The Biblical readings of the Mass this Sunday invite us to meditate on a fascinating theme that can summed up thus: freedom and the following of Christ. The evangelist Luke recounts that Jesus, "as the days in which he would be taken from the world were approaching, resolutely turned toward Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51).
With the expression "resolutely" we can glimpse something of the freedom of Christ. He knows in fact that death on the cross is waiting for him in Jerusalem but in obedience to the will of the Father he offers himself up for love. It is in his obedience to the Father that Jesus realizes his freedom as a conscious choice motivated by love. Who is freer than he, who is omnipotent?
He did not live his freedom, however, as license or dominion. He lived it as service. In this way he "filled" with content a freedom that would have otherwise remained an "empty" possibility to do or not do something. As the life itself of man, freedom takes its meaning from love. Who is more free? The one who holds onto all possibilities for fear of losing them, or the one who "resolutely" gives himself in service and thus finds himself full of life because of the love that he has given and received?
The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Galatia, in present day Turkey, says: "You were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love" (Galatians 5:13).
Living according to the flesh means to follow the egoistic tendencies of human nature. Living according to the Spirit, however, means letting oneself be guided in intentions and deeds by the love of God that Christ has given to us. Christian freedom, therefore, is completely different from arbitrariness; it is following Christ in the gift of self, right up to the sacrifice on the cross.
It might seem paradoxical, but the Lord lived the culmination of his freedom on the cross, as the pinnacle of love. When on Calvary they shouted: "If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!" He showed his freedom as Son precisely by remaining on the gibbet to fully accomplish the merciful will of the Father. Many other witnesses to truth have shared this experience: men and woman who remained free even in a prison cell and under the threat of torture. "The truth will set you free." Those who belong to the truth will never be the slave of any power, but will always know how to freely be the servant of their brothers.
Let us look to Mary Most Holy. Humble handmaiden of the Lord, the Virgin is the model of the spiritual person, totally free because she is immaculate, immune to sin, and completely holy, dedicated to the service of God and neighbor. With her maternal care may she help us to follow Jesus, to know the truth, and to live in the freedom of love.
(Benedict XVI, Angelus, 1 July 2007)
(Question) How can the priest today witness to the Christian meaning of suffering in a world that resorts to every legal or illegal means to eliminate any form of pain, and how should he behave towards those who are suffering without running the risk of being rhetorical or pathetic?
(Reply of Benedict XVI) "Yes, what is he to do? Well, I think we should recognize that it is right to do our utmost to overcome the suffering of humanity and to help those suffering - there are so many of them in the world - to find a good life and to be relieved from the evils that we ourselves often cause: hunger, epidemics, etc.
"However, at the same time, recognizing this duty to alleviate the suffering we ourselves have caused, we must also recognize and understand that suffering is an essential part of our human development.
"I am thinking of the Lord's parable of the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and only in this way, by dying, could it bear fruit; and this falling to the ground and dying is not a momentary event but precisely a life process: to fall like a seed into the earth and thus to die, being transformed, being instruments of God so as to bear fruit.
"It was not by chance that the Lord told his disciples: the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to suffer; therefore, anyone who wants to be a disciple of mine must shoulder his cross so he can follow me. In fact, we are always somewhat similar to Peter, who said to the Lord: "No, Lord, this cannot happen to you, you must not suffer". We do not want to carry the Cross, we want to create a kingdom that is more human, more beautiful, on this earth.
"This is totally mistaken: the Lord teaches it. However, Peter needed a lot of time, perhaps his entire life, in order to understand it; why is there this legend of the Quo Vadis? There is something true in it: learning that it is precisely in walking with the Lord's Cross that the journey will bear fruit. Thus, I would say that before talking to others, we ourselves must understand the mystery of the Cross.
"Of course, Christianity gives us joy, for love gives joy. But love is also always a process of losing oneself, hence, a process of coming out of oneself; in this regard, it is also a painful process. Only in this way is it beautiful and helps us to mature and to attain true joy.
"Anyone who seeks to affirm or to promise a life that is only happy and easy is a liar, because this is not the truth about man; the result is that one then has to flee to false paradises. And in this way one does not attain joy but self-destruction.
"Christianity proclaims joy to us, indeed; this joy, however, only develops on the path of love, and this path of love has to do with the Cross, with communion with the Crucified Christ. And it is presented through the grain of wheat that fell to the ground. When we begin to understand and accept this - every day, because every day brings some disappointment or other, some burden that may also cause pain -, when we accept this lesson of following Christ, just as the Apostles had to learn at this school, so we too will become capable of helping the suffering.
"It is true that it is always difficult, if one who is more or less healthy and in good condition is obliged to comfort someone afflicted by a great evil, whether illness or the loss of love. In the face of these evils with which we are all familiar, everything appears almost inevitably rhetorical and pathetic.
"Yet, I would say, if these people feel that we are "com-passionate", that we want to share in carrying the Cross with them in communion with Christ, above all by praying with them, helping them with a silence full of sympathy, love, helping them as best we can, then can we become credible.
"We must accept this, as perhaps at first our words appear purely words. However, if we really live in this spirit of truly following Jesus, we also find the way to be close with our sympathy.
"Etymologically, sympathy means "com-passion" for the human being, helping him, praying, and thereby creating trust in the Lord's goodness that also exists in the darkest valley. Thus, we can open our hearts to the Gospel of Christ himself, who is the true Consoler; opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit, who is called the other Consoler, the other Paraclete, who is there, who is present. We can open our hearts not because of our words, but because of the important teaching of Christ, his being with us, and thereby help make suffering and pain truly a grace of maturation, of communion with the Crucified and Risen Christ."
(Benedict XVI, Dialogue With Seminarians of the Roman Major Seminary, 17 February 2007)