Thursday, April 5, 2012

“It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in God. He has only to refuse to believe in everything that is not God. This refusal does not presuppose belief. It is enough to recognize, what is obvious to any mind, that all the goods of this world, past, present, or future, real or imaginary, are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying the desire which burns perpetually with in us for an infinite and perfect good… It is not a matter of self-questioning or searching. A man has only to persist in his refusal, and one day or another God will come to him.”
—Simone Weil, the great French Jewish mystic who died in 1943 at the age of 34, On Science, Necessity and the Love of God, edited by Richard Rees, London, Oxford University Press, 1968.

“The concept of ‘hidden God’ (Deus absconditus) and the image of a weak or absent deity in history have been the subject of philosophical and theological debate after the tragedy of the Shoah. One question in particular has emerged: ‘Why did God allow Auschwitz?’… Rabbi Richard L. Rubenstein (1924- ) has written that the Holocaust has challenged the content of the Biblical covenant, together with the concept of divine omnipotence. The philosopher Emil Fackenheim (1916-2003) in his work has emphasized that the traditional philosophical and theological categories are insufficient to understand the Holocaust.” —Alberto Castaldini, The Hidden God and History: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives on the Holocaust, “Babeş-Bolyai” University – Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Faculty of European Studies, Ph.D. Dissertation, 2012

“When in Matthew’s account the ‘whole people’ say: ‘His blood be on us and on our children’ (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all. ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood’ (Rom 3:23, 25). Just as Caiaphas’ words about the need for Jesus’ death have to be read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith, the same applies to Matthew’s reference to blood: read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.”
― Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection

On Pilgrimage: From Assisi to Norcia…

Among the other great questions raised by Holy Week, are those raised in the lines cited above: How can we believe in God, if we cannot see or know him? And how can the Jewish people believe in God, or the Covenant with Abraham, after the Holocaust? And why did so many of the Jewish people reject Christ, and ask Pilate to proceed to his crucifixion, during his trial 2,000 years ago? These questions, and many others, accompany us as we approach Good Friday…

Today in Rome, Pope Benedict celebrated two liturgies, one a Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the other the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. John Lateran.

Benedict took the occasion of the Chrism Mass, at which priests renew their vows, to criticize a recent call by a group of priests in Austria to oppose a number of traditional Church teachings. About 1,600 priests attended the Mass.

Here is a link to a video of his homily, followed by key excerpts:

Benedict XVI: “Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take.”

(Among other points, the Austrian group has called for the ordination of women.)

Benedict XVI: “But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?”

Benedict XVI: “The saints show us how renewal works and how we can place ourselves at its service. And they help us realize that God is not concerned so much with great numbers and with outward successes, but achieves his victories under the humble sign of the mustard seed.”

Benedict XVI: “We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, of which we are servants.”

Also today, Benedict XVI celebrated Holy Thursday Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Mass commemorated Jesus’ Last Supper. During the celebration, the Pope washed the feet of 12 priests, as a reflection Jesus’ teaching.

During his homily, the Pope explained Jesus’ prayer at the Mount of Olives.


From Assisi to Norcia

We journeyed today, a group of pilgrims, from Assisi to Norcia, to begin the celebration of the Easter Triduum with the Benedictine monks of a recently re-established monastery in Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict, the founder of the order, and the father of Western monasticism.

Before we left Assisi, we met briefly near the Portiuncola, the little chapel built by St. Francis 800 years ago, with an Italian friar named Brother Alessandro, 34, who was filled with the joy of St. Francis, the joy of loving God above all else, and he communicated that joy to us.

We then took a winding road through craggy mountain passes to Norcia, arriving in a grey afternoon with light rain.

We were met by Father Cassian Folsom, an American, who is living his life according to a different charism than that of the Franciscans, and is attracting ever greater attention around the world as one of the leading spirits in the 21st century renewal of Benedictine monasticism. (Some in Norcia tell me they believe he is a saint.)

Father Cassian spoke to our group briefly about the meaning of the washing of the feet.

The monks then invited the men in our group to have our feet ceremonially washed during the liturgy, and we agreed.

The marble floor of the church was frigid to my unshod foot. The humility of the priest, Father Benedict, who poured water over my foot, and washed and dried, then kissed it, moved me deeply…

(to be continued…)


By Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Holy Thursday is not only the day of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, whose splendour bathes all else and in some ways draws it to itself.

To Holy Thursday also belongs the dark night of the Mount of Olives, to which Jesus goes with his disciples; the solitude and abandonment of Jesus, who in prayer goes forth to encounter the darkness of death; the betrayal of Judas, Jesus’ arrest and his denial by Peter; his indictment before the Sanhedrin and his being handed over to the Gentiles, to Pilate.

Let us try at this hour to understand more deeply something of these events, for in them the mystery of our redemption takes place.

Jesus goes forth into the night.

Night signifies lack of communication, a situation where people do not see one another. It is a symbol of incomprehension, of the obscuring of truth.

It is the place where evil, which has to hide before the light, can grow.

Jesus himself is light and truth, communication, purity and goodness. He enters into the night.

Night is ultimately a symbol of death, the definitive loss of fellowship and life. Jesus enters into the night in order to overcome it and to inaugurate the new Day of God in the history of humanity.

On the way, he sang with his disciples Israel’s psalms of liberation and redemption, which evoked the first Passover in Egypt, the night of liberation.

Now he goes, as was his custom, to pray in solitude and, as Son, to speak with the Father. But, unusually, he wants to have close to him three disciples: Peter, James and John. These are the three who had experienced his Transfiguration – when the light of God’s glory shone through his human figure – and had seen him standing between the Law and the Prophets, between Moses and Elijah.

They had heard him speaking to both of them about his “exodus” to Jerusalem.

Jesus’ exodus to Jerusalem – how mysterious are these words! Israel’s exodus from Egypt had been the event of escape and liberation for God’s People.

What would be the form taken by the exodus of Jesus, in whom the meaning of that historic drama was to be definitively fulfilled?

The disciples were now witnessing the first stage of that exodus – the utter abasement which was nonetheless the essential step of the going forth to the freedom and new life which was the goal of the exodus.

The disciples, whom Jesus wanted to have close to him as an element of human support in that hour of extreme distress, quickly fell asleep. Yet they heard some fragments of the words of Jesus’ prayer and they witnessed his way of acting. Both were deeply impressed on their hearts and they transmitted them to Christians for all time.

Jesus called God “Abba”. The word means – as they add – “Father”. Yet it is not the usual form of the word “father”, but rather a children’s word – an affectionate name which one would not have dared to use in speaking to God. It is the language of the one who is truly a “child”, the Son of the Father, the one who is conscious of being in communion with God, in deepest union with him.

If we ask ourselves what is most characteristic of the figure of Jesus in the Gospels, we have to say that it is his relationship with God. He is constantly in communion with God. Being with the Father is the core of his personality. Through Christ we know God truly.

“No one has ever seen God”, says Saint John. The one “who is close to the Father’s heart … has made him known” (1:18).

Now we know God as he truly is. He is Father, and this in an absolute goodness to which we can entrust ourselves.

The evangelist Mark, who has preserved the memories of Saint Peter, relates that Jesus, after calling God “Abba”, went on to say: “Everything is possible for you. You can do all things” (cf. 14:36). The one who is Goodness is at the same time Power; he is all-powerful. Power is goodness and goodness is power. We can learn this trust from Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives.

Before reflecting on the content of Jesus’ petition, we must still consider what the evangelists tell us about Jesus’ posture during his prayer.

Matthew and Mark tell us that he “threw himself on the ground” (Mt 26:39; cf. Mk 14:35), thus assuming a posture of complete submission, as is preserved in the Roman liturgy of Good Friday. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus prayed on his knees. In the Acts of the Apostles, he speaks of the saints praying on their knees: Stephen during his stoning, Peter at the raising of someone who had died, Paul on his way to martyrdom. In this way Luke has sketched a brief history of prayer on one’s knees in the early Church.

Christians, in kneeling, enter into Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. When menaced by the power of evil, as they kneel, they are upright before the world, while as sons and daughters, they kneel before the Father. Before God’s glory we Christians kneel and acknowledge his divinity; by that posture we also express our confidence that he will prevail.

Jesus struggles with the Father. He struggles with himself. And he struggles for us.

He experiences anguish before the power of death.

First and foremost this is simply the dread natural to every living creature in the face of death. In Jesus, however, something more is at work. His gaze peers deeper, into the nights of evil. He sees the filthy flood of all the lies and all the disgrace which he will encounter in that chalice from which he must drink.

His is the dread of one who is completely pure and holy as he sees the entire flood of this world’s evil bursting upon him.

He also sees me, and he prays for me.

This moment of Jesus’ mortal anguish is thus an essential part of the process of redemption. Consequently, the Letter to the Hebrews describes the struggle of Jesus on the Mount of Olives as a priestly event. In this prayer of Jesus, pervaded by mortal anguish, the Lord performs the office of a priest: he takes upon himself the sins of humanity, of us all, and he brings us before the Father.

Lastly, we must also pay attention to the content of Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. Jesus says: “Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want” (Mk 14:36).

The natural will of the man Jesus recoils in fear before the enormity of the matter. He asks to be spared.

Yet as the Son, he places this human will into the Father’s will: not I, but you. In this way he transformed the stance of Adam, the primordial human sin, and thus heals humanity.

The stance of Adam was: not what you, O God, have desired; rather, I myself want to be a god.

This pride is the real essence of sin. We think we are free and truly ourselves only if we follow our own will. God appears as the opposite of our freedom. We need to be free of him – so we think – and only then will we be free.

This is the fundamental rebellion present throughout history and the fundamental lie which perverts life. When human beings set themselves against God, they set themselves against the truth of their own being and consequently do not become free, but alienated from themselves. We are free only if we stand in the truth of our being, if we are united to God.

Then we become truly “like God” – not by resisting God, eliminating him, or denying him. In his anguished prayer on the Mount of Olives, Jesus resolved the false opposition between obedience and freedom, and opened the path to freedom. Let us ask the Lord to draw us into this “yes” to God’s will, and in this way to make us truly free. Amen.

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