Friday, September 30, 2005

Benedict XVI on the Kenotic Hymn, part 3

"Let us conclude our reflection with a great witness of the Eastern tradition, Theodoret who was bishop of Cyrus, in Syria, in the fifth century: "The Incarnation of our Savior represents the highest fulfillment of the divine solicitude for men. In fact, neither heaven, nor earth, nor the sea, nor the air, nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the whole visible and invisible universe, created only by his Word or rather brought to the light by his Word, according to his will, indicate his incommensurable goodness as does the fact that the only-begotten Son of God, He who subsisted in the nature of God (see Philippians 2:6), reflection of his glory, mark of his substance (see Hebrews 1:3), who in the beginning was with God and was God, through whom all things were made (see John 1:1-3), after having assumed the nature of a servant, appeared in the form of man, by his human figure was considered as a man, was seen on earth, had relationships with men, bore our infirmities and took our illnesses upon himself" ("Discorsi sulla Provvidenza Divina" [Discourses on Divine Providence], 10: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts], LXXV, Rome, 1988, pp. 250-251).

"Theodoret of Cyrus continues his reflection, shedding light on the very close relationship underlined by the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians between the incarnation of Jesus and the redemption of men. "The Creator worked for our salvation with wisdom and justice. Because he did not wish to make use only of his power to give us generously the gift of freedom, nor to use only mercy against the one who has subjected the human race, so that he would not accuse mercy of injustice, he devised a way full of love for men and at the same time adorned with justice. In fact, after having united to himself man's vanquished nature, he leads it to the struggle and disposes it to repair the defeat, to rout him who previously had iniquitously won the victory, to free man from the tyranny of which he had been cruelly made a slave and to recover his original freedom" (ibid., pp. 251-252)"

--from the Wednesday audience, 1 June 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Benedict XVI on the Kenotic Hymn, part 2

"This radical sharing of the human condition, with the exception of sin (see Hebrews 4:15), leads Jesus to that frontier which is the sign of our finiteness and frailty, death. However, the latter is not the fruit of a dark mechanism or blind fatality: It is born from the choice of obedience to the Father's plan of salvation (see Philippians 2:8).

"The Apostle adds that the death Jesus faces is that of the cross, namely, the most degrading, thus wishing to be truly a brother of every man and woman, including those constrained to an atrocious and ignominious end.

"But precisely in his passion and death Christ attests to his free and conscious adherence to the will of the Father, as one reads in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

"Let us pause here in our reflection on the first part of the Christological hymn, focused on the Incarnation and redemptive Passion. We will have the occasion later on to reflect more deeply on the subsequent itinerary, the paschal, which leads from the cross to glory. The fundamental element of this first part of the hymn, it seems to me, is the invitation to penetrate into Jesus' sentiments.

"To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments means not to consider power, wealth and prestige as the highest values in life, as in the end, they do not respond to the deepest thirst of our spirit, but to open our heart to the Other, to bear with the Other the burden of life and to open ourselves to the Heavenly Father with a sense of obedience and trust, knowing, precisely, that if we are obedient to the Father, we will be free. To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments -- this should be the daily exercise of our life as Christians."

--from the Wednesday audience, 1 June 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Benedict XVI on the Kenotic Hymn

"Every Sunday, in the celebration of vespers, the liturgy proposes to us the brief but profound Christological hymn from the Letter to the Philippians (see 2:6-11). It is the hymn, just heard, which we consider in its first part (see verses 6-8), which delineates the paradoxical "emptying" of the divine Word, who lays aside his glory and assumes the human condition.

"Christ, incarnated and humiliated in the most infamous death, that of crucifixion, is proposed as a vital model for the Christian. The latter -- as affirmed in the context -- should have "the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus" (verse 5), sentiments of humility and selflessness, of detachment and generosity.

"Undoubtedly, he possesses divine nature with all its prerogatives. But he does not interpret and live this transcendent reality as a sign of power, of greatness, and of dominion. Christ does not use his being equal to God, his glorious dignity and his power as an instrument of triumph, sign of distance, expression of crushing supremacy (see verse 6). On the contrary, he "emptied" himself, immersing himself without reserve in the miserable and weak human condition. The divine "form" ("morphe") is hidden in Christ under the human "form" ("morphe"), that is, under our reality marked by suffering, poverty, limitation and death (see verse 7).

"It is not a question therefore of a simple clothing, of a changeable appearance, as it was believed happened to the gods of the Greco-Roman culture: It is Christ's divine reality in an authentically human experience. God does not appear only as man, but becomes man and is really one of us, he is truly "God-with-us," not content with gazing on us with a benign look from his throne of glory, but enters personally in human history, becoming "flesh," namely, fragile reality, conditioned by time and space (see John 1:14)."

--from the Wednesday audience, 1 June 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Kenotic Hymn for the Eye

El Greco offers this vision of the Great Deeds of Jesus as seen in the image of the Holy Trinity--the joy, the suffering, the glory. Perhaps the picture is worth a thousand words, in the sense that the Beauty of such art reveals the Beauty of the Truth. Gaze . . .and see . . .

Monday, September 26, 2005

Singing the Kenotic Hymn

Caroline Noel sang the Kenotic Hymn from St Paul's Letter to the Philippians in a famous setting--and singing this version of the hymn is an experience of being caught up into the joy, the suffering, and the glory of Jesus Christ:

At the Name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
'tis the Father's pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation
sprang at once to sight,
all the angel faces,
all the hosts of light,
Thrones and Dominations,
stars upon their way,
all the heavenly orders,
in their great array.

Humbled for a season,
to receive a Name
from the lips of sinners,
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed;

Bore it up triumphant,
with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures,
to the central height,
to the throne of Godhead,
to the Father's breast;
filled it with the glory
of that perfect rest.

Name him, brothers, name him,
with love as strong as death,
but with awe and wonder
and with bated breath;
he is God the Savior,
he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshiped,
trusted, and adored.

In your hearts enthrone him;
there let him subdue
all that is not holy,
all that is not true;
crown him as your Captain
in temptation's hour;
let his will enfold you
in its light and power.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father's glory
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of Glory now.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Kenotic Hymn

The second reading at today's Mass is the great kenotic hymn--so called because it sings of Jesus' kenosis or emptying of Himself into the Incarnation: the hymn is also used each week as the canticle for the First Vespers on the Eve of each Sunday:

Jesus Christ, although he shared God’s nature, did not try to seize equality with God for himself; but emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, and became like a man – not in appearance only, for he humbled himself by accepting death – even death on a cross.
For this, God has raised him high, and given him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bend, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,
and every tongue will proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord”, to the glory of God the Father.

This hymn, re-sung as the Christus factus est during Holy Week, sings of the great deeds of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It bears re-singing and re-singing, as every knee bends and every tongue sings.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Mountains of Israel

St Augustine saw "the mountains of Israel" as the Holy Scriptures: and he points us to run and rest and feed thereon. This is both a description and an example of the spiritual sense of reading Scripture:

"It was God who brought forth the mountains of Israel, that is to say, the authors of the divine Scriptures. Feed there that you may feed in safety. Whatever you hear from that source, you should savor. Whatever is foreign to it, reject. Hear the voice of the shepherd, lest you wander about in the mist. Gather at the mountains of holy Scripture. There, are the things that will delight your hearts; there , you will find nothing poisonous, nothing hostile; there, the pastures are most plentiful. There, you will be healthy sheep; you will feed safely on the mountains of Israel.

"From the mountains which we have shown you, there have issued the streams of the gospel message, because their voice has gone forth into the whole world, and every habitable place has become pleasant and fertile for the grazing sheep.

"In good pastures and on the high mountains of Israel, I shall feed them. And their grazing ground shall be there, that is, the place where they will say: 'I am happy.'"

--from today's Office of Readings

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Calling of St Matthew

While it is clear that one of the themes of today's feast is the call of the Lord, "Follow me!", we must focus on how such a call is not merely an individual path, though we experience it individually. Yes, when we, like St Matthew, hear the Lord call "Follow me!" we get up and follow and at once begin doing whatever that vocation means in a social, real, historical, even ecclesial sense, involving other persons. As the Venerable Bede points out, in the second lesson of today's Office of Readings, at once St Matthew invited Jesus over for dinner, drawing a crowd of other folks in need of Jesus.

This relationship between our own personal vocations and our ecclesial and public vocations is the reflection of St Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians, today's epistle at Mass:

"I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

"But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.

"And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ."

Perhaps this is also what Pope Benedict means when he invites us to a mature faith.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


So here is a place on the banks of the Danube whose earliest settlements are rooted in the mist of fable, and whose Christian monastic community pre-dates recorded memory. Age after age, the Christian monks lived, prayed, worked, through the days of Charlemagne, the Babenbergs, the Hapsburgs, Napoleon, Joseph II, Franz Joseph, and the two World Wars.
And now, the buildings stand as a memory of all that time . . . and yet the small but vibrant monastic community still lives, prays, and works, now at a wonderful school that forms young people in Christian and humanistic education, with an emphasis on the arts.

One of the graduates of that school was our guide at Melk. She said, "And now, at the climax of our tour, we visit the Abbey Church, which is where it should be, at the heart and center of the community."

And the interior of that Church expressed the desire of the builders and artists to display the Beauty of God in the sensual material of earth.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Returning from Holiday

Abbot Ellegast of Melk writes:

"Two towers reaching towards heaven and a mighty dome proclaim far and wide: on this cliff is a fortress of God!"

This spot and community of Beauty reminded me that we are all called to the Benedictine life--of prayer, of work, of the service of love.