Audiences 2005-2013 19127

Wednesday, 19 December 2007 - Christ’s birth

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these days, as we come gradually closer to the great Feast of Christmas, the liturgy impels us to intensify our preparation, placing at our disposal many biblical texts of the Old and New Testaments that encourage us to focus clearly on the meaning and value of this annual feast day. If, on the one hand, Christmas makes us commemorate the incredible miracle of the birth of the Only-Begotten Son of God from the Virgin Mary in the Bethlehem Grotto, on the other, it also urges us to wait, watching and praying, for our Redeemer himself, who on the last day "will come to judge the living and the dead". Perhaps we today, even we believers, really await the Judge, but we all expect justice. We see so much injustice in the world, in our little world, at home, in the neighbourhood, but also in the great world of States and societies. And we expect justice to be done. Justice is an abstract concept: one does justice. We are waiting for one to come in concrete terms who can do justice. And in this sense we pray: Come, Lord Jesus Christ, as Judge, come in your own way. The Lord knows how to enter the world and create justice. Let us pray that the Lord, the Judge, will respond to us, that he will truly create justice in the world. We are waiting for justice but it cannot be merely the expression of a certain requirement with regard to others. Waiting for justice in the Christian sense means above all that we ourselves begin to live under the eyes of the Judge, in accordance with the criteria of the Judge; that we begin to live in his presence, doing justice in our own lives. Thus, by doing justice, putting ourselves in the Judge's presence, we wait for justice in reality. And this is the meaning of Advent, of vigilance. The watchfulness of Advent means living under the eyes of the Judge and thus preparing ourselves and the world for justice. In this way, therefore, living under the eyes of the God-Judge, we can open the world to the coming of his Son and predispose hearts to welcome "the Lord who comes". The Child whom the shepherds adored in a grotto on the night of Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago, never tires of visiting us in our daily lives while we journey on as pilgrims towards the Kingdom. In his expectation, therefore, the believer becomes an interpreter of the hopes of all humanity; humanity yearns for justice and thus, although often unconsciously, is waiting for God, waiting for salvation which God alone can give to us. For us Christians, this expectation is marked by assiduous prayer, as appears clearly in the particularly evocative series of prayers proposed to us during these days of the Christmas Novena, in Mass, in the Gospel acclamation and in the celebration of Vespers before the Canticle of the Magnificat.

Each one of the invocations that implores the coming of Wisdom, of the Sun of justice, of the God-with-us, contains a prayer addressed by the people to the One awaited so that he will hasten his coming. However, invoking the gift of the birth of the promised Saviour also means committing ourselves to preparing his way, to having a worthy dwelling-place ready for him, not only in the area that surrounds us but especially within our souls. Letting ourselves be guided by the Evangelist John, let us seek in these days, therefore, to turn our minds and hearts to the eternal Word, to the Logos, to the Word that was made flesh, from whose fullness we have received grace upon grace (cf.
Jn 1,14). This faith in the Logos Creator, in the Word who created the world, in the One who came as a Child, this faith and its great hope unfortunately appear today far from the reality of life lived every day, publicly or privately. This truth seems too great. As for us, we fend for ourselves according to the possibilities we find, or at least this is how it seems. Yet, in this way the world becomes ever more chaotic and even violent; we see it every day. And the light of God, the light of Truth, is extinguished. Life becomes dark and lacks a compass.

Thus, how important it is that we really are believers and that as believers we strongly reaffirm, with our lives, the mystery of salvation that brings with it the celebration of Christ's Birth! In Bethlehem, the Light which brightens our lives was manifested to the world; the way that leads us to the fullness of our humanity was revealed to us. If people do not recognize that God was made man, what is the point of celebrating Christmas? The celebration becomes empty. We Christians must first reaffirm the truth about the Birth of Christ with deep and heartfelt conviction, in order to witness to all the awareness of an unprecedented gift which is not only a treasure for us but for everyone. From this stems the duty of evangelization which is, precisely, the communication of this "eu-angelion", this "Good News". This was recently recalled in the Document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelization, which I would like to submit to your reflection and your personal and community study (3 December 2007).

Dear friends, in this preparation for Christmas, now at hand, the Church's prayer for the fulfilment of the hopes of peace, salvation and justice which the world today urgently needs becomes more intense. Let us ask God to grant that violence be overcome by the power of love, that opposition give way to reconciliation and that the desire to oppress be transformed into the desire for forgiveness, justice and peace. May the kind and loving good wishes that we exchange in these days reach all the contexts of our daily lives. May peace be in our hearts so that they are open to the action of God's grace. May peace dwell in families and may they spend Christmas united in front of the crib and the tree decorated with lights. May the message of solidarity and good will that comes from Christmas contribute to creating a deeper sensitivity to the old and new forms of poverty, to the common good, in which we are all called to participate. May all members of the family community, especially children, the elderly, the weakest, feel the warmth of this feast and may it extend subsequently to all the days in the year.

May Christmas be a feast of peace and joy for everyone: joy in the Birth of the Saviour, the Prince of Peace. Like the shepherds, let us hasten toward Bethlehem from this very moment. In the heart of the Holy Night, we too will be able to contemplate the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, together with Mary and Joseph (cf. Lc 2,12). Let us ask the Lord to open our hearts, so that we may enter into the mystery of his Birth. May Mary, who gave her virginal womb to the Word of God, whom as Mother she contemplated as a baby in her motherly arms and whom she continues to offer to everyone as the Redeemer of the world, help us make this Christmas an opportunity for growth in the knowledge and love of Christ. This is the wish that I express with affection to all of you who are present here, to your families and to all your loved ones.

Happy Christmas to you all!

To special groups

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and students present at this Audience, especially those from the United States of America. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the Lord's Blessings of health and joy during this holy Season.

I then want to greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. A few days before the Solemnity of Christmas, may the love which God manifests to humanity in Christ's birth increase in you, dear young people, the desire to serve your brothers and sisters generously. May it be for you, dear sick people, a source of comfort and serenity, because the Lord comes to visit us, bringing consolation and hope. May it inspire you, dear newly-weds, to reinforce your promise of love and reciprocal fidelity.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 2 January 2008 - Mary, Mother of God

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

A very ancient blessing formula recorded in the Book of Numbers says: "The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (
NM 6,24-26). I would like to use these words which the liturgy yesterday, the first day of the year, repeated for us once again, to express cordial greetings to you who are present here and to all those who sent me attestations of affectionate spiritual closeness for these feasts.

Yesterday, we celebrated the solemn Feast of Mary, Mother of God. "Mother of God", Theotokos, is the title that was officially attributed to Mary in the fifth century, to be exact, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, but which had already taken root in the devotion of the Christian people since the third century, in the context of the heated discussions on the Person of Christ in that period. This title highlights the fact that Christ is God and truly was born of Mary as a man: in this way his unity as true God and true man is preserved. Actually, however much the debate might seem to focus on Mary, it essentially concerned the Son. Desiring to safeguard the full humanity of Jesus, several Fathers suggested a weaker term: instead of the title Theotokos, they suggested Christotokos, "Mother of Christ"; however, this was rightly seen as a threat to the doctrine of the full unity of Christ's divinity with his humanity. On the one hand, therefore, after lengthy discussion at the Council of Ephesus in 431, as I said, the unity of the two natures - the divine and the human (cf. DS DS 250) - in the Person of the Son of God was solemnly confirmed and, on the other, the legitimacy of the attribution of the title Theotokos, Mother of God, to the Virgin (ibid., n. 251).

After this Council a true explosion of Marian devotion was recorded and many churches dedicated to the Mother of God were built. Outstanding among these is the Basilica of St Mary Major here in Rome. The teaching on Mary, Mother of God, received further confirmation at the Council of Chalcedon (451), at which Christ was declared "true God and true man... born for us and for our salvation of Mary, Virgin and Mother of God, in his humanity" (DS 301). As is well known, the Second Vatican Council gathered the teachings on Mary in the eighth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, reaffirming her divine motherhood. The chapter is entitled "The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church".

Thus, the description "Mother of God", so deeply bound up with the Christmas festivities, is therefore the fundamental name with which the Community of Believers has always honoured the Blessed Virgin. It clearly explains Mary's mission in salvation history. All other titles attributed to Our Lady are based on her vocation to be the Mother of the Redeemer, the human creature chosen by God to bring about the plan of salvation, centred on the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word. In these days of festivity we have paused to contemplate the depiction of the Nativity in the crib. At the centre of this scene we find the Virgin Mother, who offers the Baby Jesus for the contemplation of all those who come to adore the Saviour: the shepherds, the poor people of Bethlehem, the Magi from the East. Later, on the Feast of the "Presentation" which we celebrate on 2 February, it will be the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna who receive the tiny Infant from the hands of his Mother and worship him. The devotion of the Christian people has always considered the Birth of Jesus and the divine motherhood of Mary as two aspects of the same mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word, so it has never thought of the Nativity as a thing of the past. We are "contemporaries" of the shepherds, the Magi, of Simeon and of Anna, and as we go with them we are filled with joy, because God wanted to be the God-with-us and has a mother who is our mother.

All the other titles with which the Church honours Our Lady then derive from the title "Mother of God", but this one is fundamental. Let us think of the privilege of the "Immaculate Conception", that is, of Mary being immune to sin from conception: she was preserved from any stain of sin because she was to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same applies to the title "Our Lady of the Assumption": the One who had brought forth the Saviour could not be subject to the corruption that derives from original sin. And we know that all these privileges were not granted in order to distance Mary from us but, on the contrary, to bring her close; indeed, since she was totally with God, this woman is very close to us and helps us as a mother and a sister. The unique and unrepeatable position that Mary occupies in the Community of Believers also stems from her fundamental vocation to being Mother of the Redeemer. Precisely as such, Mary is also Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Rightly, therefore, on 21 November 1964 during the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI solemnly attributed to Mary the title "Mother of the Church".

It is because she is Mother of the Church that the Virgin is also the Mother of each one of us, members of the Mystical Body of Christ. From the Cross, Jesus entrusted his Mother to all his disciples and at the same time entrusted all his disciples to the love of his Mother. The Evangelist John concludes the brief and evocative account with these words: "Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!'. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (Jn 19,27). This is the [English] translation of the Greek text "ei? t? íd?a", he welcomed her into his own reality, his own existence. Thus, she is part of his life and the two lives penetrate each other. And this acceptance of her (ei? t? íd?a) in his own life is the Lord's testament. Therefore, at the supreme moment of the fulfilment of his messianic mission, Jesus bequeathes as a precious inheritance to each one of his disciples his own Mother, the Virgin Mary.

Dear brothers and sisters, in these first days of the year, we are invited to consider attentively the importance of Mary's presence in the life of the Church and in our own lives. Let us entrust ourselves to her so that she may guide our steps in this new period of time which the Lord gives us to live, and help us to be authentic friends of his Son and thus also courageous builders of his Kingdom in the world, a Kingdom of light and truth. Happy New Year to you all! This is the wish I desire to address to you who are present here and to your loved ones at this first General Audience in 2008. May the new year, which began under the sign of the Virgin Mary, bring us a deeper awareness of her motherly presence so that, sustained and comforted by the Virgin's protection, we may contemplate the Face of her Son Jesus with new eyes and walk more quickly on the paths of good.

Once again, Happy New Year to you all!

To special groups

I greet the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Ireland and the United States. I especially greet the various pilgrimages of priests and seminarians, and the many student groups in our midst. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. May the New Year bring God's richest Blessings to you and to your families!

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. I hope that you, dear young people, will be able to see each day as a gift of God to be accepted gratefully and lived with rectitude. May the New Year bring to you, dear sick people, consolation of body and mind. And you, dear newly-weds, may you learn at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth how to achieve an authentic communion of life and love.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 9 January 2008 - Saint Augustine of Hippo (1)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After the great Christmas festivities, I would like to return to the meditations on the Fathers of the Church and speak today of the greatest Father of the Latin Church, St Augustine. This man of passion and faith, of the highest intelligence and tireless in his pastoral care, a great Saint and Doctor of the Church is often known, at least by hearsay, even by those who ignore Christianity or who are not familiar with it, because he left a very deep mark on the cultural life of the West and on the whole world. Because of his special importance St Augustine's influence was widespread. It could be said on the one hand that all the roads of Latin Christian literature led to Hippo (today Annaba, on the coast of Algeria), the place where he was Bishop from 395 to his death in 430, and, on the other, that from this city of Roman Africa, many other roads of later Christianity and of Western culture itself branched out.

A civilization has seldom encountered such a great spirit who was able to assimilate Christianity's values and exalt its intrinsic wealth, inventing ideas and forms that were to nourish the future generations, as Paul VI also stressed: "It may be said that all the thought-currents of the past meet in his works and form the source which provides the whole doctrinal tradition of succeeding ages" (Inaugural Address at the Patristic Institute of the "Augustinianum", 4 May 1970; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 May 1970, p. 8). Augustine is also the Father of the Church who left the greatest number of works. Possidius, his biographer, said that it seemed impossible that one man could have written so many things in his lifetime. We shall speak of these different works at one of our meetings soon. Today, we shall focus on his life, which is easy to reconstruct from his writings, in particular the Confessions, his extraordinary spiritual autobiography written in praise of God. This is his most famous work; and rightly so, since it is precisely Augustine's Confessions, with their focus on interiority and psychology, that constitute a unique model in Western (and not only Western) literature—including non-religious literature—up to modern times. This attention to the spiritual life, to the mystery of the "I", to the mystery of God who is concealed in the "I", is something quite extraordinary, without precedent, and remains for ever, as it were, a spiritual "peak".

But to come back to his life: Augustine was born in Tagaste in the Roman Province of Numidia, Africa, on 13 November 354 to Patricius, a pagan who later became a catechumen, and Monica, a fervent Christian. This passionate woman, venerated as a saint, exercised an enormous influence on her son and raised him in the Christian faith. Augustine had also received the salt, a sign of acceptance in the catechumenate, and was always fascinated by the figure of Jesus Christ; indeed, he said that he had always loved Jesus but had drifted further and further away from ecclesial faith and practice, as also happens to many young people today.

Augustine also had a brother, Navigius, and a sister whose name is unknown to us and who, after being widowed subsequently became the head of a monastery for women. As a boy with a very keen intelligence, Augustine received a good education although he was not always an exemplary student. However, he learned grammar well, first in his native town and then in Madaura, and from 370, he studied rhetoric in Carthage, the capital of Roman Africa. He mastered Latin perfectly but was not quite as successful with Greek and did not learn Punic, spoken by his contemporaries. It was in Carthage itself that for the first time Augustine read the Hortensius, a writing by Cicero later lost, an event that can be placed at the beginning of his journey towards conversion. In fact, Cicero's text awoke within him love for wisdom, as, by then a Bishop, he was to write in his Confessions: "The book changed my feelings", to the extent that "every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart" (III, 4, 7).

However, since he was convinced that without Jesus the truth cannot be said effectively to have been found and since Jesus' Name was not mentioned in this book, immediately after he read it he began to read Scripture, the Bible. But it disappointed him. This was not only because the Latin style of the translation of the Sacred Scriptures was inadequate but also because to him their content itself did not seem satisfying. In the scriptural narratives of wars and other human vicissitudes, he discovered neither the loftiness of philosophy nor the splendour of the search for the truth which is part of it. Yet he did not want to live without God and thus sought a religion which corresponded to his desire for the truth and also with his desire to draw close to Jesus. Thus, he fell into the net of the Manicheans, who presented themselves as Christians and promised a totally rational religion. They said that the world was divided into two principles: good and evil. And in this way the whole complexity of human history can be explained. Their dualistic morals also pleased St Augustine, because it included a very high morality for the elect: and those like him who adhered to it could live a life better suited to the situation of the time, especially for a young man. He therefore became a Manichean, convinced at that time that he had found the synthesis between rationality and the search for the truth and love of Jesus Christ. Manicheanism also offered him a concrete advantage in life: joining the Manicheans facilitated the prospects of a career. By belonging to that religion, which included so many influential figures, he was able to continue his relationship with a woman and to advance in his career. By this woman he had a son, Adeodatus, who was very dear to him and very intelligent, who was later to be present during the preparation for Baptism near Lake Como, taking part in those "Dialogues" which St Augustine has passed down to us. The boy unfortunately died prematurely. Having been a grammar teacher since his twenties in the city of his birth, he soon returned to Carthage, where he became a brilliant and famous teacher of rhetoric. However, with time Augustine began to distance himself from the faith of the Manicheans. They disappointed him precisely from the intellectual viewpoint since they proved incapable of dispelling his doubts. He moved to Rome and then to Milan, where the imperial court resided at that time and where he obtained a prestigious post through the good offices and recommendations of the Prefect of Rome, Symmacus, a pagan hostile to St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.

In Milan, Augustine acquired the habit of listening - at first for the purpose of enriching his rhetorical baggage - to the eloquent preaching of Bishop Ambrose, who had been a representative of the Emperor for Northern Italy. The African rhetorician was fascinated by the words of the great Milanese Prelate; and not only by his rhetoric. It was above all the content that increasingly touched Augustine's heart. The great difficulty with the Old Testament, because of its lack of rhetorical beauty and lofty philosophy was resolved in St Ambrose's preaching through his typological interpretation of the Old Testament: Augustine realized that the whole of the Old Testament was a journey toward Jesus Christ. Thus, he found the key to understanding the beauty and even the philosophical depth of the Old Testament and grasped the whole unity of the mystery of Christ in history, as well as the synthesis between philosophy, rationality and faith in the Logos, in Christ, the Eternal Word who was made flesh.

Augustine soon realized that the allegorical interpretation of Scripture and the Neo-Platonic philosophy practised by the Bishop of Milan enabled him to solve the intellectual difficulties which, when he was younger during his first approach to the biblical texts, had seemed insurmountable to him.

Thus, Augustine followed his reading of the philosophers' writings by reading Scripture anew, especially the Pauline Letters. His conversion to Christianity on 15 August 386 therefore came at the end of a long and tormented inner journey - of which we shall speak in another catechesis -, and the African moved to the countryside, north of Milan by Lake Como - with his mother Monica, his son Adeodatus and a small group of friends - to prepare himself for Baptism. So it was that at the age of 32 Augustine was baptized by Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan on 24 April 387, during the Easter Vigil.

After his Baptism, Augustine decided to return to Africa with his friends, with the idea of living a community life of the monastic kind at the service of God. However, while awaiting their departure in Ostia, his mother fell ill unexpectedly and died shortly afterwards, breaking her son's heart. Having returned to his homeland at last, the convert settled in Hippo for the very purpose of founding a monastery. In this city on the African coast he was ordained a priest in 391, despite his reticence, and with a few companions began the monastic life which had long been in his mind, dividing his time between prayer, study and preaching. All he wanted was to be at the service of the truth. He did not feel he had a vocation to pastoral life but realized later that God was calling him to be a pastor among others and thus to offer people the gift of the truth. He was ordained a Bishop in Hippo four years later, in 395. Augustine continued to deepen his study of Scripture and of the texts of the Christian tradition and was an exemplary Bishop in his tireless pastoral commitment: he preached several times a week to his faithful, supported the poor and orphans, supervised the formation of the clergy and the organization of mens' and womens' monasteries. In short, the former rhetorician asserted himself as one of the most important exponents of Christianity of that time. He was very active in the government of his Diocese - with remarkable, even civil, implications - in the more than 35 years of his Episcopate, and the Bishop of Hippo actually exercised a vast influence in his guidance of the Catholic Church in Roman Africa and, more generally, in the Christianity of his time, coping with religious tendencies and tenacious, disruptive heresies such as Manichaeism, Donatism and Pelagianism, which endangered the Christian faith in the one God, rich in mercy.

And Augustine entrusted himself to God every day until the very end of his life: smitten by fever, while for almost three months his Hippo was being besieged by vandal invaders, the Bishop - his friend Possidius recounts in his Vita Augustini - asked that the penitential psalms be transcribed in large characters, "and that the sheets be attached to the wall, so that while he was bedridden during his illness he could see and read them and he shed constant hot tears" (31, 2). This is how Augustine spent the last days of his life. He died on 28 August 430, when he was not yet 76. We will devote our next encounters to his work, his message and his inner experience.
* * *

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially the student groups from Australia and the United States. I greet the group of deacons from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and I thank the choir for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 16 January 2008 - Saint Augustine of Hippo (2)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, like last Wednesday, I would like to talk about the great Bishop of Hippo, St Augustine. He chose to appoint his successor four years before he died. Thus, on 26 September 426, he gathered the people in the Basilica of Peace at Hippo to present to the faithful the one he had designated for this task. He said: "In this life we are all mortal, and the day which shall be the last of life on earth is to every man at all times uncertain; but in infancy there is hope of entering boyhood... looking forward from boyhood to youth, from youth to manhood and from manhood to old age; whether these hopes may be realized or not is uncertain, but there is in each case something which may be hoped for. But old age has no other period of this life to look forward to with expectation: in any case, how long old age may be prolonged is uncertain.... I came to this town - for such was the will of God - when I was in the prime of life. I was young then, but now I am old" (EP 213,1). At this point Augustine named the person he had chosen as his successor, the presbyter Heraclius. The assembly burst into an applause of approval, shouting 23 times, "To God be thanks! To Christ be praise!". With other acclamations the faithful also approved what Augustine proposed for his future: he wanted to dedicate the years that were left to him to a more intense study of Sacred Scripture (cf. EP 213,6).

Indeed, what followed were four years of extraordinary intellectual activity: he brought important works to conclusion, he embarked on others, equally demanding, held public debates with heretics - he was always seeking dialogue - and intervened to foster peace in the African provinces threatened by barbarian southern tribes. He wrote about this to Count Darius, who had come to Africa to settle the disagreement between Boniface and the imperial court which the tribes of Mauritania were exploiting for their incursions: "It is a higher glory still", he said in his letter, "to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war. For those who fight, if they are good men, doubtlessly seek peace; nevertheless, it is through blood. Your mission, however, is to prevent the shedding of blood" (EP 229,2). Unfortunately, the hope of pacification in the African territories was disappointed; in May 429, the Vandals, whom out of spite Boniface had invited to Africa, passed the straits of Gibraltar and streamed into Mauritania. The invasion rapidly reached the other rich African provinces. In May or June 430, "the destroyers of the Roman Empire", as Possidius described these barbarians (Vita, 30, 1), were surrounding and besieging Hippo.

Boniface had also sought refuge in the city. Having been reconciled with the court too late, he was now trying in vain to block the invaders' entry. Possidius, Augustine's biographer, describes Augustine's sorrow: "More tears than usual were his bread, night and day, and when he had reached the very end of his life, his old age caused him, more than others, grief and mourning (Vita, 28, 6). And he explains: "Indeed, that man of God saw the massacres and the destruction of the city; houses in the countryside were pulled down and the inhabitants killed by the enemy or put to flight and dispersed. Private churches belonging to priests and ministers were demolished, sacred virgins and Religious scattered on every side; some died under torture, others were killed by the sword, still others taken prisoner, losing the integrity of their soul and body and even their faith, reduced by their enemies to a long, drawn-out and painful slavery" (ibid., 28, 8).

Despite being old and weary, Augustine stood in the breach, comforting himself and others with prayer and meditation on the mysterious designs of Providence. In this regard, he spoke of the "old-age of the world" - and this Roman world was truly old -, he spoke of this old age as years earlier he had spoken to comfort the refugees from Italy when Alaric's Goths had invaded the city of Rome in 410. In old age, he said, ailments proliferate: coughs, catarrh, bleary eyes, anxiety and exhaustion. Yet, if the world grows old, Christ is perpetually young; hence, the invitation: "Do not refuse to be rejuvenated united to Christ, even in the old world. He tells you: Do not fear, your youth will be renewed like that of the eagle" (cf. Serm. 81, 8). Thus, the Christian must not lose heart, even in difficult situations, but rather he must spare no effort to help those in need. This is what the great doctor suggested in his response to Honoratus, Bishop of Tiabe, who had asked him whether a Bishop or a priest or any man of the Church with the barbarians hot on his heels could flee to save his life: "When danger is common to all, that is, for Bishops, clerics and lay people, may those who need others not be abandoned by the people whom they need. In this case, either let all depart together to safe places or let those who must remain not be deserted by those through whom, in things pertaining to the Church, their necessities must be provided for; and so let them share life in common, or share in common that which the Father of their family appoints them to suffer" (EP 228,2). And he concluded: "Such conduct is especially the proof of love" (ibid., 3). How can we fail to recognize in these words the heroic message that so many priests down the centuries have welcomed and made their own?

In the meantime, the city of Hippo resisted. Augustine's monastery-home had opened its doors to welcome episcopal colleagues who were asking for hospitality. Also of this number was Possidius, a former disciple of Augustine; he was able to leave us his direct testimony of those last dramatic days. "In the third month of that siege", Possidius recounts, "Augustine took to his bed with a fever: it was his last illness" (Vita, 29, 3). The holy old man made the most of that period when he was at last free to dedicate himself with greater intensity to prayer. He was in the habit of saying that no one, Bishop, Religious or layman, however irreprehensible his conduct might seem, can face death without adequate repentance. For this reason he ceaselessly repeated between his tears, the penitential psalms he had so often recited with his people (cf. ibid., 31, 2).

The worse his illness became, the more the dying Bishop felt the need for solitude and prayer: "In order that no one might disturb him in his recollection, about 10 days before leaving his body, he asked those of us present not to let anyone into his room outside the hours in which the doctors came to visit him or when his meals were brought. His desire was minutely complied with and in all that time he devoted himself to prayer" (ibid., 31, 3). He breathed his last on 28 August 430: his great heart rested at last in God.

"For the last rites of his body", Possidius informs us, "the sacrifice in which we took part was offered to God and then he was buried" (Vita, 31, 5). His body on an unknown date was translated to Sardinia, and from here, in about 725, to the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia, where it still rests today. His first biographer has this final opinion of him: "He bequeathed to his Church a very numerous clergy and also monasteries of men and women full of people who had taken vows of chastity under the obedience of their superiors, as well as libraries containing his books and discourses and those of other saints, from which one learns what, through the grace of God, were his merits and greatness in the Church, where the faithful always find him alive" (Possidius, Vita, 31, 8). This is an opinion in which we can share. We too "find him alive" in his writings. When I read St Augustine's writings, I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel he is like a man of today: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith. In St Augustine who talks to us, talks to me in his writings, we see the everlasting timeliness of his faith; of the faith that comes from Christ, the Eternal Incarnate Word, Son of God and Son of Man. And we can see that this faith is not of the past although it was preached yesterday; it is still timely today, for Christ is truly yesterday, today and for ever. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, St Augustine encourages us to entrust ourselves to this ever-living Christ and in this way find the path of life.

To special groups

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, including the students from Australia, Ireland and the United States of America. May your time in Rome be one of uplifting spiritual renewal. Upon all of you I invoke God's abundant Blessings of joy and peace.

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the example of St Anthony Abbot, the distinguished Father of monasticism who worked hard for the Church by supporting martyrs during the persecution, encourage you, dear young people, to seek Christ constantly and follow him faithfully; may it comfort you, dear sick people, in bearing your suffering patiently and in offering it up so that the Kingdom of God may be spread throughout the world; and may it help you, dear newly-weds, to be witnesses of Christ's love in your family life.


The traditional Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins the day after tomorrow, Friday, 18 January. It is particularly important this year because 100 years have passed since it was introduced. The theme is St Paul's invitation to the Thessalonians: "Pray without ceasing" (
1Th 5,17), an invitation that I gladly make my own and address to the whole Church. Yes, it is necessary to pray constantly, asking God insistently for the great gift of unity among all the Lord's disciples. May the inexhaustible power of the Holy Spirit encourage us to a sincere commitment to seeking unity, so that we may profess all together that Jesus is the one Saviour of the world.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Audiences 2005-2013 19127