Speeches 2005-13 279
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Members of the Pontificia Academia Pro Vita,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you and to offer you a cordial greeting on the occasion of the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life. It is called to reflect on themes pertaining to the relationship between bioethics and the natural moral law which, because of the constant developments in this branch of science, appear ever more important in the context of our day. I address a special greeting to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of this Academy, and I thank him for his courteous words on behalf of those present. I likewise wish to extend my personal thanks to each one of you for the invaluable and irreplaceable commitment you devote to life in your various fields.
The problems that gravitate around the theme of bioethics demonstrate the priority given to the anthropological issue in the questions put to you. As I said in my latest Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate: "A particularly crucial battleground in today's struggle between the supremacy of technology and human moral responsibility is the field of bioethics, where the very possibility of integral human development is radically called into question. In this most delicate and critical area, the fundamental question asserts itself forcefully: is man the product of his own labours or does he depend on God? "Scientific discoveries in this field and the possibilities of technological intervention seem so advanced as to force a choice between two types of reasoning: reason open to transcendence or reason closed within immanence" (n. 74). In the face of such questions that touch so decisively on human life in its perennial tension between immanence and transcendence and that have immense importance for the culture of the future generations, it is necessary to set up an integral pedagogical project that allows these topics to be treated in a positive, balanced and constructive perspective, especially regarding the relationship between faith and reason.
Bioethical issues often bring to the fore the reference to the dignity of the person. This is a fundamental principle which faith in the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ has always defended, especially when, in respect of the simplest and most defenceless people, it is disregarded. God loves each human being uniquely and profoundly. Bioethics moreover, like every discipline, needs a reference that can guarantee a consistent reading of ethical issues that inevitably emerge in the face of the disputes that may arise from their interpretation. In this sphere the normative reference to the natural moral law comes into its own. Indeed, the recognition of human dignity as an inalienable right is founded primarily on this law, which is not written by a human hand but is engraved in human hearts by God the Creator. Every juridical order is required to recognize this law as inviolable and every individual is called to respect and promote it (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 1954-1960). Without the founding principle of human dignity the search for a source for the rights of the person would be arduous, and it would be impossible to reach an ethical judgement on the scientific breakthroughs that intervene directly in human life. It is necessary, therefore, to repeat firmly that there can be no understanding of human dignity as linked merely to external elements, such as scientific progress, graduality in the formation of human life or facile pietism in the face of limited situations. When respect for the dignity of the person is invoked, it is fundamental that it should be full, total and without restrictions other than those entailed in the recognition that it is always human life that is involved. Human life, of course, experiences its own development and the horizon of scientific and bioethical research is open; yet it is necessary to reassert that when it is a matter of contexts that concern the human being, scientists can never think that they are merely dealing with inanimate and manipulable matter. In fact, from the very first instant of the human being's life is characterized by the fact that it is human life and for this reason possesses its own dignity everywhere and in spite of all (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions, n. 5). Otherwise, we should always be threatened by the risk of an exploitative use of science, with the inevitable consequence of slipping into arbitrary decisions, discrimination and the financial interest of the strongest.
Combining bioethics and the natural moral law makes it possible to ensure as best we can the necessary and unavoidable reference to that dignity which human life intrinsically possesses from its first moment until its natural end. On the contrary, in today's context, despite the increasing reference to the rights that guarantee the person's dignity, it is clear that recognition of these rights is not always applied to human life in its natural development or in its weakest stages. A similar contradiction demands that a commitment be assumed in the various social and cultural contexts to see that human life is recognized everywhere as an inalienable subject of law, and never as an object subjected to the arbitrary will of the strongest. History has shown how dangerous and harmful a State can be that proceeds to legislate on issues which affect the person and society, even claiming to be the source and principle of ethics. Without the universal principles that permit the verification of a common denominator for all humanity, the risk of drifting into relativism in the area of legislation should not be underestimated (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 1959). The natural moral law, strong in its universal character, makes it possible to ward off this danger and, above all, offers the legislator a guarantee for the authentic respect of both the person and the entire order of creatures. It is, as it were, a catalyzing source of consensus between people of different cultures and religions and permits them to overcome differences. This is because it asserts the existence of an order impressed within nature by the Creator and recognized as an instance of true rational ethical judgement in order to pursue good and avoid evil. Natural moral law "belongs to the great heritage of human wisdom. Revelation, with its light, has contributed to further purifying and developing it" (Pope John Paul II, Address to participants in the Bi-Annual Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith CDF 6 February 2004).
Distinguished Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in the contemporary context your commitment appears to be ever more delicate and difficult, but the increasing sensitivity to human life is an encouragement to continue with ever greater dynamism and courage in this important service to life and to teaching the future generations the Gospel values. I hope you will all persevere in your study and research, so that the work of promoting and defending life may be more and more effective and fruitful. I accompany you with the Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly extend to all who share with you in this daily commitment.
Stazione Termini, Via Marsala (Rome) Sunday, 14 February 2010
I joyfully accepted the invitation to visit this Hostel named after "Don Luigi Di Liegro", the first Director of the Diocesan Caritas of Rome, which was founded over 30 years ago. I warmly thank Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar of Rome, and Mr Mauro Moretti, Director of the State Railways, for their courteous words. With special affection I express my gratitude to all of you who frequent this hostel and who through the voice of Mrs Giovanna Cataldo have addressed a warm greeting to me, accompanied by the precious gift of the Crucifix of Onna, a luminous sign of hope. I greet Mr Giuseppe Merisi, President of the Italian Caritas, Auxiliary Bishop Guerino Di Tora and Mons. Enrico Feroci, Director of the Rome Caritas. I am pleased to greet the Authorities present, in particular the Minister for Infrastructures and Transport, Hon. Mr Altero Matteoli; Hon. Mr Gianni Alemanno, Mayor of Rome, whom I thank for the effective and constant help that the Municipality of Rome offers to the Hostel's activities. I greet the volunteers and everyone present. Thank you for your welcome!
Twenty-three years have passed since this structure set up with the collaboration of the State Railways, which generously made the premises available, and with the financial support of the Municipality of Rome began to welcome its first guests. Over the years further services have been added to the provision of shelter for those with nowhere to sleep, such as the day surgery and the soup kitchen. The first donors have also been joined by others, such as ENEL [the Italian electricity and water board] the Fondazione Roma, Mr Agostini Maggini, the Telecom Foundation and the Ministero dei Beni-Culturali-Arcis spa, witnessing to the aggregative power of love. Thus the Hostel has become a place where, thanks to the generous service of many workers and volunteers, Jesus' words are lived out: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me" (Mt 25,35-36).
Dear brothers and sisters and friends who are welcomed here, may you know that the Church loves you deeply and does not abandon you, for she recognizes in each one of your faces the Face of Jesus. He chose to identify very particularly with those in conditions of poverty and wretchedness. The witness of charity, practised here in a special way, is part of the Church's mission, together with the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel. Human beings do not only need to be physically nourished or helped through moments of difficulty; they also need to know who they are and to understand the truth about themselves and their dignity. As I recalled in the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, "Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way" (n. 3).
With her service for the poor the Church is committed to proclaiming to all the truth about man who is loved by God, created in his image, redeemed by Christ and called to eternal communion with him. A great many people have thus been able to rediscover and are still rediscovering their dignity, lost at times because of tragic events; they rediscover trust in themselves and hope in the future.
Through the actions, looks and words of all who work here, many men and women feel tangibly that their lives are safeguarded by Love, who is God, and thanks to him have a meaning and importance (cf. Encyclical Letter, Spe Salvi, n. 35). This profound certainty generates strong, solid and luminous hope in the human heart, hope that gives courage to continue on the journey through life despite the failures, difficulties and trials that go with it. Dear brothers and sisters who work in this place, always keep before your eyes and in your heart the example of Jesus, who out of love made himself our servant and loved us "to the end" (cf. Jn 13,1), even to the Cross. Therefore be joyful witnesses of the infinite charity of God and, imitating the example of St Lawrence the Deacon, consider these friends of yours one of the most precious treasures of your life.
My Visit occurs during the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, established by the European Parliament and the European Commission. In coming here as Bishop of Rome, the Church which has presided in charity from the from the earliest Christian times (cf. St Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Rm 1,1), I desire to encourage not only Catholics but also every person of good will, particularly those who have responsibility in the public administration and in the various institutions, to work for the construction of a future worthy of the human being, rediscovering charity as the driving force for authentic development and for the realization of a more just and brotherly society (cf. Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 1). Charity, in fact, "is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)" (ibid., n. 2). In order to promote a peaceful coexistence that helps people recognize that they are members of the one human family, it is important that the dimensions of giving and of free generosity are rediscovered as constitutive elements of daily life and of interpersonal relations. All this becomes day after day increasingly urgent in a world in which, on the contrary, the logic of profit and of the quest for the individual's own interest seem to prevail.
For the Church in Rome the Caritas Hostel is a precious opportunity to teach the Gospel values. The voluntary service experienced here by many is especially for young people an authentic school in which one learns to be a builder of the civilization of love, able to accept others in each their uniqueness and differences. In this way the Hostel demonstrates in practice that the Christian community through its own bodies and never failing the Truth it proclaims collaborates usefully with the civil institutions for the promotion of the common good. I am confident that the fruitful synergy achieved here may also extend to other situations in our City, particularly in the areas where the consequences of the financial crisis are more keenly felt and the risks of social exclusion are greater. In her service to people in difficulty, the Church is motivated solely by the desire to express her faith in that God who is the defender of the poor and who loves every person for what he or she is, not for what he or she possesses or achieves. The Church lives through history with the knowledge that the troubles and needs of human beings, especially those of the poor and all the suffering, are also those of Christ's disciples (cf. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes GS 1). For this reason, with respect for the competences proper to the State, she will do her utmost to ensure that every human being is guaranteed what he or she is due.
Dear brothers and sisters, for Rome the Diocesan Caritas Hostel is a place where love is not merely a word or sentiment but rather is a concrete reality that allows God's light to enter the lives of men and women and of the entire civil community. This light helps us look with trust to the future, certain that in the future too our city will stay faithful to the value of hospitality that is so firmly rooted in her history and in the hearts of her citizens. May the Virgin Mary, Salus populi romani, always accompany you with her motherly intercession and help each one of you make this place a house where the same virtues flourish that were present in the Holy House of Nazareth. With these sentiments, I cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to all your loved ones and all who live in this place and give themselves generously.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
It is always a very joyful as well as an important tradition for me to be able to begin Lent with my Presbyterium, the Priests of Rome. Thus, as the local Church of Rome but also as the universal Church, we can start out on this essential journey with the Lord towards the Passion, towards the Cross, the Easter journey.
Let us meditate this year on the passages from the Letter to the Hebrews that have just been read. The Author of this Letter introduced a new way of understanding the Old Testament as a Book that speaks of Christ. The previous tradition had seen Christ above all, essentially, in the key of the Davidic promise, the promise of the true David, of the true Solomon, of the true King of Israel, the true King since he was both man and God. And the inscription on the Cross truly proclaimed this reality to the world: now there is the true King of Israel, who is King of the world, the King of the Jews hangs on the Cross. It is a proclamation of the kingship of Jesus, of the fulfilment of the messianic expectation of the Old Testament which, at the bottom of their hearts, is shared by all men and women who await the true King who will bring justice, love and brotherhood.
However, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews discovered a citation which until then had gone unnoticed: Psalm 110 : 4 "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek". This means that not only does Jesus fulfil the Davidic promise, the expectation of the true King of Israel and of the world, but he also makes the promise of the real Priest come true. In a part of the Old Testament and especially in Qumran there are two separate lines of expectation: of the King and of the Priest. In discovering this verse, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews realized that the two promises are united in Christ: Christ is the true King, the Son of God in accordance with Psalm 2: 7, from which he quotes but he is also the true Priest.
Thus the whole of the religious world, the whole reality of sacrifices, of the priesthood that is in search of the true priesthood, the true sacrifice, finds in Christ its key, its fulfilment. And with this key it can reinterpret the Old Testament and show precisely that also the religious law abolished after the destruction of the Temple was actually moving towards Christ. Hence it was not really abolished but renewed, transformed, so that in Christ all things might find their meaning. The priesthood thus appears in its purity and in its profound depth.
In this way the Letter to the Hebrews presents the theme of the priesthood of Christ, of Christ the priest, at three levels: the priesthood of Aaron, that of the Temple; Melchizedek; and Christ himself as the true priest. Indeed, the priesthood of Aaron, in spite of being different from Christ's priesthood, in spite of being, so to speak, solely a quest, a journey in the direction of Christ, is nevertheless a "journey" towards Christ and in this priesthood the essential elements are already outlined. Then Melchizedek we shall return to this point who is a pagan. The pagan world enters the Old Testament. It enters as a mysterious figure, without father or mother the Letter to the Hebrews says it simply appears, and in this figure can be seen the true veneration of the Most High God, of the Creator of the Heavens and of the earth. Thus the pagan world too experiences the expectation and profound prefiguration of Christ's mystery. In Christ himself everything is recapitulated, purified and led to its term, to its true essence.
Let us now look at the individual elements concerning the priesthood as best we can. We learn two things from the Law, from the priesthood of Aaron, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says: if he is truly to be a mediator between God and man, a priest must be man. This is fundamental and the Son of God was made man precisely in order to be a priest, to be able to fulfil the priest's mission. He must be man we shall come back to this point but he is unable, on his own, to make himself a mediator for God. The priest needs divine authorization, institution, and only by belonging to both spheres the divine and the human can he be a mediator, can he be a "bridge". This is the priest's mission: to combine, to link these two realities that appear to be so separate, that is, the world of God far from us, often unknown to the human being and our human world. The priest's mission is to be a mediator, a bridge that connects, and thereby to bring human beings to God, to his redemption, to his true light, to his true life.
As the first point, therefore, the priest must be on God's side. Only in Christ is this need, this prerequisite of mediation fully brought about. This Mystery was therefore necessary: the Son of God is made man so that he may be the true bridge for us, the true mediation. Others must have at least an authorization from God, or in the Church's case, the Sacrament, that is they must introduce our being into the being of Christ, into divine being. Only with the Sacrament, this divine act that makes us priests in communion with Christ, can we accomplish our mission. And this seems to me a first point for our meditation: the importance of the Sacrament. No one can become a priest by himself; God alone can attract me, can authorize me, can introduce me into participation in Christ's mystery; God alone can enter my life and take me by the hand. This aspect of divine giving, of divine precedence, of divine action that we ourselves cannot bring about and our passivity being chosen and taken by the hand by God is a fundamental point we must enter into. We must always return to the Sacrament, to this gift in which God gives me what I will never be able to give; participation, communion with divine being, with the priesthood of Christ.
Let us also make this reality a practical factor in our life: if this is how it is, a priest must really be a man of God, he must know God intimately and know him in communion with Christ and so we must live this communion; and the celebration of Holy Mass, the prayer of the Breviary, all our personal prayers are elements of being with God, of being men of God. Our being, our life and our heart must be fixed in God, in this point from which we must not stir. This is achieved and reinforced day after day with short prayers in which we reconnect with God and become, increasingly, men of God who live in his communion and can thus speak of God and lead people to God.
The other element is that the priest must be man, human in all senses. That is, he must live true humanity, true humanism; he must be educated, have a human formation, human virtues; he must develop his intelligence, his will, his sentiments, his affections; he must be a true man, a man according to the will of the Creator, of the Redeemer, for we know that the human being is wounded and the question of "what man is" is obscured by the event of sin that hurt human nature even to the quick. Thus people say: "he lied" "it is human"; "he stole" "it is human"; but this is not really being human. Human means being generous, being good, being a just person, it means true prudence and wisdom. Therefore emerging with Christ's help from this dark area in our nature so as to succeed in being truly human in the image of God is a lifelong process that must begin in our training for the priesthood. It must subsequently be achieved, however, and continue as long as we live. I think that basically these two things go hand in hand: being of God and with God and being true man, in the true sense meant by the Creator when he formed this creature that we are.
To be man: the Letter to the Hebrews stresses our humanity; we find this surprising for it says: "He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness" (5: 2). And then even more forcefully "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (5: 7). For the Letter to the Hebrews, the essential element of our being human is being compassionate, suffering with others: this is true humanity. It is not sin because sin is never solidarity but always tears solidarity apart, it is living life for oneself instead of giving it. True humanity is real participation in the suffering of human beings. It means being a compassionate person metriopathèin, the Greek text says that is, being at the core of human passion, really bearing with others the burden of their suffering, the temptation of our time: "God, where are you in this world?".
The humanity of the priest does not correspond to the Platonic or Aristotelian ideal which claims that the true man is the one who lives in contemplation of the truth alone and so is blessed happy because he only has friendship with beautiful things, with divine beauty, while "the work" is left to others. This is a hypothesis; whereas here it is implied that the priest enter, like Christ, into human wretchedness, carry it with him, visit those who are suffering and look after them and, not only outwardly but also inwardly, take upon himself, recapitulate in himself the "passion" of his time, of his parish, of the people entrusted to his care. This is how Christ showed his true humanity. Of course, his Heart was always fixed on God, he always saw God, he was always in intimate conversation with him. Yet at the same time he bore the whole being, the whole of human suffering entered the Passion. In speaking, in seeing people who were lowly, who had no pastor, he suffered with them. Moreover, we priests cannot withdraw to an Elysium. Let us rather be immersed in the passion of this world and with Christ's help and in communion with him, we must seek to transform it, to bring it to God.
Precisely this should be said, with the following really stimulating text: "Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears" (He 5,7). This is not only a reference to the hour of anguish on the Mount of Olives but sums up the whole history of the Passion that embraces Jesus' entire life. Tears: Jesus wept by the tomb of Lazarus, he was truly moved inwardly by the mystery of death, by the terror of death. People forgive the brother, as in this case, the mother and the son, the friend: all the dreadfulness of death that destroys love, that destroys relationships, that is a sign of our finiteness, our poverty. Jesus is put to the test and he confronts this mystery in the very depths of his soul in the sorrow that is death and weeps. He weeps before Jerusalem, seeing the destruction of the beautiful city because of disobedience; he weeps, seeing all the destruction of the world's history; he weeps, seeing that people destroy themselves and their cities with violence and with disobedience.
Jesus weeps with loud cries. We know from the Gospels that Jesus cried out from the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mc 15,34 cf. Mt 27,46) and cried out once again at the end. And this cry responds to a fundamental dimension of the Psalm: in the terrible moments of human life many Psalms are a loud cry to God: "Help us, hear us!". On this very day, in the Breviary, we prayed like this: God, where are you? "You have made us like sheep for slaughter" (Ps 44: 11 [rsv]). A cry of suffering humanity! And Jesus, who is the true subject of the Psalms, truly bears this cry of humanity to God, to God's ears: "help us and hear us!". He transforms the whole of suffering humanity, taking it to himself in a cry to God to hear him.
Thus we see that in this very way he brings about the priesthood, the function of mediator, bearing in himself, taking on in himself the sufferings and passion of the world, transforming it into a cry to God, bringing it before the eyes and to the hands of God and thus truly bringing it to the moment of redemption.
In fact the Letter to the Hebrews says that "he offered up prayers and supplications", "loud cries and tears" (5: 7). It is a correct translation of the verb prosphèrein. This is a religious word and expresses the act of offering human gifts to God, it expresses precisely the act of offering, of sacrifice. Thus with these religious terms applied to the prayers and tears of Christ, it shows that Christ's tears, his anguish on the Mount of Olives, his cry on the Cross, all his suffering are nothing in comparison with his important mission. In this very way he makes his sacrifice, he becomes the priest. With this "offered", prosphèrein, the Letter to the Hebrews says to us: this is the fulfilment of his priesthood, thus he brings humanity to God, in this way he becomes mediator, he becomes priest.
We say, rightly, that Jesus did not offer God some thing. Rather, he offered himself and made this offering of himself with the very compassion that transforms the suffering of the world into prayer and into a cry to the Father. Nor, in this sense, is our own priesthood limited to the religious act of Holy Mass in which everything is placed in Christ's hands but all of our compassion to the suffering of this world so remote from God is a priestly act, it is prosphèrein, it is offering up. In this regard, in my opinion, we must understand and learn how to accept more profoundly the sufferings of pastoral life, because priestly action is exactly this, it is mediation, it is entering into the mystery of Christ, it is communication with the mystery of Christ, very real and essential, existential and then sacramental.
A second term in this context is important. It is said that by means of this obedience Christ is made perfect, in Greek teleiothèis (cf. He 5,8-9). We know that throughout the Torah, that is, in all religious legislation, the word tèleion, used here, means priestly ordination. In other words the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that precisely by doing this Jesus was made a priest, and his priesthood was fulfilled. Our sacramental priestly ordination should be brought about and achieved existentially but also Christologically, and through precisely this, should bring the world with Christ and to Christ and, with Christ, to God: thus we really become priests, teleiothèis. Therefore the priest is not a thing for a few hours but is fulfilled precisely in pastoral life, in his sufferings and his weaknesses, in his sorrows and also in his joys, of course. In this way we increasingly become priests in communion with Christ.
Finally the Letter to the Hebrews sums up all this compassion in the word hypakoèn, obedience: it is all obedience. This is an unpopular word in our day. Obedience appears as an alienation, a servile attitude. One does not enjoy one's own freedom, one's freedom is subjected to another's will, hence one is no longer free but determined by another, whereas self-determination, emancipation, would be true human existence. Instead of the word "obedience", as an anthropological keyword we would like the term "freedom". Yet, on considering this problem closely, we see that these two things go together: Christ's obedience is the conformity of his will with the will of the Father; it is bringing the human will to the divine will, to the conformation of our will with God's will.
In his interpretation of the Mount of Olives, of the anguish expressed precisely in Jesus' prayer, "not my will but your will", St Maximus Confessor described this process that Christ carries in himself as a true man, together with the human nature and will; in this act "not my will but your will" Jesus recapitulates the whole process of his life, of leading, that is, natural human life to divine life and thereby transforming the human being. It is the divinization of the human being, hence the redemption of the human being, because God's will is not a tyrannical will, is not a will outside our being but is the creative will itself; it is the very place where we find our true identity.
God created us and we are ourselves if we conform with his will; only in this way do we enter into the truth of our being and are not alienated. On the contrary, alienation occurs precisely by disregarding God's will, for in this way we stray from the plan for our existence; we are no longer ourselves and we fall into the void. Indeed, obedience, namely, conformity to God, the truth of our being, is true freedom, because it is divinization. Jesus, in bearing the human being, being human in himself and with himself, in conformity with God, in perfect obedience, that is, in the perfect conformation between the two wills, has redeemed us and redemption is always this process of leading the human will to communion with the divine will. It is a process for which we pray every day: "May your will be done" And let us really pray the Lord to help us see closely that this is freedom and thus enter joyfully into this obedience and into "taking hold of" human beings in order to bring them by our own example, by our humility, by our prayer, by our pastoral action into communion with God.
Continuing our reading, a sentence of difficult interpretation follows. The Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus prayed loudly, with cries and tears, to God who could save him from death and that in his total abandonment he is heard (cf. 5: 7). Here let us say: "No, it is not true, his prayer went unheard, he is dead". Jesus prayed to be released from death, but he was not released, he died a very cruel death. Harnack, a liberal theologian, therefore wrote: "Here a not is missing", it must be written "He was not heard", and Bultmann accepted this interpretation. Yet this is a solution that is not an exegesis but rather a betrayal of the text. "Not" does not appear in any of the manuscripts but "he was heard"; so we must learn to understand what "being heard" means, in spite of the Cross.
I see three levels on which to understand these words. At a first level the Greek text may be translated as: "he was redeemed from his anguish", and in this sense Jesus is heard. This would therefore be a hint of what St Luke tells us: an angel strengthened him (cf. Lc 22,43), in such a way that after the moment of anguish he was able to go, straight away and fearlessly towards his hour, as the Gospels describe it to us, especially that of John. This would be being heard in the sense that God gives him the strength to bear the whole of this burden and so he was heard. Yet to me it seems that this answer is not quite enough. Being heard, in the fullest sense Fr Vanhoye emphasized this would mean "he was redeemed from death", however not for the moment, for that moment, but for ever, in the Resurrection: God's true response to the prayer to be saved from death is the Resurrection and humanity is saved from death precisely in the Resurrection which is the true healing of our suffering and of the terrible mystery of death.
Already present here is a third level of understanding: Jesus' Resurrection is not only a personal event. I think it would be helpful to keep in mind the brief text in which St John, in chapter 12 of his Gospel, presents and recounts, in a very concise manner, the event on the Mount of Olives.
Jesus says: "Now is my soul troubled" (Jn 12,27) and, in all the anguish of the Mount of Olives, what shall I say? "Father, save me from this hour... Father glorify your name" (cf. Jn 12,27-28). This is the same prayer that we find in the Synoptic Gospels: "all things are possible to you... your will be done (cf. Mt 26,42 Mc 14,36 Lc 22,42) which in Johannine language appears: either as "save me" or "glorify" [your name]. And God answers: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again" (cf. Jn 12,28). This is the response, it is God hearing him: I will glorify the Cross; it is the presence of divine glory because it is the supreme act of love. On the Cross Jesus is raised above all the earth and attracts the earth to him; on the Cross the "Kabod" now appears, the true divine glory of God who loves even to the Cross and thus transforms death and creates the Resurrection.
Jesus' prayer was heard in the sense that his death truly becomes life, it becomes the place where he redeems the human being, where he attracts the human being to himself. If the divine response in John says: "I will glorify" you, it means that this glory transcends and passes through the whole of history over and over again: from your Cross, present in the Eucharist, it transforms death into glory. This is the great promise that is brought about in the Blessed Eucharist which ever anew opens the heavens. Being a servant of the Eucharist is, therefore, a depth of the priestly mystery.
Another brief word, at least about Melchizedek. He is a mysterious figure who enters Sacred History in Genesis 14. After Abraham's victory over several kings, Melchizedek, King of Salem, of Jerusalem, appears and brings out bread and wine. This uncommented and somewhat incomprehensible event appears only in Psalm 110  as has been said, but it is clear that Judaism, Gnosticism and Christianity then wished to reflect profoundly on these words and created their interpretations. The Letter to the Hebrews does not speculate but reports only what Scripture says and there are various elements: he is a king of righteousness, he dwells in peace, he is king where peace reigns, he venerates and worships the Most High God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, and he brings out bread and wine (cf. He 7,1-3 Gn 14,18-20). It is not mentioned here that the High Priest of the Most High God, King of Peace, worships God, Creator of Heaven and earth with bread and wine. The Fathers stressed that he is one of the holy pagans of the Old Testament and this shows that even from paganism there is a path that leads to Christ. The criteria are: worshipping God Most High, the Creator, fostering righteousness and peace and venerating God in a pure way. Thus, with these fundamental elements, paganism too is on its way to Christ, and in a certain way, makes Christ's light present.
In the Roman canon after consecration we have the prayer supra quae that mentions certain prefigurations of Christ, his priesthood and his sacrifice: Abel, the first martyr, with his lamb; Abraham, whose intention is to sacrifice his son Isaac, replaced by the lamb sent by God; and Melchizedek, High Priest of God Most High who brings out bread and wine. This means that Christ is the absolute newness of God and at the same time is present in the whole of history, through history, and history goes to encounter Christ. And not only the history of the Chosen People, which is the true preparation desired by God, in which is revealed the mystery of Christ, but also in paganism the mystery of Christ is prepared, paths lead from it toward Christ who carries all things within him.
This seems to me important in the celebration of the Eucharist: here is gathered together all human prayer, all human desire, all true human devotion, the true search for God that is fulfilled at last in Christ. Lastly. it should be said that the Heavens are now open, worship is no longer enigmatic, in relative signs, but true. For Heaven is open and people do not offer some thing, rather, the human being becomes one with God and this is true worship. This is what the Letter to the Hebrews says: "Our priest... is seated at the right hand of the throne... in the sanctuary, the true tent which is set up... by the Lord" (cf. 8: 1-2).
Let us return to the point that Melchizedek is King of Salem. The whole Davidic tradition refers to this, saying: "Here is the place, Jerusalem is the place of the true worship, the concentration of worship in Jerusalem dates back to the times of Abraham, Jerusalem is the true place for the proper veneration of God".
Let us take another step: the true Jerusalem, God's Salem, is the Body of Christ, the Eucharist is God's peace with humankind. We know that in his Prologue, St John calls the humanity of Jesus the tent of God, eskènosen en hemìn (cf. Jn 1,14). It was here that God himself pitched his tent in the world, and this tent, this new, true Jerusalem is at the same time on earth and in Heaven because this Sacrament, this sacrifice, is ceaselessly brought about among us and always arrives at the throne of Grace, at God's presence. Here is the true Jerusalem, at the same time heavenly and earthly, the tent which is the Body of God, which as a risen Body always remains a Body and embraces humanity. And, at the same time, since it is a risen Body, it unites us with God. All this is constantly brought about anew in the Eucharist. We, as priests, are called to be ministers of this great Mystery, in the Sacrament and in life. Let us pray the Lord that he grant us to understand this Mystery ever better, that he make us live this mystery ever better and thus to offer our help so that the world may be opened to God, so that the world may be redeemed. Thank you.
The Holy Father drew inspiration for his "lectio divina" from the following passages from the Letter to the Hebrews:
(L'Osservatore Romano, 24 February 2010)
Speeches 2005-13 279