John Paul II: Sanctity through a training in prayer
At the beginning of the new millennium, John Paul II placed sanctity as the most important pastoral priority of the Catholic Church in his Apostolic Exhortation Novo Millennio Ineunte. And for this he emphasized the need for a training in the "art of prayer". He said that Catholic communities should become schools of prayer.
A key paragraph is:
- There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that "without Christ we can do nothing" (cf. Jn 15:5). It is prayer which roots us in this truth. It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and of holiness.
Benedict XVI: Love by receiving love through contemplation
Benedict XVI also took up the theme in his first encyclical, being the first of his papacy, it is considered emblematic.
In Deus Caritas Est, the Pope-theologian explained the exact theological meaning of what John Paul II preached. The essence of sanctity is love, and we become love by experiencing love, especially through contemplative prayer.
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith.
He would later say "I am convinced" that humanity truly needs the "essential message" that God is love. Thus, he says with echoes of John Paul's pastoral planning for the entire church: "Everything must start from here and everything must lead to here, every pastoral action, every theological treatise. As St Paul said, "If I ... have not love I gain nothing" (cf. I Cor 13:3)."
Benedict explained that God is love, and that man is made in God's image and is therefore made for love. This love grows to the extent that man receives God's love: "we have to receive for us to give". Thus he stressed the "importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work."
He used the word urgent only once and in reference to the need for prayer: "Prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed."
He even mentioned Blessed Mother Teresa three times to stress that the roots of effective Christian service and charity is in prayer:
- In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service
On explaining one of the main themes, realization of true love via the union of agape and eros, he stresses that man "cannot always give, he must also receive."
- Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift... Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God... Only in the way of contemplation will he be able to take upon himself the needs of others and make them his own.
To further stress this way of contemplation, his Lenten message for 2007 was titled "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37). There he invited everyone:
- Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love.. On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us... One could rightly say that the revelation of God's eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of his agape.
He thus emphasizes that God's way of giving himself to us (agape) is by showing us that he wants us for himself (eros).
Benedict's point on the importance of "receiving love as a gift" is in line with his teaching in Introduction to Christianity on the primacy of receptivity or acceptance. The Christian's role is to "allow God to work" in us and through us, since God is "the only one who can make the world both good and happy." We allow God to work, he says, when we "speak to God as a friend speaks to a friend."
Taken from my article at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interior_life_%28Catholic_theology%29