An Address given at A Service of blessing for the Benedictine Torch
2 March 2011 at 12:00 pm
The Right Reverend Pietro Vittorelli OSB, Archabbot of Montecassino
Members of the Collegiate Body,
dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ:
Dear friends: along with my good friend Monsignor Renato Boccardo, Archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you who have come in such great numbers to this solemn event in the name of St Benedict, in this venerable abbey, where we can still hear the echo of the Benedictine monks who founded it and cherished it so dearly.
The ‘Twelfth Night’, as one might refer to these days where Anglicans and Catholic have shared in the common commemoration of St Benedict and his many children and who have inherited his spirit which, before his time, was open to Europe and the world.
The circumstances which have led to this dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church have evolved in an impressive manner, following the private meeting between Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher in 1960. Some thirty years have passed since the meeting between the late Pope John Paul and Archbishop Robert Runcie took place in Canterbury Cathedral. And just last September His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visited the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Twelfth Night of meeting and dialogue, like that of today, is similar to others which proceeded it and were deeply longed for, because, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “We Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ, and to explore together a deeper understanding of the means he has placed at our disposal for attaining that salvation. God “wants all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2: 4), and that truth is nothing other than Jesus Christ, eternal Son of the Father, who has reconciled all things in himself by the power of his Cross”.
The expression “Pray, work, study” is a synthesis of the inheritance of St Benedict, whose remains have been venerated for fifteen centuries in our common home at the Abbey of Montecassino. It indicates to us the way for our ecumenical endeavours: to pray, to work, and to study.
To work, because our lives, more than our words follow humbly and faithfully the Gospel of Christ. Indeed, as His Grace, Archbishop Rowan Williams says, and again I quote, “We do not as churches seek political power or control, or the dominance of Christian faith in the public sphere; but the opportunity to testify, to argue, sometimes to protest, sometimes to affirm – to play our part in the public debates of our societies. And we shall, of course, be effective not when we have mustered enough political leverage to get our way but when we have persuaded our neighbours that the life of faith is a life well lived and joyfully lived.”
Secondly: prayer, which unites us to the same Father and makes us all feel as his beloved children despite the geographic distance and the differences resulting from the passage of time, cannot countenance such separation. If dialogue must be, as it is, “face to face,” then prayer, as Pope Benedict reminds us, must find us “side by side.” We give great importance to this dimension of working side by side in our collaboration, which completes the “face to face” aspect of our constant dialogue. The dialogue of life simply means living side by side and learning from each other in such a way that we can grow in mutual understanding and respect.
As Pope Benedict said to representatives of in an interreligious gathering in Twickenham last September: “The dialogue of action brings us together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation.”
Finally we come to study. It is an unceasing duty and a delightful immersion, first of all in the Sacred Scriptures; and moreover allows a continuous search for the truth which expresses itself in the sharing of thoughts and ways of interpreting diverse realities. Study helps us to appreciate the duty and the desire to live in Communion. The duty of study, so important in the Rule of St Benedict, continues to play an integral part in the continuous search of that Truth, which belongs alone to the Lord and which he reveals with evermore lucidity when we are united in study and dialogue.
“Ora et labora et lege” Pray, work and study … together, yes, together. Our fervent prayer is that this visit gives us renewed vigiour to work together. I quote the Archbishop of Canterbury as he welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Lambeth Palace: “Meeting as we do as bishops of separated church communities, we must all feel that each of our own ministries is made less by the fact of our dividedness, a very real but imperfect communion. Perhaps we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion; but no obstacles stand in the way of our seeking, as a matter of joyful obedience to the Lord, more ways in which to build up one another in holiness by prayer and public celebration together, by closer friendship, and by growing together both in the challenging work of service for all whom Christ loves, and mission to all God has made.”
May God preserve us from narcissistic complacency which would make us feel as triumphant protagonists of a history which spurs our mission of unity, forgetting what Benedict told us is our supreme task, Nihil anteponere Christo: put nothing before Christ.
The love of Christ and love of wounded humanity, daily dripping with blood, must never be lost sight of by those who claim to be Christian. Thus a Christian cannot but bend down to offer assistance, as in the poem “Angelus Novus” by His Grace The Archbishop, a gaunt mother reaches out to embrace her child, surrounded by the a desolate landscape. Our faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God has the power to disperse the desolation and waste which besets humanity.
I would like to conclude by quoting from ‘Twelfth Night’, the title-poem of your Archbishop Primate’s collection of poetry. It concerns the Son of the Incarnate God, the Child Jesus, in his desire to share in everything that makes one human.
Your histories belong to me here; here is not innocence but absolution, for your scars are true, but I (always) will bleed in them.
Your memories belong to me; I lie awake at night and see for ever, while the stars shall fall like leaves to cover you.