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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holy Father's Christmas Message - "God Still Kindles Fires in the Night of the World"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2009 ( Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Christmas message, which he gave today at noon from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world, and all men and women, whom the Lord loves!

"Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,
quia natus est nobis Dominus.

A light will shine on us this day,
the Lord is born for us"

(Roman Missal, Christmas, Entrance Antiphon for the Mass at Dawn)

The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us.

The Bible and the Liturgy do not, however, speak to us about a natural light, but a different, special light, which is somehow directed to and focused upon "us", the same "us" for whom the Child of Bethlehem "is born". This "us" is the Church, the great universal family of those who believe in Christ, who have awaited in hope the new birth of the Saviour, and who today celebrate in mystery the perennial significance of this event.

At first, beside the manger in Bethlehem, that "us" was almost imperceptible to human eyes. As the Gospel of Saint Luke recounts, it included, in addition to Mary and Joseph, a few lowly shepherds who came to the cave after hearing the message of the Angels. The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light "that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). And yet all this took place in simplicity and hiddenness, in the way that God works in all of salvation history. God loves to light little lights, so as then to illuminate vast spaces. Truth, and Love, which are its content, are kindled wherever the light is welcomed; they then radiate in concentric circles, as if by contact, in the hearts and minds of all those who, by opening themselves freely to its splendour, themselves become sources of light. Such is the history of the Church: she began her journey in the lowly cave of Bethlehem, and down the centuries she has become a People and a source of light for humanity. Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the "sign" of his saving and liberating presence and to extend the "us" of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

Wherever there is an "us" which welcomes God's love, there the light of Christ shines forth, even in the most difficult situations. The Church, like the Virgin Mary, offers the world Jesus, the Son, whom she herself has received as a gift, the One who came to set mankind free from the slavery of sin. Like Mary, the Church does not fear, for that Child is her strength. But she does not keep him for herself: she offers him to all those who seek him with a sincere heart, to the earth's lowly and afflicted, to the victims of violence, and to all who yearn for peace. Today too, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church, in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with the shepherds: "Let us go to Bethlehem" (Lk 2:15), for there we shall find our hope.

The "us" of the Church is alive in the place where Jesus was born, in the Holy Land, inviting its people to abandon every logic of violence and vengeance, and to engage with renewed vigour and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence. The "us" of the Church is present in the other countries of the Middle East. How can we forget the troubled situation in Iraq and the "little flock" of Christians which lives in the region? At times it is subject to violence and injustice, but it remains determined to make its own contribution to the building of a society opposed to the logic of conflict and the rejection of one's neighbour. The "us" of the Church is active in Sri Lanka, in the Korean peninsula and in the Philippines, as well as in the other countries of Asia, as a leaven of reconciliation and peace. On the continent of Africa she does not cease to lift her voice to God, imploring an end to every injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo; she invites the citizens of Guinea and Niger to respect for the rights of every person and to dialogue; she begs those of Madagascar to overcome their internal divisions and to be mutually accepting; and she reminds all men and women that they are called to hope, despite the tragedies, trials and difficulties which still afflict them. In Europe and North America, the "us" of the Church urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality, to advance the common good and to show respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn. In Honduras she is assisting in process of rebuilding institutions; throughout Latin America, the "us" of the Church is a source of identity, a fullness of truth and of charity which no ideology can replace, a summons to respect for the inalienable rights of each person and his or her integral development, a proclamation of justice and fraternity, a source of unity.

In fidelity to the mandate of her Founder, the Church shows solidarity with the victims of natural disasters and poverty, even within opulent societies. In the face of the exodus of all those who migrate from their homelands and are driven away by hunger, intolerance or environmental degradation, the Church is a presence calling others to an attitude of acceptance and welcome. In a word, the Church everywhere proclaims the Gospel of Christ, despite persecutions, discriminations, attacks and at times hostile indifference. These, in fact, enable her to share the lot of her Master and Lord.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how great a gift it is to be part of a communion which is open to everyone! It is the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, from whose heart Emmanuel, Jesus, "God with us", came into the world. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, let us contemplate, filled with wonder and gratitude, this mystery of love and light! Happy Christmas to all!

Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus/Regina Cæli, 2009

The Martydom of St. Stephen, first Christian martyr

Acts 6:8-7:2,44-8:1:

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. So they procured some men to say, ‘We heard him using blasphemous language against Moses and against God.’ Having in this way turned the people against him as well as the elders and scribes, they took Stephen by surprise, and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. There they put up false witnesses to say, ‘This man is always making speeches against this Holy Place and the Law. We have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene is going to destroy this Place and alter the traditions that Moses handed down to us.’ The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.

The high priest asked, ‘Is this true?’ He replied, ‘My brothers, my fathers, listen to what I have to say. ‘While they were in the desert our ancestors possessed the Tent of Testimony that had been constructed according to the instructions God gave Moses, telling him to make an exact copy of the pattern he had been shown. It was handed down from one ancestor of ours to another until Joshua brought it into the country we had conquered from the nations which were driven out by God as we advanced. Here it stayed until the time of David. He won God’s favour and asked permission to have a temple built for the House of Jacob, though it was Solomon who actually built God’s house for him. Even so the Most High does not live in a house that human hands have built: for as the prophet says:

With heaven my throne
and earth my footstool,
what house could you build me,
what place could you make for my rest?
Was not all this made by my hand?

‘You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? In the past they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. You who had the Law brought to you by angels are the very ones who have not kept it.’

They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep. Saul entirely approved of the killing.
-----End quote-----

Friday, December 25, 2009

St. Maximus of Constantinople, on the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff

Known as the Theologian and as Maximus Confessor, born at Constantinople about 580; died in exile 13 August, 662. He is considered a saint by the Eastern Orthodox as well as by the Catholic Church. He was one of the most respected eastern theologians and one of the chief defenders of the faith in the 7th century battle against the heresy of Monothelitism.

This is how St. Maximus of Constantinople viewed the jurisdictional primacy of the Roman Pontiff:

How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now presides over all the churches which are under the sun? Having surely received this canonically, as well as from councils and the apostles, as from the princes of the latter (Peter and Paul), and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues in synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate .....even as in all these things all are equally subject to her (the Church of Rome) according to sacerodotal law. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers (the popes) are of the truly firm and immovable rock, that is of the most great and Apostolic Church of Rome. (Maximus, in J.B. Mansi, ed. Amplissima Collectio Conciliorum, vol. 10)
-----End quote-----

Elsewhere, Maximus writes:

"If the Roman see recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus, anathematizes the see of Rome that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he be in communion with the Roman see and the Church of God.... It is not right that one who has been condemned and cast out by the Apostolic see of the city of Rome for his wrong opinions should be named with any kind of honour, until he be received by her, having returned to her — nay, to our Lord — by a pious confession and orthodox faith, by which he can receive holiness and the title of holy.... Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman see, for if it is satisfied all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed pope of the most holy Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic see, which from the incarnate Son of God Himself, and also by all holy synods, according to the holy canons and definitions, has received universal and supreme dominion, authority and power of binding and loosing over all the holy Churches of God which are in the whole world — for with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he must satisfy others, and fails to implore the most blessed Roman pope, he is acting like a man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by the law, but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit him." (St. Maximus, a letter to Marinus, a priest of Cyprus, cited by The Catholic Encyclopdia, "St. Maximus of Contantinople").
-----End quote-----

Pyrrhus was the Patriarch of Constantople, but on the accession of the Emperor Constans in 642 he was exiled. In July, 645, a public debate took place between Pyrrhus and St. Maximus, in the presence of the Governor. Pyrrhus defended the Monothelite heresy, but St. Maximus was able to persuade him of his theological errors. Pyrrhus consented to go to Rome, where in fact he condemned his former teaching, and was reconciled to the Church by the pope.

The Emperor Constans promoted another heretical formula, called the Typos, which sought compromise with the Monothelite position. St. Maximus, present at the Lateran council held by St. Martin in 649, wrote the following from Rome:

"The extremities of the earth, and all in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers according to what the six inspired and holy councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For from the coming down of the incarnate Word amongst us, all the Churches in every part of the world have held that greatest Church alone as their base and foundation, seeing that according to the promise of Christ our Saviour, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it has the keys of a right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High." (St. Maximus of Constantinople, letter from Rome, cited by The Catholic Encyclopdia, "St. Maximus of Contantinople").
-----End quote-----

Because he opposed to the Emporer's heretical position, Pope Martin was dragged from Rome in 653, and died of ill treatment at Inkerman in March, 655.  St. Maximus, also imprisoned, continued to argue for the orthodox faith even from prison.  He was sent to Constantinople at the end of 655, now seventy-five years old. On the day of the first trial a council of clergy was held, and the emperor was persuaded to send St. Maximus to Byzia in Thrace, where he suffered greatly from cold and hunger.

On 24 September, 656, Theodosius, Bishop of Caesarea in Bithynia, visited St. Maximus in prison. St. Maximus was able to convince him against his prior Monothelite position, but later Bishop Theodosius refused to publically recant for fear of the emporer.  On 8 September, the abbot was honourably sent to Rhegium, and Bishop Theodosius offered the saint great honour if he would accept the heretical views of the emperor. Maximus solemnly turned to the bishop and reminded him of the day of judgment. The abbot was struck and spat upon. Maximus reiterated the Roman view.  On 19 September St. Maximus was moved to Salembria, and then to Perberis (Perbera). Six years later, in 662, St. Maximus was brought to trial in Constantinople and condemned. The prefect was ordered to beat him, to cut out his tongue and lop off his right hand, to exhibit him mutilated in every quarter of the city, and to send him to perpetual exile and imprisonment.

St. Maximus died in prison, 13 August 662, defending orthodoxy and the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclicals