CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the catechesis Benedict XVI gave last Wednesday, Aug. 11, during the general audience at the summer papal residence in Castel Gandolfo.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today in the liturgy we recall St. Clare of Assisi, founder of the Poor Clares, a luminous figure of whom I will speak in one of the forthcoming catecheses. However, this week — as I already indicated in the Angelus address last Sunday — we also commemorate some of the holy martyrs, both of the first centuries of the Church, such as St. Lawrence, deacon; St. Pontian, Pope, and St. Hippolytus, priest; as well as of a time closer to us, such as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, patroness of Europe, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Hence I would like to speak briefly about martyrdom, the way of total love of God.
On what is martyrdom based? The answer is simple: on the death of Jesus, in his supreme sacrifice of love, consummated on the cross so that we could have life (cf. John 10:10). Christ is the suffering servant of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks (cf. Isaiah 52:13-15), who gave himself in ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28). He exhorts his disciples, each one of us, to take up our cross every day and follow him on the way of total love of God and of humanity: “And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
It is the logic of the grain of wheat that dies to sprout and bear life (cf. John 12:24). Jesus himself “is the grain of wheat which came from God, the divine grain that lets itself fall to the ground, that lets itself sink, be broken down in death and precisely by so doing germinates and can thus bear fruit in the immensity of the world” (Benedict XVI, Visit to the Lutheran Church of Rome [March 14, 2010].
A martyr follows the Lord to the end, freely accepting to die for the salvation of the world, in a supreme test of faith and love (cf. Lumen Gentium, 42).
Once again, from whence comes the strength to face martyrdom? From profound and intimate union with Christ, because martyrdom and the vocation to martyrdom are not the result of human effort, but the response to an initiative and a call from God, they are a gift of his grace, which makes one capable of offering one’s life for love of Christ and of the Church, and thus of the world. If we read the lives of the martyrs, we are amazed by their serenity and courage when facing suffering and death: The power of God is manifested fully in weakness, in the poverty of the one who entrusts himself to him and places his hope in him alone (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).
However, it is important to point out that the grace of God does not do away with or suffocate the liberty of the one facing martyrdom, but on the contrary, improves and exalts it: The martyr is an extremely free person, free in the face of power, of the world; a free person, who in one definitive act gives his whole life to God, and in a supreme act of faith, of hope and of charity, abandons himself into the hands of his Creator and Redeemer; sacrifices his own life to be totally associated to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In a word, martyrdom is a great act of love in response to the immense love of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, as I said last Wednesday, we are probably not called to martyrdom, but none of us is excluded from the divine call to holiness, to live in a lofty way our Christian existence, and this implies taking up our daily cross. All of us, especially in our time in which egoism and individualism seem to prevail, must assume as a first and fundamental commitment that of growing every day in greater love of God and of neighbor to transform our lives and thus also to transform the world. Through the intercession of the saints and the martyrs, let us ask the Lord to inflame our hearts to be able to love as he has loved each one of us.
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present today. I especially welcome the young altar servers from Malta and their families, and I thank them for their faithful service in Saint Peter’s Basilica. I also greet the pilgrimage groups from Nigeria, Indonesia and the United States. In this month of August, when the Church commemorates so many martyrs, let us give thanks for all those who followed Christ to the end by offering their own lives in union with his sacrifice on the Cross. May their act of supreme love and surrender to God inspire us on the way of holiness and charity towards our brothers and sisters. Commending you and your families to their intercession, I cordially invoke upon you God’s abundant blessings.
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