Category Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI interview 2016

B16 teaching

For me, one of the great things is that Pope emeritus Benedict is still very engaged spiritually and intellectually in the life of the Church. It comes, I firmly believe, from his attraction to the spiritual life and the life of the intellect. When he retired from the petrine ministry he had indicated that he would not be too visible to the Church. He has, on occasion, been to Mass in the Basilica of St Peter and visited with others. Now, his has given the following interview gives good perspective for us on belief and discipleship.

In a recently published interview on issues of justification and faith, Benedict XVI has addressed issues of mercy and our need for forgiveness, salvation through the cross, the necessity of baptism, and the importance of sharing in Christ’s redeeming love.

The discussion with Fr. Jacques Servais, SJ, took place ahead of an October, 2015 conference in Rome studying the doctrine of justification by faith.

Benedict’s answers, originally in German, were read aloud as a text at the conference by the Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein.

They were later published as the introduction to a book in Italian on the conference texts and conclusions, titled “Through Faith: Doctrine of Justification and Experience of God in the Preaching of the Church and the Spiritual Exercises,” by Fr. Daniel Libanori, SJ.

The emeritus Pope began by noting that faith has both a personal and a communal nature, saying that “the encounter with God means also, at the same time, that I myself become open, torn from my closed solitude and received into the living community of the Church.”

He emphasized that both faith and the Church come from God, and are neither self-generating nor man-made.

The Church must introduce the individual Christian into an encounter with Jesus Christ and bring Christians into His presence in the sacrament,” Benedict remarked.

He then focused on modern man’s tendency to ignore any personal sin and need for justification, and to focus instead on the suffering in the world, believing that God has to justify himself for this suffering.

“However, in my opinion, there continues to exist, in another way, the perception that we are in need of grace and forgiveness,” he said, pointing to the recent emphasis on mercy in the pontificates of both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’ “pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy,” he said. “It is mercy that moves us toward God, while justice frightens us before Him.”

In my view, this makes clear that, under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God. He is waiting for mercy.”

Benedict suggested that the popularity of the parable of the Good Samaritan expresses this underlying desire for God and his mercy, adding that “it seems to me that in the theme of divine mercy is expressed in a new way what is means by justification by faith.”

He discussed how an old understanding of the Cross, articulated by St. Anselm, is difficult for modern man to relate to because of its focus on justice and its apparent juxtaposition of the Father and the Son.

The emeritus Pope reflected that God “simply cannot leave ‘as is’ the mass of evil that comes from the freedom that he himself has granted. Only He, coming to share in the world’s suffering, can redeem the world.”

In the Cross, he said, one perceives “what God’s mercy means, what the participation of God in man’s suffering means. It is not a matter of a cruel justice, not a matter of the Father’s fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love.”

The discussion then turned to the missionary impulse, which was once informed by the conviction that all who died unbaptized would certainly go to hell.

Benedict noted, “there is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma” and that since the 1950s “the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized … has been fully affirmed.”

He noted that the great missionaries of the 1500s were compelled by their belief in the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation, and that the changing understanding of this necessity led to “a deep double crisis”: a loss of motivation for missionary work, and a loss of motivation for the faith itself.

The emeritus Pope addressed both the theory of the ‘anonymous Christian’ and indifferentism as inadequate solutions to the crises, and offered instead the idea that Christ’s loving suffering for the world is the solution, which must become our model.

He concluded by again emphasizing that the true solution to evil is the love of Christ: “The counterweight to the dominion of evil can consist in the first place only in the divine-human love of Jesus Christ that is always greater than any possible power of evil.”

“But it is necessary that we place ourselves inside this answer that God gives us through Jesus Christ,” he added, saying that receiving the sacrament of confession “certainly has an important role in this field.”

Receiving confession, he said, “means that we always allow ourselves to be molded and transformed by Christ and that we pass continuously from the side of him who destroys to the side of Him who saves.”

Below please find L’Osservatore Romano’s full English translation of the interview:

Servais: Your Holiness, the question posed this year as part of the study days promoted by the rectory of the Gesu (the residence for Jesuit seminarians in Rome) is that of justification by faith. The last volume of your collected works highlights your resolute affirmation: “The Christian faith is not an idea, but a life.” Commenting on the famous Pauline affirmation in Romans 3:28, you mentioned, in this regard, a twofold transcendence: “Faith is a gift to the believers communicated through the community, which for its part is the result of God’s gift” (“Glaube ist Gabe durch die Gemeinschaft; die sich selbst gegeben wird,” gs iv, 512). Could you explain what you meant by that statement, taking into account of course the fact that the aim of these days of study is to clarify the pastoral theology and vivify the spiritual experience of the faithful?

Benedict XVI: The question concerns what faith is and how one comes to believe. On the one hand, faith is a profoundly personal contact with God, which touches me in my innermost being and places me in front of the living God in absolute immediacy in such a way that I can speak with Him, love Him and enter into communion with Him. But at the same time this reality which is so fundamentally personal also has inseparably to do with the community. It is an essential part of faith that I be introduced into the “we” of the sons and daughters of God, into the pilgrim community of brothers and sisters. The encounter with God means also, at the same time, that I myself become open, torn from my closed solitude and received into the living community of the Church. That living community is also a mediator of my encounter with God, though that encounter touches my heart in an entirely personal way. Faith comes from hearing (fides ex auditu), St. Paul teaches us. Listening in turn always implies a partner.

Faith is not a product of reflection nor is it even an attempt to penetrate the depths of my own being. Both of these things may be present, but they remain insufficient without the “listening” through which God, from without, from a story He himself created, challenges me. In order for me to believe, I need witnesses who have met God and make Him accessible to me. In my article on baptism I spoke of the double transcendence of the community, in this way causing to emerge once again an important element: the faith community does not create itself. It is not an assembly of men who have some ideas in common and who decide to work for the spread of such ideas. Then everything would be based on its own decision and, in the final analysis, on the majority vote principle, which is, in the end it would be based on human opinion. A Church built in this way cannot be for me the guarantor of eternal life nor require decisions from me that make me suffer and are contrary to my desires. No, the Church is not self-made, she was created by God and she is continuously formed by him. This finds expression in the sacraments, above all in that of baptism: I enter into the Church not by a bureaucratic act, but through the sacrament. And this is to say that I am welcomed into a community that did not originate in itself and is projected beyond itself. The ministry that aims to form the spiritual experience of the faithful must proceed from these fundamental givens.

It is necessary to abandon the idea of a Church which produces herself and to make clear that the Church becomes a community in the communion of the body of Christ. The Church must introduce the individual Christian into an encounter with Jesus Christ and bring Christians into His presence in the sacrament.

Servais: When you were Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, commenting on the Joint Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation on the Doctrine of Justification of Oct. 31, 1999, you pointed out a difference of mentality in relation to Luther and the question of salvation and blessedness as he had posed it. The religious experience of Luther was dominated by terror before the wrath of God, a feeling quite alien to modern men, who sense rather the absence of God (see your article in Communio, 2000, 430). For these, the problem is not so much how to obtain eternal life, but rather how to ensure, in the precarious conditions of our world, a certain balance of fully human life. Can the teaching of St. Paul of justification by faith, in this new context, reach the “religious” experience or at least the “elementary” experience of our contemporaries?

Benedict XVI: First of all, I want to emphasize once again what I wrote in Communio (2000) on the issue of justification. For the man of today, compared to those of the time of Luther and to those holding the classical perspective of the Christian faith, things are in a certain sense inverted, or rather, is no longer man who believes he needs justification before God, but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify himself because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him. In this regard, I find it significant that a Catholic theologian may profess even in a direct and formal this inverted position: that Christ did not suffer for the sins of men, but rather, as it were, had “canceled the guilt of God.” Even if most Christians today would not share such a drastic reversal of our faith, we could say that all of this reveals an underlying trend of our times. When Johann Baptist Metz argues that theology today must be “sensitive to theodicy” (German: theodizee empfindlich), this highlights the same problem in a positive way. Even rescinding from such a radical contestation of the Church’s vision of the relationship between God and man, the man of today has in a very general way the sense that God cannot let most of humanity be damned. In this sense, the concern for the personal salvation of souls typical of past times has for the most part disappeared.

However, in my opinion, there continues to exist, in another way, the perception that we are in need of grace and forgiveness. For me it is a “sign of the times” the fact that the idea of the mercy of God should become more and more central and dominant – starting from Sister Faustina, whose visions in various ways reflect deeply the image of God held by the men of today and their desire for the divine goodness. Pope John Paul II was deeply impregnated by this impulse, even if this did not always emerge explicitly. But it is certainly not by chance that his last book, published just before his death, speaks of God’s mercy. Starting from the experiences which, from the earliest years of life, exposed him to all of the cruel acts men can perform, he affirms that mercy is the only true and ultimate effective reaction against the power of evil.

Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, only with mercy do evil and violence end. Pope Francis is totally in agreement with this line. His pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy. It is mercy that moves us toward God, while justice frightens us before Him. In my view, this makes clear that, under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God. He is waiting for mercy.

It is certainly no coincidence that the parable of the Good Samaritan is particularly attractive to contemporary man. And not just because that parable strongly emphasizes the social dimension of Christian existence, nor only because in it the Samaritan, the man not religious, in comparison with the representatives of religion seems, so to speak, as one who acts really so in conformity with God, while the official representatives of religion seem, as it were, immune to God. This clearly pleases modern man. But it seems just as important to me, nevertheless, that men in their intimate consciences expect the Samaritan will come to their aid; that he will bend down over them, pour oil on their wounds, care for them and take them to safety. In the final analysis, they know that they need God’s mercy and his tenderness. In the hardness of the technologized world in which feelings no longer count for anything, the expectation however increases of a saving love that is freely given. It seems to me that in the theme of divine mercy is expressed in a new way what is means by justification by faith. Starting from the mercy of God, which everyone is looking for, it is possible even today to interpret anew the fundamental nucleus of the doctrine of justification and have it appear again in all its relevance.

When Anselm says that Christ had to die on the cross to repair the infinite offense that had been made to God, and in this way to restore the shattered order, he uses a language which is difficult for modern man to accept (cfr. Gs 215.ss iv). Expressing oneself in this way, one risks likely to project onto God an image of a God of wrath, relentless toward the sin of man, with feelings of violence and aggression comparable with what we can experience ourselves. How is it possible to speak of God’s justice without potentially undermining the certainty, deeply established among the faithful, that the God of the Christians is a God “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4)? The conceptuality of St. Anselm has now become for us incomprehensible. It is our job to try again to understand the truth that lies behind this mode of expression. For my part I offer three points of view on this point:

a) the contrast between the Father, who insists in an absolute way on justice, and the Son who obeys the Father and, obedient, accepts the cruel demands of justice, is not only incomprehensible today, but, from the point of view of Trinitarian theology, is in itself all wrong. The Father and the Son are one and therefore their will is intrinsically one. When the Son in the Garden of Olives struggles with the will of the Father, it is not a matter of accepting for himself a cruel disposition of God, but rather of attracting humanity into the very will of God. We will have to come back again, later, to the relationship of the two wills of the Father and of the Son.

b) So why would the cross and the atonement? Somehow today, in the contortions of modern thought we mentioned above, the answer to these questions can be formulated in a new way. Let’s place ourselves in front of the incredible amount of evil, violence, falsehood, hatred, cruelty and arrogance that infect and destroy the whole world. This mass of evil cannot simply be declared non-existent, not even by God. It must be cleansed, reworked and overcome. Ancient Israel was convinced that the daily sacrifice for sins and above all the great liturgy of the Day of Atonement (Yom-Kippur) were necessary as a counterweight to the mass of evil in the world and that only through such rebalancing the world could, as it were, remain bearable. Once the sacrifices in the temple disappeared, it had to be asked what could be opposed to the higher powers of evil, how to find somehow a counterweight. The Christians knew that the temple destroyed was replaced by the resurrected body of the crucified Lord and in his radical and incommensurable love was created a counterweight to the immeasurable presence of evil. Indeed, they knew that the offers presented up until then could only be conceived of as a gesture of longing for a genuine counterweight. They also knew that in front of the excessive power of evil only an infinite love was enough, only an infinite atonement. They knew that the crucified and risen Christ is a power that can counter the power of evil and save the world. And on this basis they could even understand the meaning of their own sufferings as inserted into the suffering love of Christ and included as part of the redemptive power of such love. Above I quoted the theologian for whom God had to suffer for his sins in regard to the world. Now, due to this reversal of perspective, the following truths emerge: God simply cannot leave “as is” the mass of evil that comes from the freedom that he himself has granted. Only He, coming to share in the world’s suffering, can redeem the world.

c) On this basis, the relationship between the Father and the Son becomes more comprehensible. I will reproduce here on this subject a passage from the book by Henri de Lubac on Origen which I feel is very clear: “The Redeemer came into the world out of compassion for mankind. He took upon himself our passions even before being crucified, indeed even before descending to assume our flesh: if he had not experienced them beforehand, he would not have come to partake of our human life. But what was this suffering that he endured in advance for us? It was the passion of love. But the Father himself, the God of the universe, he who is overflowing with long-suffering, patience, mercy and compassion, does he also not suffer in a certain sense? ‘The Lord your God, in fact, has taken upon himself your ways as the one who takes upon himself his son’ (Deuteronomy 1, 31). God thus takes upon himself our customs as the Son of God took upon himself our sufferings. The Father himself is not without passion! If He is invoked, then He knows mercy and compassion. He perceives a suffering of love (Homilies on Ezekiel 6:6).”

In some parts of Germany there was a very moving devotion that contemplated the Not Gottes (“poverty of God”). For my part, that makes pass before my eyes an impressive image representing the suffering Father, who, as Father, shares inwardly the sufferings of the Son. And also the image of the “throne of grace” is part of this devotion: the Father supports the cross and the crucified, bends lovingly over him and the two are, as it were, together on the cross. So in a grand and pure way, one perceives there what God’s mercy means, what the participation of God in man’s suffering means. It is not a matter of a cruel justice, not a matter of the Father’s fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love.

Servais: In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola does not use the Old Testament images of revenge, as opposed to Paul (cfr. 2 Thessalonians 1: 5-9); nevertheless he invites us to contemplate how men, until the Incarnation, “descended into hell” (Spiritual Exercises n. 102; see. ds iv, 376) and to consider the example of the “countless others who ended up there for far fewer sins than I have I committed” (Spiritual Exercises, n. 52). It is in this spirit that St. Francis Xavier lived his pastoral work, convinced he had to try to save from the terrible fate of eternal damnation as many “infidels” as possible. The teaching, formalized in the Council of Trent, in the passage with regard to the judgment of the good and the evil, later radicalized by the Jansenists, was taken up in a much more restrained way in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cfr. § 5 633, 1037). Can it be said that on this point, in recent decades, there has been a kind of “development of dogma” that the Catechism should definitely take into account?

Benedict XVI: There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma. While the fathers and theologians of the Middle Ages could still be of the opinion that, essentially, the whole human race had become Catholic and that paganism existed now only on the margins, the discovery of the New World at the beginning of the modern era radically changed perspectives. In the second half of the last century it has been fully affirmed the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized and that even a purely natural happiness for them does not represent a real answer to the question of human existence. If it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost – and this explains their missionary commitment – in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council that conviction was finally abandoned.

From this came a deep double crisis. On the one hand this seems to remove any motivation for a future missionary commitment. Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it? But also for Christians an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated.

Lately several attempts have been formulated in order to reconcile the universal necessity of the Christian faith with the opportunity to save oneself without it. I will mention here two: first, the well-known thesis of the anonymous Christians of Karl Rahner. He sustains that the basic, essential act at the basis of Christian existence, decisive for salvation, in the transcendental structure of our consciousness, consists in the opening to the entirely Other, toward unity with God. The Christian faith would in this view cause to rise to consciousness what is structural in man as such. So when a man accepts himself in his essential being, he fulfills the essence of being a Christian without knowing what it is in a conceptual way. The Christian, therefore, coincides with the human and, in this sense, every man who accepts himself is a Christian even if he does not know it. It is true that this theory is fascinating, but it reduces Christianity itself to a pure conscious presentation of what a human being is in himself and therefore overlooks the drama of change and renewal that is central to Christianity. Even less acceptable is the solution proposed by the pluralistic theories of religion, for which all religions, each in their own way, would be ways of salvation and in this sense, in their effects must be considered equivalent. The critique of religion of the kind exercised in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and in the early Church is essentially more realistic, more concrete and true in its examination of the various religions. Such a simplistic reception is not proportional to the magnitude of the issue.

Let us recall, lastly, above all Henri de Lubac and with him some other theologians who have reflected on the concept of vicarious substitution. For them the “pro-existence” (“being for”) of Christ would be an expression of the fundamental figure of the Christian life and of the Church as such. It is possible to explain this “being for” in a somewhat more abstract way. It is important to mankind that there is truth in it, this is believed and practiced. That one suffers for it. That one loves. These realities penetrate with their light into the world as such and support it. I think that in this present situation it becomes for us ever more clear what the Lord said to Abraham, that is, that 10 righteous would have been sufficient to save a city, but that it destroys itself if such a small number is not reached. It is clear that we need to further reflect on the whole question.

Servais: In the eyes of many secular humanists, marked by the atheism of the 19th and 20th centuries, as you have noted, it is rather God – if he exists – not man who should be held accountable for injustice, the suffering of the innocent, the cynicism of power we are witnessing, powerless, in the world and in world history (see. Spe Salvi, n. 42) … In your book Jesus of Nazareth, you echo what for them – and for us – is a scandal: “The reality of injustice, of evil, cannot be simply ignored, simply put aside. It absolutely must be overcome and conquered. Only in this way is there really mercy” (Jesus of Nazareth, ii 153, quoting 2 Timothy 2:13). Is the sacrament of confession, one of the places where evil can be “repaired?” If so, how?

Benedict XVI: I have already tried to expose as a whole the main points related to this issue in my answer to your third question. The counterweight to the dominion of evil can consist in the first place only in the divine-human love of Jesus Christ that is always greater than any possible power of evil. But it is necessary that we place ourselves inside this answer that God gives us through Jesus Christ. Even if the individual is responsible for a fragment of evil, and therefore is an accomplice of evil’s power, together with Christ he can nevertheless “complete what is lacking in his sufferings” (cfr. Colossians 1, 24). The sacrament of penance certainly has an important role in this field. It means that we always allow ourselves to be molded and transformed by Christ and that we pass continuously from the side of him who destroys to the side of Him who saves.

Purgatory shows that no man is an island

BVM and PurgatoryIn these last days of November the month of the Holy Souls, I think it is worth thinking about the doctrine of Purgatory. Several years ago Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on hope “Spe Salvi” was published where he wrote some most beautiful lines ever written on purgatory. Here are paragraphs 45-48:

This early Jewish idea of an intermediate state includes the view that these souls are not simply in a sort of temporary custody but, as the parable of the rich man illustrates, are already being punished or are experiencing a provisional form of bliss. There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God. The early Church took up these concepts, and in the Western Church they gradually developed into the doctrine of Purgatory. We do not need to examine here the complex historical paths of this development; it is enough to ask what it actually means. With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.

Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God’s judgement according to each person’s particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

The makes purgatory something to look forward to!

Pope Benedict XVI received honorary doctorate

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Pope Benedict was conferred with a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the John Paul II Pontifical University of Krakow and from the Academy of Music of Krakow, Poland. The honors were bestowed on the emeritus pope at Castel Gandolfo on July 6, 2015. With his usual clarity the Pope said:

At this moment, I cannot but express my greatest and most cordial gratitude for the honor you have given me conferring the Doctoratus Honoris Causa. I thank the Grand Chancellor, his dear Eminence Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the academic Authorities of both Athenaeums. I rejoice above all over the fact that in this way my bond with Poland, with Krakow, with the homeland of our great Saint John Paul II has become more profound, because without him, my spiritual and theological journey would not have even been imaginable. With his brilliant example he also showed us how the joy of great sacred music and the task of common participation in the sacred liturgy, the solemn joy and the simplicity of the humble celebration of the faith can go hand in hand.

In the years after the Council, on this point a very old disagreement was manifested with renewed passion. I myself grew up in the Salisburghese marked by the great tradition of this city. It was a given here that Sunday Masses accompanied by the choir and orchestra were an integral part of our experience of the faith in the celebration of the liturgy. Indelibly impressed in my memory, for instance, is how, when the first notes of Mozart’s Coronation Mass sounded, Heaven virtually opened and the presence of the Lord was experienced very profoundly. And thanks also to you, who enabled me to hear Mozart and also the Choir for the great songs! Beside this, however, already present in any case also was the new reality of the Liturgical Movement, especially through one of our chaplains who later became Vice-Regent and then Rector of the Major Seminary of Freising. Then, during my studies at Monaco of Bavaria, I entered ever more concretely in the Liturgical Movement through the lessons of Professor Pascher, one of the most significant experts of the Council in liturgical matter, and above all through the liturgical life in the community of the Seminary. Thus little by little the tension became perceptible between the participatio actuosa in keeping with the liturgy and the solemn music that enveloped the sacred action, even if it was not yet perceived so strong.

Written very clearly in the Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican Council II is that “The patrimony of sacred music be preserved and incremented with great care” (1124). On the other hand, the text evidences, as a fundamental liturgical category, the participatio actuosa of all the faithful in the sacred action. What in the Constitution was still peacefully together, subsequently, in the reception of the Council was often in a relation of dramatic tension. Significant environments of the Liturgical Movement held that, for the great choral works and even for the Masses for orchestra there would be room in the future only in concert halls, not in the liturgy. Here there could be a place only for the common singing and prayer of the faithful. On the other hand, there was consternation over the cultural impoverishment of the Church, which would necessarily flow from this. In what way could both things be reconciled? How could the Council be implemented in its entirety? These were the questions posed to me and to many other faithful, to simple people as well as to persons in possession of theological formation.

At this point, it is right, perhaps, to pose the basic question: What is music in reality? From where does it come and what does it tend to?

I think that three “places” can be localized from which music flows.

One of the first sources is the experience of love. When men are seized by love, a new dimension of being opens in them, a new grandeur and breadth of reality, and it also drives one to express oneself in a new way. Poetry, singing and music in general stem from this being struck, by this opening of oneself to a new dimension of life.

A second origin of music is the experience of sadness, being touched by death, by sorrow and by the abysses of existence. Opened also in this case, in an opposite direction, are new dimensions of reality that can no longer find answers in discourses alone.

Finally, the third place of origin of music is the encounter with the divine, which from the beginning is part of what defines the human.  All the more so here in which the totally other and the totally great is present, which arouses in man new ways of expressing himself. Perhaps, it is possible to affirm that in reality also in the other two ambits – love and death – the divine mystery touches us and, in this sense, it is the being touched by God that, overall, constitutes the origin of music. I find it moving to observe how, for instance, in the Psalms singing is no longer enough for men — an appeal is made to all the instruments: reawakened is the hidden music of creation, its mysterious language. With the Psalter, in which the two motives of love and death also operate, we find directly the origin of sacred music of the Church of God. It can be said that the quality of the music depends on the purity and the grandeur of the encounter with the divine, with the experience of love and of pain. The more pure and true this experience is, the more pure and great also is the music that is born and develops from it.

At this point, I would like to express a thought that has gripped me increasingly, all the more so in as much as the different cultures and religions enter into relation among themselves. Present in the ambit of the different cultures and religions is great literature, great architecture, great painting and great sculptures. And everywhere there is also music. And yet in no other cultural ambit is there music of equal grandeur to that born in the ambit of the Christian faith: from Palestrina to Bach, to Handle, up to Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner. Western music is something unique, which has no equal in other cultures. And this – it seems to me – should make us think.

Certainly, Western music goes beyond by far the religious and ecclesial ambit. And yet it finds its most profound origin, in any case, in the liturgy of the encounter with God. In Bach, for whom the glory of God represents ultimately the end of all music, this is altogether evident. The great and pure answer of Western music was developed in the encounter with that God that, in the liturgy, makes himself present to us in Christ Jesus. For me, that music is a demonstration of the truth of Christianity. Wherever such an answer is developed, there has been an encounter with truth, with the true Creator of the world. Therefore, great sacred music is a reality of theological rank and of permanent meaning for the faith of the whole of Christianity, even if it is not necessary that it be performed always and everywhere. On the other hand,  however, it is also clear that it cannot disappear from the liturgy and that its presence can be an altogether special way of participation in the sacred celebration, in the mystery of the faith.

If we think of the liturgy celebrated by Saint John Paul II on every continent, we see all the breadth of the expressive possibilities of the faith in the liturgical event; and we also see how the great music of the Western tradition is not foreign to the liturgy, but is born and grows from it and in this way contributes ever again to give it form. We do not know the future of our culture and of sacred music. However, there is something that seems clear to me: where there is really an encounter with the living God who comes to us in Christ, born and growing there again is the answer, whose beauty comes from truth itself.

The activity of the two universities that confer on me – that have conferred on me – this Doctorate Honoris Causa – for which I can say again my wholehearted thank you – represents an essential contribution so that the great gift of music, which comes from the tradition of the Christian faith, may remain alive and be of help in order that the creative force of faith is not extinguished also in the future. For this, I thank you all wholeheartedly, not only for the honor that you have bestowed on me, but also for all the work you carry out at the service of the beauty of the faith. May the Lord bless you all.

Benedict XVI receives honorary doctorate

B16 July 4, 2015Earlier today at Castel Gandolfo Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI received honorary degrees from the Pontifical John Paul II University in Krakow and from the Krakow Music Academy.

Vatican Radio ran this story.

“We do not know what will be the future of sacred music, but one thing is clear: wherever the encounter with the Living God, who in Christ comes close to us really occurs, there is born anew and there again grows the answer, the beauty of which arises out of truth itself.”

Benedict XVI, 4 July 2015

Francis and Benedict

Francis and Benedict et al June 30 2015Everyone needs a summer a vacation! Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI went on holiday for 2 weeks at the Papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. The summer residence is a very familiar place for Benedict. Before Benedict left, Pope Francis paid a visit to his predecessor.

Among the notables, are the others who make up Benedict’s household.

Photo courtesy of L’Osservatore Romano: www.photo.va

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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