Monday, February 28, 2011

Lent in the Rule of St Benedict, Part I - Sacred Reading

Lent is rapidly approaching, so I thought I'd post the relevant sections of the Rule to aid preparation for it! The Benedictine Rule has three main sections dealing with the Lenten discipline:
  • Chapter 48, which prescribes extra time for lectio divina, involving reading an assigned book through from beginning to end;
  • Chapter 49, which sets out some guidelines for ascetic practices during Lent; and
  • Chapter 41 on the Lenten fast.
So today, the section on the book.

Lectio Divina for Lent

Chapter 48 says:

"In the days of Lent let them apply themselves to their reading from the morning until the end of the third hour, and from then until the end of the tenth hour let them per­form the work that is assigned to them. In these days of Lent let them each receive a book from the library, which they shall read through consecutively; let these books be given out at the beginning of Lent." (trans J McCann)

Thus, St Benedict adds around an extra hour to the amount of time devoted to sacred reading each day, and also asks that a book be read from cover to cover over the six week period, rather than just dipped in and out of.

Note that the book was assigned to the monk, not chosen by the individual

Adapting to our own regime

The idea of forgoing some of our normal leisure time and using it for holy reading is obviously a good spiritual practice that all of us can probably find time for - even if we have to choose a relatively short book to make it work

So ideally our Lenten book should be assigned to us by our spiritual director.  That is not always possible though, but one can pray over the possible choices for guidance....

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 25: St Walburga OSB (in some places)

Today is the anniversary of the death of St Walburga or Walpurga (710 - c777).  The anniversary of her canonisation, 1 May is also celebrated in some places as Walpurgis Night.

She is remembered as one of a group of great English missionary monks and nuns responsible for the evangelization of  Germany, as well as the first known female author of England and Germany.

The daughter of St. Richard, one of the under-kings of the West Saxons, and of Winna, sister of St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany, and had two brothers, St. Willibald and St. Winibald. St. Richard, when starting with his two sons on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, entrusted Walburga, then eleven years old, to the abbess of Wimborne. In the claustral school and as a member of the community, she spent twenty-six years preparing for the great work she was to accomplish in Germany. The monastery was famous for holiness and austere discipline. There was a high standard at Wimborne, and the child was trained in solid learning, and in accomplishments suitable to her rank.

Thanks to this education she was later able to write St. Winibald's Life and an account in Latin of St. Willibald's travels in Palestine. She is thus looked upon by many as the first female author of England and Germany.

St Walburga went to Germany as a result of an appeal for help on the part of St Boniface. After living some time under the rule of St. Lioba at Bischofsheim, she was appointed abbess of Heidenheim, and was thus placed near her favourite brother, St. Winibald, who governed an abbey there. After his death she ruled over the monks' monastery as well as her own. Her virtue, sweetness, and prudence, added to the gifts of grace and nature with which she was endowed, as well as the many miracles she wrought, endeared her to all.

Her relics were translated to Eichstadt in 870, and it was then that the body was first discovered to be immersed in a precious oil or dew, which has continued to flow from the sacred remains.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24: St Matthias, Apostle, Class II

St Matthias was, of course, the apostle selected to replace Judas.

Matthias was one of the seventy disciples of Jesus, and had been with Him from His baptism by John to the Ascension (Acts 1:21-22).  Acts 1:15-26 relates that in the days following the Ascension, Peter proposed to the assembled brethren, who numbered one hundred and twenty, that they choose one to fill the place of the traitor Judas. Two disciples, Joseph, called Barsabas, and Matthias were selected, and lots were drawn, with the result in favour of Matthias, who thus became associated with the eleven Apostles.

Little more is known about him, and there are contradictory traditions concerning his subsequent ministry.

According to Nicephorus, Matthias first preached the Gospel in Judaea, then in Aethiopia (made out to be a synonym for the region of Colchis, now in modern-day Georgia) and was crucified in Colchis. A marker placed in the ruins of the Roman fortress at Gonio (Apsaros) in the modern Georgian region of Adjara claims that Matthias is buried at that site.

The Synopsis of Dorotheus offers another tradition: “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun."

An extant Coptic Acts of Andrew and Matthias, places his activity similarly in "the city of the cannibals" in Aethiopia.

Yet another tradition maintains that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem by the Jews, and then beheaded.

And according to Hippolytus of Rome, Matthias died of old age in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23: St Peter Damian OSB, memorial

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on this important Benedictine saint in 2009:

"...Today I would like to reflect on one of the most significant figures of the 11th century, St Peter Damian, a monk, a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform, initiated by the Popes of the time. He was born in Ravenna in 1007, into a noble family but in straitened circumstances. He was left an orphan and his childhood was not exempt from hardships and suffering, although his sister Roselinda tried to be a mother to him and his elder brother, Damian, adopted him as his son. For this very reason he was to be called Piero di Damiano, Pier Damiani [Peter of Damian, Peter Damian]. He was educated first at Faenza and then at Parma where, already at the age of 25, we find him involved in teaching. As well as a good grounding in the field of law, he acquired a refined expertise in the art of writing the ars scribendi and, thanks to his knowledge of the great Latin classics, became "one of the most accomplished Latinists of his time, one of the greatest writers of medieval Latin" (J. Leclercq, Pierre Damien, ermite et homme d'Église, Rome, 1960, p. 172).

He distinguished himself in the widest range of literary forms: from letters to sermons, from hagiographies to prayers, from poems to epigrams. His sensitivity to beauty led him to poetic contemplation of the world. Peter Damian conceived of the universe as a never-ending "parable" and a sequence of symbols on which to base the interpretation of inner life and divine and supra-natural reality. In this perspective, in about the year 1034, contemplation of the absolute of God impelled him gradually to detach himself from the world and from its transient realties and to withdraw to the Monastery of Fonte Avellana. It had been founded only a few decades earlier but was already celebrated for its austerity. For the monks' edification he wrote the Life of the Founder, St Romuald of Ravenna, and at the same time strove to deepen their spirituality, expounding on his ideal of eremitic monasticism.

One detail should be immediately emphasized: the Hermitage at Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross and the Cross was the Christian mystery that was to fascinate Peter Damian more than all the others. "Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ", he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117); and he described himself as "Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ" (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed the most beautiful prayers to the Cross in which he reveals a vision of this mystery which has cosmic dimensions for it embraces the entire history of salvation: "O Blessed Cross", he exclaimed, "You are venerated, preached and honoured by the faith of the Patriarchs, the predictions of the Prophets, the senate that judges the Apostles, the victorious army of Martyrs and the throngs of all the Saints" (Sermo XLVII, 14, p. 304). Dear Brothers and Sisters, may the example of St Peter Damian spur us too always to look to the Cross as to the supreme act God's love for humankind of God, who has given us salvation.

This great monk compiled a Rule for eremitical life in which he heavily stressed the "rigour of the hermit": in the silence of the cloister the monk is called to spend a life of prayer, by day and by night, with prolonged and strict fasting; he must put into practice generous brotherly charity in ever prompt and willing obedience to the prior. In study and in the daily meditation of Sacred Scripture, Peter Damian discovered the mystical meaning of the word of God, finding in it nourishment for his spiritual life. In this regard he described the hermit's cell as the "parlour in which God converses with men". For him, living as a hermit was the peak of Christian existence, "the loftiest of the states of life" because the monk, now free from the bonds of worldly life and of his own self, receives "a dowry from the Holy Spirit and his happy soul is united with its heavenly Spouse" (Ep 18, 17; cf. Ep 28, 43 ff.). This is important for us today too, even though we are not monks: to know how to make silence within us to listen to God's voice, to seek, as it were, a "parlour" in which God speaks with us: learning the word of God in prayer and in meditation is the path to life.

St Peter Damian, who was essentially a man of prayer, meditation and contemplation, was also a fine theologian: his reflection on various doctrinal themes led him to important conclusions for life. Thus, for example, he expresses with clarity and liveliness the Trinitarian doctrine, already using, under the guidance of biblical and patristic texts, the three fundamental terms which were subsequently to become crucial also for the philosophy of the West: processio, relatio and persona (cf. Opusc. XXXVIII: PL CXLV, 633-642; and Opusc. II and III: ibid., 41 ff. and 58 ff). However, because theological analysis of the mystery led him to contemplate the intimate life of God and the dialogue of ineffable love between the three divine Persons, he drew ascetic conclusions from them for community life and even for relations between Latin and Greek Christians, divided on this topic. His meditation on the figure of Christ is significantly reflected in practical life, since the whole of Scripture is centred on him. The "Jews", St Peter Damian notes, "through the pages of Sacred Scripture, bore Christ on their shoulders as it were" (Sermo XLVI, 15). Therefore Christ, he adds, must be the centre of the monk's life: "May Christ be heard in our language, may Christ be seen in our life, may he be perceived in our hearts" (Sermo VIII, 5). Intimate union with Christ engages not only monks but all the baptized. Here we find a strong appeal for us too not to let ourselves be totally absorbed by the activities, problems and preoccupations of every day, forgetting that Jesus must truly be the centre of our life.

Communion with Christ creates among Christians a unity of love. In Letter 28, which is a brilliant ecclesiological treatise, Peter Damian develops a profound theology of the Church as communion. "Christ's Church", he writes, is united by the bond of charity to the point that just as she has many members so is she, mystically, entirely contained in a single member; in such a way that the whole universal Church is rightly called the one Bride of Christ in the singular, and each chosen soul, through the sacramental mystery, is considered fully Church". This is important: not only that the whole universal Church should be united, but that the Church should be present in her totality in each one of us. Thus the service of the individual becomes "an expression of universality" (Ep 28, 9-23). However, the ideal image of "Holy Church" illustrated by Peter Damian does not correspond as he knew well to the reality of his time. For this reason he did not fear to denounce the state of corruption that existed in the monasteries and among the clergy, because, above all, of the practice of the conferral by the lay authorities of ecclesiastical offices; various Bishops and Abbots were behaving as the rulers of their subjects rather than as pastors of souls. Their moral life frequently left much to be desired. For this reason, in 1057 Peter Damian left his monastery with great reluctance and sorrow and accepted, if unwillingly, his appointment as Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. So it was that he entered fully into collaboration with the Popes in the difficult task of Church reform. He saw that to make his own contribution of helping in the work of the Church's renewal contemplation did not suffice. He thus relinquished the beauty of the hermitage and courageously undertook numerous journeys and missions.

Because of his love for monastic life, 10 years later, in 1067, he obtained permission to return to Fonte Avellana and resigned from the Diocese of Ostia. However, the tranquillity he had longed for did not last long: two years later, he was sent to Frankfurt in an endeavour to prevent the divorce of Henry iv from his wife Bertha. And again, two years later, in 1071, he went to Monte Cassino for the consecration of the abbey church and at the beginning of 1072, to Ravenna, to re-establish peace with the local Archbishop who had supported the antipope bringing interdiction upon the city.

On the journey home to his hermitage, an unexpected illness obliged him to stop at the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria Vecchia Fuori Porta in Faenza, where he died in the night between 22 and 23 February 1072.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a great grace that the Lord should have raised up in the life of the Church a figure as exuberant, rich and complex as St Peter Damian. Moreover, it is rare to find theological works and spirituality as keen and vibrant as those of the Hermitage at Fonte Avellana. St Peter Damian was a monk through and through, with forms of austerity which to us today might even seem excessive. Yet, in that way he made monastic life an eloquent testimony of God's primacy and an appeal to all to walk towards holiness, free from any compromise with evil. He spent himself, with lucid consistency and great severity, for the reform of the Church of his time. He gave all his spiritual and physical energies to Christ and to the Church, but always remained, as he liked to describe himself, Petrus ultimus monachorum servus, Peter, the lowliest servant of the monks."

February 23: St Peter Damian OSB, bishop and doctor of the Church, memorial

St Peter Damian (c1007-1072) initially made a career as a secular academic in canon law and theology, but in 1035 he decided to became a monk, and disdaining the Cluniac monasteries as too luxurious, entered a hermitage associated with the Camaldolese reform. 

As a monk he proved a zealous seeker after austerities, wrecking his own health in the process, and introducing new asceticisms into monastic life, particularly the use of the discipline.

He became vigorously engaged in the Church reform movement of the time, denouncing simony and the failure of priests to maintain celibacy in many places.  He was appointed a Cardinal by Benedictine Pope Stephen IX, and served under several of his successors. 

Many of his shorter works were open letters - he wrote to all of the Popes of his day, as well as cardinals, bishops, abbots, and lay people.

Fr Rengers', in his book on doctors of the Church comments that: "He is not so much the philosopher explaining principles at length, but rather the crusader giving practical advice. Today many of St. Peter's "little works" would well be called pamphlets."

Had he lived today, he would surely be a blogger!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22: St Peter's Chair, Class III

In the re-1962 calendar there were actually two different feasts of St Peter's chair.  The first related to his pontificate in Rome, and today's feast related to his tenure at Antioch where he spent seven years.  In the 1962 calendar they have been combined, an unfortunate downplaying of the links between East and West in my opinion, not to mention depriving of us a chance to celebrate again the greatest of the Apostles and reinforce the importance of his successors!

But in any case, we can certainly celebrate him today.

Here is an extract from St Augustine for the older version of the feast on St Peter's tenure at Antioch:

"Today's solemn feast received from our forefathers the name of Saint Peter's Chair at Antioch, because of a tradition that on this day Peter, first of the Apostles, took possession of his episcopal Chair. Fitly, therefore, do the churches observe the day of his enthronement, the right to which the Apostles received for the sake of salvation, (which comes to us in the churches,) when the Lord said: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. It was the Lord himself who called Peter the foundation of the Church, and therefore it is right that the Church should reverence this foundation whereon her mighty structure rises. Justly is it written in the Psalm which we so often chant : Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the seat of the elders. Blessed be God, who hath commanded that the holy Apostle Peter be exalted in the congregation! Worthy to be honoured by the Church is that foundation from which her goodly towers rise, pointing to heaven! In the honour which is this day paid to the inauguration of the first Bishop's throne, an honour is paid to the office of all Bishops. The Churches testify one to another, that, the greater the Church's dignity, the greater the reverence due to her priests."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19 after the hour of None: The season of Septuagesima

We come now to one of those times of the year that has been unfortunately suppressed in the new calendar.

The nature of Septuagesimatide

In the traditional calendar, instead of going cold turkey into Lent, we have a three week pre-Lent period of preparation. 

Of course in the Benedictine calendar, pre-Lent started traditionally at least back in November if one follows the Rules fasting regime!  For this reason presumably, Benedictines did not adopt Septuagesima until quite late, in the twelfth century According to Dom Gueranger, by Papal order.

The most immediate change to the liturgy is the 'burying' of the Alleluia, the subject of assorted rituals from different regions, and its replacement in the opening prayers to each hour by 'Laus tibi, Domine, Rex aeterne gloriae'.

But there is also an intensification of the Office, with increased use of specific antiphons and other texts with a focus on helping us remember why we need to do penance.

I Vespers of Septuagesima Sunday

The Magnificat antiphon for Vespers today refers to the Fall, reflecting the fact that at Matins from Sunday the Scripture readings are from the Book of Genesis. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 14: St Valentine, Memorial

The feast of St. Valentine (d c269) was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." As Gelasius implied, nothing was known, even then, about the lives of any of these martyrs. The Saint Valentine that appears in various martyrologies in connection with February 14 is described either as a Roman priest, a bishop, or a martyr from Africa. 

Most of the legends that associate the saint with romantic love seem to have been fourteenth century inventions associated with Chaucer.

Monday, February 7, 2011

February 7: St Romuald OSB, Class III

St Romuald (c 951-1027) is one of those figures who illustrates the importance of "second founders", who add a distinctive charism of their own to combine with St Benedict's wisdom,  in the Benedictine tradition. 

A nobleman, he fled the world in horror after seeing his father kill someone in a duel.  After some time in a monastery he left to become a hermit.  After a checkered career including a failed attempt to reform an existing monastery, he formed a new Camaldolese Order that integrated the Benedictine Cluniac school, the stricter Irish ascetic tradition and Iberian monasticism.  His spirituality is much more eremitic in flavour than that prescribed by the Benedictine Rule, and favours a greater focus on meditation and prayer as well as asceticism.

St Romuald's short Rule for monks says:

"Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.

If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him."

Today the Camaldolese have two distinct branches: one has its headquarters at Camaldoli and maintains a mix of monasteries and hermitages among the communities of men. The other, the Congregation of Monte Corona, was established by the Renaissance reformer, Saint Paolo Giustiniani lives solely in hermitages, usually with a very small number of monks comprising the community.

Happy feastday to all Camaldolese oblates!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

February 5: St Agatha, Class III

St Agatha is one of the seven female saints named in the canon of the mass. 

She had vowed herself to virginity but was persecuted by the pagan official in charge of her city, Catania in Sicily.  Told to sacrifice to the gods or suffer, she stood firm, whereupon she was subjected to a series of tortures, including having her breasts cut off. 

Forbidden medical treatment, in the middle of the night an old man approached her, and revealed himself to be the apostle Peter.  He healed her, but this only spurred on her tormentor to greater indignities, ordering her to be burnt naked over hot coals. 

The Benedictus antiphon for her feast refers to the eruption of the volcano above Catania on the day of her death: crowds of pagans snatched up the pall that covered the saint’s tomb, and hung it up in the path of the advancing fire and lava; miraculously, the steam of lava ceased its advance.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 3: St Blaise, Memorial

St Blaise was a bishop and physician who was martyred in 316.  He is one of the fourteen holy helpers.

He is most famous for his association with the blessing of throats, done on this day as a sacramental. 

His legend states that as he was being led away after he was arrested during one of the persecutions of Christians, a mother set her only son, choking to death of a fish-bone, at his feet, and the child was cured straight away. Regardless, the governor, unable to make Blaise renounce his faith, beat him with a stick, ripped his flesh with iron combs, and beheaded him.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2: Candlemas, aka Purification of Our Lady, Class II

Candlemas, aka The Purification of Our Lady, aka the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, is celebrated 40 days after Christmas, the traditional date for the ceremonies of purification after childbirth in Jewish law that were translated over into Catholic tradition as the rites for the churching of women.

In Jewish tradition women were ritually impure after childbirth; in Catholic tradition the ceremony is a thanksgiving for survival of childbirth, and a blessing for the future. In both cases it was no doubt a practical measure in part, to allow the mother to recover before having to resume her normal duties including attending worship! These days of course the idea is considered ideologically unsound, so the feast has been renamed the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (which was certainly part of the traditional ceremonies, albeit the part supplanted by infant baptism).

The popular name for the feast comes from the ceremony held on the day whereby the candles to be used for the year ahead are blessed.

The Gospel for the day, Luke 2, describes the events, and gives us the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon's canticle used at Compline in the Roman Rite.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 1: St Ignatius of Antioch, Class III

St Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35 or 50-107) was the third Bishop of Antioch from 70 to 107, when he was martyred in Rome.  A student of St John the Evangelist, his letters written on the way to his martyrdom in Rome have survived, giving important witness to the beliefs and practices of the early Church.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on the saint in 2007:

"At that time, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch were the three great metropolises of the Roman Empire. The Council of Nicea mentioned three "primacies": Rome, but also Alexandria and Antioch participated in a certain sense in a "primacy".

St Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch, which today is located in Turkey. Here in Antioch, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, a flourishing Christian community developed. Its first Bishop was the Apostle Peter - or so tradition claims - and it was there that the disciples were "for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11: 26). Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century historian, dedicated an entire chapter of his Church History to the life and literary works of Ignatius (cf. 3: 36).

Eusebius writes: "The Report says that he [Ignatius] was sent from Syria to Rome, and became food for wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ. And as he made the journey through Asia under the strictest military surveillance" (he called the guards "ten leopards" in his Letter to the Romans, 5: 1), "he fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped by homilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their guard against the heresies that were then beginning to prevail, and exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles".

The first place Ignatius stopped on the way to his martyrdom was the city of Smyrna, where St Polycarp, a disciple of St John, was Bishop. Here, Ignatius wrote four letters, respectively to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralli and Rome. "Having left Smyrna", Eusebius continues, Ignatius reached Troas and "wrote again": two letters to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, and one to Bishop Polycarp.

Thus, Eusebius completes the list of his letters, which have come down to us from the Church of the first century as a precious treasure. In reading these texts one feels the freshness of the faith of the generation which had still known the Apostles. In these letters, the ardent love of a saint can also be felt.

Lastly, the martyr travelled from Troas to Rome, where he was thrown to fierce wild animals in the Flavian Amphitheatre.

No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius. We therefore read the Gospel passage on the vine, which according to John's Gospel is Jesus. In fact, two spiritual "currents" converge in Ignatius, that of Paul, straining with all his might for union with Christ, and that of John, concentrated on life in him. In turn, these two currents translate into the imitation of Christ, whom Ignatius several times proclaimed as "my" or "our God".

Thus, Ignatius implores the Christians of Rome not to prevent his martyrdom since he is impatient "to attain to Jesus Christ". And he explains, "It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ than to reign over all the ends of the earth.... Him I seek, who died for us: him I desire, who rose again for our sake.... Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God!" (Romans, 5-6).

One can perceive in these words on fire with love, the pronounced Christological "realism" typical of the Church of Antioch, more focused than ever on the Incarnation of the Son of God and on his true and concrete humanity: "Jesus Christ", St Ignatius wrote to the Smyrnaeans, "was truly of the seed of David", "he was truly born of a virgin", "and was truly nailed [to the Cross] for us" (1: 1).

Ignatius' irresistible longing for union with Christ was the foundation of a real "mysticism of unity". He describes himself: "I therefore did what befitted me as a man devoted to unity" (Philadelphians, 8: 1).

For Ignatius unity was first and foremost a prerogative of God, who, since he exists as Three Persons, is One in absolute unity. Ignatius often used to repeat that God is unity and that in God alone is unity found in its pure and original state. Unity to be brought about on this earth by Christians is no more than an imitation as close as possible to the divine archetype.

Thus, Ignatius reached the point of being able to work out a vision of the Church strongly reminiscent of certain expressions in Clement of Rome's Letter to the Corinthians.

For example, he wrote to the Christians of Ephesus: "It is fitting that you should concur with the will of your Bishop, which you also do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the Bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore, in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, you become a choir, that being harmonious in love and taking up the song of God in unison you may with one voice sing to the Father..." (4: 1-2).

And after recommending to the Smyrnaeans: "Let no man do anything connected with Church without the Bishop", he confides to Polycarp: "I offer my life for those who are submissive to the Bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may I along with them obtain my portion in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together as the stewards and associates and servants of God. Please him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your Baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply" (Polycarp, 6: 1-2).

Overall, it is possible to grasp in the Letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the Ecclesial Community, and on the other, the fundamental unity that binds all the faithful in Christ.

Consequently, their roles cannot be opposed to one another. On the contrary, the insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony. The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear.

This applies first of all to their invitation to love and unity. "Be one", Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: "one supplication, one mind, one hope in love.... Therefore, all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one" (7: 1-2).

Ignatius was the first person in Christian literature to attribute to the Church the adjective "catholic" or "universal": "Wherever Jesus Christ is", he said, "there is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnaeans, 8: 2). And precisely in the service of unity to the Catholic Church, the Christian community of Rome exercised a sort of primacy of love: "The Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness... and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father..." (Romans, Prologue).

As can be seen, Ignatius is truly the "Doctor of Unity": unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies gaining ground which separated the human and the divine in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful in "faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred" (Smyrnaeans, 6: 1).

Ultimately, Ignatius' realism invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to make a gradual synthesis between configuration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (unity with the Bishop, generous service to the community and to the world).

To summarize, it is necessary to achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within herself and mission, the proclamation of the Gospel to others, until the other speaks through one dimension and believers increasingly "have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ" (Magnesians, 15).

Imploring from the Lord this "grace of unity" and in the conviction that the whole Church presides in charity (cf. Romans, Prologue), I address to you yourselves the same hope with which Ignatius ended his Letter to the Trallians: "Love one another with an undivided heart. Let my spirit be sanctified by yours, not only now, but also when I shall attain to God.... In [Jesus Christ] may you be found unblemished" (13).

And let us pray that the Lord will help us to attain this unity and to be found at last unstained, because it is love that purifies souls."