Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury celebrate Vespers at San Gregorio al Celio

2012-03-10 Vatican Radio

Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams celebrated Vespers in the church of St Gregory on the Caelian hill on Saturday afternoon, as they gave thanks together the 1000th anniversary of the Camaldoli monastic community which is based there. Philippa Hitchen was at the celebration and tells us more about this ecumenical encounter..

“It is good to touch the soil on which you are nurtured”. Those words from Dr Rowan Williams explain why three successive archbishops of Canterbury have come to the Rome church of San Gregorio al Celio – to the very place from where Pope Gregory the Great sent out Augustine and 40 of his monks to take the Christian gospel to Anglo-Saxon England at the end of the 6th century.

“Oggi per la terza volta….

Today, for the third time, Pope Benedict said in his homily, the Bishop of Rome is meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury in the home of St Gregory the Great. Today’s celebration, he said is therefore marked by a profoundly ecumenical character, which as we know is part and parcel of the spirit of the Camaldoli community that has lived and worshipped in the church on the Caelian hill since the mid 16th century. Noting the hospitality and openness of this community which has made it a place for fruitful dialogue throughout the centuries and now in different parts of the world, the Pope said we hope that today’s celebration will act as a stimulus for all the faithful – Catholic and Anglican – encouraging them to renew their commitment and prayer for the unity that Jesus himself asked of His Father.

In his sermon, Archbishop Williams spoke of the monastic vision of Gregory the Great, grounded in humility, which helped him see clearly the needs of the people of England and respond by sending St Augustine on his prophetic mission. The church today, he said, is called upon to show that same prophetic spirit, to see where true need is and to answer God’s call…

“To do this, it requires a habit …

Speaking of the need for silence and patient discernment to combat a feverish advertising culture and an economic system centred on selfishness and greed, the Archbishop said we must learn to set aside our busy and self-serving agendas and allow the self-giving Christ to live in us, to open our eyes and to empower us for service.

Before leaving the church, the two leaders lit a candle in the small chapel thought to have been Pope Gregory’s simple monastic cell – a tangible reminder of the need to continue bringing the light of the Gospel to today’s world, just as St Gregory sent Augustine to bring the Cross of Christ to Britain over 14 centuries ago.


Below please find the full texts of the two homilies, first of Pope Benedict and then of Archbishop Rowan Williams:

Your Grace,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Monks and Nuns of Camaldoli,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It gives me great joy to be here today in this Basilica of San Gregorio al Celio for Solemn Vespers on the liturgical commemoration of the death of Saint Gregory the Great. With you, dear Brothers and Sisters of the Camaldolese family, I thank God for the thousand years that have passed since the foundation of the Sacred Hermitage of Camaldoli by Saint Romuald. I am delighted to be joined on this occasion by His Grace Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. To you, my dear Brother in Christ, and to each one of you, dear monks and nuns, and to everyone present, I extend cordial greetings.
We have listened to two passages from Saint Paul. The first, taken from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, is particularly appropriate for the current liturgical season of Lent. It contains the Apostle’s exhortation to seize the favourable moment for receiving God’s grace. The favourable moment is naturally when Jesus Christ came to reveal and to bestow upon us the love that God has for us, through his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection. The “day of salvation” is the same reality that Saint Paul in another place describes as the “fullness of time”, the moment when God took flesh and entered time in a completely unique way, filling it with his grace. It is for us, then, to accept this gift, which is Jesus himself: his person, his word, his Holy Spirit. Moreover, in the first reading, Saint Paul tells us about himself and his apostolate – how he strives to remain faithful to God in his ministry, so that it may be truly efficacious and may not prove instead a barrier to faith. These words make us think of Saint Gregory the Great, of the radiant witness that he offered the people of Rome and the whole Church by a blameless ministry full of zeal for the Gospel. Truly, what Saint Paul wrote of himself applies equally to Gregory: the grace of God in him has not been fruitless (cf. 1 Cor 15:10). This, indeed, is the secret for the lives of every one of us: to welcome God’s grace and to consent with all our heart and all our strength to its action. This is also the secret of true joy and profound peace.
The second reading was taken from the Letter to the Colossians. We heard those words – always so moving for their spiritual and pastoral inspiration – that the Apostle addressed to the members of that community in order to form them according to the Gospel, saying to them: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17). “Be perfect”, the Master said to his disciples; and now the Apostle exhorts his listeners to live according to the high measure of Christian life that is holiness. He can do this because the brothers he is addressing are “chosen by God, holy and beloved”. Here too, at the root of everything, is the grace of God, the gift of the call, the mystery of the encounter with the living Jesus. But this grace demands a response from those who have been baptized: it requires the commitment to be reclothed in Christ’s sentiments: tenderness, goodness, humility, meekness, magnanimity, mutual forgiveness, and above all, as a synthesis and a crown, agape, the love that God has given us through Jesus, the love that the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts. And if we are to be reclothed in Christ, his word must dwell among us and in us, with all its richness and in abundance. In an atmosphere of constant thanksgiving, the Christian community feeds on the word and causes to rise towards God, as a song of praise, the word that he himself has given us. And every action, every gesture, every service, is accomplished within this profound relationship with God, in the interior movement of Trinitarian love that descends towards us and rises back towards God, a movement that finds its highest expression in the eucharistic sacrifice.
This word also sheds light upon the happy circumstances that bring us together today, in the name of Saint Gregory the Great. Through the faithfulness and benevolence of the Lord, the Congregation of Camaldolese monks of the Order of Saint Benedict has completed a thousand years of history, feeding daily on the word of God and the Eucharist, as their founder Saint Romuald taught them, according to the triplex bonum of solitude, community life and evangelization. Exemplary men and women of God, such as Saint Peter Damian, Gratian – author of the Decretum – Saint Bruno of Querfurt and the five brother martyrs, Rudolph I and II, Blessed Gherardesca, Blessed Giovanna da Bagno and Blessed Paolo Giustiniani; men of art and science like Brother Maurus the Cosmographer, Lorenzo Monaco, Ambrogio Traversari, Pietro Delfino and Guido Grandi; illustrious historians like the Camaldolese Annalists Giovanni Benedetto Mittarelli and Anselmo Costadoni; zealous pastors of the Church, among whom Pope Gregory XVI stands out, have revealed the horizons and the great fruitfulness of the Camaldolese tradition.
Every phase of the long history of the Camaldolese has produced faithful witnesses of the Gospel, not only in the hidden life of silence and solitude and in the common life shared with the brethren, but also in humble and generous service towards others. Particularly fruitful was the hospitality offered by Camaldolese guest-houses. In the days of Florentine humanism, the walls of Camaldoli witnessed the famous disputationes, in which great humanists such as Marsilio Ficino and Cristoforo Landino took part. In the turbulent years of the Second World War, those same cloisters were the setting for the birth of the famous Codex of Camaldoli, one of the most significant sources of the Constitution of the Italian Republic. Nor were the years of the Second Vatican Council any less productive, for at that time individuals of high calibre emerged among the Camaldolese, enriching the Congregation and the Church and promoting new initiatives and new houses in the United States of America, Tanzania, India and Brazil. In all this activity, a guarantee of fruitfulness was the support of monks and nuns praying constantly for the new foundations from the depths of their “withdrawal from the world”, lived at times to a heroic degree.
On 17 September 1993, during his meeting with the monks of the Sacred Hermitage of Camaldoli, Blessed John Paul II commented on the theme of their imminent General Chapter, “Choosing hope, choosing the future”, with these words: “Choosing hope and the future in the last analysis implies choosing God ... It means choosing Christ, the hope of every human being.” And he continued, “This particularly occurs in that form of life which God himself brought about in the Church, inspiring Saint Romuald to found the Benedictine family of Camaldoli, with its characteristic complementarity of hermitage and monastery, solitary life and cenobitic life in harmony with each other.” Moreover, my blessed Predecessor emphasized that “choosing God also means humbly and patiently cultivating, according to God’s design, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue”, always on the basis of fidelity to the original charism received from Saint Romuald and transmitted through a thousand years of varied tradition.
Encouraged by the visit from the Successor of Peter, and by his words, all of you Camaldolese monks and nuns have pursued your path, constantly seeking the right balance between the eremitical and the cenobitic spirit, between the need to dedicate yourselves totally to God in solitude, the need to support one another in communal prayer, and the need to welcome others so that they can draw upon the wellsprings of spiritual life and evaluate the events of the world with a truly Gospel-formed conscience. In this way you seek to attain that perfecta caritas that Saint Gregory the Great considered the point of arrival of every manifestation of faith, a commitment that finds confirmation in the motto of your coat of arms: “Ego Vobis, vos mihi”, a synthesis of the covenant formula between God and his people, and a source of the perennial vitality of your charism.
The Monastery of San Gregorio al Celio is the Roman setting for our celebration of the millennium of Camaldoli in company with His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury who, together with us, recognizes this Monastery as the birthplace of the link between Christianity in Britain and the Church of Rome. Today’s celebration is therefore marked by a profoundly ecumenical character which, as we know, is part and parcel of the modern Camaldolese spirit. This Roman Camaldolese Monastery has developed with Canterbury and the Anglican Communion, especially since the Second Vatican Council, links that now qualify as traditional. Today, for the third time, the Bishop of Rome is meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury in the home of Saint Gregory the Great. And it is right that it should be so, because it was from this Monastery that Pope Gregory chose Augustine and his forty monks and sent them to bring the Gospel to the Angles, a little over 1,400 years ago. The constant presence of monks in this place, over such a long period, is already in itself a testimony of God’s faithfulness to his Church, which we are happy to be able to proclaim to the whole world. We hope that the sign of our presence here together in front of the holy altar, where Gregory himself celebrated the eucharistic sacrifice, will remain not only as a reminder of our fraternal encounter, but also as a stimulus for all the faithful – both Catholic and Anglican – encouraging them, as they visit the glorious tombs of the holy Apostles and Martyrs in Rome, to renew their commitment to pray constantly and to work for unity, and to live fully in accordance with the “ut unum sint” that Jesus addressed to the Father.
This profound desire, that we have the joy of sharing, we entrust to the heavenly intercession of Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Romuald.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s
Homily at Papal Vesper, San Gregorio Magno al Celio
10 March 2012, 17.30 pm

Your Holiness, Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

It is a privilege to stand here, where my predecessors stood in 1989 and 1996, and to offer once again, as we did most recently in Westminster [and Assisi], the sacrifice of praise that we owe to the One Lord in whose name we are baptized; the One Lord who by his Spirit, brings to recognisability in each member of his sacramental Body, the image and abundant life of Christ his Son, through the temptations and struggles of our baptismal calling.

St Gregory the Great had much to say about the peculiar temptations and struggles of those called to office in the Church of God. To be called to this service is to be called to several different kinds of suffering – the torment of compassion, as he puts it (Moralia 30.25.74), the daily awareness of urgent human needs, bodily and spiritual, and the torment of praise, flattery and status (ib. 26.34.62). This latter is a torment because those called to this ministry know so clearly their own inner weakness and instability. But that knowledge is a saving knowledge, which among other things helps us minister effectively to others in trouble; and it reminds us that we find stability, soliditas, only in the life of the Body of Christ, not in our own achievement (Homilies on Ezekiel 2.5.22).

These are insights deeply rooted in St Gregory’s formation as a monk. Humility is the key to all faithful ministry, a humility that constantly seeks to be immersed, involved, in the life of Christ’s Body, not looking for an individual heroism or holiness. And it is this humility which the writer of the first life of St Gregory, written in England in the early eighth century, places at the head of the list of his saintly virtues, associating it with the ‘prophetic’ gift which allowed him to see what the English people needed and to respond by sending the mission of St Augustine from this place. That association of humility and prophecy is indeed one that St Gregory himself makes in the Dialogues. The true pastor and leader in the Church is one who, because he is caught up in the eternal self-offering of Jesus Christ through the sacramental mysteries of the Church, is free to see the needs of others as they really are. This may be ‘tormenting’, because those needs can be so profound and tragic; but it also stirs us to action to address such needs in the name and the strength of Christ.

And here lies the heart of Gregory’s monastic vision, the vision which the brothers and sisters of Camaldoli—whose millennium we celebrate with sincere joy here today—still seek to live out. To be immersed in the sacramental life of Christ’s Body requires the daily immersion of contemplation; without this, we cannot see one another clearly; without it we shall not truly recognize and love one another, and grow together in his one holy catholic and apostolic Body. The balance in the monastic life of solitude and common work and worship, a balance particularly carefully worked out in the life of Camaldoli, is something that seeks to enable a clear, even ‘prophetic’ vision of the other – seeing them, as the Eastern Christian tradition represented by Evagrius suggests, in the light of their authentic spiritual essence, not as they relate to our passions or preferences. The inseparable labour of action and contemplation, of solitude and community, is to do with the constant purification of our awareness of each other in the light of the God whom we encounter in silence and self-forgetting.

Your Holiness, dear brothers and sisters, it would be wrong to suggest that we enter into contemplation in order to see one anther more clearly; but if anyone were to say that contemplation is a luxury in the Church, something immaterial for the health of the Body, we should have to say that without it we should be constantly dealing with shadows and fictions, not with the reality of the world we live in. The Church is called upon to show that same prophetic spirit which is ascribed to St Gregory, the capacity to see where true need is and to answer God’s call in the person of the needy. To do this, it requires a habit of discernment, penetration beyond the prejudices and clichés which affect even believers in a culture that is so hasty and superficial in so many of its judgements; and with the habit of discernment belongs a habit of recognizing one another as agents of Christ’s grace and compassion and redemption.

And such a habit will develop only if we are daily learning the discipline of silence and patience, waiting for the truth to declare itself to us as we slowly set aside the distortions in our vision that are caused by selfishness and greed. In recent years, we have seen developing a vastly sophisticated system of unreality, created and sustained by acquisitiveness, a set of economic habits in which the needs of actual human beings seem to be almost entirely obscured. We are familiar with a feverish advertising culture in which we are persuaded to develop unreal and disproportionate desires. We are all – Christians and their pastors included – in need of the discipline that purges our vision and restores to us some sense of the truth of our world, even if that can produce the ‘torment’ of knowing more clearly how much people suffer and how little we can do for them by our unaided labours.

Your Holiness, ‘Certain yet imperfect’ was how our predecessors of blessed memory, Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert, here in Rome in 1989, characterised the communion that our two churches share. ‘Certain’ because of the shared ecclesial vision to which both our communions are committed as being the character of the Church both one and particular – a vision of the restoration of full sacramental communion, of a eucharistic life that is fully visible, and thus a witness that is fully credible, so that a confused and tormented world may enter into the welcome and transforming light of Christ. And ‘yet imperfect’ because of the limit of our vision, a deficit in the depth of our hope and patience. Our recognition of the one Body in each other’s corporate life is unstable and incomplete; yet without such ultimate recognition we are not yet fully free to share the transforming power of the Gospel in Church and world.

‘The truth will set you free’, says Our Lord. In the disciplines of contemplation and stillness, we are brought closer to the truth, and so also closer to the cross of the Lord. We learn our weakness and we learn something of the mystery of how God deals with our weakness – not by ignoring or rejecting it but by embracing its consequences in the incarnation and the passion of Christ. His self-emptying calls out our own self-denial – an appropriate theme for this Lenten season. We learn how to set on one side our busy and self-serving agendas and allow the self-giving Christ to live in us, to open our eyes and to empower us for service. Today, as we give thanks for a millennium of monastic witness, we celebrate the gifts of true and clear vision that have been made possible through this witness. And we pray for all who are called to public service in Christ’s Church that they may be given the grace of contemplative discipline and prophetic clarity in their own witness, so that the glory of Christ’s cross will shine forth in our world even in the midst of our own weaknesses and failures.