In Christ the
Truth comes to us and purifies us
On Sunday, 30 August
, at the Mariapoli Congress Centre, Castel Gandolfo, the Holy
Father presided at Mass with the members of the Ratzinger Schülerkreis,
the circle of his former university students... The following is a
translation of the Pope's Homily, which was given in German.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We find in the Gospel one
of the fundamental themes of humanity's religious history: the question
of the purity of the human being before God. In turning his gaze to God,
man recognizes that he is "contaminated" and finds himself in a
condition in which he has no access to the Holy One. Thus the question
arises as to how he can be purified, and rid himself of the "dirt" that
separates him from God. This has given rise in the different religions
to rites of purification, to processes of interior and exterior
cleansing. In today's Gospel we encounter rites of purification that are
rooted in the Old Testament tradition but are nonetheless performed in a
very unilateral manner.
Consequently they no longer
serve to open man to God, they no longer lead to purification and
salvation but become elements of a self-contained system of fulfilment
which to be fully implemented even requires specialists. The human heart
is no longer touched. Man, who moves within this system, either feels
enslaved or falls into the arrogance of being able to justify himself.
Liberal exegesis says that
this Gospel seems to reveal that Jesus would have replaced worship with
morals, he would have set aside worship with all its empty practices.
The relationship between man and God would then have been based solely
on morals. If this were true it would mean that Christianity was
that is, that we make ourselves pure and good through our moral action.
If we reflect more deeply on this opinion, it is obvious that this
cannot be Jesus' complete answer to the question on purity. If we want
to hear and understand the Lord's message fully we must listen carefully
we cannot be content with a detail, we must pay attention to the whole
of his message. In other words we must read the Gospels, the whole of
the New and the Old Testament in their entirety and together.
Today's First Reading from
the Book of Deuteronomy offers us important details that provide an
answer and make us take a step forward. We are listening here to
something that we may find surprising: God himself asks Israel to be
grateful and to feel humbly proud of knowing God's will and therefore of
In that very period
humanity, in both the Greek and Semitic contexts, was seeking wisdom: it
was seeking to understand what matters. Science says many things and
many aspects of it are useful to us, but wisdom is knowledge of the
knowledge of the aim of our life and of how we should live in order to
live life in the best possible way.
The Reading from
Deuteronomy mentions the fact that wisdom, in the final analysis, is
identical to the Torah
to the Word of God that reveals to us what is essential, for what
purpose and in what way we should live. Thus the Law does not appear as
a form of slavery, but is
as the great Psalm 119 states
a cause of great joy: we do not grope in the dark, we do not wander in
vain seeking what might be righteous, we are not like sheep without a
shepherd who do not know which is the right path.
God has manifested himself.
He himself shows us the way. We know his will and with it, the truth
that counts in our life.
We are told two things
about God: on the one hand, that he manifested himself and that he shows
us the right path to take; on the other, that God is a God who listens,
who is close to us, answers us and guides us. With this we also come to
the topic of purity: his will purifies us, his closeness guides us.
I believe that it is worth
reflecting for a moment on Israel's joy at knowing God's will and thus
having received as a gift wisdom which heals us and which we cannot find
on our own. Is there among us, in the Church today, a similar sentiment
of joy at God's closeness and at the gift of his Word? Anyone who wished
to show this joy would soon be accused of triumphalism. In fact it is
not our ability that shows us God's true will. It is an undeserved gift
that makes us at the same time humble and glad.
If we reflect on the
world's perplexity in the face of the great issues of the present and
the future, joy should arise again within us at the fact that God has
freely shown us his Face, his will, himself. Should this joy manifest
itself again in us it would also move the hearts of non-believers.
Without this joy we are not convincing.
However, where this joy is
it has a missionary power. Indeed, it makes human beings wonder if this
might not truly be the way
if this joy might not effectively guide us in God's footsteps.
All this is found in
greater depth in the passage from the Letter of James that the Church
presents to us today. I especially like the Letter of St James because
it gives us an idea of the devotion of Jesus' family. It was an
observant family. Observant in the sense that it lived the joy at God's
closeness, described in Deuteronomy and which is given to us in his Word
and in his Commandment.
It is quite a different
kind of observance from what we encounter in the Pharisees of the
Gospel, who had made it into an exteriorized and enslaving system.
Moreover it is a kind of observance unlike that which Paul, as a rabbi,
had learned: that was
as we see from his Letters
the observance of an expert who knew everything; who was proud of his
knowledge and of his righteousness but nevertheless suffered under the
burden of the Law's prescriptions, so that the Law no longer appeared as
a joyous guide to God but rather as an exigency which, ultimately, it
was impossible to fulfil.
In the Letter of St James
we find that observance which does not look inwards but turns joyfully
towards the caring God who gives us his closeness and points out to us
the right way. Thus the Letter of St James speaks of the perfect Law of
freedom that perseveres to reach a new and deeper understanding of the
Law given to us by the Lord.
For James the Law is not a
requirement that demands too much of us, which stands before us and can
never be satisfied. He is thinking in the perspective that we find in a
sentence of Jesus' farewell discourse: "No longer do I call you
servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I
have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have
made known to you" (Jn 15:15).
The one to whom all is
revealed is part of the family; he is no longer a servant but is free
precisely because he himself belongs to the household. A similar,
initial introduction into the thought of God himself happened in Israel
on Mount Sinai. It happened again in a definitive and grand way at the
Last Supper and, generally through the work, the life, the Passion and
the Resurrection of Jesus; in him God told us everything, he manifested
We are no longer servants,
but friends. And the Law is no longer a prescription for people who are
not free but is contact with God's love
being introduced to become part of the
family, an act that makes us free and "perfect". It is in this sense
that James says in today's Reading that the Lord has created us by means
of his Word, that he planted his Word deep within us as a life force.
Here he also speaks of
"pure religion" which consists in love for our neighbour
particularly for orphans and widows who are needier than we are
and in freedom from the ways of the world that contaminate us. The Law,
like a word of love, is not a contradiction of freedom but a
renewal from within by means of friendship with God. Something similar
occurs when Jesus, in the discourse on the vine, says to the disciples:
"You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" (Jn
15:3). And the same thing appears again in the Priestly Prayer: sanctify
them in the truth (cf. Jn 17:17-19). Thus we now find the right
structure for the process of purification and of purity: we do not
create what is good
that would be mere moralism
but Truth comes to us. He himself is Truth, Truth in person. Purity
happens through dialogue. It begins with the fact that he comes to us
he who is Truth and Love
he takes us by the hand and penetrates our being.
Insofar as we allow him to
touch us, insofar as the encounter becomes friendship and love, we
ourselves, on the basis of his purity, become pure people and then
people who love with his love, people who introduce others to his purity
and his love.
Augustine summed all this
up in a beautiful saying: Da quod iubes et iube quod vis
grant what you command, and command what you will. Let us now bring
this request before the Lord and pray to him: yes, purify us in the
truth. May you be the Truth that makes us pure. Obtain that through
friendship with you we may become free and thus truly children of God,
make us capable of sitting at your table and spreading in this world the
light of your purity and goodness. Amen.