Audiences 2005-2013 27010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In a recent Catechesis, I illustrated the providential role the Orders of Friars Minor and the Order of Preachers, founded by St Francis of Assisi and St Dominic de Guzmán respectively, played in the renewal of the Church in their day. Today I would like to present to you the figure of Francis, an authentic "giant" of holiness, who continues to fascinate a great many people of all age groups and every religion.
"A sun was born into the world". With these words, in the Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XI), the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri alludes to Francis' birth, which took place in Assisi either at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182. As part of a rich family his father was a cloth merchant Francis lived a carefree adolescence and youth, cultivating the chivalrous ideals of the time. At age 20, he took part in a military campaign and was taken prisoner. He became ill and was freed. After his return to Assisi, a slow process of spiritual conversion began within him, which brought him to gradually abandon the worldly lifestyle that he had adopted thus far. The famous episodes of Francis' meeting with the leper to whom, dismounting from his horse, he gave the kiss of peace and of the message from the Crucifix in the small Church of St Damian, date pack to this period. Three times Christ on the Cross came to life, and told him: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins". This simple occurrence of the word of God heard in the Church of St Damian contains a profound symbolism. At that moment St Francis was called to repair the small church, but the ruinous state of the building was a symbol of the dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church herself. At that time the Church had a superficial faith which did not shape or transform life, a scarcely zealous clergy, and a chilling of love. It was an interior destruction of the Church which also brought a decomposition of unity, with the birth of heretical movements. Yet, there at the centre of the Church in ruins was the Crucified Lord, and he spoke: he called for renewal, he called Francis to the manual labour of repairing the small Church of St Damian, the symbol of a much deeper call to renew Christ's own Church, with her radicality of faith and her loving enthusiasm for Christ. This event, which probably happened in 1205, calls to mind another similar occurrence which took place in 1207: Pope Innocent III's dream. In it, he saw the Basilica of St John Lateran, the mother of all churches, collapsing and one small and insignificant religious brother supporting the church on his shoulders to prevent it from falling. On the one hand, it is interesting to note that it is not the Pope who was helping to prevent the church from collapsing but rather a small and insignificant brother, whom the Pope recognized in Francis when he later came to visit. Innocent III was a powerful Pope who had a great theological formation and great political influence; nevertheless he was not the one to renew the Church but the small, insignificant religious. It was St Francis, called by God. On the other hand, however, it is important to note that St Francis does not renew the Church without or in opposition to the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the Bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit brought to life at that time for the Church's renewal. Authentic renewal grew from these together.
Let us return to the life of St Francis. When his father Bernardone reproached him for being too generous to the poor, Francis, standing before the Bishop of Assisi, in a symbolic gesture, stripped off his clothes, thus showing he renounced his paternal inheritance. Just as at the moment of creation, Francis had nothing, only the life that God gave him, into whose hands he delivered himself. He then lived as a hermit, until, in 1208, another fundamental step in his journey of conversion took place. While listening to a passage from the Gospel of Matthew Jesus' discourse to the apostles whom he sent out on mission Francis felt called to live in poverty and dedicate himself to preaching. Other companions joined him, and in 1209 he travelled to Rome, to propose to Pope Innocent III the plan for a new form of Christian life. He received a fatherly welcome from that great Pontiff, who, enlightened by the Lord, perceived the divine origin of the movement inspired by Francis. The Poverello of Assisi understood that every charism as a gift of the Holy Spirit existed to serve the Body of Christ, which is the Church; therefore he always acted in full communion with the ecclesial authorities. In the life of the Saints there is no contradiction between prophetic charism and the charism of governance, and if tension arises, they know to patiently await the times determined by the Holy Spirit.
Actually, several 19th-century and also 20th-century historians have sought to construct a so-called historical Francis, behind the traditional depiction of the Saint, just as they sought to create a so-called historical Jesus behind the Jesus of the Gospels. This historical Francis would not have been a man of the Church, but rather a man connected directly and solely to Christ, a man that wanted to bring about a renewal of the People of God, without canonical forms or hierarchy. The truth is that St Francis really did have an extremely intimate relationship with Jesus and with the word of God, that he wanted to pursue sine glossa: just as it is, in all its radicality and truth. It is also true that initially he did not intend to create an Order with the necessary canonical forms. Rather he simply wanted, through the word of God and the presence of the Lord, to renew the People of God, to call them back to listening to the word and to literal obedience to Christ. Furthermore, he knew that Christ was never "mine" but is always "ours", that "I" cannot possess Christ that "I" cannot rebuild in opposition to the Church, her will and her teaching. Instead it is only in communion with the Church built on the Apostolic succession that obedience too, to the word of God can be renewed.
It is also true that Francis had no intention of creating a new Order, but solely that of renewing the People of God for the Lord who comes. He understood, however, through suffering and pain that everything must have its own order and that the law of the Church is necessary to give shape to renewal. Thus he placed himself fully, with his heart, in communion with the Church, with the Pope and with the Bishops. He always knew that the centre of the Church is the Eucharist, where the Body of Christ and his Blood are made present through the priesthood, the Eucharist and the communion of the Church. Wherever the priesthood and the Eucharist and the Church come together, it is there alone that the word of God also dwells. The real historical Francis was the Francis of the Church, and precisely in this way he continues to speak to non-believers and believers of other confessions and religions as well.
Francis and his friars, who were becoming ever more numerous, established themselves at the Portiuncula, or the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the sacred place par excellence of Franciscan spirituality. Even Clare, a young woman of Assisi from a noble family, followed the school of Francis. This became the origin of the Second Franciscan Order, that of the Poor Clares, another experience destined to produce outstanding figures of sainthood in the Church.
Innocent III's Successor, Pope Honorius III, with his Bull Cum Dilecti in 1218 supported the unique development of the first Friars Minor, who started missions in different European countries, and even in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to visit and speak to the Muslim sultan Malik al-Klmil, to preach the Gospel of Jesus there too. I would like to highlight this episode in St Francis' life, which is very timely. In an age when there was a conflict underway between Christianity and Islam, Francis, intentionally armed only with his faith and personal humility, travelled the path of dialogue effectively. The chronicles tell us that he was given a benevolent welcome and a cordial reception by the Muslim Sultan. It provides a model which should inspire today's relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a sincere dialogue, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding (cf. Nostra Aetate NAE 3). It appears that later, in 1220, Francis visited the Holy Land, thus sowing a seed that would bear much fruit: his spiritual sons would in fact make of the Sites where Jesus lived a privileged space for their mission. It is with gratitude that I think today of the great merits of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
On his return to Italy, Francis turned over the administration of his Order to his vicar, Br Pietro Cattani, while the Pope entrusted the rapidly growing Order's protection to Cardinal Ugolino, the future Supreme Pontiff Gregory IX. For his part, the Founder, dedicated completely to his preaching, which he carried out with great success, compiled his Rule that was then approved by the Pope.
In 1224, at the hermitage in La Verna, Francis had a vision of the Crucified Lord in the form of a seraph and from that encounter received the stigmata from the Seraph Crucifix, thus becoming one with the Crucified Christ. It was a gift, therefore, that expressed his intimate identification with the Lord.
The death of Francis his transitus occurred on the evening of 3 October 1226, in the Portiuncula. After having blessed his spiritual children, he died, lying on the bare earthen floor. Two years later Pope Gregory ix entered him in the roll of saints. A short time after, a great basilica in his honour was constructed in Assisi, still today an extremely popular pilgrim destination. There pilgrims can venerate the Saint's tomb and take in the frescoes by Giotto, an artist who has magnificently illustrated Francis' life.
It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, that he was truly a living icon of Christ. He has also been called "the brother of Jesus". Indeed, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus, to contemplate Christ in the Gospel, to love him intensely and to imitate his virtues. In particular, he wished to ascribe interior and exterior poverty with a fundamental value, which he also taught to his spiritual sons. The first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5,3) found a luminous fulfilment in the life and words of St Francis. Truly, dear friends, the saints are the best interpreters of the Bible. As they incarnate the word of God in their own lives, they make it more captivating than ever, so that it really speaks to us. The witness of Francis, who loved poverty as a means to follow Christ with dedication and total freedom, continues to be for us too an invitation to cultivate interior poverty in order to grow in our trust of God, also by adopting a sober lifestyle and a detachment from material goods.
Francis' love for Christ expressed itself in a special way in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Fonti Francescane (Writings of St Francis) one reads such moving expressions as: "Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult, when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest. Oh stupendous dignity! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation he hides himself under an ordinary piece of bread" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, Editrici Francescane, Padova 2002, 401).
In this Year for Priests, I would also like to recall a piece of advice that Francis gave to priests: "When you wish to celebrate Mass, in a pure way, reverently make the true sacrifice of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 399). Francis always showed great deference towards priests, and asserted that they should always be treated with respect, even in cases where they might be somewhat unworthy personally. The reason he gave for this profound respect was that they receive the gift of consacrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist appeals to us to be pure, to live in a way that is consistent with the Mystery we celebrate.
From love for Christ stems love for others and also for all God's creatures. This is yet another characteristic trait of Francis' spirituality: the sense of universal brotherhood and love for Creation, which inspired the famous Canticle of Creatures. This too is an extremely timely message. As I recalled in my recent Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, development is sustainable only when it respects Creation and does not damage the environment (cf. ), and in the Message for the World Day of Peace this year, I also underscored that even building stable peace is linked to respect for Creation. Francis reminds us that the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator is expressed through Creation. He understood nature as a language in which God speaks to us, in which reality becomes clear, 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, brought him gladness in every circumstance. Indeed, there subsists an intimate and indissoluble relationship between holiness and joy. A French writer once wrote that there is only one sorrow in the world: not to be saints, that is, not to be near to God. Looking at the testimony of St Francis, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!
May the Virgin, so tenderly loved by Francis, obtain this gift for us. Let us entrust ourselves to her with the words of the Poverello of Assisi himself: "Blessed Virgin Mary, no one like you among women has ever been born in the world, daughter and handmaid of the Most High King and heavenly Father, Mother of our Most Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit. Pray for us... to your most blessed and beloved Son, Lord and Master" (Francesco di Assisi, Scritti, 163).
To Special Groups
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
A warm welcome to all of the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience! I particularly greet high school students from Jordan and Israel, members of the initiative Aqabat Eilat: "one more step towards peace", students and faculty from the Bossey Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies, as well as pilgrims from England, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and the United States. God bless you all!
Appeal on the Day of Memory
Seventy-five years ago, on 27 January 1945, the gates of the Nazi concentration camp were opened in the Polish city of Oswiecim known in German as Auschwitz and the few remaining survivors were freed. This event and the testimonies of the survivors reveal to the world the horror of the unprecedented crimes committed in the extermination camps created by Nazi Germany. Today, we observe the "Day of Memory", in remembrance of all the victims of those crimes, especially of the planned extermination of the Jews, and of all those who, in the face of homicidal madness, risked their lives to protect the persecuted. Our hearts are moved as we think of the countless victims of a blind religious and racial hatred who suffered deportation, imprisonment and death in those abhorrent and inhuman places. The memory of these events, particularly of the tragedy of the Shoah that struck the Hebrew people, evokes the need for an ever more earnest respect for the dignity of every person, so that all men and women may see themselves as part of one large family. May God almighty illuminate our hearts and minds, so that these kinds of tragedies may never be repeated!
Paul VI Audience Hall30210
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last week I presented the luminous figure of Francis of Assisi; today I want to talk about another Saint of the same period who made a fundamental contribution to the renewal of the Church of his time: St Dominic, the Founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as Dominican Friars.
His successor at the head of the Order, Bl. Jordan of Saxony, gives a complete picture of St Dominic in the text of a famous prayer: "Your strong love burned with heavenly fire and God-like zeal. With all the fervour of an impetuous heart and with an avowal of perfect poverty, you spent your whole self in the cause of the Apostolic life" and in preaching the Gospel. It is precisely this fundamental trait of Dominic's witness that is emphasized: he always spoke with God and of God. Love for the Lord and for neighbour, the search for God's glory and the salvation of souls in the lives of Saints always go hand in hand.
Dominic was born at Caleruega, Spain, in about 1170. He belonged to a noble family of Old Castile and, supported by a priest uncle, was educated at a famous school in Palencia. He distinguished himself straight away for his interest in the study of Sacred Scripture and for his love of the poor, to the point of selling books, that in his time were a very valuable asset, in order to support famine victims with the proceeds.
Ordained a priest, he was elected canon of the Cathedral Chapter in Osma, his native diocese. Although he may well have thought that this appointment might bring him a certain amount of prestige in the Church and in society, he did not view it as a personal privilege or as the beginning of a brilliant ecclesiastical career but, rather, as a service to carry out with dedication and humility. Are not a career and power temptations from which not even those who have a role of guidance and governance in the Church are exempt? I recalled this a few months ago during the consecration of several Bishops: "We do not seek power, prestige or esteem for ourselves.... We know how in civil society and often also in the Church things suffer because many people on whom responsibility has been conferred work for themselves rather than for the community" (16 September 2009).
The Bishop of Osma, a true and zealous Pastor whose name was Didacus, soon spotted Dominic's spiritual qualities and wanted to avail himself of his collaboration. Together they went to Northern Europe, on the diplomatic missions entrusted to them by the King of Castile. On his travels Dominic became aware of two enormous challenges for the Church of his time: the existence of people who were not yet evangelized on the northern boundaries of the European continent, and the religious schism that undermined Christian life in the South of France where the activity of certain heretical groups was creating a disturbance and distancing people from the truth of the faith. So it was that missionary action for those who did not know the light of the Gospel and the work of the re-evangelization of Christian communities became the apostolic goals that Dominic resolved to pursue.
It was the Pope, to whom the Bishop Didacus and Dominic went to seek advice, who asked Dominic to devote himself to preaching to the Albigensians, a heretical group which upheld a dualistic conception of reality, that is, with two equally powerful creator principles, Good and Evil. This group consequently despised matter as coming from the principle of evil. They even refused marriage, and went to the point of denying the Incarnation of Christ and the sacraments in which the Lord "touches" us through matter, and the resurrection of bodies. The Albigensians esteemed the poor and austere life in this regard they were even exemplary and criticized the riches of the clergy of that time. Dominic enthusiastically accepted this mission and carried it out with the example of his own poor and austere existence, Gospel preaching and public discussions. He devoted the rest of his life to this mission of preaching the Good News. His sons were also to make St Dominic's other dreams come true: the mission ad gentes, that is, to those who do not yet know Jesus and the mission to those who lived in the cities, especially the university cities where the new intellectual trends were a challenge to the faith of the cultured.
This great Saint reminds us that in the heart of the Church a missionary fire must always burn. It must be a constant incentive to make the first proclamation of the Gospel and, wherever necessary, a new evangelization. Christ, in fact, is the most precious good that the men and women of every time and every place have the right to know and love! And it is comforting to see that in the Church today too there are many pastors and lay faithful alike, members of ancient religious orders and new ecclesial movements who spend their lives joyfully for this supreme ideal, proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel!
Many other men then joined Dominic de Guzmán, attracted by the same aspiration. In this manner, after the first foundation in Toulouse, the Order of Preachers gradually came into being. Dominic in fact, in perfect obedience to the directives of the Popes of his time, Innocent iii, and Honorius iii, used the ancient Rule of St Augustine, adapting it to the needs of apostolic life that led him and his companions to preach as they travelled from one place to another but then returning to their own convents and places of study, to prayer and community life. Dominic wanted to give special importance to two values he deemed indispensable for the success of the evangelizing mission: community life in poverty and study.
First of all Dominic and the Friars Preachers presented themselves as mendicants, that is, without vast estates to be administered. This element made them more available for study and itinerant preaching and constituted a practical witness for the people. The internal government of the Dominican convents and provinces was structured on the system of chapters which elected their own superiors, who were subsequently confirmed by the major superiors; thus it was an organization that stimulated fraternal life and the responsibility of all the members of the community, demanding strong personal convictions. The choice of this system was born precisely from the fact that as preachers of the truth of God, the Dominicans had to be consistent with what they proclaimed. The truth studied and shared in charity with the brethren is the deepest foundation of joy. Blessed Jordan of Saxony said of St Dominic: "All men were swept into the embrace of his charity, and, in loving all, he was beloved by all.... He claimed it his right to rejoice with the joyful and to weep with the sorrowful" (Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum autore Iordano de Saxonia, ed. H.C. Scheeben [Monumenta Historica Sancti Patris Nostri Dominici, Romae, 1935].
Secondly, with a courageous gesture, Dominic wanted his followers to acquire a sound theological training and did not hesitate to send them to the universities of the time, even though a fair number of clerics viewed these cultural institutions with diffidence. The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers give great importance to study as a preparation for the apostolate. Dominic wanted his Friars to devote themselves to it without reserve, with diligence and with piety; a study based on the soul of all theological knowledge, that is, on Sacred Scripture, and respectful of the questions asked by reason. The development of culture requires those who carry out the ministry of the Word at various levels to be well trained. I therefore urge all those, pastors and lay people alike, to cultivate this "cultural dimension" of faith, so that the beauty of the Christian truth may be better understood and faith may be truly nourished, reinforced and also defended. In this Year for Priests, I ask seminarians and priests to esteem the spiritual value of study. The quality of the priestly ministry also depends on the generosity with which one applies oneself to the study of the revealed truths.
Dominic, who wished to found a religious Order of theologian-preachers, reminds us that theology has a spiritual and pastoral dimension that enriches the soul and life. Priests, the consecrated and also all the faithful may find profound "inner joy" in contemplating the beauty of the truth that comes from God, a truth that is ever timely and ever alive. Moreover the motto of the Friars Preachers contemplata aliis tradere helps us to discover a pastoral yearning in the contemplative study of this truth because of the need to communicate to others the fruit of one's own contemplation.
When Dominic died in 1221 in Bologna, the city that declared him its Patron, his work had already had widespread success. The Order of Preachers, with the Holy See's support, had spread to many countries in Europe for the benefit of the whole Church. Dominic was canonized in 1234 and it is he himself who, with his holiness, points out to us two indispensable means for making apostolic action effective. In the very first place is Marian devotion which he fostered tenderly and left as a precious legacy to his spiritual sons who, in the history of the Church, have had the great merit of disseminating 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 cared for several women's monasteries in France and in Rome, believed unquestioningly in the value of prayers of intercession for the success of the apostolic work. Only in Heaven will we understand how much the prayer of cloistered religious effectively accompanies apostolic action! To each and every one of them I address 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 out our faith and deeply in love with Jesus Christ. Through his intercession, let us ask God always to enrich the Church with authentic preachers of the Gospel.
To Special Groups
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Nigeria and the United States. My greetings also go to the students present, including those from Loyola University Chicago, Rome Campus. Upon all of you I willingly invoke God's abundant Blessings.
Lastly, I wish to address my thought to you, dear young people, sick people and newlyweds. Today is the liturgical Memorial of the Martyr St Blaise, and in the next few days we shall commemorate other martyrs, St Agatha, and the Japanese St Paul Miki and his companions.
May the courage of these heroic witnesses of Christ help you, dear young people, to open your hearts to the heroism of holiness; may it sustain you, dear sick people, in offering up the precious gift of prayer and suffering for the Church; and may it give you, dear newlyweds, the strength to impress the Christian values on your families.
Paul VI Audience Hall10020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Two weeks ago I presented St Francis of Assisi. This morning I would like to speak of another saint who belonged to the first generation of the Friars Minor: Anthony of Padua, or of Lisbon, as he is also called with reference to his native town. He is one of the most popular Saints in the whole Catholic Church, venerated not only in Padua, where a splendid Basilica has been built that contains his mortal remains, but also throughout the world. Dear to the faithful are the images and statues that portray him with the lily a symbol of his purity or with the Child Jesus in his arms, in memory of a miraculous apparition mentioned in several literary sources.
With his outstanding gifts of intelligence, balance, apostolic zeal and, primarily, mystic fervour, Anthony contributed significantly to the development of Franciscan spirituality.
He was born into a noble family in Lisbon in about 1195 and was baptized with the name of Fernando. He entered the Canons who followed the monastic Rule of St Augustine, first at St Vincent's Monastery in Lisbon and later at that of the Holy Cross in Coimbra, a renowned cultural centre in Portugal. He dedicated himself with interest and solicitude to the study of the Bible and of the Church Fathers, acquiring the theological knowledge that was to bear fruit in his teaching and preaching activities. The event that represented a decisive turning point on his life happened in Coimbra. It was there, in 1220, that the relics were exposed of the first five Franciscan missionaries who had gone to Morocco, where they had met with martyrdom. Their story inspired in young Fernando the desire to imitate them and to advance on the path of Christian perfection. Thus he asked to leave the Augustinian Canons to become a Friar Minor. His request was granted and, having taken the name of Anthony, he too set out for Morocco, but divine Providence disposed otherwise. After an illness he was obliged to return to Italy and, in 1221, participated in the famous "Chapter of the Mats" in Assisi, where he also met St Francis. He then lived for a period in complete concealment in a convent at Forlě in northern Italy, where the Lord called him to another mission. Invited, in somewhat casual circumstances, to preach on the occasion of a priestly ordination, he showed himself to be endowed with such knowledge and eloquence that the Superiors assigned him to preaching. Thus he embarked on apostolic work in Italy and France that was so intense and effective that it induced many people who had left the Church to retrace their footsteps. Anthony was also one of the first if not the first theology teachers of the Friars Minor. He began his teaching in Bologna with the blessing of St Francis who, recognizing Anthony's virtues, sent him a short letter that began with these words: "I would like you to teach the brethren theology". Anthony laid the foundations of Franciscan theology which, cultivated by other outstanding thinkers, was to reach its apex with St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and Bl. Duns Scotus.
Having become Provincial Superior of the Friars Minor in northern Italy, he continued his ministry of preaching, alternating it with his office of governance. When his term as Provincial came to an end, he withdrew to a place near Padua where he had stayed on various other occasions. Barely a year later, he died at the city gates on 13 June 1231. Padua, which had welcomed him with affection and veneration in his lifetime, has always accorded him honour and devotion. Pope Gregory IX himself, having heard him preach, described him as the "Ark of the Testament" and subsequent to miracles brought about through his intercession canonized him in 1232, only a year after his death.
In the last period of his life, Anthony put in writing two cycles of "Sermons", entitled respectively "Sunday Sermons" and "Sermons on the Saints" destined for the Franciscan Order's preachers and teachers of theological studies. In these Sermons he commented on the texts of Scripture presented by the Liturgy, using the patristic and medieval interpretation of the four senses: the literal or historical, the allegorical or Christological, the tropological or moral, and the anagogical, which orients a person to eternal life. Today it has been rediscovered that these senses are dimensions of the one meaning of Sacred Scripture and that it is right to interpret Sacred Scripture by seeking the four dimensions of its words. St Anthony's sermons are theological and homiletical texts that echo the live preaching in which Anthony proposes a true and proper itinerary of Christian life. The richness of spiritual teaching contained in the "Sermons" was so great that in 1946 Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony a Doctor of the Church, attributing to him the title "Doctor Evangelicus", since the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerge from these writings. We can still read them today with great spiritual profit.
In these Sermons St Anthony speaks of prayer as of a loving relationship that impels man to speak gently with the Lord, creating an ineffable joy that sweetly enfolds the soul in prayer. Anthony reminds us that prayer requires an atmosphere of silence, which does not mean distance from external noise but rather is an interior experience that aims to remove the distractions caused by a soul's anxieties, thereby creating silence in the soul itself. According to this prominent Franciscan Doctor's teaching, prayer is structured in four indispensable attitudes which in Anthony's Latin are defined as obsecratio, oratio, postulatio, gratiarum actio. We might translate them in the following manner. The first step in prayer is confidently opening one's heart to God; this is not merely accepting a word but opening one's heart to God's presence. Next, is speaking with him affectionately, seeing him present with oneself; then a very natural thing presenting our needs to him; and lastly, praising and thanking him.
In St Anthony's teaching on prayer we perceive one of the specific traits of the Franciscan theology that he founded: namely the role assigned to divine love which enters into the sphere of the affections, of the will and of the heart, and which is also the source from which flows a spiritual knowledge that surpasses all other knowledge. In fact, it is in loving that we come to know.
Anthony writes further: "Charity is the soul of faith, it gives it life; without love, faith dies" (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi II, Messagero, Padua 1979, p. 37).
It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony's preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. "O rich people", he urged them, "befriend... the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety" (ibid., p. 29).
Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: "The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred" ().
Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord's humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.
Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ's love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: "Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are.... Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth" (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).
In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.
Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: "If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect" (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).
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I am pleased to offer a warm welcome to the Delegation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America here with us today. I also greet all the English-speaking visitors present at this Audience, especially those from England, Denmark and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
Paul VI Audience Hall
Audiences 2005-2013 27010