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Wednesday, 28 November 2007


On an occasion such as this, many personal memories come to mind. I cannot, in fact, forget the long years I spent teaching public ecclesiastical Law in the Faculty of Canon Law, from 1978 to 1991. I see before my eyes the faces of many young students who, as the years have passed, have assumed various responsibilities in ecclesial and social life. I can say with conviction that attending it almost daily was for all of us a true training ground for life. Research, teaching and the study of the philosophical, theological and juridical sciences have sustained generations of young people, who with the education they received have carried out their ministry, making the Church's unity and catholicity visible in the most disparate parts of the earth. The fact that I am here some years later once again meeting one-time colleagues and alumnae, enables me to thank the Lord for granting me this experience of grace. It will live on, impressed on my priestly and academic life as a beautiful, joyous and gratifying moment.

Furthermore, in the course of the centuries former teachers and students who made a mark on the Church's history have found a niche in these walls. The names of the Servant of God Pius XII, Bl. Pope John XXIII and St Josémaria Escrivá de Balaguer are only a few in a long list of Cardinals, Bishops, priests and lay people who have testified with their lives to the beauty and depth of the faith, showing that the genuine exercise of "intellectual charity" - to borrow an expression from Bl. Antonio Rosmini - can truly be a path to holiness and an effective method for making the Gospel vibrant for our contemporaries. The generations of students change with the evolution of history and culture. Nevertheless, the formative role of the Lateran University finds continuity in being rooted in a living tradition that guarantees speculative depth and especially the ability to identify in advance new challenges as history unfolds. Besides, this is what Benedict XVI said in this very same lecture hall last year, during his inaugural Visit of 21 October [2006]. "In the University the young generations are formed who await a serious, demanding proposal, capable of responding in new contexts to the perennial question on the meaning of our existence. This expectation must not be disappointed. "The contemporary context seems to give primacy to an artificial intelligence that becomes ever more dominated by experimental techniques, and in this way forgets that all science must always safeguard man and promote his aspiration for the authentic good.

"To overrate "doing', obscuring "being', does not help to recompose the fundamental balance that everyone needs in order to give their own existence a solid foundation and valid goal" (Address at Lateran University for the Opening of the Academic Year). A consciousness of the need for education is therefore felt with particular urgency in these years that mark the inevitable evolution of cultural conditions, from which derives behaviour that is all too often in sharp contrast with what in previous decades marked the lives of entire generations.

The memory of the past must be a support and an incentive, not only for living the present but above all to assure our young people a future full of meaning and responsibility. Moreover, a real future will never be possible unless the past and its tradition are preserved. As a son of St John Bosco, I feel personally the need for the formation of youth. Don Bosco used to say that formation must be supported by three strong points: reason, religion and lovingness. "Reason and religion", he wrote in his famous short Trattatello sul sistema preventivo [Treatise on the preventive system], "are instruments of which the educator must make constant use, teaching them and practising them himself, if he wishes to be obeyed and to achieve his goal". With the preventive system, Don Bosco explained, the educator "makes a friend of the pupil... in such a way as to speak with the language of the heart, both during the period of education and after it... wherever these students go, they are generally a comfort to their families, useful citizens and good Christians". So much wisdom and farsightedness is hidden in these simple words; he was able to keep faith, reason and love bound together as a practical means for change and the basis of all true pedagogy.

In thinking of the students who attended the Pope's university, we are, as it were, under the obligation to focus our attention more directly on the teaching that Benedict XVI has dedicated especially to you young people in recent years. In his first Greeting at the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne on 18 August 2005, the Pope urged you to "set out on the journey" (Arrival Address, 18 August 2005). This is an important image because it allows us to grasp the meaning of life. Man, by his very nature homo viator, as the philosopher Gabriel Marcel defined him, is journeying forward. Our journey, the Pope suggests, must follow the star that points to the destination we must reach; this comet must sooner or later come to rest over the Grotto of Bethlehem. Here, at last, we will discover God's presence in our history and our personal life. Indeed, the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God is the true centre of our faith. What a difference one notes between someone journeying forward and someone who is instead just wandering.

The wanderer does not know where he is going, whereas a journey must always have a purpose. Unfortunately, we know so many young people who are wandering. They squander the most beautiful years of their lives chasing fleeting illusions that will never be able to give consistency to the development of a mature personality. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, challenges them to become the protagonists of their own lives through acts of genuine freedom. In this situation, how is it possible to forget the Pope's words on 18 August 2005 in his Welcome Address at the Poller Rheinwiesen Wharf: "Open wide your hearts to God! Let yourselves be surprised by Christ! Let him have "the right of free speech'.... Open the doors of your freedom to his merciful love!" It is truly beautiful to believe that Christ has an inalienable right to speak to each one of you, to come to meet you and to exhort everyone to give a free response of faith. In some ways we are all contemporaries of Jesus of Nazareth; he still passes on our streets, visits our towns and asks to stay at our homes. Everything depends on our willingness to grasp his presence and hear his voice. If we are caught up in the din and frenzy, it becomes hard to perceive his closeness and our greatest risk is to be emptied and no longer to contain anything that gives life depth.

In this situation we cannot forget what Benedict XVI said on the Marienfeld Esplanade in Cologne, reminding you of a profound commitment in faith to demolish that sense of frustration that often wraps itself around life in a spiral, bringing it to the edge of the precipice. This commitment requires the joyful discovery of the Face of Christ. This is how the Pope expressed it in the Homily at Marienfeld: "Religion often becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion sought on a "do it yourself' basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves. Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ. Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction" (21 August 2005). At his university, these words can only acquire a very special meaning. Knowing Christ "with conviction" demands both concentrated study and a passion for the content. You are responsible, in the first place, for knowing the Person of Jesus Christ so that you can become convincing witnesses among your peers to your discovery of life's meaning. The request to find Christ through study rather than through experience and prayer might appear misleading. Yet not one of us can forget that faith has a logic of its own and imposes its own rules. Just as a consistent witness is decisive and prayer indispensable, so knowledge is crucial. Without being acquainted with the Person of Jesus Christ it becomes difficult to love him; if his teaching does not stay alive how is it possible to imagine living as his disciples? While the time we spend at university helps us to grasp the intricacy of the different branches of knowledge, it prepares us at the same time for a conscious deepening of what we believe.

This enables us to live in the world as free people. To exercise freedom, however, it is necessary to retain the amazement and wonder of those who continually discover horizons to investigate because they are fascinated by the mystery. Mincing no words, Benedict XVI invites you to take this route, asking yourselves those questions that enable you to make acts of true freedom, even at the cost of sacrifice and renunciation. "Where do I find", the Pope said on 18 August 2005, "standards to live by, what are the criteria that govern responsible cooperation in building the present and the future of our world? On whom can I rely? To whom shall I entrust myself? Where is the One who can offer me the response capable of satisfying my heart's deepest desires?" (Welcome Address, 18 August 2005). These far from obvious or rhetorical questions explain that the journey lasts for one's entire life. But it must be oriented to those who truly have a consistent response and can go beyond the contradictions that dwell within each one of us. Nonetheless, the Pope added another piece to the mosaic that he is creating on his proposal for youth. In his Homily for the Agora of [Italian] Youth in Loreto last 2 September, he used a word that is old-fashioned yet never as timely and provocative as it is today: humility. To be truly free, it is necessary to be able to embody humility. The Pope said: "Do not follow the way of pride but rather that of humility. Go against the tide: do not listen to the interested and persuasive voices that today are peddling on many sides models of life marked by arrogance and violence, by oppression and success at any cost, by appearances and by having at the expense of being.... Be alert! Be critical! "Do not follow the wave produced by this powerful, persuasive action. Do not be afraid, dear friends, to prefer the "alternative' routes pointed out by true love: a modest and sound lifestyle; sincere and pure emotional relationships; honest commitment in studies and work; deep concern for the common good. "Do not be afraid of seeming different and being criticized for what might seem to be losing or out of fashion... the way of humility is not the way of renunciation but that of courage. It is not the result of a defeat but the result of a victory of love over selfishness" (Homily, Loreto, 2 September 2007). We must recognize it. These are truly strong words, loaded with a content which it is difficult to see as applicable today; yet each one hears them as words that penetrate his inmost being and reverberate, words whose truth is perceived because they were spoken by a witness who lives them in the first person.

Young university students like you should particularly listen to the invitation to be alert and critical. Watchfulness makes it possible to remain ever attentive to the occurrence of events; a critical spirit, for its part, imposes reflection and reasoning. To take up an image dear to Pope John Paul II, you are called to live as "sentinels of the dawn", thus quick to spot every movement and skilled at ascertaining its direction. The sentinel's "alertness" is not seduced by the sound of sirens but can go beyond it through will power. As you well know, "criticism" is the fruit of reason that thinks and asks questions to work out the truth. No one lets himself be seduced by weak theories that seek to impose doubt in the attainment of truth and, through a subtle but arrogant relativism, induce people to think that the truth does not exist. On the contrary, truth not only exists but we are in need of it. Of course, we are not primarily speaking of an abstract truth but of the truth that affects our own lives and is perceived as crucial if we are to live in a consistent and dignified manner. Is not the university perhaps the privileged place in which to increase in knowledge and plot the paths that lead gradually to understanding the beauty of truth? In the various faculties and with the different disciplines that you study, you will always have the opportunity to grow in watchfulness and in critical knowledge. Ask your teachers the questions that they themselves inspire in you and do not be afraid to spend your time in study and research. For you, this is the season for sowing. Of course, it costs you effort because there are no immediate results. You have to develop with the certainty that what you acquire within these walls will be useful to you in the near future when you enter the priestly ministry or professional life. Pope Benedict's appeal for humility, therefore, has its expressive strength precisely in this context. It is typical of the mature person, moreover, to recognize that there are times when one must keep quiet in order to learn and other times when one must become teachers with one's own testimony. Humility, which past decades left in a corner as though it were a question of something irrational, is on the contrary a favourable condition for expressing true freedom. Humility permits one to grasp the real meaning of things because it puts them in their right place; a humble person will never be able to absolutize anything since he is aware of his limitation and contradiction. All that humility brings, on the other hand, is a sense of balance, which is why it is nourished by wisdom and leads to the fullness of truth.

It is in this sense that we are all, but especially you young people, called to make our own the Pope's repeated invitation to keep our gaze fixed on the truth. Scientific discovery, of which we are only too aware today, and technology, which intrudes into the various areas of personal and social life, cannot claim to have the last word on human happiness. There is something that goes further and makes important breakthroughs possible in order to arrive at the meaning of life. The various scientific hypotheses can be fascinating and can certainly create progress if they are combined with ethical principles; but each one of us discovers that this does not suffice. In order to be happy in life we must attain the truth that we feel as most important, and this is the truth of love.

In his first Encyclical, Benedict XVI gave much space to this topic. The important distinction between eros and agape shows with its full argumentative force that true love requires a change of outlook and mindset. Indeed, it is necessary to transcend the stage of selfishness to become able to give oneself for ever, without asking anything in return. The importance of this teaching becomes ever more obvious with the appearance of numerous different forms that contradict reality. The Encyclical's words ring out when it undauntedly faces the obscuring of a culture no longer in tune with the genuine vision of love: "the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure "sex', has become a commodity, a mere "thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity.... The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 5). If one lives in this dimension, sooner or later disappointment filters through and bitterness and hatred replace respect and love. On the contrary, a culture that wishes to develop in the sphere of correct personal relationships needs to recover a deeper sense of love by adopting lifestyles that allow for its true recognition. This is exactly what Benedict XVI affirms in Deus Caritas Est: "Love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvellous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love.... It is characteristic of mature love that it calls into play all man's potentialities; it engages the whole man, so to speak. Contact with the visible manifestations of God's love can awaken within us a feeling of joy born of the experience of being loved. "But this encounter also engages our will and our intellect. Acknowledgment of the living God is one path towards love, and the "yes' of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never "finished' and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures and thus remains faithful to itself" (n. 17). As can be seen, the theme of the "journey" with which we began has returned. It shows the importance of constant growth towards which we have set out and which lasts for all of life.

There is one final aspect that I consider important in the Catecheses which the Pontiff has addressed to young people in various circumstances. It concerns the contribution you are called to make to building society. In the Homily he preached on Montorso Plain, Loreto, last 2 September, the Pope said: "Following Christ, dear young people, also entails the constant effort to make one's own contribution to building a society that is more just and supportive and in which all may enjoy the goods of the earth. "I know that many of you are generously dedicated to witnessing to your faith in the various social environments, active as volunteers and working to promote the common good, peace and justice in every community".

In our specific context, these words have a programmatic value. It was once rightly said: Non scholae sed vitae discimus. What is learned here serves for life. Many of you will meet again in the priestly ministry, and the duty to build society will be in particular the duty to give a sense of God to people today and to enable them to have a real encounter with him. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI gave an impetus to communicating in a new and scientifically based language the fundamental outline of Jesus Christ's history and has shown how history itself acquired a different meaning from the moment it received the Person of the Son of God. The Pope, in any case, gives you an example of how important it is to reach out to people without excluding anyone. The Church lives this universal mission, and all who are called to serve her in the priesthood and consecrated life must prepare themselves to meet everyone, to become for each individual an effective means of grace. Many other students will be involved in professional life as lay people who must fulfil their own secular vocation. You know that in all its different structures the world needs your witness and your specific work, which you alone can offer. I am convinced that studying here, at the Pope's university, will enable you to make a considerable contribution with your skill and professionalism to the evangelization of the world. As the ancient author wrote in the Letter to Diognetus: "The Lord set Christians in the world and it is not legitimate for them to abandon him". Therefore, a determined "yes" is needed on your part if you are to face with enthusiasm and courage the future and challenges it will have in store for you.

Dear young people, do not disappoint the Pope! I can assure you that he places great trust in you and expects of you a renewed presence in the world, especially among your peers who need to be able to feel tangibly the joy and beauty of believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was made man for our salvation.