Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Holy Father and the Year of Faith

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass marking the 50th anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council and launching the Year of Faith. 11 October, 2012.

Dear Brother Bishops,Dear brothers and sisters! 

Today, fifty years from the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, we begin with great joy the Year of Faith. I am delighted to greet all of you, particularly His Holiness Bartholomaois I, Patriarch of Constantinople, and His Grace Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. A special greeting goes to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and to the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences. In order to evoke the Council, which some present had the grace to experience for themselves - and I greet them with particular affection - this celebration has been enriched by several special signs: the opening procession, intended to recall the memorable one of the Council Fathers when they entered this Basilica; the enthronement of a copy of the Book of the Gospels used at the Council; the consignment of the seven final Messages of the Council, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I will do before the final blessing. These signs help us not only to remember, they also offer us the possibility of going beyond commemorating. They invite us to enter more deeply into the spiritual movement which characterized Vatican II, to make it ours and to develop it according to its true meaning. And its true meaning was and remains faith in Christ, the apostolic faith, animated by the inner desire to communicate Christ to individuals and all people, in the Church’s pilgrimage along the pathways of history.
The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church’s whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and profound convergence, precisely upon Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2). 

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ, consecrated by the Father in the Holy Spirit, is the true and perennial subject of evangelization. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). This mission of Christ, this movement of his continues in space and time, over centuries and continents. It is a movement which starts with the Father and, in the power of the Spirit, goes forth to bring the good news to the poor, in both a material and a spiritual sense. The Church is the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Through Christ, God is the principal subject of evangelization in the world; but Christ himself wished to pass on his own mission to the Church; he did so, and continues to do so, until the end of time pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19). 

The Second Vatican Council did not wish to deal with the theme of faith in one specific document. It was, however, animated by a desire, as it were, to immerse itself anew in the Christian mystery so as to re-propose it fruitfully to contemporary man. The Servant of God Paul VI, two years after the end of the Council session, expressed it in this way: “Even if the Council does not deal expressly with the faith, it talks about it on every page, it recognizes its vital and supernatural character, it assumes it to be whole and strong, and it builds upon its teachings. We need only recall some of the Council’s statements in order to realize the essential importance that the Council, consistent with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, attributes to the faith, the true faith, which has Christ for its source and the Church’s Magisterium for its channel” (General Audience, 8 March 1967). Thus said Paul VI. 

We now turn to the one who convoked the Second Vatican Council and inaugurated it: Blessed John XXIII. In his opening speech, he presented the principal purpose of the Council in this way: “What above all concerns the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and taught more effectively […] Therefore, the principal purpose of this Council is not the discussion of this or that doctrinal theme… a Council is not required for that… [but] this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs of our time” (AAS 54 [1962], 790,791-792). 

In the light of these words, we can understand what I myself felt at the time: during the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man. But, so that this interior thrust towards the new evangelization neither remain just an idea nor be lost in confusion, it needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the place where it found expression. This is why I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the “letter” of the Council – that is to its texts – also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and why I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity. The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change. 

If we place ourselves in harmony with the authentic approach which Blessed John XXIII wished to give to Vatican II, we will be able to realize it during this Year of Faith, following the same path of the Church as she continuously endeavours to deepen the deposit of faith entrusted to her by Christ. The Council Fathers wished to present the faith in a meaningful way; and if they opened themselves trustingly to dialogue with the modern world it is because they were certain of their faith, of the solid rock on which they stood. In the years following, however, many embraced uncritically the dominant mentality, placing in doubt the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths. 

If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents. Even the initiative to create a Pontifical Council for the promotion of the new evangelization, which I thank for its special effort for the Year of Faith, is to be understood in this context. Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path. The first reading spoke to us of the wisdom of the wayfarer (cf. Sir 34:9-13): the journey is a metaphor for life, and the wise wayfarer is one who has learned the art of living, and can share it with his brethren – as happens to pilgrims along the Way of Saint James or similar routes which, not by chance, have again become popular in recent years. How come so many people today feel the need to make these journeys? Is it not because they find there, or at least intuit, the meaning of our existence in the world? This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago. 

Venerable and dear Brothers, 11 October 1962 was the Feast of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. Let us entrust to her the Year of Faith, as I did last week when I went on pilgrimage to Loreto. May the Virgin Mary always shine out as a star along the way of the new evangelization. May she help us to put into practice the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom […] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:16-17). Amen

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pope Benedict on St Therese of Lisieux

Dear Brothers and Sisters,Today I would like to talk to you about St Thérèse of Lisieux, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, who lived in this world for only 24 years, at the end of the 19th century, leading a very simple and hidden life but who, after her death and the publication of her writings, became one of the best-known and best-loved saints. “Little Thérèse” has never stopped helping the simplest souls, the little, the poor and the suffering who pray to her. However, she has also illumined the whole Church with her profound spiritual doctrine to the point that chose, in 1997, to give her the title “Doctor of the Church”, in addition to that of Patroness of Missions, which had already attributed to her in 1939. My beloved Predecessor described her as an “expert in the scientia amoris” (, n. 42). Thérèse expressed this science, in which she saw the whole truth of the faith shine out in love, mainly in the story of her life, published a year after her death with the title The Story of a Soul. The book immediately met with enormous success, it was translated into many languages and disseminated throughout the world.

I would like to invite you to rediscover this small-great treasure, this luminous comment on the Gospel lived to the full! The Story of a Soul, in fact, is a marvellous story of Love, told with such authenticity, simplicity and freshness that the reader cannot but be fascinated by it! But what was this Love that filled Thérèse’s whole life, from childhood to death? Dear friends, this Love has a Face, it has a Name, it is Jesus! The Saint speaks continuously of Jesus. Let us therefore review the important stages of her life, to enter into the heart of her teaching.Thérèse was born on 2 January 1873 in Alençon, a city in Normandy, in France. She was the last daughter of Louis and Zélie Martin, a married couple and exemplary parents, who were beatified together on 19 October 2008. They had nine children, four of whom died at a tender age. Five daughters were left, who all became religious. Thérèse, at the age of four, was deeply upset by the death of her mother (Ms A 13r). Her father then moved with his daughters to the town of Lisieux, where the Saint was to spend her whole life. Later Thérèse, affected by a serious nervous disorder, was healed by a divine grace which she herself described as the “smile of Our Lady” (ibid., 29v-30v). She then received her First Communion, which was an intense experience (ibid., 35r), and made Jesus in the Eucharist the centre of her life.

The “Grace of Christmas” of 1886 marked the important turning-point, which she called her “complete conversion” (ibid., 44v-45r). In fact she recovered totally, from her childhood hyper-sensitivity and began a “to run as a giant”. At the age of 14, Thérèse became ever closer, with great faith, to the Crucified Jesus. She took to heart the apparently desperate case of a criminal sentenced to death who was impenitent. “I wanted at all costs to prevent him from going to hell”, the Saint wrote, convinced that her prayers would put him in touch with the redeeming Blood of Jesus. It was her first and fundamental experience of spiritual motherhood: “I had such great trust in the Infinite Mercy of Jesus”, she wrote. Together with Mary Most Holy, young Thérèse loved, believed and hoped with “a mother’s heart” (cf. Pr 6/ior).In November 1887, Thérèse went on pilgrimage to Rome with her father and her sister Céline (ibid., 55v-67r). The culminating moment for her was the Audience with , whom she asked for permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux when she was only just 15. A year later her wish was granted. She became a Carmelite, “to save souls and to pray for priests” (ibid., 69v). 

At the same time, her father began to suffer from a painful and humiliating mental illness. It caused Thérèse great suffering which led her to contemplation of the Face of Jesus in his Passion (ibid., 71rc). Thus, her name as a religious — Sr Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face — expresses the programme of her whole life in communion with the central Mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption. Her religious profession, on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, 8 September 1890, was a true spiritual espousal in evangelical “littleness”, characterized by the symbol of the flower: “It was the Nativity of Mary. What a beautiful feast on which to become the Spouse of Jesus! It was the little new-born Holy Virgin who presented her little Flower to the little Jesus” (ibid., 77r).For Thérèse, being a religious meant being a bride of Jesus and a mother of souls (cf. Ms B, 2v). On the same day, the Saint wrote a prayer which expressed the entire orientation of her life: she asked Jesus for the gift of his infinite Love, to be the smallest, and above all she asked for the salvation of all human being: “That no soul may be damned today” (Pr 2). 

Of great importance is her Offering to Merciful Love, made on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity in 1895 (Ms A, 83v-84r; Pr 6). It was an offering that Thérèse immediately shared with her sisters, since she was already acting novice mistress.Ten years after the “Grace of Christmas” in 1896, came the “Grace of Easter”, which opened the last period of Thérèse’s life with the beginning of her passion in profound union with the Passion of Jesus. It was the passion of her body, with the illness that led to her death through great suffering, but it was especially the passion of the soul, with a very painful trial of faith (Ms C, 4v-7v). With Mary beside the Cross of Jesus, Thérèse then lived the most heroic faith, as a light in the darkness that invaded her soul. The Carmelite was aware that she was living this great trial for the salvation of all the atheists of the modern world, whom she called “brothers”.

She then lived fraternal love even more intensely (8r-33v): for the sisters of her community, for her two spiritual missionary brothers, for the priests and for all people, especially the most distant. She truly became a “universal sister”! Her lovable, smiling charity was the expression of the profound joy whose secret she reveals: “Jesus, my joy is loving you” (P 45/7). In this context of suffering, living the greatest love in the smallest things of daily life, the Saint brought to fulfilment her vocation to be Love in the heart of the Church (cf. Ms B, 3v). Thérèse died on the evening of 30 September 1897, saying the simple words, “My God, I love you!”, looking at the Crucifix she held tightly in her hands. These last words of the Saint are the key to her whole doctrine, to her interpretation of the Gospel the act of love, expressed in her last breath was as it were the continuous breathing of her soul, the beating of her heart. The simple words “Jesus I love you”, are at the heart of all her writings. The act of love for Jesus immersed her in the Most Holy Trinity. She wrote: “Ah, you know, Divine Jesus I love you / The spirit of Love enflames me with his fire, / It is in loving you that I attract the Father” (P 17/2).

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. The science of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science. “All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew that wonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266). 

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r). In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r). 

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others

1 October, 2012. Vatican Radio