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from issue no. 03 - 2007

God has abbreviated His Word

by Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan

We celebrate the eighty years of life of our beloved Pope Benedict XVI and wish him many more still. May the Lord long conserve his beautiful intelligent and good face, crowned with copious silver hair, his firm and mild, determined and sweet expression, the loving delicacy with which he greets and thanks all, and with which he moves in the audiences, approaches people, especially the sick, and kisses the children (one remembers his homily on the Child Jesus and children on Christmas night last year). May the Lord preserve the agility of his steps in going up and down the altarsteps of the Confession in Saint Peter’s and those of the audience hall.
He has reached eighty years in great vigor of intellect, of feelings (including a fine sense of humor), of movements, even though the load of the bear of Saint Corbinianus has become heavier than before (cf. Memorie autobiografiche [My Life: memories] 1927-1977, Edizioni San Paolo, Milan 1997, pp. 118-121, and greeting in the Marienplatz, Munich, 9 September 2006).
We cannot forget that «simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord» with which he introduced himself on 19 April 2005. It makes one think of the Salesian spirit, that is of the humble and mild Christian humanism of the bishop and the doctor of the Church Saint Francis di Sales. Perhaps Benedict XV was also like this.
The eighty years of Pope Ratzinger can easily be divided into two parts: fifty before becoming bishop (1927-1977), thirty from the episcopal ordination onward (1977-2007).
Thirty years of episcopate: five in Germany as Archbishop of Munich and Freising (1977-1982), twenty-five in Rome-Vatican, twenty-three of which (1982-2005) with the assignment of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and two as universal pastor. For twenty-eight years (1977-2005) he has also been cardinal, five in Munich, twenty-three in Rome.
In his eightieth year of age, that he now completes in order to begin the eighty-first, Benedict XVI has made a good four apostolic journeys, and all of great significance and success: to Poland (25-28 May 2006), to Valencia (8-9 July 2006), to Bavaria (9-14 September 2006) and to Turkey (28 November -1 December 2006).
That in Bavaria was also in a certain sense his celebration of the eightieth year of life itself with special reference to the period before his coming to Rome in 1982: a moving and edifying celebration to live again in places and with persons known and dear, as well as in the memory of others absent or dead, among them his parents Joseph and Maria and his sister Maria, at whose tomb he went to pray with his brother Monsignor Georg; to live again the various ages and many things and events of the past themselves, from infancy to the industrious and fruitful maturity as priest, teacher, writer, bishop – a celebration that only he could make. In the light of his recent journey to Bavaria it is interesting to reread the above-mentioned autobiographical memories of his first fifty years of life.
Last September in his native land he expressed himself thus: « [...] places that have had a fundamental importance in my life [... ] many memories of the years passed in Munich and in Regensburg: memories of persons and events that have left a deep trace in me [... ] those who have contributed to form my personality in the decades of my life [... ] the stages of my path, from Marktl and Tittmoning to Aschau, Traunstein, Regensburg, and Munich» (speech on arrival in Munich); and he was also in Altötting and Freising. «Places familiar to me, that have had a determining influence on my life, forming my thought and my feelings: the places in which I learned to believe and to live [... ] all those people – living and dead – who guided and accompanied me» (homily in Munich). «I was moved when I heard how many people [... ] collaborated in order to embellish also my small house and my garden» (homily in Regensburg). «It is for me a moving moment to once again find myself in the University and once again to be able to give a lecture» (speech to the University of Regensburg). «In this most beautiful public square, at the feet of the Mariensaule: a place that already twice before has been witness to decisive developments in my life [beginning of the episcopal ministry in 1977 and farewell in order to come to Rome in 1982]» (greeting in Marienplatz, Munich). Memories of his priestly ordination received in the Cathedral of Freising and of the ordinations of priests and deacons celebrated by him in the same Cathedral (speech in the Cathedral of Freising). «They have been intense days, and in memory I have been able to live again many events of the past that have marked my existence» (farewell speech at the airport of Munich). Benedict XVI returned to all of this with a precise and touching synthesis at the general audience of 20 September in Saint Peter’s Square. He then dedicated the 2006 Christmas speech to the Roman Curia (22 December) to the four pastoral journeys, and then said: «We continue mentally towards Bavaria-Munich, Altötting, Regensburg, Freising. There I was able to live unforgettably beautiful days of the meeting with the faith and the faithful of my native land. The great topic of my travel in Germany was God». He then extended into a deepening of this subject and the two topics connected to it, priesthood and dialogue.
The Pope in Cracow greets the faithful in Blonie Park, 28 May 2006

The Pope in Cracow greets the faithful in Blonie Park, 28 May 2006

Of the life of our Holy Father, all a great service to the Church, the twenty-three years in which he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, principal collaborator in the Magisterium of the unforgettable servant of God Pope John Paul II, are particularly precious. Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect from the fifty-fifth to the seventy-eighth year of age. A long period of increasing renown and prestige. He held conferences in several parts of the world and above all continued to publish books and articles, always very widely read and appreciated.
I would want however to indicate above all numerous official documents that issued from him as Prefect of the mentioned Department. A splendid volume that collects Documenta inde a Concilio Vaticano Secundo expleto edita (1966-2005) has just been published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Noticing that the greater part of these documents (from n. 46 to n. 105, pp. 195-629) bear the signature of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary, writes (p. 12): «In them his superior theological quality strongly rooted in the great Tradition of the Church and, at the same time, open to careful listening to the cultural novum, regarded with sympathy and, when required, with healthy critical spirit, is present. It is to him, become by the grace of God Pope Benedict XVI, that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith offers this collection as a sign of immense gratitude».
Two characteristics of great importance, essential to his personality and life, have been and are the complete dedication to the passionate service of truth and love. The substance of the Christian life.
In the cited autobiographical memories of the first fifty years we read: «As episcopal motto [in 1977] I chose two words from the third epistle of Saint John: “Collaborators with truth”, first of all because it seemed to me that they could well represent the continuity between my previous work and the new assignment: even with all the differences it still had and has to do with the same thing, to follow the truth, place oneself at its service. And from the moment that in the world today the topic “truth” has almost disappeared, because it appears too big for man, and however everything collapses if there is not truth, this episcopal motto seemed to me the most online with our time, the most modern, in the good sense of the term». He continued to use this motto also when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1982 to 2005.
It can immediately be observed that in the mentioned short third epistle of Saint John, if there is an emphasizing of truth, mention of love is not lacking. In the writings of the Apostle John there is an intertwining of truth and love.
On the other hand, reason, rationality, intelligence are intimately connected with truth; logos with a small ‘l’ and Logos with a capital ‘L’, the Creator Logos; as well as the topic faith and reason, religion and reason. And in this regard we have the lecture given by the Holy Father at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006, what he himself said about it then at the general audience of 20 September 2006, and his speech to the fourth National Convention of the Church in Italy, in Verona, 19 October 2006.
If the truth stands out in the motto at the beginning of his episcopal ministry-Magisterium, love dominates in the first encyclical of his supreme pontificate. His inspiration is again Johannine: «God is love» (1Jn 4, 8). So, that encyclical we find again cited in the two speeches of Regensburg and Verona mentioned above: and that inevitably, given the strict relationship that exists between truth and love. One notices this reflection in the lecture in Regensburg: « [...] the truly divine God is that God Who has shown Himself as logos and as logos has acted and acts full of love in our favor. Certainly, love, as Paul says, “surpasses” knowledge and because of this is able to perceive more than simple thought (cf. Eph 3, 19), however it remains the love of the God-Logos, for which the Christian cult is, as Paul further says, loghikè latreía, a cult that agrees with the eternal Word and our reason (cf. Rm 12, 1)».
Benedict XVI signs the Encyclical Deus caritas est, of 25 December 2005

Benedict XVI signs the Encyclical Deus caritas est, of 25 December 2005

Another text of Pope Benedict XVI, from the homily of Christmas night 2006: « [...] “God has abbreviated His Word». The Word that God communicates to us in the books of Sacred Scripture had, in the course of time, become long. Long and complicated [...] Jesus “ has abbreviated” the Word – He has made us see again its deeper simplicity and unity. All that the Law and the prophets teach us is summarized – it says – in the word: “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind [... ] You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22, 37-40). This is everything – the entire faith is resolved in this unique action of love that embraces God and men». It is what one reads of Saint Augustine in the Liturgy of the Hours of Christmas time (3 January): «Venit ipse Dominus, caritatis doctor, caritate plenus, brevians, sicut de illo praedictum est, verbum super terram, et ostendit in duobus praeceptis caritatis pendere legem et prophetas». In the homily in the Cathedral of Regensburg, 12 September 2006, the Holy Father said: «Agápe, love, is truly the synthesis of the Law and the Prophets. In it everything is “enveloped”; an everything, however, that must always be “developed” daily again».
The above reported words of the Pope so to speak make therefore all a oneness of Truth-Word-Logos and Love. The Verbum, the Word, the Truth, regard mainly Love: God is love, and the synthesis of the Law and the Prophets is to love God and to love one’s neighbor.
Truth and charity are fundamental questions for all the life and work of the Church: its mission in civil society (the fields of politics, of economics, work, thought, science, technique, etc), the promotion of the unity of Christians, the dialogue with other religions and cultures, etc. In the wonderful homily of the Epiphany 2007 the Pope spoke to us about the political, scientific, religious dimensions, constituent of modern humanism, and hoped that governors, the men of science and thought, and the spiritual guides of the great non-Christian religions should be the Magi of today.
In the aforesaid challenges Benedict XVI has a supreme responsibility, and he undertakes it in an admirable way, with much science and much wisdom, at times “in a surprizing way” as has also been said, and “with true mastery of word and gestures”. For his indefatigable great service to truth and love, all our appreciation goes to the Pope theologian Benedict XVI. At same time, our indications about his teaching, those above, help to make us grow in that “support and affection” towards his person for which very humanly he often expresses his “thanks”, with modest simplicity equal to his spiritual greatness. His increased load of the bear of Saint Corbinianus makes him feel closer to God.

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