Audiences 2005-2013 13062
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The daily encounter with the Lord and regular acceptance of the Sacraments enable us to open our mind and heart to his presence, his words and his action. Prayer is not only the breath of the soul but, to make use of a metaphor, it is also the oasis of peace from which we can draw the water that nourishes our spiritual life and transforms our existence. God draws us towards him, offering us enlightenment and consolation, and enabling us to scale the mountain of holiness so that we may be ever closer to him.
This is the personal experience to which St Paul refers in Chapter 12 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians on which I wish to reflect today. In the face of those who contested the legitimacy of his apostolate he does not actually list the communities he has founded, the kilometres he has covered; he does not limit himself to recalling the difficulty and opposition he confronted in order to proclaim the Gospel; he points to his relationship with the Lord, a relationship so intense as also to be marked by moments of ecstasy, of profound contemplation (cf. 2Co 12,1); hence he does not boast of his achievements, his strength or his activities and successes, but rather of what God has worked in and through him.
Indeed with great modesty he tells of the moment when he lived the special experience of being caught up to heaven by God. He recalls that 14 years before he sent the Letter he “was caught up to the third heaven” (v. 2). With the language and ways of someone who is telling something that cannot be told, St Paul also speaks of that event in the third person. He says that a man was caught up into God’s “garden”, into Paradise. The Apostle’s contemplation is so profound and so intense that he does not even remember the content of the revelation he received; yet he clearly remembers the date and the circumstances in which the Lord grasped him in such a complete way and attracted him to himself, just as he had on the road to Damascus at the time of his conversion (cf. Phil Ph 3,12).
St Paul continues, saying that precisely to prevent pride from going to his head in the greatness of the revelations he had received, he has been given a “thorn” (2Co 12,7), an affliction, and insistently begs the Risen One to free him of the messenger of Satan, of this painful thorn in the flesh. Three times, he says, he beseeched the Lord to remove this trial. And it is in this situation that in deep contemplation of God, in which “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (v. 4), he receives an answer to his entreaty. The Risen One addresses to him clear and reassuring words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).
Paul’s commentary on these words may leave us amazed, but it shows that he understood what it means to truly be an apostle of the Gospel. In fact he exclaims: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9b-10), in other words he does not boast of his own actions but of the activity of Christ who acts precisely through his weakness.
Let us reflect a little longer on this event that occurred during the years in which St Paul lived in silence and contemplation, before he began to travel in the West to proclaim Christ, because this attitude of profound humility and trust before God’s manifestation of himself is also fundamental to our prayer and to our life, to our relationship with God and to our weaknesses.
First of all, what are the weaknesses that the Apostle is talking about? What is this “thorn” in the flesh? We do not know and he does not tell us but his attitude enables us to realize that every difficulty in following Christ and witnessing to his Gospel may be overcome by opening oneself with trust to the Lord’s action. St Paul is well aware that he is an “unworthy servant” (Lc 17,10) — it is not he who has done great things, it is the Lord — an “earthen vessel” (2Co 4,7), in which God places the riches and power of his Grace. In this moment of concentrated contemplative prayer, St Paul understands clearly how to face and how to live every event, especially suffering, difficulty and persecution. The power of God, who does not abandon us or leave us on our own but becomes our support and strength, is revealed at the very moment when we experience our own weakness.
Of course, Paul would have preferred to be freed from this “thorn”, from this affliction; but God says: “No, you are in need of it. You will have sufficient grace to resist it and to do what must be done. This also applies to us. The Lord does not free us from evils, but helps us to mature in sufferings, difficulties and persecutions. Faith, therefore, tells us that if we abide in God, “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day”, in trials (cf. v. 16).
The Apostle communicates to the Christians of Corinth and to us too that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (v. 17). In fact, humanly speaking the burden of his difficulties was not light, it was very heavy; but in comparison with God’s love, with the greatness of being loved by God, it appears light, in the knowledge that the quantity of glory will be boundless. Therefore, to the extent that our union with the Lord increases and that our prayers become intense, we also go to the essential and understand that it is not the power of our own means, our virtues, our skills that brings about the Kingdom of God but that it is God who works miracles precisely through our weakness, our inadequacy for the task. We must therefore have the humility not to trust merely in ourselves, but to work, with the Lord’s help, in the Lord’s vineyard, entrusting ourselves to him as fragile “earthen vessels”.
St Paul refers to two particular revelations that radically changed his life. The first — as we know — is the overwhelming question on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Ac 9,4), a question that led him to discover and encounter Christ, alive and present, and to hear his call to be an apostle of the Gospel.
The second revelation consists of the words the Lord addressed to him in the experience of contemplative prayer on which we are reflecting: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Faith alone, trust in the action of God, in the goodness of God who does not abandon us, is the guarantee that we are not working in vain. Thus the Lord’s Grace was the power that accompanied St Paul in his immense efforts to spread the Gospel and his heart entered the Heart of Christ, becoming able to lead others towards the One who died and rose for us.
In prayer, therefore, let us open our soul to the Lord so that he may come and inhabit our weakness, transforming it into power for the Gospel. Moreover the Greek verb with which Paul describes this dwelling of the Lord in his frail humanity is also rich in meaning; he uses episkenoo, which we may convey with “pitching his tent”. The Lord continues to pitch his tent in us, among us: he is the Mystery of the Incarnation. The divine Word himself, who came to dwell in our humanity, who wishes to dwell in us, to put up his tent in us to illuminate and transform our life and the world.
The intense contemplation of God experienced by St Paul recalls that of the disciples on Mount Tabor when, seeing Jesus transfigured and shining with light, Peter said to him, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mc 9,5). “He did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid”, St Mark adds (v. 6).
Contemplating the Lord is at the same time both fascinating and awe-inspiring: fascinating because he draws us to him and enraptures our hearts by uplifting them, carrying them to his heights where we experience the peace and beauty of his love; awe-inspiring because he lays bare our human weakness, our inadequacy, the effort to triumph over the Evil One who endangers our life, that thorn embedded also in our flesh. In prayer, in the daily contemplation of the Lord, we receive the strength of God’s love and feel that St Paul’s words to the Christians of Rome are true, when he wrote: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8,38-39).
In a world in which we risk relying solely on the efficiency and power of human means, we are called to rediscover and to witness to the power of God which is communicated in prayer, with which every day we grow in conforming our life to that of Christ, who — as Paul says — “was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we shall live with him by the power of God” (2Co 13,4).
Dear friends, in the past century Albert Schweitzer, a Protestant theologian who won the Nobel Peace Prize, said: “Paul is a mystic and nothing but a mystic”, that is, a man truly in love with Christ and so united to him that he could say: Christ lives in me. The mysticism of St Paul is not only founded on the exceptional events he lived through, but also on his daily and intense relationship with the Lord who always sustained him with his Grace.
Mysticism did not distance him from reality, on the contrary it gave him the strength to live each day for Christ and to build the Church to the ends of the world of that time. Union with God does not distance us from the world but gives us the strength to remain really in the world, to do what must be done in the world.
Thus in our life of prayer as well we can perhaps have moments of special intensity in which we feel the Lord’s presence is more vivid, especially in situations of aridity, of difficulty, of suffering, of an apparent absence of God. Only if we are grasped by Christ’s love will we be equal to facing every adversity, convinced, like Paul, that we can do all things in the One who gives us strength (cf. Phil Ph 4,13). Therefore, the more room we make for prayer the more we will see our life transformed and enlivened by the tangible power of God’s love.
This is what happened, for example, to Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta who found in contemplation of Jesus and even also in long periods of aridity the ultimate reason and incredible strength to recognize him in the poor and abandoned, in spite of her fragility. Contemplation of Christ in our life does not alienate us — as I have already said — from reality. Rather it enables us to share even more in human events, because the Lord, in attracting us to him through prayer, enables us to make ourselves present and close to every brother and sister in his love. Many thanks.
To special groups:
I am pleased to greet the participants in the 21st Intercoiffure World Congress. I also welcome the visitors from the Anglican Diocese of Southwark. My cordial greeting goes to the pilgrims from the Catholic Society of the Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary. I thank the Cantores Minores from Finland and the other choirs for their praise of God in song.
At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with all those taking part in the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland. I invite all of you to join me in praying that the Congress will bear rich spiritual fruit in a greater appreciation of our Lord’s gift of himself to us in the Eucharist and a deeper love of the mystery of the Church, which draws us into ever fuller communion with him and with one another through the daily celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, New Zealand, Samoa and the United States I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear young people, for many of your peers the holidays have already begun, while for others this is a time of examinations. May the Lord help you live this period serenely, experiencing his constant protection. I ask you, dear sick people, to find comfort in the Lord who continues his work of redemption thanks also to your suffering. And you, dear newlyweds, may you discover the mystery of God who gives himself for the salvation of all, so that your love may be ever truer, more enduring and welcoming.
Paul VI Audience Hall20062
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our prayers are very often requests for help in a time of need. Moreover, this is normal for men and women because we need help, we need others, we need God. Thus it is normal for us to ask God something, to seek help from him; and we must bear in mind that the prayer the Lord taught us, the “Our Father”, is a prayer of petition. With this prayer the Lord teaches us the priorities of our prayer and cleanses and purifies our desires and in this way he cleanses and purifies our hearts. Therefore even though it is in itself normal that we should ask for something in prayer, it should not be exclusively so.
There is also cause for thanksgiving and if we pay a little attention we see that we receive very many good things from God. He is so good to us that it is right and necessary to say “thank you”. And our prayer should also be a prayer of praise: if our hearts are open in spite of all the problems we also see the beauty of his creation, the goodness that is revealed in his creation. Therefore we must not only ask but also praise and give thanks, only in this way is our prayer complete. In his Letters St Paul does not only speak of prayer; he also refers to prayers and of course prayers of petition as well, but prayers of praise and blessing for all that God has worked and continues to work in humanity’s history.
And today I would like to reflect on the First Chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians that begins, precisely, with a prayer which is a hymn of blessing, an expression of gratitude, of joy. St Paul blesses God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because in him he has made us “know the mystery of his will” (Ep 1,9). There truly is a reason to express gratitude if God enables us to know all that is hidden: his will with us, for us; “the mystery of his will”. “Mysterion” or “Mystery”: a term that recurs frequently in Sacred Scripture and in the Liturgy.
I do not want to enter into philology here, but in the common language it indicates what it is impossible to know, a reality we are unable to grasp with our own intellect. The hymn that opens the Letter to the Ephesians takes us by the hand and leads us toward a more profound meaning of this term and of the reality that it points out to us. “Mystery”, for believers, is not so much the unknown as rather the merciful will of God, his plan of love which was fully revealed in Jesus Christ and offers us the possibility “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and the length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ” (Ep 3,18-19). The “unknown mystery” of God is revealed, it is that God loves us and has loved us from the beginning, from eternity.
Let us therefore reflect a little on this solemn and profound prayer. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ep 1,3). St Paul uses the verb “euloghein”, which more often translates the Hebrew term “barak”; it is praising, glorifying and thanking God the Father as the source of the goods of salvation, like the One who “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”.
The Apostle thanks and praises, but he also reflects on the reasons that spur the human being to offer this praise, this thanksgiving, presenting the fundamental elements of the divine plan and its stages. First of all we must bless God the Father because, St Paul writes, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (v. 4). What makes us holy and blameless is love. God called us to existence, to holiness. And this choice even precedes the foundation of the world. We have always been in his plan and in his mind. With the Prophet Jeremiah we too can say that he knew us before he formed us in our mother’s womb (cf. Jer Jr 1,5); and in knowing us he loved us. The vocation to holiness, that is, to communion with God belongs to an eternal design of this God, a design that extends through history and includes all the men and women of the world, because it is a universal appeal. God excludes no one, his plan is solely of love. St John Chrysostom says: God himself “rendered us holy but then we must continue to be holy. A holy man is he who is a partaker of faith” (Homilies on the Letter to the Eph. 1, 1, 4).
Paul continues, “he destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ”, to be incorporated in his Only-Begotten Son. The Apostle underlines the gratuitousness of this marvellous plan of God for humanity. God did not choose us because we are good, but because he is good. And antiquity had a phrase to say on goodness: bonum est diffusivum sui; goodness is communicated, it spreads. And thus, since God is goodness, he is the communication of goodness, he wishes to communicate; he creates because he wants to communicate his goodness to us and to make us good and holy.
At the heart of the prayer of blessing, the Apostle illustrates the way in which the Father’s plan of salvation is brought about in Christ, in his beloved Son. He writes: “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ep 1,7). The sacrifice of the Cross of Christ is the unique and unrepeatable event with which the Father showed his love for us in a luminous way, not only in words but in practice. God is so real and his love is so real that he enters into history, he becomes a man to feel what it is, how it is to live in this created world, and he accepts the path of suffering of the Passion and even suffers death. God’s love is so real that he does not only participate in our being but also in our suffering and our dying. The sacrifice of the Cross ensures that we become “God’s property” because the Blood of Christ has redeemed us from sin, cleanses us from evil, removes us from the slavery of sin and death. St Paul invites us to consider the depths of God’s love that transforms history, that transformed his very life from being a persecutor of Christians to being an unflagging apostle of the Gospel. Here once again the reassuring words of the Letter to the Romans resound: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?... For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8,31-32 Rm 38-39). We must integrate this certainty — God is for us and no creature can separate us from him because his love is stronger — in our being, in our awareness as Christians.
Lastly, the divine blessing ends with the mention of the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts; the Paraclete whom we have received as a promised seal: “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ep 1,14). Redemption is not yet finished — as we know — but will reach its fulfilment when those whom God has ransomed are totally saved. We are still on the path of redemption, whose essential reality has been given with the death and Resurrection of Jesus. We are on our way towards definitive redemption, towards the full liberation of God’s children. And the Holy Spirit is the certainty that God will bring his plan of salvation to completion, when he will bring back to Christ, the only head, of all “things in heaven and things on earth” (Ep 1,10). St John Chrysostom comments on this point: “God has chosen us for faith and has impressed in us the seal of the inheritance of future glory” (Homilies on the Letter to the Eph. 2,11-14). We must accept that the journey of redemption is also our journey, because God wants free creatures who freely say “yes”; but it is above all and first of all his journey. We are in his hands and to walk on the way disclosed by him is now our freedom. Let us walk on this path of redemption, together with Christ and understand that redemption is brought about.
The vision which St Paul presents to us in this great prayer of blessing has led us to contemplate the action of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity: the Father who chose us before the creation of the world, who thought of us and created us; the Son who redeemed us through his Blood and the Holy Spirit, the pledge of our redemption and of our future glory. In constant prayer, in our daily relationship with God, let us learn, as St Paul did, to perceive ever more clearly the signs of his plan and his action: in the beauty of the Creator that emerges from his creatures (cf. Ep 3,9), as St Francis of Assisi sings: “Laudato sie mi’ Signore, cum tutte le Tue creature” (ff 263).
It is important to be attentive at this very moment, also in the holiday period, to the beauty of creation and to see God’s face shining out in this beauty. The saints showed clearly in their lives what God’s power can do in human weakness. And he can also do it in us. In the whole of the history of salvation, in which God has made himself close to us and patiently waits for us to take our time. He understands our infidelities, he encourages our commitment and guides us.
We learn in prayer to see the signs of this merciful plan in the Church’s journey. Thus we may grow in the love of God, opening the door so that the Blessed Trinity may come and dwell within us, may illuminate, warm and guide our lives. “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14,23), Jesus said, promising the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit who was to teach them all things. St Irenaeus once said that in the Incarnation the Holy Spirit became accustomed to being in man. In prayer we must become accustomed to being with God. It is very important, that we learn to be with God and thereby see how beautiful it is to be with him, who is the redemption.
Dear friends, when prayer nourishes our spiritual lives we become capable of preserving what St Paul calls “the mystery of faith” with a pure conscience (cf. 2Tm 3,9). Prayer as a way of “accustoming” oneself to being with God brings into being men and women who are not motivated by selfishness, by the desire to possess or by the thirst for power, but by gratuitousness, by the desire to love, by the thirst to serve, in other words who are motivated by God; and only in this way is it possible to bring light to the darkness of the world.
I would like to end this Catechesis with the epilogue of the Letter to the Romans. With St Paul, let us too glorify God for he has expressed himself entirely to us in Jesus Christ and has given us the Consoler, the Spirit of truth. St Paul writes at the end of his Letter to the Romans: “to him who is able to strengthen you according to my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God be glory for ever more through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rm 16,25-27).
To special groups:
I offer a warm welcome to the Forum of Interreligious Harmony from Indonesia. My greeting also goes to the participants in the Vatican Observatory Summer School. I likewise greet the “Wounded Warriors” group from the United States. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from Scotland, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
I am following with deep concern the news from Nigeria, where the terrorist attacks specifically directed at the Christian faithful are continuing. While I raise prayers for the victims and for all who are suffering, I appeal to those responsible for the violence to put an immediate end to the bloodshed of so many innocent people. In addition, I hope for the full collaboration of all the members of Nigerian society so that they do not pursue the path of revenge but that all the citizens collaborate in building a peaceful and reconciled society in which the right to freely profess their faith is fully protected.
Lastly, I extend a thought to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. The month of June recalls our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: dear young people, learn to love at the school of that Divine Heart; dear sick people, join your hearts in suffering to that of the Son of God; and you, dear newlyweds, draw from the sources of love while you are beginning to build your life in common. Many thanks.
Paul VI Audience Hall27062
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Just as we saw over the past Wednesdays, our prayer is composed of silence and words, of singing and of gestures that involve the whole person: from the mouth to the mind, from the heart to the entire body. We find this characteristic in Jewish prayer, especially in the Psalms. Today I would like to speak of one of the most ancient songs or hymns of the Christian tradition which St Paul presents to us in the Letter to the Philippians. In a certain sense this is his spiritual testament. Indeed, it is a Letter that the Apostle dictated while he was in prison, perhaps in Rome. He must have felt that his death was close at hand, for he says that his life will be offered as a libation (cf. Phil Ph 2,17).
In spite of this situation of grave danger to his physical safety, throughout this text St Paul expresses his joy in being a disciple of Christ, of being able to go to meet him even to the point of seeing death not as a loss but rather as a gain. In the last chapter of the Letter, there is a pressing invitation to joy, a fundamental characteristic of being Christian and of our prayer. St Paul writes: “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Ph 4,4). But how is it possible to rejoice in the face of a death sentence whose execution is now imminent? From where, or better, from whom did St Paul draw the serenity, strength and courage to go forward to meet martyrdom and the out-pouring of his blood?
We find the answer in the middle of the Letter to the Philippians, in what the Christian tradition calls the carmen Christo, the hymn to Christ, or, more commonly, the “Christological hymn”; it is a hymn in which all the attention is focused on the “mind” of Christ, that is, on his way of thinking and on his practical approach to life.
This prayer begins with an exhortation: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Ph 2,5). These sentiments are presented in the following verses: love, generosity, humility, obedience to God, the gift of self. It is not only or not merely a matter of following Jesus’ example, as something moral, but of involving one’s whole life in his way of thinking and acting. Prayer must lead Christians to knowledge and union in ever deeper love with the Lord, if they are to be able to think, act and love like him, in him and for him. Putting this into practice, learning the sentiments of Jesus, is the way of Christian life.
I would now like to reflect briefly on several elements of this concentrated hymn which sum up the entire divine and human itinerary of the Son of God and englobe the whole of human history: from being in the form of God to the Incarnation, to death on the Cross and to exaltation in the Father’s glory, the behaviour of Adam, of man, is also implicit from the start.
This hymn to Christ begins with his being “en morphe tou Theou” the Greek text says, that is, with being “in the form of God” or, rather, in the condition of God. Jesus, true God and true man, does not live his “being as God” in order to triumph or to impose his supremacy, he does not see it as a possession, a privilege or a treasure, to be jealously guarded.
On the contrary, he “stripped” himself, he emptied himself, the Greek text says, taking the “morphe doulos”, the “form of a slave”, human reality marked by suffering, poverty and death; he assumed the likeness of men in all things save sin, so as to behave as a servant totally dedicated to serving others.
In this regard Eusebius of Caesarea said: — in the fourth century — “he took upon himself the labours of the suffering members, and made our sicknesses his and suffered on our account all our woes and labours by the laws of love, in conformity with his great love for humanity” (Demonstratio Evangelica [Proof of the Gospel], 10, 1, 22 ).
St Paul continues, delineating the “historical” background in which Jesus’ humbling of himself took place: “he humbled himself and became obedient unto death” (Ph 2,8). The Son of God truly became man and completed a journey of total obedience and fidelity to the Father’s will, even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of his life. Furthermore the Apostle specifies: “unto death, even death on a cross” On the Cross Jesus Christ attained the greatest degree of humiliation, because crucifixion was the penalty kept for slaves and not for free men: “mors turpissima crucis”, Cicero wrote (cf. In Verrem, V, 64, 165).
Through the Cross of Christ man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is reversed. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, claimed to be like God through his own effort, to put himself in God’s place and in this way lost the original dignity that had been given to him. Jesus, instead, was “in the form of God” but humbled himself, immersed himself in the human condition, in total faithfulness to the Father, in order to redeem the Adam who is in us and restore to man the dignity he had lost. The Fathers emphasize that he made himself obedient, restoring to human nature, through his own humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam’s disobedience.
In prayer, in the relationship with God, we open our mind, our heart and our will to the action of the Holy Spirit to enter into this dynamic of life, as St Cyril of Alexandria — whose feast we are celebrating today — tells us: “the work of the Spirit seeks to transform us by grace into a perfect copy of his humbling” (Festal Letter, 10, 4).
Human logic, instead, often seeks self-fulfilment in power, in domination, in forceful means. Man still wants to build the Tower of Babel with his own efforts, to reach God’s heights by himself, to be like God. The Incarnation and the Cross remind us that complete fulfilment lies in conforming our human will to the will of the Father, in emptying ourselves of our selfishness, to fill ourselves with God’s love, with his charity, and thereby become capable of truly loving others.
Man does not find himself by remaining closed in on himself, by affirming himself. Man finds himself only by coming out of himself; only if we come out of ourselves do we find ourselves. And if Adam wanted to imitate God, this was not a bad thing in itself but he had the wrong idea of God. God is not someone who only wants greatness. God is love which was already given in the Trinity and was then given in the Creation. And imitating God means coming out of oneself, giving oneself in love.
In the second part of this “Christological hymn” of the Letter to the Philippians, the subject changes; it is no longer Christ but God the Father. St Paul stresses that it is precisely out of obedience to the Father’s will that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Ph 2,9).
The one who humbled himself profoundly, taking the condition of a slave, is exalted, lifted up above all things by the Father, who gives him the name “Kyrios”, “Lord”, the supreme dignity and lordship. Indeed it is before this new name which is the very name of God in the Old Testament, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 10-11).
The Jesus who is exalted and the Jesus of the Last Supper who lays aside his garments and girds himself with a towel, who bends down to wash the Apostles’ feet and asks them: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13,12-14). It is important to remember this always, in our prayers and in our life. “The ascent to God occurs precisely in the descent of humble service, in the descent of love, for love is God’s essence, and is thus the power that truly purifies man and enables him to perceive God and to see him” (English edition: Jesus of Nazareth, Doubleday, New York, 2007, p. 95).
The hymn in the Letter to the Philippians offers us important instructions for our prayers. The first is the invocation “Lord”, addressed to Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father: he is the one Lord of our life, among so many “dominant” people who desire to direct and guide it. For this reason it is necessary to have a scale of values in which the primacy is God’s, in order to affirm, with St Paul: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Ph 3,8). The encounter with the Risen One made the Apostle realize that he is the one treasure for which it is worth expending one’s life.
The second instruction is prostration, that “every knee shall bow”, on earth and in heaven. This is reminiscent of words of the Prophet Isaiah, where he points to the worship that all creatures owe to God (cf. Is 45,23). Genuflection or kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exactly expresses the attitude of adoration in God’s presence and also with the body. Hence the importance of not doing this action out of habit or hastily but rather with profound awareness. When we kneel before the Lord, we profess our faith in him, we recognize that he is the one Lord of our life.
Dear brothers and sisters, in our prayers let us fix our gaze on the Crucified One, let us pause more often in adoration before the Eucharist to let our life enter the love of God who humbly lowered himself in order to lift us up to him. At the beginning of the Catechesis we asked ourselves how St Paul could rejoice when he was facing the imminent risk of martyrdom and out-pouring his blood.
This was only possible because the Apostle never lifted his gaze from Christ, to the point that he became like him in death, in the hope that “I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Ph 3,11). As St Francis said before the Crucifix, let us too say: “Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command” Amen (cf. Prayer before the Crucifix at San Damiano: ff, ).
To special groups:
Dear brothers and sisters, I offer a warm welcome to the ecumenical delegation of Christian leaders from Korea. I greet the pilgrimage groups from Nigeria, South Africa and Swaziland. My greeting also goes to the many student groups present. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, including those from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Norway, Australia, the Bahamas and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
Lastly my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. We have now entered summer, for many people a period of holidays and rest. May it be for you, dear young people, an occasion for useful social and religious experiences; for you, dear newlyweds, an opportune period to develop your union and to deepen your mission in the Church and in society. I also hope that you, dear sick people, will not be without the closeness of your loved ones during these summer months.
Piazza della Libertà, Castel Gandolfo
Audiences 2005-2013 13062