On Monastic Silence
"The Environmental Condition That Most Favors Contemplation"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 13, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave during the Aug. 13 general audience at the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In every age, men and women who have consecrated their lives to God in prayer -- such as monks and nuns -- have established their communities in places of particular beauty: in the countryside, upon the hills, in mountain valleys, by the lakeside or on the seashore, or even on little islands. These places unite two very important elements for the contemplative life: the beauty of creation, which points to that of the Creator, and silence, which is guaranteed by their remoteness from cities and the great means of communication.

Silence is the environmental condition that most favors contemplation, listening to God and meditation. The very fact of experiencing silence, of allowing ourselves to be "filled," so to speak, with silence, disposes us to prayer. The great prophet Elijah, on Mount Horeb -- that is, Sinai -- witnessed a great and strong wind, then an earthquake, and finally flashes of fire, but in none of these did he recognize the voice of God; instead, he recognized it in a still small breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13). God speaks in the silence, but we need to know how to listen for Him. That is why monasteries are oases where God speaks to man; and in them there is the cloister, which is a symbolic place, for it is a space that is enclosed yet opened to heaven.

Tomorrow, dear friends, we celebrate the memorial of St. Clare of Assisi. I would therefore like to recall one of these spiritual "oases" that is particularly dear to the Fransciscan family and to all Christians: the small convent of San Damiano, situated just below the town of Assisi, amidst the olive groves that slope towards [the Basilica of] St. Mary of the Angels. Near that little church, which Francis restored after his conversion, Clare and her first companions established their community and lived a life of prayer and simple works. They were called the "Poor Sisters," and their "way of life" was the same as the Friars Minor: "To observe the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rule of St. Clare, I,2), maintaining the union of mutual charity (cf. ibid., X 7) and observing in a special way the poverty and humility lived by Jesus and His most holy Mother (cf. ibid., XII, 13).

The silence and beauty of the place where the monastic community lives -- a simple and an austere beauty -- serve as a reflection of the spiritual harmony that the community itself seeks to realize. The world is studded with these spiritual oases, some very ancient, particularly in Europe, others more recent, while still others have been restored by new communities. Looking at things from a spiritual perspective, these places of the spirit are a supporting structure for the world! And is it not the case that many people, especially in times of quiet and rest, visit these places and stay for a few days: even the soul, thanks be to God, has its needs!

Let us therefore remember St. Clare. But let us also remember other saintly figures who remind us of the importance of turning our gaze to the "things of heaven"; for example, St. Edith Stein -- Teresa Benedicta of the Cross -- Carmelite and Patroness of Europe, whose feast we celebrated yesterday. And today, Aug. 10, we cannot forget St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, with a special wish offered to the people of Rome, who have always venerated him as one of their patrons. And lastly, let us turn our gaze to the Virgin Mary, that she might teach us to love silence and prayer.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Summer Reading
"Keep the Holy Bible Close at Hand During the Summer Months"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 13, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave Aug. 3 during the general audience held at Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very glad to see you here in the square at Castel Gandolfo and to resume the audiences, which were interrupted during the month of July. I would like to continue with the subject we initially began; that is, a "school of prayer," and today, in a slightly different way, and without straying from this theme, I would like to touch upon several spiritual and concrete aspects which seem useful to me, not only for those who -- in one part of the world -- are currently spending their summer holidays like us, but also for all those who are occupied with their daily work.

When we have a break from our activities, especially during vacation time, we often take up a book we want to read. It is this very aspect that I would like to reflect upon today.

Each of us needs time and space for recollection, meditation, and calm … Thanks be to God that this is so! In fact, this need tells us that we are not made for work alone, but also for thought, for reflection, or simply for following with our minds and hearts a tale in which we can immerse ourselves, "losing ourselves" in some sense to find ourselves subsequently enriched.

Naturally, many of the books we take up during our vacation are for the most part an escape, and this is normal. However, some people, particularly if they are able to take a more extended time of rest and relaxation, devote themselves to reading something more demanding.

I would therefore like to make a suggestion: why not discover a few of the books of the Bible that are not commonly known? Or perhaps from which we have heard an occasional passage during the Liturgy but which we have never read in their entirety? Indeed, many Christians never read the Bible, and have a very limited and superficial knowledge of it.

The Bible -- as the name suggests -- is a collection of books, a little "library" [biblioteca] that came to be over the course of a millennium. Some of these "little books" that make up the Bible remain virtually unknown to the vast majority of people, even to good Christians. Some are very short, like the Book of Tobias, a tale that contains a lofty sense of family and marriage; or the Book of Esther, in which the Hebrew Queen saves her people from destruction through her faith and prayer; or even shorter, the Book of Ruth, a foreigner who comes to know God and to experience His providence. These little books can be read in their entirety in an hour. More demanding and true masterpieces are the Book of Job, which confronts the great problem of innocent suffering; Ecclesiastes, which is striking for the baffling modernity with which it challenges the meaning of life and the world; the Canticle of Canticles, a stupendous symbolic poem on human love. As you see, these are all books from the Old Testament. And the New? The New Testament is of course better known and its literary genre is less diversified. But the beauty of reading a Gospel in one sitting is worth discovering, as I also recommend for the Acts of the Apostles, or one of the Letters.

To conclude, dear friends, today I would like to suggest that you keep the holy Bible close at hand during the summer months and in moments of rest, so that you might enjoy it in a new way by reading some of its Books straight through, those that are less well known as well as those that are more familiar, such as the Gospels, but without putting them down.

In this way, moments of relaxation can become not only a time of cultural enrichment, but beyond this, also a source of spiritual nourishment, capable of nourishing our knowledge of God and conversation with Him; that is, prayer. And this seems to be a beautiful occupation during the summer holidays: to take a book of the Bible in order to have a little relaxation, and at the same time, to enter into the great realm of God’s Word and to deepen our contact with the Eternal One, as the goal of the free time given to us by the Lord.

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On the 40 Days of Lent
"Time Spent in the Desert Can Be Transformed Into a Time of Grace"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in the Paul VI Hall. Today the Pope reflected on the liturgical season of Lent.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In this Catechesis, I would like to reflect briefly upon the season of Lent, which begins today with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. It is a journey of 40 days that will lead us to the Easter Triduum -- the memorial of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, the heart of the mystery of our salvation. In the first centuries of the Church’s life, this was the time when those who had heard and received the announcement of Christ began, step by step, their journey of faith and conversion on the way to receiving the sacrament of Baptism. It was a time of drawing near to the living God and an initiation into the faith, which was gradually to be accomplished through an inner transformation on the part of the catechumens; that is, on the part of those who desired to become Christians and to be incorporated into Christ and the Church.

Later on, also penitents and then all the faithful were invited to live out this journey of spiritual renewal and to increasingly conform their own lives to Christ’s. The participation of the entire community in the various stages of the Lenten journey underlines an important dimension of Christian spirituality: It is the redemption not of some, but of all, made possible thanks to the death and resurrection of Christ. For this reason, both those who were making the journey of faith as catechumens in order to receive Baptism, as well as those who had distanced themselves from God and from the community of faith and who were seeking reconciliation, and also those who were living the faith in full communion with the Church -- everyone together knew that the time preceding Easter was a time of metanoia; that is, of a change of heart, of penance. It is the season that identifies our human life and all of history as a process of conversion set in motion now so as to meet the Lord at the end of time.

Using an expression that has become customary in the Liturgy, the Church calls the season we have entered today “Lent”; that is, the season of 40 days; and with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, she thereby introduces us into a precise spiritual context. Forty, in fact, is the symbolic number that the Old and New Testaments use to represent the salient moments in the life and faith of Israel. It is a number that expresses the time of waiting, of purification, of return to the Lord, of knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. This number does not represent an exact chronological period of time, marked by the sum of its days. Rather, it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient length of time to witness the works of God and a time when it is necessary to decide to accept one’s responsibilities without further delay. It is a time for mature decisions.

The number 40 first appears in the story of Noah. This just man, on account of the flood, spends 40 days and 40 nights in the ark, together with his family and the animals that God had told him to take with him. And he waits another 40 days, after the flood, before touching down upon dry land, saved from destruction (cf. Genesis 7:4,12; 8:6). Then, the next stage: Moses remains on Mount Sinai, in the presence of the Lord, for 40 days and 40 nights, to receive the Law. He fasts the entire time (cf. Exodus 24:18). For 40 years, the Hebrew people journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, a fitting time to experience the faithfulness of God. “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness … your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years,” Moses says in Deuteronomy at the end of the 40 years of migration (Deuteronomy 8:2,4). The years of peace Israel enjoys under the Judges are 40 (cf. Judges 3:11,30); but once this time has passed, they begin to forget God’s gifts and to return to sin. The prophet Elijah takes 40 days to reach Horeb, the mountain where he encounters God (cf. 1 Kings 19:8). For 40 days, the inhabitants of Ninevah do penance in order to obtain God’s pardon (cf. Genesis 3:4). Forty is also the number of years of the reign of Saul (cf. Acts 13:21), of David (cf. 2 Samuel 5:4-5) and of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 11:41), the first three kings of Israel.

The Psalms also reflect the biblical significance of the 40 years; for example, Psalm 95, the passage we just heard: “O that today you would hearken to His voice! Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who err in heart, and they do not regard my ways’” (verses. 7c-10).

In the New Testament, before beginning His public ministry, Jesus retires into the desert for 40 days, neither eating nor drinking (cf. Matthew 4:2); His nourishment is the Word of God, which He uses as a weapon to conquer the devil. The temptations of Jesus recall those which the Jewish people faced in the desert, but which they were unable to overcome. For 40 days, the Risen Jesus instructs His disciples before ascending into Heaven and sending the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:3).

With the recurring number of 40, a spiritual atmosphere is described which remains relevant and valid. And the Church, precisely through these days of Lent, intends to preserve their enduring value and to make their efficacy present for us. The Christian Liturgy during Lent seeks to promote a path of spiritual renewal in light of this long biblical experience, above all for the sake of learning to imitate Jesus, who during the 40 days He spent in the desert, taught us to conquer temptation with the Word of God.

The 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the desert presents ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand, it is the season of first love with God, and between God and His people, when He speaks to their hearts, pointing out to them the path to follow. God, as it were, had taken up His abode with Israel; He went before them in a cloud and a column of fire; each day, He provided for their nourishment by making manna descend from the heavens and by making water gush forth from the rock. Therefore, the years Israel passed in the desert can be seen as the time of their being especially chosen by God and of their clinging to Him: the time of first love.

On the other hand, the Bible also portrays another image of Israel’s wandering in the desert: It is also the time of the greatest temptation and peril, when Israel murmurs against her God and wishes to return to paganism and to build her own idols, out of the need she feels to worship a God who is closer and more tangible. It is also the time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.

This ambivalence, a time of special closeness to God -- the time of first love -- as well as a time of temptation -- the temptation to return to paganism -- we surprisingly rediscover in Jesus’ earthy sojourn; naturally, however, without any compromise with sin. After His baptism of penance in the Jordan -- when He takes upon Himself the destiny of God’s Servant, who renounces himself and lives for others and takes his place among sinners in order to take upon himself the sin of the world -- Jesus goes into the desert and remains there for 40 days in profound union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel, all the rhythms of the 40 days or years I mentioned. This dynamic is a constant during the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude in order to pray to His Father and to remain in intimate communion, in intimate solitude with Him, in exclusive communion with Him, then to return among the people. But in this time of “desert” and of special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of the Evil One, who proposes another Messianic way, one distant from God’s design, for it passes by way of power, success, and domination and not by way of the total gift of the Cross. These are the alternatives: a Messianism of power, of success, or a Messianism of love, of self-gift.

This situation of ambivalence also characterizes the condition of the Church as she journeys in the “desert” of the world and of history. In this “desert,” we who believe certainly have the opportunity to have a profound experience of God, who strengthens the spirit, confirms faith, nourishes hope and inspires charity. It is an experience that makes us sharers in Christ’s victory over sin and death through His Sacrifice of love on the Cross. But the “desert” is also a negative aspect of the reality that surrounds us: aridity; the poverty of words of life and values; secularism and cultural materialism, which enclose people within the worldly horizons of an existence bereft of all reference to the transcendent. This is also the environment in which even heaven above us is obscured, for it is covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, also for the Church today, time spent in the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, for we have the certainty that God can make the living water that quenches thirst and brings refreshment gush forth even from the hardest rock.

Dear brothers and sisters, we can find in these 40 days that lead us to the Easter of Resurrection the renewed hope that enables us to accept every difficulty, affliction and trial with patience and with faith, in the knowledge that out of the darkness the Lord will make a new day to dawn. And if we have been faithful to Jesus by following Him along the way of the Cross, the radiant world of God, the world of light, of truth and of joy will be restored to us: It will be the new dawn created by God Himself. I wish a blessed journey of Lent to you all!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert, a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter.

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