Moses had a concrete experience of the God of salvation; he was sent as a mediator of divine liberation, and now, with his prayer, he voices a twofold concern — concern for the fate of his people, but alongside this, concern for the honor that is owed to the Lord, for the truth of his name. The intercessor, in fact, wants the people of Israelto be saved, because they are the flock that has been entrusted to him, but also because, in that salvation, the true reality of God is manifested. Love of the brothers and love of God interpenetrate in intercessory prayer; they are inseparable. Moses, the intercessor, is a man stretched between two loves, which in prayer overlap into but one desire for good.

Then, our Holy Father sets forth Moses as the example of what authentic intercession is all about:

A mediator of life, the intercessor shows solidarity with the people; desiring only the salvation that God himself desires, he renounces the prospect of becoming a new people pleasing to the Lord. The phrase that God had addressed to him, “but of you I will make a great nation,” is not even taken into consideration by the “friend” of God, who instead is ready to take upon himself not only the guilt of his people, but also all of its consequences.

When, after the destruction of the golden calf, he will return to the mountain once again to ask for Israel’s salvation, he will say to the Lord: “But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin — and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (verse. 32). Through prayer, desiring God’s desire, the intercessor enters ever more profoundly into the knowledge of the Lord and of his mercy, and becomes capable of a love that reaches even to the total gift of self.  (emphasis mine)

Then he proceeds to reveal why Jesus is the perfect intercessor:

In Moses, who stands upon the mountain height face to face with God, who becomes the intercessor for his people, and who offers himself — “blot me out” — the Fathers of the Church saw a prefiguration of Christ, who on the heights of the cross truly stands before God, not only as a friend but as Son. And not only does he offer himself — “blot me out” — but with his pierced heart he is blotted out, he becomes, as St. Paul himself says, sin; he takes our sins upon himself in order to spare us; his intercession is not only solidarity, but identification with us; he carries us all in his body. And in this way his whole existence as man and as Son is a cry to the heart of God, it is forgiveness, but a forgiveness that transforms and renews.

I think we should meditate upon this reality. Christ stands before the face of God and prays for me. His prayer on the cross is contemporaneous with all men, contemporaneous with me: He prays for me, he suffered and suffers for me, he identified himself with me by taking on our human body and soul. And he invites us to enter into his identity, making ourselves one body, one spirit with him, because from the heights of the cross he brought not new laws, tablets of stone, but rather he brought himself, his body and his blood, as the new covenant. He thereby makes us one blood with him, one body with him, identified with him. He invites us to enter into this identification, to be united with him in our desire to be one body, one spirit with him. Let us pray to the Lord that this identification may transform us, may renew us, since forgiveness is renewal — it is transformation.


School of prayer – Class #4

May 27, 2011

Those who attend the annual Scranton Charismatic Conference have likely seen the University of Scranton’s statue of Jacob wrestling the “angel” in one of the commons areas.  Pope Benedict used that incident from Genesis 32:23-32 as the lesson in the fourth class of his school of prayer.  I’m glad he did, because that’s one of the bible stories that I never quite understood.

After reviewing the context of the Scripture passage, and recapping the wrestling match for us, our Holy Father sheds light on an Old Testament concept:

To know someone’s name, in fact, implies a kind of power over the person, since the name, in biblical thinking, contains the most profound reality of the individual; it unveils his secret and his destiny. Knowing someone’s name therefore means knowing the truth of the other, and this allows one to be able to dominate him. When, therefore, at the stranger’s request, Jacob reveals his own name, he is handing himself over to his opponent; it is a form of surrender, of the total giving over of himself to the other.

With that explained, the Pope provides an interpretation of this passage that can serve as a model of sorts for our prayer:

….Jacob’s night at the ford of the Jabbok becomes for the believer a point of reference for understanding his relationship with God, which in prayer finds its ultimate expression. Prayer requires trust, closeness, in a symbolic “hand to hand” not with a God who is an adversary and enemy, but with a blessing Lord who remains always mysterious, who appears unattainable. For this reason the sacred author uses the symbol of battle, which implies strength of soul, perseverance, tenacity in reaching what we desire. And if the object of one’s desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and his love, then the battle cannot but culminate in the gift of oneself to God, in the recognition of one’s own weakness, which triumphs precisely when we reach the point of surrendering ourselves into the merciful hands of God.

Pope Benedict’s own words are so thorough, so penetrating, that I’m at a loss for any kind of substantive commentary to offer.  In light of his explanation, this passage, and even his own words, are truly worthy of some serious lectio divina.

His conclusion inspires in me a desire for greater perseverance in a heartfelt yielding to Him personal prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, our whole life is like this long night of battle and prayer that is meant to end in the desire and request for God’s blessing, which cannot be grasped or won by counting on our own strength, but must be received from him with humility, as a gratuitous gift that allows us, in the end, to recognize the face of the Lord.

[snip]

He who allows himself to be blessed by God, who abandons himself to him, who allows himself to be transformed by him, renders the world blessed. May the Lord help us to fight the good fight of faith and to ask his blessing in our prayer, so that he may renew in us the anticipation of seeing his face.


School of prayer – Class #3

May 22, 2011

With this third class, Pope Benedict begins a subset of his teachings on prayer that will focus on a “biblical review on this subject,” and

…will lead us to deepen in the covenant dialogue between God and man that animates the history of salvation, up to its culmination in the definitive Word that is Jesus Christ.


To me, this means he’s going to teach us how the great “friends of God” prayed in the Old Testament.

In this class, our Holy Father teaches about Abraham and his prayer of intercession in Genesis 18:17-33.  The true motivation for Abraham’s prayer was that

God decided to reveal to him what was about to happen and brings him to know the gravity of the evil and its terrible consequences…

This understanding leads Abraham to conclude that

…it would be unjust to punish in an indiscriminate way all the inhabitants. If there are innocents in the city, they cannot be treated as the guilty. God, who is a just judge, cannot act like that…

The Pope then highlights the heroic virtue in Abraham’s prayer, in his thought process, in his heart:

…we realize that Abraham’s request is even more serious and more profound, because he does not limit himself to ask for the salvation of the innocent. Abraham asks for forgiveness for the whole city…

Our teacher explains:

By so doing, he puts into play a new idea of justice: not the one that limits itself to punish the guilty, as men do, but a different, divine justice, which seeks the good and creates it through forgiveness that transforms the sinner, that converts and saves him. Hence, with his prayer Abraham does not invoke a merely retributive justice, but an intervention of salvation that, taking into account the innocent, also liberates the wicked from their guilt, forgiving them. Abraham’s thought, which seems almost paradoxical, can be synthesized thus: obviously the innocent cannot be treated as the guilty, this would be unjust; instead, it is necessary to treat the guilty as the innocent, putting into act a “superior” justice, offering them a possibility of salvation, because if the evildoers accept God’s forgiveness and confess their fault letting themselves be saved, they will no longer continue to do evil, they will also become righteous, without any further need to be punished.

Our own prayer time, our relationship with God, if it is authentic and ever-deepening, should lead us to understand the “terrible consequences” of sin, selfishness, and a life that excludes God.  It should spawn in us a faith-based intercession, especially for the needy members of our family, an intercession that

…is based on the certainty that the Lord is merciful. Abraham does not ask of God something that is contrary to his essence; he knocks on the door of God’s heart, knowing his real will.
[snip]
Because manifested and expressed through intercession, prayer to God for the salvation of others is the desire of salvation that God always harbors for sinful man….the Lord does not desire the death of the wicked, but that he be converted and live; his desire is always to forgive, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good. Well, it is precisely this divine desire that, in prayer, becomes man’s desire and is expressed through the words of intercession. With his supplication, Abraham is lending his own voice, but also his own heart, to the divine will: God’s desire is mercy, love and will of salvation….With the voice of his prayer, Abraham is giving voice to God’s desire, which is not to destroy, but to save…

Alas, after Abraham and his family departed the city, not even one righteous person was left, which would have held off God’s wrath.  This leads Pope Benedict to reveal to us the importance of Jesus:

It will be necessary for God himself to become that righteous one. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a righteous one, he himself becomes man. There will always be a righteous one because he is: it is necessary, however, that God himself become that righteous one. The infinite and amazing divine love will be fully manifested when the Son of God becomes man, the definitive Righteous One, the perfect Innocent One, who will bring salvation to the whole world by dying on the cross, forgiving and interceding for those who “know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Then the prayer of every man will find its answer, then every intercession of ours will be fully heard.

Our Holy Father concludes:

…the supplication of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever more to the superabundant mercy of God, so that in our daily prayer we will be able to desire the salvation of humanity and to ask for it with perseverance and trust in the Lord who is great in love.


School of prayer – Class #2

May 13, 2011

In Pope Benedict’s second class in his school of prayer, he speaks about why prayer is necessary for us to become the persons that we were meant to be.  He points out that

St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as the “expression of man’s desire for God.”

This leads me to think that the intensity of our desire for God will be revealed in the diligence and the quantity of our prayer.

The CCC teaches us in n. 2558 that prayer is the means by which we live out our relationship with God:

“Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer. [emphasis added]

Our Holy Father echoes this teaching:

Prayer, which is the opening and raising of the heart to God, becomes a personal relationship with Him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living and true God does not fail to call man to the mysterious encounter of prayer.

Given the Pope’s teaching, it might be good to evaluate our own attitude toward our personal prayer time:

Are we eager to have prayer time?
Do we look forward to it?
Are we enthusiastic about having a personal encounter with Jesus?
Or….is our prayer time simply one more task on our daily “To Do” list?
Are we reluctant to spend time praying?

The answers to these questions might serve as a barometer of our personal relationship with the Lord.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

UPDATE 5/14/11:
While watching this video of Fr Francis Martin (in preparation for tomorrow’s Mass readings), I heard Fr Martin speak about having desire for the Lord (from about 3:20 to 4:00 in the video).  In the last five minutes or so, he talks about the importance of prayer in our growth in holiness.


B16’s school of prayer is now in session

May 8, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI this week began a new series of teachings.  He wants them to be a “school of prayer.” 

The subject will be

the prayer that Jesus taught us and that the Church continues to teach us. It is in Jesus, in fact, that man is made capable of approaching God with the depth and intimacy of the relationship of fatherhood and sonship.

The goal is

that our relationship with [God] in prayer [be] ever more intense, affectionate and constant.

This is gonna be good!


How is your fasting going this Lent?

April 7, 2011

Here’s a fasting benchmark from Pope Benedict:

He does not really fast who does not know how to nourish himself on the Word of God.

 (from his General Audience on Ash Wednesday this year)


The journey

March 14, 2011

In his Ash Wednesday General Audience address this past week, our Holy Father described Lent as follows:

Lent is a journey; it is to accompany Jesus who goes up to Jerusalem, the place of the fulfillment of the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection; it reminds us that the Christian life is a “journey” to undertake, which consists not so much in a law to be observed but in the very person of Christ, who we must encounter, receive and follow.

We should see life in covenant community in much the same way:  a journey that leads us to a continually deepening encounter with “the very person of Christ.”  Sometimes we give disordered importance to our statutes and agreements as “a law to be observed.”  Perhaps we have a lower opinion of those who fail to fulfill that ‘law’.  Our own relationship with Jesus should lead us to love our brethren, to be merciful to them (as our Heavenly Father is merciful), to pray for them.  In this way, we will all experience a deeper encounter with the very person of Christ.

~WB


Live in the newness

February 23, 2011

In his Angelus address this past Sunday, Pope Benedict said:

He who welcomes the Lord in his life and loves him with all of his heart can begin again. He is able to do God’s will: to realize a new form of existence animated by love and destined for eternity.

When I go to Mass, I often recall a particular teaching of Pope John Paul II on Holy Communion, and the newness of life that it brings to us:

22. Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion.

Because of how frequently and repetitively I fail, this concept of “newness” is a source of great consolation to me.  It motivates me to avoid dwelling despairingly on the past (after appropriate repentance, of course), but to look forward with hope to new opportunities to be faithful to the will of God.  Such newness is possible only because of the mercy of our loving Lord.  Such hope comes from having faith in that mercy, as we hear in Lamentations 3:21-23

But I will call this to mind, as my reason to have hope:  The favors of the LORD are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent;  They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.

~WB


B16 on evangelization

February 21, 2011

From this past Saturday:

Your great task in evangelization is therefore to propose a personal relationship with Christ as key to complete fulfillment…..At the same time, it must be recognized that new initiatives in evangelization will only be fruitful if, by the grace of God, those proposing them are people who truly believe and live the message of the Gospel themselves…..This is surely one of the reasons why basic ecclesial communities have had such a positive impact throughout the country. When formed and guided by people whose motivating force is the love of Christ, these communities have proven themselves to be worthy tools of evangelization as they work in conjunction with local parishes.


Pope Benedict encourages Community

February 4, 2011

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI met with members of the Emmanuel Community centered in France (not to be confused with the Emmanuel Community in Brisbane, Australia).  Several lines in his address seems like they would apply to all Communities:

In particular I invite your community to live a genuine communion among its members. I encourage you therefore to deepen your spiritual life giving an essential place to your personal encounter with Christ, the Emmanuel, God-with-us, so that you will allow yourselves to be transformed by him and have the passionate desire of the mission mature in you. In the Eucharist you find the source of all your commitments in the following of Christ and in his adoration you purify your look on the life of the world.
[snip]
This communion, which is not simply human solidarity among members of the same spiritual family, is based on your relationship with Christ and on a common commitment to serve him. The community life you wish to develop, in respect of the state of life of each one, will be, hence, a living testimony for society of the fraternal love that must animate all human relations.


Christ’s Lay Faithful….20-years later

November 28, 2008

December 28th, the day of our Community Christmas Celebration, also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici, which Pope John Paul II wrote as his follow-up to the Synod of Bishops on the laity that took place in October 1987.  Recently, the Pontifical Council for the Laity convened an Assembly to review the 20-years since CF.  Our Holy Father met with the participants of the Assembly, at which time he delivered a brief message.  In it, he notes how CF both recognizes and helps to discern the abundance of spiritual gifts being bestowed upon the laity:

The clear awareness of the Church’s charismatic dimension has brought about an appreciation and esteemed the more simple charisms that Divine Providence bestows on individuals as well as those that bring great spiritual, educational and missionary fecundity. Not by chance does the Document recognize and encourage the “new era of group endeavors of the lay faithful”. It is a sign of the “richness and the versatility of resources that the Holy Spirit nourishes in the ecclesial community” (n. 29), which indicate the ecclesial “criteria” necessary on one side for the discernment of Pastors and on the other side for growth of the life of lay associations, ecclesial movements and new communities.

 

He also expressed his gratitude to the PCL for nurturing the associations/movements/communities that have come to the Church for recognition:

In this respect I would like to thank the Pontifical Council for the Laity in a very special way, for the work completed during the last decades to welcome, accompany, discern, recognize and encourage these ecclesial realities, favoring the knowledge of their Catholic identity, helping them to insert themselves more fully into the great tradition and the living fabric of the Church, and promoting their missionary development.

 

Pope Benedict leaves the PCL with this charge:

Therefore I ask the Pontifical Council for the Laity to follow with diligent pastoral care the formation, witness and collaboration of lay faithful in the most varied situations, in which the authentic nature of human life in society is at risk. In a particular way, I confirm the necessity and urgency of the evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of a new generation of Catholics working in politics, that they be coherent with the professed faith, that they have moral firmness, the capacity of educated judgment, professional competence and passion for service to the common good.


Pope says: Include parents in Sacramental prep!

August 23, 2008

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI spent some time ‘vacationing’ in Bressanone.  While there, he had a special meeting with the priests from that general area (he does this every year wherever he is ‘vacationing’).  In these meetings, he entertains questions from a few of the priests.  As I was reading his answer to the very last question, these words jumped off the screen into my eyes like lasers during Lasik surgery:

…we naturally must do our best in the context of preparation for the sacraments to reach the parents as well…

 

I did a double-take.  Maybe a triple-take.  It seems to me to be an unmistakably direct confirmation from our Holy Father concerning our efforts to include parents/sponsors in our youth group’s Confirmation retreats.  Perhaps that will help us to convince some of the DRE’s who are on-the-fence about adult participation.

 

Here are the last two paragraphs of the Pope’s answer to that question, with my emphasis added in bold:

Therefore I would say substantially that the sacraments are naturally sacraments of faith: when there is no element of faith, when First Communion is no more than a great lunch with beautiful clothes and beautiful gifts, it can no longer be a sacrament of faith. Yet, on the other hand, if we can still see a little flame of desire for communion in the faith, a desire even in these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, it seems to me that it is right to be rather broad-minded. Naturally, of course, one purpose of our catechesis must be to make children understand that Communion, First Communion is not a “fixed” event, but requires a continuity of friendship with Jesus, a journey with Jesus. I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass but their parents do not make this desire possible. If we see that children want it, that they have the desire to go, this seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the “will” to participate in Sunday Mass. In this sense, we naturally must do our best in the context of preparation for the sacraments to reach the parents as well, and thus to – let us say – awaken in them too a sensitivity to the process in which their child is involved. They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus, which is a form of life, of the future. If parents want their children to be able to make their First Communion, this somewhat social desire must be extended into a religious one, to make a journey with Jesus possible.  

I would say, therefore, that in the context of the catechesis of children, that work with parents is very important. And this is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, making the life of faith also present to the adults, because, it seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children and understand that this great solemnity is only meaningful, true and authentic if it is celebrated in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. Thus, one should endeavour to convince parents, through their children, of the need for a preparatory journey that is expressed in participation in the mysteries and that begins to make these mysteries loved. I would say that this is definitely an inadequate answer, but the pedagogy of faith is always a journey and we must accept today’s situations. Yet, we must also open them more to each person, so that the result is not only an external memory of things that endures but that their hearts that have truly been touched. The moment when we are convinced the heart is touched – it has felt a little of Jesus’ love, it has felt a little the desire to move along these lines and in this direction. That is the moment when, it seems to me, we can say that we have made a true catechesis. The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus’ love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time.


Pope’s Mission Message for this year

August 22, 2008

Please take a few minutes to read Pope Benedict’s message for World Mission Sunday 2008, which will be celebrated on October 19.

 

In it, he invites us to join him in reflecting on “the continuing urgency to proclaim the Gospel also in our times.”  He encourages us, in this special year dedicated to St Paul, to see St Paul as “a model of this apostolic commitment.”

 

After explaining “that missionary activity is a response to the love with which God loves us,” he echoes Pope John Paul II:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, “duc in altum“!  Let us set sail in the vast sea of the world and, following Jesus’ invitation, let us cast our nets without fear, confident in his constant aid. 

 

Finally, our Holy Father reminds us that an important part of evangelization is the prayer that supports it:

…may prayer be intensified ever more in the Christian people, the essential spiritual means for spreading among all peoples the light of Christ…