Skip to comments.Lent 2007: The Love Letter Written by Pope Benedict
Posted on 02/20/2007 8:45:58 AM PST by NYer
Why is he so strenuous in his defense of the family as founded upon marriage between a man and a woman? He explains why in his message in preparation for Easter. In it, he writes that “eros is part of the very heart of God,” and therefore...
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, February 20, 2007 – Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent for the Catholic Church of the Roman rite. And Benedict XVI will start it with a penitential procession on the Aventine hill, with the celebration of Mass in the basilica of Santa Sabina, and with the rite of the imposition of ashes.
As has been done for more than thirty years, at the beginning of this Lent as well the pope has addressed a message to the faithful, in order to direct their preparation for Easter. Until now, the messages for the beginning of Lent – including last year’s – have usually concerned the duty of charity, of aid for the various forms of human suffering: poverty, hunger, sickness, persecution, exile.
But this year Benedict XVI has broken with this tradition, and in the message for the beginning of Lent he has invited the faithful above all to contemplate Jesus on the cross.
He explains the reason for this himself: because it is only Jesus on the cross who fully reveals the love of God to men.
This is a love that is both agape and eros together. In a few extremely intense passages, Benedict XVI expresses once again that astonishing “essence of Christianity” that he had already placed at the center of his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.”
The agape and eros of God are poured out upon man with the blood and water that spring from the pierced side of Jesus, a figure of Baptism and the Eucharist. But those who welcome this love – the pope continues – must in turn “pass it on to their neighbors, especially to those in the greatest suffering and need.”
As he did in the encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” Benedict XVI has thus placed love, in its dizzying divine and human fullness, at the center of this message for the beginning of Lent.
He has done so even as he sees just how much love, in the present culture, is “such a disfigured, worn-out, and abused word.”
He has done so even as he sees Italy, Europe, and the world giving legal and cultural approval to “weak” forms of love that undermine the “extremely strong” love that makes a man and a woman “one flesh” in the family.
He has done so even as certain famous Catholic intellectuals – like minister Rosy Bindi and historian Pietro Scoppola in Italy – accuse the Church of “talking about the Pacs [the laws on de facto heterosexual and homosexual unions] more than it does about the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.”
In short, this message for the beginning of Lent thus makes clear – with its profound reasoning - why Benedict XVI insists so strenuously, and at every opportunity, on the defense of the family as a “divine institution” ("Gaudium et Spes", 48), founded not by human will, but by that God who is love.
Here follows the complete text of the message for Lent, 2007:
“They shall look on Him whom they have pierced”
by Benedict XVI
Dear brothers and sisters! “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37). This is the biblical theme that this year guides our Lenten reflection.
Lent is a favourable time to learn to stay with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, close to Him who on the Cross, consummated for all mankind the sacrifice of His life (cf. Jn 19:25).
With a more fervent participation let us direct our gaze, therefore, in this time of penance and prayer, at Christ crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God.
In the encyclical "Deus caritas est", I dwelt upon this theme of love, highlighting its two fundamental forms: agape and eros.
God’s love: agape and eros
The term agape, which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros, on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved.
The love with which God surrounds us is undoubtedly agape. Indeed, can man give to God some good that He does not already possess? All that the human creature is and has is divine gift. It is the creature then, who is in need of God in everything.
But God’s love is also eros. In the Old Testament, the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom He has chosen as His own a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman (cf. 3:1-3). For his part, Ezekiel, speaking of God’s relationship with the people of Israel, is not afraid to use strong and passionate language (cf. 16:1-22).
These biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God’s very heart: the Almighty awaits the “yes” of His creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride.
Unfortunately, from its very origins, mankind, seduced by the lies of the Evil One, rejected God’s love in the illusion of a self-sufficiency that is impossible (cf. Gn 3:1-7). Turning in on himself, Adam withdrew from that source of life who is God Himself, and became the first of “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2:15).
God, however, did not give up. On the contrary, man’s “no” was the decisive impulse that moved Him to manifest His love in all of its redeeming strength.
The Cross reveals the fullness of God’s love
It is in the mystery of the Cross that the overwhelming power of the heavenly Father’s mercy is revealed in all of its fullness.
In order to win back the love of His creature, He accepted to pay a very high price: the blood of His only begotten Son.
Death, which for the first Adam was an extreme sign of loneliness and powerlessness, was thus transformed in the supreme act of love and freedom of the new Adam. One could very well assert, therefore, together with Saint Maximus the Confessor, that Christ “died, if one could say so, divinely, because He died freely” ("Ambigua", 91, 1956).
On the Cross, God’s eros for us is made manifest. Eros is indeed – as Pseudo-Dionysius expresses it – that force “that does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved” ("De divinis nominibus", IV, 13: PG 3, 712). Is there more “mad eros” (N. Cabasilas, "Vita in Cristo", 648) than that which led the Son of God to make Himself one with us even to the point of suffering as His own the consequences of our offences?
“Him whom they have pierced”
Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced in the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God’s love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other.
On the Cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us.
The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as “Lord and God” when he put his hand into the wound of His side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love.
One could rightly say that the revelation of God’s eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of His agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy, which eases the heaviest of burdens.
Jesus said: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to Him.
Accepting His love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ “draws me to Himself” in order to unite Himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with His own love.
Blood and water
“They shall look on Him whom they have pierced.” Let us look with trust at the pierced side of Jesus from which flow “blood and water” (Jn 19:34)!
The Fathers of the Church considered these elements as symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
Through the water of Baptism, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the intimacy of Trinitarian love. In the Lenten journey, memorial of our Baptism, we are exhorted to come out of ourselves in order to open ourselves, in trustful abandonment, to the merciful embrace of the Father (cf. Saint John Chrysostom, "Catecheses", 3,14ff).
Blood, symbol of the love of the Good Shepherd, flows into us especially in the Eucharistic mystery: “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation, […] we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving” (encyclical "Deus caritas est", 13).
Let us live Lent then, as a “Eucharistic” time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed.
Contemplating “Him whom they have pierced” moves us in this way to open our hearts to others, recognizing the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person; it moves us, in particular, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people.
May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God’s love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must “regive” to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need.
Only in this way will we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter. May Mary, Mother of Beautiful Love, guide us in this Lenten journey, a journey of authentic conversion to the love of Christ. I wish you, dear brothers and sisters, a fruitful Lenten journey, imparting with affection to all of you, a special Apostolic Blessing.
ASH WEDNESDAY MASS FROM ROME (90:00)
Feb 21 11:00 AM & 9:00 PM
ASH WEDNESDAY MASS FROM ROME (90:00)
Feb 21 11:00 AM & 9:00 PM
This moves me to tears.
You would enjoy reading the Diary of St. Faustina.
---The Cross reveals the fullness of Gods love ---
That says so much.
Each step that day, as the crowd pressed in,
How hard it was for You, burdened with a dark world's sin,
that last, painful walk through Jerusalem's dust,
beneath a burden incredibly hard to bear, but bear it You must -
step by aching step, one foot following another
a countdown You were born for, while others thought to smother
Your light, Heaven's light, beneath a rebel's death
Each step that day a struggle of muscle and breath
each step one less to the time when you would walk no more
before tasting the depths of darkness that would open hope's door.
Watching you in mind's eye, O my Jesus, what you did so long ago,
the reality of that moment doubted by so many who think they know,
in my heart, seeing your blood streaked face marred beneath your thorny crown,
Your mother's tears, the bored soldiers, the impatient centurion's frown,
I contemplate your words, "Come to me, you who are heavy burdened," and know
that as I watch you walk that short but hard march, each shove and blow
from the place of condemnation to the place of execution,
That your death was a gift, the choice was God's solution.
O my Jesus, may I, in my remembering that day, that gift,
learn to follow in your footsteps in gratitude, and let you heal sin's rift,
walking beside you on the road from death to life beneath the cross you give me;
teach me to bear its burden well, as a treasure, graciously
with as much love and willingness as my wavering heart can muster,
And forgive me this day, if I forget and stand and whine and bluster
Because I love you for the loving walk you took -
Bring it to my mind daily - help me stand and look!
Thank you! I've bookmarked a site that carries it.
I think about how much I love my daughters. God loves us all with so much more intensity, He wants us to see Heaven so much more than we can ever desire. It's so powerful, and moving to think about His love. And how we will never full comprehend it.
"God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son"
All summed up in one sentence from John.
This really blows me away.
A star in your crown for posting this, NYer.
**They shall look on Him whom they have pierced**
We all need to do this. Christ died for ALL our sins.
Nah! The stars belong in our Mother's crown. She leads all souls to her Son. Thank you, Mary, for your guidance, trust and perseverance. Amen.
Yes! But, even more powerful, is His mercy. Read the Diary of St. Faustina. I can't stress this enough.
|Pure love ... knows that only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love - love, and always love. (140)|
|The third attribute is love and mercy. And I understood that the greatest attribute is love and mercy. It unites the creature with the Creator. This immense love and abyss of mercy are made known in the Incarnation of the Word and in the Redemption, and it is here that I saw this as the greatest of all God's attributes. (180)|
|I desire that you know more profoundly the love that burns in My Heart for souls, and you will understand this when you meditate upon My Passion. Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion. This is the prayer: "O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You." (186 - 187)|
|I did not know that the Lord had put so much happiness in these drab little corners. Now I understand that even in prison there can burst forth from a pure heart the fullness of love for You, O Lord! External things mean nothing to pure love; it cuts through them all. Neither prison doors nor the gates of heaven are strong enough to stop it. It reaches God himself, and nothing can quench it. It knows no obstacles; it is free like a queen and has free access to all places. Death itself must bow its head before it... (201)|
|Once, when I returned to my cell, I was so tired that I had to rest a moment before I started to undress, and when I was already undressed, one of the sisters asked me to fetch her some hot water. Although I was tired, I dressed quickly and brought her the water she wanted, even though it was quite a long walk from the cell to the kitchen, and the mud was ankle-deep. When I re-entered my cell, I saw the ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament, and I heard this voice, Take this ciborium and bring it to the tabernacle. I hesitated at first, but when I approached and touched it, I heard these words, Approach each one of the sisters with the same love with which you approach Me; and whatever you do for them, you do it for Me. A moment later, I saw that I was alone. (285)|
|When a soul loves God sincerely, it ought not fear anything in the spiritual life. Let it subject itself to the action of grace, and let it not impose any restraints on itself in communing with the Lord. (292)|
|It is enough for me to know that I am loved and that I love. Pure love enables me to know God and understand many mysteries. (293)|
|Great love can change small things into great ones, and it is only love which lends value to our actions. And the purer our love becomes, the less there will be within us for the flames of suffering to feed upon, and the suffering will cease to be a suffering for us; it will become a delight! By the grace of God, I have received such a disposition of heart that I am never so happy as when I suffer for Jesus , whom I love with every beat of my heart. (303)|
|There is but one price at which souls are bought, and that is suffering united to My suffering on the cross. Pure love understands these words; carnal love will never understand them. (324)|
|Nothing can compare with love. I see that the smallest things done by a soul that loves God sincerely have an enormous value in the eyes of His Saints. (340)|
|...souls living in love are distinguished in this: that they are greatly enlightened concerning the things of God, both in their own souls and in the souls of others. And simple souls, without an education, are outstanding for their knowledge. (1191)|
|Oh, how painful it is to Me that souls so seldom unite themselves to Me in Holy Communion. I wait for souls, and they are indifferent toward Me. I love them tenderly and sincerely, and they distrust Me. I want to lavish My graces on them, and they do not want to accept them. They treat Me as a dead object, whereas My Heart is full of love and mercy. In order that you may know at least some of My pain, imagine the most tender of mothers who has great love for her children, while those children spurn her love. Consider her pain. No one is in a position to console her. This is but a feeble image and likeness of My love. (1447)|
|For the sake of your love, I withhold the just chastisements, which mankind has deserved. A single act of pure love pleases Me more than a thousand imperfect prayers. One of your sighs of love atones for many offences with which the godless overwhelm Me. The smallest act of virtue has unlimited value in My eyes because of your great love for Me. In a soul that lives on My love alone, I reign as in Heaven. I watch over it day and night. (1489)|
|You should not worry too much about adversities. The world is not as powerful as it seems to be; its strength is strictly limited.. Know, my daughter, that if your soul is filled with the fire of My pure love, then all difficulties dissipate like fog before the sun's rays and dare not touch the soul. All adversaries are afraid to start a quarrel with such a soul, because they sense that it is stronger than the whole world...(1643)|
|..the Lord Jesus began to complain about the ...lack of love in chosen souls.....[Love] has been banished from convents. Souls without love and without devotion, souls full of egoism and self-love, souls full of pride and arrogance, souls full of deceit and hypocrisy, lukewarm souls who have just enough warmth to keep them alive: My heart cannot bear this. All the graces that I pour out upon them flow off them as off the face of a rock. I cannot stand them , because they are neither good nor bad. I called convents into being to sanctify the world through them. It is from them that a powerful flame of love and sacrifice should burst forth. And if they do not repent and become enkindled by their first love, I will deliver them over to the fate of this world... How can they sit on the promised throne of judgment to judge the world, when their guilt is greater than the guilt of the world? There is neither penance nor atonement. O heart, which received Me in the morning and at noon are all ablaze with hatred against Me, were you chosen for this, to give Me more pain? The great sins of the world are superficial wounds on My Heart, but the sins of a chosen soul pierce My Heart through and through..[Sr. Faustina records her tears which ensued as she reflected on what Jesus had said] Do not cry. There are still a great number of souls who love Me very much, but My Heart desires to be loved by all and, because My love is great, that is why I warn and chastise them. (1702-3)|
|Consider, My daughter, Who it is to whom your heart is so closely united by the vows. Before I made the world, I loved you with the love your heart is experiencing today and, throughout the centuries, My love will never change...What a paradise it is for a soul when the heart knows itself to be so loved by God...(1754/1756)|
"This moves me to tears."
I wonder if women are more comfortable with the "bridegroom" imagery than men.