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from issue no. 12 - 2011

Prayer, miracles, the virginity of Mary, the humanity of Jesus

Benedict XVI in Advent and at Christmas

General Audience
Wednesday 7 December 2011


The little ones


<I>The birth of Jesus</I>, polychromatic wood panel of the church of Saint Martin, Zillis, Switzerland

The birth of Jesus, polychromatic wood panel of the church of Saint Martin, Zillis, Switzerland

Let us now ask ourselves: to whom does the Son want to reveal God’s mysteries? At the beginning of the Hymn Jesus expresses His joy because the Father’s will is to keep these things hidden from the learned and the wise and to reveal them to little ones (cf. Lk 10, 21). Thus in His prayer, Jesus manifests his communion with the Father’s decision to disclose His mysteries to the simple of heart: the Son’s will is one with the Father’s.


Divine revelation is not brought about in accordance with earthly logic, which holds that cultured and powerful people possess important knowledge and pass it on to simpler people, to little ones. God used a quite different approach: those to whom His communication was addressed were, precisely, “babes”. This is the Father’s will, and the Son shares it with Him joyfully.


But what does “being little” and simple mean? What is the “littleness” that opens man to filial intimacy with God so as to receive His will? What must the fundamental attitude of our prayer be? Let us look at “The Sermon on the Mount”, in which Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5, 8). It is purity of heart that permits us to recognize the face of God in Jesus Christ; it is having a simple heart like the heart of a child, free from the presumption of those who withdraw into themselves, thinking they have no need of anyone, not even God.


In Matthew’s Gospel, following the Cry of Exultation, we find one of Jesus’ most heartfelt appeals: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11, 28). Jesus asks us to go to Him, for He is true Wisdom, to Him who is “gentle and lowly in heart”. He offers us “His yoke”, the way of the wisdom of the Gospel which is neither a doctrine to be learned nor an ethical system but rather a Person to follow: He himself, the Only Begotten Son in perfect communion with the Father.


Dear brothers and sisters, we have experienced for a moment the wealth of this prayer of Jesus. With the gift of His Spirit we too can turn to God in prayer with the confidence of children, calling him by the name Father, “Abba”. However, we must have the heart of little ones, of the “poor in spirit” (Mt 5, 3) in order to recognize that we are not self-sufficient, that we are unable to build our lives on our own but need God, that we need to encounter Him, to listen to Him, to speak to Him. Prayer opens us to receiving the gift of God, his wisdom, which is Jesus Himself, in order to do the Father’s will in our lives and thus to find rest in the hardships of our journey.

Many thanks.






Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Thursday 8 December 2011


The Virgin Mary and the Church

The one threat of which the Church can and must be afraid is the sin of her members


In the vision of the Book of Revelation there is a further detail: upon the head of the woman clothed with the sun there is “a crown of twelve stars”. This sign symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel and means that the Virgin Mary is at the centre of the People of God, of the entire communion of saints. And thus this image of the crown of 12 stars ushers us into the second great interpretation of the heavenly portent of the “woman clothed with the sun”: as well as representing Our Lady, this sign personifies the Church, the Christian community of all time. She is with child, in the sense that she is carrying Christ in her womb and must give birth to Him in the world. This is the travail of the pilgrim Church on earth which, amidst the consolations of God and the persecution of the world, must bring Jesus to men and women.


It is for this very reason, because she is carrying Jesus, that the Church comes up against the opposition of a ferocious adversary, represented in the apocalyptic vision by “a great red dragon” (Rev 12, 3). This dragon sought in vain to devour Jesus — the “male child, destined to rule all the nations” (12, 5) — in vain because Jesus, through his death and resurrection, ascended to God and is seated on his throne. Therefore the dragon, defeated once and for all in Heaven, directly attacks the woman — the Church — in the wilderness of the world. However in every epoch the Church is sustained by the light and strength of God Who nourishes her in the desert with the bread of His Word and of the Holy Eucharist. And so it is that in every tribulation, in all the trials she meets over time and in the different parts of the world, the Church suffers persecution but turns out to be victorious. And in this very way the Christian community is her presence, the guarantee of God’s love against all the ideologies of hatred and selfishness.


The one threat of which the Church can and must be afraid is the sin of her members. Whereas Mary is indeed Immaculate, free from any stain of sin, the Church is holy but at the same time she is blemished by our sins.

For this reason, we too, especially on this Feast, do not cease to ask her for help with filial trust: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who turn to you”. Ora pro nobis, intercede pro nobis ad Dominum Iesum Christum!






General Audience
Wednesday 14 December 2011


Prayer and miracles

The Giver is more precious than the gift given; the gift is given ‘as well’


<I>Christ cures a cripple</I>, polychromatic wood panel of the church of Saint Martin, Zillis, Switzerland

Christ cures a cripple, polychromatic wood panel of the church of Saint Martin, Zillis, Switzerland

Today I would like to reflect with you on the prayer of Jesus linked to His miraculous healing action. Various situations are presented in the Gospels in which Jesus prays while He contemplates the beneficial and healing work of God the Father Who acts through Him. This is a form of prayer which, once again, demonstrates His unique relationship of knowledge and communion with the Father, while Jesus lets Himself be involved with deep human participation in the hardships of his friends, for example, those of Lazarus and his family or of the many poor and sick people to whom He seeks to give practical help.


A significant case is the healing of the deaf mute (cf. Mk 7, 32-37). Mark the Evangelist’s account — that we have just heard — shows that Jesus’ healing action is connected with the intense relationship He had both with His neighbour — the sick man — and with the Father.


The central point of this episode however is the fact that when Jesus was about to work the healing, He directly sought His relationship with the Father. Indeed the account relates that “looking up to heaven, he sighed” (v. 34). Jesus’ attention and treatment of the sick man are linked by a profound attitude of prayer addressed to God. Moreover, His sighing is described with a verb which, in the New Testament, indicates the aspiration to something good which is still lacking (cf. Rom 8, 23).


Thus, as a whole, the narrative shows that it was His human involvement with the sick man that prompted Jesus to pray. His unique relationship with the Father and His identity as the Only Begotten Son surface once again. God’s healing and beneficial action become present in Him, through his Person. It is not by chance that the people’s last remark after the miracle has been performed is reminiscent of the evaluation of the Creation at the beginning of the Book of Genesis: “He has done all things well” (Mk 7, 37). Prayer clearly entered the healing action of Jesus as He looked up to heaven. The power that healed the deaf mute was certainly elicited by compassion for him but came from recourse to the Father. These two relationships interact: the human relationship of compassion with the man enters into the relationship with God, and thus becomes healing.


On Jesus’ prayer in the account of the raising of Lazarus the Catechism of the Catholic Church comments:“Jesus’ prayer, characterized by thanksgiving, reveals to us how to ask: before the gift is given, Jesus commits Himself to the One who gives and who in his gifts gives Himself. The Giver is more precious than the gift; He is the ‘treasure’; in Him abides his Son’s heart; the gift is given ‘as well’ (cf. Mt 6, 21 and 33)”. To me this seems very important: before the gift is given, committing ourselves to the One who gives. The Giver is more precious than the gift. For us too, therefore, over and above what God bestows on us when we call on Him, the greatest gift that He can give us is his friendship, His presence and His love. He is the precious treasure to ask for and to preserve forever.


With His prayer Jesus wanted to lead people to faith, to total trust in God and in His will. And He wanted to show that this God Who so loved man and the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son (cf. Jn 3, 16), is the God of Life, the God Who brings hope and can reverse humanly impossible situations.






Sunday 18 December 2011


The virginity of Mary


Mary wanted that the Son to be born of her be totally a gift of grace


In particular I would like to reflect briefly on the importance of Mary’s virginity, namely that she conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin.


Against the background of the event of Nazareth is the prophecy of Isaiah. “Behold, a young virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7, 14). This ancient promise found superabundant fulfilment in the Incarnation of the Son of God. Indeed, not only did the Virgin Mary conceive, but she did so through the work of the Holy Spirit, that is, God Himself. The human being who came to life in her womb took Mary’s flesh, but His existence derived totally from God. He is fully man, made of clay — to use the biblical symbol — but comes from on high, from Heaven. The fact that Mary conceived while remaining a virgin is thus essential to the knowledge of Jesus and to our faith, because it testifies that it was God’s initiative and, above all, it reveals who the conceived being was. As the Gospel says: “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1, 35). In this sense, the virginity of Mary and the divinity of Jesus guarantee each other.


This is what makes that single question so important that Mary, “greatly troubled”, asks the Angel: “How can this be, since I have no husband?” (Lk 1, 34). Mary was very wise in her simplicity. She did not doubt God’s power, but she wanted to better understand His will, in order to conform herself completely to this will. Mary was infinitely overcome by the Mystery, yet she occupied perfectly the place which, in its centre had been assigned to her. Her heart and her mind are fully humble and precisely because of her unique humility, God awaits this young woman’s “yes” in order to carry out his plan. He respects her dignity and her freedom. Mary’s “yes” entailed motherhood and virginity as a whole. She wanted everything in her to glorify God and she wanted the Son, born of her, to be totally a gift of grace.






General Audience
Wednesday 21 December 2011


The manger in Bethlehem


The Child Jesus, detail of the <I>Nativity</I>, Andrea Pisano, pulpit of Siena Cathedral

The Child Jesus, detail of the Nativity, Andrea Pisano, pulpit of Siena Cathedral

When in the liturgical celebrations we hear or proclaim: “today is born our Saviour”, we are not using an empty, conventional expression. Rather, we mean that God is offering to us “today”, now, to me, to each one of us, the possibility of recognizing and welcoming Him, as did the shepherds in Bethlehem, so that He may also be born in our lives and renew, illuminate and transform them by His Grace and by His Presence.


And, St Leo the Great also said in another of his Christmas sermons: “Today the Maker of the world was born of a Virgin’s womb, and He, who made all natures, became Son of her, whom He created. Today the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and that which had never been visible to human eyes began to be tangible to our hands as well. Today the shepherds learned from angels’ voices that the Saviour was born in the substance of our flesh and soul” (Sermo 26, In Nativitate Domini, 6, 1: PL 54, 213).


Christmas and Easter are both feasts of redemption. Easter celebrates it as a victory over sin and death; it marks the final moment when the glory of the Man-God shines out like the light of day. Christmas celebrates it as God’s entry into history, His becoming man in order to restore mankind to God. It marks, so to speak, the initial moment when we see the first gleam of dawn. However just as daybreak precedes and heralds the light of the day, so Christmas already proclaims the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection.


Let us look at the Bethlehem Grotto: God humbled Himself to the point of being laid in a manger, already a prelude to the humbling of Himself in the hour of His passion. The culmination of the love story between God and man passes through the manger in Bethlehem and the tomb in Jerusalem.


Let us experience the Nativity of the Lord contemplating the path of the immense love of God who lifts us up to Him through the Mystery of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of His Son; for, as St Augustine said, “In [Christ] the divinity of the Only Begotten One was made to share in our mortality, that we might share in His immortality” (Epistola 187, 6. 20: PL 33, 839-840).






Holy Mass
Saturday 24 December 2011


The humanity of Jesus

In the child in the stable at Bethlehem, we can, as it were, touch and caress God


The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit”, which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – “there has appeared”. This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of Him in all sorts of different ways. God Himself had spoken in various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1, 1 – reading in the Mass of the day). But now something more has happened: He has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which He dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is He merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of Him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared”.


But now we ask: how has He appeared? Who is He in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3, 4). For the people of pre-Christian times, who before the terrors and contradictions of the world feared that God Himself might not be altogether good either, that He too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.


God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that He pits Himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, You have appeared as a child and You have revealed yourself to us as the One Who loves us, the One through Whom love will triumph. And You have shown us that we must be peacemakers with You. We love Your childish estate, Your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask You: manifest Your power, O God.


Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.).


For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: He had made a place for man in God Himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God.


Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway which was five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s houseon horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bow down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, by which we would like to be touched on this holy night: if we want to find the God Who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bow down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals Himself in the humility of a newborn baby.






Urbi et orbi Message
Sunday 25 December 2011


Come to save us!


God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm


Benedict XVI during the Holy midnight Mass on Christmas 2011 [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI during the Holy midnight Mass on Christmas 2011 [© Osservatore Romano]

The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; he is the Saviour of all.

This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God”. Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us!


Yes, this is the meaning of the Child’s name, the name which, by God’s will, Mary and Joseph gave Him: He is named Jesus, which means “Saviour” (cf. Mt 1, 21; Lk 1, 31). He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the profound evil rooted in man and in history: the evil that is separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take His place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Gen 3, 1-7). This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help, unless we cry out to him: “Veni ad salvandum nos!– Come to save us!”


The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: we are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved (cf. Esth [LXX] 10, 3ff.). God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm. To realize this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance.


Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: “Come to save us!”






Feastday of Saint Stephen protomartyr
Monday 26 December 2011


The secret martyrdom


Those who perform the commandments of the Lord bear witness to Him and faithfully invoke the Lord’s name


Today, the day after the solemn liturgy of the Lord’s Birth, we are celebrating the Feast of St Stephen, a deacon and the Church’s first martyr. The historian Eusebius of Caesarea describes him as the “perfect martyr” (Die Kirchengeschichte v. 2,5: GCS II, I, Lipsia 1903, 430), because in the Acts of the Apostles it is written that “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (6, 8).


After the generation of the Apostles, martyrs acquired an important place in the esteem of the Christian community.


Dear friends, the true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian writers have called the “secret martyrdom”. Concerning this St Clement of Alexandria wrote: “those who perform the commandments of the Lord, in every action ‘testify’, by doing what He wishes, and faithfully naming the Lord’s name” (Stromatum IV, 7, 43, 4: SC 463, Paris 2001, 130). Today too, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel can require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10, 22).



© Copyright 2011 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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