Remembering Sister Leonella Sgorbati
"Some Are Asked to Give the Supreme Testimony of Blood"
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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 24, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before and after reciting the midday Angelus with the crowds who gathered at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
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Sunday, 3 September 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, 3 September, the Roman calendar commemorates St Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church (c. 540-604).
His exceptional, I would say, almost unique figure is an example to hold up both to pastors of the Church and to public administrators: indeed, he was first Prefect and then Bishop of Rome. As an imperial official, he was so distinguished for his administrative talents and moral integrity that he served in the highest civil office, Praefectus Urbis, when he was only 30 years old.
Within him, however, the vocation to the monastic life was maturing; he embraced it in 574, upon his father's death. The Benedictine Rule then became the backbone of his existence. Even when the Pope sent him as his Representative to the Emperor of the East in Constantinople, he maintained a simple and poor monastic lifestyle.
Called back to Rome, Gregory, although living in a monastery, was a close collaborator of Pope Pelagius II, and when the Pope died, the victim of a plague epidemic, Gregory was acclaimed by all as his Successor.
He sought in every way to escape this appointment but in the end was obliged to yield. He left the cloister reluctantly and dedicated himself to the community, aware of doing his duty and being a simple and poor "servant of the servants of God".
"He is not really humble," he wrote, "who understands that he must be a leader of others by decree of the divine will and yet disdains this pre-eminence. If, on the contrary, he submits to divine dispositions, and does not have the vice of obstinacy, and is prepared to benefit others with those gifts when the highest dignity of governing souls is imposed on him, he must flee from it with his heart, but against his will, he must obey" (Pastoral Rule, I, 6). It is like a dialogue that the Pope has with himself at that time.
With prophetic foresight, Gregory intuited that a new civilization was being born from the encounter of the Roman legacy with so-called "barbarian" peoples, thanks to the cohesive power and moral elevation of Christianity. Monasticism was proving to be a treasure not only for the Church but for the whole of society.
With delicate health but strong moral character St Gregory the Great carried out intense pastoral and civil action. He left a vast collection of letters, wonderful homilies, a famous commentary on the Book of Job and writings on the life of St Benedict, as well as numerous liturgical texts, famous for the reform of song that was called "Gregorian", after him.
However, his most famous work is certainly the Pastoral Rule, which had the same importance for the clergy as the Rule of St Benedict had for monks in the Middle Ages.
The life of a pastor of souls must be a balanced synthesis of contemplation and action, inspired by the love "that rises wonderfully to high things when it is compassionately drawn to the low things of neighbours; and the more kindly it descends to the weak things of this world, the more vigorously it recurs to the things on high" (II, 5).
In this ever timely teaching, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council found inspiration to outline the image of today's Pastor.
Let us pray to the Virgin Mary that the example and teaching of St Gregory the Great may be followed by pastors of the Church and also by those in charge of civil institutions.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this Sunday's Gospel, for the second time Jesus proclaims his passion, death and Resurrection to the disciples (cf. Mk 9: 30-31). The Evangelist Mark highlights the strong contrast between his mindset and that of the Twelve Apostles, who not only do not understand the Teacher's words and clearly reject the idea that he is doomed to encounter death (cf. Mk 8: 32), but also discuss which of them is to be considered "the greatest" (Mk 9: 34).
Jesus patiently explains his logic to them, the logic of love that makes itself service to the point of the gift of self: "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mk 9: 35).
This is the logic of Christianity, which responds to the truth about man created in the image of God, but at the same time contrasts with human selfishness, a consequence of original sin. Every human person is attracted by love - which ultimately is God himself - but often errs in the concrete ways of loving; thus, an originally positive tendency but one polluted by sin can give rise to evil intentions and actions.
In today's Liturgy, this is also recalled in the Letter of St James: "Wherever jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity". And the Apostle concludes: "The harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (Jas 3: 16-18).
These words call to mind the witness of so many Christians who humbly and silently spend their lives serving others for the sake of the Lord Jesus, behaving in practice as servants of love, and hence, "artisans" of peace.
Sometimes, certain people are asked for the supreme testimony of blood, which also happened a few days ago to the Italian Religious, Sr Leonella Sgorbati, who died a victim of violence. This Sister, who served the poor and the lowly in Somalia for many years, died with the words "I forgive" on her lips: this is the most genuine Christian witness, a peaceful sign of contradiction that demonstrates the victory of love over hatred and evil.
There is no doubt that following Christ is difficult, but, as he says, only those who lose their life for his sake and the Gospel's will save it (cf. Mk 8: 35), giving full meaning to their existence. There is no other way of being his disciples, there is no other way of witnessing to his love and striving for Gospel perfection. May Mary, whom we call upon today as Our Lady of Mercy, open our hearts ever wider to the love of God, a mystery of joy and holiness.
After the Angelus:
Next Thursday is World Maritime Day and I would like to invite all of you to pray for the men and women involved in seafaring, and for their families. I thank the Lord for the work of the Apostleship of the Sea, which for many years has offered human and spiritual support to those who live this difficult and challenging way of life. I welcome particularly the recent initiatives taken by the International Maritime Organization to contribute to the fight against poverty and hunger. May Our Lady, Star of the Sea, look down in love upon seafarers and their families, and upon all those who care for their human and spiritual needs.
To the English-speaking visitors here today, including the group of pilgrims associated with the Acton Institute in America, I extend cordial greetings. I pray that you may receive many graces during your stay, and that you return home strengthened in faith, hope and love. I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones at home.
I wish you all a good Sunday.
© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana