EXPAND YOUR READING!!

"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Friday, 27 February 2015

2nd SUNDAY IN LENT 2015

icon of the Transfiguration
by a monk of Pachacamac
The Transfiguration: Law Through Moses, Grace &Truth Through Jesus Christ 
Pope  St Leo the Great

by
St. Leo the Great, Pope and Early Church Father
 my source: The Crossroads Initiative
The Lord reveals his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses. His body is like that of the rest of mankind, but he makes it shine with such splendor that his face becomes like the sun in glory, and his garments as white as snow.

The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.

With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. the members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ their head.

The Lord had himself spoken of this when he foretold the splendor of his coming: Then the just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Saint Paul the apostle bore witness to this same truth when he said: I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared to the future glory that is to be revealed in us. In another place he says: You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

This marvel of the transfiguration contains another lesson for the apostles, to strengthen them and lead them into the fullness of knowledge. Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, appeared with the Lord in conversation with him. This was in order to fulfil exactly, through the presence of these five men, the text which says: Before two or three witnesses every word is ratified. What word could be more firmly established, more securely based, than the word which is proclaimed by the trumpets of both old and new testaments, sounding in harmony, and by the utterances of ancient prophecy and the teaching of the Gospel, in full agreement with each other?

The writings of the two testaments support each other. The radiance of the transfiguration reveals clearly and unmistakably the one who had been promised by signs foretelling him under the veils of mystery. As Saint John says: The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. In him the promise made through the shadows of prophecy stands revealed, along with the full meaning of the precepts of the law. He is the one who teaches the truth of the prophecy through his presence, and makes obedience to the commandments possible through grace.

In the preaching of the holy Gospel all should receive a strengthening of their faith. No one should be ashamed of the cross of Christ, through which the world has been redeemed.

No one should fear to suffer for the sake of justice; no one should lose confidence in the reward that has been promised. The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death. Christ has taken on himself the whole weakness of our lowly human nature. If then we are steadfast in our faith in him and in our love for him, we win the victory that he has won, we receive what he has promised.

When it comes to obeying the commandments or enduring adversity, the words uttered by the Father should always echo in our ears: This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.



PASTORAL VISIT TO THE ROMAN PARISH OF 
ST. JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE AT TORRINO

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI


Sunday, 4 March 2012: Year B

my source:Libreria Editrice Vaticana




Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Parish of St John Baptist de La Salle,

First of all I would like to say a heartfelt thank you for this most cordial and warm welcome. I am grateful to the good Parish Priest for his beautiful words, and for the spirit of familiarity that I am encountering. We really are a family of God and the fact that you also see the Pope as a father is something very lovely that encourages me! However we must now remember that the Pope is not the highest authority to appeal to. The highest is the Lord and let us look to the Lord in order to perceive, to understand — as far as we can — something of the message of this Second Sunday of Lent.

Today’s liturgy prepares us both for the mystery of the Passion — as we heard in the First Reading — and for the joy of the Resurrection.

The First Reading refers us to the episode in which God puts Abraham to the test (cf. Gen 22:1-18). He had an only son, Isaac, who was born to him in his old age. He was the son of the promise, the son who would also bring salvation to the peoples. Nevertheless one day Abraham received from God the order to sacrifice him as an offering.

The elderly patriarch found himself facing the prospect of a sacrifice which for him, as a father, was without any doubt the greatest imaginable. Yet not even for a moment did he hesitate and having made the necessary preparations, he set out with Isaac for the arranged place.

And we can imagine this journey toward the mountaintop, and what happened in his own heart and in his son’s. He builds an altar, lays the wood upon it and having bound the boy, grasps the knife, ready to sacrifice him. Abraham trusts totally in God, to the point of being ready even to sacrifice his own son and, with his son the future, for without a child the promised land was as nothing, ends in nothing. And in sacrificing his son he is sacrificing himself, his whole future, the whole of the promise. It really is the most radical act of faith. At that very moment he is restrained by an order from on high: God does not want death, but life, the true sacrifice does not bring death but life, and Abraham’s obedience became the source of an immense blessing to this day. Let us end here now, but we can meditate upon this mystery.

In the Second Reading, St Paul says that God himself has made a sacrifice: he has given us his own Son, he gave him on the Cross to triumph over sin and death, to triumph over the Evil One and to overcome all the evil that exists in the world. And God’s extraordinary mercy inspires the Apostle’s admiration and profound trust in the power of God’s love for us; indeed, St Paul says: “He [God] who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom 8:32).

If God gives himself in the Son, he gives us everything. And Paul insists on the power of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice against every other force that can threaten our life.

He wonders: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” (vv. 33-34).

We are in God’s heart, this is our great trust. This creates love and in love we go towards God. If God has given his own Son for all of us, no one can accuse us, no one can condemn us, no one can separate us from his immense love. Precisely the supreme sacrifice of love on the Cross, which the Son of God accepted and chose willingly, becomes the source of our justification, of our salvation. Just think that this act of the Lord’s endures in the Blessed Eucharist, and in his heart, for eternity, and this act of love attracts us, unites us with him.

Lastly, the Gospel speaks to us of the episode of the Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:2-10): Jesus manifests himself in his glory before the sacrifice of the Cross and God the Father proclaims his beloved Son, the one he loves, and commands the disciples to listen to him. Jesus goes up a high mountain and takes three Apostles with him — Peter, James and John — who will be particularly close to him in his extreme agony, on another mountain, the Mount of Olives.

A little earlier the Lord had announced his Passion and Peter had been unable to understand why the Lord, the Son of God, should speak of suffering, rejection, death, a Cross, indeed he had opposed the prospect of all this with determination.

Jesus now takes the three disciples with him to help them to understand that the path to attaining glory, the path of luminous love that overcomes darkness, passes through the total gift of self, passes through the folly of the Cross. And the Lord must take us with him too ever anew, at least if we are to begin to understand that this is the route to take.

The Transfiguration is a moment of light in advance, which also helps us see Christ’s Passion with a gaze of faith. Indeed, it is a mystery of suffering but it is also the “blessed Passion” because — in essence — it is a mystery of God’s extraordinary love; it is the definitive exodus that opens for us the door to the freedom and newness of the Resurrection, of salvation from evil. We need it on our daily journey, so often also marked by the darkness of evil.

Dear brothers and sisters, as I have said, I am very happy to be with you today to celebrate the Lord’s Day. I cordially greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Sector, Fr Giampaolo Perugini, your parish priest, whom I thank once again for his kind words on behalf of you all and also for the pleasing gifts you have offered me.

I greet the Parochial Vicars. And I greet the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who have been here for so many years. They deserve praise for having fostered the life of this parish, because their house immediately offered generous hospitality to it, during the first three years of its life.

I then extend my greeting to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who are naturally attached to this parish church dedicated to their Founder. I greet in addition all those who are active in the parish context. I am referring to the catechists, the members of the associations and movements, as well as the various parish groups. Lastly I would like to embrace in spirit all the inhabitants of the district, and especially the elderly, the sick, and people who are lonely or in difficulty.

In coming to you today I noticed the special position of this church, set at the highest point in the district and endowed with a slender spire, as if it were a finger or an arrow pointing towards heaven. It seems to me that this is an important indication: like the three Apostles of the Gospel, we also need to climb the mountain of the Transfiguration to receive God’s light, so that his Face may illuminate our face. And it is in personal and community prayer that we encounter the Lord, not as an idea or a moral proposal but, rather, as a Person who wishes to enter into a relationship with us, who wants to be a friend and to renew our life to make it like his.

This encounter is not solely a personal event; your church, set at the highest point in the neighbourhood, reminds you that the Gospel must be communicated and proclaimed to all. We do not expect others to bring different messages, that do not lead to true life. Make yourselves missionaries of Christ to your brothers and sisters wherever they live, work, study or just spend their leisure time.

I know about the many important evangelization projects that you undertake, in particular through the after-school prayer and recreation centre called “Pole-star” — I am also glad to wear this shirt (the centre’s shirt) — where, thanks to the volunteer work of competent and generous people and the involvement of families, the gathering of young people through sports is encouraged, without however neglecting their cultural formation, through art and music. Above all the relationship with God, the Christian values and an increasingly aware participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration, are inculcated in them here.

I rejoice that the sense of belonging to the parish community has continued to develop and been consolidated down the years. Faith must be lived together and the parish is a place in which we learn to live our own faith in the “we” of the Church. And I would like to encourage you to promote pastoral co-responsibility too, in a perspective of authentic communion among all the realities present, which are called to walk together, to live complementarity in diversity, to witness to the “we” of the Church, of God’s family.

I know how committed you are in preparing the children and young people for the sacraments of Christian life. May the upcoming “Year of Faith” be a favourable opportunity also for this parish to increase and to reinforce the experience of catechesis on the great truths of the Christian faith, so as to enable the whole neighbourhood to know and to deepen its knowledge of the Church’s Creed, and to surmount that “religious illiteracy” which is one of the greatest difficulties of our day.

Dear friend, yours is a young community — it is made up of young families and, thanks be to God, of the numerous children and youth who live in it. In this regard, I would like to recall the task of the family and of the entire Christian community to educate in faith, assisted in this by the theme of the current Pastoral Year, by the Pastoral Guidelines proposed by the Italian Episcopal Conference and without forgetting the profound and ever up to date teaching of St John Baptist de La Salle.

You in particular, dear families, are the environment in which the first steps of faith are taken; may you be communities in which one learns to know and love the Lord more and more, communities in which each enriches the other in order to live a truly adult faith.

Lastly, I would like to remind all of you of the importance and centrality of the Eucharist in personal and community life. May the heart of your Sunday be Holy Mass which should be rediscovered and lived as a day of God and of the community, a day on which to praise and celebrate the One who died and was raised for our salvation, a day on which to live together the joy of an open community, ready to receive every person who is lonely or in difficulty.

Indeed, gathered around the Eucharist in fact, we more easily realize that the mission of every Christian community is to bring the message of God’s love to everyone. This is why it is important that the Eucharist always be at the heart of the faithful’s life, just as it is today.

Dear brothers and sisters, from Mount Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Lenten journey takes us to Golgotha, the hill of the supreme sacrifice of love of the one Priest of the new and eternal Covenant. That sacrifice contains the greatest power of transformation of both the human being and of history. Taking upon himself every consequence of evil and sin, Jesus rose the third day as the conqueror of death and of the Evil One. Lent prepares us to take part personally in this great mystery of faith which we shall celebrate in the Triduum of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ.

Let us entrust our Lenten journey and likewise that of the whole Church to the Virgin Mary. May she, who followed her Son Jesus to the Cross, help us to be faithful disciples of Christ, mature Christians, to be able to share with her in the fullness of Easter joy. Amen!







© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana 

Lent as our Spring Training 
by Father Pius Parsch


Lent is a privileged season for spiritual renewal – our time for spring cleaning within our souls, or literally, our spring training.

Aside from deepening our prayer life, we are called to embrace fasting and almsgiving.

These forms of self-denial are called ascetical practices, from the Greek askesis, meaning training for athletic contests.

The root word helps us to understand the “why” behind our Lenten observances. We do not give more of our time or resources simply for the sake of doing something extra, nor do we “give up” things just to feel the pinch of missing them.

Rather, we are letting go of ourselves, and our attachments, in an intentional way because we are working toward something, and Someone. We are striving to grow closer to the Lord by concretely repenting for our sins, and by participating in Jesus’ own self-denial.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, describes the true meaning of Lent:

…the mystery is re-enacted in each person’s heart: in your soul Christ is wrestling with the devil; or better, by the very fact that you are a member of the mystical Christ, you are involved in this fight….

Therefore we must re-live our Savior’s Passion in Lent…as disciples we must die with Christ in order to rise with Him as new men on Easter.

Parsch sees our supernatural life in God as the key to Lent:

I view Lent, indeed the whole Easter cycle, from the approach of a life filled with God. The Christmas cycle was dominated by the idea of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was expected during Advent and established at Christmas and Epiphany. Dominating the Easter cycle, however, is the theme of supernatural life engendered, renewed, and perfected.

Fasting is a means toward the goal of a “more flourishing inner life” —

We must remember that we are members of Christ’s Body; by sin we defiled this Body, but now we will help to purify it.

Parsch emphasizes that our life in Christ is the whole point of our self-denial, or else it becomes meaningless:

The essential lesson contained in the Gospel discourse is that the fast should be a deep inward matter of the soul devoid of all selfishness or ulterior motivation….

Fasting of itself, therefore, is of no value; only when linked with the sacrifice of Jesus does it become useful and meritorious….

First we follow Him as the penitent par excellence into the desert of self-denial to fast with Him for forty days. Our fast will be spiritually fruitful if we keep it in unity with Him, if it is an extension of His fasting.


–The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume II



ABBOT PAUL TALKING TO THE COMMUNITY ABOUT LENT





           
Brethren, we’re already over a week into Lent and, as happens every year, the good resolutions I made on Shrove Tuesday are beginning to wear thin. I wonder what will be left by Easter? I have always enjoyed going to Confession on Shrove Tuesday: the idea of being shriven on that day still thrills me more than the thought of pancakes and I genuinely try to have a good “spring clean” in preparation for Lent. But, once Ash Wednesday is passed, it’s not long before things begin to fall apart again. And here we come to the fundamental lesson about Lent and it’s one that I have to learn anew every year. For Christians, and that means monks as well, conversion is not an option and penance is not a matter of personal choice. St Catherine of Siena beautifully reminded us this morning that, “Discernment and charity are engrafted together and planted in the soil of that true humility which is born of self-knowledge.” Lent is not going to work unless we allow God to call the shots, unless we begin to do his will, and that can only be discerned in the reality of true humility. Lent ultimately demands total surrender to God’s will.

            The Holy Rule reminds us that a monk’s life “ought to be a continuous Lent.” St Benedict, who knows monks through and through, says that, although “few of us have the strength for this,” nevertheless “during the days of Lent, the entire community should try to keep its manner of life most pure and wash away the negligences of other times.” How can we keep our manner of life most pure and wash away our negligences? St Benedict’s reply to that question is that we should “refuse to indulge in evil habits and devote ourselves to prayer and reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.” We all know our evil habits, if not, just ask the monk sitting next to you! And we are self-indulgent, allowing ourselves to give in to temptation. Part of the cure is to pray more, not only by giving more time to prayer, but being more focussed on our prayer, that time we give purely to God. We probably spend more time than we should reading newspapers and magazines, watching television or zapping round the Internet. Have I chosen a Lenten book this year? Am I reading it and feeding on its content? Do I go to Confession often enough or am I careless and regularly procrastinate, when I need both absolution and the grace of the Sacrament? Then, how do I practise self-denial? We can trivialise this by limiting it to food and drink, a sort of one-lump-or-two mentality, whereas it really involves becoming less self-centred, less self-obsessed and certainly less critical or envious of others. St Benedict often refers to such behaviour as murmuring. If I could overcome murmuring this Lent, what a burden would be lifted, from me and from us all. I wonder if you feel the same as I do?

            Now, St Benedict invites us to “have something above the assigned measure to offer God of ones own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” That is certainly necessary and true: we can pray more and abstain more during Lent, and we can try to do it in the joy of the Holy Spirit, as a means of preparing for Easter. But a more genuine spirit of conversion comes about through the repentance that derives from the self-knowledge, which in turn leads to humility, and is God’s gift to us when we truly open our hearts to his grace. It’s the compunction of heart that St Benedict hopes will mark our observance of Lent. While being faithful to our own chosen penances is important, of even greater importance and of lasting value is the patient acceptance of whatever God allows us to suffer not just in Lent, but throughout our lives. I refer to the personal, often deep-rooted, quirks of character we have either inherited from our forebears or acquired in the course of life. Lent begins to make sense when we accept from God as his gift those areas and aspects of our lives that, at times if not always, seem so difficult for us to accept. And, of course, self-acceptance must lead us to accept others, with their foibles and idiosyncrasies, and so begin to love and respect them as brothers in Christ, the brothers that Christ himself has chosen for us to share our lives with as Benedictine monks and members of the same community. This is the good zeal of which St Benedict writes so eloquently in Chapter 72. “They should each try to be the first to show respect to each other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.”

            How can we do all this? Surely the Lord, and St Benedict too, is expecting too much of me, asking me to go way beyond my capabilities. Of course he is. Would God ask me to wallow in mediocrity? Surely he wants me to be holy as he himself is holy? In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. If you, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!” St Benedict encourages us in the Prologue, “Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” We must trust that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but do I have the humility to allow God to help me? It’s the old problem of getting in God’s way when all he wants to do is help us. Surely by his Incarnation he has shown us most clearly that this is his will and desire, allowing himself to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and that includes everything that would separate me from God and his loving purpose.

            Lord, help me to accept the gift of life, that you have given me, and the vocation, to which you have called me. Help me to embrace them fully and to embrace with your divine love all those who share my life as brothers. Let my Lenten penance be to say “Yes” to you with all my heart now and for ever. Amen.

            Brethren, we’re already over a week into Lent and, as happens every year, the good resolutions I made on Shrove Tuesday are beginning to wear thin. I wonder what will be left by Easter? I have always enjoyed going to Confession on Shrove Tuesday: the idea of being shriven on that day still thrills me more than the thought of pancakes and I genuinely try to have a good “spring clean” in preparation for Lent. But, once Ash Wednesday is passed, it’s not long before things begin to fall apart again. And here we come to the fundamental lesson about Lent and it’s one that I have to learn anew every year. For Christians, and that means monks as well, conversion is not an option and penance is not a matter of personal choice. St Catherine of Siena beautifully reminded us this morning that, “Discernment and charity are engrafted together and planted in the soil of that true humility which is born of self-knowledge.” Lent is not going to work unless we allow God to call the shots, unless we begin to do his will, and that can only be discerned in the reality of true humility. Lent ultimately demands total surrender to God’s will.

            The Holy Rule reminds us that a monk’s life “ought to be a continuous Lent.” St Benedict, who knows monks through and through, says that, although “few of us have the strength for this,” nevertheless “during the days of Lent, the entire community should try to keep its manner of life most pure and wash away the negligences of other times.” How can we keep our manner of life most pure and wash away our negligences? St Benedict’s reply to that question is that we should “refuse to indulge in evil habits and devote ourselves to prayer and reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.” We all know our evil habits, if not, just ask the monk sitting next to you! And we are self-indulgent, allowing ourselves to give in to temptation. Part of the cure is to pray more, not only by giving more time to prayer, but being more focussed on our prayer, that time we give purely to God. We probably spend more time than we should reading newspapers and magazines, watching television or zapping round the Internet. Have I chosen a Lenten book this year? Am I reading it and feeding on its content? Do I go to Confession often enough or am I careless and regularly procrastinate, when I need both absolution and the grace of the Sacrament? Then, how do I practise self-denial? We can trivialise this by limiting it to food and drink, a sort of one-lump-or-two mentality, whereas it really involves becoming less self-centred, less self-obsessed and certainly less critical or envious of others. St Benedict often refers to such behaviour as murmuring. If I could overcome murmuring this Lent, what a burden would be lifted, from me and from us all. I wonder if you feel the same as I do?

            Now, St Benedict invites us to “have something above the assigned measure to offer God of ones own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” That is certainly necessary and true: we can pray more and abstain more during Lent, and we can try to do it in the joy of the Holy Spirit, as a means of preparing for Easter. But a more genuine spirit of conversion comes about through the repentance that derives from the self-knowledge, which in turn leads to humility, and is God’s gift to us when we truly open our hearts to his grace. It’s the compunction of heart that St Benedict hopes will mark our observance of Lent. While being faithful to our own chosen penances is important, of even greater importance and of lasting value is the patient acceptance of whatever God allows us to suffer not just in Lent, but throughout our lives. I refer to the personal, often deep-rooted, quirks of character we have either inherited from our forebears or acquired in the course of life. Lent begins to make sense when we accept from God as his gift those areas and aspects of our lives that, at times if not always, seem so difficult for us to accept. And, of course, self-acceptance must lead us to accept others, with their foibles and idiosyncrasies, and so begin to love and respect them as brothers in Christ, the brothers that Christ himself has chosen for us to share our lives with as Benedictine monks and members of the same community. This is the good zeal of which St Benedict writes so eloquently in Chapter 72. “They should each try to be the first to show respect to each other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.”

            How can we do all this? Surely the Lord, and St Benedict too, is expecting too much of me, asking me to go way beyond my capabilities. Of course he is. Would God ask me to wallow in mediocrity? Surely he wants me to be holy as he himself is holy? In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. If you, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!” St Benedict encourages us in the Prologue, “Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” We must trust that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but do I have the humility to allow God to help me? It’s the old problem of getting in God’s way when all he wants to do is help us. Surely by his Incarnation he has shown us most clearly that this is his will and desire, allowing himself to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and that includes everything that would separate me from God and his loving purpose.

            Lord, help me to accept the gift of life, that you have given me, and the vocation, to which you have called me. Help me to embrace them fully and to embrace with your divine love all those who share my life as brothers. Let my Lenten penance be to say “Yes” to you with all my heart now and for ever. Amen.
Bartholomew I’s Lenten message
by NAT da Polis

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople asks all the faithful to engage in conversion to God and love of brother. We are like "broken pots ... every day because of the evil." Rediscovering our "likeness to God" to turn away from the "horrible crimes that we see these days hit the entire world."


Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Today Lent begins according to Orthodox tradition, a period when, according to the mind of the great Fathers of the universal Church, man is called to ponder his future and reconfirm the eschatological sense of his life. 

The fasting that begins today and ends on the day of Our Lord's Resurection, does not mean a rejection of material life, but the submission of material needs in the process that leads the human existence to participate in the holiness of the Lord, as the message that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the faithful suggests.

"This season - says Bartholomew - commences as a salvific preparation for the "great and most sacred Pascha of Christ." We are referring to Holy and Great Lent, which we must live "by offering prayer and seeking forgiveness," in order truly to taste Pascha "with all the saints," by becoming "saints," by confessing before God and people that we are "clay vessels" that are shattered on a daily basis by the evil one, always "falling and rising." That is to say, we must admit our human imperfection and failure, as well as our insignificance before God, by repenting and repeating day-in and day-out, at all times and in all places - even as we are made "holy" through baptism - that "one is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father".

"Our Creator wants us to be in communion with Him - continues Bartholomew - in order to taste His grace, which is to participate in His sanctity. Communion with God is a life of repentance and holiness; whereas estrangement from God, or sin, is identified by the Church Fathers with "evil of the heart." Sin is not natural, but derives from evil choice".

Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch adds," is a quality that belongs to the Lord as "the one, who offers and is offered, who receives and is distributed." The celebrant of the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist".

"Our Church which aspires exclusively and solely to our salvation, "rightfully proclaimed" one season as a period of special prayer and supplication in order to calm the passions of our soul and body ".

"Lent is a period of preparation and repentance as the voice of our conscience, which is internal and inexpressible, our personal judgment. When it finds us doing wrong, it protests vehemently inasmuch as "nothing in the world is more violent than our conscience".

"Thus - continues Bartholomew - each of us must be at peace with our conscience in order that "we may offer a mystical sacrifice in the fire of our conscience," surrendering our passions and offering them as an oblation of love toward our fellow human beings, just as the Lord gave Himself up "for the life and salvation of the world." Only then will forgiveness rise from the tomb for us as well; and only then shall we live in mutual respect and love, far from the horrific crimes that we witness plaguing the entire world today".

Finally, the Ecumenical Patriarch concludes his message with an appeal as the spiritual father of all our Orthodox faithful throughout the world, "Let us rather walk with God's grace in order to cleanse our conscience "with the good option" of repentance in the conviction that heaven and earth, as well as all "things visible and invisible" will ultimately emanate the light of our Lord's resurrection"

Archbishop Demetrios: Lent Is Not a Journey of Despair

Holy and Great Lent
Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance….
Matthew 3:8                                    
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the hymns and services of the Triodion period and at the entrance of this holy season of Great Lent, we are called to repentance.  We are invited to come before God in the humility of the Publican.  We are beckoned to return to His dwelling and His compassionate embrace as the Prodigal Son.  We are confronted with the causes of our separation from God and our need for His great mercy.  It is truly a time of repentance as we prepare to commemorate and contemplate all that has been done for us through Christ our Lord.
This solemn and reflective journey is not one of despair.  This is not a time of inconsolable grief or of deep anguish and anxiety.  Holy and Great Lent is a time of spiritual renewal in which repentance finds forgiveness and grace, engenders hope, strengthens our faith and leads us to abundant and eternal life.
First, we know through the Gospel that genuine repentance receives forgiveness and grace.  The sincerity of the Publican expressed in his cry, God, be merciful to me a sinner, was recognized by God, and his sins were forgiven (Luke 18:13).  John the Baptist preached, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, calling people to prepare to receive the One who was coming in grace and truth (Matthew 3:2).  The Cross of our Lord is before us, offering by the grace of God a way to salvation through repentance.
Second, repentance nurtures hope.  As the power of God’s grace transforms us, as we see the blessedness of life restored to communion with Him, we experience the joy of hope.  For the Prodigal Son it was the journey to return to the house of his father, hoping that something better awaited.  At the beginning of this holy season our repentance leads us on the path of hope, knowing that hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5).
Third, as through repentance we receive forgiveness and grace and our hearts are filled with hope, our faith is strengthened.  As we prepare to celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promise to defeat death, restore us to life, and lead us to the Resurrection, our faith in Him grows.
Finally, in this sacred time of prayer and reflection, our repentance leads us to salvation.  Through repentance our eyes are opened, we turn from darkness to light so that we may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18).  Through the revelation of the absolute truth by Christ and His Cross and Resurrection, we know where our repentance leads, and we know that ultimately we enter the ineffable realm of a saved life with the perspective of eternity.
At the beginning of the Great Fast and Holy Lent, let us contemplate the power of repentance and take this opportunity to examine our hearts and minds.  Let us pray in humility seeking the forgiveness and grace of God, returning to communion with Him.  Let us find renewed hope in the light, peace, and joy that comes from our Crucified and Risen Lord.
With paternal love in Christ,
†DEMETRIOS
Archbishop of America


Get Real for Lent
by Fr. Stephen Freeman (Orthodox)
my source: Glory to God for All Things

According to St. Basil, God is the “only truly Existing.” Our own existence is a gift from God who is our Creator. None of us has “self-existing” life. We exist because God sustains us in existence – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Sin is the rejection of this gift of God – a movement away from true existence.
Much of our attention in the modern world is engaged seemingly with things that have no “true existence.” We engage with illusions, with digital constructs. Our economy allows us to escape the normal necessities such as seasonal scarcity or other mundane concerns. We are increasingly removed from the very environment in which we naturally live.

It is said that astronauts, after spending a prolonged time in space, have lingering effects of zero-gravity. Our bodies are made for gravity and require its constant pull for everything from muscle tone to bone density. But we now live in situations in which many forms of natural “gravity” have been reduced or removed. What effect does the long-term ability to have almost any food at any time of year have on the human body? As someone who has spent the better part of my life at a desk, I can attest to the effect of a sedentary existence. My lower back, my range of motion, the flexibility of my joints are all consistent with the modern white-collar worker.

What effect do such things have on the soul? For the soul requires “gravity” as well. Plato stated in his Republic, that all children should learn to play a musical instrument because music was required for the right development of the soul. We give far too little thought to such things, assuming that no matter what environment we live in, our inherent freedom of choice remains unscathed and we can always decide to do something different, or be something different.

I could decide to run a marathon tomorrow, but I know that the first quarter-mile would leave me gasping for breath and exhausted. You cannot go from 40 years at a desk to the demands of a marathon – just because you choose to do so.

And so we come to Great Lent.

Some see this season of the year as a spiritual marathon. They rise from their sedentary spiritual lives, set off in a sprint and fail before the first week is out. The failure comes in anger, self-recrimination, even despondency.

The first year that I “chose” to fast in the Orthodox manner (it was 4 years before I was received into the Church), the priest I discussed the fast with said, “You can’t keep the fast.” I argued with him until I realized his wisdom.

“Do something easier,” he told me. “Just give up red meat.”

“What about chicken?” I asked.

“Nope. Eat chicken. Eat everything except beef and pork. And pray a little more.”

And so I returned to my Anglican life, a little disappointed that my zeal had made such a poor impression. But my family accepted the proposal and we ate no red meat for Lent. It was, in hindsight, the best Lent my family had ever had. No longer were we musing over “what to give up for Lent,” and instead accepted a discipline that was given to us.

In subsequent years that same priest (who is now my godfather) increased the discipline. And we were ready for it. It is interesting to me, however, that my first experience of an Orthodox fast was being told not to be so strict. The “strict” part was learning to do what I was told. That is sometimes the most difficult fast of all.

Lent is a time to “get real.” Not eating some things is actually normal. In our modern world we have to embrace a natural “gravity” that we could easily leave behind – at least, we have to do this if we want to avoid an atrophy of the soul.

In 2000, the average American ate 180 pounds of meat a year (and 15 pounds of fish and shellfish). That was roughly a third more than in 1959. Scarcity is not an issue in our diet. Our abundance is simply “not real,” and the environment frequently shows the marks of the artificial nature of our food supply. But we have no way of studying what is going on with our souls. What I know to be true is that – as goes the body – so goes the soul. Those who engage the world as consumer are being consumed by the world to an equal measure.

And so we get real.


Getting real means accepting limits and boundaries. Our culture is a bubble of make-believe. It rests on an economy of over-consumption. The crash of 2008 came close to a much greater disaster and could have easily gone into free-fall. Many fail to understand just how fragile our lives truly are. In the season of Lent (and on all the fasting days of the year) we embrace the fragility of our lives. We allow the world to say “no” and take on extra burdens and duties. It is worth keeping in mind that such things do not make us spiritual heroes, first they have to make us human.

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Sundays of Lent by Fr Alexandr Schmemann

my source: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archidiocese
The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 4: The Lenten Journey

Each Sunday in Lent has two themes, two meanings. On the one hand, each belongs to a sequencein which the rhythm and spiritual "dialectics" of Lent are revealed. On the other hand, in the course of the Church's historical development almost each lenten Sunday has acquired a second theme. Thus on the first Sunday the Church celebrates the "Triumph of Orthodoxy"-- commemorating the victory over Iconoclasm and the restoration of the veneration of icons in Constantinople in 843. The connection of this celebration with Lent is purely historical: the first "triumph of Orthodoxy" took place on this particular Sunday. The same is true of the commemoration on the second Sunday of Lent of St. Gregory Palamas. The condemnation of his enemies and the vindication of his teachings by the Church in the 14th Century was acclaimed as a second triumph of Orthodoxy and for this reason its annual celebration was prescribed for the second Sunday of Lent. Meaningful and important as they are in themselves, these commemorations are independent from Lent as such and we can leave them outside the scope of this essay....

As to the first and essential theme of lenten Sundays, it also is primarily revealed in the scriptural lessons. To understand their sequence, we must once more remember the original connection between Lent and Baptism-- Lent's meaning as preparation for Baptism. These lessons are therefore an integral part of the early Christian catechesis; they explain and summarize the preparation of the catachumen for the Paschal mystery of Baptism. Baptism is the entrance into the new life inaugurated by Christ. To the catachumen, this new life is as yet only announced and promised, and he accepts it by faith. He is like one of the men of the Old Testament who lived by their faith in a promise whose fulfillment they did not see.

This is the theme of the first Sunday. After having mentioned the righteous men of the Old Testament, the Epistle (Heb. 11:24-26; 32-40; 12-2) concludes:

...and these all, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised since God has foreseen something better for us.

What is it? The answer is given in the Gospel lesson of the first Sunday (John 1:43-51):

...you shall see greater things than these... truly, truly I say unto you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

This means: you catachumens, you who believe in Christ, you who want to be baptized, who are preparing yourselves for Pascha-- you shall see the inauguration of the new age, the fulfillment of all promises, the manifestation of the Kingdom. But you shall see it only if you believe and repent, if you change your mind, if you have the desire, if you accept the effort.

Of this we are reminded in the lesson of the second Sunday (Heb. 1:10-2:3):

...therefore, we must pay close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it... How shall we escape if we neglect such salvation?

In the Gospel lesson of the second Sunday (Mark 2:1-12) the image of this effort and desire is the paralytic who was brought to Christ through the roof:

...and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic: 'My son, your sins are forgive..'

On the third Sunday-- "Sunday of the Cross"-- the theme of the Cross makes its appearance, and we are told (Mark 8:34-9:1):

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

From this Sunday on, the lessons from the Epistle to the Hebrews begin to reveal to us the meaning of Christ's sacrifice by which we are given access "into the inner shrine behind the curtain," i.e., into the holy of holies of God's Kingdom (cf. Third Sunday, Heb. 4:14-5:6; Fourth Sunday, Heb. 6:13-20; and Fifth Sunday, Heb. 9:11-14), while the lessons from the Gospel of St. Mark announce the voluntary Passion of Christ:

...the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men and the will kill Him....
(Mark 9:17-31)-- Fourth Sunday

and His Resurrection:

...and the third day He shall rise again. 
(Mark 10:32-45)-- Fifth Sunday

The catechesis, the preparation for the great mystery, is drawing to its end, the decisive hour of man's entrance into Christ's Death and Resurrection is approaching.


Today Lent s no longer the preparation of the catachumen for Baptism, but although baptized and confirmed, are we not in a sense still "catachumens"? Or rather, are we not to return to this state every year? Do we not fall away again and again from the great mystery of which we have been made participants? Do we not need in our life-- which is one permanent alienation from Christ and His Kingdom-- this annual journey back to the very roots of our Christian faith?
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Thursday, 26 February 2015

SAINT AUGUSTINE AND THE CHURCH: A LENTEN SERMON BY FR R. CANTALAMESSA


(Vatican Radio) The theology of the great Doctors of the Church are the focus of a series of Lenten reflections prepared by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap for Pope Francis and the Roman Curia in these weeks remaining ahead of Easter. In his second sermon in the series, Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher for the Papal Household, examines St. Augustine in a reflection entitled “I Believe the Church Is One and Holy.”

Below, please find the official English translation of his Sermon:

1. Moving from the East to the West

In the introductory meditation last week, we reflected on the meaning of Lent as a time of going into the desert with Jesus, fasting from food and images presented by mass media, learning to overcome temptation, and above all growing in intimacy with God. 

In the four sermons that remain, continuing with the reflection begun in Lent of 2012 on the Greek Fathers, we will now place ourselves under the instruction of four great Doctors of the Latin Church—Augustine, Ambrose, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great—to see what each of them says to us today about a truth of faith that each in particular asserted: respectively, the nature of the Church, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the christological dogma of Chalcedon, and the spiritual understanding of the Scripture.

Our aim is to discover, behind these great Fathers, the richness, the beauty, and joy of believing , passing, as Paul says, "from faith to faith" (Rom 1:17), from a faith of the mind to a faith of mind and heart. It will be an increased volume of faith within the Church that will then constitute her best resource in announcing it to the world.

The title of the cycle – “On the shoulders of the giants – is derived from a thought dear to medieval theologians: "We are – they said - like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We can see more things and further than they do, not for the sharpness of our gaze, or the height of our body, but because we are carried higher and we sit upon their gigantic stature ." This thought has found artistic expression in certain statues and stained glass windows of Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Characters of imposing stature are represented there who hold up little men, almost dwarfs, sitting on their shoulders. Those giants were for them, as they are for us , the ancient Fathers of the Church.

After lessons from Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa concerning, respectively, the divinity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, and knowing God, one could have the impression that very little was left for the Latin Fathers to do in developing Christian dogma. A brief glance at the history of theology will quickly convince us otherwise.

Prompted by the culture they were part of, gifted with strong speculative abilities, and reacting to the heresies they were forced to combat (Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Monophytism), the Greek Fathers were primarily focused on the ontological aspects of dogma: the divinity of Christ, his two natures and the manner of their union, and the unity and triune nature of God. The themes most dear to Paul—justification, the relationship between the law and the gospel, the Church as the body of Christ—remained on the margins of their attention or were treated in passing. The Apostle John, with his emphasis on the Incarnation, suited their purposes much better than Paul who places the paschal mystery at the center of everything with his emphasis on the action of Christ more than on his being. 

The character of the Latin Fathers (with the exception of Augustine) that inclines them to concern themselves with concrete, juridical, and organizational problems rather than speculative ones, combined with the appearance of new heresies like Donatism and Pelagianism, will stimulate a new and original reflection on the Pauline themes of grace, the Church, the sacraments, and Scripture. These are the themes I would like to reflect on for this year’s Lenten preaching.


2. What Is the Church?

Let us being our review with the greatest of the Latin Fathers, Augustine. The Doctor of Hippo has left his mark on almost all areas of theology but especially on two of them: grace and the Church. The first is the result of his battle against Pelagianism and the second is the result of his battle against Donatism.

Interest in Augustine’s doctrine on grace predominated from the sixteenth century on, whether in the Protestant sphere (Luther aligned himself with the doctrine of justification and Calvin with the doctrine of predestination) or in the Catholic sphere because of the controversies provoked by Cornelius Otto Janssen and Michael Baius. Interest in Augustine’s ecclesiastical doctrine is instead prevalent in our day because the Second Vatican Council made the Church its central theme and because of the ecumenical movement in which the concept of “church” is the critical knot to untie. Seeking the help and inspiration of the Fathers for the faith here and now, we will concern ourselves with this second area of interest in Augustine, the Church.

The Church was not a topic unknown to the Greek Fathers and the Latin authors before Augustine (Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose), but their statements were for the most part limited to repeating and commenting on the assertions and images in Scripture. The Church is the new people of God; the Church has been promised indefectibility; she is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15); the Holy Spirit is her supreme Teacher. The Church is “catholic” because she is open to all people, she teaches all dogmas, and she possesses all the charisms. In the wake of Paul, the Church is spoken of as the mystery of our incorporation into Christ through baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit; the Church is birthed from the pierced side of Christ on the cross, just as Eve was formed from the side of a sleeping Adam. 

However, these things were said only occasionally; the Church had not yet become an issue in itself. The one who will be compelled to make it a major theme is Augustine because he had to fight the schism of the Donatists almost all his life. Perhaps no one today would remember that North African sect if not for the fact that it was the occasion that birthed what we call ecclesiology today, that is, a reflection on what the Church is in God’s plan, her nature and her operation.

Around 311 a man called Donatus, the bishop of Numidia, refused to accept in ecclesial communion those who had handed over the Sacred Books to state authorities during the persecution of Diocletian and had renounced their faith to save their lives. In 311 a man called Caecilian, elected as bishop of Carthage, was accused (wrongly, according to the Catholics) of having betrayed the faith during Diocletian’s persecution. A group of seventy North African bishops led by Donatus opposed this appointment. They removed Caecilian from office and chose Donatus for that post. Excommunicated by Pope Miltiades in 313, Donatus remained in his post, triggering a schism that created a church parallel to the Catholic Church in North Africa until the invasion of the Vandals that occurred in the following century.

In the course of the controversy, the Donatists had tried to justify their position with theological arguments, and it was in refuting them that Augustine elaborated, little by little, his doctrine of the Church. This occurs in two different contexts: in works written directly against the Donatists as well as in his commentaries on Scripture and his sermons to the people. It is important to distinguish between these two contexts because in the second case Augustine will put more emphasis on some aspects of the Church rather than others, and it is only from the whole of his writing that we can derive his complete doctrine. Let us look, just briefly, at what the saint’s conclusions are in each of the two contexts, beginning with the one that is directly anti-Donatist.


a. The Church, the Communion of Sacraments, and the Society of Saints. The Donatist schism was based on the conviction that grace cannot be transmitted by a minister who does not have it; therefore, sacraments administered in this way have no effect whatsoever. This argument, initially applied to the ordination of Bishop Caecilian, is soon extended to other sacraments and to baptism in particular. Using this argument, the Donatists justify their separation from the Catholics and their practice of re-baptizing whoever came from their ranks. 

In response Augustine elaborates a principle that will forever be an achievement in theology and creates the basis for the future treatise De sacramentis: the distinction between potestas and ministerium, namely, between the cause of grace and its minister. The grace conferred through sacraments is exclusively the work of God and Christ; the minister is only an instrument: “When Peter baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes; when John baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes; when Jude baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes.” The validity and efficacy of the sacraments is not impeded by an unworthy minister. This is a truth, as we know, that the Christian people need to remember today as well.

Having neutralized the principal weapon of his opponents this way, Augustine can elaborate his great vision of the Church through some fundamental distinctions. The first is between the present or earthly Church and the future or heavenly Church. This second Church will be comprised only of saints. The Church in the present age, on the other hand, will always be a field in which wheat and tares are mixed, the net that catches good and bad fish, that is, saints and sinners.

Augustine makes another distinction that concerns the Church in its earthly stage, the distinction between the communion of sacraments (communio sacramentorum) and the society of saints (societas sanctorum). The first visibly unites all those who take part in the same external signs: sacraments, Scripture, Church authority; the second unites only those who, in addition to the signs, share in common the reality hidden under the signs (res sacramentorum), i. e., the Holy Spirit, grace, and charity. 

Since in this world below it will always be impossible to know with certainty who possesses the Holy Spirit and grace—and even more impossible to know if they will persevere to the end in that state—Augustine ends up identifying the true, definitive community of saints with the heavenly Church of the predestined. “How many sheep who are inside today will be outside, and how many wolves that are now outside will be in inside.” 

The novelty, concerning this point as compared to Cyprian, is that while Cyprian made the unity of the Church consist in something exterior and visible—the harmony of all the bishops among themselves—Augustine makes it consist in something interior: the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Church is thus brought about by the same One who brings about unity in the Trinity. “The Father and Son have wanted us to be united among ourselves and with them by means of the same bond that unites them, namely, the love that is the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit performs the same function in the Church that the soul performs in our physical body: He is the animating and unifying principle. “What the soul is to the human body the Holy Spirit is to the body of Christ, which is the Church.”

Complete membership in the Church requires both the visible communion of sacramental signs and the invisible communion of grace. However, there can be degrees of belonging to the Church, so it is not necessary that a person be identified as either inside or outside; someone can be partly inside and partly outside. There is an exterior membership, through sacramental signs, which includes the schismatic Donatists and unfaithful Catholics and there is a full and complete communion. The first kind of membership consists in someone participating in the external sign of grace (sacramentum) but not receiving the interior reality that it produces (res sacramenti) or receiving it to one’s condemnation rather than to one’s salvation, as in the case of Baptism administered by schismatics or in the case of the Eucharist being received unworthily by Catholics.

b. The Church as the Body of Christ animated by the Holy Spirit. In Augustine’s exegetical writings and sermons, we find these same basic principles of ecclesiology, but they are derived less from polemics and are more like family conversations, so to speak. Augustine can emphasize the interior and spiritual aspects of the Church that are most on his heart. In these instances the Church is presented, often in an elevated and moving tone, as the body of Christ (the adjective “mystical” will be added later) that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in such a similar way to the Eucharistic body that it matches its characteristics almost completely. Let us listen to what his faithful once heard on the feast of Pentecost on this theme:

If you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful: You, though, are the body of Christ and its members (1 Cor 12:27). So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery [that you are] that has been placed at the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that . . . [you are]. It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent. What . . . you see is The body of Christ, and you answer Amen. So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make your Amen truthful. . . . Be what you can see, and receive what you are.

The nexus between the two bodies of Christ is based for Augustine on the unique symbolic correspondence between the bread and wine becoming the body of Christ and believers becoming the body of Christ. The Eucharistic bread is obtained from the dough of many grains of wheat and the wine from a multitude of grapes; in the same way, the Church is formed by many people, united and blended together by the charity which is the Holy Spirit. Just as wheat spread over the hills is first harvested, then milled, and then kneaded with water and cooked in the oven, so the faithful spread throughout the world are brought together by the word of God, milled by the penances and the exorcisms preceding baptism, immersed in the water of baptism, and put through the fire of the Spirit. Also in relation to the Church one must say that the sacrament significando causat, the sacrament “causes by signifying”. By signifying the union of many persons in one the Eucharist brings it about and causes it. In this sense, we can say that “The Eucharist makes the Church.”


3. The Relevance of Augustine’s Ecclesiology for Today


Let us now try to see how Augustine’s ideas about the Church can contribute to shedding light on the problems that the Church has to confront in our time. I would like in particular to devote some time to the importance of Augustine’s ecclesiology for ecumenical dialogue. One circumstance makes this choice particularly relevant. The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. Joint declarations and documents are already beginning to circulate in view of this event. It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity not be wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to ascertain—even if with a more objective and irenic attitude than in the past—each other’s motives and faults. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gate of a river or a canal allows ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level.

The situation in the world, in the church, and in theology has changed since then. It is a matter of starting over again with the person of Jesus, of humbly helping our contemporaries to discover the person of Christ. We need to place ourselves in the time of the Apostles: they faced a pre-Christian world, and we face a world that is in large part post-Christian. When Paul wants to summarize the essence of the Christian message in one sentence, he does not say, “I proclaim this or that doctrine to you.” Instead he says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23), and “We preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). 

This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to return to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed of certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies. Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church—and with more vigor than ever—not in opposition however to good works, which is an issue that has been settled, but in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves without a need for God or Christ. I am convinced that if he were alive today this is the way Luther himself would preach the justification through faith!

Let us see how Augustine’s theology can help us in this effort of overcoming the long-standing barriers. The path to take today is, in a certain sense, in an opposite direction to the one Augustine took with the Donatists. At that time, he needed to move from the communion through the sacraments toward the communion through the grace of the Holy Spirit and charity; today we need to move from the spiritual communion of charity to full communion in the sacraments as well, among which the Eucharist is first.

The distinction between the two levels in which the true Church is present—the exterior one of signs and the interior one of grace—allows Augustine to formulate a principle that would have been unthinkable before him: “As, therefore, there is in the Catholic Church something which is not Catholic, so there may be something which is Catholic outside the Catholic Church.” These two aspects of the Church—the visible, institutional and the invisible, spiritual—cannot be separated. This is true and has been reasserted by Pope Pius XII in Mystici corporis and by the Second Vatican Council in Lumen gentium. However, since these two aspects unfortunately do not coincide because of historical separations and the sin of human beings, one cannot give more importance to institutional communion than to spiritual communion. 

This poses a serious question for me. Can I, as a Catholic, feel in communion more with the multitude of those baptized in my own church, who nevertheless completely neglect Christ and the church—or if they express some interest, it is only to speak ill of it—than I do with the group of those who, belonging to other confessions, believe in the same fundamental truths I do, who love Jesus Christ to the point of giving their lives for him, who spread the gospel, who are concerned with trying to alleviate the poverty in the world, and who have the same gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have? Persecutions, so frequent today in certain parts of the world, do not make distinctions: they do not burn churches or kill people because they are Catholic or Protestant but because they are Christians. In the eyes of the persecutors we are already “one”!

This is of course a question that Christians in other churches should also ask themselves in regard to Catholics, and, thanks be to God, this is precisely what is happening to a hidden degree and is far more frequent than the news would lead us to believe. I am convinced that one day, we will be amazed, and others will be amazed, at not having been aware earlier of what the Holy Spirit has been doing among Christians in our day beyond official channels. There are so many Christians outside the Catholic Church who are looking at it in a new light and beginning to recognize their own roots in it.

Augustine’s most novel and most fruitful insight about the Church, as we saw, is to have identified the essential principle of her unity in the Spirit instead of in the horizontal communion of bishops among themselves and with the pope of Rome. Just as the unity of a human body is achieved by the soul that animates and moves all its members, the same is true for the unity of the body of Christ. It is a mystical fact first before it is a reality that is expressed socially and visibly in an external way. It is a reflection of the perfect unity between the Father and Son through the work of the Spirit. Jesus is the one who once and for all established this mystical foundation when he prayed “that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). A fundamental unity in doctrine and discipline will be the fruit of this mystical and spiritual unity, but it can never be its cause.

The most concrete steps toward unity, therefore, are not those that are made around a table or in joint declarations (even though those are all important). They are the ones made when believers of different confessions find themselves proclaiming the Lord Jesus together in fraternal accord, sharing their charisms, and recognizing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. What the Church has proclaimed in its different messages for the World Day of Peace, including the message in 2013, is valid for the unity of Christians: peace begins in people’s hearts, and fraternity is the foundation for peace.


4. A Member of the Body of Christ Moved by the Spirit!


In his sermons to the people Augustine never set forth his ideas about the Church without quickly drawing out their practical consequences for the daily life of the faithful. And I would also like to do that before concluding our meditation, as if we were joining the ranks of his listeners back then.

The image of the Church as the body of Christ is not new with Augustine. What he brings that is new concerns the practical implications that we can infer for the life of believers. For one, we no longer have any reason to look at one another with envy and jealousy. What I do not have that others have is also mine. You can listen to the apostle list all the marvelous charisms—apostolate, prophecy, healings, etc—and perhaps you are saddened at thinking you do not have any. But wait, Augustine advises, “If you love, you do not have nothing; for if you love unity, whoever in it has anything has it also for you! Take away envy, and what I have is yours; let me take away envy, and what you have is mine.”

Only the eye has the capacity to see. But does the eye see only for itself? Isn’t it the whole body that benefits from its ability to see? The hands works, but does it work only on its own behalf? If a rock is about to hit the eye, does the hand remain motionless because the blow is not being directly aimed at itself? The same thing happens in the body of Christ: what every member is and does, he or she is and does it for all!

This reveals the secret about why charity is “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). It makes me love the Church, or the community in which I live, and because of unity, all of the charisms, and not just some of them, are mine. And there is more. If you love unity more than I do, the charism I have is more yours than mine. Let us suppose I have the charism to evangelize; I can flatter myself or boast of it and then I become “a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Through my charism, “I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:3); however, it does not cease to be useful for you who listen, despite my sin. Through charity you possess without risk that which someone else possesses with risk. Charity truly multiplies the charisms because it makes one person’s charism the charism of all.

“Are you part of the one body of Christ? Do you love the unity of the church?” Augustine asked his faithful. “Now if a pagan asks you why you do not speak all languages, since it is written that those who received the Holy Spirit spoke all languages, respond without hesitating, ‘Certainly I speak all languages. In fact I belong to a body, the Church, that speaks all languages and proclaims in all languages the mighty works of God.’”

When we are able to apply this truth not only to internal relationships within the community in which we live and to our Church, but also to the relationships between one Christian church and another, that is the day when the unity of Christians will for all practical purposes be an accomplished fact.

Let us recall the exhortation with which Augustine ended so many of his discourses on the Church: “If you wish to live in the Holy Spirit, preserve charity, love the truth, and you will attain eternity. Amen.”


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