Pope Benedict's R & R

Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 3 will be on his to-do list.

Pope Benedict XVI began his summer vacation at Castel Gandolfo July 6. His vacation there will last almost the entire month, during which he will not be holding his usual Wednesday general audience or receiving anyone in private audience, but will be reciting the Angelus prayer on Sundays, as is the usual custom.

The Holy Father plans to fill his time in the same way as many of his past vacations: not so much by resting as by studying, and, in particular, writing his book Jesus of Nazareth. This month, he hopes to make further headway and possibly complete the third and final volume, which will focus on Jesus’ childhood and the years leading up to the beginning of Christ’s preaching — a period about which the Gospels only offer a few hints.

Work on the third volume “will certainly be one of his summer occupations,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, “as well as working on the discourses during his trips to Spain and Germany.” The Holy Father is to travel to Madrid for World Youth Day Aug. 18-21, and then to Berlin, Erfurt and Freiburg, Germany, Sept. 22-25.

The Pope’s choice to spend his vacation in Castel Gandolfo means that, for the second year running, he has declined invitations to vacation in the Italian Alps.

In previous years, he traveled to Les Combes (where in 2009 he suffered a fall during the night and fractured his right wrist, slowing down progress on completing the book), Bressanone in 2008, and Lorenzago di Cadore in 2007. But the Holy Father is believed to be particularly fond of Castel Gandolfo and the Albano Hills, where he finds the fresh air of the hills and the tranquility of the gardens overlooking a volcanic lake more congenial and suitable for study.

The Pope is expected to return to Rome in late September or early October, but before he does so, he will hold his annual schuelerkreis (seminar) with his former students, whom he taught at the University of Regensburg. The meeting will take place Aug. 26-28 at the Apostolic Palace.

Joseph Ratzinger’s first meeting with his former pupils took place in March of 1977, when Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich-Freising. To his former students’ surprise, the Pope maintained the appointment after his election in 2005, each with a different theme.

In 2006, Islam was discussed; in 2007, evolution and evolutionary theories; in 2008, on the historical Jesus and his passion; in 2009 on the mission and dialogue with religions and cultures; and in 2010, the Pope and his former students debated the appropriate interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.

Not everyone is a former student, but, rather, those who have been formed by studying his theology.

This year, some exceptional academics have also been invited, including professor Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, a theologian from Dresden and longtime friend of the Pope, and Otto Neubauer, an Austrian member of the Emmanuel Community. On the second day of the meeting, the Holy Father will meet exclusively with his former students, including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna.

This year’s meeting will be dedicated to the theme of the New Evangelization.

One important aspect of the New Evangelization is, of course, the Eucharist. The significance of the Blessed Sacrament was underlined in an instructive homily by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, delivered at the Pontifical Salesian University June 21 and published in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper.

Cardinal Piacenza said that the centrality of faith in the lives of men, of the Church and of society that derives from the absolute primacy of God “is the very condition needed for the world to recognize those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”

The dynamics of “adoration evangelization” is, in fact, “the only real way to be an authentic witness,” he added — a way that “knows how to overcome the world.” Moreover, he said that an evangelization “that is not born out of a genuine, prolonged, faithful and intimate relationship with God is unlikely to bear fruit and even more unlikely to captivate the people of our time.”

Cardinal Piacenza stressed that “not only strength and courage, but also the right creativity of evangelization, are derived by Eucharistic adoration” and that “any time spent with the Lord is, in fact, given to brothers and is itself evangelization.”

He went on to say that evangelization “is not something to ‘do’ after adoration; evangelization is already happening during adoration. To worship is already to evangelize. It’s not only the dimensions of a visible witness that worship always involves, but also, and above all, cooperation in the hidden work of God, to which, again, those who place themselves in adoration are called to participate.”

Noting that the Church has always tried to captivate the world, the cardinal said that that of course does not mean it tries to flatter it or acquiesce to worldliness. Rather, stressing the words of Matthew 22 and the absolute primacy of God (“Thou shalt love the Lord your God. ... This is the greatest and first commandment”), he said that effective evangelizers are those who show through their whole being and “with happy certainty, all the beauty, the novelty, of a life renewed and the reasonableness of Christianity, believing ‘that Jesus is the Son of God.’” 

It’s not clear whether Cardinal Piacenza will be attending the schuelerkreis, but no doubt this key aspect of evangelization will be one important focus of the discussion.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.