CONTEMPLATION OF CHRIST DOES NOT DISTANCE US FROM REALITY
St. Paul’s experience of contemplation and the power of prayer, as recounted in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, provided the central theme of Benedict XVI’s catechesis, during his general audience held this morning in the Paul VI Hall.
Paul did not respond to the voices questioning the legitimacy of his apostolate by enumerating the communities he had founded, nor did he limit himself to recounting the difficulties he had had to face in announcing the Gospel. Rather, the Pope explained, “he pointed to his relationship with the Lord, . . . which was so intense as to be marked by moments of ecstasy and profound contemplation.” Indeed, the Apostle says: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
Thus the Apostle of the Gentiles helps us to understand “that all the difficulties we meet in following Christ and bearing witness to His Gospel can be overcome by opening ourselves trustingly to the action of the Lord. . . . St. Paul clearly understood how to face and experience each event in his life, especially those involving suffering, difficulty and persecution: at the moment we feel our own weakness the power of God becomes manifest, a power which does not abandon or leave us alone but becomes our support and our strength.”
“As our union with the Lord grows and our prayer becomes more intense, we too come to focus on the essential and to understand that it is not the power of our own means that creates the Kingdom of God, but God Who works miracles through our very weakness,” the Pope said.
The intense contemplation of God which St. Paul experienced was, like that of the disciples on Mount Tabor, “enthralling and tremendous.” Contemplating the Lord is “enthralling because He draws us to Himself, seizing our hearts and carrying them aloft to His heights were we experience the peace and beauty of His love. It is tremendous because it exposes our human frailty and inadequacy, the fatigue of defeating the Evil One who ensnares our lives.”
“In a world in which we risk relying only on the power of human means, we are called to rediscover and bear witness to the power of prayer, through which we grow day by day as our lives are conformed to that of Christ,” said the Holy Father. He then went on to recall the Nobel Prize-winner and Protestant theologian Albert Schweitzer who said that “‘Paul is a mystic and nothing more than a mystic,’ a man truly enamored of Christ and so united to Him as to able to say: Christ lives in me. St. Paul’s mysticism was not founded only on the exceptional events of his life, but also on his intense daily relationship with the Lord, Who always supported him with His Grace.
“In our own life of prayer we too may experience moments of particular intensity in which we feel the Lord’s presence more keenly,” Benedict XVI added. “But it is important to remain constant and faithful in our relationship with God, especially in moments of aridity, difficulty and suffering. Only if we are seized by the love of Christ will we be able to face adversity, as Paul did, in the conviction that we can do all things through Him Who gives us strength.”
The Holy Father went on: “The more space we give to prayer, the more we will see our lives transformed and animated by the real power of God’s love. This is what happened, for example, to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who, in contemplating Jesus, discovered the ultimate reason and incredible strength to recognize Him in the poor and abandoned, despite her fragile figure.
“The contemplation of Christ in our life does not distance us from reality,” the Pope concluded. “It makes us even more involved in human affairs, because the Lord, drawing us to Himself in prayer, enables us to remain close to all our brothers and sisters in His love.”
PRAYERS FOR THE EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS IN IRELAND
At the end of his catechesis this morning, Benedict XVI dedicated some remarks to the fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress, which is currently being held in the Irish capital Dublin on the theme: “The Eucharist. Communion with Christ and with One Another.”
The congress, the Holy Father said, “is an important opportunity to reaffirm the central place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. Jesus, Who is truly present in the Sacrament of the altar, with the supreme Sacrifice of love on the cross gives Himself to us, He becomes our food in order to assimilate us to Him, to bring us into communion with Him. Through this communion we are also united among ourselves, we become a single object in Him, members of one another.
“I invite you to remain spiritually united to Christians in Ireland and the world, praying for the work of the congress, that the Eucharist may always be the pulsating heart of all Church life,” he concluded.
BAPTISM FREES US FROM ISOLATION
On the evening of Monday 11 June in the basilica of St. John Lateran, Benedict XVI inaugurated the diocesan ecclesial congress of Rome, which comes to an end today. During the three-day event participants discussed the importance of Baptism in the context of the theme of the gathering: “Go and make disciples, baptising and teaching. Let us rediscover the beauty of Baptism.”
Extracts from the Pope’s off-the-cuff inaugural address are given below:
“Baptism means being united to God in a new and unique existence. . . . Thinking about this, we immediately see that it has certain consequences. The first of these is that God is no longer distant from us. . . . We are in God and God is in us. The priority, the central place of God in our lives is a first consequence of Baptism.”
“A second consequence . . . is that we become Christian. . . . Of course, my own decision is also necessary, but above all it is an action of God with me. . . . I am assumed by God . . . and, by saying ‘yes’ to this action by God, I become Christian. . . . A third element . . . is that, by being immersed in God, I am naturally united to my brothers and sisters, because everyone else is also in God and, if I am drawn out of my isolation, . . . then I am immersed in communion with others.”
“This rite, like the rite of nearly all the Sacraments, is made up of two elements: matter (water) and word. . . . Christianity is not something purely spiritual. . . . God is the creator of all matter, . . . and that is why it is very important for matter to be part of our faith. . . . The other element is the word, which takes three forms: renunciations, promises and invocations. It is important that these words . . . mark our life journey.”
“Let us examine the renunciations. They are three in number and I will first consider the second: ‘Do you renounce the lure of evil?’ . . . In the early Church . . . they used the phrase: ‘Do you renounce the pomp of the devil’. . . . The pomp of the devil referred to the brutal public shows in which cruelty became a form of entertainment, in which killing men became a spectacle. . . . Yet, beyond this immediate meaning, . . . the phrase also referred to a certain kind of culture, . . . and Baptism fundamentally means . . . freeing oneself from that culture. Today too we see cultures in which the truth does not count. In which all that counts is the spirit of calumny and destruction. A culture which does not seek goodness, a culture which uses its morality as a mask to confuse and destroy. To this culture in which falsehood is disguised as truth and information, to this culture which seeks only material wealth and denies God, we say ‘no.’”
“The first renunciation is: ‘Do you renounce sin to live in the freedom of the children of God?’ Today freedom and Christian life . . . seem to move in opposite directions. Being Christian is taken to mean a kind of slavery and freedom is seen as emancipation from Christian faith, in the final analysis emancipation from God. . . . Yet God made Himself vulnerable . . . because He loves us. . . . Our first concern must be . . . not to destroy His love, . . . because to do so is to go against our own selves and our own freedom.”
“And ultimately: ‘Do you renounce Satan?’ This tells us that there is a ‘yes’ to God and a ‘no’ to the power of the Evil One, who . . . wishes to become god of this world.”
“Finally there remains the question . . . of the Baptism of children. Is it right to do so or would it be better for them to follow a catechumenal journey before Baptism? The other question that always arises is: Can we impose a religion upon children? . . . Yet the true question is, in fact: Is it right to give life in this world without having received consent? . . . I would say that it is possible and right to do so only if, along with life, we also give the guarantee that life, despite all the problems of the world, is good . . . and protected by God. . . . Only the anticipation of the meaning can justify the anticipation of life. Therefore Baptism as a guarantee of God’s goodness, as an anticipation of meaning, as an anticipation of God’s ‘yes’ which protects this life, justifies the anticipation of life.”
CELEBRATIONS TO BE PRESIDED BY THE POPE: JULY — SEPTEMBER
Given below is the calendar of liturgical celebrations due to be presided over by the Holy Father between the months of July and September.
• Sunday 15. Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Pastoral visit to Frascati. Mass at 9.30 a.m.
• Wednesday 15: Solemnity of the Assumption, Mass at 8 a.m. in the parish church of St. Thomas of Villanova in Castelgandolfo.
• Friday 14 to to Sunday 16: Apostolic trip to Lebanon.
OTHER PONTIFICAL ACTS
The Holy Father appointed Fr. Marcello Romano of the clergy of the diocese of Guanhaes, Brazil, diocesan administrator, as bishop of Aracuai (area 23,526, population 416,000, Catholics 277,000, priests 34, religious 40), Brazil. The bishop-elect was born in Conceicao do Mato Dentro, Brazil in 1965 and ordained a priest in 1994. He has served as pastor in a number of different parishes.