"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

Saturday 30 April 2011


Peter Kreeft talks about "Mere Christianity" by C. S. Lewis:                  
click here
This and the other lectures given by Dr Peter Kreef on C.S. Lewis are expressions of deep thought clearly and beautifully expressed.  Here you have several hours of very worthwhile listening.   Listen and enjoy. - (fr) David

Peter Kreeft talking about "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis

Peter Kreeft talking about "Till We Have Faces" by C.S. Lewis on the problem of evil. Click here

Peter Kreeft talking about "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis on the death of his wife.   Click here.

Peter Kreeft talking about the teaching of C. S. Lewis on          "Time and Eternity".   Click Here.

Peter Kreeft talking about "The Cosmic Dance" in C.S. Lewis.
Click here.

Peter Kreeft talking about "Imagination" in the thought of C.S. Lewis Click here

Peter Kreeft on "the Good, the True and the Beautiful" in the  thought of C.S. Lewis. Click here 

Friday 29 April 2011

The Presence of Christ in The Lord of the Rings | Peter J. Kreeft

• This essay is an excerpt from Peter J. Kreeft's new book, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings.

Can any one man incarnate every truth and virtue? 

Throughout the New Testament we find a shocking simplicity: Christ does not merely teach the truth, He is the truth; He does not merely show us the way, He is the way; He does not merely give us eternal life, He is that life. He does not merely teach or purchase our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption, but "God made [Him] our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor 1:30). How can all these universal values and truths be really and completely present in one concrete individual person? Only if that Person is divine (thus universal) as well as human (thus particular); only by the Incarnation; only by what C. S. Lewis calls "myth become fact".

J. R. R. Tolkien, like most Catholics, saw pagan myths not as wholly mistaken (as most Protestants do), but as confused precursors of Christianity. Man's soul has three powers, and God left him prophets for all three: Jewish moralists for his will, Greek philosophers for his mind, and pagan mythmakers for his heart and imagination and feelings. Of course, the latter two are not infallible. C. S. Lewis calls pagan myths "gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility" (Perelandra, p. 201). One of the key steps in Lewis's conversion, as recounted in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, was his reading the chapter in Chesterton's The Everlasting Man that showed him the relationship between Christianity and pagan myths of salvation, death, and resurrection. Christianity was "myth become fact".

Tolkien's Catholic tradition tends to have a high opinion of pagans who know and follow the "natural law", for it interprets these pagans not apart from Christ, but as imperfectly knowing Him. For Christ is not just a thirty-three-year-old, six-foot-tall Jewish carpenter, but the eternal Logos, the Mind of God, "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). So Christ can be present even when not adequately known in paganism. This is exactly what St. Paul told the Athenians (in Acts 17:23): "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Christ's presence is not limited to the presence of the explicit knowledge of Christ, or the revelation of Christ. As the Reformed tradition puts it, there is also "general revelation" as well as "special revelation".

So even though The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory of the Gospels, we can find numerous parallels to the Gospels in The Lord of the Rings, since the Person at the center of the Gospels is omnipresent in hidden ways, not only in His eternal, universal nature as Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, but even in His particular historical manifestation, His Incarnation. For instance, Frodo's journey up Mount Doom is strikingly similar to Christ's Way of the Cross. Sam is his Simon of Cyrene, but he carries the cross bearer as well as the cross.

There is no one complete, concrete, visible Christ figure in The Lord of the Rings, like Aslan in Narnia. But Christ is really, though invisibly, present in the whole of The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings is like the Eucharist. Under its appearances we find Christ, who under these (pagan, universal) figures (symbols, not allegories), is truly hidden: quae sub hisfiguris vere latitat.

He is more clearly present in Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, the three Christ figures. First of all, all three undergo different forms of death and resurrection (see section 5.1 of The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings).

Second, all three are saviors: through their self-sacrifice they help save all of Middle-earth from the demonic sway of Sauron. Third, they exemplify the Old Testament threefold Messianic symbolism of prophet (Gandalf), priest (Frodo), and king (Aragorn). These three "job descriptions" correspond to the three distinctively human powers of the soul, as discovered by nearly every psychologist from Plato to Freud: head, heart, and hands, or mind, emotions, and will. For this reason many great tales have three protagonists: Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn; Mr. Spock, Bones McCoy, and Captain Kirk; Ivan, Alyosha, and Dmitri Karamazov; St. John the philosophical mystic, St. James the practical moralist, and St. Peter the courageous leader and Rock.

A fourth hidden presence of Christ in The Lord of the Rings is in the theme of divine providence (see section 2.2); for from the New Testament point of view Christ is the supreme example in history of divine providence–in fact, the single point of all other examples, of all history.

A fifth presence of Christ in The Lord of the Rings is in the creative power of its language (see sections 9. 1 and 9-3). Christ is the Logos, the Word of God. He is mentioned in the Bible as early as Genesis 1:3 (cf. Jn 1:3), but as a verb, not a noun.

A sixth presence is ecclesial. Tolkien was a Catholic and called The Lord of the Rings "a Catholic book" (see section 2.4). He removed "churches" from The Lord of the Rings not only to avoid anachronism but also to show the presence, in the depths of his plot, of the universal ("catholic") Church. For the Church is not only an organization but also an organism, an invisible, "mystical" Body, a "fellowship". The word "church", from the Greek ek-klesia, means "the called out". A good description of the Fellowship of the Ring.

For the Church, too, is a "fellowship of a ring", but her ring is exactly the opposite of Sauron's. It is the Eucharist: a little wafer that is equally round, but full rather than empty; the humble extension of the Incarnation of God into man rather than the proud self-exaltation of man in order to make himself God. The Ring takes your life, your blood, like Dracula, a perfect opposite to Christ, Who comes to give His blood, to give us a blood transfusion. The two symbols are perfect opposites: the Ring of Power and the Bread of Weakness, the Lord of the Rings and the Lamb of God.

The whole of history, as revealed in the Bible, is the cosmic jihad between Christ and Antichrist, martyr and vampire, humility of God versus pride of man. Throughout the Bible there is vertical symbolism exemplifying this contrast. Paradise is made in Eden by God's self-giving descent and lost through man's self-taking, man's succumbing to the devil's temptation to become "like God". The apparent rise is really the "fall". After Paradise is lost, the City of Man tries to rise up to Heaven again by its own power, in the Tower of Babel, and falls. And when Paradise is finally regained, the New Jerusalem of the City of God descends from Heaven as a grace.

The most fundamental Christian symbol is the Cross. This also is perfectly opposite to the Ring. The Cross gives life; the Ring takes it. The Cross gives you death, not power; the Ring gives you power even over death. The Ring squeezes everything into its inner emptiness; the Cross expands in all four directions, gives itself to the emptiness, filling it with its blood, its life. The Ring is Dracula's tooth. The Cross is God's sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood but to give us His. The Cross is Christ's hypodermic; the Ring is Dracula's bite. The Cross saves other wills; the Ring dominates other wills. The Cross liberates; the Ring enslaves.

The Cross works only freely, by the vulnerability of love. Love is vulnerable to rejection, and thus apparent failure. Frodo offers Gollum free kindness, but he fails to win Gollum's trust and fails himself, at the Crack of Doom, to complete his task. But his philosophy does not fail.

He could have used the philosophy of Sauron, of the Ring. He could have used force and compelled Gollum, or even justly killed him. But no one can make another person good by controlling his will, not even God. Frodo nearly won Gollum by his kindness, but Gollum chose not to trust and lost both his body and his soul. Frodo failed.

There is no room for failure in the philosophy of Sauron. There is room for failure in the philosophy of Tolkien, for the philosophy of Tolkien is simply Christianity. And according to Christianity, the most revealing thing that ever happened in history happened at another Crack of Doom, when Christ "failed", lost, died. That was how the meek little Lamb defeated the great dragon beast (see Rev 17, especially verse 14): by His blood. Frodo did what Christ did, and it "worked" because Christ did it, because it was real, not fantasy, and it was real because the real world is a "Christian" world. Only in a Christian world can this "failure" have such power.

It is a very strange philosophy. A few pagan sages like Lao Tzu understood the principle of the power of weakness, but he did not know it would come from a literal, bloody event in history. Neither did Frodo. Like Socrates, Buddha, and Lao Tzu, Frodo did not see Christ, yet somehow believed: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn 20:29).

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965. 

He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including: C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals of the Faith, Catholic Christianity, Back to Virtue, and Three Approaches to Abortion. In addition to Socrates Meets Sartre, his most recent Ignatius Press books include You Can Understand the Bible and The God Who Loves You.

Dr. Kreeft's personal web site | Dr. Kreeft's author page at IgnatiusInsight.com, with full listing of books in print


Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar | From In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic 

Jesus must be Catholic, otherwise his Church, which follows him and is promised his fullness, could not be called Catholic. Being Catholic means embracing everything, leaving nothing out. How can an individual human being do this, even if he is the only begotten Son of God? We shall not explain this by theological speculation. It is something that can reveal itself to us only if, in the openness of faith, we let our eyes rest on his self-manifestation. He is the revelation of someone else, of the Father, who is "greater" than he, and yet with whom he is "one". This is the message of his words and his life. 

He can reveal the Father in this way only through a twofold movement: he steps forward (with divine authority) in order to make the Father visible, and simultaneously he steps back (as the Suffering Servant) in order to reveal the Father, not himself. We must not fail to discern him in his mode of stepping back, for he is the only way to the Father. In other words, the Father reveals himself by revealing the Son; he gives himself by giving his Son: dando revelat, et revelando dat (Bernard). Nor must we cling to him in his stepping forth, for, in all the density of his flesh, his whole aim is to be transparent, revealing the heart of God. In the same breath he can say, "My flesh is food indeed" and "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail." We must not hedge him round with a pietistic Jesus-spirituality on the grounds that "only the Son knows the Father"; he is the Door, and a door is not for clinging to: it is for going through. He is "the way": we are not meant to stand still on it but walk along it, toward "my Father's house", which has "many rooms". And at the same time we do not leave these rooms and this path behind us, for Jesus is also the light of the world, the truth, the Resurrection, the presence of eternal life. But he is these things, not in his own power, but because he manifests the Father's love.

Lest we become completely confused and wearied by this riddle of his simultaneous stepping forward and stepping back, his appearances and disappearances, he goes beyond it: when he rises from the dead and goes back to the Father, he sends the Holy Spirit from the Father. This Holy Spirit is the one, whole, personal manifestation and confirmation of this baffling unity between Father and Son, the divine "We" that is more than the mere "I" and "Thou". It leads beyond the endless process of counting up, of supplementary definitions, to the reality of mutual presence and indwelling, without causing Father and Son to submerge in the Spirit. The Spirit comes to the aid of our helplessness in the face of the unity of opposites so clearly expressed in the gospel. He rewards us for not trying to resolve this apparent contradiction by our own efforts-for this would be to destroy the core of the Catholic reality: if we are to see things properly, we must include the opposite of what we have seen. It is not that what we see suddenly turns ("dialectically") into its opposite, but that in the lowliness of Jesus there is a direct revelation of his lofty nature; that in his severity we discern his mercy, etc. 

And it is not that, in his human lowliness, he shows the greatness of the divine Father; it is not that his human severity prepares the way for the Father's compassion. Rather, his lowliness reveals the humiliation of the Father's love, and that shows his greatness. Thus, too, his human severity reveals the unshakable nature of the Father's love, and hence of its compassion. So, in the distinction between Father and Son, we discern simultaneously the unity of the divine essence, and, within it, the possibility of uniting those qualities that seem to us irreconcilable. The famous Catholic "and"--Scripture "and" Tradition, etc.--which is the object of Protestant criticism, has its true origin here, and here alone. 

A Church can be Catholic only because God is Catholic first, and because, in Jesus Christ and ultimately in the Holy Spirit, this catholicity on God's part has opened itself to the world, simultaneously revealing and giving itself. The Spirit is "Person", the "We" in God: he provides the basis for the "we" that exists between God and ourselves, and hence too between men. But we would know and possess nothing of this if Jesus Christ had not stood at the alpha and omega of all God's ways in the world, as the form of revelation available to anyone who is open to it, i.e., is prepared to believe.

The Spirit Proves ... What Is Beyond Proof

The Spirit's chief quality, in obediently allowing himself to be sent out into the world by Father and Son, is his freedom. He blows whither he will and cannot be fixed in any particular form. He appears as a hovering presence (the "dove"), communication ("tongues"), devouring transformation ("flame"), a breeze that allows us to breathe deeply ("wind"). He "interprets" the mysterious figure of Jesus, revealing its divine being, its trinitarian dimensions, its mystery-quality; in this way the Spirit proves and "convicts" (Jn 16:8). He withdraws Jesus from all rationalistic incursions, and he also prevents Scripture (which he inspired), dogma (which interprets) and the Church's discipline from being swallowed up in purely worldly categories. He lends his wings to the Woman of the Apocalypse so that she may flee to the desert. He refuses to let himself be caught and domesticated, not even by pneumatic "methods" of prayer. We must not cling to Jesus, but let him ascend "to my Father and your Father"; only if we exhibit a readiness that stipulates no conditions can the Spirit, in his freedom, prove to us that the entire Catholic revelation-God, Christ, the Church- was and remains a project undertaken by the sovereign free love of God. 

God's Love Is Catholic 

God's love is ever greater; we can never catch up with it. It has no other ground but itself. It comes to us from ever further afield and goes forth to embrace wider vistas than I could ever imagine. That is why, in my limitedness, I always have to add an "and"; but what I thus "add" has always been there in the love of God.

When God, in sovereign freedom, enters into a world, he is not doing something else, something additional (as if God were Catholic in himself and became even more Catholic by bringing what is not-God, creation, into his totality); the Father of Jesus Christ is never any other than the Creator, who, showing them great care, carries all his creatures in his bosom. Everything temporal has its place within God's eternity. The Incarnation is not an episode in the life of God: the Lamb is slain from all eternity, and hence was born, grew up, and rose again from all eternity too. In itself, the adopting of human nature, with all its ignorance and limitation, into the divine nature is not an event in time, although the human nature so adopted, like ours, was something living and dying in time. (C. S. Lewis) Furthermore, the process of integrating creation into God's world (and within the time-dimension it really is a process: the lost sheep is searched for, carried home and put back into the flock) is always present in God's plan of salvation (cf. Eph 1 :1-10) as a complete design; it is carried out in a sequence that is unbreakable (cf. Rom 8:29f.) and in which neither human nor divine freedom is overplayed.

At the beginning there stands the "and" in "God and the world". In its abstractness, in this context of juxtaposition, however, it would not be a Catholic "and" unless it were contained, right from the outset, in the concrete "hyphen" represented by the incarnate Son (and he is more than a mere "mediator" between two parties: he is the One who creates unity: Gal 3:20) and the sending of the Holy Spirit, who brings everything to a conclusion (yet definitively opens everything up), enabling the creature to participate in the "divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4) as well as embracing it-as the divine "We"--in the community of the Trinity. This community cannot perfect itself apart from the mutual presence to one another of the divine Persons; equally, it cannot do without the reciprocity of God and his creature if it is to show forth its precious richness.

Just as this catholicity goes beyond a dialectic of reversed opposites, it also goes beyond a coincidentia oppositorum. Rather, it is an inclusion: nature is included in grace, the sinner is included in forgiving love, and all plans and purposes are included in a supreme gratis--"for nothing"

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

• Author Page for Hans Urs von Balthasar, with biography and listing of books published by Ignatius Press
• The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest
• Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John | Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• Encountering Christ in the Gospel | Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
• The Divinity of Christ | Peter Kreeft
• Love Must Be Perceived | Hans Urs von Balthasar | An excerpt from Love Alone Is Credible
• A Résumé of My Thought | Hans Urs von Balthasar
 Church Authority and the Petrine Element | Hans Urs von Balthasar
• The Cross–For Us | Hans Urs von Balthasar
• A Theology of Anxiety? | Hans Urs von Balthasar | The Introduction to The Christian and Anxiety
• "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" | Hans Urs von Balthasar | An excerpt from Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed
• Love Alone is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Apologetics | by Fr. John R. Cihak

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss theologian, considered to one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the twentieth century. Incredibly prolific and diverse, he wrote over one hundred books and hundreds of articles. Read more about his life and work in the Author's Pages section of IgnatiusInsight.com.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Posted: 27 Apr 2011 02:24 PM PDT

Bright Week, otherwise known as Renewal Week, begins on Pascha (i.e. Easter) Sunday and ends on the following Sunday of Thomas. The name probably originates from the fact that the newly baptized catechumens from Pascha are newly illumined and bright. For them it is a time of regeneration and renewal. These newly baptized in ancient times wore all white for a week, hence the week sometimes being called White Week.

The seven days of Bright Week are seen as one day, a continuous Paschal celebration. According to the 66th canon of the Council in Trullo: "From the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until New Sunday (i.e. Thomas Sunday) for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him. For this reason on the aforesaid days that by no means there be any horse races or any other public spectacle." Furthermore, because of the continuous paschal celebration, there should be no fasting this week. And as the above canon states, this is a time of renewal for all Orthodox Christians and not just the newly baptized. It is a time for the faithful to bear spiritual fruit and generate new virtues for our own illumination as well.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, especially in Constantinople, this week had special joy and was celebrated with great pomp and splendor. The emperor would call the newly-baptized and the poor to a rich meal, while on Bright Thursday the Patriarch would have an honorary dinner for the clergy. Rich gifts were distributed by the emperor and official visitations were made. Prisoners with light offenses were released as well. These traditions are somewhat carried out today in Greece where state officials visit hospitals and military camps, and military sanctions are lifted.

Pascha Sunday

Today Pascha for the Greek people begins where it originated, on Holy Saturday afternoon at the empty tomb of Jesus known as the Holy Sepulchre in the city of Jerusalem. Every year at this time a great miracle of Orthodoxy takes place when the Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the tomb of Christ in complete darkness and emerges from the tomb moments laters with fire literally sent from heaven. This fire is popularly known as “Holy Fire”, though Orthodox Christians prefer to call it “Holy Light” for its supernatural origin. News of this miraculous event is widely covered in the Greek media, and is increasingly becoming popular news in the West as well. At the ceremony of the Holy Light there is always a delegation from Greece to receive this Holy Light and bring it to Greece with state honors through a special flight. Arriving in Athens it is then distributed on various aeroplanes to bring the Holy Light throughout Greece.

At 11pm on Saturday night pretty much the entire country is in church. The lights are turned off in the churches at midnight as everyone holds candles waiting to be lit. Soon the priest emerges from the darkened altar and announces that Christ has risen from the dead by calling all the faithful to receive the light of the Resurrection. In many places in Greece this light is in fact the Holy Light which was transferred from Jerusalem. Soon an amazing wonder takes place, when it seems the entire country is lit by this Holy Light as one person passes on the flame to another person as they greet one another with “Christ is risen!” and “Truly he has rise!” which will be the primary greeting for the next forty days. Leaving the churches the people carry this flame to their homes for a blessing where they will try to preserve this flame for the next forty days.

During this midnight service as well as on Pascha day many unique events take place in certain areas of Greece. One common theme is that fireworks are set off everywhere making the fourth of July look tame in comparison. Sometimes even dynamite and guns are used to symbolize the utter destruction of death and the powers of evil by Christ’s Resurrection. Probably the most well-known and dangerous firework display takes place in Chios, where two rival churches fire thousands of rockets at each other as part of an annual firework battle. This is a tradition in Chios dating back to 1889 when Turkish soldiers confiscated the cannons of the islanders, so instead they returned fire upon them with homemade rockets. In the town of Asine in Argolida they actually have a street battle with the men of the upper and lower parts of the village hurling insults and fireworks at each other. In southern Messenia people go to the main squares to watch the saetapolemos, which are rockets without sticks that the men hold while the force of the explosions makes them jump as if they are dancing. This practice supposedly goes back to the War of Independence when people of the area fashioned this home-made bombs to scare the horses of the Turks to force their riders to dismount and lose their advantage. In Corfu ceramic pots are thrown out of windows symbolizing the throwing out of evil. The people of Leonidio in Peloponnesos fill the sky with hot air balloons released by the faithful of each parish. In Thrace and Macedonia young women in traditional clothing called the Lazarins go around the villages singing traditional Paschal songs.

The Burning of Judas is a folk custom done in various places throughout Greece and other places. It is typically performed after the midnight service on Pascha Sunday, though sometimes done on Good Friday or Pascha Sunday afternoon after the Agape service. During this ceremony the people gather around a bonfire as an effigy of Judas is consumed to the accompaniment of roaring cheers, exploding firecrackers, and the occasional burst of gunfire. Some of the more popular Judas burnings take place in Chania and Loutro in Crete, as well as Kalymnos and Sifnos. It also takes place in Monemvasia, Rhodes, Hydra, Halkidiki, Koroni, and Leros. In Syros and Karpathos people bring their guns and shoot Judas as a scapegoat for society's ills.

The Paschal feast after the midnight service, which officially ends the 48-day fast of Great Lent and Holy Week, consists primarily of red eggs, richly scented breads and magiritsa. The red eggs, which were painted on Holy Thursday, are brought out and each person takes one and hits their end against someone else's until the last person who has an un-cracked egg is considered the lucky person for the year. Magiritsa is a variety of chopped and sautéed animal innards (mainly lamb), with herbs and spices and avgolemono (egg and lemon soup). During the day another larger feast takes place which features the famous paschal lamb roasted on a spit. In some villages the priest will go from house to house and bless the roasted lamb of the people. After the meal in certain areas people will attach swings to a tree and swing, while others may go out and pick flowers and form wreaths. There seem to be as many varied traditions on this day in Greece as there are towns and villages.

Bright Monday

In many parts of Greece the festivities of Pascha continue into Monday, with more feasts and dances. Some on this day will visit dead relatives and friends and leave red eggs on their graves praying for them a good resurrection. In Giannitsa of Pella and other areas the people will swing on this day. It is believed that riding a swing is good for one's health and an abundant harvest.

Often it happens that the feast of St. George the Great Martyr falls during Great Lent or Holy Week on April 23rd. Because no feasting is allowed on these days, the feast will be transferred to Bright Monday. St. George is very popular in Greece and churches everywhere are named after him, so many celebrations will take place on Bright Monday in his honor. In Mikropoli of Drama an event called "Celebration of God" (Γιορτή του Θεού) takes place at the Chapel of St. George with a dinner there.

On Bright Monday some monasteries on Mount Athos and Karyes hold litanies with their miraculous icons and holy relics. The others do this on Bright Tuesday. The most notable takes place with the icon of the Panagia of Axion Estin which departs Karyes and goes to all the surrounding monasteries, sketes and cells until it returns to Karyes on Bright Tuesday.

Bright Tuesday

Places like Pilios, Lesvos and Samos save riding on swings for this day. The dancing and festivities will continue today in many areas of Greece, as it will throughout the week. In Kalyvia Limenaria of Thassos Bright Tuesday is called "For Rain In April" (Για βρέξ΄ Απρίλη μ΄). It is an ancient custom to pray for spring rain. Residents of the community and visitors celebrate with folk dances and large pots of rice cooked with meat that is distributed to everyone. On the same day in Ierissos of Halkidiki there is the tradition called in Greek "Του μαύρου νιου τ΄ αλώνι" or "the black threshing floor". This is a dance that takes place in honor of Greeks killed by Turks in the area in 1821.

Many Saints who could not be celebrated properly over the past few weeks during Great Lent and Holy Week are celebrated throughout Bright Week and especially on Bright Tuesday. In 1680 on Pascha Sunday after the midnight service in Ntaou Penteli Monastery outside Athens, 179 monks were slaughtered by pirates and secretly were buried under the floor of the main church. It wasn’t until 1963 that the incorrupt relics of these holy martyrs were discovered in a miraculous way, and since then their feast is celebrated on Bright Tuesday. In 1904 the relics of St. Patapios of Thebes were revealed in his monastery in Thebes in a miraculous fashion, and since then the discovery of his relics are celebrated in Thebes on Bright Tuesday. On April 18, 1826 the Turks were devising a slaughter of the Christians in Herakleion, Crete on the feast of Pascha in the Church of Saint Menas. As the gospel was being read proclaiming the Resurrection Feast suddenly a gray haired man appeared and began running around the church holding a sword, and the faithful saw him chase away the Turks who were devising the slaughter. The people recognized this man to be St. Menas and every year since then this feast is celebrated on Bright Tuesday in Crete.

Probably the most famous feast on Bright Tuesday takes place in Mytilene at the Monastery of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene. For centuries the people of Lesvos would go on Bright Tuesday to the ruins of a monastery near Thermi, a village northwest of the capital, Mytilene. As time passed, however, no one could remember the reason for the annual pilgrimage. There was a vague recollection that once there had been a monastery on that spot, and that the monks had been killed by the Turks. It was not until 1959 that Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene started appearing in dreams and visions to the residents near Thermi revealing to them their identity as well as the location of their relics. Since then this monastery has become one of the most popular pilgrimage destination for Orthodox Christians in the world and they are celebrated especially on Bright Tuesday.

Bright Wednsday

On Bright Wednesday in the Municipal District of Eleutheron west of Kavala there is an emotional and reverent custom called "Mazidia" (Μαζίδια) that takes place dating back to Ottoman times. The faithful process with icons from the Byzantine Church of the Archangels, which is the oldest church in the region of Mazidia, to the picturesque Church of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene.

There is a blessing of artoklasia and holy water with prayers to the Risen Christ to bless the crops for a fruitful season. After venerating the icons, the procession returns to the Church of the Archangels.

Then the big feast begins in the village square. The dancing begins with the priest leading followed by the villagers. This is a tradition that goes prior to Ottoman times.

Bright Thursday

On Bright Thursday in Kalis Vrysis of Drama the icon of the Resurrection of Christ is processed around the farming areas to protect the village from all evil, especially from the extremely dangerous hail storms that could devastate the spring crop.

In Samothraki a festival is celebrated on Bright Thursday in honor of the miraculous discovery of the icon of Panagia Kamariotissa.

Bright Friday

Many churches throughout Greece are dedicated to the Virgin Mary of the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pege). Bright Friday is primarily set aside for this feast with the blessing of waters and processions that end in dances. In places like Larissa, Aigio, Argolida, Rhodes, Naxos, Kerkyra and Telendou special feasts take place in the churches dedicated to the Life-Giving Spring.

Bright Saturday

The Holy Doors in the iconostasis, which have remained open all of Bright Week are closed on this day before the beginning of the Ninth Hour. The Vespers (or All-Night Vigil, depending upon local usage) on Saturday night is chanted in the normal manner, rather than the Paschal manner. However, the Paschal troparion "Christ is risen..." is read (or chanted, if a Vigil) three times at the beginning. That Vespers is the beginning of Thomas Sunday.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Easter in the Liturgical Year (by A. Schmemann} AND Lectures by Met. Kallistos Ware

In the center of our liturgical life, in the very center of that time which we measure as year, we find the feast of Christ’s Resurrection. What is Resurrection? Resurrection is the appearance in this world, completely dominated by time and therefore by death, of a life that will have no end. The one who rose again from the dead does not die anymore. In this world of ours, not somewhere else, not in a world that we do not know at all, but in our world, there appeared one morning Someone who is beyond death and yet in our time. This meaning of Christ’s Resurrection, this great joy, is the central theme of Christianity and it has been preserved in its purity by the Orthodox Church. There is much truth expressed by those who say that the real central theme of Orthodoxy, the center of all its experience, the frame of reference of everything else, is the Resurrection of Christ.
The faces of pilgrims whose faces reflect the light that comes from Christ's tomb on Holy Saturday.

The center, the day, that gives meaning to all days and therefore to all time, is that yearly commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter. This is always the end and the beginning. We are always living after Easter, and we are always going toward Easter. Easter is the earliest Christian feast. The whole tone and meaning of the liturgical life of the Church is contained in Easter, together with the subsequent fifty-day period, which culminates in the feast of the Pentecost, the coming down of Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. This unique Easter celebration is reflected every week in the Christian Sunday, which we call in Russian "Voskresenie" (Resurrection Day). If only you would take some time to read the texts of Sunday Matins you would realize, though it may seem strange to you, that every Sunday we have a little Easter. I say "Little Easter," but it is really "Great Easter." Every week the Church comes to the same central experience: "Having seen Thy Resurrection..." Every Saturday night when the priest carries the Gospel from the altar to the center of the church, after he has read the Gospel of the Resurrection, the same fundamental fact of our Christian faith is proclaimed: Christ is risen! St. Paul says: "If Christ is not risen, then your faith is in vain." There is nothing else to believe. This is the real center, and it is only in reference to Easter as the end of all natural time and the beginning of the new time in which we as Christians have to live that we can understand the whole liturgical year. If you open a calendar, you will find all our Sundays are called Sundays after Pentecost, and Pentecost itself is fifty days after Easter. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Easter. Christ ascended into heaven and sent down His Holy Spirit. When He sent down His Holy Spirit into the world, a new society was instituted, a body of people, whose life, though it remained of this world and was shared in its life, took on a new meaning. This new meaning comes directly from Christ’s Resurrection. We are no longer people who are living in time as in a meaningless process, which makes us first old and then ends in our disappearance. We are given not only a new meaning in life, but even death itself has acquired a new significance. In the Troparion at Easter we say, "He trampled down death by death." We do not say that He trampled down death by the Resurrection, but by death. A Christian still faces death as a decomposition of the body, as an end; yet in Christ, in the Church, because of Easter, because of Pentecost, death is no longer just the end but it is the beginning also. It is not something meaningless which therefore gives a meaningless taste to all of life. Death means entering into the Easter of the Lord. This is the basic tone, the basic melody of the liturgical year of the Christian Church. Christianity is, first of all, the proclamation in this world of Christ’s Resurrection. Orthodox spirituality is paschal in its inner content, and the real content of the Church life is joy. We speak of feasts; the feast is the expression of joyfulness of Christianity.

Light from the Tomb.

The only real thing, especially in the child’s world, which the child accepts easily, is precisely joy. We have made our Christianity so adult, so serious, so sad, so solemn that we have almost emptied it of that joy. Yet Christ Himself said, "Unless you become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of God." To become as a child in Christ’s terms means to be capable of that spiritual joy of which an adult is almost completely incapable. To enter into that communion with things, with nature, with other people without suspicion of fear or frustration. We often use the term "grace." But what is grace? Charisma in Greek means not only grace but also joy. "And I will give you the joy that no one will take away from you..." If I stress this point so much, it is because I am sure that, if we have a message to our own people, it is that message of Easter joy which finds its climax on Easter night. When we stand at the door of the church and the priest has said, "Christ Is Risen," then the night becomes in the terms of St. Gregory of Nyssa, "lighter than the day." This is the secret strength, the real root of Christian experience. Only within the framework of this joy can we understand everything else.
Light from the tomb.


Easter at Optina MOnastery 2011

The Truth of the Resurrection | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger |

The Truth of the Resurrection | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger | From Introduction to Christianity 


To the Christian, faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is an expression of certainty that the saying that seems to be only a beautiful dream is in fact true: "Love is strong as death" (Song 8:6). In the Old Testament this sentence comes in the middle of praises of the power of eros. But this by no means signifies that we can simply push it aside as a lyrical exaggeration. The boundless demands of eros", its apparent exaggerations and extravagance, do in reality give expression to a basic problem, indeed the" basic problem of human existence, insofar as they reflect the nature and intrinsic paradox of love: love demands infinity, indestructibility; indeed, it is, so to speak, a call for infinity. But it is also a fact that this cry of love's cannot be satisfied, that it demands infinity but cannot grant it; that it claims eternity but in fact is included in the world of death, in its loneliness and its power of destruction. Only from this angle can one understand what "resurrection" means. It is" the greater strength of love in face of death.

At the same time it is proof of what only immortality can create: being in the other who still stands when I have fallen apart. Man is a being who himself does not live forever but is necessarily delivered up to death. For him, since he has no continuance in himself, survival, from a purely human point of view, can only become possible through his continuing to exist in another. The statements of Scripture about the connection between sin and death are to he understood from this angle. For it now becomes clear that man's attempt "to be like God", his striving for autonomy, through which he wishes to stand on his own feet alone, means his death, for he just cannot stand on his own. If man--and this is the real nature of sin--nevertheless refuses to recognize his own limits and tries to be completely self-sufficient, then precisely by adopting this attitude he delivers himself up to death.

Of course man does understand that his life alone does not endure and that he must therefore strive to exist in others, so as to remain through them and in them in the land of the living. Two ways in particular have been tried. First, living on in one's own children: that is why in primitive peoples failure to marry and childlessness are regarded as the most terrible curse; they mean hopeless destruction, final death. Conversely, the largest possible number of children offers at the same time the greatest possible chance of survival, hope of immortality, and thus the most genuine blessing that man can expect. Another way discloses itself when man discovers that in his children he only continues to exist in a very unreal way; he wants more of himself to remain. So he takes refuge in the idea of fame, which should make him really immortal if be lives on through all ages in the memory of others. But this second attempt of man's to obtain immortality for himself by existing in others fails just as badly as the first: what remains is not the self but only its echo, a mere shadow. So self-made immortality is really only a Hades, a sheol": more nonbeing than being. The inadequacy of both ways lies partly in the fact that the other person who holds my being after my death cannot carry this being itself but only its echo; and even more in the fact that even time other person to whom I have, so to speak, entrusted my continuance will not last--he, too, will perish.

This leads us to the next step. We have seen so far that man has no permanence in himself. And consequently can only continue to exist in another but that his existence in another is only shadowy and once again not final, because this other must perish, too. If this is so, then only one could truly give lasting stability: he who is, who does not come into existence and pass away again but abides in the midst of transience: the God of the living, who does not hold just the shadow and echo of my being, whose ideas are not just copies of reality. I myself am his thought, which establishes me more securely, so to speak, than I am in myself; his thought is not the posthumous shadow but the original source and strength of my being. In him I can stand as more than a shadow; in him I am truly closer to myself than I should be if I just tried to stay by myself.

Before we return from here to the Resurrection, let us try to see the same thing once again from a somewhat different side. We can start again from the dictum about love and death and say: Only where someone values love more highly than life, that is, only where someone is ready to put life second to love, for the sake of love, can love be stronger and more than death. If it is to be more than death, it must first be more than mere life. But if it could be this, not just in intention but in reality, then that would mean at the same time that the power of love had risen superior to the power of the merely biological and taken it into its service. To use Teilhard de Chardin's terminology; where that took place, the decisive complexity or "complexification" would have occurred; bios, too, would be encompassed by and incorporated in the power of love. It would cross the boundary--death--and create unity where death divides. If the power of love for another were so strong somewhere that it could keep alive not just his memory, the shadow of his "I", but that person himself, then a new stage in life would have been reached. This would mean that the realm of biological evolutions and mutations had been left behind and the leap made to a quite different plane, on which love was no longer subject to bios but made use of it. Such a final stage of "mutation" and "evolution" would itself no longer be a biological stage; it would signify the end of the sovereignty of bios, which is at the same time the sovereignty of death; it would open up the realm that the Greek Bible calls zoe, that is, definitive life, which has left behind the rule of death. The last stage of evolution needed by the world to reach its goal would then no longer be achieved within the realm of biology but by the spirit, by freedom, by love. It would no longer be evolution but decision and gift in one.

But what has all this to do, it may be asked, with faith in the Resurrection of Jesus? Well, we previously considered the question of the possible immortality of man from two sides, which now turn out to be aspects of one and. the same state of affairs. We said that, as man has no permanence in himself, his survival could. only be brought about by his living on in another. And we said, from the point of view of this "other", that only the love that takes up the beloved in itself, into its own being, could make possible this existence in the other. These two complementary aspects are mirrored again, so it seems to me, in the two New Testament ways of describing the Resurrection of the Lord: "Jesus has risen" and "God (the Father) has awakened Jesus." The two formulas meet in the fact that Jesus' total love for men, which leads him to the Cross, is perfected in totally passing beyond to the Father and therein becomes stronger than death, because in this it is at the same time total "being held" by him.

From this a further step results. We can now say that love always establishes some kind of immortality; even in its prehuman stage, it points, in the form of preservation of the species, in this direction. Indeed, this founding of immortality is not something incidental to love, not one thing that it does among others, but what really gives it its specific character. This principle can be reversed; it then signifies that immortality always" proceeds from love, never out of the autarchy of that which is sufficient to itself. We may even be bold enough to assert that this principle, properly understood, also applies even to God as he is seen by the Christian faith. God, too, is absolute permanence, as opposed to everything transitory, for the reason that he is the relation of three Persons to one another, their incorporation in the "for one another" of love, act-substance of the love that is absolute and therefore completely "relative", living only "in relation to". As we said earlier, it is not autarchy, which knows no one but itself, that is divine; what is revolutionary about the Christian view of the world and of God, we found, as opposed to those of antiquity, is that it learns to understand the "absolute" as absolute "relatedness", as relatio subsistens. 

To return to our argument, love is the foundation of immortality, and immortality proceeds from love alone. This statement to which we have now worked our way also means that he who has love for all has established immortality for all. That is precisely the meaning of the biblical statement that his Resurrection is our life. The--to us--curious reasoning of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians now becomes comprehensible: if he has risen, then we have, too, for then love is stronger than death; if he has not risen, then we have not either, for then the situation is still that death has the last word, nothing else (cf. I Cor 15:16f.). Since this is a statement of central importance, let us spell it out once again in a different way: Either love is stronger than death, or it is not. If it has become so in him, then it became so precisely as love for others. This also means, it is true, that our own love, left to itself, is not sufficient to overcome death; taken in itself it would have to remain an unanswered cry. It means that only his love, coinciding with God's own power of life and love, can be the foundation of our immortality. Nevertheless, it still remains true that the mode of our immortality will depend on our mode of loving. We shall have to return to this in the section on the Last Judgment.

A further point emerges from this discussion. Given the foregoing considerations, it goes without saying that the life of him who has risen from the dead is not once again bios, the biological form of our mortal life within history; it is zoe, new, different, definitive life; life that has stepped beyond the mortal realm of bios and history, a realm that has here been surpassed by a greater power. And in fact the Resurrection narratives of the New Testament allow us to see clearly that the life of the Risen One lies, not within the historical bios, but beyond and above it. It is also true, of course, that this new life begot itself in history and had to do so, because after all it is there for history, and the Christian message is basically nothing else than the transmission of the testimony that love has managed to break through death here and thus has transformed fundamentally the situation of all of us. Once we have realized this, it is no longer difficult to find the right kind of hermeneutics for the difficult business of expounding the biblical Resurrection narratives, that is, to acquire a clear understanding of the sense in which they must properly be understood. Obviously we cannot attempt here a detailed discussion of the questions involved, which today present themselves in a more difficult form than ever before; especially as historical and--for the most part inadequately pondered--philosophical statements are becoming more and more inextricably intertwined, and exegesis itself quite often produces its own philosophy, which is intended to appear to the layman as a supremely refined distillation of the biblical evidence. Many points of detail will here always remain open to discussion, but it is possible to recognize a fundamental dividing line between explanation that remains explanation and arbitrary adaptations [to contemporary ways of thinking].

First of all, it is quite clear that after his Resurrection Christ did not go back to his previous earthly life, as we are told the young man of Nain and Lazarus did. He rose again to definitive life, which is no longer governed by chemical and biological laws and therefore stands outside the possibility of death, in the eternity conferred by love. That is why the encounters with him are "appearances"; that is why he with whom people had sat at table two days earlier is not recognized by his best friends and, even when recognized, remains foreign: only where he grants vision is he seen; only when he opens men's eyes and makes their hearts open up can the countenance of the eternal love that conquers death become recognizable in our mortal world, and, in that love, the new, different world, the world of him who is to come. That is also why it is so difficult, indeed absolutely impossible, for the Gospels to describe the encounter with the risen Christ; that is why they can only stammer when they speak of these meetings and seem to provide contradictory descriptions of them. In reality they are surprisingly unanimous in the dialectic of their statements, in the simultaneity of touching and not touching, or recognizing and not recognizing, of complete identity between the crucified and the risen Christ and complete transformation. People recognize the Lord and yet do not recognize him again; people touch him, and yet he is untouchable; he is the same and yet quite different. As we have said, the dialectic is always the same; it is only the stylistic means by which it is expressed that changes. 

For example, let us examine a little more closely from this point of view the Emmaus story, which we have already touched upon briefly. At first sight it looks as if we are confronted here with a completely earthly and material notion of resurrection; as if nothing remains of the mysterious and indescribable elements to be found in the Pauline accounts. It looks as if the tendency to detailed depiction, to the concreteness of legend, supported by the apologist's desire for something tangible, had completely won the upper hand and fetched the risen Lord right back into earthly history. But this impression is soon contradicted by his mysterious appearance and his no less mysterious disappearance. The notion is contradicted even more by the fact that here, too, he remains unrecognizable to the accustomed eye. He cannot be firmly grasped as he could be in the time of his earthly life; he is discovered only in the realm of faith; he sets the hearts of the two travelers aflame by his interpretation of the Scriptures and by breaking bread he opens their eyes. This is a reference to the two basic elements in early Christian worship, which consisted of the liturgy of the word (the reading and expounding of Scripture) and the eucharistic breaking of bread. In this way the evangelist makes it clear that the encounter with the risen Christ lies on a quite new plane; he tries to describe the indescribable in terms of the liturgical facts. He thereby provides both a theology of the Resurrection and a theology of the liturgy: one encounters the risen Christ in the word and in the sacrament; worship is the way in which he becomes touchable to us and, recognizable as the living Christ. And conversely, the liturgy is based on the mystery of Easter; it is to he understood as the Lords approach to us. In it he becomes our traveling companion, sets our dull hearts aflame, and opens our sealed eyes. He still walks with us, still finds us worried and downhearted, and still has the power to make us see.

Of course, all this is only half the story; to stop at this alone would mean falsifying the evidence of the New Testament. Experience of the risen Christ is something other than a meeting with a man from within our history, and it must certainly not be traced back to conversations at table and recollections that would have finally crystallized in the idea that he still lived and went about his business. Such an interpretation reduces what happened to the purely human level and robs it of its specific quality. The Resurrection narratives are something other and more than disguised liturgical scenes: they make visible the founding event on which all Christian liturgy rests. They testify to an approach that did not rise from the hearts of the disciples but came to them from outside, convinced them despite their doubts and made them certain that the Lord had truly risen. He who lay in the grave is no longer there; he--really he himself--lives. He who had been transposed into the other world of God showed himself powerful enough to make it palpably clear that he himself stood in their presence again, that in him the power of love had really proved itself stronger than the power of death.

Only by taking this just as seriously as what we said first does one remain faithful to the witness borne by the New Testament; only thus, too, is its seriousness in world history preserved. The comfortable attempt to spare oneself the belief in the mystery of God's mighty actions in this world and yet at the same time to have the satisfaction of remaining on the foundation of the biblical message leads nowhere; it measures up neither to the honesty of reason nor to the claims of faith. One cannot have both the Christian faith and "religion within the bounds of pure reason"; a choice is unavoidable. He who believes will see more and more clearly, it is true, how rational it is to have faith in the love that has conquered death.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

• Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John | Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• A Jesus Worth Dying For | A Review of On The Way to Jesus Christ | Justin Nickelsen
• Encountering Christ in the Gospel | Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schšnborn
• The Divinity of Christ | Peter Kreeft
• Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar
• The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest
• Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was for over two decades the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II. He is a renowned theologian and author of numerous books. A mini-bio and full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press are available on his IgnatiusInsight.com Author Page

Tuesday 26 April 2011

LECTIO DIVINA by HH. Pope Benedict XVI (sorry it is late. It is a Lenten reflection but true at Easter too!)

"Lectio Divina." The Pope Takes Everyone Back to School

Benedict XVI has taught the clergy of Rome how to read the Sacred Scriptures. And also the seminarians. But his lesson is for all. And he has put it into practice in his book on Jesus

by Sandro Magister

ROME, March 17, 2011 – In the second volume of "Jesus of Nazareth," just as in the first, Benedict XVI proposes an interpretation of the Gospels that is not only historical-critical, nor only spiritual, but simultaneously historical and theological: the only interpretation that, in his judgment, is capable of leading to an encounter with the "real" Jesus.

"It is a matter of finally recovering," he writes in the preface to the book, "the methodological principles for exegesis formulated by Vatican Council II in 'Dei Verbum' 12. A task that, unfortunately, has hardly been faced at all."

Pope Joseph Ratzinger had recalled these principles forcefully in an address at the synod of bishops in 2008, dedicated precisely to the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. And he reiterated them in the postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini," released last year as the conclusion of that synod.

This kind of interpretation is so near to Benedict XVI's heart that he is also taking it up more and more often in his encounters with priests and seminarians.

In recent days, he has done so twice: on March 4 with the students of the Pontifical Roman Seminary, and on March 10 with the priests of the diocese of Rome.

Pope Ratzinger has made a practice of gathering the priests of Rome around him at the beginning of each Lent. In past years he had responded to their questions. This year, instead, he gave them a 'lectio divina,' in commentary on a passage from the Acts of the Apostles.

Benedict XVI again explained what 'lectio divina' is in "Verbum Domini." It is a "prayerful reading" of the Sacred Scriptures" that unfolds in four basic steps:

- the "lectio": what the biblical text itself says;

- the "meditatio": what the biblical text is saying to us;

- the "oratio": what we say to God in response to his Word;

- the "contemplatio": what conversion of mind, heart, and life God is asking of us.

With the students of the Pontifical Roman Seminary, the future priests of the diocese of Rome, in a meeting on the evening of March 4, Benedict XVI held a "lectio divina" on a passage from chapter 4 of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians.

The pope lingered over some key words, in their original language: call (which in Greek, he said, has the same root as "Paraclete," the Holy Spirit, humility (the same Greek word that Saint Paul uses to indicate the self-abasement of the Son of God to the point of becoming man and dying on the cross), sweetness (the same Greek word that is found in the Beatitudes).

The complete text of the pope's "lectio divina" with the seminarians of Rome is now available on the Vatican website, translated into various languages:

> "I am very glad to be here..."

With the priests of Rome, instead, Pope Ratzinger commented on what is called the "pastoral testament" of Saint Paul, his moving farewell address to the Christians of Ephesus and Miletus, related in chapter 20 of the Acts of the Apostles.

The "lectio" was held in the Hall of Blessing, behind the front balcony of the basilica of Saint Peter, the one on which the popes appear after they are elected, and for solemn blessings.

Benedict XVI spoke for more than an hour, off the cuff, with just a page of notes in front of him. 

The transcription, with the necessary scrutiny, therefore took some time. And so when it was made public, it was by then seen by the media as too "old" for coverage.

As a result almost no one, except for the priests present, heard anything about it.

And yet the "lectio divina" held on that occasion by the pope is among those that deserve to be read and savored in their entirety. It is a prime example of adherence both to the letter and to the spirit of the Sacred Scriptures, in the footsteps of Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, the Fathers of the Church, and the great medieval theologians. With lively attention to the challenges of the present time and to the impact of the Word of God on our lives.

Here are some of the passages, in the style typical of spoken language.



by Benedict XVI

Dear brothers, [...] we have heard the passage from the Acts of the Apostles (20:17-38) in which Saint Paul speaks to the presbyters of Ephesus, intentionally recounted by Saint Luke as the testament of the apostle, as a discourse destined not only for the presbyters of Ephesus, but for the presbyters of all time. Saint Paul is speaking not only with those who were present in that place, he is really speaking with us. So let us try to understand a little of what he is saying to us, at this time. [...]

"I have served the Lord with all humility" (v. 19). "Humility" is a keyword of the Gospel, of the whole New Testament. [...] In the letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul reminds us that Christ, who was above all of us, was really divine in the glory of God, humbled himself, came down becoming man, accepting all the fragility of being human, going all the way to the ultimate obedience of the cross (2:5-8). Humility does not mean false modesty – we are grateful for the gifts that the Lord has given to us – but indicates that we are aware that all we are able to do is a gift from God, it is given for the Kingdom of God. In this humility, in this not wanting to make an appearance, we work. We do not ask for praise, we do not want "to be seen," for us it is not a decisive criterion to think about what they will say about us in the newspapers or elsewhere, but what God says. This is true humility: not to appear before men, but to be under the gaze of God and work with humility for God, and so really to serve humanity and men as well.

"I have never drawn back from what could be helpful, for the sake of preaching to you and instructing you" (v. 20). Saint Paul returns to this point after a few sentences and says: "I have not drawn back from the duty of proclaiming to you all the will of God" (v. 27). This is important: the apostle does not preach a Christianity "à la carte," according to his own tastes, he does not preach a Gospel according to his own favorite theological ideas; he does not draw back from the task of proclaiming all the will of God, even the inconvenient will, even the themes that personally are not very pleasing.

It is our mission to proclaim all the will of God, in its totality and ultimate simplicity. [...] And I think that the world of today is curious to know everything. [...] This curiosity should be ours as well: [...] truly to know all the will of God and to know how we can and should live, what is the path of our life. So we should make known and understood – as much as we can – the content of the "Credo" of the Church, from the creation to the Lord's return, to the new world. Doctrine, the liturgy, morality, prayer – the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – indicate this totality of the will of God.

And it is also important not to lose ourselves in the details, not to create the idea that Christianity is an immense package of things to learn. Ultimately it is simple: God has shown himself in Christ. Entering into this simplicity – I believe in God who showed himself in Christ and I want to see and realize his will – has content, and according to the situations, we can then enter into the details or not, but it is essential that above all the ultimate simplicity of the faith be made understood. Believing in God as he has shown himself in Christ is also the inner richness of this faith, it gives the answers to our questions, including the answers that we do not like at first and are nonetheless the way of life, the true way. When we also enter into these things that we do not like so much, we can understand, we begin to understand that it really is the truth. And the truth is beautiful. The will of God is good, it is goodness itself.

The the apostle says: "I have preached in public and in homes, testifying to Jews and Greeks about conversion to God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 20-21). Here there is a summary of the essential: conversion to God, faith in Jesus. But let's stay for a moment with the word "conversion," which is the central word or one of the central words of the New Testament, [...] in Greek "metànoia," change of thinking, [...] meaning a real change in our view of reality.

Since we were born in original sin, for us reality is the things that we can touch, it is money, it is my position, it is the things of every day that we see on the news: this is reality. And spiritual things appear a bit behind reality. "Metànoia," change of thinking, means inverting this impression. Not material things, not money, not the edifice, not what I can have is the essential, is reality. The reality of realities is God. This invisible reality, apparently far from us, is reality.

To learn this, and thus to invert our thinking, to judge truly how the real that must orient everything is God, this is the word of God. This is the criterion, God, the criterion of everything I do. This really is conversion: if my concept of reality has changed, if my thinking has changed. And this must then penetrate all the individual things of my life: in the judgment of every single thing to take as criterion what God says about this. This is the essential thing, not what I get now for myself, not the advantage or disadvantage that I will obtain, but the true reality, to orient ourselves to this reality.

We must precisely – it seems to me – during Lent, which is a journey of conversion, exercise anew every year this inversion of the concept of reality, namely that God
is reality, Christ is reality and the criterion of my acting and of my thinking; to exercise this new orientation of our life. 

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