.- Around 120,000 pilgrims heard Pope Benedict XVI deliver his last Angelus address, in which he said that “the Lord called me to ‘climb the mountain,’ to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation,” a change that does not mean he is “abandoning the Church.”
“Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope said as he dwelt on the Sunday Gospel on the Transfiguration, “the Word of God feels particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord called me to ‘climb the mountain,’ to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation.”
“But this does not mean abandoning the Church,” he qualified, “indeed, if God asks me this it is just so that I can continue to serve with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done so far, but in a way more suited to my age and for me.”
The Pope will be both physically and spiritually “climbing the mountain,” since the Mater Ecclesiae monastery where he will retire sits on the highest point in Vatican City with a view of the back of St. Peter’s Basilica and then the rest of Rome.
When he mentioned how the Gospel felt directed at him, the crowd reacted with applause that echoed through an overflowing St. Peter’s Square.
In his reflections on the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel, Pope Benedict described the encounter as “a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John, the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master.”
“The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection, offers his disciples an anticipation of his glory,” he noted.
The Pope then explained the significance of Peter’s comment. “The intervention of Peter: ‘Master, it is good for us to be here,’ represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience.”
Pope Benedict underscored that meditating on this passage yields “a very important teaching.”
“First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life,” he said.
He also added a second point that was particularly fitting for his future life of prayer.
“In addition, prayer is not to isolate themselves from the world and its contradictions, as on Tabor wanted to be Peter, but the prayer back to the path, to the action. ‘The Christian life - I wrote in my Message for Lent - consists of a continuous climb up the mountain to meet God, before falling back, bringing the love and the power derived from it, in order to serve our brothers and sisters with the same love of God.’”
Benedict XVI finished his pre-Angelus remarks by invoking the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who “always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.”
As he offered greetings in various languages to the throng of pilgrims, each group showed their support by applauding Pope Benedict, with the loudest being the Italians.
A translation of the Pope’s full remarks follows.
Dear brothers and sisters!
On the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy always presents us with the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The evangelist Luke places particular emphasis on the fact that Jesus was transfigured as he prayed: his is a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John, the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master (Luke 5:10, 8.51, 9.28).
The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection (9:22), offers his disciples a foretaste of his glory. And even in the Transfiguration, as in baptism, we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father, "This is my Son, the Chosen One listen to him" (9:35). The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, it is highly significant: the whole history of the Alliance is focused on Him, the Christ, who accomplishes a new "exodus" (9:31), not to the promised land as in the time of Moses, but to Heaven. Peter’s words: "Master, it is good that we are here" (9.33) represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience. St. Augustine says: "[Peter] ... on the mountain ... had Christ as the food of the soul. Why should he come down to return to the labors and pains, while up there he was full of feelings of holy love for God that inspired in him a holy conduct? "(Sermon 78.3).
We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. "The Christian life - I wrote in my Message for Lent - consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love "(n. 3).
Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to "climb the mountain," to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.
I offer a warm greeting to all the English-speaking visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School. I thank everyone for the many expressions of gratitude, affection and closeness in prayer that I have received in these days. As we continue our Lenten journey towards Easter, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the Redeemer, whose glory was revealed on the mount of the Transfiguration. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings!