Meditation of the Holy Father

«When We Do the New Evangelization, It is Always in Cooperation with God»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 9, 2012 ( Here is the translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s meditation at the opening of the First General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops yesterday morning.

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Dear Brothers,

My meditation refers to the word «Evangelium» «euangelisasthai» (cf. Lk 4:18). In this Synod we want to know more about what the Lord tells us and what we can or must do. It is divided into two parts: the first is a reflection on the meaning of these words. Then I would like to try to interpret the hymn of the Third Hour «Nunc, Sancte, nobis Spiritus,» on page 5 of the Prayer Book.

The word «Evangelium» «euangelisasthai» has a long history. It first appears in Homer and is the announcement of a victory, therefore an announcement of goodness, joy, and happiness. It appears, then, in […] Isaiah (see Isaiah 40.9), as a voice that announces joy from God, as a voice that makes clear that God has not forgotten his people, that God, Who apparently had almost retired from history, is there and is present. And God is powerful, God gives joy, he opens the doors of exile; after the long night of exile, his light appears and gives the possibility of a return to his people, he renews the story of good, the story of his love. In this context of evangelization, especially three words appear: dikaiosyne, eirene, soteria – justice, peace and salvation. Jesus himself took up the words of Isaiah in Nazareth, speaking of this «gospel» that now he brings to the excluded, to those in prison, to the suffering and to the poor.

But for the meaning of the word «Evangelium» in the New Testament, in addition to this – the Deutero Isaiah opens the door – it is also important to use of the word done by the Roman Empire, beginning with the Emperor Augustus. Here the term «Evangelium» means a word, a message that comes from the Emperor. The message, then, of the Emperor – as such – brings good luck: it is a renewal of the world, it is salvation. Imperial message and therefore, as such, message of strength and power, it is a message of salvation, renewal and health. The New Testament accepts this situation. St. Luke explicitly compares the Emperor Augustus with the Child born in Bethlehem: «Evangelium» – he says – yes, it is a word of the Emperor, the true Emperor of the world. The true Emperor of the world made itself felt, he talks to us. And this fact, as such, is redemption, because the great human suffering – at that time, as now – is this: behind the silence of the universe, behind the clouds of history is there a God or not? And, if there is this God, does He know us, does He have to do with us? Is this God good, and the reality of good in the world does it have power or not? This question is so relevant today as it was at that time. Many people wonder: God is a hypothesis or not? Is it a reality or not? Why does He not make himself be heard? «Gospel» means: God has broken his silence, God has spoken, God exists. This fact as such is salvation: God knows us, God loves us, he has entered into history. Jesus is His Word, God with us, God shows us that He loves us, who suffers with us until his death and he resurrects. This is the Gospel itself. God has spoken, is no longer the great unknown, but He showed himself and this is salvation.

The question for us is: God has spoken, he has really broken the great silence, He has shown himself, but how do we get this reality to today‘s man, so that it may become salvation? In itself, the fact that he talked is salvation, is redemption. But how can man know? This point seems to me to be a question, but also an answer, a mandate for us: we can find the answer meditating the Hymn of the Third Hour «Nunc, Sancte, nobis Spiritus.» The first stanza says: » Dignàre promptus ingeri nostro refusus, péctori “, that is, let us pray so that the Holy Spirit may come, may be in us and with us. In other words: we cannot make the Church, we can only know what He has done. The Church does not begin with our «doing», but with the «doing» and the «speaking» of God. So the Apostles did not say, after a few meetings: now we want to create a Church, and, as a Constituent Assembly, they would have drafted a constitution. No, they prayed and they waited in prayer, because they knew that only God himself can create his Church, that God is the first agent:  if God does not act, our things are only ours and are insufficient; only God can testify that it is he who speaks and has spoken. Pentecost is the condition of the birth of the Church: only because God first acted, the Apostles can act with him and with his presence make present what He does. God has spoken and this «has spoken» is the ‘perfect’ of faith, but it is always also a ‘present’: the perfect of God is not only a past, because a past that is true carries always in itself the present and the future. God has spoken means: «he speaks.» And, as in that time only with God’s initiative the Church could be born, the gospel could be known, the fact that God spoke and speaks, so also today only God can begin, we can only cooperate, but the beginning must come from God. Therefore it is not only a mere formality if we start each day our Meeting with prayer: this corresponds to the reality itself. Only the fact that God precedes us makes it possible our own walking, our cooperation, which is always just a cooperation, not our own simple decision. Therefore, it is always important to know that the first word, the initiative itself, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves  in this divine initiative, only begging this divine initiative, we too can become – with Him and in Him – evangelizers. God is always the beginning and only He can make Pentecost, can create the Church, can show the reality of His being with us. But on the other hand, however, this God, who is always the beginning, he also wants our involvement, He wants to involve our activity, so that the activities are ‘theandrich’, so to speak, made by God, but with our involvement and implying our being, our whole activity. So when we do the new evangelization it is always in cooperation with God, it is in being together with God, it is based on prayer and on his real presence.

Now, this acting of ours, which follows from the initiative of God, we find it described in the second stanza of this hymn: «Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor, confessionem personent, flammescat igne caritas, accendat ardor proximos.» Here we have, in two lines, two fundamental nouns: «confession» in the first lines, and «caritas» in the second two lines. «Confessio» and «caritas,» as the two ways in which God involves us, makes us act with Him, in Him and for mankind, for his creature: «confessio» and «caritas.» And the verbs are added: in the first case «personent» and in the second «caritas» interpreted with the word fire, ardor, to light, to flame. Let us see the first: «confessionem  Personent.» Faith has a content: God communicates himself, but this ‘I’ of God really wholly appears  in the figure of Jesus and is interpreted  in the «confession» that speaks of his virginal conception, of the Nativity, of the Passion, of the Cross, of the Resurrection. This manifesting himself of God is wholly a Person: Jesus as the Word, with a very specific content that is expressed in the «confessio.» So, the first point is that we must enter into this «confession», let us be penetrated, so that «personent» – as the hymn says – in us and through us. Here it is important to also observe a small philological thing:»confessio» in the pre-Christian Latin would be expressed not with «confessio» but with «professio» (profiteri): this is to present positively a reality. Instead, the word «confessio» is referred to the situation in a court, in a trial where one opens his mind and confesses. In other words, this word «confession», which in the Christian Latin has replaced the word «profession», bears in itself the martyrological element, the element of testifying in situations hostile to faith, to witness even in s
ituations of passion and danger of death. The willingness to suffer belongs essentially to the Christian confession: this seems to me very important. Always in the essence of the «confessio» of our creed, is also involved the availability to the passion, to suffering, indeed, to the gift of life. And this ensures the credibility: the «confessio» is not something that you could also eliminate; the «confessio» implies the availability to give my life, to accept the passion. This is precisely also the verification of the «confessio». We see that for us the «confession» is not a word, it is more than the pain, it is more than death. For the «confessio» it is really worth to suffer, it is worth to suffer until death. Who makes this «confession» really shows that what he confesses is more than life itself, the treasure, the precious and infinite pearl. Just in the martyrological dimension of the word «confessio» appears the truth: it happens only for one reality for which it is worth to suffer, which is stronger even than death, and demonstrates that it is a truth which I hold  in my hand, that I am safer, that I “carry” my life because I find life in this confession.

Now let’s see where it should penetrate this «confession», » Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor.» From St. Paul, Letter to the Romans 10, we know that the location of the «confession» is in the heart and in the mouth: it must stay in the deep of my heart, but it must also be public, the faith carried in the heart must be announced: it is never only a reality of the heart, but tends to be communicated, to be confessed really before the eyes of the world. So we have to learn, on the one hand, to be really – let’s say – penetrated in the heart by the «confession», so our heart is formed, and from the heart will also find, along with the great history of the Church, the word and the courage of the word, and the word that indicates our present, this «confession» which is always, however, one. «Mens”:  the» confession «is not only something of the heart and mouth, but also of the intelligence; it must be thought and  so, as thought and intelligently conceived, touches  the other and it presupposes always that my thought may be really placed in the «confession». «Sensus»: it is not a purely abstract and intellectual thing, the «confession» must also penetrate the senses of our life. St. Bernard of Clairvaux told us that God, in his revelation, in the history of salvation, has given to our senses the possibility to see, to touch, to taste the revelation. God is not anymore only a spiritual thing: he entered the world of senses and our senses must be filled of this taste, of this beauty of God’s Word, which is real. «Vigor»: it is the life force of our being and also the legal force of a reality. With all our strength and vitality, we must be penetrated  by the «confession», which must really «personare”; the melody of God must tune our being in its entirety.

«Confessio» is the first pillar – so to speak – of evangelization and the second is «caritas.» The «confessio» is not an abstract thing, it is «caritas,» love. Only in this way it is really the reflection of divine truth, that as truth is inseparably also love. The text describes, with very strong words, this love: it is ardor, flame, it fires up others. There’s a passion of ours that must grow from faith, which must be transformed into the fire of charity. Jesus said: I came to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled. Origen has conveyed us a word of the Lord: «Whoever is near me is near the fire.» The Christian must not be lukewarm. The Book of Revelation tells us that this is the greatest danger for a Christian: not that he may say no, but that he may say a very lukewarm yes. This being lukewarm is what discredits Christianity. Faith must become in us flame of love, flame that really fires up my being, becomes the great passion of my being, and so it fires also my neighbor. This is the way of evangelization: «Accéndat ardor proximos,» that truth may become in me charity  and charity  may lit up also the other. Only in this lighting up the other through the flame of our charity, evangelization really grows, the presence of the Gospel, which is no longer just word, but a lived reality.

St. Luke tells us that at Pentecost, in this foundation of the Church of God, the Holy Spirit was the fire that has transformed the world, but fire in the form of tongues, that is,  fire which is however reasonable, that is spirit, which is also understanding , fire that is joined to the thought, to the «mens.» And this intelligent fire, this «sobria  ebrietas,» is characteristic of Christianity. We know that fire is at the beginning of human culture, fire is light, heat, power to transform. Human culture begins when man has the power to create fire:  with fire it can destroy, but with fire it can transform and renew. The fire of God is transforming fire, the fire of passion – certainly – that destroys also so much in us, that leads to God, but fire especially that transforms, renews and creates a novelty in man, which becomes light in God.

So, at the end, we can only pray the Lord that the «confessio» may be deeply founded in us and may become fire that kindles other; so the fire of his presence, the novelty of his being with us, becomes really visible and strength of the present and of the future.

[Translation by Pietro Gennarini]
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