Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict asks: does man need Christ & the message of salvation?

Pope Benedict XVI spoke to members of the Pontifical seminary communities of Las Marcas, Puglia and Abruzzo-Molise, while attending the centenary celebrations of their foundation on Saturday, 29 November 2008. While this is an address to bishops, priests and seminarians, it is worthy of us to reflect on and to seriously follow what is said by the Pope. The relevant excerpts follow with my emphasis given in the text:



Pope.jpgI would now like to address you in particular, dear seminarians, who are preparing to be laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. As the recent assembly of the Synod of Bishops also recalled, among the priority tasks of the priest is that of spreading with full hands the Word of God in the world, which, like the seed in the Gospel parable, seems too small a reality, but once it has germinated, it becomes a great bush and bears abundant fruit (cf. Matthew 13:31-32). The Word of God that you will be called upon to spread with full hands and which brings with it eternal life, is Christ himself, the only one who can change the human heart and renew the world. However, we might ask ourselves: Does modern man still feel a need for Christ and his message of salvation?


In the present social context, a certain culture seems to show us the face of a self-sufficient humanity, anxious to carry out its projects on its own, which chooses to be the sole architect of its destiny and which, consequently, believes that the presence of God does not count and so excludes it from its choices and decisions.

In a climate marked by a rationalism shut-in on itself, which considers the practical sciences as the only model of knowledge while the rest is subjective, non-essential and determinant for life. For these and other reasons, today, without a doubt, it is increasingly more difficult to believe, more difficult to accept the truth that is Christ, more difficult to spend one’s life for the cause of the Gospel. However, as we see every day in the news, modern man often seems to be disoriented and worried about his future, seeking certainties and sure points of reference. As in all ages, man of the third millennium needs God and seeks him perhaps without realizing it. The duty of Christians, especially of priests, is to respond to this profound yearning of the human heart and to offer all, with the means and ways that best respond to the demands of the times, the immutable and always living Word of eternal life that is Christ, Hope of the world.


In face of this important mission, which you will be called to carry out in the Church, the years spent in the seminary take on great value, a time allocated to formation and discernment; years in which, in the first place, must be the constant search for a personal relationship with Jesus, a profound experience of his love, which is acquired above all through prayer and contact with the Sacred Scriptures, interpreted and meditated in the faith of the ecclesial community.

St Paul Giotto.jpgIn this Pauline Year, why not propose the Apostle Paul to yourselves as model in which to be inspired for your preparation to the apostolic ministry? The extraordinary experience on the road to Damascus transformed him, from persecutor of Christians to witness of the resurrection of the Lord, willing to give his life for the Gospel. He was a faithful observer of all the prescriptions of the Torah and of the Hebrew traditions; however, after having found Jesus “whatever gain I had — he writes in the Letter to the Philippians — I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (cf. 3:7-9). Conversion did not eliminate all that was good and true in his life, but enabled him to interpret in a new way the wisdom and truth of the Law and the prophets and thus be able to dialogue with all, following the example of the Divine Teacher.


In imitation of St. Paul, dear seminarians, do not tire of encountering Christ in listening to, reading and studying sacred Scripture, in prayer and personal meditation, in the liturgy and in every daily activity. In this connection, dear ones responsible for formation, your role is very important, as you are called to be witnesses for your students even before being teachers of evangelical life. Because of their typical characteristics, the Regional Seminaries can be privileged places to form seminarians in diocesan spirituality, inscribing this formation in the largest ecclesial and regional context with wisdom and balance. Your institutions should also be vocational “houses” of welcome to give greater impetus to vocational pastoral care, taking care especially of the world of youth and educating young people in the great evangelical and missionary ideals.

The Pope’s Prayer Intention for December 2008

How do we begin to prayer? We start by saying “O God come to my assistance. O Lord,
Pope Benedict at Advent Vespers 2008.jpgmake haste to help me.


What is the goal of our life of prayer? Saint Augustine says: “Desire without ceasing the happy life, which is none other but eternal life.”


The General Intention
That, faced by the growing expansion of the culture of violence and death, the Church may courageously promote the culture of life through all her apostolic and missionary activities.

The Missionary Intention
That, especially in mission countries, Christians may show by gestures of brotherliness that the Child born in the grotto in Bethlehem is the luminous Hope of the world.


Christian ethics is born in friendship with Christ

Ben 16.jpgIn last Wednesday’s catechesis [11/19], I spoke of the question of how man is justified before God. Following St. Paul, we have seen that man is not capable of making himself “just” with his own actions, but rather that he can truly become “just” before God only because God confers on him his “justice,” uniting him to Christ, his Son. And man obtains this union with Christ through faith.

In this sense, St. Paul tells us: It is not our works, but our faith that makes us “just.” This faith, nevertheless, is not a thought, opinion or idea. This faith is communion with Christ, which the Lord entrusts to us and that because of this, becomes life in conformity with him. Or in other words, faith, if it is true and real, becomes love, charity — is expressed in charity. Faith without charity, without this fruit, would not be true faith. It would be a dead faith.

We have therefore discovered two levels in the last catechesis: that of the insufficiency of our works for achieving salvation, and that of “justification” through faith that produces the fruit of the Spirit. The confusion between these two levels down through the centuries has caused not a few misunderstandings in Christianity.

In this context it is important that St. Paul, in the Letter to the Galatians, puts emphasis on one hand, and in a radical way, on the gratuitousness of justification not by our efforts, and, at the same time, he emphasizes as well the relationship between faith and charity, between faith and works. “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Consequently, there are on one hand the “works of the flesh,” which are fornication, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, etc. (Galatians 5:19-21), all of which are contrary to the faith. On the other hand is the action of the Holy Spirit, which nourishes Christian life stirring up “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22): These are the fruits of the Spirit that arise from faith.

St Paul rembrandt.jpgAt the beginning of this list of virtues is cited ágape, love, and at the end, self-control. In reality, the Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and the Son, infuses his first gift, ágape, into our hearts (cf. Romans 5:5); and ágape, love, to be fully expressed, demands self-control. Regarding the love of the Father and the Son, which comes to us and profoundly transforms our existence, I dedicated my first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Believers know that in mutual love the love of God and of Christ is incarnated by means of the Spirit.

Let us return to the Letter of the Galatians. Here, St. Paul says that believers complete the command of love by bearing each other’s burdens (cf. Galatians 6:2). Justified by the gift of faith in Christ, we are called to live in the love of Christ toward others, because it is by this criterion that we will be judged at the end of our existence. In reality, Paul does nothing more than repeat what Jesus himself had said, and which we recalled in the Gospel of last Sunday, in the parable of the Final Judgment.

In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul becomes expansive with his famous praise of love. It is the so-called hymn to charity: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. … Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests …” (1 Corinthians 13:1,4-5).

Christian love is so demanding because it springs from the total love of Christ for us: this love that demands from us, welcomes us, embraces us, sustains us, even torments us, because it obliges us to live no longer for ourselves, closed in on our egotism, but for “him who has died and risen for us” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15). The love of Christ makes us be in him this new creature (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17), who enters to form part of his mystical body that is the Church.

Holy Spirit.jpgFrom this perspective, the centrality of justification without works, primary object of Paul’s preaching, is not in contradiction with the faith that operates in love. On the contrary, it demands that our very faith is expressed in a life according to the Spirit. Often, an unfounded contraposition has been seen between the theology of Paul and James, who says in his letter: “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (2:26).

In reality, while Paul concerns himself above all with demonstrating that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient, James highlights the consequent relationship between faith and works (cf. James 2:2-4). Therefore, for Paul and for James, faith operative in love witnesses to the gratuitous gift of justification in Christ. Salvation, received in Christ, needs to be protected and witnessed “with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning … as you hold on to the word of life,” even St. Paul would say to the Christians of Philippi (cf. Philippians 2:12-14,16).

Often we tend to fall into the same misunderstandings that have characterized the community of Corinth: Those Christians thought that, having been gratuitously justified in Christ by faith, “everything was licit.” And they thought, and often it seems that the Christians of today think, that it is licit to create divisions in the Church, the body of Christ, to celebrate the Eucharist without concerning oneself with the brothers who are most needy, to aspire to the best charisms without realizing that they are members of each other, etc.

The consequences of a faith that is not incarnated in love are disastrous, because it is reduced to a most dangerous abuse and subjectivism for us and for our brothers. On the contrary, following St. Paul, we should renew our awareness of the fact that, precisely because we have been justified in Christ, we don’t belong to ourselves, but have been made into the temple of the Spirit and are called, therefore, to glorify God in our bodies and with the whole of our existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). It would be to scorn the inestimable value of justification if, having been bought at the high price of the blood of Christ, we didn’t glorify him with our body. In reality, this is precisely our “reasonable” and at the same time “spiritual” worship, for which Paul exhorts us to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).

To what would be reduced a liturgy directed only to the Lord but that doesn’t become, at the same time, service of the brethren, a faith that is not expressed in charity? And the Apostle often puts his communities before the Final Judgment, on which occasion “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10; and cf. Romans 2:16).

Emmaus Duccio.jpgIf the ethics that St. Paul proposes to believers does not lapse into forms of moralism, and if it shows itself to be current for us, it is because, each time, it always recommences from the personal and communitarian relationship with Christ, to verify itself in life according to the Spirit. This is essential: Christian ethics is not born from a system of commandments, but rather is the consequence of our friendship with Christ. This friendship influences life: If it is true, it incarnates and fulfills itself in love for neighbor. Hence, any ethical decline is not limited to the individual sphere, but at the same time, devalues personal and communitarian faith: From this it is derived and on this, it has a determinant effect.

Let us, therefore, be overtaken by the reconciliation that God has given us in Christ, by God’s “crazy” love for us: No one and nothing could ever separate us from his love (cf. Romans 8:39). With this certainty we live. And this certainty gives us the strength to live concretely the faith that works in love.


Benedictus XVI

Pontiff of the Roman Church

26 November 2008

Pope Benedict on Religion and Politics: the influence of Communion & Liberation

November 26, 2008
Michael Sean Winters

America Magazine

Pope Benedict XVI greeted a group of pilgrims this past weekend with a short discourse on the Feast of Christ the King that has an obvious application to the political circumstance of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States in the wake of President-elect Obama’s decisive win among Catholic voters.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope told the pilgrims, “this is what interests God. The kingship of history is of no importance to him — he wants to reign in people’s hearts, and from these, in the world: He is the king of the entire universe, but the crucial point, the place where his reign is at risk, is our heart, for there God finds himself encountering our freedom.” Reign in the heart, then in the world. That is the proper order for political influence by the Christian Churches.

Unfortunately, political power inevitably invites that deadliest of the seven deadly sins, pride, and it is always tempting for those of us whose involvement in politics grows out of our religious motivations to conflate the two, to think that politics is about the Kingdom not the kingdom, to collapse our eschatons into our exit polls. And, this happens on both left and right.

But, Benedict is right. The primary means by which the Church should influence the realm of politics is by converting hearts and generating culture. This insight was the principal reason Don Luigi Guissani founded his movement, Communione e Liberazione and distanced himself from the Christian Democratic Party of his day. And, the Holy Father’s reliance on the insights of Don Guissani is well known.

So, as we Americans prepare to celebrate the quintessential American holiday, so soon after a tumultuous election, let us all remember that the kingship of history is less important than breaking bread with our friends. And, for those of us who are Catholic Americans, let us commit ourselves anew to the wonderful adventurous drama of the human heart where, as Pope Benedict said, “God finds himself encountering our freedom.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! back on Monday with more analysis of the transition.

Faith and works in the process of our justification

In today’s general audience, the Pope said:

St Paul Giotto2.JPGIn our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now consider his teaching on faith and works in the process of our justification. Paul insists that we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by any merit of our own. Yet he also emphasizes the relationship between faith and those works which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action within us. The first gift of the Spirit is love, the love of the Father and the Son poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). Our sharing in the love of Christ leads us to live no longer for ourselves, but for him (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-15); it makes us a new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) and members of his Body, the Church. Faith thus works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). Consequently, there is no contradiction between what Saint Paul teaches and what Saint James teaches regarding the relationship between justifying faith and the fruit which it bears in good works. Rather, there is a different emphasis. Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, we are called to glorify him in our bodies (cf. 1 Cor 6:20), offering ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. Justified by the gift of faith in Christ, we are called, as individuals and as a community, to treasure that gift and to let it bear rich fruit in the Spirit.


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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