Papal Meditation at Opening of Africa Synod

«We Pray That Pentecost Is Not Only a Past Event»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2009 ( Here is a Vatican translation of the meditation Benedict XVI gave Monday at the opening of the First General Congregation on Monday of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which is taking place this month at the Vatican.

The synod is considering the theme, «The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.»

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Dear brothers and sisters,

We have now begun our synodal encounter, calling on the Holy Spirit, knowing full well that at this time we cannot achieve what must be done for the Church and for the world: only with the strength of the Holy Spirit can we find that which is good and accomplish it. And every day we will begin by calling on the Holy Spirit with the Prayer of the Hour of Terce «Nunc sancte nobis Spiritus».

Therefore I would like to meditate briefly now, together with you all, on this hymn, which opens the work each day, now during the Synod, but also in our daily life.

«Nunc sancte nobis Spiritus». We pray that the Pentecost is not only a past event, the beginnings of the Church, but that it is today, rather, now: «Nunc sancte nobis Spiritus». We pray that the Lord accomplish now the effusion of His Spirit and recreate His Church and the world. We recall that the apostles after the Ascension did not begin — as would have been usual — to organize, to create the Church of the future. They waited for God’s action, they waited for the Holy Spirit. They understood that the Church cannot be made, that it is not the product of our organization: the Church must be born of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Lord was conceived and born of the Holy Spirit, thus the Church must also be conceived and born of the Holy Spirit. Only through this creative act of God can we enter the activity of God, in divine action and collaborate with Him. In this sense, even all of our work at the Synod is a collaboration with the Holy Spirit, with the force of God that precedes us. And we must always continue to implore the fulfillment of this divine initiative, in which we can become collaborators of God and contribute to the rebirth and growth of His Church.

The second verse of this hymn — «Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor, / Confessionem personent; / Flammescat igne caritas, / accendat ardor proximos» — is the heart of this prayer. We beg God for three gifts, the gifts essential to Pentecost, to the Holy Spirit: confessio, caritas, proximos. Confessio: there is a tongue of fire that is «reasonable», it gives the correct word and makes one think about overcoming Babylon on the day of Pentecost. The confusion born from egoism and man’s pride, the effect being the inability to understand each other, must be overcome by the force of the Spirit, which unites without leveling, which gives unity in plurality: each can understand the other, even in the different languages. Confessio: the word, the tongue of fire that the Lord gives us, the common word which unites us all, the City of God, the Holy Church, in which all the wealth of our different cultures is present. Flammescat igne caritas. This confession is not a theory but life, love. The heart of the Holy Church is love, God is love and communicates Himself by communicating love to us. And finally the neighbor. The Church is never a closed group, which lives for itself like so many of the groups existing in the world, rather it distinguishes itself for its universality of charity, of responsibility for the neighbor.

We will consider these three gifts one by one. Confessio: in the language of the Bible and the ancient Church this word had two essential meanings, which might seem opposed but in effect constitute one reality. Confessio, first of all, is the confession of sins: recognizing our fault and recognizing that before God we are lacking, we are at fault, we are not in the right relationship with Him. This is the first point: to know ourselves in the light of God. Only in this light can we know ourselves, can we also understand that there is evil in us and thus see how much must be renewed, transformed. Only in the light of God can we know each other and truly see all of reality.

I feel that we must keep in mind all this in our analysis of reconciliation, justice, peace. Empirical analyses are important, it is important to know exactly the reality of this world. However these horizontal analyses, made so exactly and competently, are insufficient. They do not indicate the real problems because they are not placed in the light of God. If we cannot see that at the roots lies the Mystery of God, the worldly things go badly because the relationship with God is not orderly. And if the first relationship, the fundamental one, is not correct, all the other relationships as good as they can be, fundamentally do not work. Therefore all our analyses of the world are insufficient if we do not delve to this point, if we do not consider the world in the light of God, if we do not discover that at the root of injustice, of corruption, there is an unrighteous heart, there is closure towards God and, therefore, a falsification of the essential relationship which is the foundation of all others.

Confessio: to understand the realities of the world in the light of God, the primacy of God and finally the whole human being and the human realities, which tend to our relations with God. And if this is not right, it will not reach the point wanted by God, it does not enter His truth, even all the rest cannot be corrected because all the evils which re-emerge destroy the social network, the peace in the world.

Confessio: to see the reality in the light of God, to understand that ultimately our realities depend on our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer, and thus lead to truth, the truth that saves. Saint Augustine, referring to Chapter 3 of the Gospel according to Saint John, defines the act of Christian confession with «to make truth, to go towards the light». Only in seeing our faults in the light of God, the insufficiencies in our relationship with Him, can we walk in the light of truth. And only truth will save. We finally work in truth: to really confess in this depth of God’s light is to make truth.

This is the first meaning of the word confessio, confession of sins, recognizing the guilt that comes from our missing relationship with God. However a second meaning of confession is that of thanking God, glorifying God, witnessing God. We can recognize the truth of our being because there is a divine answer. God did not leave us alone with our sins; even when our relationship with His Majesty is locked, He does not turn away but comes to us and takes us by the hand. Therefore confessio is the witness of God’s goodness, it is evangelization. We could say that the second dimension of the word confessio is identical to evangelization. We can see this on the day of Pentecost, when Saint Peter, in his speech, on one hand accuses persons’ fault — you have killed the saint and the just –, but, at the same time, says: this Saint has risen and loves you, embraces you, calls upon you to be His in contrition and baptism, as well as in communion with His Body. In the light of God, to confess necessarily becomes proclaiming God, to evangelize and thus renew the world.

The word confessio however reminds us of another element. In Chapter 10 of the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul interprets the confession in Chapter 30 of Deuteronomy. In this last text, it would seem that the Jews, entering the definitive form of the covenant, in the Holy Land, are afraid and cannot truly answer God as they should. The Lord tells them: do not be afraid, God is not far.

To reach God it is not necessary to travel through an unknown ocean, there is no need for space travel in the heavens, so complicated and impossible. God is not far, He is not on the other side of the ocean, in these immense spaces of the universe. God is close. He is in your heart and on your lips, with the word of the
Torah, which goes into your heart and is proclaimed from your lips.

God is in you and with you, He is close.
Saint Paul substitutes, in his interpretation, the word Torah with the words confession and faith. He says: truly God is close, there is no need for complicated shipments to reach Him, nor for spiritual or material ventures. God is close with faith, He is in your heart, and with confession He is on your lips. He is in you and with you. Truly, Jesus Christ with His presence gives us the word of life. Thus He enters, in faith, into our heart. He lives in our heart and in confession we bring the reality of the Lord to the world, in ourtime. I think this is a very important element: God is close. Things of science, of technology use up great investments: spiritual and material ventures are costly and difficult. But God gives Himself freely.

The greatest things of life — God, love, truth — are free. God gives Himself in our hearts. I could say that we should often meditate on the gratuity of God: there is no need for great material or even intellectual gifts to be close to God. God gives Himself freely in His love, He is in me in my heart and on my lips. This is the courage, the joy of our life. It is also the courage present in this Synod, because God is not far: He is with us with the word of faith. I think that even this duality is important: the word in the heart and on the lips. This depth of personal faith, which truly intimately ties me with God, must then be confessed: faith and confession, interiority in communion with God and the witness of faith that is expressed on my lips and thus becomes sensitive and present in the world. These two important things always walk hand in hand.

Then the hymn we are talking about even indicates the places where confession can be found: «oas, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor». All our abilities of thinking, speaking, hearing, acting, must echo — the Latin uses the word «personare» — the word of God. Our being, in all its dimensions, should be filled with this word, which becomes thus truly sensitive to the world, which, through our existence, echoes in the world: the word of the Holy Spirit.

Then briefly two other gifts. Charity: it is important that Christianity is not the sum of ideas, a philosophy, a theology, but a way of life, Christianity is charity, it is love. Only thus can we become Christians: if faith turns into charity, if it is charity. We could also say that logos and caritas go together. Our God is, on one hand, logos, eternal reason. But this reason is also love, it is not cold mathematics that creates the universe, it is not a creator; this eternal reason is fire, it is charity. This unity of reason and charity, of faith and charity should be accomplished within us. And thus transformed in charity become, as the Greek Fathers said, divinized. I would say that in the world’s development this is an uphill road, from the first realities created to the human being. But this stairway is not yet done. Man should be divinized and thus realized.

The unity of the creature and the Creator: this is true development, to reach this openness with the grace of God. Our essence becomes transformed in charity. If we speak about this development we always think of this as the ultimate goal, where God wishes to arrive with us.

Finally, the neighbor. Charity is not an individual thing, but a universal and concrete thing. Today in the Mass, we proclaimed the page of the Gospel on the Good Samaritan, where we can see the dual reality of Christian charity, which is universal and concrete. This Good Samaritan meets a Jew, who therefore is beyond the boundaries of his tribe and his religion. But charity is universal and therefore this stranger is his neighbor in all senses. Universality opens the limitations that close the world and create differences and conflicts. At the same time, the fact that something must be done for universality is not a philosophy but a concrete act.

We must tend towards this unification between universality and concreteness, we must truly open these boundaries between tribes, ethnic groups, religions to the universality of the love of God. And this is not in theory, but in our places of life, with all the necessary concreteness. We pray the Lord to give us all this, in the force of the Holy Spirit. At the end, the hymn is a glorification of the Trine and One God and a prayer of knowledge and believing. Thus the end returns to the beginning.

We pray that we may learn, that learning become believing and believing become loving, action. We pray the Lord that He may give us the gift of the Holy Spirit, inciting a new Pentecost, help us to be His servants at this time in the world.


© Copyright 2009 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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