General Audience series on the Doctors of the Church  

 

On Everyone's Call to Be a Saint
Holiness Consists in "Making Our Own His Attitudes, His Thoughts, His Conduct"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 13, 2011 - 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 centered his reflection on the holiness to which every Christian is called, thus concluding a series of catecheses on the lives of saints.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the general audiences of the last two years, we have been accompanied by the figures of many men and women saints: We have gotten to know them up close and to understand that the whole history of the Church is marked by these men and women, who with their faith, their charity, and their lives were the beacons of many generations, as they are also for us. The saints manifest in many ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One; they let Christ possess their lives completely, being able to affirm as St. Paul, "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Following their example, taking recourse to their intercession, entering into communion with them, "joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its Fountain and Head issues every grace and the very life of the people of God" (Lumen Gentium 50). At the end of this series of catecheses, I would like to offer an idea of what holiness is.

What does it mean to be saints? Who is called to be a saint? Often it is thought that holiness is a goal reserved for a few chosen ones. St. Paul, however, speaks of God's great plan and affirms: "[God] chose us in him [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us" (Ephesians 1:4). And he speaks of all of us. At the center of the divine design is Christ, in whom God shows his Face: the Mystery hidden in the centuries has been revealed in the fullness of the Word made flesh. And Paul says afterward: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19). In Christ the living God has made himself close, visible, audible, tangible so that all can obtain his fullness of grace and truth (cf. John 1:14-16).

Because of this, the whole of Christian existence knows only one supreme law, the one St. Paul expresses in a formula that appears in all his writings: in Christ Jesus. Holiness, the fullness of Christian life does not consist of realizing extraordinary enterprises, but in union with Christ, in living his mysteries, in making our own his attitudes, his thoughts, his conduct. The measure of holiness is given by the height of holiness that Christ attains in us, of how much, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, we mold all our life to his. It is our conforming ourselves to Jesus, as St. Paul affirms: "For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29). And St. Augustine exclaimed: "My life will be alive full of You" (Confessions, 10, 28). In the Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council spoke with clarity of the universal call to holiness, affirming that no one is excluded: "The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one -- that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who ... follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory" (No. 41).

However, the question remains: How can we journey on the path of holiness, how can we respond to this call? Can I do so with my own strength? The answer is clear: A holy life is not primarily the fruit of our own effort, of our actions, because it is God, the thrice Holy (cf. Isaiah 6:3), who makes us saints, and the action of the Holy Spirit who encourages us from within; it is the life itself of the Risen Christ, which has been communicated to us and which transforms us. To say it again according to Vatican Council II: "The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God's gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received" (ibid., 40).

Hence, holiness has its main root in baptismal grace, in being introduced into the paschal mystery of Christ, with which his Spirit is communicated to us, his life as the Risen One. St. Paul points out the transformation wrought in man by baptismal grace and even coins a new terminology, forged with the preposition "with": "We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). However, God always respects our liberty and asks that we accept this gift and that we live the demands it entails. He asks that we allow ourselves to be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, conforming our will to the will of God.

How can we make our way of thinking and our actions become thinking and acting with Christ and of Christ? What is the soul of holiness? Again Vatican II specifies: It tells us that holiness is none other than charity fully lived. "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Now God has amply diffused his love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (cf. Romans 5:5); because of this, the first and most necessary gift is charity, with which we love God above all things and our neighbor out of love for him. For charity to grow as a good seed in the soul and fructify us, every faithful one must listen willingly to the Word of God, and with the help of his grace, realize the works of his will, participate frequently in the sacraments, above all in the Eucharist and in the holy liturgy, constantly approach prayer, abnegation of oneself, in the active service to brothers and the exercise of all virtue. Charity, in fact, is the bond of perfection and fulfillment of the law (cf. Colossians 3:14; Romans 13:10); it directs all the means of sanctification, gives them their form and leads them to their end.

Perhaps also this language of Vatican II is a bit solemn for us; perhaps we should say things in a still simpler way. What is the most essential? Essential is that no Sunday be left without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist -- this is not a burden but light for the whole week. Never to begin or end a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, in the journey of our life, to follow "road signs" that God has communicated to us in the Decalogue read with Christ, which is simply the definition of charity in specific situations. I think this is the true simplicity and grandeur of the life of holiness: the encounter with the Risen One on Sunday; contact with God at the beginning and end of the day; in decisions, to follow the "road signs" that God has communicated to us, which are simply forms of charity. From whence charity for God and for our neighbor is made the distinctive sign of the true disciple of Christ. (Lumen Gentium , 42). This is true simplicity, grandeur and profundity of the Christian life, of being saints.

This is why St. Augustine, commenting on the fourth chapter of the First Letter of St. John can affirm an astonishing thing: "Dilige et fac quod vis" (Love and do what you will). And he continued: "If you are silent, be silent out of love; if you speak, speak out of love; if you correct, correct out of love; if you forgive, forgive out of love, may the root of love be in you, because from this root nothing can come that is not good" (7, 8: PL 35). He who lets himself be led by love, who lives charity fully is led by God, because God is love. This is what this great saying means: "Dilige et fac quod vis" (Love and do as you will).

Perhaps we might ask ourselves: Can we, with our limitations, our weakness, reach so high? During the liturgical year, the Church invites us to recall a line-up of saints, who have lived charity fully, have been able to love and to follow Christ in their daily lives. In all the periods of the history of the Church, in every latitude of the geography of the world, the saints belong to all the ages and to all states of life; they are the concrete faces of all peoples, languages and nations. And they are very different among themselves. In reality, I must say that also, according to my personal faith, many saints, not all, are true stars in the firmament of history. And I would like to add that for me not only the great saints that I love and know well are "road signs," but also the simple saints, that is, the good persons that I see in my life, who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, to say it somehow, without a visible heroism, but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of the faith. This goodness, which they have matured in the faith of the Church, is for me a sure defense of Christianity and the sign of where the truth is.

In the communion with saints, canonized or not canonized, which the Church lives thanks to Christ in all her members, we enjoy their presence and company and cultivate the firm hope of being able to imitate their way and share one day the same blessed life, eternal life.

Dear friends, how great and beautiful and also simple, is the Christian vocation seen from this light! We are all called to holiness: It is the very measure of the Christian life. Once again St. Paul expresses it with great intensity when he writes: "But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. ... And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7,11-13).

I would like to invite you to open yourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms our life, to be, we also, pieces of the great mosaic of holiness that God is creating in history, so that the Face of Christ will shine in the fullness of its brilliance. Let us not be afraid to look on high, to the height of God; let us not be afraid that God will ask too much of us, but let us be guided in all our daily actions by his Word, even if we feel that we are poor, inadequate, sinners: He will be the one to transform us according to his love. Thank you.


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As a conclusion to this series of catecheses on the lives of the saints, I would like today to speak of the holiness to which each Christian is called. Holiness is the fullness of the Christian life, a life in Christ; it consists in our being united to Christ, making our own his thoughts and actions, and conforming our lives to his. As such, it is chiefly the work of the Holy Spirit who is poured forth into our hearts through Baptism, making us sharers in the paschal mystery and enabling us to live a new life in union with the Risen Christ. Christian holiness is nothing other than the virtue of charity lived to its fullest. In the pursuit of holiness, we allow the seed of God's life and love to be cultivated by hearing his word and putting it into practice, by prayer and the celebration of the sacraments, by sacrifice and service of our brothers and sisters. The lives of the saints encourage us along this great path leading to the fullness of eternal life. By their prayers, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, may each of us live fully our Christian vocation and thus become a stone in that great mosaic of holiness which God is creating in history, so that the glory shining on the face of Christ may be seen in all its splendour.

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On St. Thérèse of Lisieux
"This Love Has a Face, It Has a Name, It Is Jesus"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. Continuing with the cycle of catecheses on Doctors of the Church, the Pope centered his meditation on the figure of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak to you about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, [also known as] Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, who lived only 24 years in this world, at the end of the 19th century, leading a very simple and hidden life, but who after her death and the publication of her writings, became one of the best known and loved saints.

"Little Thérèse" has not failed to help the simplest souls, little ones, the poor, those who suffer and who pray to her, but she has also illumined the whole Church with her profound spiritual doctrine, to the point that, in 1997 the Venerable John Paul II wished to give her the title of doctor of the Church, adding it to the title of patroness of the missions, which Pius XI gave her in 1939. My beloved predecessor described her as an "expert in the scientia amoris" ("Novo Millennio Ineunte," 27).

Thérèse expresses this science, which sees the whole truth of the faith shine in love, primarily in the account of her life, published a year after her death with the title "Story of a Soul." The book immediately had great success. It was translated into many languages and spread throughout the world. I would like to invite you to rediscover this little-great treasure, this luminous commentary on the Gospel fully lived! "Story of a Soul," in fact, is a marvelous history of Love, recounted with such authenticity, simplicity and freshness, before which the reader cannot but be fascinated! But, what was this Love that filled Thérèse's whole life, from her childhood to her death? Dear friends, this Love has a Face, it has a Name, it is Jesus! The saint spoke continually of Jesus. Let us review, therefore, the great stages of her life, to enter into the heart of her doctrine.

Thérèse was born on Jan. 2, 1873, in Alecon, a city of Normandy, in France. She was the youngest daughter of Louis and Zélie Martin, exemplary spouses and parents, both beatified on Oct. 19, 2008. They had nine children, four of whom died at an early age. Five daughters remained, all of whom became religious. Thérèse, at 4, was profoundly affected by the death of her mother (Ms A, 13r). The father, together with his daughters, then moved to the city of Lisieux, where the whole life of the saint unfolded. Later Thérèse, suffering from a serious nervous illness, was cured thanks to a divine grace, which she herself described as "the smile of the Virgin" (ibid., 29v-30v). She received her first Communion, which she lived intensely (Ibid., 35r), and put the Eucharistic Jesus at the center of her life.

The "Grace of Christmas" of 1886 marked the point of inflection, what she called her "complete conversion" (ibid., 44v-45r). In fact, she was completely cured of her infantile hyper-sensitivity and began a "giant's race." At the age of 14, Thérèse grew ever closer, with great faith, to Jesus Crucified, and took very seriously the case, apparently desperate, of a criminal condemned to death and impenitent (ibid., 45v-46v). "I wanted at all costs to prevent his going to hell," wrote the saint, with the certainty that her prayer would have put him in contact with the redeeming Blood of Jesus. It was her first and fundamental experience of spiritual maternity. "So much confidence I had in Jesus' Infinite Mercy," she wrote. With Mary Most Holy, the young Thérèse loves, believes and hopes with "a mother's heart" (cf. PR 6/10r).

In November of 1887, Thérèse went on pilgrimage to Rome with her father and her sister Celine (ibid., 55v-67r). The culminating moment for her was the audience with Pope Leo XIII, from whom she requested permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux, though she was just 15 years old. A year later, her wish came true: She became a Carmelite, "to save souls and to pray for priests" (ibid., 69v). At the same time, her father's painful and humiliating mental illness began. It was a great suffering that led Thérèse to the contemplation of Jesus' Face in his Passion (ibid., 71rv).

In this way, her name in religion -- Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face -- expresses her whole life's program, in communion with the central mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption. Her religious profession, on the feast of the Nativity of Mary, Sept. 8, 1890, was for her a real spiritual marriage in the "littleness" of the Gospel, characterized by the symbol of the flower. "What a beautiful feast is the Nativity of Mary to become the Bride of Jesus!" she wrote. "I was the little Holy Virgin of one day, who presented her little flower to the little Jesus" (ibid., 77r). For Thérèse, to be a religious meant to be the bride of Jesus and mother of souls (cf. Ms B, 2v). On the same day, the saint wrote a prayer that indicates the direction of her life: She asked Jesus for the gift of his infinite love, to be the littlest one, and above all she asked for the salvation of all men. "That no soul be condemned today" (Pr 2). Of great importance is her Offering to Merciful Love, made on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity of 1895 (Ms A, 83v-84r; Pr 6): an offering that Thérèse shares immediately with her sisters, being now vice-mistress of novices.

Ten years after the "Grace of Christmas," in 1896 the "Grace of Easter" came, which opened the last period of Thérèse's life, with the beginning of her passion profoundly united to the Passion of Jesus. It was the passion of the body, with the illness that led her to death through great sufferings, but above all it was the passion of her soul, with a very painful test of faith (Ms C, 4v-7v). With Mary next to the cross of Jesus, Thérèse now lived the most heroic faith, as light in the darkness that invaded her soul. The Carmelite was aware of living this great trial for the salvation of all the atheists of the modern world, whom she called "brothers." Hence, she lived fraternal love more intensely (8r-33v): toward the sisters of her community, toward her two spiritual missionary brothers, toward priests and all men, especially the most alienated. She became a "universal sister!" Her kind and smiling charity was the expression of the profound joy whose secret she revealed to us: "Jesus, my joy is to love You" (P 45/7). In this context of suffering, living the greatest love in the smallest things of daily life, the saint fulfilled completely her vocation to be Love in the heart of the Church (cf. Ms B, 3v).

Thérèse died on the night of Sept. 30, 1897, pronouncing the simple words: "My God, I love You!," looking at the crucifix that she clasped in her hands. These last words of the saint are the key of her whole doctrine, of her interpretation of the Gospel. The act of love, expressed in her last breath, was like the continual breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart. The simple words: "Jesus, I love you" are the center of all her writings. The act of love for Jesus introduces her in the Most Holy Trinity. She wrote: "Ah, you know it, Divine Jesus, I love you./ The spirit of Love inflames me with its fire,/ and loving You, I am attracted to the Father" (P 17/2).

Dear friends, with St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus we also must be able to repeat each day to the Lord that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn in the school of the saints to love in a genuine and total way. Thérèse is one of the "little ones" of the Gospel who allow themselves to be led by God in the profundity of his Mystery. A guide for all, above all for those who among the People of God carry out the ministry of theologian. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse entered continually into the heart of sacred Scripture, which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this reading of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not opposed to academic science. The science of the saints, in fact, of which she speaks in the last page of the "Story of a Soul," is the highest science: "All the saints have understood it and in particular, perhaps, those who filled the universe with the radiation of the evangelical doctrine. Is it not, perhaps, through prayer that Sts. Paul, Augustine, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic and so many other illustrious Friends of God obtained this divine science that fascinates the greatest geniuses" (Ms C, 36r).

Inseparable from the Gospel, the Eucharist was for Thérèse the sacrament of Divine Love that descends to the extreme to lift us to him. In her last Letter, the saint wrote these simple words on the image that the Child Jesus represents in the consecrated Host: "I cannot fear a God who for me has made himself so small! (...) I love him! In fact, he is none other than Love and Mercy!" (LT 266).

In the Gospel, Thérèse discovered above all the mercy of Jesus, to the point of affirming: "He has given me his infinite Mercy, through it I contemplate and adore the other divine perfections! (...) And then they all seem radiant with love, with Justice itself (and perhaps much more than any other), it seems to me covered with love" (Ms A, 84r). She expressed herself also in this way in the last lines of the "Story of a Soul": "No sooner I leaf through the Holy Gospel, I immediately breathe the perfume of Jesus' life and I know where to run to .... It's not the first place, but the last to which I go ... Yes, I feel it, even if I had on my conscience all the sins than can be committed, I would go with my heart broken by repentance, to throw myself into Jesus' arms, because I know how much he loves the Prodigal Son who returns to Him" (Ms C, 36v-37r).

"Trust and Love" are therefore the final period of the account of her life, two words that like beacons, illumined the whole of her path of sanctity, to be able to lead others on her same "little way of trust and love" of spiritual childhood (cf Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226). Trust like that of the child who abandons himself into the hands of God, inseparably because of the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self, for ever, as the saint said contemplating Mary: "To love is to give everything, and to give oneself" (Perche ti amo, O Maria, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse indicates to all of us that Christian life consists in living fully the grace of baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his very love for others.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today deals with Saint Theresa of Lisieux, the young Carmelite nun whose teaching of the "little way" of holiness has been so influential in our time. Born and raised in a devout French family, Theresa received permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux at the tender age of fifteen. Her name in religion -- Sister Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face -- expresses the heart of her spirituality, centred on the contemplation of God's love revealed in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption. In imitation of Christ, Theresa sought to be little in all things and to seek the salvation of the world. Taken ill in her twenty-third year, she endured great physical suffering in union with the crucified Lord; she also experienced a painful testing of faith which she offered for the salvation of those who deny God. By striving to embody God's love in the smallest things of life, Theresa found her vocation to be "love in the heart of the Church." May her example and prayers help us to follow "the little way of trust and love" in spiritual childhood, abandoning ourselves completely to the love of God and the good of souls.

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On St. Alphonsus Liguori
"Priests Are a Visible Sign of the Infinite Mercy of God"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 30, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. Continuing the cycle of catecheses on the doctors of the Church, he focused his meditation on St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to present to you the figure of a holy doctor of the Church to whom we are very indebted, since he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of the spiritual life for everyone, above all for simple people. He is the author of the words and music of one of the most popular Christmas songs in Italy, "Tu scendi dalle stelle" [You come down from the stars], and of many other things.

Alphonsus Maria Liguori was born in 1696 of a noble and rich Neapolitan family. Gifted with remarkable intellectual qualities, at just 16 he received a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer of the bar in Naples: For eight years he won every cause he defended. However, his soul thirsted for God and desired perfection and the Lord led him to understand that he was calling him to another vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant about the corruption and injustice that plagued his environment, he left his profession -- and with it wealth and success -- and decided to become a priest, despite his father's opposition.

He had excellent teachers, who introduced him to the study of sacred Scripture, history of the Church and mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture that he brought to fruition when, after a few years, he began his work as a writer. He was ordained a priest in 1726 and for his ministry, joined the diocesan Congregation of the Apostolic Missions.

Alphonsus began evangelization and catechesis among the most humble strata of Neapolitan society, to whom he loved to preach and whom he instructed on the basic truths of the faith. Not a few of these persons whom he addressed, poor and modest, very often were dedicated to vices and carried out criminal activity. With patience he taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of living. Alphonsus obtained great results: In the poorest quarters of the city, there were increasing groups of persons who gathered in the evening in private homes and shops, to pray and meditate on the Word of God, under the guidance of some catechists formed by Alphonsus and other priests, who regularly visited these groups of faithful. When, by desire of the archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they took the name "evening chapels." They were a real and proper source of moral education, of social healing, of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels and prostitution virtually disappeared.

Even though the social and religious context of St. Alphonsus' time was very different from ours, these "evening chapels" are a model of missionary action in which we can be inspired today as well, for a "new evangelization," particularly among the poorest, and to build a more just, fraternal and solidary human coexistence. Entrusted to priests is a task of spiritual ministry, while well-formed laymen can be effective Christian leaders, genuine evangelical leaven in the heart of society.

After having thought of leaving to evangelize the pagan peoples, Alphonsus, at the age of 35, came into contact with peasants and shepherds of the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples and, stricken by their religious ignorance and their state of abandonment, he decided to leave the capital and dedicate himself to these people, who were poor spiritually and materially. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he placed under the protection of Bishop Thomas Falcoia, and of which he himself became superior. These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were genuine itinerant missionaries who reached the most remote villages, exhorting to conversion and to perseverance in the Christian life, above all through prayer. Still today, the Redemptorists spread over so many countries of the world with new forms of apostolate, continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, exhorting them to always be faithful following the example of their holy founder.

Esteemed for his goodness and pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was appointed bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti, a ministry that he left in 1775 by the concession of Pope Pius VI because of the illnesses afflicting him. In 1787 that same Pontiff, hearing the news of his death that came after many sufferings, exclaimed: "He was a saint!" And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839, and in 1871 he was declared a doctor of the Church.

This title was bestowed on him for many reasons. First of all, because he proposed a rich teaching of moral theology, which adequately expresses Catholic doctrine, to the point that Pope Pius XII proclaimed him "patron of all confessors and moral theologians." Widespread at his time was a very rigorous interpretation of moral life, also because of the Jansenist mentality that, instead of nourishing trust and hope in God's mercy, fomented fear and presented God's face as frowning and severe, very far from that revealed to us by Jesus.

Above all in his principal work, titled "Moral Theology," St. Alphonsus proposes a balanced and convincing synthesis between the demands of God's law, sculpted in our hearts, revealed fully by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and the dynamics of man's conscience and his liberty, which precisely by adherence to truth and goodness allow for the maturation and fulfillment of the person. To pastors of souls and to confessors, Alphonsus recommended faithfulness to Catholic moral doctrine, accompanied by a comprehensive and gentle attitude so that penitents could feel accompanied, supported and encouraged in their journey of faith and Christian life.

St. Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God, who forgives and illumines the mind and heart of the sinner so that he will convert and change his life. In our time, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and -- it must be acknowledged -- of a certain lack of appreciation of the sacrament of confession, the teaching of St. Alphonsus is again of great timeliness.

Together with the works of theology, St. Alphonsus composed many other writings, designed for the religious formation of the people. The style is simple and pleasing. Read and translated into numerous languages, the works of St. Alphonsus have contributed to mold popular spirituality of the last two centuries. Some of them are texts to be read with great profit again today, such as "The Eternal Maxims," "The Glories of Mary," "The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ" -- this last one a work that represents the synthesis of his thought and his masterpiece.

He insisted a lot on the need for prayer, which enables one to open to Divine Grace to carry out daily the will of God and to obtain one's sanctification. In regard to prayer, he wrote: "God does not deny to anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains the help to overcome every concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and repeat and will always repeat, for my entire life, that the whole of our salvation rests on prayer." From which stems his famous axiom: "He who prays is saved" (From the great means of prayer and related booklets. Opere ascetiche II, Rome 1962, p. 171).

There comes to mind, in this connection, the exhortation of my predecessor, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II: "Christian communities must become genuine 'schools' of prayer. Therefore, education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning" (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33, 34).

Outstanding among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St. Alphonsus is the visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament or, as we would say today, adoration -- brief or prolonged, personal or in community -- of the Eucharist. "Certainly," wrote Alphonsus, "among all the devotions this one of adoration of the sacramental Jesus is the first after the sacraments, the dearest to God and the most useful to us. O, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith and to present to him our needs, as a friend does to another friend with whom one has full confidence!" (Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to Mary Most Holy for each day of the month. Introduction).

Alphonsus' spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centered on Christ and his Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the incarnation and the passion of the Lord were often the object of his preaching: In these events, in fact, redemption is offered "copiously" to all men. And precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsus' piety is also exquisitely Marian. Most devoted to Mary, he illustrated her role in the history of salvation: partner of the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen. Moreover, St. Alphonsus affirmed that devotion to Mary will be of great comfort at the moment of our death. He was convinced that meditation on our eternal destiny, on our call to participate for ever in God's blessedness, as well as on the tragic possibility of damnation, contributes to live with serenity and commitment, and to face the reality of death always preserving full trust in God's goodness.

St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori is an example of a zealous pastor who won souls preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments, combined with a way of acting marked by gentle and meek goodness, which was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of goods that the Lord gives to every man and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, in addition to the mind, to be able to love God and one's neighbor.

In conclusion, I would like to remind that our saint, similar to St. Francis de Sales -- of whom I spoke a few weeks ago -- insists on saying that holiness is accessible to every Christian: "The religious as religious, the lay person as lay person, the priest as priest, the married as married, the merchant as merchant, the soldier as soldier, and so on speaking of every other state" (Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, Opere ascetiche I, Rome 1933, p. 79). I thank the Lord who, with his Providence, raises saints and doctors in different times and places who, speaking the same language, invite us to grow in faith and to live with love and joy our being Christians in the simple actions of every day, to walk on the path of holiness, on the path to God and to true joy. Thank you.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today deals with Saint Alphonsus Liguori, an outstanding eighteenth-century preacher, scholar and Doctor of the Church. Alphonsus left a brilliant career as a lawyer to become a priest, and greatly contributed to the renewal of the Church in his native Naples. He began as a missionary among the urban poor, gathering small groups for prayer and instruction in the faith.

Broadening his pastoral outreach, he founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer -- the Redemptorists -- as a group of itinerant missionaries. Alphonsus' pastoral zeal also found expression in his moral teaching, which emphasized divine mercy and the relationship between God's law and our deepest human needs and aspirations. His many spiritual writings, marked by a deep Christological and Marian piety, stressed the practice of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. May this great Doctor of the Church, venerated also as the patron of moral theologians, help us to respond ever more fully to God's call to grow in holiness, and inspire in priests, religious and laity a firm commitment to the new evangelization.

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On St. Lawrence of Brindisi
"All His Activity Was Inspired in His Great Love for Sacred Scripture"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2011 - Here is a translation of the catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. In his Italian-language address, the Pope continued with the catecheses cycle on the doctors of the Church, focusing his reflection on St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619).

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Dear brothers and sisters,

I still remember with joy the festive reception I was given in 2008 in Brindisi, the city that in 1559 witnessed the birth of an illustrious doctor of the Church, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, the name that Giulio Cesare Rossi assumed on entering the Order of Capuchins. From his youth he was attracted to the family of St. Francis of Assisi. In fact, when he lost his father at age 7, he was entrusted by his mother to the care of the Conventual friars of the city. A few years later, however, he moved with his mother to Venice, and precisely in the Veneto he met the Capuchins, who at that time gave themselves generously to the service of the entire Church, to enhance the great spiritual reform promoted by the Council of Trent.

In 1575, Lawrence made his religious profession, becoming a Capuchin friar, and in 1582 he was ordained a priest. Already during his ecclesiastical studies he showed the eminent intellectual qualities with which he was gifted. He easily learned ancient languages, such as Greek, Hebrew and Syriac, and modern ones, such as French and German, which were added to his knowledge of the Italian language and Latin, once spoken fluently by all ecclesiastics and men of culture.

Thanks to his command of so many languages, Lawrence was able to carry out an intense apostolate for various categories of people. An effective preacher, he thoroughly knew not only the Bible but also rabbinical literature, such that rabbis themselves were amazed and admiring, manifesting to him their esteem and respect. A theologian versed in sacred Scripture and the fathers of the Church, he was also able to illustrate in an exemplary way the Catholic doctrine to Christians who, above all in Germany, had followed the Reformation. With his clear and quiet exposition he showed the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of the faith called into question by Martin Luther. Among these, the primacy of St. Peter and his Successors, the divine origin of the episcopate, justification as man's interior transformation, the need of good works for salvation. The success that Lawrence enjoyed helps us to understand that also today, in carrying forward ecumenical dialogue with so much hope, the confrontation with sacred Scripture, read in the Tradition of the Church, is an irreplaceable element of fundamental importance, as I wished to recall in the apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini" (No. 46).

Even the simplest among the faithful, those not gifted with great culture, were benefited by the convincing word of Lawrence, who addressed humble people to call them all back to a coherence of their lives with the faith they professed. This was a great merit of the Capuchins and of other religious orders that in the 16th and 17th centuries contributed to the renewal of Christian life, penetrating society profoundly with their testimony of life and their teaching. Also today the new evangelization needs well-prepared, zealous and courageous apostles, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel will prevail over the cultural orientations of ethical relativism and religious indifference, and transform various ways of thinking and of acting into a genuine Christian humanism. It is amazing that St. Lawrence of Brindisi was able to carry out uninterruptedly his activity as an esteemed and tireless preacher in many cities of Italy and in several countries, despite carrying out other onerous tasks of great responsibility. Within the Order of Capuchins, in fact, he was a professor of theology, master of novices, several times provincial minister and counselor-general, and finally minister-general from 1602 to 1605.

Amid so many endeavors, Lawrence cultivated a spiritual life of exceptional fervor, dedicating much time to prayer and in a special way to the celebration of Holy Mass, which often took hours, penetrating and being moved by the memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.

In the school of the saints, every presbyter -- as was often stressed during the recent Year for Priests -- can avoid the danger of activism, that is, of acting while forgetting the profound motivations of the ministry, only if he takes care of his interior life. Speaking to priests and seminarians in the cathedral of Brindisi, the city of St. Lawrence's birth, I recalled that "the time he spends in prayer is the most important time in a priest's life, in which divine grace acts with greater effectiveness, making his ministry fruitful. The first service to render to the community is prayer. And therefore, time for prayer must be given a true priority in our life. If we are not interiorly in communion with God we cannot even give anything to others. Therefore, God is the first priority. We must always reserve the time necessary to be in communion of prayer with our Lord."

With the unmistakable ardor of his style, Lawrence moreover exhorted everyone, not just priests, to cultivate the life of prayer because through it we speak to God and God speaks to us. "O, if we only considered this reality!" he exclaimed. "Namely that God is really present to us when we speak to him by praying; that he really listens to our prayer, even if we only pray with the heart and mind. And that not only is he present and listens to us, but that he can and desires to willingly comply, and with the greatest pleasure, to our requests."

Another trait that characterizes the work of this son of St. Francis was his work for peace. Both Supreme Pontiffs and Catholic princes repeatedly entrusted to him important diplomatic missions to settle controversies and foster concord between the European states, threatened at the time by the Ottoman Empire. The moral authority that he enjoyed made him a sought after and listened to counselor. Today, as in the times of St. Lawrence, the world is in such great need of peace, in need of peaceful and pacifying men and women. All those who believe in God must always be sources and agents of peace. It was precisely during one of these diplomatic missions that Lawrence concluded his earthly life in 1619 in Lisbon, where he had gone to the king of Spain, Philip II, to plead the cause of the Neapolitan subjects oppressed by the local authorities.

He was canonized in 1881 and, because of his vigorous and intense activity, his vast and harmonious learning, he merited the title of Doctor Apostolicus, "Apostolic Doctor," from Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1959, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of his birth. This recognition was accorded to Lawrence of Brindisi also because he was the author of numerous works of biblical exegesis, theology and writings designed for preaching. In these he gives an organic presentation of the history of salvation, centered on the mystery of the Incarnation, the greatest manifestation of divine love for men. Moreover, being a Mariologist of great value, and author of a collection of sermons on Our Lady entitled "Mariale," he made evident the unique role of the Virgin Mary. He affirmed with clarity the Immaculate Conception and her cooperation in the work of redemption carried out by Christ.

With fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also highlighted the Holy Spirit's action in the life of the believer. He reminds us that with His gifts the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illumines and aids our commitment to joyfully live the message of the Gospel. "The Holy Spirit," wrote St. Lawrence, "makes gentle the yoke of the divine law and its weight light, so that we observe the Commandments of God with great facility, even with pleasure."

I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St. Lawrence of Brindisi underscoring that all his activity was inspired in his great love for sacred Scripture, which he knew in great part by heart, and by the conviction that the listening and acceptance of the Word of God produces an interior transformation that leads us to holiness. "The Word of the Lord," he affirmed, "is light for the intellect and fire for the will, so that man can know and love God. For the interior man, who through grace lives from the Spirit of God, it is bread and water, but bread that is sweeter than honey and water that is better than wine and milk. ... It is a hammer against a hard heart obstinate in vices. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin."

St. Lawrence of Brindisi teaches us to love sacred Scripture, to grow in familiarity with it, to cultivate daily the relationship of friendship with the Lord in prayer, so that every action of ours, every activity will have its beginning and fulfillment in Him. This is the source from which to draw so that our Christian witness will be luminous and capable of leading the men of our time to God.


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today focuses on Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin friar of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries known for his vigorous labour for the salvation of souls, his vast learning and his eloquent preaching. Coming of age at a time when many of the articles of the faith were being called into question, Saint Lawrence applied his immense talents to making clear the biblical and patristic foundations of the teachings of the Church. This son of the Franciscan tradition also applied himself heroically to efforts towards peace and reconciliation between the nations and peoples of Europe. His witness serves as an excellent example for our age, so fraught with violence, ethical relativism and religious indifference. The new evangelization needs well-prepared, zealous and courageous apostles like Saint Lawrence so that the light and beauty of the Gospel may reach into the depths of every human heart. Dear friends, in order to achieve such a lofty vocation, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi would have us grow close to our lord Jesus Christ by reading the Sacred Scriptures and by cultivating daily the relationship of love with him in personal prayer, because every good action of ours has its beginning and its end in him.

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On St. Francis de Sales
"A Teacher Who Gave to His Disciples the 'Spirit of Liberty'"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience, held in Paul VI Hall. In his Italian-language address, the Pope focused his meditation on the figure of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), bishop of Geneva and doctor of the Church.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Dieu est le Dieu du coeur humain" [God is the God of the human heart] ("Treatise on the Love of God," I, XV): In these seemingly simple words we see the essence of a great teacher's spirituality, St. Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church, of whom I would like to speak to you today.

Born in 1567, in a French border region, he was the son of the Lord of Boisy, from an ancient and noble family of Savoy. Living across the span of two centuries, the 16th and 17th, he brought together the best of the teachings and cultural conquests of the century that was ending, joining a heritage of humanism with mysticism's longing for the absolute. His formation was quite complete: He did his higher studies in Paris, dedicating himself to theology as well, and at the University of Padua, he studied jurisprudence as his father wished, finishing brilliantly with a degree in utroque iure, canon law and civil law.

During his tranquil youth, while reflecting on the thought of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he had a profound crisis that drove him to question his eternal salvation and God's predestination in his respect, thus suffering as a true spiritual drama what were the principal theological questions of his time.

He prayed intensely, but doubt tormented him so strongly that for some weeks he could scarcely eat or sleep. At the height of this trial, he went to the church of the Dominicans in Paris, opened his heart and prayed thus: "No matter what happens, Lord, you who have everything in hand, and whose ways are justice and truth, whatever you have established in my regard ... you who are always a just judge and merciful Father, I will love you, Lord [...] I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy, and I will always repeat your praise ... O Lord Jesus, you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living" (I Proc. Canon., vol I, art 4).

The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating reality of the love of God: to love him without asking anything in return and to trust in his divine love; not to ask any longer what God will do with me: I will simply love him, regardless of what he does or does not give me. Thus he found peace, and the question of predestination -- which was being discussed at that time -- was resolved, because he no longer sought what he could have from God; he simply loved him, abandoned himself to his goodness. And this would be the secret of his life, which would shine in his principal work, "Treatise on the Love of God."

Overcoming his father's resistance, Francis followed the Lord's call and on Dec. 18, 1593, was ordained a priest. In 1602 he became bishop of Geneva, at a time when the city was the stronghold of Calvinism, so much so that the episcopal see was "in exile" in Annecy. As pastor of a poor and tormented diocese, in a mountainous landscape in which he knew well both its harshness and beauty, he wrote: "I found [God] full of sweetness and gentleness among our highest and roughest mountains, where many simple souls loved and adored him in all truth and sincerity; and deer and chamois ran here and there among the frightening frost to proclaim his praises" (Letter to the Mother of Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, Mackey publishers, T. XIII, o. 223).

And yet the influence of his life and of his teaching on the Europe of that time and of the following centuries was immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and prayer; committed to carrying out the ideals of the Council of Trent; involved in controversy and dialogue with Protestants, experiencing more and more more the efficacy of personal relationships and of charity, beyond a necessary theological confrontation. He was charged with diplomatic missions at the European level, and with social tasks of mediation and reconciliation.

However, above all, St. Francis de Sales was a guide of souls: from his meeting with a young woman, Mrs. de Charmoisy, he got the idea to write one of the most well-read books in the modern age, "Introduction to the Devout Life." From his profound spiritual communion with an exceptional personality, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, a new religious family was born, the Order of the Visitation, characterized -- as the saint wished -- by total consecration to God lived in simplicity and humility, in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well: "... I want my Daughters -- he wrote -- to have no ideal other than that of glorifying [Our Lord] with their humility" (Letter to Monsignor de Marquemond, June 1615). He died in 1622, at 55 years of age, after an existence marked by the harshness of the times and apostolic toil.

St. Francis' life was relatively brief, but lived with great intensity. An impression of rare fulfillment emanates from this saint, demonstrated in the serenity of his intellectual research, but also in the richness of his affections, and in the "gentleness" of his teachings, which have had great influence on the Christian conscience. He embodied several meanings of the word "humanity," which, today as yesterday, can denote culture and courtesy, liberty and tenderness, nobility and solidarity. His appearance had something of the majesty of the landscape in which he lived, also preserving simplicity and naturalness. The old words and the images with which he expressed himself surprisingly sound like a native and familiar language to people's ear even today.

To Philotea, the fictional recipient of his "Introduction to the Devout Life" (1607), Francis de Sales addressed an invitation that might have seemed at the time revolutionary. It is the invitation to belong completely to God, living his presence in the world and the tasks of one's state in fullness. "My intention is to instruct those who live in the city, in the conjugal state, in the courts [...]" (Preface to "Introduction to the Devout Life"). The document with which Pope Leo XIII, more than two centuries later, would proclaim him doctor of the Church insisted on this extension of the call to perfection, to sanctity. He wrote there: "[true piety] has penetrated to the throne of the king, in the tents of army heads, in the praetorium of judges, in offices, in shops and even in shepherds' huts [...]" (Brief "Dives in misericordia," Nov. 16, 1877).

Thus was born the appeal to the laity, that care to consecrate temporal things and sanctify the every day, on which the Second Vatican Council and the spirituality of our time insist.

He spoke of the ideal of a reconciled humanity, harmony between action in the world and prayer, between the secular state and the pursuit of perfection, with the help of God's grace, which permeates the human and, without destroying it, purifies it, raising it to the divine heights. To Theotimus, the adult, spiritually mature Christian to whom he would address a few years later his "Treatise on the Love of God" (1616), St. Francis de Sales gives a more complex lesson. It supposes at the beginning a precise vision of the human being, an anthropology: man's "reason," in fact the "reasonable soul," was seen as a harmonious structure, a temple articulated in more spaces around a center, which, together with the great mystics, he called the "summit," the "point" of the spirit, or the depths of the soul. It is the point in which reason, having passed through all its degrees, "closes its eyes" and knowledge becomes altogether one with love (cf. Book I, Chapter XII). The fact that love, in its theological, divine dimension is the reason for being of all things, in an ascending ladder that does not seem to know fractures or abysses, St. Francis de Sales resumed in a famous phrase: "Man is the perfection of the universe; the spirit is man's perfection; love is the perfection of the spirit, and charity is the perfection of love" (ibid., Book X, Chapter I).

In an epoch of intense mystical flowering, the "Treatise on the Love of God" was a true and proper summa, as well as a fascinating literary work. His description of the itinerary toward God starts from the recognition of the "natural inclination" (ibid., Book I, Chapter XVI) inscribed in man's heart to love God above all things, despite being a sinner. Following the model of sacred Scripture, St. Francis de Sales speaks of the union between God and man by developing a whole series of images of interpersonal relationships. His God is Father and Lord, spouse and friend; he has maternal and nursing characteristics. He is the sun of which even the night is a mysterious revelation. Such a God draws man to himself with bonds of love, that is of true liberty: "because love does not force or have slaves, but reduces everything under its obedience with such a delicious force that, if nothing is as strong as love, nothing is as lovable as his force" (Book I, Chapter VI). We find in our saint's "Treatise" a profound meditation on the human will and the description of its flowing, passing, dying, to live (cf. Ibid., Book IX, Chapter XIII) in complete abandonment not only to the will of God, but to what pleases him, to his "bon plaisir," to his approval (cf. Ibid., Book IX, Chapter I). At the summit of union with God, in addition to the raptures of contemplative ecstasies, is placed the reappearance of concrete charity, which is attentive to all the needs of others and which he calls "ecstasies of life and works" (Ibid., Book VII, chapter VI).

Reading the book on the love of God and even more so the many letters of direction and of spiritual friendship, one perceives what an expert St. Francis de Sales was on the human heart. To St. Jane of Chantal, he wrote: "[...] Here is the general rule of our obedience, written in capital letters: DO ALL THROUGH LOVE, NOTHING THROUGH CONSTRAINT; LOVE OBEDIENCE MORE THAN YOU FEAR DISOBEDIENCE. I want you to have the spirit of liberty, not the kind that excludes obedience -- this is freedom of the flesh -- but the liberty that excludes constraint, anxiety and scruples" (Letter of Oct. 14, 1604). Not for nothing, at the origin of many paths of pedagogy and spirituality of our time we rediscover the stamp of this teacher, without whom there would be no St. John Bosco or the heroic "little way" of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks liberty, even with violence and disturbance, the timelines of this great teacher of spirituality and peace should not be missed, a teacher who gave to his disciples the "spirit of liberty," the true one, as the culmination of his fascinating and complete teaching on the reality of love. St. Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his accessible style, with words that at times have the touch of poetry, he reminds that man bears inscribed in his deepest self nostalgia for God and that only in him is found his true joy and most complete fulfillment.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today deals with Saint Francis de Sales, an outstanding Bishop and master of the spiritual life in the period following the Council of Trent. After a powerful experience of God's liberating love in his youth, Saint Francis became a priest and then Bishop of Geneva, at that time a stronghold of Calvinism. His fine education, his personal gifts of charity, serenity and openness to dialogue, together with his brilliance as a spiritual guide, made Francis a leading figure of his age. His spiritual writings include the celebrated Introduction to the Devout Life, which insists that all Christians are called to perfection in their proper state of life, foreshadowing the insistence of the Second Vatican Council on the universal call to holiness. His Treatise on the Love of God develops this teaching, stressing that we find ourselves and our true freedom in the love of God. The Christian humanism of Saint Francis de Sales has lost none of its relevance today. May this great Saint and Doctor of the Church guide us in the pursuit of holiness and help us to find our fulfillment in the joy and freedom born of the love of God.

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On St. Robert Bellarmine
"The End of Our Life Is the Lord"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience, held in Paul VI Hall. In his Italian-language address, the Pope focused his meditation on the figure of a Jesuit saint, Robert Bellarmine, cardinal, bishop and doctor of the Church (1542-1621).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

St. Robert Bellarmine, about whom I would like to speak to you today, carries our memories to the time of the painful division of Western Christianity, when a serious political and religious crisis caused the severance of whole nations from the Apostolic See.

Born Oct. 4, 1542, in Montepulciano, near Siena, he was the nephew, on his mother's side, of Pope Marcellus II. He had an excellent formation in the humanities before entering the Society of Jesus on Sept. 20, 1560. His studies in philosophy and theology, which he carried out between the Roman College, Padua and Leuven, centered on St. Thomas and the fathers of the Church, and were decisive for his theological orientation. He was ordained a priest on March 25, 1570, and was for a few years a professor of theology at Leuven.

Subsequently, called to Rome as professor at the Roman College, he was entrusted with the chair of "Apologetics"; during the decade that he had this office (1576-1586), he prepared a course of lessons that came together later in the "Controversiae." This work became famous immediately because of the clarity and richness of the contents and because of a primarily historical style. The Council of Trent had recently ended and for the Catholic Church it was necessary to strengthen and confirm her identity in regard to the Protestant Reformation. Bellarmine's activity comes within this context. From 1588 to 1594 he was first spiritual father of the Jesuit students of the Roman College -- among whom he met and directed St. Aloysius Gonzaga -- and then religious superior. Pope Clement VIII appointed him papal theologian, consultor of the Holy Office and rector of the College of Penitentiaries of St. Peter's Basilica. In the two-year period of 1597-1598 his catechism was published, the brief "Christian Doctrine," which was his most popular work.

On March 3, 1599, he was created cardinal by Pope Clement VIII and, on March 18, 1602, he was appointed archbishop of Capua. He received episcopal ordination on April 21 of the same year. In the three years in which he was a diocesan bishop, he was distinguished for his zeal as a preacher in his cathedral, for the weekly visits he made to parishes, for three diocesan synods and for a provincial council that he motivated. After having participated in the conclaves that elected Popes Leo XI and Paul V, he was recalled to Rome, where he was a member of the Congregations of the Holy Office, of the Index, of Rites, of Bishops and of the Propagation of the Faith. He also had diplomatic tasks in the Republic of Venice and England, to defend the rights of the Apostolic See. In his last years he composed several books on spirituality, in which he condensed the fruit of his annual spiritual exercises. Reading these, the Christian people draw again today great edification. He died in Rome on Sept. 17, 1621. Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1923, canonized him in 1930 and proclaimed him a doctor of the Church in 1931.

St. Robert Bellarmine played an important role in the Church of the last decades of the 16th century and the early years of the next century. His "Controversiae" was a point of reference -- that is still valid -- for Catholic ecclesiology on questions regarding revelation, the nature of the Church, the sacraments and theological anthropology. There, the institutional aspect of the Church is highlighted because of the errors that circulated then on such questions. However, Bellarmine also clarified the invisible aspects of the Church as Mystical Body and he illustrated this with the analogy of the body and the soul, in order to describe the relationship between the interior riches of the Church and the external aspects that render her perceptible. In this monumental work, which attempts to synthesize the various theological controversies of the time, he avoids every controversial and aggressive style in confronting the ideas of the Reformation, and, using the arguments of reason and Church Tradition, illustrates Catholic doctrine in a clear and effective way.

However, his legacy is found in the way in which he conceived his work. Onerous government posts did not impede him, in fact, from daily striving for holiness with fidelity to the demands of his state as a religious, priest and bishop. His commitment to preaching derived from this fidelity. Being, as a priest and bishop, first of all a pastor of souls, he felt the duty to preach assiduously. There are hundreds of his sermons -- homilies given in the Fiandre, in Rome, in Naples and in Capua on the occasion of liturgical celebrations. Not less abundant are his expositions and explanations for parish priests, women religious and students of the Roman College, which often centered on sacred Scripture, especially the Letters of St. Paul. His preaching and his catecheses have that characteristic of simplicity that he gleaned from his Ignatian education, all directed at concentrating the strength of the soul on the Lord Jesus, deeply known, loved and imitated.

In the writings of this man of government one sees very clearly, even in the reserve with which he concealed his sentiments, the primacy that he assigns to the teachings of Christ. St. Bellarmine thus offers a model of prayer, the soul of every activity: a prayer that listens to the Word of the Lord, is fulfilled in contemplating grandeur, does not withdraw into itself, finds joy in abandonment to God.

A distinctive sign of Bellarmine's spirituality is the lively and personal perception of the immense goodness of God, by which our saint felt that he was truly a beloved son of God and which was a source of great joy in recollecting himself, with serenity and simplicity, in prayer, in contemplation of God. In his book "De Ascensione Mentis in Deum" (The Mind's Ascent to God), composed following the structure of St. Bonaventure's "Itinerarium," he exclaims: "O soul, your exemplar is God, infinite beauty, light without shadow, splendor that surpasses that of the moon and the sun. Raise your eyes to God in whom are found the archetypes of all things, and of whom, as from a source of infinite fecundity, derives this almost infinite variety of things. Hence you must conclude: Whoever finds God finds everything, whoever loses God loses everything."

In this text one hears the echo of the famous "contemplatio ad amorem obtineundum" -- contemplation to obtain love -- from the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Bellarmine, who lived in the ostentatious and often unhealthy society of the end of the 1500s and the beginning of the 1600s, drew practical applications from this contemplation and projected forward the situation of the Church of his time with lively pastoral inspiration. In the book "De Arte Bene Moriendi" (The Art of Dying Well), for example, he indicates as a sure norm of good living and also of good dying, the frequent and serious meditation on the fact that one will have to render an account to God for one's actions and way of living, and to seek not to accumulate riches on this earth, but to live simply and with charity in order to accumulate goods in Heaven. In the book "De Gemitu Columbae," (The Mournful Cry of the Dove) -- where the dove represents the Church -- he calls the clergy and all the faithful to a personal and concrete reform of their life following what Scripture and the saints teach, among whom he mentions in particular St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome and St. Augustine, in addition to the great founders of religious orders such as St. Benedict, St. Dominic and St. Francis. Bellarmine teaches with great clarity and with the example of his own life that there cannot be a true reform of the Church if there is not first our personal reform and the conversion of our hearts.

From the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, Bellarmine drew counsels to communicate in a profound way, even to the most simple, the beauty of the mysteries of the faith. He wrote: "If you have wisdom, understand that you were created for the glory of God and for your eternal salvation. This is your end, this is the center of your soul, this is the treasure of your heart. Because of this, esteem as truly good for yourself that which leads you to your end, and as truly evil what makes you lack it. Prosperous or adverse events, riches and poverty, health and sickness, honors and insults, life and death -- the wise man must never seek or flee from them for himself. But they are good and desirable only if they contribute to the glory of God and to your eternal happiness, they are bad and to be fled from if they impede it" ("De Ascensione Mentis in Deum").

These, obviously, are not words that have gone out of style, but words for us to meditate upon today at length in order to orient our journey on this earth. They remind us that the end of our life is the Lord, the God that revealed himself in Jesus Christ, in whom he continues to call us and to promise us communion with him. They remind us of the importance of trusting in the Lord, of spending oneself in a life faithful to the Gospel, of accepting and enlightening every circumstance and every activity of life with faith and with prayer, always tending to union with him. Thank you.


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today deals with Saint Robert Bellarmine, the great Jesuit theologian and Doctor of the Church. In the period following the Council of Trent, Saint Robert taught theology, first at Louvain and then in the Roman College. His most famous work, the Controversiae, sought to address the issues raised by Protestant theology from a serene historical and theological perspective, while his most popular work remained his brief catechism of Christian doctrine. He also served as spiritual father to the Jesuit students of the Roman College, including Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. Saint Robert was created Cardinal by Pope Clement VIII, and made Archbishop of Capua, where he spent three years in preaching and pastoral activity before being recalled to Rome and the service of the Holy See. In his later years, he composed a number of works of spirituality which reflect his deep Ignatian formation, with its stress on meditation on the mysteries of Christ and the loving imitation of the Lord. May the example of Saint Robert Bellarmine inspire us to integrate our work and our pursuit of Christian holiness, to grow in closeness to God through prayer, and to contribute to the Church's renewal through our own inner conversion to the Lord and the truth of his word.

Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On St. John of the Cross
"If a Man Has a Great Love Within … He Endures Life’s Problems More Easily"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall. In his Italian-language address, the Pope centered his meditation on the figure of St. John of the Cross, priest of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and doctor of the Church (1542-1591).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Two weeks ago I presented the figure of the great Spanish mystic Teresa of Jesus. Today I would like to speak about another important saint of that land, a spiritual friend of St. Teresa, a reformer, and like St. Teresa, a member of the Carmelite religious family: St John of the Cross, proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926, and who is traditionally referred to as Doctor Mysticus, "Mystical Doctor."

John of the Cross was born in 1542 in small village of Fontiveros, near Avila, in Castilla la Vieja, son of Gonzalo de Yepes and Catalina Álvarez. The family was very poor because the father, of noble birth from Toledo, was expelled from his home and disinherited for having married Catalina, a humble silk weaver. John's father died when the youth was very young, and at nine years old, John went with his mother and brother Francisco to Medina del Campo, near Valladolid, a commercial and cultural center. Here he attended the "Colegio de los Doctrinos," also carrying out humble works for the nuns of the church-convent of Magdalen.

Subsequently, given his human qualities and the results of his studies, he was admitted first as nurse in the Hospital of the Conception and later in the College of the Jesuits, just founded in Medina del Campo. John entered it at 18 and studied social sciences, rhetoric and classical languages for three years. At the end of his formation, his vocation was very clear to him: the religious life and, among the many orders present in Medina, he felt called to the Carmel.

In the summer of 1563 he began his novitiate among the Carmelites of the city, taking the religious name of Matthew. The following year he was sent to the prestigious University of Salamanca, where he studied Philosophy and Arts for three years. In 1567, he was ordained priest and returned to Medina del Campo to celebrate his first Mass surrounded by the affection of his family.

It was precisely here that the first meeting took place between John and Teresa of Jesus. The meeting was decisive for both: Teresa set forth her plan for the reform of Carmel also in the masculine branch, and suggested that John adhere to it "for the greater glory of God." The young priest was fascinated by Teresa's ideas, to the point of becoming a great supporter of the project. They both worked together for some months, sharing ideals and proposals to open as soon as possible the first house of Discalced Carmelites. The opening took place on Dec. 28, 1568, in Duruelo, a solitary place in the province of Avila.

With John, the first masculine community was formed with three other companions. On renewing their religious profession according to the Primitive Rule, the four adopted new names: John then called himself "of the Cross," the name with which he would later be known universally. At the end of 1572, at the request of St. Teresa, he became confessor and vicar of the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, where the saint was prioress. They were years of close collaboration and spiritual friendship, which enriched them both. During that period were written the most important Teresian works and John's first writings.

Adherence to the Carmelite reform was not easy, and it even resulted in grave suffering for John. The most dramatic incident was his seizure and imprisonment in 1577 in the convent of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance of Toledo, which was the result of an unjust accusation. The saint remained in prison for six months, subjected to privations and physical and moral constraints. Here he composed, along with other poems, the famous "Spiritual Canticle." Finally, on the night of Aug. 16-17, 1578, he was able to escape in a hazardous way, taking refuge in the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites of the city. St. Teresa and his companions celebrated his liberation with great joy and, after a brief time to regain his strength, John was sent to Andalucia, where he spent 10 years in several convents, especially in Granada. He took on increasingly important posts in the order, eventually becoming provincial vicar, and completed the writing of his spiritual treatises.

Then he returned to the land of his birth, as a member of the general government of the Teresian religious family, which now enjoyed full juridical autonomy. He lived in the Carmel of Segovia, carrying out the office of superior of that community. In 1591, he was relieved of all responsibility and destined to the new religious Province of Mexico. While preparing for the long journey with 10 companions, he retired to a solitary convent near Jaen, where he became seriously ill.

John faced with exemplary serenity and patience enormous sufferings. He died on the night of Dec. 13-14, 1591, while his brothers recited the Morning Office. He took leave of them saying: "Today I am going to sing the Office in Heaven." His mortal remains were taken to Segovia. He was beatified by Clement X in 1675, and canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726.

John is considered one of the most important lyric poets of Spanish literature. His most important works are four: "Ascent of Mount Carmel," "Dark Night of the Soul," "Spiritual Canticle," "Living Flame of Love."

In the "Spiritual Canticle," St. John presents the path of purification of the soul, that is, the progressive joyful possession of God until the soul feels that it loves God with the same love that it is loved by him.

The "Living Flame of Love" continues in this perspective, describing in greater detail the transforming union with God. The example used by John is always that of fire: as the fire burns and consumes the wood, it becomes incandescent flame, so also the Holy Spirit, who during the dark night purifies and "cleanses" the soul, then in time illumines and warms it as if it were a flame. The life of the soul is a continuous celebration of the Holy Spirit, that enables one to perceive the glory of the union with God in eternity.

The "Ascent of Mount Carmel" presents the spiritual itinerary from the point of view of the progressive purification of the soul, necessary to ascend to the summit of Christian perfection, symbolized by the summit of Mount Carmel. This purification is proposed as a journey that man undertakes, collaborating with divine action to free the soul from all attachment or affection contrary to the will of God. The purification, which to arrive at union of love with God must be total, begins with the way of the senses and continues with the one obtained through the three theological virtues -- faith, hope and charity -- the purification of intention, memory and will.

The "Dark Night" describes the "passive" aspect, that is, God's intervention in the process of "purification" of the soul. On its own, in fact, human effort is incapable of getting to the profound roots of the person's bad inclinations and habits: It can restrain them, but not uproot them totally. To do so, the special action of God is necessary, which purifies the spirit radically and disposes it to the union of love with him. St. John describes this purification as "passive" precisely because, though accepted by the soul, it is realized by the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit who, as a flame of fire, consumes every impurity. In this state, the soul is subjected to all types of trials, as if it were in a dark night.

These indications on the saint's principal works help us to approach the outstanding points of his vast and profound mystical doctrine, whose objective is to describe a sure way to arrive at sanctity, the state of perfection to which God calls us all. According to John of the Cross, everything that exists, created by God, is good. Through creatures, we can come to the discovery of the One who has left his imprint on them. Faith, however, is the only source given to man to know God exactly as he is in himself, as God One and Triune. All that God willed to communicate to man he said in Jesus Christ, his Word made flesh. He, Jesus Christ, is the only and definitive way to the Father (cf. John 14:6). Anything created is nothing compared with God, and nothing is true outside of him. Consequently, to come to perfect love of God, every other love must be conformed in Christ to divine love.

This is where John of the Cross derives his insistence on the need for purification and interior emptying in order to be transformed in God, which is the sole end of perfection. This "purification" does not consist in the simple physical lack of things or of their use. What the pure and free soul does, instead, is to eliminate every disordered dependence on things. Everything must be placed in God as center and end of life. The long and difficult process of purification exacts personal effort, but the true protagonist is God: all that man can do is to "dispose" himself, to be open to the divine action and not place obstacles in its way.

Living the theological virtues, man is elevated and gives value to his own effort. The rhythm of growth of faith, hope and charity goes in step with the work of purification and with progressive union with God until one is transformed in him. When one arrives at this end, the soul is submerged in the very Trinitarian life, such that St. John affirms that the soul is able to love God with the same love with which he loves it, because he loves it in the Holy Spirit. This is why the Mystical Doctor holds that there is no true union of love with God if it does not culminate in the Trinitarian union. In this supreme state the holy soul knows everything in God and no longer has to go through creatures to come to him. The soul now feels inundated by divine love and is completely joyful in it.

Dear brothers and sisters, in the end the question remains: Does this saint with his lofty mysticism, with this arduous way to the summit of perfection, have something to say to us, to the ordinary Christian who lives in the circumstances of today's life, or is he only an example, a model for a few chosen souls who can really undertake this way of purification, of mystical ascent? To find the answer we must first of all keep present that the life of St. John of the Cross was not a "flight through mystical clouds," but was a very hard life, very practical and concrete, both as reformer of the order, where he met with much opposition, as well as provincial superior, as in the prison of his brothers of religion, where he was exposed to incredible insults and bad physical treatment. It was a hard life but, precisely in the months spent in prison, he wrote one of his most beautiful works. And thus we are able to understand that the way with Christ, the going with Christ, "the Way," is not a weight added to the already sufficient burden, but something completely different, it is a light, a strength that helps us carry this burden.

If a man has a great love within him, it's as if this love gives him wings, and he endures life's problems more easily, because he has in himself that light, which is faith: to be loved by God and to let oneself be loved by God in Christ Jesus. This act of allowing oneself to be loved is the light that helps us to carry our daily burden. And holiness is not our work, our difficult work, but rather it is precisely this "openness": Open the windows of the soul so that the light of God can enter, do not forget God because it is precisely in opening oneself to his light that strength is found, as well as the joy of the redeemed. Let us pray to the Lord so that he will help us to find this sanctity, to allow ourselves to be loved by God, which is the vocation of us all, as well as being true redemption. Thank you.


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In today's catechesis, we discuss the sixteenth-century Spanish Carmelite mystic, Saint John of the Cross. John was born into a poor family. As a young man he entered the Carmelites and was ordained priest. Soon afterwards, he met Teresa of Avila in what was a decisive encounter for them both, as they discerned plans for reforming the Carmelite Order. He became confessor in Teresa's monastery, and together they developed a rich articulation of the workings of the Lord upon the soul in the spiritual life. Despite persecution and misunderstanding from within his own Order, John produced some of the most illuminating and insightful treatises in all of Western spirituality. His four major writings are The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love. One of the themes much developed by John was that of the purification of the soul: by means of created things, we can discover traces of the living God in this world. Faith, however, is the unique means by which we can come to know God as he is in himself. The demanding process of purification, at times active and at others passive, requires our determined effort, but it is God who is the real centre; all man can do is dispose himself and humble himself before the loving work of God in the soul. In this sense, John is for us a model of humble dedication and of faithful perseverance on the road to spiritual maturity.

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those students from Saint Benedict's School, Saint Aloysius College, Saint Patrick's Grammar School, and students and parishioners from the United States. Upon you all, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!

Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On St. Peter Canisius
"He Formed People's Faith for Centuries"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 9, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall. In his Italian-language address, the Pope centered his reflection on the figure of St. Peter Canisius, doctor of the Church (1521-1597).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak to you about St. Peter Kanis, Canisius in the Latin form of his surname, a very important figure in the Catholic 1500s. He was born on May 8, 1521, in Nijmegen, Holland. His father was burgomaster of the city. While he was a student at the University of Cologne, he often visited the Carthusian monks of St. Barbara -- a propelling center of Catholic life -- and other pious men who cultivated the spirituality of the so-called modern devotion. He entered the Society of Jesus on May 8, 1543, in Mainz (Rhineland-Palatinate), after having followed a course of spiritual exercises under the guidance of Blessed Peter Faber, Petrus Faber, one of the first companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was ordained a priest in June 1546 in Cologne and the very following year, he attended the Council of Trent as a theologian with the bishop of Augusta, Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, where he collaborated with two confreres, Diego Laínez and Alfonso Salmerón.

In 1548, St. Ignatius sent him to complete his spiritual formation in Rome and then sent him to the College of Messina to exercise himself in humble domestic services. He obtained a doctorate in theology in Bologna, on Oct. 4 he was assigned by St. Ignatius to the apostolate in Germany. On Sept. 2 of that year, 1549, he visited Pope Paul III in Castel Gandolfo and then he went to St. Peter's Basilica to pray. Here he implored the help of the great Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to give permanent efficacy to the Apostolic Blessing for his important destiny, his new mission. He wrote in his diary some words of this prayer. He said: "There I felt that a great consolation and the presence of grace were granted to me through these intercessors [Peter and Paul]. They confirmed my mission in Germany, and they seemed to transmit to me, as apostle of Germany, the support of their benevolence. You know, Lord, in how many ways and how many times on that same day you entrusted Germany to me, which I would later care for, and for which I desire to live and die."

We must keep in mind that we find ourselves in the time of the Lutheran Reformation, at the moment in which the Catholic faith in German-speaking countries, in face of the fascination of the Reformation, seemed to be fading away. The task entrusted to Canisius was almost impossible, as he was charged with revitalizing, with renewing the Catholic faith in Germanic countries. It was possible only in the strength of prayer. It was possible only from the center, that is, from a profound personal friendship with Jesus Christ; friendship with Christ in his Body, the Church, which is nourished by the Eucharist, his real presence.

Following the mission received from Ignatius and from Pope Paul III, Canisius left for Germany and went first to the duchy of Bavaria, which for several years was the place of his ministry. As dean, rector and vice chancellor of the University of Ingolstadt, he looked after the academic life of the institute and the religious and moral reform of the people. In Vienna, where for a brief time he was administrator of the diocese, he carried out his pastoral ministry in hospitals and prisons, both in the city and the countryside, and he prepared the publication of his catechism. In 1556 he founded the College of Prague and, until 1569, was the first superior of the Jesuit province of Upper Germany.

In this office, he established in Germanic countries a solid network of communities of his order, especially of colleges, which were starting points for the Catholic Reformation, for the renewal of the Catholic faith. At that time he also took part in the colloquium of Worms with Protestant leaders, among whom was Philipp Melanchthon (1557); he participated in the two Augusta Diets (1559 and 1565); he accompanied Cardinal Stanislaw Hozjusz, legate of Pope Pius IV to Emperor Ferdinand (1560); he intervened in the final session of the Council of Trent where he spoke on the question of Communion under both species and on the Index of Prohibited Books (1562).

In 1580 he went to Fribourg in Switzerland, wholly dedicated to preaching and the composition of his writings. He died there on Dec. 21, 1597. Beatified by Blessed Pius IX in 1864, in 1897 he was proclaimed the second apostle of Germany by Pope Leo XIII, and canonized and proclaimed doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925.

St. Peter Canisius spent a good part of his life in contact with the socially most important persons of his time and exercised a special influence with his writings. He was editor of the complete works of Cyril of Alexandria and of St. Leo the Great, of the Letters of St. Jerome and of the Prayers of St. Nicholas of Flue. He published devotional books in several languages, the biographies of some Swiss saints and many homiletic texts. However, his most widespread writings were the three catechisms composed between 1555 and 1558. The first catechism was addressed to students able to understand elementary notions of theology; the second to boys and girls of the people for an initial religious instruction; the third to adolescents with a scholastic formation at the level of middle and high school. Catholic doctrine was explained with questions and answers, briefly, in biblical terms, with much clarity and free of criticisms. In his lifetime alone there were a good 200 editions of this catechism! And hundreds of editions succeeded one another until the 1900s. Thus in Germany, still in my father's generation, people called the catechism simply the Canisius: He is really the catechist of the centuries; he formed people's faith for centuries.

This is a characteristic of St. Peter Canisius: to be able to harmoniously combine fidelity to dogmatic principles with respect due to every person. St. Canisius differentiated a knowing, culpable apostasy from a non-culpable loss of faith, in the circumstances. And he declared, before Rome, that the greater part of Germans who went over to Protestantism were without fault. At a historical moment of strong confessional oppositions, he avoided -- this is something extraordinary -- the harshness and rhetoric of anger of the time in discussions among Christians, something rare as I said -- and he looked only to the presentation of the spiritual roots and to the revitalization of the faith in the Church. His vast and penetrating knowledge of sacred Scripture and of the fathers of the Church served this cause: the same knowledge that supported his personal relationship with God and the austere spirituality that he derived from modern devotion and Rhenish mysticism.

Characteristic of St. Canisius' spirituality was a profound personal friendship with Jesus. For example, on Sept. 4, 1549, he wrote in his diary, speaking with the Lord: "In the end, as if you opened to me the heart of the Most Sacred Body, which it seemed to me I saw before me, you commanded me to drink from that source, inviting me, so to speak, to attain the waters of my salvation from your founts, O my Savior." And then he saw that the Savior gave him a garment with three parts that were called peace, love and perseverance. And with this garment made up of peace, love and perseverance, Canisius carried out his work of renewal of Catholicism. His friendship with Jesus -- which is the center of his personality -- nourished by love of the Bible, by love of the Sacrament, by love of the Fathers, this friendship was clearly united to the awareness of being a continuer of the mission of the Apostles in the Church. And this reminds us that every genuine evangelizer is always a united instrument with Jesus and the Church and, because of this, fruitful.

St. Peter Canisius was formed in his friendship with Jesus in the spiritual environment of the Carthusian monastery of Cologne, in which he was in close contact with two Carthusian mystics: Johann Lansperger, Latinized into Lanspergius, and Nicholas van Hesche, Latinized into Eschius. Subsequently he deepened the experience of that friendship, familiaritas stupenda nimis, with the contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus' life, which form a large part of St. Ignatius' spiritual exercises. His intense devotion to the Lord's Heart, which culminated in consecration to the apostolic ministry in the Vatican Basilica, has its foundation here.

Rooted in the Christocentric spirituality of St. Peter Canisius is a profound conviction: There is no soul solicitous of its own perfection that does not practice mental prayer every day, an ordinary means that permits the disciple of Jesus to live in intimacy with the divine Master. Because of this, in the writings destined to the spiritual education of the people, our saint insists on the importance of the liturgy with his comments on the Gospels, on feasts, on the rite of the holy Mass and on the sacraments but, at the same time, he is careful to show to the faithful the need and the beauty of personal daily prayer, which should support and permeate participation in the public worship of the Church.

This is an exhortation and a method which preserves their value intact, especially after they were proposed again authoritatively by the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium": Christian life does not grow if it is not nourished by participation in the liturgy, particularly in Sunday's holy Mass, and by personal daily prayer, by personal contact with God. Amid the thousands of activities and the many distractions that surround us, it is necessary to find moments of recollection before the Lord every day to listen to him and to speak with him.

At the same time, the example that St. Peter Canisius has left us, not only in his works, but above all with his life is always timely and of permanent value. He teaches clearly that the apostolic ministry is effective and produces fruits of salvation in hearts only if the preacher is a personal witness of Jesus and is able to be an instrument at his disposal, united closely to him by faith in his Gospel and in his Church, by a morally coherent life and incessant prayer as love. And this is true for every Christian who wishes to live his adherence to Christ with commitment and fidelity. Thank you.


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today's catechesis is on the life of Saint Peter Canisius. He was born in the Low Countries, and as a young man became one of the early followers of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Three years after his priestly ordination in Cologne, he laboured intensively for the religious and moral reform of the people as well as for the improvement of academic life in the University of Ingolstadt. He founded the College of Prague, and was named the first Superior of the Jesuit province in Southern Germany. From there he oversaw the Society's communities and colleges which quickly became major centres of Catholic reform. During this period, in the tumult of the Reformation, he took part in many civic and theological disputes. He published devotional literature as well as catechisms popular for their Biblically-inspired responses. Even in his later years in Fribourg, Switzerland, he remained extremely active, dedicating himself to writing and preaching. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed Peter Canisius the 'Second Apostle of Germany', and he was canonized and named Doctor of the church by Pope Pius XI. His significant contribution to catechesis is second only to the example for us of his disciplined Christ-centred spirituality, finding in the liturgy, daily prayer and devotion to the heart of Jesus the strength and inspiration to carry out well his innumerable tasks.

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Japan and Malaysia, students from Loyola University and the University of Saint Thomas, as well as students from the Highlands Institute and the Irish Institute in Rome. Upon all of you, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[He concluded in Italian:]

My thoughts turn finally to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, founder of the Somaschi, and of St. Josephine Bakhita, a daughter of Africa who became a daughter of the Church. May the courage of these faithful witnesses of Christ help you, dear young people, to open your heart to the heroism of holiness in every day existence. May it sustain you, dear sick, in persevering patiently to offer your prayer and your suffering for the whole Church. And may it give you, dear newlyweds, the courage to make your families communities of love, marked by Christian values.

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On St. Teresa of Avila
"She Presents Prayer as an Intimate Friendship With Christ"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall. He initiated a new cycle of catecheses on the doctors of the Church, beginning with "one of the highest examples of Christian spirituality of all time," St. Teresa of Avila.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the course of the catecheses that I dedicated to the fathers of the Church and to great figures of theologians and of women of the Middle Ages, I was able to reflect also on some men and women saints who have been proclaimed doctors of the Church for their eminent doctrine. Today I would like to initiate a brief series of meetings to complete this presentation of the doctors of the Church. And I begin with a saint who represents one of the highest examples of Christian spirituality of all times: St. Teresa of Avila (of Jesus).

Born in Avila, Spain, in 1515 with the name Teresa de Ahumada, in her autobiography she herself mentions some particulars of her childhood: birth from "virtuous and God-fearing parents" in a numerous family, with nine brothers and three sisters. While still a child, less than 9 years old, she read the lives of some martyrs that inspired her with the desire for martyrdom, so much so that she improvised a brief flight from home to die a martyr and go to heaven (cf. "Life," 1, 4): "I want to see God," said the little girl to her parents. Some years later, Teresa would speak of her childhood readings and affirmed that she discovered the truth, which she summarized in two fundamental principles: on one hand, "the fact that all that belongs to this word passes," on the other, that only God is "for ever, ever, ever" -- a theme that returns in the very famous poem "Let nothing disturb you / nothing affright you; / all things are passing . God is unchanging; / patience obtains everything; / he who possesses God / lacks nothing / God alone suffices!" Remaining orphaned of her mother at 12 years old, she asked the Virgin Most Holy to be her mother (cf. "Life," 1, 7).

If in her adolescence the reading of profane books led her to the distractions of a worldly life, her experience as a pupil of Augustinian nuns of St. Mary of Graces of Avila and the frequentation of spiritual books, especially classics of Franciscan spirituality, taught her recollection and prayer. At the age of 20, she entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation, still in Avila; in religious life she assumed the name Teresa of Jesus. Three years later, she became seriously ill, so much so that she was in a coma for four days, seemingly dead (cf. "Life," 5, 9). In the struggle against her illnesses the saint also saw the fight against weaknesses and resistance to God's call: "I wanted to live," she wrote, "because I understood well that I was not living, but I was fighting with a shadow of death, and I had no one to give me life, nor could I give it to myself, and he who could give it to me was right not to help me, given that so many times he had turned me toward him and I abandoned him" ("Life," 8, 2).

In 1543 she lost the closeness of relatives: her father died and all her brothers emigrated one after the other to America. In Lent of 1554, at 39 years of age, Teresa reached the culmination of her struggle against her weaknesses. The fortuitous discovery of the statue of "a very wounded Christ" marked her life profoundly (cf. "Life," 9). The saint, who in that period found profound consonance with the St. Augustine of the Confessions, describes in this way the decisive day of her mystical experience: "It happened ... that all of a sudden I had a sense of the presence of God, which in no way could I doubt was within me or that I was all absorbed in him" ("Life," 10, 1).

In a parallel manner to the maturation of her interiority, the saint began to develop concretely the ideal of the reform of the Carmelite Order: In 1562 she founded in Avila, with the support of the bishop of the city, Father Alvaro de Mendoza, the first reformed Carmel, and shortly after she also received the approval of the superior-general of the Order, Giovanni Battista Rossi. In subsequent years she continued the foundation of new Carmels, 17 in total. Her meeting with St. John of the Cross was essential; with him in 1568 she constituted the first convent of Discalced Carmelites in Duruelo, near Avila. In 1580 she obtained from Rome the establishment of an autonomous province for her reformed Carmelites, the starting point of the Religious Order of Discalced Carmelites.

Teresa finished her earthly life precisely while she was committed in the activity of foundation. In 1582, in fact, after having constituted the Carmel of Burgos and while she was on her way back to Avila, she died on the night of Oct. 15 in Alba de Tormes, repeating humbly two expressions: "In the end, I die a daughter of the Church" and "It is time now, my Spouse, that we see you." An existence consumed within Spain but often for the whole Church.

Beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized in 1622 by Gregory XV, she was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by the Servant of God Paul VI in 1970.

Teresa of Jesus did not have an academic formation, but she always treasured the teachings of theologians, men of letters and spiritual teachers. As a writer, she always held to what she had personally lived or seen in the experience of others (cf. Prologue to "The Way of Perfection"), namely, from experience. Teresa was able to enjoy relationships of friendship with many saints, in particular with St. John of the Cross. At the same time, she was nourished by reading the fathers of the Church, St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine.

Among her major works, the most notable is her autobiography, titled "Book of Life," which she called "Book of the Mercies of the Lord." Composed in the Carmel of Avila in 1565, it reviews her biographical and spiritual history, written, as Teresa herself affirms, to submit her soul to the discernment of St. John of Avila, "Teacher of the spiritual." The purpose was to point out the presence and the action of the merciful God in her life: Because of this, the work often returns to the dialogue of prayer with the Lord. It is fascinating reading because the saint not only recounts, but shows that she relives the profound experience of her relationship with God. In 1566, Teresa wrote "The Way of Perfection," which she called "Admonitions and Counsels that Teresa of Jesus Gives to her Nuns." The recipients were the 12 novices of the Carmel of St. Joseph of Avila. Teresa proposed to them an intense program of contemplative life at the service of the Church, the basis of which were the evangelical virtues and prayer. Among the most precious passages is the commentary on the Our Father, model of prayer.

The most famous mystical work of St. Teresa is "The Interior Castle," written in 1577, in her full maturity. It is a re-reading of her own spiritual journey and, at the same time, a codification of the possible development of Christian life toward its fullness, holiness, under the action of the Holy Spirit. Teresa refers to the structure of a castle with seven rooms, as an image of man's interiority, introducing, at the same time, the symbol of the silkworm that is reborn as a butterfly, to express the passage from the natural to the supernatural. The saint is inspired by sacred Scriptures, in particular the Canticle of Canticles, for the final symbol of "two Spouses," which allows us to describe, in the seventh room, the culmination of the Christian life in its four aspects: Trinitarian, Christological, anthropological and ecclesial.

Teresa dedicated the "Book of Foundations," written between 1573 and 1582, to her activity as founder of reformed Carmels, in which she speaks of the life of the nascent religious group. As in the autobiography, the account is intended to point out above all God's action in the work of the foundation of new convents.

It is not easy to summarize in a few words the profound and complex Teresian spirituality. I would like to mention some essential points. In the first place, St. Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life -- in particular, detachment from goods or evangelical poverty (and this concerns all of us); love for one another as the essential element of community and social life; humility as love of the truth; determination as fruit of Christian audacity; theological hope, which she describes as thirst for living water -- without forgetting the human virtues: affability, veracity, modesty, courtesy, joy, culture. In the second place, St. Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical personalities and intense listening to the Word of God. She felt in consonance above all with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with the Christ of the passion and with the Eucharistic Jesus.

The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, "means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent him whom we know loves us" ("Life," 8, 5). St. Teresa's idea coincides with the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas gives of theological charity, as "amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum," a type of friendship of man with God, who first offered his friendship to man; the initiative comes from God (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1). Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life: It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorization through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life. More than a pedagogy of prayer, St. Teresa's is a true "mystagogy": She teaches the reader of her works to pray while praying herself with him; frequently, in fact, she interrupts the account or exposition to burst out in a prayer.

Another topic dear to the saint is the centrality of the humanity of Christ. In fact, for Teresa, the Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus, which culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance that she attributes to meditation on the passion and the Eucharist, as presence of Christ, in the Church, for the life of every believer and as heart of the liturgy. St. Teresa lived an unconditional love for the Church: She manifested an intense "sensus Ecclesiae" in face of incidents of division and conflict in the Church of her time. She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending better the "Holy Roman Catholic Church," and she was prepared to give her life for it (cf. "Life," 33, 5).

A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine that I would like to underscore is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole Christian life and the final end of it. The saint had a very clear idea of "fullness" in Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the course of "The Interior Castle," in the last "stanza" Teresa describes this fullness, realized in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today deals with Saint Teresa of Avila, the great sixteenth-century Carmelite reformer proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Teresa entered the Carmel of Avila at the age of twenty. Maturing in the spiritual life, she embraced the ideal of a renewal of her Order and with the support of Saint John of the Cross she founded a chain of reformed Carmels throughout Spain. Her highly influential writings, which include the Autobiography, The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, reveal her profound christocentric spirituality, and her breadth of human experience. Teresa considered the evangelical and human virtues the basis of an authentic Christian life. She identified deeply with Christ in his humanity and stressed the importance of contemplation of his Passion and of his real presence in the Eucharist. She presents prayer as an intimate friendship with Christ leading to an ever greater union of love with the Blessed Trinity. In her life and in her death Teresa embodied an unconditional love for the Church. May the example and prayers of Saint Teresa of Avila inspire us to greater fidelity to prayer and, through prayer, to greater love for the Lord and his Church, and more perfect charity towards our brothers and sisters.

I am pleased to greet the groups who have come from England, Norway, Nigeria and the United States of America. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience I cordially invoke God's abundant blessings.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

 

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