Benedict’s Apocalypse

Pope Benedict this morning did something quite unusual: he spoke at length — about 20 minutes — without prepared remarks. So, in his words today, Benedict spoke from his heart. But very few, at least in the English-speaking world, have understood the full importance of what he said… An attempt to remedy an oversight

By Robert Moynihan

The Pope Against the Powers and the Principalities

(Photo: Pope Benedict speaking this morning at the Synod of Bishops without any prepared text)

Pope Benedict XVI (R) delivers an address during the opening of a synod on the Middle East on October 11, 2010 at The Vatican. A senior Iranian cleric and a Jewish rabbi are among some of the guests invited by Pope Benedict XVI to attend the synod running from October 10 to 24 to discuss the Middle East. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

“We think of the great powers of the present day, of the anonymous financial interests which turn men into slaves, which are no longer human things, but are an anonymous power which men serve, by which men are tormented and even slaughtered. They [i.e., anonymous financial interests] are a destructive power, a power that menaces the world.” —Pope Benedict XVI, Reflection after the reading of the office for the Third Hour this morning in the Synod Aula, Vatican City, October 11, 2010

“And then the power of the terrorist ideologies. Apparently in God’s name, violence is done, but it is not God: they are false divinities, divinities that must be unmasked, that are not God.” —Ibid., next sentence

“And then drug-trafficking, this power that, like a devouring beast, extends his hands towards every part of the earth and destroys: it is a divinity, but a false divinity, which must fall. Or also the way of life propagated by public opinion: today it is so, marriage is no longer important, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so forth. These ideologies that dominate, so much so that they impose themselves with force, are divinities. And in the suffering of the saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church of which we are a part, these divinities must fall, it must come to pass what the letters (of St. Paul) to the Colossians and to the Ephesians say: the dominations, the powers fall and become subject to the one Lord Jesus Christ.” —Ibid., next sentence

The “Lifting of the Veil”

It was a dramatic day in Rome.

This morning the Pope attempted to “lift the veil” in a rather bold way on what is now occurring in our world.

An apocalypse (Greek: Ἀποκάλυψις Apokálypsis; “lifting of the veil” or “revelation”) is a revealing of something hidden from most of mankind in a time dominated by falsehood and misconception.

In a certain sense, what Benedict spoke this morning was his “apocalypse” — his “lifting of the veil” on the hidden truth behind the appearances and lies of our time.

(Photo: Pope Benedict in the Synod hall in the Vatican today)

And what did the Pope “reveal”?

He “revealed” the false “gods” of our age, the hidden “divinities” of our time, and he named several of these “false gods” from whom we must free ourselves if we are to turn to the one, true God: the world’s anonymous financial interests, the promoters of terrorist violence, drug-traffickers.

He argued that all three of these groups are in the service of “false gods” — divinities which must be “unmasked” if God’s kingdom of justice and peace, the kingdom of the true divinity, is ever to reign on this earth.

Still, some early press accounts in English have not mentioned the Pope’s denunciation of powerful, hidden, financial interests, focusing only on the Pope’s denunciation of terrorist violence and drug-trafficking, so it is important to clarify this point.

The Pope denounced the entire array of “false gods” that threaten and oppress men and women today, and called for the “unmasking” of all these false “divinities.”

And those “false gods,” the Pope said, quite explicitly, include “anonymous financial interests (capitali anonimi) which enslave man (che schiavizzano l’uomo).”

So this report is an attempt to present the Pope’s thought — at this time of crisis in the world’s financial system — in a comprehensive, unbiased way.

We will attempt to “lift the veil” on “Benedict’s apocalypse.”

“Arise, O God, judge the earth”

This morning, October 11, 2010, Pope Benedict was present to open the working sessions of the Synod on the Middle East. With him were the 185 bishops and 70 experts who will meet here for the next two weeks to discuss the challenging mission and witness of Christians in that region of the world.

Together with the Synod Fathers, he prayed and recited the readings of the Divine Office for the third hour.

One reading in this morning’s office was Psalm 82. At the end of that psalm, King David calls upon God to judge the wickeness and injustice of men. “Arise, or God, judge the earth,” he cries.

Here is the complete text of Psalm 82 (note: the Catholic numbering, which differs by one throughout most of the Psalms, identifies this as Psalm 81, and so the Pope cites it as Psalm 81 in his text below):

A Rebuke of Unjust Judgments: A Psalm of Asaph

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty;
he judgeth among the gods.
2 How long will ye judge unjustly,
and accept the persons of the wicked?
Selah.
3 Defend the poor and fatherless:
do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy:
rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
5 They know not, neither will they understand;
they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
6 I have said, Ye are gods (see John 10:34)
and all of you are children of the Most High.
7 But ye shall die like men,
and fall like one of the princes.
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth:
for thou shalt inherit all nations.

(Note: Interestingly, it is this psalm that Jesus cites in the Gospel of John, in Chapter 10, when the scribes and pharisees accuse him of blasphemy for claiming to be the son of God. Jesus cites the words in verse 6 as a defense of his own claims. Here is that passage in John: “Jesus answered them, ‘Has it not been written in your Law, “I said, ye are gods”? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.’ Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.”)

Pope Benedict began by reflecting on the meaning of October 11, which is the day that the Second Vatican Council began in 1962, which was at that time the Feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary.

He then spent some time reflecting on the doctrine of Mary as the “Mother of God,” and his remarks are worth reading attentively, also in light of the fact that the question of the divinity of Jesus, and the divine maternity of Mary, is the chief objection to Christian doctrine raised by both Muslims and Jews.

He suggests that God, in Christ, comes toward man, as in a sort of divine “adventure.” And he discusses the meaning of this “adventure” in words that are poetic and powerful.

“Christ was not born as an individual among others,” Benedict said. “He was born to create a body for himself: he was born — as John says in chapter 12 of his Gospel — to draw all things to him and in him.

“He was born — as the letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians say,” Benedict continued, “to recapitulate all the world, he was born as the first-born of many brothers, he was born to reunite the cosmos in himself, such that he is the head of a great body.

“Where Christ is born, there begins the movement of recapitulation, the moment of the calling, of the construction of his body, of the holy Church. The Mother of ‘Theós,’ the Mother of God, is Mother of the Church, because she is Mother of the one who came to reunite all in his risen body.”

Benedict then began to reflect on Psalm 82.

In doing so, he made clear that he believes that, in our time, spiritual “powers and principalities” are masquerading as “divinities,” but that they are “false gods” which must be “unmasked” for the sake of men and women, whose hope lies with the true God.

He went on to say that the struggle against such forces is part of a continual struggle for the Church.

The Book of Revelation, he said, sheds light on this struggle against false gods, particularly in its image of the serpent who creates a river to drown a woman in flight, and of the earth that swallows up the river.

“I think the river is easily interpreted as these currents that dominate everyone and that want to make the Church and the faith disappear,” he said. “And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of ordinary people, which doesn’t allow itself to be overcome by this river.”

And this was his summation: “The faith of ordinary people is the true wisdom.”

The faith of ordinary people, in the Pope’s view, is what has always, and will always, helped to defeat the serpent.

No Mention of Financial Interests

Here is what the Pope said this morning in his original Italian, with the three main “divinities” bold-faced (these lines are the ones translated above, at the beginning of this letter):

“Pensiamo alle grandi potenze della storia di oggi, pensiamo ai capitali anonimi che schiavizzano l’uomo, che non sono più cosa dell’uomo, ma sono un potere anonimo al quale servono gli uomini, dal quale sono tormentati gli uomini e perfino trucidati. Sono un potere distruttivo, che minaccia il mondo. E poi il potere delle ideologie terroristiche. Apparentemente in nome di Dio viene fatta violenza, ma non è Dio: sono false divinità, che devono essere smascherate, che non sono Dio. E poi la droga, questo potere che, come una bestia vorace, stende le sue mani su tutte le parti della terra e distrugge: è una divinità, ma una divinità falsa, che deve cadere. O anche il modo di vivere propagato dall’opinione pubblica: oggi si fa così, il matrimonio non conta più, la castità non è più una virtù, e così via. Queste ideologie che dominano, così che si impongono con forza, sono divinità. E nel dolore dei santi, nel dolore dei credenti, della Madre Chiesa della quale noi siamo parte, devono cadere queste divinità, deve realizzarsi quanto dicono le Lettere ai Colossesi e agli Efesini: le dominazioni, i poteri cadono e diventano sudditi dell’unico Signore Gesù Cristo.”

Now, since the Pope, whose native language is German, was speaking without a prepared text, there are certain Italian phrases here which are just a bit awkward, and might have been revised by his advisors for a printed text.

One of those phrases is “capitali anonimi” the plural form of “anonymous capital (i.e., money).” In the Italian press today, the phrase was translated as “anonymous financial interests” (see, for example, the story in Corriere della Sera at: http://www.corriere.it/cronache/10_ottobre_11/papa-capitali-anonimi_22c0a39a-d51e-11df-a471-00144f02aabc.shtml).

This phrase, however, was translated rather unhappily in the English text sent out this evening by Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister — who routinely does work of high quality — as “the anonymous capitals that enslave man” (see below), an inadequate translation, as if the Pope were referring to anonymous capitals of countries.

This confusions may explain in part why this passage was not noted by the AP correspondent, whose work is also generally of a high quality, in her report (also see below).]

Here is the text of today’s AP report on the Pope’s remarks, which I found at this link: http://hosted2.ap.org/WBZAM/46855e9ba0fa4865a6388add04431d4b/Article_2010-10-11-EU-Vatican-Mideast/id-c65d4dd506194a26b583fe1b7ca7ca9e

In this report, there is a mention of the Pope’s denunciation of terrorism, and of drug-trafficking, but no mention of his denunciation of anonymous, and dangerous, financial elites.

In order to make this point quite clear, I am posting the entire article.

Pope denounces terrorist ideas that spur violence

By NICOLE WINFIELD (AP)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI denounced “terrorist ideologies” that spur violence in God’s name as he opened a meeting Monday of bishops from around the Middle East.

Benedict said such ideologies were based on false gods and should be “unmasked.”

The pontiff made the off-the-cuff remarks at the opening working session of the meeting, or synod, which was called to address problems the minority Catholic Church faces in the largely Muslim region.

The meeting has drawn 185 participants, including nine patriarchs of the Mideast’s ancient Christian churches and representatives from 13 other Christian communities. A rabbi and two Muslim clerics will address the meeting as well.

On Monday, attention focused on the decision by Israel to require new citizens to pledge a loyalty oath to a “Jewish and democratic” state — a bill criticized by Arab Israelis as racist and a provocation.
The Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, Antonios Naguib, who is running the synod, called the decision a “flagrant contradiction” since Israel likes to call itself not just the most democratic but the only democratic state in the region.

“You cannot announce, publish and affirm to be a democratic state and a civil democracy then at the same time say ‘in our democracy we require such things,'” Naguib told reporters. “I see it is a flagrant contradiction.”

“In the logic of classic democracies, that doesn’t work,” he said.

Benedict summoned the bishops to Rome to help address a major flight of Christians from their traditional homes because of war, conflict and economic problems. In Iraq alone, Catholics represented 2.89 percent of the population in 1980; by 2008 they were just .89 percent.

An influx of Catholic immigrants, mostly women from Africa and Asia who work in service industries in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, has helped offset their numbers. But it has also created new pastoral issues for the church in countries where freedom of religion is limited.

As it currently stands, Catholics represent just 1.6 percent of the region’s population, according to Vatican statistics. Christians as a whole represent 5.62 percent.

In his remarks to the synod participants, Benedict lamented the forces at play in the world that “enslave” men and threaten the world, citing drugs as well as “terrorist ideologies.”

“The make violence apparently in the name of God, but it’s not God: These are false divinities that must be unmasked. They are not God.”

In a paper outlining the synod’s work, Naguib outlined the challenges facing Christians in the region, particularly the rise of “political” and fanatical Islam.

“This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together,” he said.

Lamenting the brain drain of Christians from the region, he warned that further emigration could seriously affect the future in places of important Christian tradition, such as the Holy Land and Iraq.
He also called on churches in countries that haven’t traditionally had a Christian presence to make a greater effort to serve the new Asian and African immigrants.

“Oftentimes they are faced with injustice and abuse to the point that international laws and conventions are violated,” he said, in calling for greater pastoral, social and charitable programs to help them.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The Pope’s Vision

Is Pope Benedict becoming apocalyptic?

No, if by that one means that he is sensing that the end of the world is drawing near. No, that is not his vision.

But yes, he is becoming “apocalyptic,” if by that one means that he is sensing that many of the events of our times can be seen as foreshadowed in the words of the Apocalypse, written 1,900 years ago.

The Pope’s vision is that “the process of the transformation of the world” occurs through and in the suffering of believers.

He sees a threat to mankind in the existence and attractive power of “false gods” of every type who claim the allegiance of men, ask for the devotion of men, but in the end simply deceive and enslave men.

And, since he was speaking extemporaneously, without prepared remarks, we know these words were from his heart. (It is remarkable how the Pope cites the words of the Latin psalms from memory, although the second citation seems to be problematic; see below.)

In fact, if you want to know what Pope Benedict XVI is thinking about the end of the world and the Apocalypse, his remarks from this morning may be a good place to start.

REFLECTION OF THE HOLY FATHER IN THE COURSE OF THE FIRST GENERAL CONGREGATION OF THE SPECIAL ASSEMBLY FOR THE MIDDLE EAST OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS

By His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Aula del Sinodo, 9 am, after the brief reading of the Third Hour, October 11, 2010

(The photo shows Benedict with Synod officials in the Synod hall this morning)

Dear brothers and sisters,

On October 11, 1962, forty-eight years ago, Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. Back then, October 11 was the feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary, and by this action, on this date, Pope John wanted to entrust the entire council to the motherly hands, to the motherly heart of the Virgin Mary.

We are also beginning on October 11, and we also want to entrust this synod, with all its problems, with all its challenges, with all its hopes, to the maternal heart of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Pius XI had introduced this feast in 1930, sixteen hundred years after the Council of Ephesus, which had legitimated Mary’s title of “Theotókos,” “Dei Genitrix“. In this great expression “Dei Genitrix,” “Theotókos,” the Council of Ephesus had summarized the entire doctrine on Christ, on Mary, the entire doctrine of the redemption. And so it is worth it to reflect a little, for a moment, on the message of the Council of Ephesus, the message of this day.

In reality, “Theotókos” is an audacious title. A woman is Mother of God. One might say: how is this possible? God is eternal, he is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human person be Mother of God, of the Eternal, given that we are all in time, we are all creatures? So one realizes that there was strong opposition, in part, against this expression. The Nestorians said: one may speak of “Christotókos,” yes, but of “Theotókos,” no: “Theós,” God, is beyond, above the events of history. But the Council decided this, and precisely in this way brought to light the adventure of God, the greatness of what he has done for us. God did not remain within himself: he came out from himself, he united himself so much, so radically with this man, Jesus, that this man Jesus is God, and what we say about him we can always say about God as well. He was not born only as a man who had something to do with God, but in him God was born on earth. God came out from himself. But we can also say the opposite: God has drawn us into himself, so that we are no longer outside of God, but we are inside, inside God himself.

As we know well, Aristotelian philosophy tells us that between God and man there exists only a non-reciprocal relationship. Man exists in reference to God, but God, the Eternal, is in himself, he does not change: he cannot have this kind of relationship today and another kind tomorrow. He remains in himself, he does not have a relationship “ad extra,” he does not have a relationship with me. It is a very logical reflection, but it is a reflection that makes us despair. With the incarnation, with the coming of the Theotókos, this has changed radically, because God has drawn us into himself, and God in himself is relationship and makes us participate in his interior relationship. So we are in his being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are inside his being in relationship, we are in relationship with him, and he has really created a relationship with us. In that moment, God wanted to be born of a woman while still remaining himself: this is the great event. And so we can understand the profundity of Pope John’s action when he entrusted the conciliar, synodal assembly to the central mystery, to the Mother of God who is drawn by the Lord into himself, and so all of us with her.

The Council began with the icon of the “Theotókos.” At the end, Pope Paul VI acknowledged the Virgin Mary with the title “Mater Ecclesiae.” And these two icons, which begin and conclude the Council, are intrinsically connected, they are, in the end, a single icon.

Because Christ was not born as an individual among others. He was born to create a body for himself: he was born — as John says in chapter 12 of his Gospel — to draw all things to him and in him. He was born — as the letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians say — to recapitulate all the world, he was born as the first-born of many brothers, he was born to reunite the cosmos in himself, such that he is the head of a great body.

Where Christ is born, there begins the movement of recapitulation, the moment of the calling, of the construction of his body, of the holy Church. The Mother of “Theós,” the Mother of God, is Mother of the Church, because she is Mother of the one who came to reunite all in his risen body.

Saint Luke helps us to understand this in the parallelism between the first chapter of his Gospel and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which repeat the same mystery on two levels. In the first chapter of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, and so she gives birth and gives us the Son of God. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is at the center of the disciples of Jesus who are all praying together, imploring the cloud of the Holy Spirit. And so from the believing Church, with Mary at the center, is born the Church, the body of Christ. This twofold birth is the one birth of the Christus totus, of the Christ who embraces the world and us all.

Birth in Bethlehem, birth in the cenacle. Birth of the Child Jesus, birth of the body of Christ, of the Church. They are two events, or one single event. But between the two really stand the cross and the resurrection. And only through the cross does the journey toward the totality of Christ take place, toward his risen body, toward the universalization of his being in the unity of the Church. And so, keeping in mind that it is only from the grain that falls to the ground that the great harvest comes, from the Lord pierced on the cross comes the universality of his disciples gathered into his body, put to death and risen.

Keeping in mind this connection between “Theotókos” and “Mater Ecclesiae,” our attention shifts to the last book of Sacred Scripture, Revelation, where, in chapter 12, this very same synthesis appears. The woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars on her head and the moon under her feet, gives birth. And she gives birth with a cry of pain, she gives birth with great suffering. Here the Marian mystery is the mystery of Bethlehem extended to the cosmic mystery. Christ is always being born again through all the generations, and so he takes up, he gathers humanity into himself. And this cosmic birth is realized in the cry of the cross, in the suffering of the passion. And the blood of the martyrs belongs to this cry.

So, at this moment, we can take a look at the second psalm of this midday hour, Psalm 81, where a part of this process can be seen. God stands among the gods, still considered as gods in Israel. In this psalm, in a great act of concentration, in a prophetic vision, the gods are seen to be stripped of their power. What appeared to be gods are not gods, and they lose the divine character, they fall to the ground. “Dii estis et moriemini sicut nomine” (cf. Psalm 82 [81]:6-7 [Note: This is the citation of the Latin of the psalm that seems problematic to me; the Vulgate has “dii estis et filii Excelsi omnes 7 vos autem sicut homines moriemini“; so I think the word “nomine” must be “homines“]: the weakening, the downfall of the divinities.

This process, which took place over Israel’s long journey of faith, and is summed up here in a remarkable vision, is a true process of the history of religion: the downfall of the gods. And so the transformation of the world, the knowledge of the true God, the weakening of the forces that dominate the earth, is a process of suffering. In the history of Israel, we see how this liberation from polytheism, this recognition — “only he is God” — takes place amid much suffering, beginning with the journey of Abraham, the exile, the Maccabees, up until Christ. And it continues in history, this process of weakening spoken of in chapter 12 of Revelation; this speaks of the fall of the angels that are not angels, are not divinities on the earth. And it is truly realized precisely in the time of the emerging Church, where we see how with the blood of the martyrs there is a weakening of the divinities, all these divinities, beginning with the divine emperor. It is the blood of the martyrs, the suffering, the cry of the Mother Church that knocks them down and so transforms the world.

This downfall is not only the knowledge that these are not God. It is the process of the transformation of the world, which costs blood, costs the suffering of the witnesses to Christ. And, if we look closely, we see that this process is never finished. Even today, in this moment, in which Christ, the only Son of God, must be born for the world with the downfall of the gods, with suffering, the martyrdom of the witnesses.

We think of the great powers of today’s history, we think of the anonymous capitals [note: here, as I said above, the translation seems inadequate; it would be better as “anonymous financial interests” or something similar] that enslave man, that are no longer something belonging to man, but are an anonymous power that men serve, and by which men are tormented and even slaughtered. They are a destructive power that threatens the world. And then the power of the terrorist ideologies. Violence is done apparently in the name of God, but this is not God: these are false divinities that must be unmasked, that are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a ravenous beast, stretches its hands over all parts of the earth and destroys: it is a divinity, but a false divinity, which must fall. Or even the way of life promoted by public opinion: today it’s done this way, marriage doesn’t matter anymore, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

These ideologies that are so dominant that they impose themselves by force are divinities. And in the suffering of the saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church of which we are part, these divinities must fall, what is written in the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians must come true: the dominations and powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ.

This fight in which we find ourselves, this weakening of the gods, this fall of the false gods, who fall because they are not divinities but are powers that destroy the world, are spoken of in chapter 12 of Revelation, and with a mysterious image for which, it seems to me, there are nonetheless different fine interpretations. It is said that the dragon directs a great stream of water against the fleeing woman, to sweep her away. And it seems inevitable that the woman will drown in this river. But the good earth absorbs this river, and it can do no harm. I think that it is easy to interpret what the river stands for: it is these currents that dominate everyone, and want to eliminate the faith of the Church, which seems to have nowhere to stand before the power of these currents that impose themselves as the only way of thinking, the only way of life. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple, which does not allow itself to be swept away by these rivers and saves the mother and saves the son. This is why the psalm says, the first psalm of the midday hour: “The faith of the simple is true wisdom” (cf. Psalm 118:130). This true wisdom of simple faith, which does not let itself be devoured by the waters, is the power of the Church. And we have come back to the Marian mystery.

And there is also a final expression in Psalm 81, “Movebuntur omnia fundamenta terrae” (Psalm 82 [81]:5), the foundations of the earth are shaken. We see this today, with the climatic problems, how the foundations of the earth are threatened, but they are threatened by our behavior. The outer foundations are shaken because the inner foundations are shaken, the moral and religious foundations, the faith that leads to the right way of life. And we know that the faith is the foundation, and, without a doubt, the foundations of the earth cannot be shaken if the faith, the true wisdom, stands firm.

And then the psalm says: “Rise up, Lord, and judge the earth” (Psalm 82 [81]:8). So let us also say to the Lord: “Rise up in this moment, take the earth in your hands, protect your Church, protect humanity, protect the earth.” And let us entrust ourselves again to the Mother of God, to Mary, and pray: “You, the great believer, you who have opened earth to heaven, help us, open the doors today as well, so that the truth may be triumphant, the will of God, which is the true good, the true salvation of the world.” Amen.

Italian text

Here is the text in the original Italian; the lines which I cited above at the beginning of this letter are bold-faced.

PAROLE DEL SANTO PADRE (The Words of the Holy Father)

Cari fratelli e sorelle,

l’11 ottobre 1962, trentotto anni fa, Papa Giovanni XXIII inaugurava il Concilio Vaticano II. Si celebrava allora l’11 ottobre la festa della Maternità divina di Maria, e, con questo gesto, con questa data, Papa Giovanni voleva affidare tutto il Concilio alle mani materne, al cuore materno della Madonna. Anche noi cominciamo l’11 ottobre, anche noi vogliamo affidare questo Sinodo, con tutti i problemi, con tutte le sfide, con tutte le speranze, al cuore materno della Madonna, della Madre di Dio.

Pio XI, nel 1930, aveva introdotto questa festa, milleseicento anni dopo il Concilio di Efeso, il quale aveva legittimato, per Maria, il titolo Theotókos, Dei Genitrix. In questa grande parola Dei Genitrix, Theotókos, il Concilio di Efeso aveva riassunto tutta la dottrina di Cristo, di Maria, tutta la dottrina della redenzione. E così vale la pena riflettere un po’, un momento, su ciò di cui parla il Concilio di Efeso, ciò di cui parla questo giorno.

In realtà, Theotókos è un titolo audace. Una donna è Madre di Dio. Si potrebbe dire: come è possibile? Dio è eterno, è il Creatore. Noi siamo creature, siamo nel tempo: come potrebbe una persona umana essere Madre di Dio, dell’Eterno, dato che noi siamo tutti nel tempo, siamo tutti creature? Perciò si capisce che c’era forte opposizione, in parte, contro questa parola. I nestoriani dicevano: si può parlare di Christotókos, sì, ma di Theotókos no: Theós, Dio, è oltre, sopra gli avvenimenti della storia. Ma il Concilio ha deciso questo, e proprio così ha messo in luce l’avventura di Dio, la grandezza di quanto ha fatto per noi. Dio non è rimasto in sé: è uscito da sé, si è unito talmente, così radicalmente con quest’uomo, Gesù, che quest’uomo Gesù è Dio, e se parliamo di Lui, possiamo sempre anche parlare di Dio. Non è nato solo un uomo che aveva a che fare con Dio, ma in Lui è nato Dio sulla terra. Dio è uscito da sé. Ma possiamo anche dire il contrario: Dio ci ha attirato in se stesso, così che non siamo più fuori di Dio, ma siamo nell’intimo, nell’intimità di Dio stesso.

La filosofia aristotelica, lo sappiamo bene, ci dice che tra Dio e l’uomo esiste solo una relazione non reciproca. L’uomo si riferisce a Dio, ma Dio, l’Eterno, è in sé, non cambia: non può avere oggi questa e domani un’altra relazione. Sta in sé, non ha relazione ad extra. È una parola molto logica, ma è una parola che ci fa disperare: quindi Dio stesso non ha relazione con me. Con l’incarnazione, con l’avvenimento della Theotókos, questo è cambiato radicalmente, perché Dio ci ha attirato in se stesso e Dio in se stesso è relazione e ci fa partecipare nella sua relazione interiore. Così siamo nel suo essere Padre, Figlio e Spirito Santo, siamo nell’interno del suo essere in relazione, siamo in relazione con Lui e Lui realmente ha creato relazione con noi. In quel momento Dio voleva essere nato da una donna ed essere sempre se stesso: questo è il grande avvenimento. E così possiamo capire la profondità dell’atto di Papa Giovanni, che affidò l’Assise conciliare, sinodale, al mistero centrale, alla Madre di Dio che è attirata dal Signore in Lui stesso, e così noi tutti con Lei.

Il Concilio ha cominciato con l’icona della Theotókos. Alla fine Papa Paolo VI riconosce alla stessa Madonna il titolo Mater Ecclesiae. E queste due icone, che iniziano e concludono il Concilio, sono intrinsecamente collegate, sono, alla fine, un’icona sola. Perché Cristo non è nato come un individuo tra altri. È nato per crearsi un corpo: è nato — come dice Giovanni al capitolo 12 del suo Vangelo — per attirare tutti a sé e in sé. È nato — come dicono le Lettere ai Colossesi e agli Efesini — per ricapitolare tutto il mondo, è nato come primogenito di molti fratelli, è nato per riunire il cosmo in sé, cosicché Lui è il Capo di un grande Corpo. Dove nasce Cristo, inizia il movimento della ricapitolazione, inizia il momento della chiamata, della costruzione del suo Corpo, della santa Chiesa. La Madre di Theós, la Madre di Dio, è Madre della Chiesa, perché Madre di Colui che è venuto per riunirci tutti nel suo Corpo risorto.

San Luca ci fa capire questo nel parallelismo tra il primo capitolo del suo Vangelo e il primo capitolo degli Atti degli Apostoli, che ripetono su due livelli lo stesso mistero. Nel primo capitolo del Vangelo lo Spirito Santo viene su Maria e così partorisce e ci dona il Figlio di Dio. Nel primo capitolo degli Atti degli Apostoli Maria è al centro dei discepoli di Gesù che pregano tutti insieme, implorando la nube dello Spirito Santo. E così dalla Chiesa credente, con Maria nel centro, nasce la Chiesa, il Corpo di Cristo. Questa duplice nascita è l’unica nascita del Christus totus, del Cristo che abbraccia il mondo e noi tutti.

Nascita a Betlemme, nascita nel Cenacolo. Nascita di Gesù Bambino, nascita del Corpo di Cristo, della Chiesa. Sono due avvenimenti o un unico avvenimento. Ma tra i due stanno realmente la Croce e la Risurrezione. E solo tramite la Croce avviene il cammino verso la totalità del Cristo, verso il suo Corpo risorto, verso l’universalizzazione del suo essere nell’unità della Chiesa. E così, tenendo presente che solo dal grano caduto in terra nasce poi il grande raccolto, dal Signore trafitto sulla Croce viene l’universalità dei suoi discepoli riuniti in questo suo Corpo, morto e risorto.

Tenendo conto di questo nesso tra Theotókos e Mater Ecclesiae, il nostro sguardo va verso l’ultimo libro della Sacra Scrittura, l’Apocalisse, dove, nel capitolo 12, appare proprio questa sintesi. La donna vestita di sole, con dodici stelle sul capo e la luna sotto i piedi, partorisce. E partorisce con un grido di dolore, partorisce con grande dolore. Qui il mistero mariano è il mistero di Betlemme allargato al mistero cosmico. Cristo nasce sempre di nuovo in tutte le generazioni e così assume, raccoglie l’umanità in se stesso. E questa nascita cosmica si realizza nel grido della Croce, nel dolore della Passione. E a questo grido della Croce appartiene il sangue dei martiri.

Così, in questo momento, possiamo gettare uno sguardo sul secondo Salmo di questa Ora Media, il Salmo 81, dove si vede una parte di questo processo. Dio sta tra gli dei – ancora sono considerati in Israele come dei. In questo Salmo, in un concentramento grande, in una visione profetica, si vede il depotenziamento degli dei. Quelli che apparivano dei non sono dei e perdono il carattere divino, cadono a terra. Dii estis et moriemini sicut nomine (cfr al 81, 6-7): il depotenziamento, la caduta delle divinità.

Questo processo che si realizza nel lungo cammino della fede di Israele, e che qui è riassunto in un’unica visione, è un processo vero della storia della religione: la caduta degli dei. E così la trasformazione del mondo, la conoscenza del vero Dio, il depotenziamento delle forze che dominano la terra, è un processo di dolore. Nella storia di Israele vediamo come questo liberarsi dal politeismo, questo riconoscimento — «solo Lui è Dio» — si realizza in tanti dolori, cominciando dal cammino di Abramo, l’esilio, i Maccabei, fino a Cristo. E nella storia continua questo processo del depotenziamento, del quale parla l’Apocalisse al capitolo 12; parla della caduta degli angeli, che non sono angeli, non sono divinità sulla terra. E si realizza realmente, proprio nel tempo della Chiesa nascente, dove vediamo come col sangue dei martiri vengono depotenziate le divinità, cominciando dall’imperatore divino, da tutte queste divinità. È il sangue dei martiri, il dolore, il grido della Madre Chiesa che le fa cadere e trasforma così il mondo.

Questa caduta non è solo la conoscenza che esse non sono Dio; è il processo di trasformazione del mondo, che costa il sangue, costa la sofferenza dei testimoni di Cristo. E, se guardiamo bene, vediamo che questo processo non è mai finito. Si realizza nei diversi periodi della storia in modi sempre nuovi; anche oggi, in questo momento, in cui Cristo, l’unico Figlio di Dio, deve nascere per il mondo con la caduta degli dei, con il dolore, il martirio dei testimoni. Pensiamo alle grandi potenze della storia di oggi, pensiamo ai capitali anonimi che schiavizzano l’uomo, che non sono più cosa dell’uomo, ma sono un potere anonimo al quale servono gli uomini, dal quale sono tormentati gli uomini e perfino trucidati. Sono un potere distruttivo, che minaccia il mondo. E poi il potere delle ideologie terroristiche. Apparentemente in nome di Dio viene fatta violenza, ma non è Dio: sono false divinità, che devono essere smascherate, che non sono Dio. E poi la droga, questo potere che, come una bestia vorace, stende le sue mani su tutte le parti della terra e distrugge: è una divinità, ma una divinità falsa, che deve cadere. O anche il modo di vivere propagato dall’opinione pubblica: oggi si fa così, il matrimonio non conta più, la castità non è più una virtù, e così via.

Queste ideologie che dominano, così che si impongono con forza, sono divinità. E nel dolore dei santi, nel dolore dei credenti, della Madre Chiesa della quale noi siamo parte, devono cadere queste divinità, deve realizzarsi quanto dicono le Lettere ai Colossesi e agli Efesini: le dominazioni, i poteri cadono e diventano sudditi dell’unico Signore Gesù Cristo. Di questa lotta nella quale noi stiamo, di questo depotenziamento di dio, di questa caduta dei falsi dei, che cadono perché non sono divinità, ma poteri che distruggono il mondo, parla l’Apocalisse al capitolo 12, anche con un’immagine misteriosa, per la quale, mi pare, ci sono tuttavia diverse belle interpretazioni. Viene detto che il dragone mette un grande fiume di acqua contro la donna in fuga per travolgerla. E sembra inevitabile che la donna venga annegata in questo fiume. Ma la buona terra assorbe questo fiume ed esso non può nuocere. Io penso che il fiume sia facilmente interpretabile: sono queste correnti che dominano tutti e che vogliono far scomparire la fede della Chiesa, la quale non sembra più avere posto davanti alla forza di queste correnti che si impongono come l’unica razionalità, come l’unico modo di vivere. E la terra che assorbe queste correnti è la fede dei semplici, che non si lascia travolgere da questi fiumi e salva la Madre e salva il Figlio. Perciò il Salmo dice – il primo salmo dell’Ora Media – la fede dei semplici è la vera saggezza (cfr Sal 118,130). Questa saggezza vera della fede semplice, che non si lascia divorare dalle acque, è la forza della Chiesa. E siamo ritornati al mistero mariano.

E c’è anche un’ultima parola nel Salmo 81, “movebuntur omnia fundamenta terrae” (Sal 81,5), vacillano le fondamenta della terra. Lo vediamo oggi, con i problemi climatici, come sono minacciate le fondamenta della terra, ma sono minacciate dal nostro comportamento. Vacillano le fondamenta esteriori perché vacillano le fondamenta interiori, le fondamenta morali e religiose, la fede dalla quale segue il retto modo di vivere. E sappiamo che la fede è il fondamento, e, in definitiva, le fondamenta della terra non possono vacillare se rimane ferma la fede, la vera saggezza.

E poi il Salmo dice: “Alzati, Signore, e giudica la terra” (Sal 81,8). Così diciamo anche noi al Signore: “Alzati in questo momento, prendi la terra tra le tue mani, proteggi la tua Chiesa, proteggi l’umanità, proteggi la terra”. E affidiamoci di nuovo alla Madre di Dio, a Maria, e preghiamo: “Tu, la grande credente, tu che hai aperto la terra al cielo, aiutaci, apri anche oggi le porte, perché sia vincitrice la verità, la volontà di Dio, che è il vero bene, la vera salvezza del mondo”. Amen.

Turning toward Mary

Just as the Pope spent a good part of his talk this morning discussing the Church’s understanding of Mary and her role in salvation history, he also focused on Mary during his Angelus prayer yesterday in St. Peter’s Square. This is another sign of his increasing Marian devotion as he grows older.

During his prayer, he entrusted the work of the synod to Mary’s maternal protection.

The following account, found here (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com) sums up the Pope’s prayer:

Pope entrusts Synod for Middle East to Mary’s intercession

Rome, Italy, Oct 10, 2010 / 07:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy Father entrusted the Synod for the Middle East to Mary’s intercession so that the region grows in communion and bears witness to the Gospel message….

The Pope prayed the Angelus from his apartment window high above St. Peter’s Square after having celebrated the opening Mass of the much-awaited Synod of Middle Eastern bishops…

Noting the importance of the Rosary during the Marian month of October, which is also called the “Month of the Rosary,” the Pope said that “we are called to allow ourselves to be guided by Mary in this ancient and always new prayer, which is especially dear to her because it guides us directly to Jesus.”

Reminded of John Paul II’s words that the Rosary is a “biblical prayer,” Pope Benedict added that it is a “prayer of the heart, in which the repetition of the ‘Hail Mary’ orients thoughts and affection to Christ.”

“It is a prayer that helps one to meditate on the Word of God and to assimilate Eucharistic communion, on the model of Mary who held in her heart all that Jesus did and said, and his very presence,” he explained.

“Dear friends,” Benedict XVI concluded, “we know how much the Virgin Mary is loved and venerated by our brothers and sisters of the Middle East. All look to her as a thoughtful mother, close to every suffering, and as a star of hope.

“To her intercession we entrust the Synodal Assembly that opens today, so that Christians of the region are reinforced in communion and might bear witness to the entire Gospel of love and peace.”

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life. —St. Paul, First Letter to Timothy, Chapter 6:12

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