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.........To go into the desert and to stay there a long time, alone, meant to be willingly exposed to the assaults of the enemy, the tempter who made Adam fall and through whose envy death entered the world (cf Wisdom 2:24); it meant engaging in open battle with him, defying him with no other weapons than limitless confidence in the omnipotent love of the Father. Your love suffices me, my food is to do your will (cf John 4:34): This conviction dwelt in the mind and heart of Jesus during that "Lent" of his. It was not an act of pride, a titanic enterprise, but a decision of humility, consistent with the Incarnation and the Baptism in the Jordan, in the same line of obedience to the merciful love of the Father, who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16).
The Lord did all this for us. He did it to save us and, at the same time, to show us the way to follow him. Salvation, in fact, is a gift, it is God's grace, but to have effect in my existence it requires my consent, an acceptance demonstrated in deeds, that is, in the will to live like Jesus, to walk after him...........He, as always, has preceded us and has already conquered in the battle against the spirit of evil. This is the meaning of Lent, liturgical time that every year invites us to renew the choice to follow Christ on the path of humility to participate in his victory over sin and death.
Understood in this perspective also is the penitential sign of the ashes, which are imposed on the head of those who begin with good will the Lenten journey. It is essentially a gesture of humility, which means: I recognize myself for what I am, a frail creature, made of earth and destined to the earth, but also made in the image of God and destined to him. Dust, yes, but loved, moulded by love, animated by his vital breath, capable of recognising his voice and of responding to him; free and, because of this, also capable of disobeying him, yielding to the temptation of pride and self-sufficiency. This is sin, the mortal sickness that soon entered to contaminate the blessed earth that is the human being. Created in the image of the Holy and Righteous One, man lost his own innocence and he can now return to be righteous only thanks to the righteousness of God, the righteousness of love that -- as St. Paul writes -- was manifested "through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:22).
Consecrated Life "A School of Trust in the Mercy of God"
Venerable John Paul II, beginning in 1997, wished that the whole Church should celebrate a special Day of Consecrated Life. In fact, the oblation of the Son of God -- symbolized by his presentation in the Temple -- is the model for every man and woman that consecrates all his or her life to the Lord.
The purpose of this day is threefold:
1. to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life;
2. to promote the knowledge and appreciation by all the People of God;
3. to invite all those who have fully dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has operated in them.
If Christ was not truly God, and was not, at the same time, fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would come to naught, and in an altogether particular way, the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman would come to naught. Consecrated life, in fact, witnesses and expresses in a "powerful" way the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a "bridge" to God for all whom he or she meets -- a call, a return. And all this by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Father's Consecrated One. He is the foundation! He who shared our frailty so that we could participate in his divine nature.
Our text (cf Heb 2:10-18; 4:14-16) insists on "trust" with which we can approach the "throne of grace" from the moment that our high priest was himself "put to the test in everything like us." We can approach to "receive mercy," "find grace," and "to be helped in the opportune moment." It seems to me that these words contain a great truth and also a great comfort for us who have received the gift and commitment of a special consecration in the Church.
I am thinking in particular of you, dear sisters and brothers. You approached with full trust the "throne of grace" that is Christ, his Cross, his Heart, to his divine presence in the Eucharist. Each one of you has approached him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what he has done for us. But you approached him, and every day you approach him, also to be helped in the opportune moment and in the hour of trial.
Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They have the vivid experience of God's forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognise their own sin. Because of this, also for the men and women of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of "compunction of heart," of the humble recognition of one's misery but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love that never abandons. In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of the human family, especially of those who are far from God.
In particular, communities that live in cloister, with their specific commitment of fidelity in "being with the Lord," in "being under the cross," often carry out this vicarious role, united to Christ of the Passion, taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.
Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and this all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful (cf Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Consecrated Life, 105). Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first "lost" his life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification, I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the "throne of grace." Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and his Word.
Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion, for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer.
Let us carry out this interior gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary: while contemplating her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, we venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by that God she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because totally of God. In her school, and with her maternal help, we renew our "here I am" and our "fiat." Amen.
Last week I presented the luminous figure of Francis of Assisi; today I would like to speak to you of another saint who, in the same period, made an essential contribution to the renewal of the Church of his time. It is St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, known also as the Dominican Friars.
His successor in the leadership of the order, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, gives a complete portrait of St. Dominic in the text of a famous prayer: "Inflamed by zeal for God and supernatural ardour, by your limitless charity and the fervour of a vehement spirit, you consecrated yourself wholly with the vow of perpetual poverty to apostolic observance and to evangelical preaching." It is in fact this essential feature of Dominic's witness that is underlined: He always spoke with God and about God. In the life of saints, love of the Lord and of neighbour, the seeking of God's glory and the salvation of souls always go together.
Dominic was born in Spain, in Caleruega, around 1170. He belonged to a noble family of Old Castille and, supported by an uncle priest, he was educated in a famous school of Palencia. He was distinguished immediately for his interest in the study of sacred Scripture and for his love of the poor, to the point of selling books, which in his time constituted a good of great value, to help victims of famine with what he collected.
Ordained a priest, he was elected canon of the chapter of the cathedral in his native diocese, Osma. Although this appointment could represent for him some motive of prestige in the Church and in society, he did not interpret it as a personal privilege, or as the beginning of a brilliant ecclesiastical career, but as a service to render with dedication and humility. Is not perhaps the temptation to a career, to power, a temptation to which not even those who have a role of leadership and governance in the Church are immune? I recalled this a few months ago, during the consecration of some bishops: "We do not seek power, prestige or esteem for ourselves. [...] We know how in civil society and often also in the Church things suffer because many people on whom responsibility has been conferred work for themselves rather than for the community" (Homily, Cappella Papale per l'Ordinazione episcopale di cinque Ecc. mi Presuli, Sept. 12, 2009).
The bishop of Osma, who was named Diego, a true and zealous pastor, very soon noticed the spiritual quality of Dominic, and wished to make use of his collaboration. Together they went to Northern Europe to carry out diplomatic missions entrusted to them by the king of Castile.
While travelling, Dominic became aware of two great challenges for the Church of his time: the existence of people who were not yet evangelized, in the northern limits of the European continent, and the religious scourge that weakened Christian life in southern France, where the action of some heretical groups created disturbance and a falling away from the truth of the faith. Missionary work on behalf of those who do not know the light of the Gospel and the work of re-evangelization of the Christian community thus became the apostolic goals that Dominic intended to pursue. It was the Pope, to whom Bishop Diego and Dominic went to ask advice, who requested the latter to dedicate himself to preaching to the Albigensians, a heretical group which held a dualistic concept of reality, that is, of two equally powerful creative principles, Good and Evil. This group, consequently, had contempt for matter as coming from the principle of evil, even rejecting marriage, and reaching the point of denying the incarnation of Christ, the sacraments in which the Lord "touches" us through matter, and the resurrection of bodies. The Albigensians esteemed a poor and austere life -- in this sense they were even exemplary -- and they criticized the wealth of the clergy of that time.
Dominic accepted this mission enthusiastically, which he carried out precisely with the example of his poor and austere existence, with the preaching of the Gospel and with public debates. He dedicated the rest of his life to this mission of preaching the Good News. His sons would fulfil St. Dominic's other dreams: the mission ad gentes, that is, to those who did not yet know Jesus, and the mission to those who lived in the city, especially in the universities, where new intellectual tendencies were a challenge for the faith of the well-educated.
This great saint reminds us that a missionary fire must always burn in the heart of the Church, which drives incessantly to take the first proclamation of the Gospel and, where necessary, to a new evangelization: Christ is, in fact, the most precious good that men and women of all times and all places have the right to know and to love! And it is consoling to see how also in the Church of today there are so many -- pastors and lay faithful, members of old religious orders and of new ecclesial movements -- that with joy spend their life for this supreme ideal: to proclaim and witness the Gospel!
Other men associated themselves to Dominic Guzmán, attracted by the same aspiration. Thus, gradually, from the first foundation of Toulouse, was born the Order of Preachers. Dominic, in fact, in full obedience to the directives of the Popes of his time, Innocent III and Honorius III, adopted the ancient Rule of St. Augustine, adapting it to the needs of apostolic life, which led him and his companions to preach, moving from one post to another, but returning, later, to their own monasteries, places of study, prayer and community life. In a particular way, Dominic wished to highlight two values considered indispensable for the success of the evangelizing mission: community life in poverty and study.
First of all, Dominic and the Friars Preachers presented themselves as mendicants, that is, without vast properties of land to administer. This element rendered them more available for study and itinerant preaching and constituted a concrete witness for the people. The internal government of the Dominican monasteries and provinces was structured on the system of chapters, which elected their own superiors, confirmed later by major superiors; hence, an organization that stimulated fraternal life and the responsibility of all the members of the community, exacting strong personal convictions. The choice of this system stemmed precisely from the fact that the Dominicans, as preachers of the truth of God, had to be consistent with what they proclaimed. Truth studied and shared in charity with brothers is the most profound foundation of joy. Blessed Giordano of Saxony said of St. Dominic: "He received everyone in the great bosom of charity and, because he loved everyone, everyone loved him. He made a personal law for himself of being joyful with happy persons and of weeping with those who wept" (Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum autore Iordano de Saxonia, ed. H.C. Scheeben, [Monumenta Historica Sancti Patris Nostri Dominici, Romae, 1935]).
In the second place, with a courageous gesture Dominic wished that his followers acquire a solid theological formation, and he did not hesitate to send them to the universities of the time, even though not a few ecclesiastics regarded with diffidence these cultural institutions. The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers give great importance to study as preparation for the apostolate. Dominic wanted his friars to dedicate themselves to study, sparing no effort, with diligence and compassion -- to study founded on the soul of all theological learning, that is, on sacred Scripture, and respectful of the questions posed by reason.
The development of culture imposes on those who carry out the ministry of the Word, at various levels, to be well prepared. Hence I exhort all, pastors and laity, to cultivate this "cultural dimension" of faith, so that the beauty of the Christian truth can be better understood and faith can be truly nourished, reinforced and also defended. In this Year for Priests, I invite seminarians and priests to appreciate the spiritual value of study. The quality of the priestly ministry depends also on the generosity with which one applies oneself to the study of revealed truths.
Dominic, who wished to found a religious Order of Preachers-Theologians, reminds us that theology has a spiritual and pastoral dimension, which enriches the spirit and life. Priests, consecrated persons and also all the faithful can find a profound "interior joy" in contemplating the beauty of the truth that comes from God, truth that is always up-to-date and always living. Hence, the motto of the Friars Preachers -- contemplata aliis tradere (to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation) -- helps us to discover a pastoral yearning in the contemplative study of such truth, by the need to communicate to others the fruit of one's contemplation.
When Dominic died in 1221 in Bologna, the city that declared him its patron, his work had already had great success. The Order of Preachers, with the support of the Holy See, had spread to many countries of Europe to the benefit of the whole Church. Dominic was canonized in 1234, and it is he himself, with his sanctity, who indicates to us two indispensable means for apostolic action to be incisive. First of all, Marian devotion, which he cultivated with tenderness and which he left as precious legacy to his spiritual children, who in the history of the Church have had the great merit of spreading the prayer of the holy rosary, so dear to the Christian people and so rich in evangelical values, a true school of faith and piety. In the second place, Dominic, who took care of some women's convents in France and in Rome, believed profoundly in the value of intercessory prayer for the success of apostolic work. Only in Paradise will we understand how much the prayer of the cloistered effectively supports apostolic action! To each one of them I direct my grateful and affectionate thoughts.
Dear brothers and sisters, may Dominic Guzmán's life spur all of us to be fervent in prayer, courageous in living the faith, profoundly in love with Jesus Christ. Through his intercession, we ask God to enrich the Church always with genuine preachers of the Gospel