An Aparecida Prayer for the New Year

The Aparecida Conference began, on May 13, 2007, with an address by Pope Benedict XVI.  The Aparecida Document concludes by quoting extensively from that beautiful address.

The words below come from that quotation: they are words from both Pope Benedict and Aparecida, and thus the future Pope Francis.

I simply point out the Christocentrism: “stay with us, Lord.”  In this New Year, let us recall our deep need for the presence of Jesus in our lives.

Note that it first speaks of Jesus “enlightening our minds” through his word: our meditation on Scripture is a central way Jesus “stays with us.” And this “helps us to experience the beauty of believing” in him.

But then it speaks of how we need his presence: in our families, in our homes, and especially among the most vulnerable and the young.  Stay with us, Lord!


POPEStay with us, Lord, keep us company, even though we have not always recognized you. Stay with us, because all around us the shadows are deepening, and you are the Light; discouragement is eating its way into our hearts: make them burn with the certainty of Easter. We are tired of the journey, but you comfort us in the breaking of bread, so that we are able to proclaim to our brothers and sisters that you have truly risen and have entrusted us with the mission of being witnesses of your resurrection.


Stay with us, Lord, when mists of doubt, weariness or difficulty rise up around our Catholic faith; you are Truth itself, you are the one who reveals the Father to us: enlighten our minds with your word, and help us to experience the beauty of believing in you.


Remain in our families, enlighten them in their doubts, sustain them in their difficulties, console them in their sufferings and in their daily labors, when around them shadows build up which threaten their unity and their natural identity. You are Life itself: remain in our homes, so that they may continue to be nests where human life is generously born, where life is welcomed, loved and respected from conception to natural death.


Remain, Lord, with those in our societies who are most vulnerable; remain with the poor and the lowly, with indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans, who have not always found space and support to express the richness of their culture and the wisdom of their identity.


Remain, Lord, with our children and with our young people, who are the hope and the treasure of our Continent, protect them from so many snares that attack their innocence and their legitimate hopes. O Good Shepherd, remain with our elderly and with our sick. Strengthen them all in faith, so that they may be your disciples and missionaries!


-Conclusion of Aparecida Document, quoting Benedict XVI, “Inaugural Address of the Fifth Conference, Aparecida”

Pope Benedict on Loving our Neighbor – Today

Pope Francis’s concern for social justice sometimes makes people nervous. What they perhaps don’t realize is that he’s saying the same thing as his predecessors.

Below is a brief passage from Pope Benedict’s inaugural encyclical, on love. He warns us that sometimes our social thinking is more worried about progress than about real live people today. Yes, we should work for a more efficient market down the road. But let us keep everything subservient to real live human beings.

What could this mean for us, in our day-to-day life?

POPEWhat we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future—a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful.

One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programmes.

The Christian’s programme —the programme of the Good Samaritan, the programme of Jesus—is “a heart which sees”. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.

–Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est?

Benedict XVI on Making the Bible our “Staple Diet”

The following brief quotation, from Pope Benedict XVI’s opening address to the Latin American bishops gathered at Aparecida, nicely drives home the centrality of Scripture in Catholic spirituality.

We cannot live or preach the Gospel, he says, unless we know its “content.”  Christian faith is not just a general attitude.  It has content.  We have to know its richness and its wholeness.  And though the Catechism is an invaluable summary, Scripture itself is the Word of God.  Indeed, notice how he pairs the “content and spirit” of the faith: you cannot know the spirit of the faith without also knowing its content

And according to Benedict XVI – and Vatican II, and the Tradition, the Fathers of the Church and the medievals – there is no other way to know that “content and spirit” then to learn “to read and meditate on the word of God,” and so attain “profound knowledge of the word of God.”  This, he says, is “indispensable.”

Are Pope Benedict’s words elitist?  Does he make it so only intellectuals can know the faith?  No.  Scripture is for everyone.  To know the Tradition and read the lives of the saints is to discover that the simplest, from Antony of the Desert to Thérèse of Lisieux, found in Scripture not an obstacle, but the food of faith, their “staple diet”.  The real elitism is to refuse to “train people to read and meditate.”

POPEAt the beginning of this new phase that the missionary Church of Latin America and the Caribbean is preparing to enter, starting with this Fifth General Conference in Aparecida, an indispensable pre-condition is profound knowledge of the word of God. To achieve this, we must train people to read and meditate on the word of God: this must become their staple diet, so that, through their own experience, the faithful will see that the words of Jesus are spirit and life (cf. Jn 6:63). Otherwise, how could they proclaim a message whose content and spirit they do not know thoroughly? We must build our missionary commitment and the whole of our lives on the rock of the word of God.

-Benedict XVI, Inaugural Address of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, Brazil


Pope Benedict on Unity in the Church

Pope Benedict XVI explains in depth the importance of living the Church as communion. Fancy liturgy is not an end in itself – and anything that leads us away from true communion with the Church and one another is false Christianity. True worship builds true community.

POPEThrough faith in God we are united in the Body of Christ and all become united in the same Body. Thus, precisely by profoundly believing we may achieve communion among ourselves and emerge from the loneliness of individualism.

If it is the Word that gathers the community, it is the Eucharist that makes it one body: “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10: 17). The Church, therefore, is not the result of an aggregation of individuals but of unity among those who are nourished by the one Word of God and the one Bread of Life.

Communion and the unity of the Church that are born of the Eucharist, are a reality of which we must be ever more aware, also in receiving Holy Communion, ever more aware that we are entering into unity with Christ and thus become one among ourselves.

We must learn ever anew to preserve and defend this unity from the rivalry, disputes, and jealousies that can be kindled in and among ecclesial communities. In particular, I would like to ask the movements and communities that came into being after the Second Vatican Council and that in our Diocese too are a precious gift for which we must always thank the Lord, I would like to ask these movements, which I repeat are a gift, always to ensure that their formation processes lead their members to develop a true sense of belonging to the parish community.

The Eucharist, as I have said, is the centre of parish life, and particularly of the Sunday celebration. Since the unity of the Church is born from the encounter with the Lord, the great care given to adoration and celebration of the Eucharist, enabling those who participate in it to experience the beauty of Christ’s mystery is no secondary matter. Given that the beauty of the liturgy “is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God’s love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us” (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 35), it is important that the Eucharistic celebration manifest and communicate, through the sacramental signs, the divine life and reveal the true face of the Church to the men and women of this City.

-Benedict XVI, At the Diocese of Rome’s Ecclesial Convention, 26 May 2009

Pope Benedict on Evangelistic Parishes

Below is an excerpt from an address by Pope Benedict XVI to parishes in Rome. It’s important to think about the practical aspects of our faith: how we pray, how we evangelize, how we organize our parishes.

I like the practicality of this, on two sides. First, we need to be practical about forming structures that will really work. Second, we need to realize that the structures that work are the structures that meet practical needs: the need for “places” of encounter, in the places where people are.

POPE“The spiritual and apostolic growth of the community then leads to its extension through a convinced missionary action. Strive, therefore, in every parish as at the time of the City Mission, to restore life to the small groups or counselling centres for the faithful who proclaim Christ and his word, places where it is possible to experience faith, to put charity into practice and to organize hope. This structuring of the large urban parishes by the multiplication of small communities allows the mission a larger breathing space, which takes into account the density of the population and its social and cultural features which are often very different.

“If this pastoral method is also to be applied effectively in workplaces, it would be important to evangelize them with a well thought-out and adapted pastoral ministry since, because of the high social mobility, it is here that people spend a large part of their day.

“Lastly, the witness of charity that unites hearts and opens them to ecclesial belonging should not be forgotten. Historians answer the question as to how the success of Christianity in the first centuries can be explained – the ascent of a presumed Jewish sect to the religion of the Empire – by saying that it was the experience of Christian charity in particular that convinced the world.

Living charity is the primary form of missionary outreach. The word proclaimed and lived becomes credible if it is incarnate in behaviour that demonstrates solidarity and sharing, in deeds that show the Face of Christ as man’s true Friend. May the silent, daily witness of charity, promoted by parishes thanks to the commitment of numerous lay faithful continue to spread increasingly, so that those who live in suffering feel the Church’s closeness and experience the love of the Father rich in mercy.

“Therefore be “Good Samaritans”, ready to treat the material and spiritual wounds of your brethren. Deacons, conformed by ordination to Christ the Servant, will be able to carry out a useful service in promoting fresh attention to the old and new forms of poverty.

-Benedict XVI, at the Diocese of Rome’s Ecclesial Convention, 26 May 2009

Pope Benedict on Personal and Liturgical Prayer

Another fine passage from Spe Salvi:

For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must on the one hand be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand it must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly. Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, in his book of spiritual exercises, tells us that during his life there were long periods when he was unable to pray and that he would hold fast to the texts of the Church’s prayer: the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the prayers of the liturgy. Praying must always involve this intermingling of public and personal prayer. This is how we can speak to God and how God speaks to us. In this way we undergo those purifications by which we become open to God and are prepared for the service of our fellow human beings.

We become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others. Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle to prevent things moving towards the “perverse end”. It is an active hope also in the sense that we keep the world open to God. Only in this way does it continue to be a truly human hope.

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Pope Benedict on Prayer as an “Exercise of Desire”

Pope Benedict’s encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, contains many beautiful passages on prayer. I have broken the following into paragraphs, and added some bold face, to make it a little easier to read:

“Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”. Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13).

He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God’s tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined.

“Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well.”

–Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Jesus, the consuming fire

“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.”

–Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

No Room in the Inn

The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself?

We begin to do so when we have no time for him. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full.

–Pope Benedict, Christmas Eve, 2012