Audiences 2005-2013 26089

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 - Safeguarding of Creation

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have almost reached the end of August, which for many means the end of the summer holidays. As we pick up our usual routine, how could we not thank God for the precious gift of creation which we so enjoy, and not only during our holidays! The various phenomena of environmental degradation and natural disasters which, unfortunately, are often reported in the news remind us of the urgent need to respect nature as we should, recovering and appreciating a correct relationship with the environment in every day life. A new sensitivity to these topics that justly give rise to concern on the part of the Authorities and of public opinion is developing and is expressed in the increasing number of meetings, also at the international level.

The Earth is indeed a precious gift of the Creator who, in designing its intrinsic order, has given us bearings that guide us as stewards of his creation. Precisely from within this framework, the Church considers matters concerning the environment and its protection intimately linked to the theme of integral human development. In my recent Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I referred more than once to such questions, recalling the "pressing moral need for renewed solidarity" (n. 49) not only between countries but also between individuals, since the natural environment is given by God to everyone, and our use of it entails a personal responsibility towards humanity as a whole, and in particular towards the poor and towards future generations (cf. n. 48). Bearing in mind our common responsibility for creation (cf. n. 51), the Church is not only committed to promoting the protection of land, water and air as gifts of the Creator destined to everyone but above all she invites others and works herself to protect mankind from self-destruction. In fact, "when "human ecology' is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits" (ibid.). Is it not true that an irresponsible use of creation begins precisely where God is marginalized or even denied? If the relationship between human creatures and the Creator is forgotten, matter is reduced to a selfish possession, man becomes the "last word", and the purpose of human existence is reduced to a scramble for the maximum number of possessions possible.

The created world, structured in an intelligent way by God, is entrusted to our responsibility and though we are able to analyze it and transform it we cannot consider ourselves creation's absolute master. We are called, rather, to exercise responsible stewardship of creation, in order to protect it, to enjoy its fruits, and to cultivate it, finding the resources necessary for every one to live with dignity. Through the help of nature itself and through hard work and creativity, humanity is indeed capable of carrying out its grave duty to hand on the earth to future generations so that they too, in turn, will be able to inhabit it worthily and continue to cultivate it (cf. n. 50). For this to happen, it is essential to develop "that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God" (Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, n. 7), recognizing that we all come from God and that we are all journeying towards him. How important it is then, that the international community and individual governments send the right signals to their citizens to succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment! The economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources must be recognized with transparency and borne by those who incur them, and not by other peoples or future generations. The protection of the environment, and the safeguarding of resources and of the climate, oblige all international leaders to act jointly respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the world (cf. Caritas in Veritate, n. 50). Together we can build an integral human development beneficial for all peoples, present and future, a development inspired by the values of charity in truth. For this to happen it is essential that the current model of global development be transformed through a greater, and shared, acceptance of responsibility for creation: this is demanded not only by environmental factors, but also by the scandal of hunger and human misery.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us now give thanks to the Lord and make our own the words of St Francis found in "The Canticle of All Creatures":

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,...

So says St Francis. We, too, wish to pray and live in the spirit of these words.

To special groups:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the many altar servers, school pupils and choristers.

The summer holidays have given us all the opportunity to thank God for the precious gift of creation. Taking up this theme, I wish to reflect today upon the relationship between the Creator and ourselves as guardians of his creation. In so doing I also wish to offer my support to leaders of governments and international agencies who soon will meet at the United Nations to discuss the urgent issue of climate change.

The Earth is indeed a precious gift of the Creator who, in designing its intrinsic order, has given us guidelines that assist us as stewards of his creation. Precisely from within this framework, the Church considers that matters concerning the environment and its protection are intimately linked with integral human development. In my recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I referred to such questions recalling the “pressing moral need for renewed solidarity” (no. 49) not only between countries but also between individuals, since the natural environment is given by God to everyone, and so our use of it entails a personal responsibility towards humanity as a whole, particularly towards the poor and towards future generations (cf. no. 48).

How important it is then, that the international community and individual governments send the right signals to their citizens and succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment! The economic and social costs of using up shared resources must be recognized with transparency and borne by those who incur them, and not by other peoples or future generations. The protection of the environment, and the safeguarding of resources and of the climate, oblige all leaders to act jointly, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the world (cf. no. 50). Together we can build an integral human development beneficial for all peoples, present and future, a development inspired by the values of charity in truth. For this to happen it is essential that the current model of global development be transformed through a greater, and shared, acceptance of responsibility for creation: this is demanded not only by environmental factors, but also by the scandal of hunger and human misery.

With these sentiments I wish to encourage all the participants in the United Nations summit to enter into their discussions constructively and with generous courage. Indeed, we are all called to exercise responsible stewardship of creation, to use resources in such a way that every individual and community can live with dignity, and to develop “that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God” (Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, 7)! Thank you.
* * *

I now address the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. In the next few days the liturgy commemorates two great Saints, St Monica and St Augustine, united on earth by kinship and in Heaven by the same destiny of glory. May their example impel you, young people, to a sincere and enthusiastic search for evangelical Truth; may it reveal to you, sick people, the redemptive value of suffering offered to God in union with the sacrifice of the Cross; may it sustain you, dear newlyweds, in the generous witness of God's freely given love.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 2 September 2009 - Saint Odo of Cluny

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After a long pause, I would like to resume the presentation of important writers of the Eastern and Western Church in the Middle Ages because in their life and writings we see as in a mirror what it means to be Christian. Today I present to you the luminous figure of St Odo, Abbot of Cluny. He fits into that period of medieval monasticism which saw the surprising success in Europe of the life and spirituality inspired by the Rule of St Benedict. In those centuries there was a wonderful increase in the number of cloisters that sprang up and branched out over the continent, spreading the Christian spirit and sensibility far and wide. St Odo takes us back in particular to Cluny, one of the most illustrious and famous monasteries in the Middle Ages that still today reveals to us, through its majestic ruins, the signs of a past rendered glorious by intense dedication to ascesis, study and, in a special way, to divine worship, endowed with decorum and beauty.

Odo was the second Abbot of Cluny. He was born in about 880, on the boundary between the Maine and the Touraine regions of France. Odo's father consecrated him to the holy Bishop Martin of Tours, in whose beneficent shadow and memory he was to spend his entire life, which he ended close to St Martin's tomb. His choice of religious consecration was preceded by the inner experience of a special moment of grace, of which he himself spoke to another monk, John the Italian, who later became his biographer. Odo was still an adolescent, about 16 years old, when one Christmas Eve he felt this prayer to the Virgin rise spontaneously to his lips: "My Lady, Mother of Mercy, who on this night gave birth to the Saviour, pray for me. May your glorious and unique experience of childbirth, O Most Devout Mother, be my refuge" (Vita sancti Odonis, 1, 9: PL 133, 747). The name "Mother of Mercy", with which young Odo then invoked the Virgin, was to be the title by which he always subsequently liked to address Mary. He also called her "the one Hope of the world ... thanks to whom the gates of Heaven were opened to us" (In veneratione S. Mariae Magdalenae: PL 133, 721). At that time Odo chanced to come across the Rule of St Benedict and to comment on it, "bearing, while not yet a monk, the light yoke of monks" (ibid., I, 14, PL 133, 50). In one of his sermons Odo was to celebrate Benedict as the "lamp that shines in the dark period of life" (De sancto Benedicto abbate: PL 133, 725), and to describe him as "a teacher of spiritual discipline" (ibid., PL 133, 727). He was to point out with affection that Christian piety, "with the liveliest gentleness commemorates him" in the knowledge that God raised him "among the supreme and elect Fathers of Holy Church" (ibid., PL 133, 722).

Fascinated by the Benedictine ideal, Odo left Tours and entered the Benedictine Abbey of Baume as a monk; he later moved to Cluny, of which in 927 he became abbot. From that centre of spiritual life he was able to exercise a vast influence over the monasteries on the continent. Various monasteries or coenobiums were able to benefit from his guidance and reform, including that of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. More than once Odo visited Rome and he even went as far as Subiaco, Monte Cassino and Salerno. He actually fell ill in Rome in the summer of 942. Feeling that he was nearing his end, he was determined, and made every effort, to return to St Martin in Tours, where he died, in the Octave of the Saint's feast, on 18 November 942. His biographer, stressing the "virtue of patience" that Odo possessed, gives a long list of his other virtues that include contempt of the world, zeal for souls and the commitment to peace in the Churches. Abbot Odo's great aspirations were: concord between kings and princes, the observance of the commandments, attention to the poor, the correction of youth and respect for the elderly (cf. Vita sancti Odonis, I, 17: PL 133, 49).

He loved the cell in which he dwelled, "removed from the eyes of all, eager to please God alone" (ibid., I, 14: PL 133, 49). However, he did not fail also to exercise, as a "superabundant source", the ministry of the word and to set an example, "regretting the immense wretchedness of this world" (ibid., I, 17: PL 133, 51). In a single monk, his biographer comments, were combined the different virtues that exist, which are found to be few and far between in other monasteries: "Jesus, in his goodness, drawing on the various gardens of monks, in a small space created a paradise, in order to water the hearts of the faithful from its fountains" (ibid., I, 14: PL 133,49). In a passage from a sermon in honour of Mary of Magdala the Abbot of Cluny reveals to us how he conceived of monastic life: "Mary, who, seated at the Lord's feet, listened attentively to his words, is the symbol of the sweetness of contemplative life; the more its savour is tasted, the more it induces the mind to be detached from visible things and the tumult of the world's preoccupations" (In ven. S. Mariae Magd., PL 133, 717). Odo strengthened and developed this conception in his other writings. From them transpire his love for interiority, a vision of the world as a brittle, precarious reality from which to uproot oneself, a constant inclination to detachment from things felt to be sources of anxiety, an acute sensitivity to the presence of evil in the various types of people and a deep eschatological aspiration. This vision of the world may appear rather distant from our own; yet Odo's conception of it, his perception of the fragility of the world, values an inner life that is open to the other, to the love of one's neighbour, and in this very way transforms life and opens the world to God's light.

The "devotion" to the Body and Blood of Christ which Odo in the face of a widespread neglect of them which he himself deeply deplored always cultivated with conviction deserves special mention. Odo was in fact firmly convinced of the Real Presence, under the Eucharistic species, of the Body and Blood of the Lord, by virtue of the conversion of the "substance" of the bread and the wine.
He wrote: "God, Creator of all things, took the bread saying that this was his Body and that he would offer it for the world, and he distributed the wine, calling it his Blood"; now, "it is a law of nature that the change should come about in accordance with the Creator's command", and thus "nature immediately changes its usual condition: the bread instantly becomes flesh, and the wine becomes blood"; at the Lord's order, "the substance changes" (Odonis Abb. Cluniac. occupatio, ed. A. Swoboda, Leipzig 1900, p. 121). Unfortunately, our abbot notes, this "sacrosanct mystery of the Lord's Body, in whom the whole salvation of the world consists", (Collationes, XXVIII: PL 133, 572), is celebrated carelessly. "Priests", he warns, "who approach the altar unworthily, stain the bread, that is, the Body of Christ" (ibid., PL 133, 572-573). Only those who are spiritually united to Christ may worthily participate in his Eucharistic Body: should the contrary be the case, to eat his Flesh and to drink his Blood would not be beneficial but rather a condemnation (cf. ibid.,XXX, PL 133, 575). All this invites us to believe the truth of the Lord's presence with new force and depth. The presence in our midst of the Creator, who gives himself into our hands and transforms us as he transforms the bread and the wine, thus transforms the world.

St Odo was a true spiritual guide both for the monks and for the faithful of his time. In the face of the "immensity of the vices widespread in society, the remedy he strongly advised was that of a radical change of life, based on humility, austerity, detachment from ephemeral things and adherence to those that are eternal (cf. Collationes, XXX, PL 133, 613). In spite of the realism of his diagnosis on the situation of his time, Odo does not indulge in pessimism: "We do not say this", he explains, "in order to plunge those who wish to convert into despair. Divine mercy is always available; it awaits the hour of our conversion" (ibid., PL 133, 563). And he exclaims: "O ineffable bowels of divine piety! God pursues wrongs and yet protects sinners" (ibid., PL 133, 592). Sustained by this conviction, the Abbot of Cluny used to like to pause to contemplate the mercy of Christ, the Saviour whom he describes evocatively as "a lover of men": "amator hominum Christus" (ibid., LIII: PL 133, 637). He observes "Jesus took upon himself the scourging that would have been our due in order to save the creature he formed and loves (cf. ibid., PL 133, 638).

Here, a trait of the holy abbot appears that at first sight is almost hidden beneath the rigour of his austerity as a reformer: his deep, heartfelt kindness. He was austere, but above all he was good, a man of great goodness, a goodness that comes from contact with the divine goodness. Thus Odo, his peers tell us, spread around him his overflowing joy. His biographer testifies that he never heard "such mellifluous words" on human lips (ibid.,I, 17: PL 133, 31). His biographer also records that he was in the habit of asking the children he met along the way to sing, and that he would then give them some small token, and he adds: "Abbot Odo's words were full of joy ... his merriment instilled in our hearts deep joy" (ibid., II, 5: PL 133, 63). In this way the energetic yet at the same time lovable medieval abbot, enthusiastic about reform, with incisive action nourished in his monks, as well as in the lay faithful of his time, the resolution to progress swiftly on the path of Christian perfection.

Let us hope that his goodness, the joy that comes from faith, together with austerity and opposition to the world's vices, may also move our hearts, so that we too may find the source of the joy that flows from God's goodness.

To special groups

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Nigeria and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the Servants of the Holy Spirit, as well as the young people from the Holy Study House of Prayer. Upon all of you I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace!

I address a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet in particular the participants in the Inter-Christian Symposium sponsored by the Antonianum Pontifical University and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and I hope that the common reflection between Catholics and Orthodox on the figure of St Augustine will strengthen us on our way towards full communion.

Lastly, I address an affectionate greeting to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. I invite you young people to welcome and live the word of God with courage and the creativity typical of your age. I encourage you, dear sick people, to preserve the Gospel teachings in your hearts to draw from them strength, serenity and support in the trial of suffering. I hope that you newlyweds will set out with generous fidelity on the way suggested by the Son of God, so that your new family may be built upon the firm rock of his word.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 9 September 2009 - Saint Peter Damian

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the Catecheses of these Wednesdays I am commenting on several important people in the life of the Church from her origins. Today I would like to reflect on one of the most significant figures of the 11th century, St Peter Damian, a monk, a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform, initiated by the Popes of the time. He was born in Ravenna in 1007, into a noble family but in straitened circumstances. He was left an orphan and his childhood was not exempt from hardships and suffering, although his sister Roselinda tried to be a mother to him and his elder brother, Damian, adopted him as his son. For this very reason he was to be called Piero di Damiano, Pier Damiani [Peter of Damian, Peter Damian]. He was educated first at Faenza and then at Parma where, already at the age of 25, we find him involved in teaching. As well as a good grounding in the field of law, he acquired a refined expertise in the art of writing the ars scribendi and, thanks to his knowledge of the great Latin classics, became "one of the most accomplished Latinists of his time, one of the greatest writers of medieval Latin" (J. Leclercq, Pierre Damien, ermite et homme d'Église, Rome, 1960, p. 172).

He distinguished himself in the widest range of literary forms: from letters to sermons, from hagiographies to prayers, from poems to epigrams. His sensitivity to beauty led him to poetic contemplation of the world. Peter Damian conceived of the universe as a never-ending "parable" and a sequence of symbols on which to base the interpretation of inner life and divine and supra-natural reality. In this perspective, in about the year 1034, contemplation of the absolute of God impelled him gradually to detach himself from the world and from its transient realties and to withdraw to the Monastery of Fonte Avellana. It had been founded only a few decades earlier but was already celebrated for its austerity. For the monks' edification he wrote the Life of the Founder, St Romuald of Ravenna, and at the same time strove to deepen their spirituality, expounding on his ideal of eremitic monasticism.

One detail should be immediately emphasized: the Hermitage at Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross and the Cross was the Christian mystery that was to fascinate Peter Damian more than all the others. "Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ", he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117); and he described himself as "Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ" (EP 9,1). Peter Damian addressed the most beautiful prayers to the Cross in which he reveals a vision of this mystery which has cosmic dimensions for it embraces the entire history of salvation: "O Blessed Cross", he exclaimed, "You are venerated, preached and honoured by the faith of the Patriarchs, the predictions of the Prophets, the senate that judges the Apostles, the victorious army of Martyrs and the throngs of all the Saints" (Sermo XLVII, 14, p. 304). Dear Brothers and Sisters, may the example of St Peter Damian spur us too always to look to the Cross as to the supreme act God's love for humankind of God, who has given us salvation.

This great monk compiled a Rule for eremitical life in which he heavily stressed the "rigour of the hermit": in the silence of the cloister the monk is called to spend a life of prayer, by day and by night, with prolonged and strict fasting; he must put into practice generous brotherly charity in ever prompt and willing obedience to the prior. In study and in the daily meditation of Sacred Scripture, Peter Damian discovered the mystical meaning of the word of God, finding in it nourishment for his spiritual life. In this regard he described the hermit's cell as the "parlour in which God converses with men". For him, living as a hermit was the peak of Christian existence, "the loftiest of the states of life" because the monk, now free from the bonds of worldly life and of his own self, receives "a dowry from the Holy Spirit and his happy soul is united with its heavenly Spouse" (EP 18,17 cf. EP 28,43 ff.). This is important for us today too, even though we are not monks: to know how to make silence within us to listen to God's voice, to seek, as it were, a "parlour" in which God speaks with us: learning the word of God in prayer and in meditation is the path to life.

St Peter Damian, who was essentially a man of prayer, meditation and contemplation, was also a fine theologian: his reflection on various doctrinal themes led him to important conclusions for life. Thus, for example, he expresses with clarity and liveliness the Trinitarian doctrine, already using, under the guidance of biblical and patristic texts, the three fundamental terms which were subsequently to become crucial also for the philosophy of the West: processio, relatio and persona (cf. Opusc. XXXVIII: PL CXLV, 633-642; and Opusc. II and III: ibid., 41 ff. and 58 ff). However, because theological analysis of the mystery led him to contemplate the intimate life of God and the dialogue of ineffable love between the three divine Persons, he drew ascetic conclusions from them for community life and even for relations between Latin and Greek Christians, divided on this topic. His meditation on the figure of Christ is significantly reflected in practical life, since the whole of Scripture is centred on him. The "Jews", St Peter Damian notes, "through the pages of Sacred Scripture, bore Christ on their shoulders as it were" (Sermo XLVI, 15). Therefore Christ, he adds, must be the centre of the monk's life: "May Christ be heard in our language, may Christ be seen in our life, may he be perceived in our hearts" (Sermo VIII, 5). Intimate union with Christ engages not only monks but all the baptized. Here we find a strong appeal for us too not to let ourselves be totally absorbed by the activities, problems and preoccupations of every day, forgetting that Jesus must truly be the centre of our life.

Communion with Christ creates among Christians a unity of love. In Letter 28, which is a brilliant ecclesiological treatise, Peter Damian develops a profound theology of the Church as communion. "Christ's Church", he writes, is united by the bond of charity to the point that just as she has many members so is she, mystically, entirely contained in a single member; in such a way that the whole universal Church is rightly called the one Bride of Christ in the singular, and each chosen soul, through the sacramental mystery, is considered fully Church". This is important: not only that the whole universal Church should be united, but that the Church should be present in her totality in each one of us. Thus the service of the individual becomes "an expression of universality" (EP 28,9-23). However, the ideal image of "Holy Church" illustrated by Peter Damian does not correspond as he knew well to the reality of his time. For this reason he did not fear to denounce the state of corruption that existed in the monasteries and among the clergy, because, above all, of the practice of the conferral by the lay authorities of ecclesiastical offices; various Bishops and Abbots were behaving as the rulers of their subjects rather than as pastors of souls. Their moral life frequently left much to be desired. For this reason, in 1057 Peter Damian left his monastery with great reluctance and sorrow and accepted, if unwillingly, his appointment as Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. So it was that he entered fully into collaboration with the Popes in the difficult task of Church reform. He saw that to make his own contribution of helping in the work of the Church's renewal contemplation did not suffice. He thus relinquished the beauty of the hermitage and courageously undertook numerous journeys and missions.

Because of his love for monastic life, 10 years later, in 1067, he obtained permission to return to Fonte Avellana and resigned from the Diocese of Ostia. However, the tranquillity he had longed for did not last long: two years later, he was sent to Frankfurt in an endeavour to prevent the divorce of Henry iv from his wife Bertha. And again, two years later, in 1071, he went to Monte Cassino for the consecration of the abbey church and at the beginning of 1072, to Ravenna, to re-establish peace with the local Archbishop who had supported the antipope bringing interdiction upon the city.
On the journey home to his hermitage, an unexpected illness obliged him to stop at the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria Vecchia Fuori Porta in Faenza, where he died in the night between 22 and 23 February 1072.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a great grace that the Lord should have raised up in the life of the Church a figure as exuberant, rich and complex as St Peter Damian. Moreover, it is rare to find theological works and spirituality as keen and vibrant as those of the Hermitage at Fonte Avellana. St Peter Damian was a monk through and through, with forms of austerity which to us today might even seem excessive. Yet, in that way he made monastic life an eloquent testimony of God's primacy and an appeal to all to walk towards holiness, free from any compromise with evil. He spent himself, with lucid consistency and great severity, for the reform of the Church of his time. He gave all his spiritual and physical energies to Christ and to the Church, but always remained, as he liked to describe himself, Petrus ultimus monachorum servus, Peter, the lowliest servant of the monks.

To special groups

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Gibraltar, Japan and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the Lord's abundant blessings of joy and peace!

I address a special welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet you, all ecclesiastical advisers, directors and representatives of Coldiretti and I encourage you to continue with commitment your social and spiritual service in the world of agriculture. May the theme of your congress be an incentive to you to reaffirm the ethical principles of the economy to revive hope with solidarity. I greet the exponents of the Associazione Nazionale Mutilati ed Invalidi del Lavoro, as well as those of the Associazione Invalidi Civili, in the hope that with regard to these brethren of ours society and the institutions will pay them ever greater attention. I greet with affection the members of the Lyons Club Nardò and assure each one of them and their respective families of my fervent prayers.

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical Memorial of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Second Vatican Council says that Mary goes before us on the journey of faith because "she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (
Lc 1,45). I ask the blessed Virgin for the gift of an ever more mature faith for you young people; a hope ever stronger for you sick people; and for you newlyweds, a love that is ever deeper and more enduring.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 - Symeon the New Theologian

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we pause to reflect on an Eastern monk, Symeon the New Theologian, whose writings have had a notable influence on the theology and spirituality of the East, in particular with regard to the experience of mystical union with God. Symeon the New Theologian was born in 949 in Galatai, Paphlagonia, in Asia Minor, into a provincial noble family. While he was still young he moved to Constantinople to complete his education and enter the Emperor's service. However, he did not feel attracted by the civil career that awaited him. Under the influence of the inner illumination he was experiencing, he set out in search of someone who would guide him in the period of doubt and perplexity he was living through and help him advance on the path of union with God. He found this spiritual guide in Symeon the Pious (Eulabes), a simple monk of the Studios in Constantinople who advised him to read Mark the Monk's treatise, The Spiritual Law. Symeon the New Theologian found in this text a teaching that made a deep impression on him: "If you seek spiritual healing, be attentive to your conscience,"he read in it. "Do all that it tells you and you will find what serves you". From that very moment, he himself says, he never went to sleep without first asking himself whether his conscience had anything with which to reproach him.

Symeon entered the Studite monastery where, however, his mystical experiences and extraordinary devotion to his spiritual father caused him some difficulty. He moved to the small convent of St Mamas, also in Constantinople, of which three years later he became abbot, hegumen. There he embarked on an intense quest for spiritual union with Christ which gave him great authority. It is interesting to note that he was given the title of the "New Theologian", in spite of the tradition that reserved this title for two figures, John the Evangelist and Gregory of Nazianzus. Symeon suffered misunderstandings and exile but was rehabilitated by Patriarch Sergius II of Constantinople.

Symeon the New Theologian spent the last stage of his life at the Monastery of St Marina where he wrote a large part of his opus, becoming ever more famous for his teaching and his miracles. He died on 12 March 1022.

The best known of his disciples, Niceta Stethatos, who collected and copied Symeon's writings, compiled a posthumous edition of them and subsequently wrote his biography. Symeon's opus consists of nine volumes that are divided into theological, gnostic and practical chapters, three books of catecheses addressed to monks, two books of theological and ethical treatises and one of hymns.Moreover, his numerous Letters should not be forgotten. All these works have had an important place in the Eastern monastic tradition to our day.

Symeon focused his reflection on the Holy Spirit's presence in the baptized and on the awareness they must have of this spiritual reality. "Christian life", he emphasized, "is intimate, personal communion with God, divine grace illumines the believer's heart and leads him to a mystical vision of the Lord". Along these lines, Symeon the New Theologian insisted that true knowledge of God does not come from books but rather from spiritual experience, from spiritual life. Knowledge of God is born from a process of inner purification that begins with conversion of heart through the power of faith and love. It passes through profound repentance and sincere sorrow for one's sins to attain union with Christ, the source of joy and peace, suffused with the light of his presence within us. For Symeon this experience of divine grace did not constitute an exceptional gift for a few mystics but rather was the fruit of Baptism in the life of every seriously committed believer.

A point on which to reflect, dear brothers and sisters! This holy Eastern monk calls us all to pay attention to our spiritual life, to the hidden presence of God within us, to the sincerity of the conscience and to purification, to conversion of heart, so that the Holy Spirit may really become present in us and guide us. Indeed, if rightly we are concerned to care for our physical, human and intellectual development, it is even more important not to neglect our inner growth. This consists in the knowledge of God, in true knowledge, not only learned from books but from within and in communion with God, to experience his help at every moment and in every circumstance. Basically it is this that Symeon describes when he recounts his own mystical experience. Already as a young man, before entering the monastery, while at home one night immersed in prayer and invoking God's help to fight temptations, he saw the room fill with light. Later, when he entered the monastery, he was given spiritual books for instruction but reading them did not procure for him the peace that he sought. He felt, he himself says, as if he were a poor little bird without wings. He humbly accepted this situation without rebelling and it was then that his visions of light began once again to increase. Wishing to assure himself of their authenticity, Symeon asked Christ directly: "Lord, is it truly you who are here?". He heard the affirmative answer resonating in his heart and was supremely comforted. "That, Lord", he was to write later, "was the first time that you considered me, a prodigal son, worthy of hearing your voice". However, not even this revelation left him entirely at peace. He wondered, rather, whether he ought to consider that experience an illusion. At last, one day an event occurred that was crucial to his mystical experience. He began to feel like "a poor man who loves his brethren" (ptochós philádelphos). Around him he saw hordes of enemies bent on ensnaring him and doing him harm, yet he felt within an intense surge of love for them. How can this be explained? Obviously, such great love could not come from within him but must well up from another source. Symeon realized that it was coming from Christ present within him and everything became clear: he had a sure proof that the source of love in him was Christ's presence. He was certain that having in ourselves a love that exceeds our personal intentions suggests that the source of love is in us. Thus we can say on the one hand that if we are without a certain openness to love Christ does not enter us, and on the other, that Christ becomes a source of love and transforms us. Dear friends, this experience remains particularly important for us today if we are to find the criteria that tell us whether we are truly close to God, whether God exists and dwells in us. God's love develops in us if we stay united to him with prayer and with listening to his word, with an open heart. Divine love alone prompts us to open our hearts to others and makes us sensitive to their needs, bringing us to consider everyone as brothers and sisters and inviting us to respond to hatred with love and to offence with forgiveness.

In thinking about this figure of Symeon the New Theologian, we may note a further element of his spirituality. On the path of ascetic life which he proposed and took, the monk's intense attention and concentration on the inner experience conferred an essential importance on the spiritual father of the monastery. The same young Symeon, as has been said, had found a spiritual director who gave him substantial help and whom he continued to hold in the greatest esteem such as to profess veneration for him, even in public, after his death. And I would like to say that the invitation to have recourse to a good spiritual father who can guide every individual to profound knowledge of himself and lead him to union with the Lord so that his life may be in ever closer conformity with the Gospel still applies for all priests, consecrated and lay people, and especially youth. To go towards the Lord we always need a guide, a dialogue. We cannot do it with our thoughts alone. And this is also the meaning of the ecclesiality of our faith, of finding this guide.

To conclude, we may sum up the teaching and mystical experience of Symeon the New Theologian in these words: in his ceaseless quest for God, even amidst the difficulties he encountered and the criticism of which he was the object, in the end he let himself be guided by love. He himself was able to live and teach his monks that for every disciple of Jesus the essential is to grow in love; thus we grow in the knowledge of Christ himself, to be able to say with St Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (
Ga 2,20).

To special groups

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here this morning, including the priests and brothers of the Society of Mary gathered in Rome for their chapter, and the various schools and university groups present. Upon you all, I willingly invoke God's abundant graces.

I now address my greeting to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Yesterday we commemorated Our Lady of Sorrows, who stood beneath the cross with faith. Dear young people; do not be afraid to stand like Mary beside the Cross, to find the courage to overcome every obstacle in your life. and you, dear sick people, may you find in Mary comfort and support for learning from the Crucified Lord the saving value of suffering. May you, dear newlyweds, in difficult moments turn with trust to Our lady of Sorrows, who will help you face them with her motherly intercession.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 23 September 2009 - Saint Anselm

Audiences 2005-2013 26089