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How to Speak of God?

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI      
General Audience, Wednesday 28 November 2012, Paul VI Hall - in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
The central question that we are asking ourselves today is the following: how to speak of God in our time? How to communicate the Gospel, so as to open roads to its salvific truth in the often closed hearts of our contemporaries and in their minds sometimes distracted by the many dazzling headlights of society? Jesus himself, the Evangelists tell us, in announcing the Kingdom of God reflected upon this: "With what can we compare the kingdom of God or with what parable can we describe it?" (Mk 4, 30). How to speak of God today? The first response is that we can speak of God, because He has spoken with us. The first condition for speaking of God is therefore to listen to what God himself has said. God has spoken with us! God is thus not a distant hypothesis about the origin of the world; He is not a mathematical intelligence very far away from us. God is interested in us, He loves us, He has entered personally into the reality of our history, He has communicated himself all the way to becoming incarnate. Thus, God is a reality of our lives, He is so great that He also has time for us, He cares for us. In Jesus of Nazareth we encounter the face of God, who came down from his Heaven so as to immerse Himself in the world of men, in our world, and teach the "art of living", the road of happiness; so as to liberate us from sin and render us children of God (cf Eph 1, 5; Rom 8, 14). Jesus came to save us and show us the good life of the Gospel.

To speak of God means first of all to be clear about what we must bring to the men and women of our time: not an abstract God, a hypothesis, but a concrete God, a God who exists, who has entered into history and is present in history; the God of Jesus Christ as the answer to the fundamental question of why and how to live. This is why to speak of God requires a familiarity with Jesus and his Gospel, it supposes our personal and real knowledge of God and a strong passion for his plan of salvation, without succumbing to the temptation of success, but following the method of God Himself. God’s method is that of humility — God makes Himself one of us — it is the method realised in the Incarnation in the simple house of Nazareth and in the grotto of Bethlehem, that of the parable of the mustard seed. We must not fear the humility of small steps and must trust in the leaven that penetrates the dough and slowly makes it grow (cf Mt 13, 33). To speak of God, in the work of evangelization, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a recovery of simplicity is needed, a return to the essential of the announcement: the Good News of a God who is real and concrete, a God who is interested in us, a God-Love who makes himself close to us in Jesus Christ all the way to the Cross and who in the Resurrection gives us hope and opens us to a life that does not have an end, eternal life, true life. That exceptional communicator the apostle Paul offers us a lesson that, with great simplicity, goes right to the centre of the faith, of the problem "how to speak of God". In the First Letter to the Corinthians he writes: "When I came among you, I did not come to announce the mystery of God with eloquent speech or wisdom. For I assumed to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Christ crucified" (1 Cor 2, 1-2). Thus the first reality is that Paul does not speak of a philosophy that he himself has developed, he does not speak of ideas that he has found elsewhere or invented, but he speaks of a reality of his life, he speaks of God who entered into his life, he speaks of a real God who lives, has spoken with him and will speak with us, he speaks of Christ crucified and risen. The second reality is that Paul does not seek himself, he does not want to create a team of admirers, he does not want to enter history as the head of a school of great knowledge, he does not seek himself, but St Paul announces Christ and wants to win people for the true and real God. Paul speaks only with the desire of wanting to preach that which has entered into his life and which is the true life, which has conquered him on the way to Damascus. Thus, to speak of God means to give space to the One who makes us know him, who reveals to us his face of love; it means to leave one's own I by offering it to Christ, in the knowledge that we are not able to win others for God, but we must await them from God himself, invoke them from Him. To speak of God is thus born from listening, from our knowledge of God which is realized in familiarity with Him, in the life of prayer and according to the Commandments.

To communicate the faith, for St Paul, does not mean to bring oneself, but to say openly and publicly what one has seen and heard in the encounter with Christ, what one has experienced in ones existence henceforth transformed by this encounter: it is to bring the Jesus that one feels present within oneself and who has become the true orientation of ones life, so as to make everyone understand that He is necessary for the world and is decisive for the freedom of every man. The Apostle is not content to proclaim words, but involves his whole existence in the great work of faith. To speak of God, we need to make space for Him, in the trust that it is He who acts in our weakness: to make space for Him without fear, with simplicity and joy, in the profound conviction that the more we put Him and not ourselves at the center, the more our communication will be fruitful. And this also applies to Christian communities: they are called to show the transforming action of God's grace, by surpassing individualism, closure, egotism, indifference and by living God's love in daily relationships. Let us ask ourselves if our communities are truly like this. We must get moving so as to become always and really like this, announcers of Christ and not of ourselves.

At this point we must ask ourselves how Jesus himself communicated. Jesus, in his uniqueness speaks of his Father – Abbà – and of the Kingdom of God, with his gaze full of compassion for the hardships and difficulties of human existence. He speaks with great realism and, I would say, the essential of the announcement of Jesus is that he renders the world transparent and our life has value for God. Jesus shows that in the world and in creation the face of God shines through and he shows us how in the everyday stories of our lives God is present. Whether it be in the parables of nature, the mustard seed, the field with different seeds, or in our lives, we think of the parable of the prodigal son, of Lazarus and of Jesus's other parables. From the Gospels we see how Jesus is interested in each human situation that he encounters, he immerses himself in the reality of the men and women of his time, with full trust in the Father's help. And that really in this story, in a hidden way, God is present and if we are attentive we can encounter Him. And the disciples, who lived with Jesus, the crowds who met Him, see his reaction to the most disparate problems, they see how he speaks, how he behaves; they see in Him the action of the Holy Spirit, the action of God. In Him announcement and life are intertwined: Jesus acts and teaches, always starting from an intimate relationship with God the Father. This style becomes an essential indication for us Christians: our way of living in faith and charity becomes a speaking of God in today, because it shows through an existence lived in Christ the credibility, the realism of what we say with words, which are not only words, but which show the reality, the true reality. And in this we must be attentive to grasp the signs of the times in our epoch, that is, to identify the potentials, the desires, the obstacles that are encountered in contemporary culture, in particular the desire for authenticity, the yearning for transcendence, the sensitivity for safeguarding creation, and to communicate without fear the response offered by faith in God. The Year of Faith is an opportunity to discover, with imagination animated by the Holy Spirit, new routes at the personal and community level, so that in every place the strength of the Gospel may be the wisdom of life and the orientation of existence.

Also in our time, a privileged place to speak of God is the family, the first school to communicate the faith to new generations. The Second Vatican Council speaks of parents as the first messengers of God (cf Lumen Gentium, 11; Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11), called to rediscover their mission, assuming responsibility to educate, to open the consciences of little ones to the love of God as a fundamental service to their lives, to be the first catechists and teachers of the faith for their children. And in this task vigilance is foremost important, which means knowing the favorable opportunities to grasp so as to introduce in the family the discourse on faith and so as to make a critical reflection mature with regard to numerous conditions to which the children are subject. This attention by parents is equally a sensitivity to recognise the possible religious questions present, sometimes evident, sometimes hidden, in children's minds. Then, joy: the communication of the faith must always have a tonality of joy. It is the paschal joy, which is neither silent about nor hides the realities of pain, of suffering, of fatigue, of difficulty, of incomprehension and of death itself, but which knows to offer criteria for interpreting everything in the perspective of Christian hope. The good life of the Gospel is precisely this new gaze, this capacity to see every situation with the eyes of God himself. It is important to help all members of the family to understand that faith is not a weight, but a source of profound joy, it is to perceive the action of God, to recognise the presence of good, which does not make a noise; and it offers precious orientations for living one’s own existence well. Finally, the capacity to listen and to dialogue: the family must be an environment in which one learns to remain together, to reconcile conflicts in reciprocal dialogue, which is made of listening and speaking, to understand each other and to love each other, so as to be a sign, one for the other, of the merciful love of God.

To speak of God means, therefore, to make it understood with our words and with our lives that God is not the competitor of our existence, but rather He is its true guarantor, the guarantor of the greatness of the human person. In this way we return to the beginning: to speak of God is to communicate, with strength and simplicity, with word and life, that which is essential: the God of Jesus Christ, this God who has shown us a love so great as to become incarnate, to die and to rise for us; this God who asks us to follow him and let ourselves be transformed by his immense love so as to renew our lives and our relationships; this God who has given us the Church, to walk together and, through the Word and the Sacraments, to renew the entire City of men, so that it may become City of God."


"Je salue cordialement les pèlerins francophones, particulièrement ceux d’Amiens ! Puissiez-vous regarder les situations humaines avec les yeux mêmes de Dieu et laisser son amour renouveler votre vie et vos relations ! Vous formerez alors des communautés chrétiennes exemptes d’individualisme et d’indifférence, capables de manifester à tous les hommes l’action transformante de la grâce divine.
Bon pèlerinage !

I offer a cordial welcome to the members and associates of the Catholic Medical Missionary Board, with gratitude for their charitable concern for the health care needs of our brothers and sisters in developing countries. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including the groups from Nigeria, Korea and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

Ganz herzlich grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Gäste. Gott steht unserer menschlichen Existenz nicht fremd gegenüber; er ist vielmehr der Grund der Würde und der Einzigartigkeit des Menschen. Wir wollen dieser Gnade als Zeugen seiner Liebe gerne entsprechen. Der Herr begleite euch alle auf eurer Pilgerfahrt mit seinem reichen Segen.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los grupos provenientes de España, México, Bolivia y otros países latinoamericanos. Invito a todos a dar testimonio de Dios, que nos ha mostrado en la muerte y resurrección de su Hijo el más grande amor, y nos pide seguirlo y dejarnos transformar por Él, de modo que en su Iglesia, a través de la Palabra y los sacramentos, podamos renovar el mundo entero. Muchas gracias.

Uma saudação cordial a todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, com votos de serem por todo o lado zelosos mensageiros e testemunhas da fé que vieram afirmar e consolidar neste encontro com o Sucessor de Pedro. Que Deus vos abençoe! Obrigado!

البَابَا يُصْلِي مِنْ أَجَلِ جَمِيعِ النَّاطِقينَ بِاللُّغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ. لِيُبَارِك الرَّبّ جَمِيعَكُمْ.

Witam polskich pielgrzymów. Moi drodzy, Rok wiary jest szczególnym czasem wsłuchiwania się w to, co Bóg chce nam powiedzieć, ale także czasem mówienia o Nim i o Jego nieskończonej miłości. Nasze głoszenie słowem i czynem prawdy o Bożym pragnieniu zbawienia wszystkich ludzi niech będzie świadectwem osobiście przeżywanej wiary. Niech Bóg da wam tę łaskę i niech wam błogosławi!"


"Il prossimo 1° dicembre ricorre la Giornata Mondiale contro l’AIDS, iniziativa delle Nazioni Unite per richiamare l’attenzione su una malattia che ha causato milioni di morti e tragiche sofferenze umane, accentuate nelle regioni più povere del mondo, che con grande difficoltà possono accedere a farmaci efficaci. In particolare, il mio pensiero va al grande numero di bambini che ogni anno contraggono il virus dalle proprie madri, nonostante vi siano terapie per impedirlo. Incoraggio le numerose iniziative che, nell’ambito della missione ecclesiale, sono promosse per debellare questo flagello.

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Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare saluto i sacerdoti, religiosi e seminaristi della Diocesi di Macerata - grazie! - accompagnati dal Vescovo, Mons. Claudio Giuliodori e i Frati Minori della Provincia Siciliana: la visita alle Tombe degli Apostoli sia occasione per un nuovo slancio di fede nelle iniziative pastorali. Sono lieto di accogliere i membri della Corte dei Conti della Repubblica Italiana, nel 150° anniversario di fondazione, e auguro a questa Istituzione un proficuo servizio per il bene comune. Saluto inoltre la delegazione di Cervia per la tradizionale consegna del sale e gli appartenenti all’Associazione Civicrazia.

Rivolgo infine un affettuoso pensiero ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli. Il tempo di Avvento che sta per iniziare sia di stimolo per voi, cari giovani, a riscoprire l’importanza della fede in Cristo; aiuti voi, cari ammalati, ad affrontare le vostre sofferenze con lo sguardo rivolto al Bambino Gesù; accresca in voi, cari sposi novelli, il senso della presenza di Dio nella vostra nuova famiglia."