Possidius, a faithful friend of St Augustine and his first biographer, ends his Life of the Bishop of Hippo by saying that he lives on for ever in his works. With an expression taken from the unknown epigraph of an unknown pagan poet, even rhetorical, but undeniably confirmed by the extraordinary success of the writings of the Great Father of the Church and by his ongoing influence.
Today this is clearly perceptible in Benedict XVI; to the point that St Augustine’s fascinating and effective words seem to resonate, in the language of today, in many of the Pope’s Homilies. This was so in a wholly Augustinian Homily, during the solemn Palm Sunday celebration, as the seventh year of his Pontificate began.
Even its layout, which, like De civitate Dei , contrasts the two loves that run through and divide the human soul and the whole of history: love of self and love of God. They are two contradictory tendencies that Benedict XVI translates for the modern mindset by describing them as “a twofold gravitational force”. And he says, lucidly, that everything depends on our ability to escape the gravitational field of evil, for it is only our consenting to be attracted by God that makes us free.
The Homily for Palm Sunday also seems like one of Augustine’s Sermones because the Pope draws inspiration from the reading of the Passio that opens the most sacred week in the Church’s calendar and brings it up to date, thus showing the most authentic and profound meaning of the Christian Liturgy.
Indeed, “it is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries”, Benedict XVI began, focusing his gaze on that reality of the Church which is the Communion of Saints.
But what has the historical ascent of Jesus to Jerusalem for the last Passover of his earthly life to do with our existence, as women and men of the 21st century? Here too the Pope responds by explaining the Gospel text — and not only the Old Testament Scriptures — in addition to the Letter, just like Augustine, on the path opened two centuries earlier by Origen. Here then is the end of Jesus’ pilgrimage: the loftiness of God himself, “the high road that leads to the living God”.
God, therefore, is the gravitational force that can remove us from that force of gravity which inexorably pulls us down, “towards selfishness, falsehood and evil”.
The human being and human history, and also “the great achievements of technology”, are authentic progress “only if we humbly acknowledge that we need to be lifted up”. In the inexhaustible search for that God who showed his face in Jesus.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 22, 2019
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