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Reflection

Benedict XVI on Lent: 'authentic conversion to the love of Christ'

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 Contents - Mar 2008AD2000 March 2008 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Man-made global warming: new religion? - Michael Gilchrist
Tribute: B.A. Santamaria: ten years on - Cardinal George Pell
News: The Church Around the World
Man-made climate change: another great hoax? - Peter Finlayson
Recovering the sacred in modern church architecture - Moyra Doorly
40 Years On: Vatican II at its mid-life crisis - Br Barry Coldrey
Easter: The Sacred Triduum in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (1962 Missal)
Crescat amor: What is the nature and purpose of theology? - Fr John O'Neill PP
La Sapienza: Benedict XVI: the papacy and the university - Pope Benedict XVI
Vocations: The priesthood: a special relationship with Christ - Fr Pat Stratford
Vocations: Signs of hope in US diocese
Letters: Christ's Church - Frank Mobbs
Letters: Married clergy - Frank Bellet
Letters: Canadian Lectionary - Matt Walton
Letters: Language - Kevin McManus
Letters: Liturgical abuses - Dennis Macdonald
Letters: Response - Richard Stokes
Letters: Homosexual 'marriage' - Arnold Jago
Letters: Altar rails - Corinne O'Loughlin
Letters: 'Re-ordered' churches - Brian Tooley
Letters: Abortion laws - Robert Prinzen-Wood
Letters: From India - Fr. A. Joseph
Poetry: Time-Warp - Bruce Dawe
Books: GOD AND CAESAR: Religion, Politics, and Society, by Cardinal George Pell - Catherine Sheehan (reviewer)
Books: SEARCHING FOR AND MAINTAINING PEACE, by Father Jacques Philippe - Tim Cannon (reviewer)
Books: JOURNEY OF A FAITH COMMUNITY, compiled by Tom Johnstone - James E. Scarlett (reviewer)
DVD: NO TURNING BACK: Confessions of a Catholic priest, by Fr D. Calloway - Fr Martin Durham (reviewer)
Books: Books available from AD2000 Books
Reflection: Benedict XVI on Lent: 'authentic conversion to the love of Christ' - Pope Benedict XVI

Lent is a favourable time to learn to stay with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, close to him who on the cross, consummated for all mankind the sacrifice of his life. With a more fervent participation let us direct our gaze, therefore, in this time of penance and prayer, at Christ crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God.

In the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I dwelt upon this theme of love, highlighting its two fundamental forms: 'agape' and 'eros.'

The term 'agape', which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word 'eros,' on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what one lacks and yearns for union with the beloved.

The love with which God surrounds us is undoubtedly 'agape.' Indeed, can man give to God some good that He does not already possess? All that the human creature is and has is divine gift. It is the creature then, who is in need of God in everything. But God's love is also 'eros.'

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom He has chosen as His own a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman. For his part, Ezekiel, speaking of God's relationship with the people of Israel, is not afraid to use strong and passionate language.

Turning in on himself, Adam withdrew from that source of life who is God Himself, and became the first of 'those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.' God, however, did not give up. On the contrary, man's 'no' was the decisive impulse that moved Him to manifest His love in all of its redeeming strength.

It is in the mystery of the cross that the uncontainable power of the heavenly Father's mercy is revealed in all of its fullness. In order to win back the love of His creature, He accepted to pay a very high price: the blood of His only begotten Son. Death, which for the first Adam was an extreme sign of loneliness and powerlessness, was thus transformed in the supreme act of love and freedom of the new Adam.

One could very well assert, therefore, together with Saint Maximus the Confessor, that Christ 'died, if one could say so, divinely, because He died freely.' On the cross, God's 'eros' for us is made manifest. 'Eros' is indeed - as Pseudo- Dionysius expresses it - that force 'that does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved'.

Let us look at Christ pierced in the Cross. He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which 'eros' and 'agape,' far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us.

The Apostle Thomas recognised Jesus as 'Lord and God' when he put his hand into the wound of his side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God's 'eros' toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of his 'agape.'

In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instils a joy, which eases the greatest of sacrifices.

Jesus said: 'When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.' The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome his love and allow ourselves to be drawn to him. Accepting his love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and dedicate ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ 'draws me to himself' in order to unite himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with his own love.

'They shall look on him whom they have pierced.' Let us look with trust at the pierced side of Jesus from which flow 'blood and water'. The Fathers of the Church considered these elements as symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

Self-giving

Through the water of Baptism, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the intimacy of Trinitarian love. In the Lenten journey, memorial of our Baptism, we are exhorted to come out of ourselves in order to open ourselves, in trustful abandonment, to the merciful embrace of the Father.

Blood, symbol of the love of the Good Shepherd, flows into us especially in the Eucharistic mystery: 'The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. We enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving.' Let us live Lent then, as a 'Eucharistic' time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed.

May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must 'regive' to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need. Only in this way shall we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter. May Mary, Mother of Beautiful Love, guide us in this Lenten journey, a journey of authentic conversion to the love of Christ.

This is the edited text of the Message of Benedict XVI for Lent 2007 (Vatican Information Service).

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 21 No 2 (March 2008), p. 20

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