VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the “lectio divina” Benedict XVI delivered Friday during a visit to Rome’s Major Seminary on the eve of the feast of the seminary’s patroness, Our Lady of Confidence. The “lectio divina” is a reflection on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
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For me it is always a great joy to be in my seminary, to see the future priests of my diocese, to be with you under the sign of Our Lady of Confidence. We go forward with her, who helps and accompanies us, and who really gives us the certainty of always being helped by divine grace.
Let us now see what St. Paul says to us with this text: “You were called to freedom.” At all times, freedom has been humanity’s great dream, since the beginning, but particularly in modern times. We know that Luther was inspired by this text of the Letter to the Galatians, and his conclusion was that the monastic Rule, the hierarchy, the magisterium seemed a yoke of slavery from which he had to free himself. Subsequently, the age of the Enlightenment was totally guided, penetrated by this desire for freedom, which it was thought had already been attained. However, Marxism also presented itself as the path to freedom.
Tonight we ask: What is freedom? How can we be free? St. Paul helps us to understand the complicated reality which freedom is by inserting this concept in a context of fundamental anthropological and theological divisions. He says: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.” The rector has already told us that “flesh” is not the body, but, in St. Paul’s language, it is the absolutizing of the I, of the I that wants to be all and have everything for itself. In short, the absolute I, which does not depend on anything or anyone, seems really to possess freedom. I am free if I do not depend on anyone, if I can do everything I wish. However, precisely this absolutizing of the I is “flesh,” namely, the degradation of man, it is not the victory of freedom: libertinism is not freedom, instead, it is the failure of freedom.
And Paul dares to propose a strong paradox: “Through charity, be of service ” (in Greek “douleuete”); in other words, paradoxically, freedom is realized in service: We are free if we become one another’s servants. And so Paul puts the whole problem of freedom in the light of the truth of man. To reduce oneself to the flesh, apparently raising oneself to the rank of divinity — “I, man alone” — introduces a lie. Because in fact, it is not like this: Man is not an absolute, being able to isolate himself and behave according to his own will. This goes against the truth of our being. Our truth is, above all, that we are creatures, creatures of God and we live in relationship with the Creator. We are rational beings, and only by accepting this relationship do we enter into truth, otherwise we fall into falsehood and, in the end, are destroyed by it.
We are creatures, hence dependents of the Creator. In the age of the Enlightenment, especially for atheism, this dependency seemed like something from which it was necessary to free oneself. In reality, however, it would be a fatal dependency only if this Creator God was a tyrant, not a good Being, only if he was as human tyrants are. If, however, this Creator loves us and our dependence implies being in the realm of his love, in this case, in fact, dependency is freedom. Thus, we are, indeed, in the love of the Creator, we are united to him, to the whole of his reality, to all his power. This, therefore, is the first point: To be a creature means to be loved by the Creator, to be in this relationship of love that he gives us, with which he provides for us. From this derives above all the truth about ourselves, which at the same time is a call to love.
And because of this to see God, to orient oneself to God, to know God, to know the will of God, to insert oneself in his will, that is, in the love of God is to enter increasingly into the realm of truth. And this path of knowledge of God, of the relationship of love with God, is the extraordinary adventure of our Christian life: Because in Christ we know the face of God, the face of God who loves us even to the cross, to the gift of himself.
However, the creaturely relationship also implies a second type of relationship: We are in relationship with God but, at the same time, as human family, we are also in relationship with one another. In other words, human freedom is, on one hand, to be in the joy and great realm of the love of God, but it also implies being only one thing with the other and for the other. There is no freedom in being against the other. If I absolutize myself, I become the other’s enemy, we can no longer coexist on earth and the whole of life becomes cruelty and failure. Only a shared freedom is human freedom; in being together we can enter the symphony of freedom.
Hence, this is another point of great importance: Only by accepting the other, by accepting also the apparent limitation that respect for the other implies for my freedom, only by inserting myself in the network of dependencies that makes us, finally, only one human family, will I be on the way to common liberation.
A very important element appears here. What is the measure of this sharing of freedom? We see that man needs order and law, to be able to realize his freedom, which is a freedom lived in common. And how can we find this just order, in which no one is oppressed, but each one can make his own contribution to form this sort of concert of freedom? If there is no common truth of man as it appears in the vision of God, only positivism remains and one has the impression of something imposed even in a violent manner. Hence the rebellion against order and law as if it was a question of slavery.
However, if we can find the order of the Creator in our nature, the order of truth that gives each one his place, order and law can be in fact instruments of freedom against the slavery of egoism. To serve one another becomes an instrument of freedom, and here we can include a whole philosophy of politics according to the social doctrine of the Church, which helps us to find this common order that gives each one his place in the common life of humanity. The first reality that must be respected, therefore, is truth: Freedom against truth is not freedom. To serve one another creates the common realm of freedom.
And then Paul continues, saying: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” After this affirmation the mystery of the Incarnate God appears, the mystery of Christ appears who in his life, Death and Resurrection becomes the living law.
Immediately, the first words of our reading — “You were called to freedom” — point to this mystery. We have been called by the Gospel, we have really been called in baptism, to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ, and in this way we have passed from the “flesh,” from egoism, to communion with Christ. And so we are in the fullness of the law.
You probably all know St. Augustine’s beautiful words: “Dilige et fac quod vis — Love and do what you will.” What Augustine says is the truth, if we have truly understood the word “love.” “Love, and do what you will,” but we must really be penetrated by communion with Christ, having identified ourselves with his death and resurrection, being united to him in the communion of his body. By participation in the sacraments, by listening to the Word of God, the Divine Will, the divine law really enters our will, our will identifies with his, they become only one will and thus we are really free, we can really do what we will, because we love with Christ, we love in truth and with truth.
Therefore, let us pray to the Lord that he will help us on this path that began with baptism, a path of identification with Christ that is always realized again in the Eucharist. In the third Eucharistic Prayer we say: “To be one body and one spirit in Christ.” It is a moment in which, through the Eucharist and through our true participation in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, we become one spirit with Him, we identify with his will, and thus we truly attain freedom.
After this word — the law has been fulfilled — after this unique word that becomes reality in communion with Christ, all the figures of the saints who have entered into this communion with Christ appear behind the Lord, in this unity of being, in this unity with his will. Above all, the Virgin appears, in her humility, her goodness, her love. The Virgin gives us this confidence, she takes us by the hand, guides us and helps us on the path of uniting ourselves with the will of God, as she was from the first moment, expressing this union in her “Fiat.”
And, finally, after these beautiful things, the letter points out once more the rather sad situation of the community of the Galatians, when Paul says: “But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another … walk by the Spirit.” It seems to me that in this community — which was no longer on the path of communion with Christ, but in the external law of the “flesh” — naturally controversies also emerged and Paul says: “You become wild beasts, one bites the other.” He refers thus to the controversies that arise when faith degenerates into intellectualism and humility is substituted by the arrogance of being better than the other.
We see clearly that also today there are similar things when, instead of being inserted in communion with Christ, in the Body of Christ which is the Church, each one wants to be better than the other and with intellectual arrogance wants to be regarded as the best. And thus controversies arise which are destructive, born is a caricature of the Church, which should be one soul and one heart.
In St. Paul’s warning we should find today a reason to examine our conscience: not to think of being better than the other, but to meet one another in the humility of Christ, in the humility of the Virgin, to enter into the obedience of the faith. Precisely in this way the great realm of truth and freedom in love is really opened also for us.
Finally, we want to thank God because He has shown us his face in Christ, because he has given us the Virgin, the saints, because He has called us to be only one body, one spirit with him. And let us pray that He will help us to insert ourselves ever more in this communion with his will, so as to find love and joy in freedom.[At the end of the dinner with the community of the Roman Seminary, the Holy Father said]
I am told that yet another word is expected from me. I have already spoken perhaps too much, but I would like to express my gratitude, my joy at being with you. In my conversation now at table I have learned something more about the history of the Lateran, begun by Constantine, Sixtus V, Benedict XIV, Pope Lambertini.
So I have seen all the problems of the history and ever-new rebirth of the Church in Rome. And I have understood that in the discontinuity of external historical events lies the great continuity of the unity of the Church at all times. And also in regard to the composition of the seminary, I have understood that it is an expression of the catholicity of our Church. From all the continents we are one Church and we have the future in common. Let us only hope that vocations will grow because, as the rector said, there is a need for laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. Thank you all![Translation of Italian original by Inma Alvarez]
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