Friday, May 11, 2012

No Strength Without Prayer

Once again I am posting Pope Benedict's message from his Wednesday audience. His theme is prayer and how vital prayer is to the mission of the Church.  Without prayer, we can accomplish nothing.  He gives us the example of the rescue of the Apostle Peter from prison and shows us that this could not have been accomplished without the unified Church praying together.  Need we wonder why the Church seems so impotent in the world today, why her own people seem to have completely lost their faith and no longer have God at the center of their lives?  We are withering away because we have lost the power of prayer.  Here in this talk given on Wednesday, May 9, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI explains how inseparable prayer is from growth in the Church, and how prayer can give us peace and calm. 

On St. Peter's Imprisonment and Miraculous Release
"True freedom is found in following Jesus" 
VATICAN CITY, MAY 9, 2012 ( Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope continued his reflection on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, today considering St. Peter’s imprisonment and miraculous release.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

Apostle Peter In Prison
Today I would like to consider the final episode of St. Peter’s life recounted in the Acts of the Apostles: his imprisonment by order of Herod Agrippa and his liberation through the prodigious intervention of the angel of the Lord, on the eve of his trial in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12:1-17).
The prayer of the Church once again marks the account. St. Luke writes, in fact: “So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church” (Acts 12:5). And after having miraculously been led forth from prison, on the occasion of his visit to the home of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, it is affirmed: “Many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12). Peter’s detainment and release, which span the whole night, are placed between these two important annotations, which illustrate the attitude of the Christian community when faced with danger and persecution. The power of the Church’s unceasing prayer rises to God, and the Lord hears and accomplishes an unthinkable and unhoped-for release through the sending of His angel.  [The Holy Father is pointing out that when the Church prays together, great and miraculous events can and do happen as a result.  Maybe the reason the Church is in crisis and the world is spiraling into destruction is because the Church is not praying?]  

Angel Frees Peter From Prison
[The Pope now recounts the importance of angels in the plan of salvation and how the release of Peter from prison mirrors the release of the Israelites from Egypt, both done through angels] The account recalls the great elements of Israel’s liberation from the slavery of Egypt, the Jewish Passover. As had occurred in that foundational event, here too the angel of the Lord who frees Peter carries out the principal action. And the very actions of the Apostle -- who is asked to get up quickly, to put on his belt and to gird himself -- mirror those of the chosen people on the night of their deliverance by God’s intervention, when they were invited to eat the lamb in haste with loins girt, sandals on their feet, staff in hand, ready to leave the country (cf. Exodus 12:11). Thus Peter can exclaim: “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11).

The angels at Christ's Resurrection
But the angel recalls not only the event of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, but also that of Christ’s Resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles says, in fact: “And behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him” (Acts 12:7). The light that fills the prison cell, the very action of awakening the Apostle, recall the liberating light of the Passover of the Lord, who conquers the shadows of night and of evil. Lastly, the invitation: “Wrap your mantle around you and follow me” (Acts 12:8), echoes the words of Jesus’ initial call (cf. Mark 1:17), which is repeated after the Resurrection on the Lake of Tiberias, where the Lord says twice to Peter: “Follow Me” (John 21:19; 22). It is a pressing invitation to follow: for it is only in going out of ourselves in order to walk with the Lord and to do His will that we live in true freedom[Our world focuses very much on self fulfillment, telling us that we need to first fulfill ourselves before we can do anything for anyone else.  Our Lord tells us just the opposite, as the Holy Father says here.] 

I would also like to emphasize an aspect of Peter’s attitude in prison; indeed, we note that while the Christian community was praying persistently for him, Peter “was sleeping” (Acts 12:6). In such a critical and dangerous situation, it is an attitude that may seem strange but that rather denotes tranquility and confidence. He trusts in God, he knows that the solidarity and prayer of his own surround him, and he abandons himself totally into the Lord’s hands. So must our prayer also be: assiduous, united in solidarity with others, fully trusting in God who knows us intimately and who cares for us to the point -- Jesus says -- that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore” (Matthew 10: 30-31).  [A beautiful message from the Holy Father, which tells us that if we have our total trust in God, we can never be shaken.]
Peter lives the night of imprisonment and release as a moment in his following of the Lord, who conquers the darkness of night and frees [him] from the slavery of chains and the danger of death. His is a miraculous liberation, which is marked by various carefully described passages: guided by the angel, despite the surveillance of the guards, he passes through the first and second guard, to the iron gate leading into the city: and the gate opened to them of its own accord (cf. Acts 12:10). Peter and the angel of the Lord together cover a long stretch of road until, coming to himself, the Apostle realizes that the Lord has actually delivered him; and after having reflected upon this, he goes to the home of Mary, the mother of Mark, where many of the disciples were gathered together in prayer; once again, the community’s response to difficulty and danger is to rely upon God, to intensify their relationship with Him.
Here is seems to me useful to recall another difficult situation through which the early Christian community lived. St. James speaks of it in his Letter. It is a community in crisis, in difficulty, not so much on account of persecutions, but because of the jealousies and contentions present within it (James 3:14-16). And the Apostle asks why this situation exists. He finds two principal causes: the first is allowing oneself to be dominated by one’s passions, by the dictatorship of one’s own will, by egoism (James 4:1-2a); the second is the lack of prayer -- “you do not ask” (James 4:2b) -- or the presence of a prayer that cannot be defined as such -- “you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). This situation would change, according to St. James, if the whole community were to speak with God, if they were to pray assiduously and of one accord.

Indeed, even discussion about God risks losing its interior strength, and witness withers, if they are not animated, sustained and accompanied by prayer, by the continuity of a living conversation with the Lord. This is an important reminder for us and for our communities, for small communities such as the family, as well as those that are more extensive such as the parish, the diocese and the whole Church. And it gives me pause that they prayed in the community of St. James, but they prayed badly, for they prayed only for the sake of their own passions. We must always learn anew to pray well, to pray truly, to orient ourselves toward God and not toward our own good[Christianity is all about thinking beyond ourselves.  When we become self focused, we are turning away from God and cutting ourselves off spiritually.]

Peter was crucified upside down
because he did not feel worthy
to be crucified in the same
manner as Christ 

The community that accompanies St. Peter in his imprisonment, on the other hand, is a community that truly prays, for the whole night, united. And the joy that floods their hearts when the Apostle knocks unexpectedly at the door is uncontainable. It is the joy and amazement at the action of God who listens. Thus, prayer for Peter arises from the Church, and to the Church he returns in order to recount “how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” (Acts 12:17). In that Church where he is placed as a rock (cf. Matthew 16:18), Peter recounts his “Easter” of liberation: he experiences that true freedom is found in following Jesus; he is enveloped by the radiant light of the Resurrection, and for this reason he can testify unto martyrdom that the Lord is the Risen One and has “truly sent his angel and rescued him from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). The martyrdom he will undergo in Rome will unite him definitively to Christ, who had told him: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God)” (John 21:18-19). 
Dear brothers and sisters, the episode of Peter’s release recounted by Luke tells us that the Church, and each one of us, passes through the night of trial, but that the unceasing vigilance of prayer sustains us. I too, from the first moment of my election as Successor of St. Peter, have always felt supported by your prayer, by the prayer of the Church, especially in the moments of greatest difficulty. I offer you my heartfelt thanks. Through constant and confident prayer, the Lord frees us from chains, he guides us through every night of imprisonment that may grip our hearts, he gives us serenity of heart to face life’s difficulties -- even rejection, opposition and persecution. The episode concerning Peter reveals the power of prayer. And the Apostle, even though in chains, remains at peace in the certainty that he is never alone: the community is praying for him; the Lord is close to him; indeed, he knows that “the power of Christ is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Constant prayer of one accord is also a precious instrument for overcoming the trials that can arise along the path of life, for it is being deeply united to God which allows us to be deeply united also to others. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]
Our Holy Father has once again given us one of the major reasons for the chaos and evil we see in the world, and that which has crept into the Church.  "Through constant and confident prayer, the Lord frees us from chains, he guides us through every night of imprisonment that may grip our hearts, he gives us serenity of heart to face life’s difficulties -- even rejection, opposition and persecution."  Without prayer, we are completely defenseless in the face of the evil that we face each and every day of our lives.  Without prayer, the Church cannot go forward.  Without prayer, unified and unceasing, we will be destroyed by our Enemy.  We must unite ourselves with God and each other in prayer.  Only then will we find the peace and liberty that we seek.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Science Without Faith

I think it would be very easy to devote my entire blog to talks by Pope Benedict XVI.  Every talk, every speech and every homily that he gives contains profound truth and invaluable insight into what is happening in our world, why it is happening and how to overcome the evil we see around us.  The Holy Father's depth of thinking and vision is matched by few in this world today. 

This is seen again in a speech he gave on May 3, 2012 to Rome's Sacred Heart Catholic University, to mark the 50th anniversary of the "Agostino Gemelli" faculty of medicine and surgery.  In this speech, he gave the reasons why science has gone astray in our world and led humanity to evil and ultimately, to death.  Our world, on the whole, keeps science and faith separate, and this is the perfect recipe for ultimate destruction, which is where we seem to be headed.  Here is the translation of Pope Benedict XVI's speech from
Pope's Address at Sacred Heart Catholic University

"Love alone guarantees the humanity of research"

ROME, Italy, MAY 3, 2012 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today when he visited Rome's Sacred Heart Catholic University, to mark the 50th anniversary of the "Agostino Gemelli" faculty of medicine and surgery.

* * *

Lord Cardinals, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,

Illustrious Pro-Rector, Distinguished Authorities, Docents, Doctors,

Distinguished Health and University Staff,

Dear Students and Dear Patients!

With particular joy I meet with you today to celebrate the 50 years of the foundation of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the “Agostino Gemelli” Polyclinic. I thank the President of the Toniolo Institute, Cardinal Angelo Scola, and the Pro-Rector, Professor Franco Anelli, for the courteous words they addressed to me. I greet the Lord President of the Chamber, The Honorable Gianfranco Fini, the Lord Ministers, the Honorable Lorenzo Ornaghi and Honorable Renato Balduzzi, the numerous Authorities, as well as the Docents, the Doctors, the Staff and the Students of the Polyclinic and of the Catholic University. A special thought goes to you, dear patients.

Technology can cut us off from the rest of life
In this circumstance I would like to offer some reflections. Ours is a time in which the experimental sciences have transformed the vision of the world and the very self-understanding of man. The many discoveries, the innovative technologies that succeed one another at a feverish rhythm, are reasons for motivated pride, but often they are not lacking in disquieting implications. In fact, projected on the background of the widespread optimism of scientific learning, is the shadow of a crisis of thought. Rich in means but not as much in ends, the man of our time often lives conditioned by reductionism and relativism, which lead to losing the meaning of things; almost dazzled by technical efficiency, he forgets the fundamental horizon of the question of meaning, thus relegating the transcendent dimension to irrelevance. [We are so caught up in what technology can do (which in many cases means little more than new games to play for the average person) that we don't even realize how this is affecting us mentally and even more importantly, spiritually, and thus we are led astray from Truth, we forget the meaning of life and God Himself becomes unimportant in our lives] On this background, thought becomes weak and an ethical impoverishment also gains ground, which clouds the normative references of value. What was the fertile European root of culture and progress [i.e., God and obedience to Him] seems to be forgotten. In it, the search for the absolute -- the quaerere Deum -- included the need to study further the natural sciences, the whole world of learning (cf. Address to the College of Bernardins of Paris, Sept. 12, 2008). In fact, scientific research and the question of meaning, also in their specific epistemological and methodological physiognomy, spring from only one source, the Logos that presides over the work of creation and guides the intelligence of history. [If Jesus Christ is not at the center of science, it will lead us astray from real truth.  Without the Logos, who is Jesus Christ, science will and has become the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.]  An essential techno-practical mentality generates a risky imbalance between what is technically possible and what is morally good, with unforeseeable consequences.  [Science keeps going ahead with new innovations and inventions, without ever questioning if any of this is good or will it only lead to more evil in the world.] 
Science minus faith=disaster
Hence it is important that culture rediscover the meaning and dynamism of transcendence, in a word, that it open with determination the horizon of the quaerere Deum. ["Quaerere" is a Latin term that means "to ask, to question, to inquire."  "Deum", of course, means "God."  The Holy Father is saying that science should be about searching for God and for true meaning in life.] The well-known Augustinian phrase comes to mind “You have created us for yourself [Lord], and our heart is restless until it rests in You” (The Confessions, I,1). It can be said that the very impulse to scientific research springs from nostalgia for God, who dwells in the human heart: at bottom, the man of science tends, even unconsciously, to reach that truth that can give meaning to life. However, no matter how passionate and tenacious human research is, it is not capable, on its own, to come to a safe conclusion, because “man is not able to clarify completely the strange faint light that rests on the question of the eternal realities … God must take the initiative to come to meet us and to address man” (J. Ratzinger, Benedict’s Europe in the Crisis of Cultures, Cantagalli, Rome, 2005, 124; Zenit translation) [We cannot find God, he must come to us, and he has done just this in the person of the Logos, Jesus Christ.] To restore to reason its native, integral dimension, it is necessary then to rediscover the source that scientific research shares with the search of faith, fides quaerens intellectum, in keeping with Anselm’s intuition [From St. Anselm:  "Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand."]  Science and faith have a fecund reciprocity, almost a complementary need of the intelligence of the real. However, the quaerere Deum of man would be lost in a confusion of paths if he was not met by a way of illumination and sure orientation, which is that of God himself who comes close to man with immense love: "In Jesus Christ God not only speaks to man but also seeks him out [...] It is a search which begins in the heart of God and culminates in the Incarnation of the Word." (John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 7).  [True science must involve the search for God, but that search must begin with "God himself who comes close to man with immense love."] 

A religion of the Logos, Christianity does not relegate faith to the realm of the irrational, but attributes the origin and meaning of reality to a creative Reason, which in the crucified God manifested itself as love and which invites us to undertake the path of the quaerere Deum: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Saint Thomas Aquinas comments here: “The point of arrival of this way is, in fact, the end of human desire. Now man desires two things primarily: in the first place, that knowledge of truth which is proper to his nature. In the second place, permanence in being, the common property of all things. One and the other are found in Christ. Hence, if you seek to know where to go, receive Christ because he is the way” (Esposizioni su Giovanni, chapter 14, lectio 2). Therefore, the Gospel of life illumines man’s arduous way, and in face of the temptation to absolute autonomy, it reminds that "man's life comes from God; it is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life" (John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, 39). And it is precisely by following the way of faith that man is able to discern in the very realities of suffering and death that cut across his existence, a genuine possibility of goodness and life. In the Cross of Christ he recognizes the Tree of life, revelation of the passionate love of God for man. The care of those who suffer is then a daily encounter with the face of Christ, and the dedication of the intelligence and the heart is a sign of the mercy of God and of his victory over death.  [The Holy Father is telling us that Christianity, the belief system given to us by Jesus Christ, will help us discern the meaning of suffering and will lead us to the true meaning of life.  The Cross of Christ - the quintessential picture of suffering - is also the sign of the great love of God for man.  Hence, to care for those who suffer is to encounter Christ.]
Lived in its integrality, research is illumined by science and faith, and from these two “wings” it draws impulse and outburst, without ever losing the rightful humility, the sense of its own limit  [sadly, science and faith seldom go together in our world, and hence the great evil that too often comes from science]. In this way the search for God becomes fecund for the intelligence, ferment of culture, promoter of true humanism, a search that does not stop on the surface. Dear friends, allow yourselves always to be guided by the wisdom that comes from above, by a learning illumined by faith, remembering that wisdom calls for passion and the effort of research.

Inserted here is the irreplaceable task of the Catholic University, a place in which the educational relationship is placed at the service of the person in the construction of a qualified scientific competence, rooted in a patrimony of learning that the change of generations has distilled in wisdom of life; a place in which the relationship of care is not a job but a mission; where the charity of the Good Samaritan is the first chair, and the face of suffering man the very Face of Christ: “you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). In its daily work of research, teaching and study, the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart lies in this tradition which expresses its own potential for innovation: no progress, much less so on the cultural plane, is nourished by mere repetition, instead, it calls for an ever new beginning. Moreover, it requires that willingness to confront and dialogue that opens the intelligence and attests to the rich fecundity of the patrimony of the faith. Thus shape is given to a solid personality structure, where Christian identity penetrates daily living and is expressed from within an excellent professionalism.

The Catholic University, which has a particular relationship with the See of Peter, is called today to be an exemplary institution which does not restrict learning to the functionality of economic success, but widens the extension of the project in which the gift of intelligence investigates and develops the gifts of the created world, exceeding a productive and utilitarian vision of existence, because "the human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension" (Caritas in veritate, 34). In fact this combination of scientific research and unconditional service to life delineates the Catholic physiognomy of the "Agostino Gemelli" Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, because the perspective of faith is interior -- not superimposed or juxtaposed -- to the acute and tenacious search of learning[True faith is all about learning. True faith means we are not stagnant, but always growing in our understanding, appreciation and love for God and our fellow man, and thus is completely compatible with true science, and in fact, goes hand in hand with it.]

A Catholic Faculty of Medicine is the place where transcendent humanism is not a rhetorical slogan, but a rule lived by daily dedication. Dreaming of an authentic Catholic Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, Father Gemelli – and with him so many others, such as Professor Brasca -- put at the center of care the human person in his fragility and greatness, in the ever new resources of a passionate research and no less awareness of the limit and mystery of life. This is why you wished to institute a new Athenaeum Center for life, which supports other already existing realities, such as, for example, the Paul VI International Scientific Institute. Therefore, I encourage care of life in all its phases.

I would now like to turn to all the patients present here at the “Gemelli,” to assure them of my prayer and affection and to tell them that they will always be followed with love so that in their faces, the suffering face of Christ is reflected.

It is in fact the love of God, which shines in Christ, which renders acute and penetrating the look of research and to grasp what no research is able to grasp. Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo had this very present, who affirmed how it is of man’s nature to read in others the image of God-love and his imprint on creation. Without love, science also loses its nobility. Love alone guarantees the humanity of research. [The Holy Father has reduced the reason for the evil in science and in the world to a few words.  Without love - God's love - science has lost its way, as has most of the world] Thank you for your attention.

[Translation by ZENIT]
The Pope's theme in this talk is that Christian faith and belief in God must be at the center of everything we do, and that includes secular practices such as the sciences.  Because our world has not done that, because we have pushed God completely out of our lives, we are on the edge of total destruction.  People's lives are empty and meaningless, and they try to fill that lonely void with anything that will take their minds off of the pain they feel.  Science gives us many things that seem exciting and dazzling, as our Holy Father says, but in the end lead only to more emptiness and destruction.,  As Pope Benedict XVI tells us in this speech, the sciences apart from God lose their nobility and humanity.  Only Christ and His Love can give us the meaning and direction that we search for. 

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