Tag Archives: Spiritual/Physical Healing

Pope Benedict XVI: Follow Christ’s Path to Peace–Angelus 01.28.08

Asia News 

The “Good News” that Jesus came to announce mean that “God, in Him, is at hand, that he already rules amongst us as demonstrated by the miracles and healing he performs.” “Where Jesus arrives, the creative Spirit brings life and heals men from the illnesses of the body and of the spirit. God’s lordship manifests itself through man’s complete healing.”

Before a cheerful crowd that had gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Angelus, Benedict XVI with two young people from Rome’s Azione Cattolica at his side released two doves in what has become a traditional gesture.

Taking advantage of the situation the Pope cracked a joke that elicited shouts and applause among the 50,000 people in St Peter. “Sometimes they come back,” he said referring to the fact that occasionally the birds flow back into his studio.

“My dear young friends,” he added, “I know that you are committed to those of your age you who are suffering from war and poverty. Continue on the path that Jesus has shown us to build true peace!”

Before the Marian prayer, the Pope mentioned that at the time of Jesus the “term Gospel” (Evangellion) was used to proclaim Roman emperors. Whatever the content, these proclamations were seen as “good news,” news of salvation because the emperor was seen as the lord of the world and his edict were seen as heralding something good.”

sound.jpg“Applying this word to Jesus’ preaching,” the Pope said, “was heavily charged with criticism. It was like saying that God, not the emperor, was Lord of the world and that the true Gospel was that of Jesus Christ. The ‘Good News’ that Jesus proclaimed is best encapsulated by these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt, 4:17; Mk, 1:15).”

“What does this expression mean? It certainly does not mean an earthly kingdom, one found in space and time; instead, it announces that it is God who rules, that God is Lord and this Lordship is present, current and in the process of being realised. The newness of Christ’s message is thus that in Him God is at hand, that he already rules amongst us as demonstrated by the miracles and healing he performs.”

“God rules through his Son made man and the power of the Holy Spirit, called the “the finger of God” (cf Lk, 11:20). Where Jesus arrives, the creative Spirit brings life and heals men from the illnesses of the body and of the spirit.”

“God’s lordship manifests itself through man’s complete healing. This way Jesus shows God’s true face, God at hand; full of mercy for every human being; the God that gives us the gift of life in abundance, his own life. The Kingdom of God is therefore life that asserts itself over death, the light of truth that dissipates the darkness of ignorance and lies.”

“Let us pray the Holiest Mary,” the Pope said, “that She may always obtain for the Church the same passion for the Kingdom of God that moved the mission of Jesus Christ: passion for God; for his lordship over love and life; passion for man encountered in truth with the desire of giving him his most precious treasure, the love of God, his Creator and Father.”

After the Angelus, the Pope talked about today’s celebration of World Leprosy Day launched 55 years ago by Raoul Follereau.

“To all those who suffer from this disease I offer my warmest greetings and a special prayer, which I extent to all those who, by various means, work on their behalf, especially the volunteers who belong to the Association of friends of Raoul Follereau”.

Who Can Be Saved? by Avery Cardinal Dulles

by Avery Cardinal Dulles

Nothing is more striking in the New Testament than the confidence with which it proclaims the saving power of belief in Christ. Almost every page confronts us with a decision of eternal consequence: Will we follow Christ or the rulers of this world? The gospel is, according to Paul, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom. 1:16). The apostles and their associates are convinced that in Jesus they have encountered the Lord of Life and that he has brought them into the way that leads to everlasting blessedness. By personal faith in him and by baptism in his name, Christians have passed from darkness to light, from error to truth, and from sin to holiness.

Paul is the outstanding herald of salvation through faith. To the Romans he writes, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Faith, for him, is inseparable from baptism, the sacrament of faith. By baptism, the Christian is immersed in the death of Christ so as to be raised with him to newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The Book of Acts shows the apostles preaching faith in Christ as the way to salvation. Those who believe the testimony of Peter on the first Pentecost ask him what they must do to be saved. He replies that they must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and thereby save themselves from the present crooked generation (Acts 2:37-40). When Peter and John are asked by the Jewish religious authorities by what authority they are preaching and performing miracles, they reply that they are acting in the name of Jesus Christ and that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul and his associates bring the gospel first of all to the Jews because it is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. When the Jews in large numbers reject the message, Paul and Barnabas announce that they are turning to the Gentiles in order to bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 13:46-47).

A few chapters later in Acts, we see Paul and Silas in prison at Philippi. When their jailer asks them, “What must I do to be saved?” they reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The jailer and his family at once accept baptism and rejoice in their newfound faith (Acts 16:30-34).

The same doctrine of salvation permeates the other books of the New Testament. Mark’s gospel ends with this missionary charge: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

John in his gospel speaks no less clearly. Jesus at one point declares that those who hear his word and believe in him do not remain in darkness, whereas those who reject him will be judged on the last day (John 12:44-50). At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Twelve, “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). John concludes the body of his gospel with the statement that he has written his account “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

From these and many other texts, I draw the conclusion that, according to the primary Christian documents, salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ, followed and signified by sacramental baptism.

The New Testament is almost silent about the eternal fate of those to whom the gospel has not been preached. It seems apparent that those who became believers did not think they had been on the road to salvation before they heard the gospel. In his sermon at Athens, Paul says that in times past God overlooked the ignorance of the pagans, but he does not say that these pagans were saved. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul says that the Gentiles have come to a knowledge of God by reasoning from the created world, but that they are guilty because by their wickedness they have suppressed the truth and fallen into idolatry. In the second chapter of Romans, Paul indicates that Gentiles who are obedient to the biddings of conscience can be excused for their unbelief, but he indicates that they fall into many sins. He concludes that “all have sinned and fall short” of true righteousness (Rom. 3:23). For justification, Paul asserts, both Jews and Gentiles must rely on faith in Jesus Christ, who expiated the sins of the world on the cross.

Animated by vibrant faith in Christ the Savior, the Christian Church was able to conquer the Roman Empire. The converts were convinced that in embracing Christianity they were escaping from the darkness of sin and superstition and entering into the realm of salvation. For them, Christianity was the true religion, the faith that saves. It would not have occurred to them that any other faith could save them.

Christian theologians, however, soon had to face the question whether anyone could be saved without Christian faith. They did not give a wholly negative answer. They agreed that the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, because they looked forward in faith and hope to the Savior, could be saved by adhering in advance to him who was to come.

The apologists of the second and third centuries made similar concessions with regard to certain Greek philosophers. The prologue to John’s gospel taught that the eternal Word enlightens all men who come into the world. Justin Martyr speculated that philosophers such as Socrates and Heraclitus had lived according to the Word of God, the Logos who was to become incarnate in Christ, and they could therefore be reckoned as being in some way Christians. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen held that the Wisdom of God gave graces to people of every generation, both Greeks and barbarians.

The saving grace of which these theologians were speaking, however, was given only to pagans who lived before the time of Christ. It was given by the Word of God who was to become incarnate in Jesus Christ. There was no doctrine that pagans could be saved since the promulgation of the gospel without embracing the Christian faith.

Origen and Cyprian, in the third century, formulated the maxim that has come down to us in the words Extra ecclesiam nulla salus—”Outside the Church, no salvation.” They spoke these words with heretics and schismatics primarily in view, but they do not appear to have been any more optimistic about the prospects of salvation for pagans. Assuming that the gospel had been promulgated everywhere, writers of the high patristic age considered that, in the Christian era, Christians alone could be saved. In the East, this view is represented by Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom. The view attributed to Origen that hell would in the end be evacuated and that all the damned would eventually be saved was condemned in the sixth century.

In the West, following Ambrose and others, Augustine taught that, because faith comes by hearing, those who had never heard the gospel would be denied salvation. They would be eternally punished for original sin as well as for any personal sins they had committed. Augustine’s disciple Fulgentius of Ruspe exhorted his readers to “firmly hold and by no means doubt that not only all pagans, but also all Jews, and all heretics and schismatics who are outside the Catholic Church, will go to the eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.”

The views of Augustine and Fulgentius remained dominant in the Christian West throughout the Middle Ages. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reaffirmed the formula “Outside the Church, no salvation,” as did Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Council of Florence (1442) repeated the formulation of Fulgentius to the effect that no pagan, Jew, schismatic, or heretic could be saved.

On one point the medieval theologians diverged from rigid Augustinianism. On the basis of certain passages in the New Testament, they held that God seriously wills that all may be saved. They could cite the statement of Peter before the household of Cornelius: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). The First Letter to Timothy, moreover, declares that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). These assurances made for a certain tension in Catholic teaching on salvation. If faith in Christ was necessary for salvation, how could salvation be within reach of those who had no opportunity to learn about Christ?

Thomas Aquinas, in dealing with this problem, took his departure from the axiom that there was no salvation outside the Church. To be inside the Church, he held, it was not enough to have faith in the existence of God and in divine providence, which would have sufficed before the coming of Christ. God now required explicit faith in the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. In two of his early works ( De Veritate and Commentary on Romans), he discusses the hypothetical case of a man brought up in the wilderness, where the gospel was totally unknown. If this man lived an upright life with the help of the graces given him, Thomas reasoned, God would make it possible for him to become a Christian believer, either through an inner illumination or by sending a missionary to him. Thomas referred to the biblical example of the centurion Cornelius, who received the visitation of an angel before being evangelized and baptized by Peter (Acts 10). In his Summa Theologiae, however, Thomas omits any reference to miraculous instruction; he goes back to the Augustinian theory that those who had never heard the gospel would be eternally punished for original sin as well as their personal sins.

A major theological development occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The voyages of discovery had by this time disclosed that there were large populations in North and South America, Africa, and Asia who had lived since the time of Christ and had never had access to the preaching of the gospel. The missionaries found no sign that even the most upright among these peoples had learned the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation by interior inspirations or angelic visitations.

Luther, Calvin, and the Jansenists professed the strict Augustinian doctrine that God did not will to save everyone, but the majority of Catholic theologians rejected the idea that God had consigned all these unevangelized persons to hell without giving them any possibility of salvation. A series of theologians proposed more hopeful theories that they took to be compatible with Scripture and Catholic tradition.

The Dominican Melchior Cano argued that these populations were in a situation no different from that of the pre-Christian pagans praised by Justin and others. They could be justified in this life (but not saved in the life to come) by implicit faith in the Christian mysteries. Another Dominican, Domingo de Soto, went further, holding that, for the unevangelized, implicit faith in Christ would be sufficient for salvation itself. Their contemporary, Albert Pighius, held that for these unevangelized persons the only faith required would be that mentioned in Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” They could therefore be saved by general revelation and grace even though no missionary came to evangelize them.

The Jesuit Francisco Suarez, following these pioneers, argued for the sufficiency of implicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation, together with an implicit desire for baptism on the part of the unevangelized. Juan de Lugo agreed, but he added that such persons could not be saved if they had committed serious sins, unless they obtained forgiveness by an act of perfect contrition.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Jesuits of the Gregorian University followed in the tradition of Suarez and de Lugo, with certain modifications. Pope Pius IX incorporated some of their ideas in two important statements in 1854 and 1863. In the first, he said that, while no one can be saved outside the Church, God would not punish people for their ignorance of the true faith if their ignorance was invincible. In the second statement, Pius went further. He declared that persons invincibly ignorant of the Christian religion who observed the natural law and were ready to obey God would be able to attain eternal life, thanks to the workings of divine grace within them. In the same letter, the pope reaffirmed that no one could be saved outside the Catholic Church. He did not explain in what sense such persons were, or would come to be, in the Church. He could have meant that they would receive the further grace needed to join the Church, but nothing in his language suggests this. More probably he thought that such persons would be joined to the Church by implicit desire, as some theologians were teaching by his time.

In 1943, Pius XII did take this further step. In his encyclical on the Mystical Body, Mystici Corporis, he distinguished between two ways of belonging to the Church: in actual fact (in re) or by desire (in voto). Those who belonged in voto, however, were not really members. They were ordered to the Church by the dynamism of grace itself, which related them to the Church in such a way that they were in some sense in it. The two kinds of relationship, however, were not equally conducive to salvation. Those adhering to the Church by desire could not have a sure hope of salvation because they lacked many spiritual gifts and helps available only to those visibly incorporated in the true Church.

Mystici Corporis represents a forward step in its doctrine of adherence to the Church through implicit desire. From an ecumenical point of view, that encyclical is deficient, since it does not distinguish between the status of non-Christians and non-Catholic Christians. The next important document came from the Holy Office in its letter to Cardinal Cushing of Boston in 1949. The letter pointed out—in opposition to Father Leonard Feeney, S.J., and his associates at St. Benedict Center—that, although the Catholic Church was a necessary means for salvation, one could belong to it not only by actual membership but by also desire, even an unconscious desire. If that desire was accompanied by faith and perfect charity, it could lead to eternal salvation.

Neither the encyclical Mystici Corporis nor the letter of the Holy Office specified the nature of the faith required for in voto status. Did the authors mean that the virtue of faith or the inclination to believe would suffice, or did they require actual faith in God and divine providence, or actual faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation?

The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and its Decree on Ecumenism, made some significant departures from the teaching of Pius XII. It avoided the term member and said nothing of an unconscious desire for incorporation in the Church. It taught that the Catholic Church was the all-embracing organ of salvation and was equipped with the fullness of means of salvation. Other Christian churches and communities possessed certain elements of sanctification and truth that were, however, derived from the one Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church today. For this reason, God could use them as instruments of salvation. God had, however, made the Catholic Church necessary for salvation, and all who were aware of this had a serious obligation to enter the Church in order to be saved. God uses the Catholic Church not only for the redemption of her own members but also as an instrument for the redemption of all. Her witness and prayers, together with the eucharistic sacrifice, have an efficacy that goes out to the whole world.

In several important texts, Vatican II took up the question of the salvation of non-Christians. Although they were related to the Church in various ways, they were not incorporated in her. God’s universal salvific will, it taught, means that he gives non-Christians, including even atheists, sufficient help to be saved. Whoever sincerely seeks God and, with his grace, follows the dictates of conscience is on the path to salvation. The Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, makes it possible for each and every person to be associated with the Paschal mystery. “God, in ways known to himself, can lead those inculpably ignorant of the gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him.” The council did not indicate whether it is necessary for salvation to come to explicit Christian faith before death, but the texts give the impression that implicit faith may suffice.

Vatican II left open the question whether non-Christian religions contain revelation and are means that can lead their adherents to salvation. It did say, however, that other religions contain elements of truth and goodness, that they reflect rays of the truth that enlightens all men, and that they can serve as preparations for the gospel. Christian missionary activity serves to heal, ennoble, and perfect the seeds of truth and goodness that God has sown among non-Christian peoples, to the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of those evangelized.

While repeatedly insisting that Christ is the one mediator of salvation, Vatican II shows forth a generally hopeful view of the prospects of non-Christians for salvation. Its hopefulness, however, is not unqualified: “Rather often, men, deceived by the evil one, have become caught up in futile reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or, some there are who, living and dying in a world without God, are subject to utter hopelessness.” The missionary activity of the Church is urgent for bringing such persons to salvation.

After the council, Paul VI (in his pastoral exhortation “Evangelization in the Modern World”) and John Paul II (in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio) interpreted the teaching of Vatican II in relation to certain problems and theological trends arising since the council. Both popes were on guard against political and liberation theology, which would seem to equate salvation with formation of a just society on earth and against certain styles of religious pluralism, which would attribute independent salvific value to non-Christian religions. In 2000, toward the end of John Paul’s pontificate, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the declaration Dominus Iesus, which emphatically taught that all grace and salvation must come through Jesus Christ, the one mediator.

Wisely, in my opinion, the popes and councils have avoided talk about implicit faith, a term that is vague and ambiguous. They do speak of persons who are sincerely seeking for the truth and of others who have found it in Christ. They make it clear that sufficient grace is offered to all and that God will not turn away those who do everything within their power to find God and live according to his law. We may count on him to lead such persons to the faith needed for salvation.

One of the most interesting developments in post-conciliar theology has been Karl Rahner’s idea of “anonymous Christians.” He taught that God offers his grace to everyone and reveals himself in the interior offer of grace. Grace, moreover, is always mediated through Christ and tends to bring its recipients into union with him. Those who accept and live by the grace offered to them, even though they have never heard of Christ and the gospel, may be called anonymous Christians.

Although Rahner denied that his theory undermined the importance of missionary activity, it was widely understood as depriving missions of their salvific importance. Some readers of his works understood him as teaching that the unevangelized could possess the whole of Christianity except the name. Saving faith, thus understood, would be a subjective attitude without any specifiable content. In that case, the message of the gospel would have little to do with salvation.

The history of the doctrine of salvation through faith has gone through a number of stages since the High Middle Ages. Using the New Testament as their basic text, the Church Fathers regarded faith in Christ and baptism as essential for salvation. On the basis of his study of the New Testament and Augustine, Thomas Aquinas held that explicit belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation was necessary for everyone who lived since the time of Christ, but he granted that in earlier times it was sufficient to believe explicitly in the existence and providence of God.

In the sixteenth century, theologians speculated that the unevangelized were in the same condition as pre-Christians and were not held to believe explicitly in Christ until the gospel was credibly preached to them. Pius IX and the Second Vatican Council taught that all who followed their conscience, with the help of the grace given to them, would be led to that faith that was necessary for them to be saved. During and after the council, Karl Rahner maintained that saving faith could be had without any definite belief in Christ or even in God.

We seem to have come full circle from the teaching of Paul and the New Testament that belief in the message of Christ is the source of salvation. Reflecting on this development, one can see certain gains and certain losses. The New Testament and the theology of the first millennium give little hope for the salvation of those who, since the time of Christ, have had no chance of hearing the gospel. If God has a serious salvific will for all, this lacuna needed to be filled, as it has been by theological speculation and church teaching since the sixteenth century. Modern theology, preoccupied with the salvation of non-Christians, has tended to neglect the importance of explicit belief in Christ, so strongly emphasized in the first centuries. It should not be impossible, however, to reconcile the two perspectives.

Scripture itself assures us that God has never left himself without a witness to any nation (Acts 14:17). His testimonies are marks of his saving dispensations toward all. The inner testimony of every human conscience bears witness to God as lawgiver, judge, and vindicator. In ancient times, the Jewish Scriptures drew on literature that came from Babylon, Egypt, and Greece. The Book of Wisdom and Paul’s Letter to the Romans speak of God manifesting his power and divinity through his works in nature. The religions generally promote prayer and sacrifice as ways of winning God’s favor. The traditions of all peoples contain elements of truth imbedded in their cultures, myths, and religious practices. These sound elements derive from God, who speaks to all his children through inward testimony and outward signs.

The universal evidences of the divine, under the leading of grace, can give rise to a rudimentary faith that leans forward in hope and expectation to further manifestations of God’s merciful love and of his guidance for our lives. By welcoming the signs already given and placing their hope in God’s redeeming love, persons who have not heard the tidings of the gospel may nevertheless be on the road to salvation. If they are faithful to the grace given them, they may have good hope of receiving the truth and blessedness for which they yearn.

The search, however, is no substitute for finding. To be blessed in this life, one must find the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, which is worth buying at the cost of everything one possesses. To Christians has been revealed the mystery hidden from past ages, which the patriarchs and prophets longed to know. By entering through baptism into the mystery of the cross and the Resurrection, Christians undergo a radical transformation that sets them unequivocally on the road to salvation. Only after conversion to explicit faith can one join the community that is nourished by the Word of God and the sacraments. These gifts of God, prayerfully received, enable the faithful to grow into ever greater union with Christ.

In Christ’s Church, therefore, we have many aids to salvation and sanctification that are not available elsewhere. Cardinal Newman expressed the situation admirably in one of his early sermons:

The prerogative of Christians consists in the possession, not of exclusive knowledge and spiritual aid, but of gifts high and peculiar; and though the manifestation of the Divine character in the Incarnation is a singular and inestimable benefit, yet its absence is supplied in a degree, not only in the inspired record of Moses, but even, with more or less strength, in those various traditions concerning Divine Providences and Dispositions which are scattered through the heathen mythologies.

We cannot take it for granted that everyone is seeking the truth and is prepared to submit to it when found. Some, perhaps many, resist the grace of God and reject the signs given to them. They are not on the road to salvation at all. In such cases, the fault is not God’s but theirs. The references to future punishment in the gospels cannot be written off as empty threats. As Paul says, God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7).

We may conclude with certitude that God makes it possible for the unevangelized to attain the goal of their searching. How that happens is known to God alone, as Vatican II twice declares. We know only that their search is not in vain. “Seek, and you will find,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:7). If non-Christians are praying to an unknown God, it may be for us to help them find the one they worship in ignorance. God wants everyone to come to the truth. Perhaps some will reach the goal of their searching only at the moment of death. Who knows what transpires secretly in their consciousness at that solemn moment? We have no evidence that death is a moment of revelation, but it could be, especially for those in pursuit of the truth of God.

Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of believers to help these seekers by word and by example. Whoever receives the gift of revealed truth has the obligation to share it with others. Christian faith is normally transmitted by testimony. Believers are called to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted. But that same grace brings obligations to all who receive it. They must not receive the grace of God in vain. Much will be demanded of those to whom much is given.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. This essay is adapted from the Laurence J. McGinley Lecture delivered on November 7, 2007.

Pope Benedict XVI: The Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes: Message for World Day of the Sick

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

grotte_1024x768.jpg1. On 11 February, the memorial of the Blessed Mary Virgin of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick will be celebrated, a propitious occasion to reflect on the meaning of pain and the Christian duty to take responsibility for it in whatever situation it arises. This year this significant day is connected to two important events for the life of the Church, as one already understands from the theme chosen ‘The Eucharist, Lourdes and Pastoral Care for the Sick’: the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of the Immaculate Mary at Lourdes, and the celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress at Quebec in Canada. In this way, a remarkable opportunity to consider the close connection that exists between the Mystery of the Eucharist, the role of Mary in the project of salvation, and the reality of human pain and suffering, is offered to us.

The hundred and fifty years since the apparitions of Lourdes invite us to turn our gazeprocession_1024x768.jpg towards the Holy Virgin, whose Immaculate Conception constitutes the sublime and freely-given gift of God to a woman so that she could fully adhere to divine designs with a steady and unshakable faith, despite the tribulations and the sufferings that she would have to face. For this reason, Mary is a model of total self-abandonment to the will of God: she received in her heart the eternal Word and she conceived it in her virginal womb; she trusted to God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), she did not hesitate to share the passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her ‘Yes’ of the Annunciation. To reflect upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary is thus to allow oneself to be attracted by the ‘Yes’ which joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, the redeemer of humanity; it is to allow oneself to be taken and led by her hand to pronounce in one’s turn ‘fiat’ to the will of God, with all one’s existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth.

2. One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary. There is an indissoluble link between the Mother and the Son, generated in her womb by work of the Holy Spirit, and this link we perceive, in a mysterious way, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as the Fathers of the Church and theologians pointed out from the early centuries onwards. ‘The flesh born of Mary, coming from the Holy Spirit, is bread descended from heaven’, observed St. Hilary of Poitiers. In the Bergomensium Sacramentary of the ninth century we read: ‘Her womb made flower a fruit, a bread that has filled us with an angelic gift. Mary restored to salvation what Eve had destroyed by her sin’. And St. Pier Damiani observed: ‘That body that the most blessed Virgin generated, nourished in her womb with maternal care, that body I say, without doubt and no other, we now receive from the sacred altar, and we drink its blood as a sacrament of our redemption.320px-mass_at_lourdes.jpg This is what the Catholic faith believes, this the holy Church faithfully teaches’. The link of the Holy Virgin with the Son, the sacrificed Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, is extended to the Church, the mystic Body of Christ. Mary, observes the Servant of God John Paul II, is a ‘woman of the Eucharist’ in her whole life, as a result of which the Church, seeing Mary as her model, ‘is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery’ (Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 53). In this perspective one understands even further why in Lourdes the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary is joined to a strong and constant reference to the Eucharist with daily Celebrations of the Eucharist, with adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, and with the blessing of the sick, which constitutes one of the strongest moments of the visit of pilgrims to the grotto of Massabielles.

The presence of many sick pilgrims in Lourdes, and of the volunteers who accompany them, helps us to reflect on the maternal and tender care that the Virgin expresses towards human pain and suffering. Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members, who bear the signs of the passion of the Lord. Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help. And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that ‘the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed’? (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici doloris, n. 26).

rosaire_1024x768.jpg3. If Lourdes leads us to reflect upon the maternal love of the Immaculate Virgin for her sick and suffering children, the next International Eucharistic Congress will be an opportunity to worship Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of the altar, to entrust ourselves to him as Hope that does not disappoint, to receive him as that medicine of immortality which heals the body and the spirit. Jesus Christ redeemed the world through his suffering, his death and his resurrection, and he wanted to remain with us as the ‘bread of life’ on our earthly pilgrimage. ‘The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World’: this is the theme of the Eucharistic Congress and it emphasises how the Eucharist is the gift that the Father makes to the world of His only Son, incarnated and crucified. It is he who gathers us around the Eucharistic table, provoking in his disciples loving care for the suffering and the sick, in whom the Christian community recognises the face of its Lord. As I pointed out in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, ‘Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others’ (n. 88). We are thus encouraged to commit ourselves in the first person to helping our brethren, especially those in difficulty, because the vocation of every Christian is truly that of being, together with Jesus, bread that is broken for the life of the world.

4. It thus appears clear that it is specifically from the Eucharist that pastoral care in health 18.jpgmust draw the necessary spiritual strength to come effectively to man’s aid and to help him to understand the salvific value of his own suffering. As the Servant of God John Paul II was to write in the already quoted Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, the Church sees in her suffering brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of the supernatural power of Christ (cf. n. 27). Mysteriously united to Christ, the man who suffers with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world. My beloved Predecessor also stated that ‘The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which today’s world brings with it, the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the Church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world’ (ibidem). If, therefore, at Quebec the mystery of the Eucharist, the gift of God for the life of the world, is contemplated during the World Day of the Sick in an ideal spiritual parallelism, not only will the actual participation of human suffering in the salvific work of God be celebrated, but the valuable fruits promised to those who believe can in a certain sense be enjoyed. Thus pain, received with faith, becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and the happiness of his Resurrection.

5. While I extend my cordial greetings to all sick people and to all those who take care of them in various ways, I invite the diocesan and parish communities to celebrate the next World Day of the Sick by appreciating to the full the happy coinciding of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes with the International Eucharistic Congress. May it be an occasion to emphasise the importance of the Holy Mass, of the Adoration of the Eucharist and of the cult of the Eucharist, so that chapels in our health-care centres become a beating heart in which Jesus offers himself unceasingly to the Father for the life of humanity! The distribution of the Eucharist to the sick as well, done with decorum and in a spirit of prayer, is true comfort for those who suffer, afflicted by all forms of infirmity.

May the next World Day of the Sick be, in addition, a propitious circumstance to invoke in a special way the maternal protection of Mary over those who are weighed down by illness; health-care workers; and workers in pastoral care in health! I think in particular of priests involved in this field, women and men religious, volunteers and all those who with active dedication are concerned to serve, in body and soul, the sick and those in need. I entrust all to Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, the Immaculate Conception. May she help everyone in testifying that the only valid response to human pain and suffering is Christ, who in resurrecting defeated death and gave us the life that knows no end. With these feelings, from my heart I impart to everyone my special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 11 January 2008

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

The Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God 01.01.08

The Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God

On New Year’s Day, the octave day of Christmas, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God. The divine and virginal motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a singular salvific event: for Our Lady it was the foretaste and cause of her extraordinary glory; for us it is a source of grace and salvation because “through her we have received the Author of life”(127).

ourlady.jpgThe solemnity of the 1 January, an eminently Marian feast, presents an excellent opportunity for liturgical piety to encounter popular piety: the first celebrates this event in a manner proper to it; the second, when duly catechised, lends joy and happiness to the various expressions of praise offered to Our Lady on the birth of her divine Son, to deepen our understanding of many prayers, beginning with that which says: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners”.

In the West, 1 January is an inaugural day marking the beginning of the civil year. The faithful are also involved in the celebrations for the beginning of the new year and exchange “new year” greetings. However, they should try to lend a Christian understanding to this custom making of these greetings an expression of popular piety. The faithful, naturally, realise that the “new year” is placed under the patronage of the Lord, and in exchanging new year greetings they implicitly and explicitly place the New Year under the Lord’s dominion, since to him belongs all time (cf. Ap 1, 8; 22,13)(128).

A connection between this consciousness and the popular custom of singing the Veni Creator Spiritus can easily be made so that on 1 January the faithful can pray that the Spirit may direct their thoughts and actions, and those of the community during the course of the year(129).

New year greetings also include an expression of hope for a peaceful New Year. This has profound biblical, Christological and incarnational origins. The “quality of peace” has always been invoked throughout history by all men, and especially during violent and destructive times of war.

The Holy See shares the profound aspirations of man for peace. Since 1967, 1 January has been designated “world day for peace”.

Popular piety has not been oblivious to this initiative of the Holy See. In the light of the new born Prince of Peace, it reserves this day for intense prayer for peace, education towards peace and those value inextricably linked with it, such as liberty, fraternal solidarity, the dignity of the human person, respect for nature, the right to work, the sacredness of human life, and the denunciation of injustices which trouble the conscience of man and threaten peace.

Taken from the Directory of Popular Piety

Lourdes Plenary Indulgence

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Apostolic Penitentiary Decree

according to which is granted a daily Plenary Indulgence
on the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes

On the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes, a daily Plenary Indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who, from 8 December 2007 until 8 December 2008, devoutly and in accordance with the established conditions, visit the Grotto of Massabielle, as well as those who, from 2-11 February 2008, visit a blessed image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes solemnly displayed for public veneration in any church, oratory, grotto or suitable place.

God’s omnipotence and infinite love have joined together in a marvellous bond the role of Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and hence, Mother of his Mystical Body the Church, and the salvific work of the Church herself: Blessed Abbot Guerric thus connects the protection sought by the Christian faithful from Mother Mary with the Catholic Church’s universal ministry of salvation: “The Blessed Mother of Christ, insofar as she sees herself the mother of Christians by way of mystery, also shows herself to be a mother by her solicitude and tender affection for them…. Consider if her children, prompted by a certain spontaneous sense of faith, do not also acknowledge her as mother as they find refuge, before all else, at the invocation of her name in every trial and danger just like children in the arms of their mother” (Sermo I, In Assumptione B. Mariae Virg.).

Similarly, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council highlights what we might call the “joint” mission of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Catholic Church: “For Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes the greatest teachings of the faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls the faithful to her Son and his sacrifice and to the love of the Father. Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her exalted Type, and continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things” (n. 65)

The history of the Church and the marvellous signs of Marian devotion continually and clearly confirm the ways of Divine Providence and foster devotion among the faithful.

A glance over the nearly 150 years since Mary Most Holy, revealing herself to little Bernadette Soubirous as the Immaculate Conception, wanted a shrine, a treasury of grace, to be built and maintained in the place called Massabielle, in the city of Lourdes, brings to mind the countless number of signs by which the supernatural life of souls and even the health of bodies have benefited much from the goodness of Almighty God. This plan of Divine Providence, accompanied by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, clearly demonstrates that the integral end of man is the good of the whole human person, both here on earth and especially in eternal salvation.

Since the establishment of the Shrine at Lourdes, the Christian faithful have understood that there the Blessed Virgin Mary, through the ministry of the Catholic Church, desires to provide most lovingly for the complete health of men and women.

For as they venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary in the place “touched by her feet”, they refresh themselves with the sacraments, make firm resolutions to lead more perfect Christian lives, perceive more clearly the meaning of the Church and experience the solid reasons for all these things: the very connection of these remarkable events over time has clearly attested to the joint action of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church: indeed, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was defined in 1854, and in 1858, Mary Most Holy appeared to the devout young girl Bernadette Soubirous with ineffable motherly sweetness, uttering the words of the dogmatic definition: “I am the Immaculate Conception”.

In order to allow the fruits of renewed holiness to grow from this blessed commemoration, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has generously decreed that the gift of a Plenary Indulgence be granted according to the following conditions:

Each and every member of the Christian faithful who, truly repentant, is purified through sacramental confession, restored through the Most Holy Eucharist and offers prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, will be able to gain a Plenary Indulgence daily, which may also be applied, by way of suffrage, to the souls of the faithful in Purgatory:

A) If, during the year running from 8 December 2007 until the end of 8 December 2008, they devoutly visit the following places, preferably in this order – 1) the parish baptismal font used for the Baptism of Bernadette; 2) the house of the Soubirous family called the “cachot”; 3) the Grotto of Massabielle; 4) the chapel of the hospice where Bernadette made her First Communion – and pause to reflect for an appropriate length of time at each of these Jubilee sites, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer, some legitimate form of the Profession of Faith, and the Jubilee prayer or some other Marian invocation.

B) If, from the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord on 2 February 2008 until the end of the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes on 11 February 2008, which is also the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition, they devoutly visit a blessed image of the Holy Virgin Mary of Lourdes in any church, chapel, grotto or other suitable place in which it is solemnly displayed, and in the presence of that image perform some pious act of Marian devotion, or at least pause to reflect for an appropriate length of time, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer, some legitimate form of the Profession of Faith, and the Jubilee prayer or some other Marian invocation.

C) The elderly, sick, and all those unable to leave home for a just cause, if they consciously reject all sin and have the intention to fulfil the above-mentioned conditions as soon as possible, are likewise able to obtain – at home or wherever they may be – a Plenary Indulgence, if, between the days of 2 and 11 February 2008, they complete a “spiritual visit” (to the aforementioned places) in the desire of their heart, recite the prayers indicated above, and trustingly offer the pains and discomforts of their own lives to God through Mary.

In order that the Christian faithful may partake more readily of these heavenly gifts, priests who have received approval to hear confessions by the competent ecclesiastical authorities should welcome them with a willing and generous spirit and solemnly lead the recitation of public prayers to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God.

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary.

Given in Rome, at the Offices of the Apostolic Penitentiary, 21 November 2007, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Cardinal James Francis Stafford
Major Penitentiary

Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv.
Titular Bishop of Meta, Regent

The Orate Fratres

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