Pope Benedict XVI says that the path to real greatness in life is not found in self-promotion but in sacrificial love towards God and other people.
“Human logic,” the Pope said June 27, “often seeks self-realization in power, dominion, in powerful means.”
But the “incarnation and the cross,” he added, “remind us that full realization is found in conforming our human will to the Father, in the emptying of one’s selfishness, to be filled with love, God’s charity and thus truly become able to love others.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks during the weekly General Audience before a packed Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Continuing his exploration of prayer in the story of salvation, he turned his attention to St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.
He explained to over 7,000 pilgrims that the letter is often viewed as St. Paul’s “spiritual testament” as it was written while he was in prison, perhaps in Rome.
The Apostle “feels close to death, because he says that his life will be poured out as a libation,” and yet, noted the Pope, throughout the text he “expresses the joy of being a disciple of Christ.”
“But how can one rejoice in the face of an imminent death sentence?” Pope Benedict asked.
The answer, he said, is found at the heart of St. Paul’s letter where he pens his great “Christological hymn.” This hymn is centered on “Christ’s sentiment” which he lists as love, generosity, humility, obedience to God and the gift of oneself.
Therefore following Christ is not just a subscription to a moral code but involves “all of our existence in our way of thinking and acting.”
This is achieved through prayer which should “lead to an ever deeper knowledge and union of love with the Lord” so we are able “to think, act and love like him, in him and for him,” the Pope said.
Above all, this will take us towards the humility of Christ which led him to death on the cross. This was the “highest degree of humiliation” in the Roman world where “crucifixion was the punishment reserved for slaves,” a fact testified to by ancient writers such as Cicero.
The great writers of early Christianity, the “Church Fathers”, often saw Christ’s obedience as “restoring to human nature, through his humanity” in comparison to “what had been lost through the disobedience of Adam.”
The lesson for all people, suggested the Pope, is that “man will not find himself by remaining closed in on himself” but only by “coming out of himself.”
Therefore, while Adam wanted to imitate God which “in itself it was not a bad thing”, said the Pope, unfortunately he “had the wrong idea of God.”
“God does not want only greatness, God is love that gives, already in the Trinity and then in creation” such that “imitating God means coming out of ourselves and gifting ourselves in love.”
Finally, the Pope drew the attention of pilgrims to the fact that St. Paul recommends prayer that involves both invocation and prostration with the “bending of every knee” to Jesus Christ.
This is why, said Pope Benedict, “genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament or kneeling in prayer expresses an attitude of adoration before God, even with the body.”
It is important, therefore, not to make the gesture “out of habit and not in a hurry, but with deep awareness.”
“When we kneel before the Lord, we confess our faith in him, we recognize that he is the only Lord of our lives,” said the Pontiff.
Today was the Pope’s last General Audience of the summer at the Vatican. Later this week he will head to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles south-east of Rome.