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"Contemplation Is Expressed in Works of Charity"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 10, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the first part of the Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Feb. 22 session of questions-and-answers with Roman clergy.

Parts 2 and 3 will be published on Sunday and Monday.

* * *

LENTEN MEETING WITH THE CLERGY OF ROME
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Hall of Blessings
Thursday, 22 February 2007

The first question was addressed to the Holy Father by Mons. Pasquale Silla, Rector at the Shrine of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, not far from Rome. Mons. Silla recalled Benedict XVI's Visit to the Shrine on 1 May 2006 and his request to the parish community for powerful prayer for the Bishop of Rome and his collaborators, as well as for the priests and faithful of the Diocese. In response to this request, the community of Our Lady of Divine Love attempted to give the best possible quality to prayer in all its forms, especially liturgical prayer: one of the results of this commitment is the Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist that will begin at the Shrine on 25 March. In the field of charity, the Shrine is concentrating on broadening its outreach, especially in the area of welfare for minors, families and the elderly. In this perspective, Mons. Silla asked Pope Benedict XVI for practical instructions to enable the Shrine to play an increasingly effective role in the Diocese.

Pope Benedict XVI: I would like first of all to say that I am glad and happy to feel here that I am truly the Bishop of a large Diocese. The Cardinal Vicar said that you are expecting light and comfort. And I must say that to see so many priests of all generations is light and comfort to me. Above all, I have already learned something from the first question, and to my mind this is another essential element of our Meeting. Here I can hear the actual living voices of parish priests and their pastoral experiences; thus, above all I can learn about your concrete situation, your queries, your experiences and your difficulties, and live them not only in the abstract but in authentic dialogue with real parish life.

I now come to the first question. It seems to me, basically, that you have also supplied the answer as to what this Shrine can do. ... I know that this Marian Shrine is the one best loved by the people of Rome. During the several Visits I paid to the ancient Shrine, I also felt the age-old devotion. One senses the presence of the prayer of generations and one can almost tangibly feel Our Lady's motherly presence.

In the encounter with Mary, it is truly possible to experience an encounter with the centuries-old Marian devotion as well as with the desires, needs, sufferings and joys of the generations. Thus, this Shrine, visited by people with their hopes, questions, requests and sufferings, is an essential factor for the Diocese of Rome.

We are seeing more and more that Shrines are a source of life and faith in the universal Church, hence, also in the Church of Rome. In my Country, I had the experience of making pilgrimages on foot to our national Shrine of Altötting. It is an important popular mission.

Young people in particular go there. As pilgrims walking for three days, they experience the atmosphere of prayer and an examination of conscience and rediscover, as it were, their Christian awareness of the faith. These three days of pilgrimage on foot are days of confession and prayer, they are a true journey towards Our Lady, towards the family of God and also towards the Eucharist.

Pilgrims go on foot to Our Lady, and with Our Lady they go to the Lord, to the Eucharistic encounter, preparing themselves for interior renewal with confession. They live anew the Eucharistic reality of the Lord who gives himself, just as Our Lady gave her own flesh to the Lord, thereby opening the door to the Incarnation.

Our Lady gave her flesh for the Incarnation and thereby made possible the Eucharist, where we receive the Flesh that is Bread for the world. In going to the encounter with Our Lady, young people themselves learn to offer their own flesh, their daily life, so that it may be given over to the Lord. And they learn to believe and little by little to say "yes" to the Lord.

I would therefore say, to return to the question, that the Shrine as such, as a place of prayer, confession and the celebration of the Eucharist, provides a great service in the Church today for the Diocese of Rome. I therefore think that the essential service, of which, moreover, you have spoken in practical terms, is precisely that of providing a place of prayer, of sacramental life and of a life of practised charity.

If I have understood correctly, you spoke of four dimensions of prayer. The first is personal. And here Mary shows us the way. St Luke says twice that the Virgin Mary "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19; cf. 2:51). She was a person in conversation with God, with the Word of God and also with the events through which God spoke to her.

The Magnificat is a "fabric" woven of words from Sacred Scripture. It shows us how Mary lived in a permanent conversation with the Word of God, and thus, with God himself. Then of course, in life with the Lord, she was also always in conversation with Christ, with the Son of God and with the Trinitarian God. Therefore, let us learn from Mary and speak personally with the Lord, pondering and preserving God's words in our lives and hearts so that they may become true food for each one of us. Thus, Mary guides us at a school of prayer in personal and profound contact with God.

The second dimension you mentioned is liturgical prayer. In the Liturgy, the Lord teaches us to pray, first of all giving us his Word, then introducing us through the Eucharistic Prayer to communion with the mystery of his life, the Cross and the Resurrection.

St Paul once said we do not even know what to ask for: "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26); we do not know how to pray or what to say to God. God, therefore, has given us words of prayer in the Psalter, in the important prayers of the Sacred Liturgy, and precisely in the Eucharistic liturgy itself. Here, he teaches us how to pray.

We enter into the prayer that was formed down the centuries under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and we join in Christ's conversation with the Father. Thus, the Liturgy, above all, is prayer: first listening and then a response, in the Responsorial Psalm, in the prayer of the Church and in the great Eucharistic Prayer. We celebrate it well if we celebrate it with a "prayerful" attitude, uniting ourselves with the Mystery of Christ and his exchange as Son with the Father.

If we celebrate the Eucharist in this way, first as listening and then as a response, hence, as prayer, using the words pointed out to us by the Holy Spirit, then we are celebrating it well. And through our prayer in common, people are attracted to joining the ranks of God's children.

The third dimension is that of popular piety. An important Document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments speaks of this popular piety and tells us how to "guide it". Popular piety is one of our strengths because it consists of prayers deeply rooted in people's hearts. These prayers even move the hearts of people who are somewhat cut off from the life of the Church and who have no special understanding of faith.

All that is required is to "illuminate" these actions and "purify" this tradition so that it may become part of the life of the Church today.

Then comes Eucharistic Adoration. I am very grateful because Eucharistic Adoration is being increasingly renewed. During the Synod on the Eucharist, the Bishops talked a great deal about their experiences, of how new life is being restored to communities with this adoration, and also with nocturnal adoration, and how, precisely in this way, new vocations are also born.

I can say that I will shortly be signing the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, which will then be available to the Church. It is a Document offered precisely for meditation. It will be a help in the liturgical celebration as well as in personal reflection, in the preparation of homilies and in the celebration of the Eucharist. And it will also serve to guide, enlighten and revitalize popular piety.

Lastly, you spoke to us of the Shrine as a place of caritas. I think this is very logical and necessary. A little while ago I read what St Augustine said in Book X of his Confessions: "I was tempted and I now understand that it was a temptation to enclose myself in contemplative life, to seek solitude with you, O Lord; but you prevented me, you plucked me from it and made me listen to St Paul's words: "Christ died for us all. Consequently, we must die with Christ and live for all'. I understood that I cannot shut myself up in contemplation; you died for us all. Therefore, with you, I must live for all and thus practise works of charity. True contemplation is expressed in works of charity. Therefore, the sign for which we have truly prayed, that we have experienced in the encounter with Christ, is that we exist "for others'".

This is what a parish priest must be like. And St Augustine was a great parish priest. He said: "In my life I also always longed to spend my life listening to the Word in meditation, but now -- day after day, hour after hour -- I must stand at the door where the bell is always ringing, I must comfort the afflicted, help the poor, reprimand those who are quarrelsome, create peace and so forth".

St Augustine lists all the tasks of a parish priest, for at that time the Bishop was also what the Kadi in Islamic countries is today. With regard to problems of civil law, let us say, he was the judge of peace: he had to encourage peace between the litigants. He therefore lived a life that for him, a contemplative, was very difficult. But he understood this truth: thus, I am with Christ; in existing "for others", I am in the Crucified and Risen Lord.

I think this is a great consolation for parish priests and Bishops. Even if little time is left for contemplation, in being "for others", we are with the Lord.

You spoke of other concrete elements of charity that are very important. They are also a sign for our society, in particular for children, for the elderly, for the suffering. I therefore believe that with these four dimensions of life he has given us the answer to your question: What should we do at our Shrine?

[Translation issued by the Holy See]

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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