Catechesis with Benedict XVI
During his papacy, Papa Benedetto taught, guided and encouraged the universal Church with his beautiful, both simple and profound, weekly catecheses (given at the Wednesday General Audiences). This podcast is in deep gratitude to Joseph Ratzinger for being such a Holy Father to us all.
Many thanks to Fr Rob Galea and Ooberfuse for the gift of their music.
Catecheses on the Saints - To the Ends of the Earth by Fr Rob Galea - ℗ 2011 Robert Galea - used with permission.
Catecheses in the Year of Faith - Credo by Ooberfuse
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More on the Year of Faith here. To read the full text of each catechesis, click on the blue titles.
BXVI: "Last Wednesday we reflected on the desire for God that the human being carries within the depths of himself. Today I would like to continue and deepen this aspect by briefly meditating with you upon some ways of arriving at the knowledge of God. I would like to remember, however, that the initiative of God always precedes every initiative of man and it is He first who illuminates us, orientates us and guides us also on the pathway towards Him, always respecting our freedom. And it is always He Himself who makes us enter into his intimacy, revealing to us and giving us the grace to be able to welcome this revelation in faith. Let us never forget the experience of St Augustine: it is not us who possess the Truth after having sought it, but it is the Truth that seeks us out and possesses us.
However, there are ways that can open up man's heart to the knowledge of God, there are signs that lead to God. Of course, we often risk being dazzled by the glitters of worldliness, which makes us less capable of walking such ways or of reading such/these signs. God, however, never tires of looking for us, He is faithful to man whom He has created and redeemed, He remains close to our lives, because He loves us. This is a certainty that must accompany us every day, even if a certain widespread mentality makes it more difficult for the Church and for the Christian to communicate the joy of the Gospel to every creature and to lead all to an encounter with Jesus, the only Saviour of the world. This, however, is our mission, it is the mission of the Church and every believer must live it joyfully, feeling it as their own, through an existence truly animated by faith, marked by charity, by service to God and to others, and capable of radiating hope. This mission shines above all in the holiness to which we are all called. .."
BXVI: "In Francis love for Christ expressed itself in a special way in adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Moving expressions can be read in the Franciscan Sources, such as: "Let all of humanity fear, the entire universe tremble and the heavens exult, when on the altar, in the hands of the priest, there is Christ, the Son of the living God. Oh stupendous favour! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the modest form of bread" ...
From the love for Christ is born love towards persons and also towards all God's creatures. Here is another characteristic trait of Francis' spirituality: the sense of universal brotherhood and love for created matter, which inspired his famous Canticle of creatures. It is a very timely message. As I recalled in my recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate, only a development that respects creation and does not damage the environment is sustainable (cf n 48-52) and in the Message for the World Day of Peace this year I underlined that the construction of a solid peace is also linked to respect for created matter. Francis reminds us that in creation is unfolded the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. Nature is for him understood precisely as a language in which God speaks with us, in which reality becomes transparent and we can speak of God and with God.
Dear friends, Francis was a great saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love for Christ, his goodness towards every man and every woman made him happy in every situation. Indeed, there subsists an intimate and indissoluble relationship between holiness and joy. A French writer said that in the world there is only one sadness: that of not being saints, that is, of not being close to God. Looking at the witness of St Francis, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!"
BXVI: "On the basis of these simple findings that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of reflections. The first is that Jesus welcomed into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was considered a public sinner. Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the people of God, but he also collaborated with a foreign and odiously greedy authority, whose tributes moreover could be determined arbitrarily. For these reasons, the Gospels more than once speak jointly of "tax collectors and sinners" (Mt 9, 10; Lk 15, 1), of "tax collectors and prostitutes" (Mt 21, 31). Furthermore, they see tax collectors as an example of meanness (cf Mt 5, 46: they love only those who love them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as "a leader of tax collectors and a rich man" (Lk 19, 2), while popular opinion associated them with "extortioners, the unjust, adulterers" (Lk 18, 11). Based on these references, a first fact catches the eye: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Rather, precisely while he is at table in Matthew-Levi's house, in response to those who expressed scandal at the fact that he associated with such disreputable company, Jesus pronounced the important statement: "It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mk 2, 17).
The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: in the offering of God's grace to the sinner! Elsewhere, with the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus even indicates an anonymous tax collector as an valuable example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the "tax collector... did not even dare to lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "O God, have mercy on me a sinner!'" And Jesus comments: "I tell you: this man returned home justified, unlike the other man, because the one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 18, 13-14). In the figure of Matthew, therefore, the Gospels propose to us a true and proper paradox: the one who is apparently farthest from holiness can even become a model of welcome of God's mercy and leave a glimpse of its wonderful effects in their own existence."
BXVI: "When Dominic died in 1221 in Bologna, the city that declared him its Patron, his work had already had great success. With the support of the Holy See, the Order of Preachers had spread to many countries in Europe for the benefit of the entire Church. Dominic was canonized in 1234 and it is he himself who, with his holiness, indicates to us two indispensable means for making apostolic action incisive. First of all, Marian devotion, which he cultivated with tenderness and left as a precious legacy to his spiritual children, who in the history of the Church have had the great merit of spreading the prayer of the Holy Rosary, so dear to the Christian people and so rich in Gospel values, a true school of faith and piety. In the second place, Dominic, who took care of several women's convents in France and in Rome, believed through and through in the value of intercessory prayer for the success of apostolic work. Only in Heaven will we understand how much the prayers of cloistered religious efficaciously accompanies apostolic action! To each of them I direct my grateful and affectionate thoughts.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the life of Dominic de Guzmán spur us all to be fervent in prayer, courageous in living the faith and deeply in love with Jesus Christ. Through his intercession, let us ask God to enrich the Church always with authentic preachers of the Gospel."
BXVI: "Dear friends, we too, with St Therese of the Child Jesus, must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love in an authentic and total way. Therese is one of the Gospel's “little ones" who let themselves be led by God into the depths of his Mystery. A guide for everyone, above all for those who, in the People of God, carry out the ministry of theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Therese entered continually into the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this reading of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not opposed to academic science. The science of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks in the last page of The Story of a Soul, is the highest science. “All the saints have understood and in a more particular way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that the saints Paul, Augustine, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic and so many other illustrious Friends of God have drawn this divine science that fascinates the greatest geniuses?” Inseparable from the Gospel, the Eucharist is for Therese the Sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to extremes so as to raise us to Him. In her last Letter, on a picture that showed the Child Jesus in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who, for me, made himself so little! […] I love Him! In fact, He is nothing but Love and Mercy!”
In the Gospel, Therese discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point of affirming: “To me He has given his infinite Mercy, through it I contemplate and adore his other divine perfections! (..) Thus all appear to me radiant with Love, Justice itself (even more perhaps than the rest) seems to me clothed with Love”. She also expresses herself thus in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “As soon as I look at the Holy Gospel, at once I breathe the fragrances of the life of Jesus and I know which way to run .. It is not to the first place that I rush, but to the last …. Yes I feel, even if I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, with my heart broken with repentance, to throw myself into the arms of Jesus, because I know how much he loves the prodigal son who returns to Him" “Trust and Love” are thus the final point of the tale of her life, two words that like beacons illuminated her whole pathway of holiness, so as to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood. Trust like that of a child who abandons himself into the hands of God, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of oneself/self, for ever, as the Saint said contemplating Mary: “To love is to give all, and to give oneself” (Because I love you, O Mary, P 54/22). Thus Therese indicates to us all that Christian life consists in fully living the grace of Baptism in the total gift of oneself to the Love of the Father, so as to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, His same love for everyone else. Thank you."
BXVI: "The pathway of reflection that we are making together in this Year of Faith leads us to meditate today on a fascinating aspect of human and Christian experience: man bears within himself a mysterious desire for God. In a very significant way, the Catechism of the Catholic Church opens precisely with this consideration: "The desire for God is written in the heart of man, because man is created by God and for God; and God does not cease to attract man towards Himself, and it is only in God that will man find the truth and happiness that he never ceases to seek" (n 27).
Such an affirmation, which still today in many cultural contexts appears totally easy to share, almost obvious, may instead seem a provocation in secularized Western culture. Many of our contemporaries could in fact object that they do not feel any such a desire for God. For large sectors of society, He is no longer the awaited one, the desired one, but rather a reality that leaves them indifferent, in front of whom one does not even need to make the effort to comment. In reality, what we have defined as "desire for God" has not entirely disappeared and presents itself still today, in many ways, in the heart of man. Human desire tends always to determined concrete goods, often far from spiritual, and nevertheless finds itself facing the question about what is truly "the" good, and thus is confronted with something that is other than itself, that man cannot construct, but is called to recognize. What can truly satisfy the desire of man?" (7.10.12)
BXVI: "Returning to the scene of the vocation, the Evangelist tells us that, when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching him, he exclaims: "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!" (Jn 1, 47). This is a eulogy that recalls the text of a Psalm: "Blessed is the man... in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Ps 32, 2), but provokes the curiosity of Nathanael who replies in amazement: "How do you know me?" (Jn 1, 48). Jesus' response is not immediately comprehensible. He says: "Before Philip called you, I saw you when you were under the fig tree" (Jn 1, 48). We do not know what had happened under this fig tree. It is evident that this was a decisive moment in Nathanael's life. He feels touched in his heart by Jesus' words, he feels understood and he understands: this man knows everything about me, He knows and understands the road of life, this man I can really trust. And so he answers with a clear and beautiful confession of faith, saying: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel" (Jn 1, 49). In this is delivered a first, important step on the journey of attachment to Jesus. Nathanael's words shed light on a twofold, complementary aspect of Jesus' identity: He is recognized both in his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the Only-begotten Son, and in his relationship with the people of Israel, of whom he is the declared King, precisely the description of the awaited Messiah. We must never lose sight of either one or other of these two components, because if we only proclaim Jesus' heavenly dimension we risk making him an ethereal and evanescent being, and if, on the contrary, we recognize only his concrete location in history, we end up by neglecting the divine dimension that properly qualifies him."
BXVI: "According to tradition, John is the "beloved disciple", who in the Fourth Gospel lays his head on the Master's breast during the Last Supper (cf Jn 13, 21), stands at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother of Jesus (cf Jn 19, 25) and lastly is witness both of the empty tomb and of the very presence of the Risen One (cf Jn 20, 2; 21, 7). We know that this identification is disputed by scholars today, some of whom view him merely as the prototype of a disciple of Jesus. Leaving the exegetes to settle the matter, let us be content here to gather an important lesson for our lives: the Lord desires to make each one of us a disciple who lives a personal friendship with Him. To realise this, it is not enough to follow him and to listen to him exteriorly: it is also necessary to live with Him and like Him. This is possible only in the context of a rapport of great familiarity, imbued with the warmth of total trust. This is what happens between friends; this is why Jesus said one day: "No one has a greater love than this: to give his life for his friends.... I no longer call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn 15, 13. 15).
In the apocryphal Acts of John, the Apostle is presented not as the founder of Churches nor as the guide of already established communities, but in continual journeying as the communicator of faith in the encounter with "souls capable of hoping and of being saved" (18, 10; 23, 8). Everything is motivated by the paradoxical intention of making the invisible seen. And indeed he is called simply "the Theologian" by the Eastern Church, that is, the one who is able to speak of divine things in accessible terms, by revealing an arcane access to God through adherence to Jesus."
BXVI: "Peter thus learnt what it means to truly follow Jesus. It is his second call, analogous to the call of Abraham in Genesis 22, after that of Genesis 12: "If any man wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. Because whoever wants to save his life, will lose it; but whoever loses his own life for my sake and that of the Gospel, will save it" (Mk 8, 34-35). It is the demanding law of following Christ: the need to know how to renounce, if necessary, the whole world so as to save true values, to save one's soul, to save the presence of God in the world (cf Mk 8, 36-37). Even if with difficulty, Peter welcomes the invitation and continues his pathway in the footsteps of the Master.
And it seems to me that these different conversions of St Peter and his whole figure are a great consolation and a great lesson for us. We too have a desire for God, we too want to be generous, but we too expect God to be strong in the world and to immediately transform the world according to our ideas, according to the needs that we see. God chooses a different road. God chooses the way of transformation of hearts in suffering and in humility. And we, like Peter, must always convert anew. We must follow Jesus and not precede him: it is He who shows us the way. Thus Peter tells us: You think you have the recipe and must transform Christianity, but it is the Lord who knows the road. It is the Lord who says to me, who says to you: follow me! And we must have the courage and humility to follow Jesus, because He is the Way, the Truth and the Life."
BXVI: "Then there is the well-known and proverbial scene of the doubting Thomas, that occurred eight days after Easter. Initially, he had not believed that Jesus had appeared in his absence, and had said: "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe" (Jn 20, 25). At base, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus is henceforth recognized not so much by his face as by his wounds. Thomas considers that the marks that confirm Jesus' identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to what end He has loved us. In this the Apostle is not mistaken. As we know, eight days later Jesus reappeared among his disciples, and this time Thomas was present. And Jesus summons him: "Put your finger here and see my hands; stretch out your hand and place it in my side; and no longer be incredulous, but believe" (Jn 20, 27). Thomas reacts with the most splendid profession of faith in the whole of the New Testament: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20, 28). In this regard, St Augustine comments: Thomas "saw and touched the man, but confessed his faith in God, whom he neither saw nor touched. But what he saw and touched led him to believe in what until then he had doubted". The Evangelist continues with Jesus' last words to Thomas: "Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn 20, 29). This phrase can also be put in the present tense: "Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe". In any case, Jesus here enunciates a fundamental principle for Christians who will come after Thomas, thus for all of us. It is interesting to note how another Thomas, the great Medieval theologian of Aquinas, juxtaposed this formula of blessedness with the apparently opposite one recorded by Luke: "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!" (Lk 10, 23). But, Aquinas comments: "Those who believe without seeing are much more deserving than those who believe by seeing". In fact, the Letter to the Hebrews, recalling the whole series of the ancient biblical Patriarchs, who believed in God without seeing the fulfilment of his promises, defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11, 1). The case of the Apostle Thomas is important for us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts us in our insecurities; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and, lastly, because the words addressed to him by Jesus remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to carry on, despite the difficulties, along our pathway of adherence to Him."
BXVI: "We can thus learn many things from Saint James: promptness in welcoming the Lord's call even when he asks us to leave the "boat" of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the roads that He indicates to us beyond any of our illusory presumption, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary, all the way to the supreme sacrifice of life. Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He who initially, through his mother, had requested to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion, to share martyrdom with the Apostles.
And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the pathway, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the whole pilgrimage of Christian life, amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. By following Jesus like St James, we know, even in difficulties, that we are going on the right road."
BXVI: "Benedict describes the Rule as "minimal, tracing only an initial outline" (73, 8); in reality, however, it offers useful directions not only to monks, but also to all those who seek guidance on their pathway to God. For its measure, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, it has been able to maintain its illuminating force all the way up to the present time. Paul VI, by proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, intended to recognize the marvellous work accomplished by the Saint through his Rule for the formation of European civilization and culture. Today Europe - having just exited a century deeply wounded by two World Wars and then the collapse of the great ideologies that were revealed as tragic utopias - is in search of its own identity. In order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are certainly important, but an ethical and spiritual renewal must also be awakened which draws upon the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise Europe cannot be rebuilt. Without this vital sap, man remains exposed to the danger of succumbing to the age-old temptation of wanting to redeem himself by himself - a utopia which, in different ways, in 20th century Europe has caused, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, "a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity". In seeking true progress, let us too listen today to the Rule of St Benedict as a light on our pathway. The great monk remains a true master at whose school we can learn the art of living true humanism."
BXVI: ".. In this time of Lent, in the Year of faith, we renew our commitment on the pathway of conversion, so as to overcome the tendency to close in on ourselves and to make, instead, space for God, looking with his eyes at daily reality. The alternative between the closing in of our egoism and the opening to the love of God and others, we could say corresponds to the alternatives of the temptations of Jesus: the alternative, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption viewed solely on material well-being and a redemption as the work of God, to whom we give the primacy in existence. Conversion means not closing in on oneself in the search for one's own success, one's own prestige, one's own position, but making sure that every day, in the little things, truth, faith in God and love become the most important thing." (13.02.13)
BXVI: ".. So let us return to the question with which we begun, the one about the origin of Jesus, synthesized by Pilate’s question: “Where are you from?” From our reflections it appears clear, right from the beginning of the Gospels, what the true origin of Jesus is: He is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, He comes from God. We are before the great and disconcerting mystery which we celebrate in this time of Christmas: the Son of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is an announcement that rings out ever new and that in itself brings hope and joy to our hearts, because each time it gives us the certainty that, even though we often feel weak, poor, incapable in the face of the difficulties and evil of the world, the power of God acts always and works wonders in weakness itself. His grace is our strength (cf 2 Cor 12:9-10). Thank you." (2.01.13)
BXVI: ".. We find another hint of Mary's interior attitude in front of the action of God, again in the Gospel of St Luke, at the time of Jesus' birth, after the adoration of the shepherds. Luke affirms that Mary “kept all these things, meditating upon them in her heart” (Lk 2:19); in Greek the term is symballon, we could say that she “holds together”, “puts together” in her heart all the events that were happening; she placed each single element, each word, each fact within the whole and compared it, cherished it, recognizing that everything comes from the will of God. Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what is happening in her life, but knows to look in depth, she lets herself be questioned by events, she digests them, discerns them, and acquires that understanding that only faith can guarantee. It is the profound humility of the obedient faith of Mary, who welcomes within her even what she does not understand in the action of God, leaving it to God to open her mind and her heart. “Blessed is she who believed in the fulfillment of the word of the Lord” (Lk 1:45), exclaims her kinswoman Elizabeth. It is precisely for her faith that all generations will call her blessed." (19.12.12)
BXVI: " ..Lastly, I would like to emphasize that it is in the ecclesial community that personal faith grows and matures. It is interesting to observe how in the New Testament the word “saints” refers to Christians as a whole, and certainly not everyone would have had the qualities to be declared saints by the Church. What, then, is this term meant to indicate? The fact that those who had and lived faith in the risen Christ were called to become a point of reference for everyone else, putting them in contact with the Person and the Message of Jesus, who reveals the face of the living God. And this also holds true for us: a Christian who lets himself be guided and shaped gradually by the faith of the Church, despite his weaknesses, his limitations and his difficulties, becomes like a window open to the light of the living God, who receives this light and transmits it to the world. Blessed John Paul II in his Encyclical Redemptoris Missio affirmed that “Mission renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, gives new enthusiasm and new motivation. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others”.
The widespread tendency today to relegate faith to the private sphere therefore contradicts its very nature. We need the Church so as to have our faith confirmed and so as to experience the gifts of God: his Word, the Sacraments, the support of grace and the witness of love. Thus our “I” in the “we” of the Church is able to perceive itself, at the same time, as the recipient and protagonist of an event that surpasses it: the experience of communion with God, which founds the communion among men. In a world in which individualism seems to regulate relationships between people, rendering them ever more fragile, faith calls us to be People of God, to be Church, bearers of the love and communion of God for all mankind (cf Gaudium et Spes, 1)." (31.10.12)
BXVI: "... Faith, then, is an assent with which our minds and our hearts say their “yes” to God, by confessing that Jesus is Lord. And this “yes” transforms life, opens the road towards a fullness of meaning, renders it thus new, rich in joy and trustworthy hope.
Dear friends, our time requires Christians who have been grasped by Christ, who grow in faith thanks to familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments. People who are like an open book that narrates the experience of new life in the Spirit, the presence of that God who sustains us on our path and opens us to life that will have no end. Thank you." (24.10.12)
BXVI: "... Christians often do not even know the central core of their own Catholic faith, of the Creed, so leaving room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, without clarity on the truths to be believed and on the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. Today the risk of building, so to speak, a “do-it-yourself” religion is not so far off. We must, instead, return to God, to the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel, bring it more profoundly into our consciences and our daily life.
In the catecheses of this Year of Faith I would like to offer help to take this path, to take up and deepen the central truths of faith about God, about man, about the Church, about the whole social and cosmic reality, by meditating and reflecting on the affirmations of the Creed. And I would like it to become clear that these contents or truths of faith (fides quae) are directly connected to our lives; they ask for a conversion of existence, which gives life to a new way of believing in God (fides qua). To know God, to encounter him, to explore the features of his face, is what brings our lives into play, because He enters into the profound dynamics of the human being.
May the path that we shall take this year make us all grow in faith and love of Christ, so that we may learn to live, in our choices and daily actions, the good and beautiful life of the Gospel. Thank you." (17.10.12)