Audiences 2005-2013 50907
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I present to you certain aspects of the teaching of St Gregory of Nyssa, of whom we spoke last Wednesday. First of all, Gregory of Nyssa had a very lofty concept of human dignity. Man's goal, the holy Bishop said, is to liken himself to God, and he reaches this goal first of all through the love, knowledge and practice of the virtues, "bright beams that shine from the divine nature" (De Beatitudinibus 6: PG 44, 1272c), in a perpetual movement of adherence to the good like a corridor outstretched before oneself. In this regard, Gregory uses an effective image already present in Paul's Letter to the Philippians: épekteinómenos (Ph 3,13), that is, "I press on" towards what is greater, towards truth and love. This vivid expression portrays a profound reality: the perfection we desire to attain is not acquired once and for all; perfection means journeying on, it is continuous readiness to move ahead because we never attain a perfect likeness to God; we are always on our way (cf. Homilia in Canticum 12: PG 44, 1025d). The history of every soul is that of a love which fills every time and at the same time is open to new horizons, for God continually stretches the soul's possibilities to make it capable of ever greater goods. God himself, who has sown the seeds of good in us and from whom every initiative of holiness stems, "models the block..., and polishing and cleansing our spirit, forms Christ within us" (In Psalmos 2, 11: PG 44, 544b).
Gregory was anxious to explain: "In fact, this likeness to the Divine is not our work at all; it is not the achievement of any faculty of man; it is the great gift of God bestowed upon our nature at the very moment of our birth" (De Virginitate 12, 2: SC 119,408-410). For the soul, therefore, "it is not a question of knowing something about God but of having God within" (De Beatitudinibus 6: PG 44, 1269c). Moreover, as Gregory perceptively observes, "Divinity is purity, it is liberation from the passions and the removal of every evil: if all these things are in you, God is truly in you" (De Beatitudinibus 6: PG 44, 1272c).
When we have God in us, when man loves God, through that reciprocity which belongs to the law of love he wants what God himself wants (cf. Homilia in Canticum 9: PG 44, 956ac); hence, he cooperates with God in fashioning the divine image in himself, so that "our spiritual birth is the result of a free choice, and we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we ourselves wish to be, and through our will forming ourselves in accordance with the model that we choose" (Vita Moysis 2, 3: SC 1ff., 108). To ascend to God, man must be purified: "The way that leads human nature to Heaven is none other than detachment from the evils of this world.... Becoming like God means becoming righteous, holy and good.... If, therefore, according to Ecclesiastes (Qo 5,1), "God is in Heaven', and if, as the Prophet says, "You have made God your refuge' (Ps 73,28 ), it necessarily follows that you must be where God is found, since you are united with him. "Since he commanded you to call God "Father' when you pray, he tells you definitely to be likened to your Heavenly Father and to lead a life worthy of God, as the Lord orders us more clearly elsewhere, saying, "Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt 5,48)" (De Oratione Dominica 2: PG 44, 1145ac).
In this journey of spiritual ascesis Christ is the Model and Teacher, he shows us the beautiful image of God (cf. De Perfectione Christiana: PG 46, 272a). Each of us, looking at him, finds ourselves "the painter of our own life", who has the will to compose the work and the virtues as his colours (ibid.: PG 46, 272b). So, if man is deemed worthy of Christ's Name how should he behave? This is Gregory's answer: "[He must] always examine his own thoughts, his own words and his own actions in his innermost depths to see whether they are oriented to Christ or are drifting away from him" (ibid.: PG 46, 284c). And this point is important because of the value it gives to the word "Christian". A Christian is someone who bears Christ's Name, who must therefore also liken his life to Christ. We Christians assume a great responsibility with Baptism.
But Christ, Gregory says, is also present in the poor, which is why they must never be offended: "Do not despise them, those who lie idle, as if for this reason they were worth nothing. Consider who they are and you will discover wherein lies their dignity: they represent the Person of the Saviour. And this is how it is: for in his goodness the Lord gives them his own Person so that through it, those who are hard of heart and enemies of the poor may be moved to compassion" (De Pauperibus Amandis: PG 46, 460bc). Gregory, as we said, speaks of rising: rising to God in prayer through purity of heart, but also rising to God through love of neighbour. Love is the ladder that leads to God. Consequently, Gregory of Nyssa strongly recommends to all his listeners: "Be generous with these brothers and sisters, victims of misfortune. Give to the hungry from what you deprive your own stomach" (ibid.: PG 46, 457c).
Gregory recalls with great clarity that we all depend on God and therefore exclaims: "Do not think that everything belongs to you! There must also be a share for the poor, God's friends. In fact, the truth is that everything comes from God, the universal Father, and that we are brothers and sisters and belong to the same lineage" (ibid.: PG, 465b). The Christian should then examine himself, Gregory insists further: "But what use is it to fast and abstain from eating meat if with your wickedness all you do is to gnaw at your brother? What do you gain in God's eyes from not eating your own food if later, acting unfairly, you snatch from their hands the food of the poor?".
Let us end our catechesis on the three great Cappadocian Fathers by recalling that important aspect of Gregory of Nyssa's spiritual doctrine which is prayer. To progress on the journey to perfection and to welcome God within him, to bear the Spirit of God within him, the love of God, man must turn to God trustingly in prayer: "Through prayer we succeed in being with God. But anyone who is with God is far from the enemy. Prayer is a support and protection of charity, a brake on anger, an appeasement and the control of pride. Prayer is the custody of virginity, the protection of fidelity in marriage, the hope for those who are watching, an abundant harvest for farmers, certainty for sailors" (De Oratione Dominica 1: PG 44, 1124ab). The Christian always prays by drawing inspiration from the Lord's Prayer: "So if we want to pray for the Kingdom of God to come, we must ask him for this with the power of the Word: that I may be distanced from corruption, delivered from death, freed from the chains of error; that death may never reign over me, that the tyranny of evil may never have power over us, that the adversary may never dominate me nor make me his prisoner through sin but that your Kingdom may come to me so that the passions by which I am now ruled and governed may be distanced, or better still, blotted out" (ibid., 3: PG 44, 1156d-1157a).
Having ended his earthly life, the Christian will thus be able to turn to God serenely. In speaking of this, St Gregory remembered the death of his sister Macrina and wrote that she was praying this prayer to God while she lay dying: "You who on earth have the power to take away sins, "forgive me, so that I may find refreshment' (cf. Ps Ps 38,14), and so that I may be found without blemish in your sight at the time when I am emptied from my body (cf. Col 2,11), so that my spirit, holy and immaculate (cf. Ep 5,27), may be accepted into your hands "like incense before you'" (Ps 141,2, : 2) (Vita Macrinae 24: SC 178,224). This teaching of St Gregory is always relevant: not only speaking of God, but carrying God within oneself. Let us do this by commitment to prayer and living in a spirit of love for all our brethren.
I now address a greeting in English to the participants in the International Symposium on the care of the Arctic environment.
Tomorrow, on the west coast of Greenland, His Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, will open a symposium entitled: "The Arctic: Mirror of Life". I wish to greet all the participants - various religious leaders, scientists, journalists and other interested parties - and to assure them of my support for their endeavours.
Care of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of grave importance for the entire human family. Encouraged by the growing recognition of the need to preserve the environment, I invite all of you to join me in praying and working for greater respect for the wonders of God's creation!
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To special groups
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear young people, in resuming your usual daily activities after the holidays, intensify the rhythm of your intimate dialogue with God and work to spread his light and peace around you. Dear sick people, may you find support and comfort in the Lord Jesus, who continues his work of redemption in every person's life. And you, dear newly-weds, strive with divine help to make your love ever more true, permanent and supportive.
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, I intend to reflect on the Pastoral Visit to Austria which I had the joy of making a few days ago. I am particularly familiar with this Country, both because it borders my native Land and because of the numerous contacts I have always had with it.
The special reason for this Visit was the 850th anniversary of Austria's most important Shrine of Mariazell, also beloved by the Hungarian faithful and frequently visited by pilgrims from the neighbouring nations. Thus, it was first and foremost a Pilgrimage whose motto was "Look to Christ": going forth to meet Mary who shows Jesus to us.
I warmly thank Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, and the Country's entire Episcopate for the major commitment with which they prepared and followed my Visit. I thank the Austrian Government and all the civil and military Authorities who contributed their valid collaboration; in particular, I thank the Federal President for the cordiality with which he welcomed and accompanied me at the various moments of my Visit.
My first stopping place was by the Mariensäule, the historic column on which the statue of the Immaculate Virgin stands. There I met thousands of young people and began my Pilgrimage.
I did not omit a visit to the Judenplatz [Jewish Square] to pay homage at the monument which commemorates the Shoah.
Mindful of the history of Austria and of its close relations with the Holy See, as well as of Vienna's importance in international politics, the programme for my Pastoral Journey included meetings with the President of the Republic and with the Diplomatic Corps. They were precious opportunities in which the Successor of Peter had the opportunity to urge leaders of nations always to encourage the cause of peace and of authentic economic and social development.
Looking especially at Europe, I renewed my encouragement to pursue the current process of unification on the basis of the values inspired by the common Christian patrimony.
Moreover, Mariazell is one of the symbols of the European peoples' encounter round the Christian faith. How can we forget that Europe has inherited a tradition of thought that binds faith, reason and sentiment?
Distinguished philosophers, even independently of their faith, have recognized the central role played by Christianity in preserving the modern conscience from nihilistic or fundamentalist trends. The meeting with the political and diplomatic Authorities in Vienna was therefore especially useful for fitting my Apostolic Visit into the current context of the European Continent.
I made the actual pilgrimage on Saturday, 8 September, Feast of the Nativity of Mary, to whom the Shrine of Mariazell is dedicated. It was founded in 1157 when a Benedictine monk of the neighbouring St Lambrecht's Abbey, invited to preach in that place, experienced the miraculous help of Mary, of whom he was carrying a small wooden statue.
The cell (Zell) in which the monk set the statuette subsequently became a pilgrimage destination and in the course of two centuries an important Shrine was built, where still today Our Lady of Grace is venerated as Magna Mater Austriae. It gave me great joy to return as Successor of Peter to that holy place, so dear to the peoples of Central-Eastern Europe.
There I admired the exemplary courage of thousands and thousands of pilgrims who, despite the rain and cold, desired to be present at this anniversary celebration with great joy and faith. I described to them the central theme of my Visit: "Look to Christ", which the Bishops of Austria had wisely examined during its preparation that lasted nine months.
But only on reaching the Shrine did we fully understand what this motto means. We had before us the statue of Our Lady pointing to the Child Jesus with one hand and, high up above the altar in the Basilica, the Crucifix.
There our Pilgrimage had reached its destination: we contemplated God's Face in that Child in his Mother's arms and in that Man with his arms wide open. To look to Jesus with Mary's eyes means encountering God-Love, who for our sake was made man and died on the Cross.
At the end of Mass in Mariazell, I conferred the "mandate" upon members of parish pastoral councils, recently renewed throughout Austria. This was an eloquent ecclesial act by which I placed under Mary's protection the great "network" of parishes at the service of communion and mission. At the Shrine, I then spent some moments of joyful brotherhood with the local Bishops and the Benedictine Community.
I met priests, Religious, deacons and seminarians, and I celebrated Vespers with them. Spiritually united to Mary, we praised the Lord for the humble dedication of so many men and women who entrust themselves to his mercy and devote themselves to serving God.
Despite their human limitations, indeed, in the simplicity and humility of their humanity, these people endeavour to offer a reflection of God's goodness and beauty to all by following Jesus on the path of poverty, chastity and obedience. These are three vows whose authentic Christological meaning, which is not individualistic but relational and ecclesial, should be properly understood.
On Sunday morning, I then celebrated the solemn Eucharist in St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. In my Homily, I wanted in particular to delve into the meaning and value of Sunday, to support the Alliance in Defence of Free Sundays Movement. Non-Christian people and groups also belong to this movement.
As believers, we of course have deep reasons for living the Lord's Day, just as the Church has taught us. "Sine dominico non possumus!": Without the Lord and without his Day we cannot live, declared the Martyrs of Abitene (present-day Tunisia) in 304 A.D.
Nor can we Christians of the third millennium live without Sunday: a day that gives meaning to work and rest, that actualizes the meaning of Creation and Redemption, expresses the value of freedom and of service to neighbour....
Sunday is all this: far more than a precept! If the peoples of the ancient Christian civilization abandon this meaning and allow Sunday to be reduced to a weekend or an opportunity for worldly and commercial interests, they have decided to renounce their own culture.
Heiligenkreuz [Holy Cross] Abbey is not far from Vienna; it was a joy for me to visit that flourishing community of Cistercian monks, which has existed for 874 consecutive years! Annexed to the Abbey is the School for Advanced Studies in Philosophy and Theology, which recently acquired the title of "Pontifical".
In addressing the monks in particular, I recalled St Benedict's important teaching on the Divine Office, emphasizing the value of prayer as a service of praise and adoration to which God is entitled by his infinite beauty and goodness.
Nothing must be put before this sacred service - says the Benedictine Rule (RB 43,3) -, so that the whole of life, with times for work and rest, may be summed up in the liturgy and oriented to God.
Nor must theological study be separated from spiritual life and prayer, as St Bernard of Clairvaux, father of the Cistercian Order, maintained. The presence of the Theological Academy beside the Abbey attests to this espousal of faith and reason, of heart and mind.
The last Meeting on my Journey was with the world of volunteers. I wanted thereby to express my appreciation to the numerous people of various ages who work without remuneration to serve their neighbour in both ecclesial and civil communities.
Voluntary work is not only "doing": it is first and foremost a way of being that stems from the heart, from a grateful approach to life, and impels one to "give back" and to share with one's neighbour the gifts received. In this perspective, I wanted once again to encourage the volunteer culture.
The volunteer's action should not be seen as a "stop-gap" intervention for the State and public institutions, but rather as a complementary, always necessary, presence to keep attention to the lowliest alive and to further a personalized style in interventions.
Therefore, everyone can be a volunteer worker: even the poorest and most underprivileged person has certainly much to share with others by making his own contribution to building the civilization of love.
To conclude, I renew my thanksgiving to the Lord for this Visit-Pilgrimage to Austria. The central destination has once again been a Marian Shrine around which it was possible to live a strong ecclesial experience, just as happened a week earlier in Loreto with the young Italians.
Furthermore, in Vienna and in Mariazell, the living, faithful and variegated reality of the Catholic Church was illustrated most clearly by the presence of so many of her members at the scheduled events.
It was a joyous and involving presence of a Church which, like Mary, is always called to "look to Christ" to be able to show him and offer him to all; a Church teacher and witness of a generous "yes" to life in all its dimensions; a Church which puts into practice her 2,000-year-old tradition at the service of a future of peace and true social progress for the entire human family.
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I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Malta and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This year is the 16th centenary of St John Chrysostom's death (407-2007). It can be said that John of Antioch, nicknamed "Chrysostom", that is, "golden-mouthed", because of his eloquence, is also still alive today because of his works. An anonymous copyist left in writing that "they cross the whole globe like flashes of lightening".
Chrysostom's writings also enable us, as they did the faithful of his time whom his frequent exiles deprived of his presence, to live with his books, despite his absence. This is what he himself suggested in a letter when he was in exile (To Olympias, Letter 8, 45).
He was born in about the year 349 A.D. in Antioch, Syria (today Antakya in Southern Turkey). He carried out his priestly ministry there for about 11 years, until 397, when, appointed Bishop of Constantinople, he exercised his episcopal ministry in the capital of the Empire prior to his two exiles, which succeeded one close upon the other - in 403 and 407. Let us limit ourselves today to examining the years Chrysostom spent in Antioch.
He lost his father at a tender age and lived with Anthusa, his mother, who instilled in him exquisite human sensitivity and a deep Christian faith.
After completing his elementary and advanced studies crowned by courses in philosophy and rhetoric, he had as his teacher, Libanius, a pagan and the most famous rhetorician of that time. At his school John became the greatest orator of late Greek antiquity.
He was baptized in 368 and trained for the ecclesiastical life by Bishop Meletius, who instituted him as lector in 371. This event marked Chrysostom's official entry into the ecclesiastical cursus. From 367 to 372, he attended the Asceterius, a sort of seminary in Antioch, together with a group of young men, some of whom later became Bishops, under the guidance of the exegete Diodore of Tarsus, who initiated John into the literal and grammatical exegesis characteristic of Antiochean tradition.
He then withdrew for four years to the hermits on the neighbouring Mount Silpius. He extended his retreat for a further two years, living alone in a cave under the guidance of an "old hermit". In that period, he dedicated himself unreservedly to meditating on "the laws of Christ", the Gospels and especially the Letters of Paul. Having fallen ill, he found it impossible to care for himself unaided, and therefore had to return to the Christian community in Antioch (cf. Palladius, Dialogue on the Life of St John Chrysostom, 5).
The Lord, his biographer explains, intervened with the illness at the right moment to enable John to follow his true vocation. In fact, he himself was later to write that were he to choose between the troubles of Church government and the tranquillity of monastic life, he would have preferred pastoral service a thousand times (cf. On the Priesthood, 6, 7): it was precisely to this that Chrysostom felt called.
It was here that he reached the crucial turning point in the story of his vocation: a full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated in his years at the hermitage, had developed in him an irresistible urge to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he himself had received in his years of meditation. The missionary ideal thus launched him into pastoral care, his heart on fire.
Between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386, and became a famous preacher in his city's churches. He preached homilies against the Arians, followed by homilies commemorating the Antiochean martyrs and other important liturgical celebrations: this was an important teaching of faith in Christ and also in the light of his Saints.
The year 387 was John's "heroic year", that of the so-called "revolt of the statues". As a sign of protest against levied taxes, the people destroyed the Emperor's statues. It was in those days of Lent and the fear of the Emperor's impending reprisal that Chrysostom gave his 22 vibrant Homilies on the Statues, whose aim was to induce repentance and conversion. This was followed by a period of serene pastoral care (387-397).
Chrysostom is among the most prolific of the Fathers: 17 treatises, more than 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and on Paul (Letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Hebrews) and 241 letters are extant. He was not a speculative theologian.
Nevertheless, he passed on the Church's tradition and reliable doctrine in an age of theological controversies, sparked above all by Arianism or, in other words, the denial of Christ's divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy witness of the dogmatic development achieved by the Church from the fourth to the fifth centuries.
His is a perfectly pastoral theology in which there is constant concern for consistency between thought expressed via words and existential experience. It is this in particular that forms the main theme of the splendid catecheses with which he prepared catechumens to receive Baptism.
On approaching death, he wrote that the value of the human being lies in "exact knowledge of true doctrine and in rectitude of life" (Letter from Exile). Both these things, knowledge of truth and rectitude of life, go hand in hand: knowledge has to be expressed in life. All his discourses aimed to develop in the faithful the use of intelligence, of true reason, in order to understand and to put into practice the moral and spiritual requirements of faith.
John Chrysostom was anxious to accompany his writings with the person's integral development in his physical, intellectual and religious dimensions. The various phases of his growth are compared to as many seas in an immense ocean: "The first of these seas is childhood" (Homily, 81, 5 on Matthew's Gospel).
Indeed, "it is precisely at this early age that inclinations to vice or virtue are manifest". Thus, God's law must be impressed upon the soul from the outset "as on a wax tablet" (Homily 3, 1 on John's Gospel): This is indeed the most important age. We must bear in mind how fundamentally important it is that the great orientations which give man a proper outlook on life truly enter him in this first phase of life.
Chrysostom therefore recommended: "From the tenderest age, arm children with spiritual weapons and teach them to make the Sign of the Cross on their forehead with their hand" (Homily, 12, 7 on First Corinthians).
Then come adolescence and youth: "Following childhood is the sea of adolescence, where violent winds blow..., for concupiscence... grows within us" (Homily 81, 5 on Matthew's Gospel).
Lastly comes engagement and marriage: "Youth is succeeded by the age of the mature person who assumes family commitments: this is the time to seek a wife" (ibid.).
He recalls the aims of marriage, enriching them - referring to virtue and temperance - with a rich fabric of personal relationships. Properly prepared spouses therefore bar the way to divorce: everything takes place with joy and children can be educated in virtue. Then when the first child is born, he is "like a bridge; the three become one flesh, because the child joins the two parts" (Homily 12, 5 on the Letter to the Colossians), and the three constitute "a family, a Church in miniature" (Homily 20, 6 on the Letter to the Eph.).
Chrysostom's preaching usually took place during the liturgy, the "place" where the community is built with the Word and the Eucharist. The assembly gathered here expresses the one Church (Homily 8, 7 on the Letter to the ), the same word is addressed everywhere to all (Homily 24, 2 on First Corinthians), and Eucharistic Communion becomes an effective sign of unity (Homily 32, 7 on Matthew's Gospel).
His pastoral project was incorporated into the Church's life, in which the lay faithful assume the priestly, royal and prophetic office with Baptism. To the lay faithful he said: "Baptism will also make you king, priest and prophet" (Homily 3, 5 on Second Corinthians).
From this stems the fundamental duty of the mission, because each one is to some extent responsible for the salvation of others: "This is the principle of our social life... not to be solely concerned with ourselves!" (Homily 9, 2 on ). This all takes place between two poles: the great Church and the "Church in miniature", the family, in a reciprocal relationship.
As you can see, dear brothers and sisters, Chrysostom's lesson on the authentically Christian presence of the lay faithful in the family and in society is still more timely than ever today. Let us pray to the Lord to make us docile to the teachings of this great Master of the faith.
To special groups
I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, including groups from Vietnam, India and Nigeria. I also greet the Catholic and Greek Orthodox pilgrims from the United States. May God bless all of you!
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, let us continue our reflection on St John Chrysostom. After the period he spent in Antioch, in 397 he was appointed Bishop of Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire of the East. John planned the reform of his Church from the outset: the austerity of the episcopal residence had to be an example for all - clergy, widows, monks, courtiers and the rich. Unfortunately, many of those he criticized distanced themselves from him. Attentive to the poor, John was also called "the Almoner". Indeed, he was able as a careful administrator to establish highly appreciated charitable institutions. For some people, his initiatives in various fields made him a dangerous rival but as a true Pastor, he treated everyone in a warm, fatherly way. In particular, he always spoke kindly to women and showed special concern for marriage and the family. He would invite the faithful to take part in liturgical life, which he made splendid and attractive with brilliant creativity.
Despite his kind heart, his life was far from peaceful. He was the Pastor of the capital of the Empire, and often found himself involved in political affairs and intrigues because of his ongoing relations with the authorities and civil institutions. Then, within the Church, having removed six Bishops in Asia in 401 A.D. who had been improperly appointed, he was accused of having overstepped the boundaries of his own jurisdiction and thus he easily became the target of accusations. Another accusation against him concerned the presence of some Egyptian monks, excommunicated by Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria, who had sought refuge in Constantinople. A heated argument then flared up on account of Chrysostom's criticism of the Empress Eudoxia and her courtiers who reacted by heaping slander and insults upon him. Thus, they proceeded to his removal during the Synod organized by the same Patriarch Theophilus in 403, which led to his condemnation and his first, brief exile. After Chrysostom's return, the hostility he had instigated by his protests against the festivities in honour of the Empress, which the Bishop considered as sumptuous pagan celebrations, and by his expulsion of the priests responsible for the Baptisms during the Easter Vigil in 404, marked the beginning of the persecution of Chrysostom and his followers, the so-called "Johannites".
John then denounced the events in a letter to Innocent I, Bishop of Rome, but it was already too late. In 406, he was once again forced into exile, this time to Cucusus in Armenia. The Pope was convinced of his innocence but was powerless to help him. A Council desired by Rome to establish peace between the two parts of the Empire and among their Churches could not take place. The gruelling journey from Cucusus to Pityus, a destination that he never reached, was meant to prevent the visits of the faithful and to break the resistance of the worn-out exile: his condemnation to exile was a true death sentence! The numerous letters from his exile in which John expressed his pastoral concern in tones of participation and sorrow at the persecution of his followers are moving. His journey towards death stopped at Comana in Ponto. Here, John, who was dying, was carried into the Chapel of the Martyr St Basiliscus, where he gave up his spirit to God and was buried, one martyr next to the other (Palladius, Dialogue on the Life of St John Chrysostom, 119). It was 14 September 407, the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. He was rehabilitated in 438 through Theodosius II. The holy Bishop's relics, which had been placed in the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, were later, in 1204, translated to the first Constantinian Basilica in Rome, and now rest in the chapel of the Choir of the Canons in St Peter's Basilica. On 24 August 2004, Pope John Paul II gave a large part of the saint's relics to Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. The Saint's liturgical Memorial is celebrated on 13 September. Blessed John XXIII proclaimed him Patron of the Second Vatican Council.
It is said of John Chrysostom that when he was seated upon the throne of the New Rome, that is, Constantinople, God caused him to be seen as a second Paul, a doctor of the Universe. Indeed, there is in Chrysostom a substantial unity of thought and action, in Antioch as in Constantinople. It is only the role and situations that change. In his commentary on Genesis, in meditating on God's eight acts in the sequence of six days, Chrysostom desired to restore the faithful from the creation to the Creator: "It is a great good", he said, "to know the creature from the Creator", He shows us the beauty of the creation and God's transparency in his creation, which thus becomes, as it were, a "ladder" to ascend to God in order to know him. To this first step, however, is added a second: this God Creator is also the God of indulgence (synkatabasis). We are weak in "climbing", our eyes grow dim. Thus, God becomes an indulgent God who sends to fallen man, foreign man, a letter, Sacred Scripture, so that the creation and Scripture may complete each another. We can decipher creation in the light of Scripture, the letter that God has given to us. God is called a "tender father" (philostorgios)(ibid.), a healer of souls (Homily on Gn 40,3), a mother (ibid.)and an affectionate friend (On Providence 8, 11-12). But in addition to this second step - first, the creation as a "ladder" to God, and then, the indulgence of God through a letter which he has given to us, Sacred Scripture - there is a third step. God does not only give us a letter: ultimately, he himself comes down to us, he takes flesh, becomes truly "God-with-us", our brother until his death on a Cross. And to these three steps - God is visible in creation, God gives us a letter, God descends and becomes one of us - a fourth is added at the end. In the Christian's life and action, the vital and dynamic principle is the Holy Spirit (Pneuma)who transforms the realities of the world. God enters our very existence through the Holy Spirit and transforms us from within our hearts.
Against this background, in Constantinople itself, John proposed in his continuing Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles the model of the primitive Church (Ac 4,32-37) as a pattern for society, developing a social "utopia" (almost an "ideal city"). In fact, it was a question of giving the city a soul and a Christian face. In other words, Chrysostom realized that it is not enough to give alms, to help the poor sporadically, but it is necessary to create a new structure, a new model of society; a model based on the outlook of the New Testament. It was this new society that was revealed in the newborn Church. John Chrysostom thus truly became one of the great Fathers of the Church's social doctrine: the old idea of the Greek "polis" gave way to the new idea of a city inspired by Christian faith. With Paul (cf. 1Co 8,11), Chrysostom upheld the primacy of the individual Christian, of the person as such, even of the slave and the poor person. His project thus corrected the traditional Greek vision of the "polis", the city in which large sectors of the population had no access to the rights of citizenship while in the Christian city all are brothers and sisters with equal rights. The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that it is truly by starting with the person that the city is built, whereas in the Greek "polis" the homeland took precedence over the individual who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. So it was that a society built on the Christian conscience came into being with Chrysostom. And he tells us that our "polis" [city] is another, "our commonwealth is in heaven" (Ph 3,20) and our homeland, even on this earth, makes us all equal, brothers and sisters, and binds us to solidarity.
At the end of his life, from his exile on the borders of Armenia, "the most remote place in the world", John, linking up with his first preaching in 386, took up the theme of the plan for humanity that God pursues, which was so dear to him: it is an "indescribable and incomprehensible" plan, but certainly guided lovingly by him (cf. On Providence, 2, 6). Of this we are certain. Even if we are unable to unravel the details of our personal and collective history, we know that God's plan is always inspired by his love. Thus, despite his suffering, Chrysostom reaffirmed the discovery that God loves each one of us with an infinite love and therefore desires salvation for us all. For his part, throughout his life the holy Bishop cooperated generously in this salvation, never sparing himself. Indeed, he saw the ultimate end of his existence as that glory of God which - now dying - he left as his last testament: "Glory be to God for all things" (Palladius, op. cit., n. 11).
To special groups
I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, including groups from Britain and Ireland, New Zealand, Thailand, and North America. I greet in particular the new students from the Venerable English College and the priests from Ireland who are taking part in a renewal course here in Rome. May the time that you spend in this city deepen your love for Christ and his Church, and may God's blessings of peace and joy be with you always!
Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May St Vincent de Paul's example of charity, which we will commemorate tomorrow, encourage you, dear young people, to plan your future as a generous service to your neighbour. May it help you, dear sick people, to feel Christ's comfort in our suffering. And may it prompt you, dear newly-weds, always to be attentive to the poor in your family.
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