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The Holy Father’s ‘Lectio Divina’ at the Pontifical Lateran University

Pope Francis Makes Surprise Visit

Before going to the Capitol on March 26, 2019, the Holy Father Francis went by surprise to the Pontifical Lateran University, where he led the Lenten meditation, an event that the Pontifical Athenaeum organizes every year for the academic community.

Here is a translation of the “Lectio Divina” that the Pope held.

* * *

“The Holy Father’s “Lectio Divina”

 From the Book of the Prophet Daniel (Daniel 3:25.34-43)

In those days, Azariah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said:

”For thy name’s sake, do not give us up utterly,

and do not break thy covenant,

and do not withdraw thy mercy from us,

and for the sake of Abraham thy beloved

and for the sake of Isaac thy holy one,

to whom thou didst promise

to make their descendants as

many as the stars of heaven

and as the sand on the shore of the sea.

For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation,

And are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins.

And at this time there is no prince,

or prophet, or leader,

no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or

oblation, or incense,

no place to make an offering

before thee or to find mercy.

Yet with a contrite heart and a

humble spirit may we be accepted,

as though it were with burnt

offerings of rams and bulls.

And with tens of thousands of fat lambs;

such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day,

and may we wholly follow thee,

for there will be no shame for

those who trust in thee.

And now with all our heart we follow thee,

We fear thee and seek thy face.

Do not put us to shame,

but deal with us in thy forbearance

and in thy abundant mercy.

Deliver us in accordance with thy

marvellous works,

and give glory to thy name, O

Lord!”

We have heard the First Reading of today’s Liturgy. It was read in a new way this morning, knowing that today I would come here in your midst. It always happens so: to listen to Scripture from today’s reality discloses and communicates further meanings that are contained in it. The biblical page reaches fulfillment in our ears (Cf. Luke 4:17-21) and reveals an ulterior meaning, which perhaps escaped us or that we didn’t understand well, and that in fact, thanks to today, is manifested to us. This text contains the prayer of three young sons of Israel: Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, cast into a large burning furnace by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar because they refused to adore his gold statue. In fact, their unwavering determination to be faithful to God and to guard their freedom exposed them to martyrdom, as happens also today to your contemporary Christians in some parts of the world. However, God intervenes to impede the flames from harming the three youths: before the eyes of the incredulous Nebuchadnezzar, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael walked about in the midst of the fire as if in the furnace a “wind full of dew blew” (Daniel 3:50); they were accompanied by an Angel — one whose appearance is like a son of the gods”(Daniel 3:25) — and they began to praise and pray to God. Today’s Reading contains the penitential part of this prayer. According to many scholars, the date of the composition of the book of Daniel is placed at the time of the persecution of the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes, before the latter’s death, which happened in 164 B.C. As the events of Daniel and his three young companions happened in the 6th century B.C., during the exile in Babylon, we understand the logic of this biblical book: to face with courage the persecutions suffered in the present, Israel remembers the example of illustrious personalities of the past (Daniel, the three youths, the young Susanna in chapter 13), who lived faithful to God and to His Torah. Memory always gives us strength: the memory of the past brings us not only a message but the strength of belonging to a people. So they overcame, with their witness, the destructive violence of the powers of this world: they remained sound and even obtained their enemies’ confession of faith in God (Cf. Daniel 3:95-96), carrying out Israel’s priestly mission in the midst of the people and of universal blessing for all peoples.

To be enveloped by flames and remain sound: it can be done with the help of the Lord Jesus, Son of God, and by the breeze of the Holy Spirit. I imagine you so: even if we live in a cultural context marked by a single thought, which envelops and puts all to sleep with its deadly embrace and burns every form of creativity and divergent thought, you walk sound thanks to your rooting in Christ and in His Gospel, brought up-to-date by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way, you keep a lofty look and also another look on reality, a Christian difference bearer of novelty.

The academic course you are fulfilling in this Pontifical University is geared not to isolate you from this context, but rather to inhabit it with critical awareness and the capacity of discernment, in view of that action, in which your contribution is expressed, for the cultural and social life of the world. Adherence to the Gospel and acceptance of the rich patrimony of the ecclesial Tradition, at all levels, are not geared to blocking thought or to asking to repeat tiringly the formulas of always: first of all they wish to give you a free, authentic, faithful and real point of view, I’d say “healthy,” in regard to this, our time our time.

We want to remember the roots, which are different from the tree: they are under the ground, but they are the roots. And this passage intends to recall, Antiochus Epiphanes’ persecution, to roots of a people, the memory of a people. The memory, which just as the lymph that comes from the roots, makes the tree grow and flower.

Think of the stimulus we receive continually to live in a comfortable and greedy individualism — all of us — , concerned only with our own wellbeing, our own free time and fulfilment . . . I pause to touch on a point, which makes me suffer: our demographic winter. “But why don’t you have at least one child, or two?” – “No, but I think, I would like to go on a trip, I’ll still waiting a bit . . . And so couples go on without fecundity, because of egoism, to have more, also to go on cultural trips, but the children don’t come. That tree doesn’t bear fruit. The demographic winter we all suffer today is, in fact, the effect of this single, egoistic thought turned only one oneself, which only seeks “my” fulfilment. You students think profoundly about this: think of how this single thought is so “wild” . . . It seems very cultural but it is “wild,” because it impedes you from making history, from leaving a history after you. How dangerous all this is, how much it separates us from others and, hence, from reality; how much it makes us get sick and delirious! The many neuroses  . . . Often it is rapidly transformed into exaltation of one’s person or group, the “I,” in contempt and rejection of others, of the poor, in refusing to allow oneself to be questioned by the evident ruin of Creation! This is shameful! To let oneself be taken by the hand of the lord, of the Angels that He sends us, to follow the Spirit who is like the wind and whose voice we recognize today, means to avoid being burnt: burnt in the brain, in the heart, in the body, in relationships, in all that which puts life in movement and fills it with hope. It’s from the contemplation of the mystery itself of God’s Trinity and of the Incarnation of the Son, that springs for Christian thought and for the Church’s action, the primacy given to relationship, to the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, to the universal communion with the whole of humanity as vocation of all.

Veritatis Gaudium affirms that the priority and permanent criterion for the renewal of ecclesiastical studies “is that of contemplation and of the spiritual, intellectual and existential introduction of the kerygma in the heart and, namely, of the ever new and fascinating happy news of the Gospel of Jesus.” In fact,  “from this vital and joyful concentration on the face of God revealed in Jesus Christ” descends the “living as Church ’the mysticism of the us’ which makes itself leaven of universal fraternity”; descends “the imperative to listen in the heart and make resound in the mind the cry of the poor and of the earth” and the “discovery in the whole of Creation of the Trinitarian imprint that makes of the cosmos, in which we live,  a web of relationships, propitiating a spirituality of global solidarity, which gushes from the mystery of the Trinity” (n. 4). The mysticism of the “us.” Once a young priest set a trap for me and said: “Tell me, Father, what is the opposite of ‘I’? And I answered immediately: “You.” “No, Father, even Popes make mistakes — no. The contrary of “I” is ‘we.’”  We, it’s what saves us from individualism, be it of the ‘I’ or of the ‘you.’

Understand thoroughly that the Gospel is the most radical and profound antidote to defend ourselves and cure the sickness of individualism.

There is another passage in this biblical piece, of which I would like to speak to you. In their humble request for forgiveness, the three youths recognized that God was just in His judgments and in his works. He let Israel experience the disastrous consequences of its estrangement from the Lord, and instead of becoming  “numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sand of the sea, it became “smaller than any other nation,” divided and, in part, constrained to exile. I take up here what I said on the demographic winter. In their prayer, the three youths interpret the history of the people. Although being the last link in the chain of Israel’s generations, they don’t feel other in regard to the people and its history. They feel the weight of an open account with the Lord and intone a very beautiful prayer that is the recognition of guilt and a request for forgiveness. The faults are the fathers’. We pay the consequences, yet in this moment we ask forgiveness on behalf of all. No taking of distance, but a recognition that the mistakes of the fathers can be repeated, can also be focused on by today’s generation. There is a solidarity of sin, which becomes solidarity in the Confession of Faith: God, who is infinite mercy, will have mercy on the fathers and also on us.

This painful prayer of young people is beautiful. In the first place, it’s gratitude for God’s fidelity. ”Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers” (Daniel 3:29). The fathers witness that God was just, but He has not abandoned us to ruin, rather He was faithful to the promises made to His friends: Abraham, Isaac <and> Jacob. The young people believe in this testimony of the fathers, they remember the history of the people always marked by God’s mercy, and they open themselves to the future. They are convinced there is a future — it will be; that the door isn’t barred, even in the midst of hostility and persecution.  And this <is true> because God is always faithful and always forgives — always. God doesn’t tire of forgiving.  I would so like you to guard this hope founded on God’s promise. I would so like that in projecting the future you keep the memory of being a people, of having a history with lights and shadows, of being protagonists today in that dialogue of love between God and men that has existed throughout the centuries! The fathers’ dreams will nourish and stir your vision for today. Your feeling yourselves part of a people of sinners will give you the antibodies not to commit the same errors: towards God, towards others, toward the whole of Creation.

The studies you do in this University will be fruitful and useful only in the measure in which they do not detach you from this conscious belonging to the history of the people and of the whole of humanity, but they will help you to interpret it with the keys of reading that emerge from the Word of God, opening you to a future full of hope.  I know that one can study closing oneself in academic circles without respite, playing with concepts instead of interpreting life, attaching oneself to formulas but detached from people’s real existence. Therefore I have desired that, in ecclesiastical studies a “radical change of paradigm” is brought about, a “courageous cultural revolution” that, springing from the contribution of the reflection and the praxis of the People of God “in the field” of all the corners of the world, produces a true evangelical hermeneutic, to understand life better, the world <and> men. We have yet to overcome the logic of the Enlightenment, we haven’t overcome it. This is the challenge: a new hermeneutic that goes in this direction. The hermeneutic of the memory, of belonging to a people, of having a history; the hermeneutic of walking towards a hope, the hermeneutic — I repeat something I like to say — of three languages harmonious together: the language of the mind, the language of the heart, the language of the hands, so that one thinks about what one feels and does: one feels what one thinks and does; one does what one feels and thinks. This hermeneutic is necessary today to overcome the heredity of the Enlightenment. There is not so much need of a new synthesis but “of a spiritual atmosphere of research and certainty based on the truths of reason and faith,” which will be fruitful “only if it’s done with an open mind and on one’s knees”; both things. In fact, for example, what is a theologian who is pleased with his complete and concluded thought? He is a mediocre theologian. The good theologian, the good philosopher has an open thought, namely, incomplete. Fall in love with incomplete thought, because this is our way, always open to the maius of God and to the truth (Cf. Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium, 3).

With this spirit and this discipline, the studies you do will help you to interpret the world and to build the future together with the Lord, well founded on belonging to the holy People of God, which He guides with love, inspires, nourishes and corrects with His Word.

And a last reflection from the passage of the Book of Daniel: there were stages in the history of Israel in which Israel no longer had principles (namely, pastor-kings to guide it to God), or temple (the sound rock of the presence of God’s Glory in the midst of the people). In any case, in those moments God sent in prophets, so that the people wouldn’t remain deprived of His Word and of His guidance. Instead, Azariah stresses that now, in the exile in Babylon, there aren’t even those! There are no prophets.  What can be done? Nothing other than present oneself to God with a contrite heart and humbled spirit, that God will take “as a holocaust of rams and bulls, as thousands of fat lambs. Such be our sacrifice today before You” (3:39-40). This passage of prayer is beautiful. I see a bit of youthful audacity in presenting oneself before God with one’s own naked shame. And you, young people, I recommend that you present yourselves before God with your naked shame. It will do you good, but not only to you but to all of us. Somewhat as when one “pulls the string” of parents’ and grandparents’ patience, knowing well that one is much loved. However, here the intuition of three youths saw exactly <that> nothing moves God’s mercy as our really contrite and humbled heart. This is a great thing. Rather, the younger son of the parable of the merciful Father, an expert in youthful audacity, knows that he will be received even if his repentance is not exactly as it should be. “I will rise an go to my father.”  Behind all this, there is trust, there is faith, “there is no disappointment for those that trust in you” (3:40). I hope that you will be very open to the future, enterprising and courageous in dreaming and projecting it, with the help of the studies you do, “audaciously” trusting that there isn’t disappointment for those that entrust themselves to the Lord.

I greet you all; I wish you a good Lenten journey. May the Lord fill your face with His light and make it as beautiful as was the face of the three youths of the Book of Daniel for their fidelity to the Word of God. (1:14). I greet and thank the Rector, Vincenzo Buonomo and the corps of docents of the Lateran University: they are the fathers that witness to you God’s fidelity despite sin, and teachers of the dream for the future.

There was also a bit of audacity in the attitude of a Pope who entered by the door, didn’t even say “good morning,” and began to preach. Now I can say it: good morning!  The preaching is done. That impolite Pope now apologizes: it was a liturgical moment that began with the Word of God, read by the Rector, and then the preaching. Now I want to thank you — all of you — for this hospitality.  I wanted to come to the University and I wanted to speak to you in this way. And Lent was the occasion to do so. I thank you for having listened — I didn’t see anyone fall asleep; at least you are polite, thank you! And continue to work, because life doesn’t begin with you but is in need of you to continue, rooted in the memory of your ancestors, rooted in belonging to a people. The present is yours and isn’t yours: it’s a gift that comes from history, offered to you, but to take it forward, and we go forward together. Pray for me, I will pray for you. Don’t lose your youthfulness; don’t lose your sense of humour, don’t lose it! It’s very awful to see an embittered youth. The sense of humour is, on the human plane, the closest attitude to God’s grace. Don’t lose your sense of humour. Thank you so much! Pray for me and have a good Lent and goodbye.

Now we turn to the liturgy: we pray together the Our Father. “Our Father . . . “

[Blessing]

Have a good day!

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

 

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