Christians are asked to dedicate their lives to the Lord in the same way as the martyrs, taught Pope Benedict on Wednesday. While it may not be their vocation to literally give up their lives, he said, Christians are called to an always greater love of God and neighbor, "to transform our world."
Hosting Wednesday's audience in the interior courtyard at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father greeted the faithful in eight different languages. In his Polish greeting, he asked for "generous and efficient aid" for the victims of recent flooding in Pope John Paul II's homeland, which was already recovering from being swamped by high water levels just last spring.
During a catechesis centered on martyrdom because of the frequency of feasts for martyrs in the month of August, Pope Benedict taught that the foundation of martyrdom is really quite simple. It's based, he said, "on the death of Jesus, on his supreme sacrifice of love, consumated on the Cross so that we might have life."
It follows the same logic as that of the grain of wheat that dies and produces much fruit, said Benedict XVI. "Jesus is the grain of divine wheat, which allowed itself to fall to the earth, that allowed itself to split, to break in death and, in this way, opens itself and thus can produce fruit in the vastness of the world."
Martyrs, he explained, follow Christ completely "freely accepting to die for the salvation of the world, in a supreme proof of love," and their strength to do so comes from an intimate union with the Lord.
"If we read the lives of the martyrs, we are astonished by their serenity and courage in confronting suffering and death: the power of God is manifested fully in the weakness, in the poverty of he who entrusts himself to Him and puts his hope only in Him."
The martyr, he went on, is "a free person that in a single definitive action gives his entire life to God, and, in a supreme act of faith, hope and charity, abandons himself into the hands of his Creator and Redeemer; he sacrifices his life to be associated totally with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross."
Put briefly, the Pope said, "martyrdom is a great act of love in response to the immense love of God."
Repeating his words from last Sunday's Angelus catechesis, he said again that while Christians are not likely to be called to martyrdom, "none of us is excluded from the divine call to holiness, to live Christian existence in a 'high' way.
"We all, especially in our times in which selfishness and individualism seem to prevail, must take on as our first and fundamental commitment that of growing every day in an ever greater love of God and our brother to transform our world," he concluded.