Saint Peter's Square
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Saint John Damascene
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Saint John Damascene was a towering figure in the history of Eastern theology. He was born into a wealthy Christian family at a time when his native Syria was already under Arab rule. He left a promising career in government in order to enter monastic life. His best-known works are his Discourses against the Iconoclasts, which offer an important contribution to the proper theological understanding of the veneration of sacred images. Saint John Damascene was among the first to distinguish between adoration, which is due to God alone, and veneration, which can rightly be given to an image in order to assist the Christian to contemplate him whom the image represents. It is true that in the Old Testament, divine images were strictly forbidden. But now that God has become incarnate and has assumed visible, material form in Jesus, matter has received a new dignity. The wood of the Cross, the book of the Gospels, the altar of sacrifice: all have been used by God to bring about our salvation. Matter now serves as a sign and sacrament of our encounter with God. When we participate in the sacraments, when we venerate icons, if we do so in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they truly become a means of grace. Despite human sinfulness, God has chosen to dwell within men and women, making them holy, making them sharers in his infinite goodness and holiness. Let us welcome him with joy into our hearts.
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I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, including a group of Felician Sisters serving in health care administration. Upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
My dear friends, this Friday I leave Rome for my Apostolic Visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I wish this morning to take the opportunity through this radio and television broadcast to greet all the peoples of those lands. I am eagerly looking forward to being with you and to sharing with you your aspirations and hopes as well as your pains and struggles. I will be coming among you as a pilgrim of peace. My primary intention is to visit the places made holy by the life of Jesus, and, to pray at them for the gift of peace and unity for your families, and all those for whom the Holy Land and the Middle East is home. Among the many religious and civic gatherings which will take place over the course of the week, will be meetings with representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities with whom great strides have been made in dialogue and cultural exchange. In a special way I warmly greet the Catholics of the region and ask you to join me in praying that the visit will bear much fruit for the spiritual and civic life of all who dwell in the Holy Land. May we all praise God for his goodness. May we all be people of hope. May we all be steadfast in our desire and efforts for peace.
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