Jesus ate with sinners. That’s always been amazing to me. In some ways it’s the heart of the Gospel:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7–8, ESV).
I was struck by St. Augustine’s imitation of Jesus in the last days of his life:
As the then Cardinal Ratzinger tells the story,
“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving Communion.”
What a gesture! I wonder if that message would come across today. Think about it: your bishop comes to Mass this Sunday and sits in the pews, toward the back. When it’s time for receiving Holy Communion, he stays in his pew and doesn’t receive! When asked, he says he’s trying to show solidarity with those who are divorced and remarried who come to Mass, but can’t receive Holy Communion.
“Man Is the Way of the Church, and Christ Is the Way of Man”
HOMILY OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
BEATIFICATION OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
ST PETER’S SQUARE
1 MAY 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Six years ago we gathered in this Square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor’s entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste. And now the longed-for day has come; it came quickly because this is what was pleasing to the Lord: John Paul II is blessed!
Once again, I ask for your forgiveness as I am almost a week late in getting this reflection up. Regardless, I do want to say a few things regarding this last Sunday’s reading as His Holiness puts it in his 2011 Message for Lent. Here is what he says:
On the fifth Sunday, when the resurrection of Lazarus is proclaimed, we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25-26). For the Christian community, it is the moment to place with sincerity – together with Martha – all of our hopes in Jesus of Nazareth: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (Jn 11: 27). Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him. Faith in the resurrection of the dead and hope in eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of our existence: God created men and women for resurrection and life, and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.
Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman about thirst and water. The Holy Father’s brief synopsis from his lenten reflection is the following:
The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.
My favorite part of this interpretation is found in the ending, when the Holy Father tells that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can “irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul”. The human person is thirsty. Without a doubt, there is some sort of primeval emptiness in the human heart, a perennial search for completeness. What can satisfy the heart, the core of man?
Continuing on with our journey through Benedict’s Message for Lent this year, we come to the Second Sunday of Lent, which is the Transfiguration. The Holy Father writes:
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.
In Jeffrey Morrow’s recent post, he suggests a prayerful reading of Pope Benedict XVI’s lenten message. I second that suggestion. The Holy Father’s words are touching, beautiful and enlightening. As somewhat a response to Morrow’s post, I have decided to write a brief, personal reflection over the text of the Pope’s lenten message. What I would like to do is develop this into a short series given each week of Lent. I propose this because the Holy Father, in his message, offers a theological synopsis of each Gospel reading on the given Lenten Sundays. Hence, he writes this message with a chronological, theological flow in mind. As best I can on a blog and with my limited theological knowledge, I want to reflect upon and follow the theology weekly. And I invite you, reader, to accompany me on the journey! Let us begin:
The Holy Father begins with an invitation to the Church: to intensify her journey in purifying the spirit, “so as to draw more abundantly from the Mystery of Redemption the new life in Christ the Lord”. Through this invitation, Benedict introduces Baptism, explaining that this life “was already bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism, when we ‘become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection’, and there began for us ‘the joyful and exulting adventure of his disciples'”. After quoting from the writings of Paul, the Holy Father comes to a beautiful conclusion:
At the end of part I of this two-part post, we ended with Benedict drawing the synthesis of hope and joy in their inner-relationship with the Easter message and its significance. He then quotes a passage from the Second Reading, which illustrates the relationship beautifully, first quoting from St. Peter in the Second Reading: “‘by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. And he adds: ‘In this you rejoice…’ (1 Pt 1:3, 6). Here too, the fact that hope and joy are theological realities which radiate from the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and from the gift of his Spirit clearly emerges. We could say that the Holy Spirit takes them from the Heart of the Risen Christ and transfuses them in the hearts of his friends”.
At this point, Benedict clearly introduces into his preaching the image of the heart. On Cardinal Spidlík’s coat of arms, there is the motto: “ex toto corde” (“with all your heart”). Biblically, this phrase is founded in the instruction of how Israel must love her God: “Hear, O Israel…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (cf. Dt 6:4-5). The heart as the nucleus of man is clear. Hence, the whole human person is called to love, and this is what is meant when the term “repent” is found in the Bible, as in the words of St. John the Baptist. To repent is to re-orient one’s heart—one’s soul, might, personality, attitude, sight—toward the Kingdom of God.
Last Tuesday, April 20th, Pope Benedict XVI delivered the homily at the funeral Mass for Cardinal Spidlík. As always, the words of the Holy Father are touching and practical; yet, at the same time, they are filled with great theological depth. In this particular homily, Benedict introduces themes of theology that appear consistently in his thought: hope, joy, and the significance of the heart. In this two-part post, I want to examine the homily of Benedict through the lens of these three theological subjects.
The Pope opens the homily with some of the Cardinal’s last words before his death. They are beautiful, and in themselves, a reflection could be written: “Throughout my life I have sought the Face of Jesus and I am now happy and at peace because I am about to go and see him”. In a recent post, we have already reflected—briefly—over the theological understanding of death, especially through the thought of Benedict. Not surprising, then, the Holy Father is drawing the same conclusion as before—this time, through the words of another Christian. In the person of Jesus Christ, the dark, unknown abyss has been opened, has been walked through; and not just that, but the abyss itself has been conquered. Love has defeated that sting of death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54-55 ); love has given birth to a hope, rooted in the supernatural, that grants man true life, thereby making it possible to overcome the burden of death.
In Part I of this post, we left the Holy Father’s homily at the point where he touched upon the elements of the sacraments as being elements of creation. For the rest of the homily, then, the Pope focuses primarily on olives and olive oil, for indeed the Chrism Mass is about the blessing of the oils for the sacraments. First, the Pontiff explains the early Christian meaning assocaited with olives. The olive tree and oil itself were recognized as symbols of peace; early Christians often decorated tombs with olive branches, knowing that the “Christ conquered death and that their dead were resting in the peace of Christ. They knew that they themselves were awaited by Christ, that he had promised them the peace which the world cannot give”.
Living in the Eternal City for a semester of studies has been and continues to be an incredible opportunity. Particularly, experiencing Holy Week here will always be a memory. While every event of the week—especially within Easter Triduum—is worth reflecting over in words, Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday touched me in a special way: to be precise, I was touched anew by, in the first place, Pope Benedict XVI’s love and wisdom, and secondly, by the reverence, simplicity, and power of the Catholic Liturgy.
This will be the first of a two-part post. Both posts will incorporate parts of the Mass, but their overall focus will be on the theology of Benedict XVI, in his Chrism Mass homily. Thus, the content of this post is a synthesis of reflection and theological analysis.
As I sat in my seat in the grand basilica of Saint Peter’s, I awaited the entrance of the Supreme Pontiff and the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The music began, the choir of–what sounded like–angels filled the cosmic space of the temple with heavenly sound. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI began to walk down the nave of the basilica to approach the sacred altar, the place of the feast of feasts. Before him were seminarians, some priests, and the initial object that began the procession: Christ on the Cross, the center of the Mass. As he walked down the aisle, the whole congregation experienced a sort of joyful anticipation, as they were about to experience the synthesis of the local church and the universal church headed by the Bishop of Rome.