Saint Peter's Square
First Sunday of Lent, 1 March 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is the First Sunday of Lent and the Gospel, in the sober and concise style of St Mark, introduces us into the atmosphere of this liturgical season: "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan" (Mk 1: 12). In the Holy Land the Judean desert, which lies to the west of the River Jordan and the Oasis of Jericho, rises over stony valleys to reach an altitude of about 1,000 metres at Jerusalem. After receiving Baptism from John, Jesus entered that lonely place, led by the Holy Spirit himself who had settled upon him, consecrating him and revealing him as the Son of God. In the desert, a place of trial as the experience of the People of Israel shows, the dramatic reality of the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ who had stripped himself of the form of God (cf. Phil 2: 6-7), appears most vividly. He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathize with our weaknesses (cf. Heb 4: 15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy, who has been opposed to God's saving plan for humankind from the outset.
In the succinct account, angels, luminous and mysterious figures, appear almost fleetingly before this dark, tenebrous figure who dares to tempt the Lord. Angels, the Gospel says, "ministered" to Jesus (Mk 1: 13); they are the antithesis of Satan. "Angel" means "messenger". Throughout the Old Testament we find these figures who help and guide human beings on God's behalf. It suffices to remember the Book of Tobit, in which the figure of the Angel Raphael appears and assists the protagonist in every vicissitude. The reassuring presence of the angel of the Lord accompanies the People of Israel in all of their experiences, good and bad. On the threshold of the New Testament, Gabriel is dispatched to announce to Zechariah and to Mary the joyful events at the beginning of our salvation; and an angel we are not told his name warns Joseph, guiding him in that moment of uncertainty. A choir of angels brings the shepherds the good news of the Saviour's birth; and it was also to be angels who announced the joyful news of his Resurrection to the women. At the end of time, angels will accompany Jesus when he comes in his glory (cf. Mt 25: 31). Angels minister to Jesus, who is certainly superior to them. This dignity of his is clearly, if discreetly, proclaimed here in the Gospel. Indeed, even in the situation of extreme poverty and humility, when he is tempted by Satan he remains the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, we would be removing an important part of the Gospel were we to leave out these beings sent by God, who announce and are a sign of his presence among us. Let us invoke them frequently, so that they may sustain us in our commitment to follow Jesus to the point of identifying with him. Let us ask them, especially today, to watch over me and my collaborators in the Roman Curia; this afternoon we shall be beginning a week of Spiritual Exercises, as we do every year. Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us!
After the Angelus:
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Angelus prayer. On this First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of St Mark speaks of Jesus being led into the desert by the Holy Spirit, tempted by Satan and assisted by the angels. Let us pray that our Lenten journey will strengthen us in the struggle against all forms of temptation. Upon all of you I invoke God's abundant Blessings, and I wish you a pleasant Sunday and a happy stay in Rome!
After the Angelus the Holy Father made a special appeal for the workers of the Fiat factory in Pomigliano d'Arco:
Priority should be given to workers and their families.
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Christ Teaches Us to Pray
Early Church Father
Saint Cyrpian of Carthage - Christ Teaches Us to PrayThis excerpt from a treatise on the Lord's Prayer by Saint Cyprian of Carthage, bishop and martyr (Cap 1-3: CSEL 3, 267-268), is used in Roman Office of Readings for Tuesday of the first week of Lent, with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Exodus 6:29-7:25. It discusses one of the three pillars of Lenten penance, namely, the importance and power of prayer. For his entire treatise on the Our Father, click here.
Dear brothers, the commands of the Gospel are nothing else than God’s lessons, the foundations on which to build up hope, the supports for strengthening faith, the food that nourishes the heart. They are the rudder for keeping us on the right course, the protection that keeps our salvation secure. As they instruct the receptive minds of believers on earth, they lead safely to the kingdom of heaven.
God willed that many things should be said by the prophets, his servants, and listened to by his people. How much greater are the things spoken by the Son. These are now witnessed to by the very Word of God who spoke through the prophets. The Word of God does not now command us to prepare the way for his coming: he comes in person and opens up the way for us and directs us toward it. Before, we wandered in the darkness of death, aimlessly and blindly. Now we are enlightened by the light of grace, and are to keep to the highway of life, with the Lord to precede and direct us.
The Lord has given us many counsels and commandments to help us toward salvation. He has even given us a pattern of prayer, instructing us on how we are to pray. He has given us life, and with his accustomed generosity, he has also taught us how to pray. He has made it easy for us to be heard as we pray to the Father in the words taught us by the Son.
He had already foretold that the hour was coming when true worshippers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. He fulfilled what he had promised before, so that we who have received the spirit and the truth through the holiness he has given us may worship in truth and in the spirit through the prayer he has taught.
What prayer could be more a prayer in the spirit than the one given us by Christ, by whom the Holy Spirit was sent upon us? What prayer could be more a prayer in the truth than the one spoken by the lips of the Son, who is truth himself? It follows that to pray in any other way than the Son has taught us is not only the result of ignorance but of sin. He himself has commanded it, and has said: "You reject the command of God, to set up your own tradition."
So, my brothers, let us pray as God our master has taught us. To ask the Father in words his Son has given us, to let him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in his ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of his Son. Let the Son who lives in our hearts be also on our lips. We have him as an advocate for sinners before the Father; when we ask forgiveness for our sins, let us use the words given by our advocate. He tells us: Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. What more effective prayer could we then make in the name of Christ than in the words of his own prayer?
Prayer is the Light of the Soul
St. John Chrysostom
Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church
Saint John Chrysostom, Early Church Father, Doctor of the ChurchSaint John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, died in the early 5th century and was one of the greatest fathers, doctors, and preachers of the Early Church. This excerpt from one of his homilies on prayer as conversation with God (Supp., Hom. 6 De Precatione: PG 64, 462-466) is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for the Lenten Friday after Ash Wednesday with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Exodus 2:1-22.
The highest good is prayer and conversation with God, because it means that we are in God’s company and in union with him. When light enters our bodily eyes our eyesight is sharpened; when a soul is intent on God, God’s inextinguishable light shines into it and makes it bright and clear. I am talking, of course, of prayer that comes from the heart and not from routine: not the prayer that is assigned to particular days or particular moments in time, but the prayer that happens continuously by day and by night.
Indeed the soul should not only turn to God at times of explicit prayer. Whatever we are engaged in, whether it is care for the poor, or some other duty, or some act of generosity, we should remember God and long for God. The love of God will be as salt is to food, making our actions into a perfect dish to set before the Lord of all things. Then it is right that we should receive the fruits of our labors, overflowing onto us through all eternity, if we have been offering them to him throughout our lives.
Prayer is the light of the soul, true knowledge of God, a mediator between God and men. Prayer lifts the soul into the heavens where it hugs God in an indescribable embrace. The soul seeks the milk of God like a baby crying for the breast. It fulfils its own vows and receives in exchange gifts better than anything that can be seen or imagined.
Prayer is a go-between linking us to God. It gives joy to the soul and calms its emotions. I warn you, though: do not imagine that prayer is simply words. Prayer is the desire for God, an indescribable devotion, not given by man but brought about by God’s grace. As St Paul says: For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself intercedes on our behalf in a way that could never be put into words.
If God gives to someone the gift of such prayer, it is a gift of imperishable riches, a heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. Whoever tastes that food catches fire and his soul burns for ever with desire for the Lord.
To begin on this path, start by adorning your house with modesty and humility. Make it shine brightly with the light of justice. Decorate it with the gold leaf of good works, with the jewels of faithfulness and greatness of heart. Finally, to make the house perfect, raise a gable above it all, a gable of prayer. Thus you will have prepared a pure and sparkling house for the Lord. Receive the Lord into this royal and splendid dwelling — in other words: receive, by his grace, his image into the temple of your soul.
Benedict XVI – a papacy full of suprises
|Pope Benedict celebrating Mass|
Pope Benedict’s eight years as Bishop of the See of Rome have not been what anyone expected. Vatican observers were frequently surprised by him, including the moment October when the Pope announced a consistory to create six new cardinals. Vatican observers could not make heads or tails of the announcement, and they wondered out loud why the Pope would not have waited until March to appoint new Cardinals. No one could have guessed the real reason because it was so simple – no one had quite gotten used to this man who was never what anyone expected.
Those who had expected Benedict XVI to loose the hounds against heretics were surprised to discover a gentle, kind, and humble man. Those who expected a quiet papacy marked by attention to business and paying the bills, on the other hand, could not have been more wrong: this has been a papacy full of adventures. Some of these adventures were blunders that, whether by the Pope himself or by top aides in the Vatican, exposed the Church to a huge amount of criticism. Others of these adventures were the product of a deliberate campaign to unearth any possible evidence that would imply a connection between Joseph Ratzinger and the Nazi regime, or between Cardinal Ratzinger and clergy sex abuse. Some of these adventures were rumbles of infighting in the Vatican, and most bizarre of all was the adventure of Pope Benedict’s own butler being arrested and sentenced for publishing private Vatican correspondence.
Given all that has happened, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that Pope Benedict’s papacy would be defined by the things that happened around him. There are certainly powerful forces that have worked very hard (and are still at work) trying to define him and his legacy in their own terms. This campaign has not been a success: anyone with an open heart or an open mind will notice that Pope Benedict has escaped from anyone’s definitions of him.
Pope Benedict has been a total traditionalist: he has made great efforts to accommodate those who love the traditional Latin Mass, and his public Masses in St. Peter’s have been prayed in Latin, with classical styles of vestments, with finery taken out of the papal closet, and with Gregorian chant. Under his tenure, leftist-leaning sisters-sans-habit have felt the sting of Vatican disapproval, and several bishops who have stubbornly wandered outside the lines of the faith have been forced to resign.
Pope Benedict - New Year 2008
Yet Pope Benedict has been a total liberal. In his homilies, and even in his encyclicals, he is not afraid to ponder things in novel ways, to put forward his own personal reflections, to talk about his own experiences, and to propose whatever images might illustrate the adventure of faith (like Christ the Supernova). He has expanded the voice of the Papacy in ways that a previous generation would have never dared to try (@pontifex anyone?). As if his efforts to communicate the faith as Pope have not been far enough outside traditional models, he has published three books on Jesus of Nazareth, which he insists are not papal teaching but his own personal writings. Who but the most radical liberal would have ever entertained the idea that a Pope could publish books “unofficially?”
While his methods might be surprising, Pope Benedict’s message has stayed the same throughout the Papacy. He has spoken frequently and eloquently about the central importance of truth and love, which he insists must always go hand-in-hand. Truth and love must be connected because ultimate truth and authentic love do not contradict: they come from God and through seeking them we can come to God. Pope Benedict insists that it is only through coming to God and entering into friendship with God that we are able to become fully human. He is a pretty good example of what a person can become by living in friendship with God.
While the things Pope Benedict has done have frequently been a surprise, the biggest surprise has been Pope Benedict himself: the more he has been exposed, the more we have been able to see how simple and authentic he is. With this in mind, his decision to resign his pontificate should be as a simple matter. His uncomplicated sense that a Pope could or even should resign was already expressed in an interview with Peter Seewald. While his health has not been the best recently, and this certainly contributed to his decision to resign, a thoughtful post or two have pointed me towards something deeper.
Pope Benedict is resigning because he believes that someone else could lead the Church better than he can, but also because he believes that he can do more for the Church by his prayers. In his address to retired men and women during a visit to a nursing home, Pope Benedict talked eloquently about the value of prayer. The Pope said,
Do not forget that one of the valuable resources you possess is the essential one of prayer: become interceders with God, praying with faith and with constancy. Pray for the Church, and pray for me, for the needs of the world, for the poor, so that there may be no more violence in the world. The prayers of the elderly can protect the world, helping it, perhaps more effectively than collective anxiety. Today I would like to entrust to your prayers the good of the Church and peace in the world.
The idea that the Pope will be dedicating himself to prayer, and that this is very important for healing the wounds of the modern world, was confirmed for me when I looked back at his homily for the inauguration Mass of his papacy. While reading that homily, I stumbled across a passage I had never noticed before. The newly-elected Pope had said:
The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.
The reason our world is struggling and filled with collective anxiety is because we are living far from God. Yet there is no need to be far from God since each of us can find God in the depths of our soul, in depths of the interior life. If we are filled with fear and dying of spiritual and emotional thirst, it is because we have not sought out the water that runs deep within us. We can seek this water only through prayer.
Benedict XVI celebrating Mass
Pope Benedict’s Wednesday audiences included a whole catechesis on prayer. With these thoughts in the back of my mind, I was totally amazed by the Pope’s simple response to the great applause he received at the end of Ash Wednesday Mass: Grazie, torniamo alla preghiera, “Thank you; let us return to the prayer.”
Pope Benedict’s latest surprise was a total shock because we do not believe in the value of prayer, and so we do not understand how he could possibly do more for the Church in retirement than he can do as Pope. His decision to resign looks like a blessing for the Church only if we take prayer seriously. Here is one last quote from the Pope himself:
Dear friends, making time for God regularly is a fundamental element for spiritual growth; it will be the Lord himself who gives us the taste for his mysteries, his words, his presence and action, for feeling how beautiful it is when God speaks with us; he will enable us to understand more deeply what he expects of me. This, ultimately, is the very aim of meditation: to entrust ourselves increasingly to the hands of God, with trust and love, certain that in the end it is only by doing his will that we are truly happy.