To Seek God and be Found by Him

An extract from a speech of Pope Benedict XVI
delivered at the Collège des Bernardins, Paris.


To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes Pope Benedict was speaking on the 12th September, 2008, to an invited audience of 650 at the Collège des Bernardins, a Cistercian foundation, one of the most distinguished Colleges of the University of Paris, which received its charter from Pope Innocent III in 1215. He spoke of the part played by the Benedictine tradition in the development and preservation of European culture.


(…) It must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not the aim of the Benedictines to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: quaerere Deum. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is.

It is sometimes said that they were ‘eschatologically oriented’. But this is to be understood not in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional. Quaerere Deum: because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow. This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures. Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or – as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. L’amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu, p. 14).

(…) The Word which opens the path of that search, and is to be identified with this path, is a shared word. True, it pierces every individual to the heart (cf. Acts 2:37). Gregory the Great describes this as a sharp stabbing pain, which tears open our sleeping soul and awakens us, making us attentive to the essential reality, to God (cf. Leclercq, p. 35). But in the process, it also makes us attentive to one another. The word leads not to a purely individual path of mystical immersion, but to the pilgrim fellowship of faith. And so this word must not only be pondered, but also correctly read. As in the rabbinic schools, so too with the monks, reading by the individual is at the same time a corporate activity. ‘But if legere and lectio are used without an explanatory note, then they designate for the most part an activity which, like singing and writing, engages the whole body and the whole spirit’, says Jean Leclercq on the subject (ibid., 21).