Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On contemplative prayer...

Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday Audience June 13, 2012

 On St Paul the Apostle's experience of contemplative prayer.

 * * * Dear brothers and sisters, Daily encounter with the Lord and frequenting the Sacraments allow our minds and hearts to be opened to his presence, to his words, to his action. Prayer is not only the soul’s breath but -- to use an image -- it is also the oasis of peace from which we draw the water that nourishes our spiritual lives and transforms our existence. And God draws us to himself; he causes us to ascend the mountain of holiness and offers us light and consolation along the way so that we might grow ever closer to Him.

This is the personal experience St. Paul refers to in Chapter 12 of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, which I wish to consider today. In defending the legitimacy of his apostolate, he lists not so much the communities he founded nor the kilometers he travelled; he does not limit himself to recalling the difficulties and the opposition he faced for the sake of announcing the Gospel; but rather, he appeals to his relationship with the Lord, a relationship so intense that at times it was marked by moments of ecstasy and of deep contemplation (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1); therefore, he boasts not in what he has done, in his own strength, in his activities and successes; but rather, he boasts in what God has done in him and through him.

With great restraint, in fact, he recounts the experience of being caught up to God’s heaven. He recalls how fourteen years before the sending of the letter “he was caught up – so he says – to the third heaven” (Verse 2). Using the language and the ways of one who recounts what cannot be recounted, St. Paul speaks of the event in the third person; he affirms that a man was caught up into the “garden” of God, into paradise. His contemplation is so deep and intense that the Apostle fails even to remember the content of the revelation received. But the time and circumstances are present to him, of the moment when the Lord seized him so completely and drew him to himself, as he had done on the road to Damascus at the moment of his conversion (cf. Philippians 3:12).

 St. Paul goes on to say that it is in order not to be filled with pride on account of the grandeur of the revelation received that he carries a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), a suffering, and he implores the Risen One to be delivered from the messenger of the Evil One, from this painful thorn in his flesh. Three times – he says – he besought the Lord to remove this trial from him. And it is in this situation, in deep contemplation of God when “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (Verse 4), that he receives an answer to his plea. The Risen One addresses a clear and reassuring word to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (Verse 9). Paul’s commentary on these words may astonish us, but they reveal how he understood what it truly means to be an apostle of the Gospel. He exclaims, in fact: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (Verses 9b-10); that is, he boasts not in his activity, but in the action of Christ, which acts precisely through his weakness.

Let us reflect a moment more on this event, which occurred during the years when St. Paul lived in silence and contemplation before commencing his journeys across the West to proclaim Christ, for this attitude of profound humility and trust before God’s self-revelation is also fundamental for our prayer and for our lives, for the way we relate to God and to our own weakness.

First, what is the weakness of which St. Paul speaks? What is this “thorn” in his flesh? We don’t know, and he doesn’t say, but his attitude makes us understand that all the difficulties we meet in following Christ and witnessing to his Gospel can be overcome by opening ourselves in faith to the Lord’s action. St. Paul is well aware of being a “useless servant” (2 Corinthians 4:7) in whom God places the riches and power of his grace. In this moment of intense contemplative prayer, St. Paul understands clearly how to face and live every event, especially suffering, difficulty and persecution: when he experiences his own weakness, the power of God is manifested, which neither abandons us nor leaves us alone but which becomes our support and strength. Certainly, Paul would have preferred to be delivered from this “thorn”, from this suffering; but God says: “No, this is necessary for you. You shall have grace sufficient to resist and to do what must be done”. This is true also for us. The Lord may not deliver us from evil, but he helps us to mature through suffering, difficulty and persecution. Faith, then, tells us that if we remain in God, “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (cf. Verse 16).

The Apostle communicates to the Christians of Corinth and also to us that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (Verse 17). In reality, humanly speaking, the weight of difficulty was not light, it was exceedingly heavy; but compared with God’s love, with the grandeur of being loved by God, it seemed light in knowing that the weight of glory will be without measure. Therefore, as our union with the Lord grows and our prayer intensifies, we too come to focus on the essential, and we understand that it is not through the power of our resources, our virtue, or our abilities that the Kingdom of God shall come; rather, it is God who works marvels precisely through our weakness, through our inadequacy for the task at hand. We must therefore have the humility not to trust in ourselves alone but to work -- with the Lord’s help -- in the Lord’s vineyard, entrusting ourselves to Him as fragile “earthen vessels”.

St. Paul speaks of two particular revelations that radically changed his life. The first -- we know -- is the disturbing question on the road of Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), a question that led him to discover and to encounter Christ living and present, and to sense his call to be and apostle of the Gospel. The second are the words the Lord addressed to him in the experience of contemplative prayer we are reflecting on: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Only faith and reliance on the action of God, on the goodness of God, which never abandons us, is the guarantee of not working in vain. Thus, the Lord’s grace was the force that accompanied St. Paul in his tremendous efforts to spread the Gospel, and his heart entered into the heart of Christ, and thus became capable of leading others towards Him who died and rose for us.

In prayer, then, we open our souls to the Lord so that he might come and abide in our weakness, transforming it in strength for the Gospel. And the Greek word St. Paul uses to describe this indwelling of the Lord in his fragile humanity is deeply significant; he uses episkenoo, which we may render as “to pitch his own tent”. The Lord continues to pitch his tent in us, in our midst; this is the Mystery of the Incarnation. The same divine Word who came to dwell in our humanity, wills to abide in us, to pitch his tent in us, to enlighten and transform our lives and the world.

The intense contemplation of God that St. Paul experienced recalls that of the disciples on Mount Tabor, when, seeing Jesus transfigured and resplendent with light, Peter says to him: “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). “For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid,” St. Mark adds (Verse 6). To contemplate the Lord is at once fascinating and terrifying: fascinating because He draws us to himself and steals our hearts towards heaven, carrying them to the heights where we experience the peace, the beauty of his love; terrifying, for it lays naked our human weakness, our inadequacies, the struggle to conquer the evil that threatens our lives -- that thorn that we too carry in our flesh.

 In prayer, in daily contemplation of the Lord, we receive the strength of God’s love and we sense the truth of St. Paul’s words to the Christians of Rome when he writes: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, now angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

 In a world in which we risk trusting only in the efficiency and power of human resources, in this world we are called to rediscover and bear witness to the power of God that is communicated through prayer, and by which we grow each day in greater conformity of our lives to Christ’s, who – he affirms – “was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4).

Dear friends, during the last century, Albert Schweitzer, a protestant theologian and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, stated that “Paul is a mystic and nothing other than a mystic”; that is, he is truly a man so enamored by Christ and so united to Him as to be able to say: Christ lives in me. The mysticism of St. Paul is based not only on the exceptional events he experienced but also on a daily and intense relationship with the Lord, who always sustained him with his grace. Mysticism did not distance him from reality; on the contrary, it gave him the strength to live each day for Christ and to build up the Church unto the end of the world of that time. Union with God does not distance us from the world; rather, it gives us the strength truly to remain in the world, to do all that needs to be done in the world. In our prayer lives too, then, we may experience moments of particular intensity, when we feel the presence of the Lord to be more alive, but constancy and fidelity to one’s relationship with God is important, above all in times of aridity, difficulty, suffering, and of God’s apparent absence. Only when we are gripped by the love of Christ will we be able to face every adversity like Paul, convinced that we can do all things in Him who strengthens us (cf. Philippians 4:13).

Therefore, the more space we give to prayer, the more we come to see that our lives will be transformed and enlivened by the concrete strength of God’s love. So it happened, for example, to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who discovered in the contemplation of Jesus and precisely during long periods of aridity the ultimate reason and incredible strength to recognize him in the poor and abandoned, despite her fragile figure. In our lives, the contemplation of Christ does not distance us from reality -- as I already said – rather, it makes us ever more involved in human affairs, since the Lord, in drawing us to himself in prayer, allows us to become present and close all of our brothers and sisters in his love.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI on St Anthony of Padua

Pope Benedict XVI on St Anthony of Padua   

Excerpt - Two weeks ago I presented St Francis of Assisi. This morning I would like to speak of another saint who belonged to the first generation of the Friars Minor: Anthony of Padua, or of Lisbon, as he is also called with reference to his native town. He is one of the most popular Saints in the whole Catholic Church, venerated not only in Padua, where a splendid Basilica has been built that contains his mortal remains, but also throughout the world. Dear to the faithful are the images and statues that portray him with the lily a symbol of his purity or with the Child Jesus in his arms, in memory of a miraculous apparition mentioned in several literary sources

Bl Pope John Paul II on St Anthony of Padua

Pope John Paul II
Address given on 13 June 1994 The centenary commemoration (of St. Anthony’s birth) will prove fruitful for the Church if it leads to unanimously imploring St. Anthony to spur the Christians of our time, through his example and intercession, to reach the loftiest and noblest goals of faith and holiness. For this shared hope to be fulfilled, everyone, pastors and faithful alike, must discover the person of St. Anthony with sincere devotion. They must examine his spiritual journey, understand his virtues and listen with docilely to the message given by his life.
The last stage of St. Anthony’s life began when God guided him down paths he would never have dreamed of taking. After uprooting him from his land and his plans of evangelizing abroad, God led him to live the ideal of the Gospel way of life on Italian soil. St. Anthony lived the Franciscan experience for barely 11 years (being a former Canon Regular of St. Augustine), but he assimilated its ideals so deeply that for him Christ and the Gospel became a rule of life embodied in everyday living.
In a sermon he said: "For you we have left everything and have become poor. But since
you are rich, we have followed you that you might enrich us... We have followed you as the creature follows the Creator, like sons of the Father, as children follow their mother, as the starving their bread, as the sick their doctor, as the weary their bed, as exiles their homeland..." (Sermones, II, p. 484).
All his preaching was a constant and tireless proclamation of the Gospel sine glossa. A true, courageous and clear proclamation. through preaching he found the way to kindle faith in souls, to purify, console and enlighten them (ibid., p. 154).
He based his life on Christ. The Gospel virtues, particularly poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, chastity, mercy, the courage of peace, were the constant themes of his preaching.
His witness was so shining that during my pilgrimage to his shrine in Padua on 12 September 1982, I also wished to present him to the Church, like Pope Pius XII before me, as a "man of the Gospel". Indeed St. Anthony taught in an outstanding way how to make Christ and the Gospel a constant point of reference in daily life and in private and public moral decisions: he suggested that everyone should bolster his courage at this source for consistent and enticing proclamation of the message of salvation.
Precisely because he was in love with Christ and his Gospel, St. Anthony "illumined with the understanding of love that divine wisdom he had acquired from assiduously reading the Sacred Scriptures" (Pius XII, Apostolic Letter Antoniana sollemnia, 1 March 1946).
For him, the Sacred Scriptures were the terra parturiens that begets faith, lays the foundations of morality and wins over the soul with its sweetness (cf. Sermones, Prologue, I, 1). Absorbed in loving meditation on Holy Scripture, the soul is opened, as he puts it, "ad divinitatis arcanum". During his journey to god, Anthony nourished his own mind from this mysterious abyss, drawing from it wisdom and learning, apostolic strength and hope, tireless zeal and ardent charity. From his thirst for God, from his yearning for Christ, theology was born, which for St. Anthony was radiant love for Christ: a wisdom of priceless value and a science of knowledge... (cf. Sermones, III, 55; I, 225).
St. Anthony threw himself into this method of study with a passion that remained with him throughout his life as a Franciscan. St. Francis himself has appointed him to teach "sacred theology to the brothers," urging them, nevertheless, you take care "not to extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion (cf. Fonti Francescane, n. 252). He used all the scholarly tools known at the time to deepen his knowledge of Gospel truth and to make its proclamation more easily understood. The success of his preaching confirms that he could speak the same language as his listeners and that he was able to effectively to convey the content of the faith and to ensure the acceptance of Gospel values in the popular culture of his age.
I deeply hope that the centenary celebrations in honor of St. Anthony will allow the whole Church to become increasingly familiar with the witness, message, wisdom and missionary zeal of this great disciple of Christ and of the Poverello of Assisi. His preaching, his writings and above all the holiness of his life also offer the people of our time living and inspiring guidelines for the necessary commitment to the new evangelization. Today, as then, there is an urgent need for a renewed catechesis based on God’s word, particularly on the Gospels, to make the Christian world understand once more the value of revelation and faith.
The community of believers should have an ever fresh awareness of the Gospel’s perennial relevance. It should recognize that through preaching, the figure of the Incarnate Word appears to us again as occurred in St. Anthony’s homilies: genuine, contemporary, current with our history, rich in grace and able to inspire people’s hearts an intense outpouring of supernatural love.
St. Anthony’s writings, so rich in biblical teaching but also deeply imbued with spiritual and moral exhortations, are still a model and a guide for preaching today. They widely demonstrate, among other things, the extent to which homiletic instruction during liturgical celebrations can enable the faithful to experience the active presence of Christ who still proclaims the Gospel to His people, to obtain their response in prayer and song.
I therefore urge all the members of the great Franciscan Family to commit themselves to spreading a worthy knowledge of the holy Wonderworker, who is so widely venerated in Christian communities throughout the world. Sentiments of authentic fervour in proclaiming the true faith are alive again among the friars of the Franciscan Orders, together with attentive and conscientious care for preaching, knowing and appreciating God’s word and for constant, assiduous dedication to the new evangelization, on the threshold of the third Christian millennium.
As I asked the Lord, Master and Shepherd of souls, to grant to everyone through the intercession of St. Anthony distinguished preacher and patron of the poor, will faithfully and generously follow the teachings of the Gospel, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, to the entire Franciscan Family and to all who are devoted to this great saint.
From the Vatican, 13 June 1994, in the 16th year of the Pontificate.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Novena to St Anthony of Padua

The novena begins on June 4  and ends on June 12. St Anthony's feast day is June 13. St Anthony, pray for us!

You may choose to follow on the Conventual Franciscans Australia Facebook page, where the novena will be posted daily. 

O wonderful St. Anthony, glorious on account of the fame of your miracles, and through the condescension of Jesus in coming in the form of a little child to rest in your arms, obtain for me of His bounty the grace which I ardently desire from the depths of my heart . (State your intention)
You who were so compassionate toward miserable sinners, regard not the unworthiness of those who pray to you, but the glory of God that it may once again be magnified by the granting of the particular request  (State your intention)  which I now ask for with persevering earnestness. Amen
Pray one Our Father,
one Hail Mary, and
Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


O holy St. Anthony, gentlest of saints, your love for God and charity for his creatures made you worthy while on earth to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited your word, which you were ever ready to speak for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me the favor I seek in this novena (State your intention). The answer to my prayer may require a miracle; even so, you are the saint of miracles. O gentle and loving Saint Anthony, whose heart was ever full of human sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the Infant Jesus, who loved to be folded in your arms, and thee gratitude of my heart will always be yours.
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


O miracle-working St. Anthony, remember that it never has been heard that you left without help or relief anyone who in his need had recourse to you. Animated now with the most lively confidence, even with full conviction of not being refused, I fly for refuge to thee, O most favored friend of the Infant Jesus. O eloquent preacher of the divine mercy, despise not my supplications but, bringing them before the throne of God, strengthen them by your intercession and obtain for me the favor I seek in this novena (State your intention) .
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


O purest St. Anthony, who through your angelic virtue was made worthy to be caressed by the Divine Child Jesus, to hold him in your arms and press him to your heart. I entreat you to cast a benevolent glance upon me. O glorious St. Anthony, born under the protection of Mary Immaculate, on the Feast of her Assumption into Heaven, and consecrated to her and now so powerful an intercessor in Heaven, I beseech you to obtain for me the favor I ask in this novena (State your intention). O great wonder-worker, intercede for me that God may grant my request.
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


I salute and honor you, O powerful helper, St. Anthony. The Christian world confidently turns to you and experiences your tender compassion and powerful assistance in so many necessities and sufferings that I am encouraged in my need to seek you help in obtaining a favorable answer to my request for the favor I seek in this novena (State your intention). O holy St. Anthony, I beseech you, obtain for me the grace that I desire.
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


I salute you, St. Anthony, lily of purity, ornament and glory of Christianity. I salute you, great Saint, cherub of wisdom and seraph of divine love. I rejoice at the favors our Lord has so liberally bestowed upon you. In humility and confidence I entreat you to help me, for I know that God has given you charity and pity, as well as power. I ask you by the love you did feel toward the Infant Jesus as you held him in your arms to tell Him now of the favor I seek through your intercession in this novena (State your intention).
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


O glorious St. Anthony, chosen by God to preach his Word, you received from Him the gift of tongues and the power of working the most extraordinary miracles. O good St. Anthony, pray that I may fulfill the will of God in all things so that I may love Him, with you, for all eternity. O kind St. Anthony, I beseech you, obtain for me the grace that I desire, the favor I seek in this novena (State your intention).
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


O renowned champion of the faith of Christ, most holy St. Anthony, glorious for your many miracles, obtain for me from the bounty of my Lord and God the grace which I ardently seek in this novena (State your intention) . O holy St. Anthony, ever attentive to those who invoke you, grant me that aid of your powerful intercession.
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


O holy St. Anthony, you have shown yourself so powerful in your intercession, so tender and so compassionate towards those who honor you and invoke you in suffering and distress. I beseech you most humbly and earnestly to take me under your protection in my present necessities and to obtain for me the favor I desire (State your intention). Recommend my request to the merciful Queen of Heaven, that she may plead my cause with you before the throne of her Divine Son.
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!


Saint Anthony, servant of Mary, glory of the Church, pray for our Holy Father, our bishops, our priests, our Religious Orders, that, through their pious zeal and apostolic labors, all may be united in faith and give greater glory to God. St. Anthony, helper of all who invoke you, pray for me and intercede for me before the throne of Almighty God that I be granted the favor I so earnestly see in this novena (State your intention).
One Our Father, one Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father, in honor of Saint Anthony.
Saint Anthony, pray for us!
May the divine assistance remain always with us.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
O God, may the votive commemoration of blessed Anthony, your confessor, be a source of joy to your Church, that she may always be fortified with spiritual assistance, and deserve to enjoy eternal rewards. Through Christ our Lord.