Thursday, August 02, 2007

General Audience: St. Basil the Great

~Oh, yes, I forgot to post this yesterday from the General Audience at Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. As always, the ladies at Papa Ratzinger Forum have translated the address.

(AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)

Dear brothers and sisters!

After a pause of three weeks, we resume our usual Wednesday encounters. Today I will continue my last catechesis on the life and writings of St. Basil, bishop in what is now Turkey, then known as Asia Minor, in the fourth century.

The life of this great saint and his works are rich with points for reflection and teaching that are valid even today.

Above all, his emphasis on the mystery of God, which remains the most significant and vital reference point for man. The Father is "the beginning of all and teh cause for being of all that exists, the root of everything that lives" (Hom. 15,2 de fide: PG 31,465c), and above all, he is "the father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Anaphora sancti Basilii).

By reaching to God through his creatures, we "become aware of his goodness and his wisdom" (Basilio, Contra Eunomium 1,14: PG 29,544b). The Son is "the image of the goodness of the Father and in form equal to him" (cfr Anaphora sancti Basilii). With his obedience and through his Passion, the incarnate Word realized his mission as Redeemer of mankind" (cfr Basilio, In Psalmum 48,8: PG 29,452ab; cfr anche De Baptismo 1,2: SC 357,158).

Finally, he also talks amply of the Holy Spirit, to whom he dedicated an entire book. He tells us that the Spirit animates the Church, fills it with his gifts, makes it holy.

The splendid light of the divine mystery shines down on man, image of God, and elevates his dignity. Looking at Christ, one understands fully the dignity of man.

Basil exclaims, "Man, take note of your greatness, considering the price that has been paid for you. Look on the price of your salvation and understand your dignity!" (In Psalmum 48,8: PG 29, 452b).

In particular, the Christian, living in conformity with the Gospel, recognizes that all men are brothers among themselves; that life is an administration of the gifts received from God, for which each one is responsible with respect to others; and whoever is rich should be like 'an executor of orders from God the benefactor' (Hom. 6 de avaritia: PG 32,1181-1196). We should all help each other and cooperate as members of one body"(Ep. 203,3).

In his homilies, Basil used courageous and strong words in this respect. Whoever, according to God's commandment, would love his neighbor as himself "should not possess anything more than his neighbor has" (Hom. in divites: PG 31,281b).

In a time of famines and calamities, the saintly bishop exhorted the faithful with passionate words "not to be more cruel than the taking and possessing what belongs to everyone in common" (Hom. tempore famis: PG 31,325a).

Basil's profound thinking is obvious in this suggestive statement: "All those who are in need look at our hands as we look at the hands of God when we are in need."

The eulogy of Gregory Nazianzene at Basil's death was indeed well-merited: "Basil persuaded us that we, as men, should not look down on other men, nor offend Christ, our common head, by our inhumanity towards our fellowmen; rather, in the misfortune of others, we should benefit by lending our own mercy to God's, because we too need his mercy" (Gregory Nazianzene, Oratio 43,63: PG 36,580b).

These are words which are very topical today. We see here how St. Basil was truly one of the Fathers of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Moreover, Basil reminds us that in order to keep alive in us our love for God and our fellowmen, we need the Eucharist, the appropriate nourishment for all who are baptized, capable of nourishing the new energies arising from Baptism (cfr De Baptismo 1,3: SC 357,192).

It is cause for immense joy to be able to participate in the Eucharist, he said (Moralia 21,3: PG 31,741a), which was instituted "to guard ceaselessly the memory of Him who died and resurrected for us" (Moralia 80,22: PG 31,869b).

The Eucharist, great gift of God, preserves in each of us the seal of baptism and allows us to live its grace in fullness and in faith. That is why the saintly bishop recommends frequent, even daily, Communion: "To receive communion every day, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is good and useful, because he himself said clearly, 'Who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life' (Jn 6,54). Who therefore can doubt that being in communion continually through life is indeed living in fullness?" (Ep. 93: PG 32,484b). In short, we need the Eucharist in order "to have true life, eternal life" (cfr Moralia 21,1: PG 31,737c).

Finally, Basil was interested, of course, in that part of the People of God who are the youth, society's future. He addressed to them a discourse on how to gain something from the pagan culture of the time.

With great equilibrium and openness, he acknowledged that Greek and Latin classic literature had many exemplary virtues. In particular, the lives of those who lived rightly could be useful to the young Christian in search of truth, of the right way of living (cfr Ad Adolescentes 3).

Nevertheless, he said, one must take from the classic texts what is convenient as well as in conformity with truth: that way, with a critical and open attitude - indeed, of discernment - young people may grow in freedom.

Using his famous image of the bees which take from flowers only that which they need to make honey, Basil said, "Just as the bees know how to draw honey from flowers - where other animals are limited to simply enjoying their perfume and colors - so it is with these writings from which we can draw some useful benefit for the spirit. We should use such books following the example of the bees. They do not go indiscriminately from flower to flower, nor do they seek to take away everything from the flower they alight on, but they only take what will serve them to make honey and leave all the rest behind. If we are wise, we shall take from these writings what we need that is in conformity with truth, and leave everything else behind" (Ad Adolescentes 4).

Above all, Basil urges young people to grow in virtue, in the right way of living. "While other things that are good may change from one to another as in a game of dice, only virtue is an inalienable good which remains throughout life and after death" (Ad Adolescentes 5).

Dear brothers and sisters, I think we can say that this Father from a remote time speaks even to us and tells us important things. Above all, his attentive, critical and creative participation in the culture of the day. Then, social responsibility: we live in times where, in a globalized world, even peoples who are geographically remote are really our neighbors now. Next, friendship with Christ, God with a human face. And finally, recognition and gratitude towards God the Creator, father of us all: only if we are open to this God, our father in common, can we construct a just world and a fraternal world.

1 comment:

The Epiphany Artist said...

Wonderful Thank you for this!