February 17, 2013, Sunday — Next-To-Last Angelus

“Today we contemplate Christ in the desert.” –Pope Benedict XVI, during his next-to-last noon Angelus today in St. Peter’s Square

“We ask him to give us strength to fight our weaknesses”

Tens of thousands filled St. Peter’s Square today to see Benedict XVI for what may turn out to be one of his very last appearances in public. Together, they prayed the noon Angelus prayer.

Benedict is expected to appear in public for his last noon Angelus next Sunday, and then at his last General Audience next Wednesday, February 27.

The Pope will then step down from his office on Thursday, February 28 — 10 days from now.

The Pope today taught about the meaning of Lent. Pilgrims in the square below cheered him, thanking him for the eight years of his pontificate.

The Pope thanked the crowd, in different languages, for their support and prayers these last few days.

He asked pilgrims to continue to pray for him and the next Pope.

In English, the Pope said: “I greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present for today’s Angelus.

“Today we contemplate Christ in the desert, fasting, praying, and being tempted.

“As we begin our Lenten journey, we join him and we ask him to give us strength to fight our weaknesses.

“Let me also thank you for the prayers and support you have shown me in these days. May God bless all of you!”

Link to a video of the Pope today: http://www.romereports.com/palio/thousands-flock-to-st-peters-square-for-benedict-xvis-angelus-english-9072.html#.USFtro5qeqE

 

“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”

The Angelus (Latin for “angel”) is a devotion in memory of the Incarnation, the central mystery of the Christian faith.

The name Angelus is derived from its incipit: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ (“… the Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary …”).

The devotion was traditionally recited in Roman Catholic churches, convents, and monasteries three times daily: 6:00 a.m., noon, and 6:00 p.m. (many churches still follow the devotion, and some practice it at home).

Since the pontificate of John XXIII (1958-1963), it has been recited by the Pope’s each Sunday at noon in St. Peter’s Square.

“In every moment of our lives we must choose whether to follow God or our own egoism”

During the Italian part of his teaching during the noon Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the temptations of Jesus in the desert.

“The central nucleus of temptations consists always in using God for one’s own ends,” the Pope said.

He said: “Nei momenti decisivi della vita, ma, a ben vedere, in ogni momento, siamo di fronte a un bivio: vogliamo seguire l’io o Dio? L’interesse individuale oppure il vero Bene, ciò che realmente è bene?”. (“In the decisive moments of life — but, if we see clearly, in every moment — we are faced with a choice: do we want to follow the ‘I’, or God? Individual interest or the true Good, that which really is good?”)

“In questo Anno della fede la Quaresima è un tempo favorevole per riscoprire la fede in Dio come criterio-base della nostra vita e della vita della Chiesa. Ciò comporta sempre una lotta, un combattimento spirituale, perché lo spirito del male naturalmente si oppone alla nostra santificazione e cerca di farci deviare dalla via di Dio”. (“In this Year of Faith, Lent is a favorable time to rediscover faith in God as the fundamental criterion of our life and of the life of the Church. This always entails a struggle, a spiritual combat, because the spirit of evil naturally sets itself against our sanctification and seeks to make us deviate from the way of God.”)

“Al momento di iniziare il suo ministero pubblico, Gesù dovette smascherare e respingere le false immagini di Messia che il tentatore gli proponeva. Ma queste tentazioni sono anche false immagini di uomo, che in ogni tempo insidiano la coscienza, travestendosi da proposte convenienti ed efficaci, addirittura buone”. (“At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus had to unmask and reject the false images of the Messiah that the tempter proposed to him. But these temptations are also false images of man, which always assail our conscience, disguising themselves as suitable and efficacious, even good, proposals.”)

The evangelists Matthew and Luke present three temptations of Jesus, differing in part only in their order, the Pope said.

“Il loro nucleo centrale consiste sempre nello strumentalizzare Dio per i propri fini, dando più importanza al successo o ai beni materiali. Il tentatore è subdolo: non spinge direttamente verso il male, ma verso un falso bene, facendo credere che le vere realtà sono il potere e ciò che soddisfa i bisogni primari.” (“The nucleus of these temptations always consists in using God for one’s own ends, giving more importance to success or to material goods. The tempter is deceptive: he does not direct us immediately toward evil, but toward a false good, making us believe that the true realities are power and what satisfies primary needs.”)

“In questo modo, Dio diventa secondario, si riduce a un mezzo, in definitiva diventa irreale, non conta più, svanisce. In ultima analisi, nelle tentazioni è in gioco la fede, perché è in gioco Dio. Nei momenti decisivi della vita, ma, a ben vedere, in ogni momento, siamo di fronte a un bivio: vogliamo seguire l’io o Dio? L’interesse individuale oppure il vero Bene, ciò che realmente è bene?”. (“In this way, God becomes secondary; he is reduced to a means, in the end he becomes unreal, no longer counts, disappears. In the final analysis, in temptations, faith is at stake, because God is at stake. In the decisive moments of life and, if we see clearly, at every moment of life, we are faced with a choice: do we want to follow the “I” or God? Do we want to follow individual interest or the true Good, that which is really good?”)

The Pope continued:

“Come ci insegnano i Padri della Chiesa, le tentazioni fanno parte della ‘discesa’ di Gesù nella nostra condizione umana, nell’abisso del peccato e delle sue conseguenze.” (“As the Fathers of the Church teach us, temptations are part of Jesus’s ‘descent’ into our human condition, into the abyss of sin and its consequences.”)

“Una ‘discesa’ che Gesù ha percorso sino alla fine, sino alla morte di croce e agli inferi dell’estrema lontananza da Dio.” (“A ‘descent’ that Jesus undertook to the very end, to the point of death on the cross and the descent into the netherworld (inferi) of extreme distance from God.”)

“In questo modo, Egli è la mano che Dio ha teso all’uomo, alla pecorella smarrita, per riportarla in salvo.” (“In this way, he is the hand that God stretched out to man, to the lost sheep, to bring him back to safety.”)

“Come insegna sant’Agostino, Gesù ha preso da noi le tentazioni, per donare a noi la sua vittoria.” (“As St. Augustine teaches, Jesus has taken temptations from us, to give us his victory (cf. Enarr. in Psalmos, 60,3: PL 36, 724).”)

“Non abbiamo dunque paura di affrontare anche noi il combattimento contro lo spirito del male: l’importante è che lo facciamo con Lui, con Cristo, il Vincitore.” (“We are not, therefore, afraid to face, we also, the combat against the spirit of evil: the important thing is that we do it with Him, with Christ, the Victor.”)

He ended his teaching with these words:

“And to stand with Him we turn to the Mother, Mary: let us invoke her with filial confidence in the hour of trial, and she will make us feel the powerful presence her divine Son, to reject the temptations with the Word of Christ, and so to put God once again at the center of our life.”

 

Spiritual Exercises Begin

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

This evening just before 6 p.m., from around Vatican City, one by one, the monsignors, archbishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia could be seen walking from their residences to the Apostolic Palace to begin a week of Spiritual Exercises — the last of this pontificate.

They seemed like pilgrims on a journey.

I was remined of the lines from T.S. Eliot where he says that there is no journey worth making that does not end at a cathedral.

And I was thinking how few journeys would be worth making in our world, if there were no more cathedrals, or if the cathedrals that remained were all moth-balled, and simply museums, and no sacrifices were offered on their altars, and no living presence remained in their tabernacles.

And, in a certain sense, it seemed to me this evening that I understood, for the first time, watching Cardinal Ouellet, and Cardinal Kasper, and Archbishop Mueller, walking into St. Anne’s Gate (photos below) and watching others walk around the back of the basilica from the Domus Santa Marta, why the Pope had decided to resign his papacy, why he had decided to “step down from the cross,” to use the words of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz the other day.

It is because he wants to pray.

It is because he wants to ascend the steps of his own interior castle, toward the Lord, while he yet lives.

It is because he wishes to make through this gesture a final statement, which is this: that the human person, in prayer, in communion with God, is moving toward that which is the end of all our seeking.

That it is in prayer, in conversation with the hidden, but real, God, that the greatest, final work of any man or woman is accomplished.

For it is prayer that draws us into the very life of the divinity.

Benedict is not ending his mission as a man. In some ways, it is just beginning now. For we will all know that, in that small convent in the Vatican gardens, there will be living, though hidden from our eyes, a man in communion with God, supplicating God, listening to God, being silent with God. And in this sense, there will be a pulsing power beyond all the powers of this very technological world which will ascend and descend, from Benedict to God, and from God to Benedict, while he yet lives.

Benedict is retiring to a life of prayer, but in that prayer, he is giving to the Church, and to the world, the greatest gift that he could give.

And that is why, tonight in Rome, there was a rainbow over the city, as if to pose a heavenly counter-sign to the lightning bolt that struck the cathedral dome last Monday.

A week that began with mist and rain and thunder ended with cardinals walking toward their last gathering with the Pope, and a rainbow over the eternal city, beginning from the Archangel Michael, above the Castel Sant’Angelo.

I took this as a sign, though no one in the media may report it. And here is what it looked like:

 

Final Act

I received this email today:

“I often think that maybe the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as his final act. I pray for this. — Eileen Colby”

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