VATICAN CITY, OCT. 4, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s spontaneous meditation on Monday morning at the Synod of Bishops, after the reading of the Third Hour of the Liturgy of the Hours, taken from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (13:11).
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This Third Hour of today implies five imperatives and a promise. Let’s try to understand a bit better what the Apostle intends to tell us through these words.
The first imperative is very frequent in the Letters of St. Paul; rather, one could say that it is almost the “cantus firmus” of his thought: “gaudete.” The question stems from here: Is it possible to almost command joy? Joy, we should say, comes or does not come, but cannot be imposed as a duty. And here it helps us to think of the best-known text on joy in the Letters of St. Paul, the one of “Domenica Gaudete,” in the heart of the liturgy of Advent: “Gaudete, iterum dico gaudete quia Dominus propest.”
Here we see the reason why Paul in all his sufferings and tribulations could not only say to the others “gaudete” but could say so because he was filled with joy. “Gaudete, Dominus enim prope est.”
If the loved one, love, the greatest gift of my life, is close to me, if I can be convinced that the one who loves me is close to me, even in situations of suffering, the joy that remains in the depth of my heart is ever greater than all sufferings.
The Apostle can say “gaudete” because the Lord is close to each one of us. And so this imperative in reality is an invitation to become aware of the Lord who is close to us. It is an awareness of the Lord’s presence. The Apostle intends to make us sensitive to this — hidden but very real — presence of Christ in each one of us. The words of the Apocalypse are true for each one of us: I knock at your door, listen to me, open up to me.
This is therefore also an invitation to be aware of this presence of the Lord who knocks at my door. Do not be deaf to him, because the ears of our hearts are so full of so many noises in the world that we cannot hear this silent presence that knocks at our doors.
Let’s reflect, at the same time, if we are truly ready to open the doors of our heart; or perhaps this heart is full of so many other things that there is no room for the Lord and for the time being we have no time for the Lord. And so, we are insensitive, deaf to his presence, full of other things, that we do not hear the essential. He knocks at the door, he is close to us and thus true joy is close, which is stronger than all the sorrows in the world, and in our life.
Therefore, let us pray within the context of this first imperative: Lord make us sensitive to your presence, help us to feel, not to be deaf to you, help us to have a free heart and be open to you.
The second imperative “perfecti estote,” as can be read in the Latin text, seems to coincide with the summary word of the Sermon on the Mount: “perfecti estote sicut Pater vester caelestis perfectus est.”
This word invites us to be what we are: images of God, creatures created in relation to the Lord, a “mirror” in which the light of the Lord is reflected. Not to live Christianity according to the letter, and not to hear the sacred Scripture according to the letter, is often difficult; it is historically questionable, but to go beyond the letter, the present reality, toward the Lord who speaks to us and thus in union with the
However, if we look at the Greek text we find another verb, “catartizesthe,” and this word means to redo, to repair an instrument, to re-establish something to its full functionality. The most frequent example for the apostles is to remake a net for the fishermen which is no longer in the right condition, which has so many holes that it no longer serves, to remake the net so that it can become a fishing net again, return to its perfection as an instrument for this work.
Another example: a string musical instrument which has a broken string, so music cannot be played as it should be. So in this imperative our soul appears like an apostolic net which nevertheless often does not work well, because it is torn by our own intentions; or like a musical instrument where unfortunately some chords are broken, and therefore the music of God which should sound from the depth of our soul cannot resound well. To remake this instrument, to know the afflictions, destructions, negligence, how much has been disregarded, and to try to see that this instrument is perfect and complete because it serves that for which it was created by the Lord.
So this imperative can also be an invitation to regularly examine my conscience, to see the condition of my instrument, to what extent it has been neglected, no longer works, and to try to return it to its integrity. This is also an invitation to the sacrament of reconciliation, where God himself remakes this instrument and gives us again completeness, perfection, functionality, so that the praise of God can resound in this soul.
Then comes “exortamini invicem.” Fraternal correction is a work of mercy. None of us can see himself well, see his shortcomings well. So it is an act of love, to be a complement to one another, to help each other see one another better, and to correct each other. I think that one of the functions of collegiality is to help one another, also in the sense of the previous imperative, to know the shortcomings which we ourselves do not wish to see — “ab occultis meis munda me,” says the psalm — to help each other so that we may become open and can see these things.
Of course, this great work of mercy, helping each other so that each one can really find his or her own integrity, and functionality as an instrument of God, demands great humility and love. Only if this comes from a humble heart, from someone who does not place himself above another, who does not
consider himself better than the other, but only a humble instrument to mutually help each other. Only if one feels this deep and true humility, if one feels that these words come from common love, from the collegial affection in which we wish to serve God together, can we in this way help each other with a great act of love.
Also here, the Greek text adds some nuances; the Greek work is “paracaleisthe”; it is the same root from which the following word comes from “Paracletos, paraclesis,” consoling. Not only correcting, but also consoling, sharing the sufferings of others, helping them in difficulty. And this also seems to me to be a great act of true collegial affection.
In so many difficult situations which are evident today in our pastoral care, some people are really desperate, and do not know how to go ahead. In that moment they need consolation, they need somebody to be close by in their inner solitude and carry out the work of the Holy Spirit, of the Comforter: to give
courage, to bring us together, to support each other, helped by the Holy Spirit who is the great Paraclete, the Comforter, our Advocate who helps us.
Therefore, it is an invitation to make ourselves “ad invicem” the work of the Paraclete Holy Spirit. “Idem sapite”: we can hear behind the Latin word “sapor,” “to have “eundem sapore,” to have the same sensitivity. The Greek text says “froneite,” the same thing. That is, substantially, to have the same thought.
How can we have in substance a common thought which helps us to guide together the holy Church if we do not share together the faith which is not invented by any of us, but is it not the faith of the Church, the common foundation which leads us, and on which we are and on which we work? Therefore, it is an invitation to place ourselves again in this common thought, in this faith which precedes us.
“Non respicias peccata nostra sed fidem Ecclesiae tuae”: it is the faith of the Church which the Lord looks for in us and which is also the forgiveness of sins. To have this commo
n faith, we can and must live this faith, each one in his own way, but always knowing that this faith precedes us. And we must communicate with all the others this common faith.
This element already leads us on to the last imperative, which grants profound peace among us. And at this point we can also think of “touto froneite,” of another text of the Letter to the Philippians, at the beginning of the great hymn on the Lord, where the Apostle tells us: have the same feelings of Christ,
enter the “fronesis,” in the “fronein,” in the thought of Christ. Therefore, we can have the faith of the Church together, because with this faith we enter in the thoughts and feelings of the Lord. Thinking together with Christ.
This is the last exhortation of this warning by the Apostle: thinking with the thought of Christ. And we can do this by reading holy Scripture where the thoughts of Christ are Words, which speak to us. In this sense we should follow the “lectio divina,” listening in the Scriptures to the thought of Christ, learning to think with Christ, thinking the thought of Christ and thus having the same feelings of Christ, being capable of giving Christ’s thought and feelings to others.
Hence, the last imperative “pacem habete et eireneuete” is almost the summary of the four previous imperatives, being thus in union with God who is our peace, with Christ who told us: “pacem dabo vobis.” We are in inner peace, because being in the thought of Christ unites our real being. The difficulties, the contrasts of our soul are united, we are united to the original, that of which we are the image, with the thought of Christ. This is how inner peace stems and only if we are founded on deep inner peace can we be people of peace also in the world, and for others.
Hence the question, is this promise conditioned by imperatives? That is, is it only to the extent in which we can achieve these imperatives, that this God of peace is with us? What is the relationship between imperative and promise?
I would say it is bilateral, that is, the promise precedes the imperatives and makes the imperatives achievable and also follows this implementation of the imperatives. That is, first of all, how much we do, the God of love and peace has opened up to us, he is with us. In the Revelation begun in the Old Testament, God came toward us with his love and his peace.
And finally, in the Incarnation he was made God with us: Emmanuel. This God of peace is with us who was made flesh with our flesh, blood of our blood. He is man with us and embraces the whole of mankind. And in crucifixion and in descending to death, he was made completely one with us. He precedes us with his love, and he embraces first of all our actions. And this is our great consolation. God precedes us. He has already done everything. He has given us peace and forgiveness and love. He is with us.
And only because he is with us, because we received his grace in baptism, in confirmation the Holy Spirit, we received his mission in the sacrament of the order — we can now cooperate with his presence which precedes us.
All our actions which are mentioned in the five imperatives imply cooperating, collaborating with the God of peace who is with us. However, this is valid, on the other hand, to the extent in which we really enter this presence which he gave us, in this gift which is already present in our being. Consequently his presence, and his being with us, is reinforced.
Let us pray to the Lord to teach us to cooperate with his preceding grace and that he always be really with us. Amen!
[Original text in Italian; adapted from translation by the Synod’s General Secretariat]