ROME, February 10, 2013 – As in other years at the feast of Our Lady of Confidence, this time as well Benedict XVI went to the major Roman seminary to hold for the aspiring priests a “lectio divina.”
Pope Joseph Ratzinger spoke off the cuff, with just a page of notes in front of him, in addition to the biblical text he had chosen.
And when he speaks off the cuff, he unveils his thoughts in the most transparent and clear manner, as demonstrated by the literal transcription of his words, usually released one or two days later, revised and authorized by the author.
This time Benedict XVI decided to comment on the first letter of Peter – which he calls “almost a first encyclical, with which the first apostle, the vicar of Christ, speaks to the Church of all times” – and specifically on verses 3-5 of chapter 1:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. ”
But first of all the pope dwelt upon the sender of the letter, upon its place of origin, and upon its recipients.
- The sender, meaning the apostle Peter, but not as an individual – he explained – but rather as one who speaks “ex persona Ecclesiae” and with the help of friends, not only his own, but also those of Paul:
“And so the worlds of Saint Peter and of Saint Paul go together: it is not an exclusively Petrine theology against a Pauline theology, but it is a theology of the Church, of the faith of the Church, in which there is diversity – of course – of temperament, of thought, of style in speaking between Paul and Peter. It is good that there should be this diversity, even today, of different charisms, of different temperaments, but nonetheless they are not conflicting and unite in the common faith.”
- The place of origin, meaning Rome, called in the letter by the name of Babylon, the capital of the empire to which the apostle had gone at the end of his life and in which he was crucified:
“I think that, in going to Rome, Saint Peter [. . .] had recalled also the last words that Jesus had addressed to him, related by Saint John: ‘In the end, you will go where you do not wish to go. They will gird you, they will extend your hands’ (cf. Jn 21:18). It is a prophecy of crucifixion. The philologists demonstrate to us that it is a precise, technical expression, this ‘extending the hands,’ for crucifixion. Saint Peter knew that his end would be martyrdom, it would be the cross. And so will it be in the complete following of Christ. Therefore, in going to Rome, he certainly also went to martyrdom: in Babylon martyrdom was waiting for him. Therefore primacy has this content of universality, but also a martyrological content. From the beginning, Rome is also a place of martyrdom. In going to Rome, Peter accepts once again this word of the Lord: he goes to the Cross, and he invites us to accept as well the martyrological aspect of Christianity, which can have very different forms. The cross can have very different forms, but no one can be Christian without following the Crucified One, without accepting as well the martyrological moment.”
- The recipients, meaning “the elect who are dispersed foreigners”:
“Elect: this was the title of glory of Israel: we are the elect, God has elected this tiny people not because we are great – Deuteronomy says – but because he loves us (cf. 7:7-8). We are elect: this, Saint Peter now transfers to all of the baptized, and the content proper to the first chapters of his first letter is that the baptized enter into the privileges of Israel, they are the new Israel. [. . .] Perhaps today we are tempted to say: we do not wish to be joyful about being chosen, that would be triumphalism. It would be triumphalism if we thought that God has chosen me because I am so great. This would really be mistaken triumphalism. But to be joyful because God has wanted me is not triumphalism, but is gratitude, and I think that we must relearn this joy: [. . .] To be joyful because he has chosen me to be Catholic, to be in this Church of his, where ‘subsistit Ecclesia unica’. […]
“But ‘elect’ is accompanied by ‘parapidemois,’ dispersed, foreigners. As Christians we are dispersed and we are foreigners: we see that today in the world Christians are the most persecuted group because we do not conform, because we are a spur, against the tendencies of egoism, materialism, all these things. [. . .] In the workplace Christians are a minority, they find themselves in the condition of outsiders; it is a wonder that someone today can still believe and live this way. This too belongs to our life: it is the form of being with Christ crucified; this being foreigners, not living according to the way in which everyone lives, but living – or at least seeking to live – according to his word, in a great diversity with respect to what everyone says. And precisely this is characteristic of Christians. Everyone says: ‘But everyone is doing this, why not me?’ No, not me, because I want to live according to God. St. Augustine once said: ‘Christians are those who do not have their roots below like trees, but have their roots above and live this gravitation, not the natural downward gravitation.’ Let us pray to the Lord that he may help us to accept this mission of living as dispersed, as a minority, in a certain sense; to live as foreigners and nonetheless to be responsible for others and, precisely in this way, strengthening the good in our world.”
After this extensive introduction, having arrived “finally” at the passage selected, Benedict XVI dwelt upon three key words: regenerated, inheritance, safeguarded through faith.
And on the second he said:
“Inheritance is a very important word in the Old Testament, where it is said to Abraham that his seed will be the heir of the land, and this has always been the promise for his people: you will have the land, you will be heirs of the land. In the New Testament this word becomes a word for us: we are heirs, not of a certain country, but of the land of God, of the future of God. Inheritance is a thing of the future, and thus this word says above all that as Christians we have the future: the future is ours, the future belongs to God. And thus, being Christians, we know that ours is the future and the tree of the Church is not a dying tree, but the tree that grows ever anew. We therefore have a reason not to allow ourselves to be disturbed – as Pope John said – by the prophets of disaster who say: the Church is a tree come from the mustard seed, grown over two millennia, now it has time behind it, now is the time in which it is dying. No. The Church is always renewed, is always reborn. The future is ours.
“Naturally, there is a false optimism and a false pessimism. A false pessimism that says: the time of Christianity is finished. No: it is beginning again! The false optimism was that after the Council, when the convents were closing, the seminaries were closing, and they were saying: but it’s nothing, everything’s fine . . . No! Everything is not fine. There are also grave, dangerous downfalls, and we must recognize with healthy realism that this is not all right, it is not all right when wrongful things are done. But also to be sure, at the same time, that if here and there the Church is dying because of the sins of men, because of their unbelief, at the same time it is being born anew. The future really does belong to God: this is the great certainty of our life, the great, true optimism that we know. The Church is the tree of God that lives forever and bears within itself eternity and the true inheritance: eternal life.”