Papal Reflection on Priesthood to Open Academic Year
"As Priests, the One Legitimate Ascent ... Is Not That of Success But That of the Cross"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 7, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave last Friday evening when he presided overs Vespers for the opening of the academic year in pontifical universities.
His homily focused on priestly ministry, in light of the 70th anniversary of Pope Pius XII founding the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
It is a joy for me to celebrate these Vespers with you the members of the great community of the pontifical Roman universities. I greet Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, thanking him for the courteous words that he has addressed to me and above all for his service as head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, assisted by the secretary and the other collaborators. To them, and to all of the rectors, professors and the other students I address my most cordial greeting.
Seventy years ago, Venerable Pius XII, with the motu proprio "Cum Nobis" (cf. AAS 33 , 479-481) instituted the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, with the aim of promoting vocations to the priesthood, to spread an understanding and necessity of the ordained ministry and to encourage the faithful to pray for many worthy priests. On the occasion of that anniversary, this evening I would like to propose some reflections to you on the priestly ministry.
The motu proprio "Cum Nobis" represented the beginning of a vast movement of prayer initiatives and pastoral activities. It was a clear and generous response to the Lord's call: "The harvest is great but the laborers are few! Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest! (Matthew 9:37). Everywhere other ventures would develop following the launch of the Pontifical Work. Among these I would like to recall "Serra International," founded in the United States and named for Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar, with the purpose of encouraging and supporting vocations to the priesthood and giving financial support to seminarians. I thank the members of Serra International, who are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their recognition by the Holy See.
The Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations was instituted on the liturgical commemoration of St. Charles Borromeo, venerable patron of seminarians. We pray to him in this celebration to intercede for the reawakening, sound formation and growth of priestly vocations.
The Word of God too, which we heard in the passage from the First Letter of Peter, invites us to meditate on the mission of shepherds in the Christian community. From the beginnings of the Church there is an obvious prominence of the leaders of the first communities, who were appointed by the Apostles to proclaim the Word of God through preaching and celebrating the sacrifice of Christ, the Eucharist. Peter offers passionate encouragement: "I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder, a witness to the sufferings of Christ and a participant in the glory that must manifest itself" (1 Peter 5:1). St. Peter offers this exhortation on the basis of his personal relationship with Christ, which culminated in the dramatic events of the passion and in the experience of the encounter with him after his resurrection from the dead. Peter, furthermore, highlights the reciprocal solidarity of pastors in ministry, underscoring his and their belonging to the one apostolic order: He says, in fact, that he is "a fellow elder"; the Greek term is "sympresbyteros." Feeding the flock of Christ is the vocation and task common to them and links them in a particular way because they are united to Christ by a special bond. In fact, the Lord Jesus compared himself many times to a caring shepherd, attentive to each one of his sheep. He said of himself: "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11). And St. Thomas Aquinas writes in his commentary on the Gospel of St. John: "Although the leaders of the Church are all shepherds, nevertheless, [Christ] is in a singular way. He says "I am the good shepherd" with the purpose of introducing the virtue of charity with sweetness. In fact, one cannot be a good shepherd without becoming one with Christ and his members through charity. Charity is the first duty of the good shepherd" (10, 3).
The Apostle Peter's vision of the call to the office of leading the community is a grand one, conceived in continuity with the unique election of The Twelve. The apostolic vocation exists through the personal relationship with Christ, nourished by assiduous prayer and animated by the passion for communicating the message received and the Apostles' same experience of faith. Jesus called The Twelve to be with him and to send them to preach his message (cf. Mark 3:14). There are some conditions for there to be a growing consonance between Christ and the life of the priest. I would like to focus on three, which emerge from the reading that we heard: the aspiration to work with Jesus to spread the Kingdom of God, the gratuity of the pastoral charge and the attitude of service.
First of all, in the call to the ministerial priesthood there is the encounter with Christ and being fascinated, struck by his words, by his gestures, by his very person. It is distinguishing his voice from many voices, responding like Peter: "You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and known that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69). It is like feeling the radiance of the Good and Love that emanate from him, feeling enveloped and involved to the point of desiring to remain with him like the disciples of Emmaus -- "stay with us for the day is nearly spent" (Luke 24:29) and bringing the proclamation of the Gospel to the world. God the Father sent the eternal Son into the world to realize his plan of salvation. Christ Jesus established the Church to extend the beneficial effects of the redemption through time. The vocation of priests has its root in this action of the Father realized in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The minister of the Gospel then is he who lets himself be drawn by Christ, who knows how to "remain" with him, who enters into harmony, in intimate friendship, with him, that all be done "as God wishes" (1 Peter 5:2), according to his will of love, with great interior freedom and profound joy of heart.
In the second place, priests are called to be administrators of the Mysteries of God "not for personal gain but with a generous soul," St. Peter says in the reading from these Vespers (1 Peter 5:2). It must never be forgotten that one enters the priesthood through the sacrament, Ordination, and this means precisely opening oneself to the action of God, choosing every day to give oneself for him and for the brothers according to the word of the Gospel: "Freely have you received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). The Lord's call to ministry is not the fruit of special merits but a gift to be received and to which there corresponds a dedication of oneself not to one's own project but God's, in a generous and disinterested way, that he might dispose of us according to his will even if this does not concur with our desires of self-realization. It means loving together with him who first loved us and gave himself entirely. It means being open to letting oneself be involved in his full and complete act of love toward the Father and every person, consummated on Calvary. We must never forget -- as priests -- the one legitimate ascent for the ministry of shepherd is not that of success but that of the cross.
In this logic, being priests means being servants even with the exemplarity of life. "Be examples to the flock" is the invitation of the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:3). Priests are the dispensers of the means of salvation, of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. They do not dispose of them according to their own will but they are their humble servants for the good of the People of God. It is one life, then, profoundly marked by this service: from the attentive care of the flock, from the faithful celebration of the liturgy, and from the prompt solicitude for all of the brothers, especially the most poor and needy. In living this "pastoral charity" on the model of Christ and with Christ, in whatever post the Lord calls one to, every priest can fully realize himself and his vocation.
Dear brothers and sisters, I have offered a reflection on the priestly ministry. But consecrated persons and laypeople, I think especially of the many religious women and lay women who study at the ecclesiastical universities of Rome, and of those who offer their service as professors or as staff of these schools, can also find useful elements [in what I have said] for living the time that they spend in the Eternal City more intensely. It is important for all, in fact, always to learn more to "remain" with the Lord, daily, in the personal encounter with him to let oneself be fascinated and be drawn by his love and to be proclaimers of his Gospel; it is important to seek in life to follow generously not one's own project but God's for each person, conforming one's will to the Lord's; it is important to prepare oneself, also through serious and demanding studies, to serve the People of God in the tasks entrusted to us.
Dear friends, live well, in intimate communion with the Lord, this time of formation: It is a precious gift that God offers you, especially here in Rome where one breathes the Church's catholicity in a completely singular way. May St. Charles Borromeo obtain the grace of fidelity for all those who attend the ecclesiastical institutes of Rome. May the Lord grant all of you, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, "Sedes Sapientiae," a profitable academic year. Amen.
Benedict XVI's Lectio Divina to Roman Seminarians
"The Christian Life Begins With a Call and Always Remains a Response"
ROME, MARCH 7, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily that Benedict XVI delivered Friday at a celebration of lectio divina with the Major Roman Seminary. In keeping with an annual tradition, the Holy Father visited on the feast of the seminary's patron, Our Lady of Trust.
The following address reflects on the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
I am very happy to be here at least once a year with my seminarians, with the young men who are on the path toward the priesthood and will be the future presbyterate of Rome. I am happy that this event occurs every year on the day of the Madonna della Fiducia (Our Lady of Trust), of the Mother who accompanies us with her love every day and gives us the confidence to go forward to Christ.
The theme that guides your formation this year is "In the Unity of the Spirit." It is an expression that is fond precisely in the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians that has been read to us, where St. Paul exhorts the members of the community to "preserve the unity of the spirit" (4:3). This text opens the second part of the Letter to the Ephesians -- the so-called parenetic or exhortative part -- and begins with the word "parakalo," "I exhort you." But it is the same word that is also at the end, "Paraklitos"; so it is an exhortation in the light, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle's exhortation bases itself on the mystery of faith, which he presented in the first three chapters. In fact, our passage begins with the word "therefore." "I therefore … exhort you …" (4:1). The conduct of Christians is the consequence of the gift, the realization of how much we are given every day. And, nevertheless, if it is only the realization of the gift given to us, it is not an automatic effect, because with God we are always in the reality of freedom and thus -- because the response, and even the realization of the gift is freedom -- the Apostle must remind [his readers] of this; he cannot take it for granted. Baptism, we know, does not automatically produce a coherent life: this is the fruit of the will and the persevering commitment to work with the gift, with the Grace received. And this commitment has a cost: there is a price to be paid in person. Perhaps this is why St. Paul makes a reference in this exact place to his present condition: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, exhort you …" (4:1). Following Christ means sharing his Passion, his cross, follow him to the end, and this participation in the Master's fate binds one fast to him and it reinforces the authoritativeness of the Apostle's exhortation.
Now we enter into the heart of our meditation, encountering a word that strikes us in a particular way: the word "call," or "vocation." St. Paul writes: "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the vocation to which you have been called" (4:1). And he will repeat it shortly afterward, affirming that "there is a single hope to which you have been called, that of your vocation" (4:4).
Here in this case St. Paul is talking about the vocation common to all Christians, namely, the baptismal vocation: the call to be of Christ and to live in him, in his body. Within this word an experience is written, there resounds the echo of the experience of the first disciples, the one we know from the Gospels: when Christ walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and called Simon and Andrew, then James and John (cf. Mark 1:16-20). And earlier still at the River Jordan, after the baptism, when, seeing that Andrew and the other disciple were following him, said to them: "Come and see" (John 1:39). The Christian life begins with a call and always remains a response, to the very end. And this is so in the spheres of both belief and action: Christians respond to their vocation through both faith and behavior.
I spoke about the call of the first apostles, but with the word "call" we think above all of the Mother of every call, of Mary Most Holy, the chosen one, the one called par excellence. The depiction of the Annunciation to Mary represents much more than that particular Gospel episode, however fundamental: it contains the whole mystery of Mary, her entire history, her being; and at the same time it speaks of the Church, of the essence that is always hers; as of every individual believer in Christ, of every Christian soul who is called.
At this point we must remember that we are not speaking of people of the past. God, the Lord, has called each of us, he has called each one by name. God is so great that he has time for each one of us, he knows me, he knows each of us by name, personally. It is a personal call for each of us. I think that we must meditate on this mystery often: God, the Lord, called me, calls me, knows me, awaits my response as he awaited Mary's response, as he awaited the response of the Apostles. God calls me: this fact should make us attentive to God's voice, attentive to his words, to his call for me, to realize this part of salvation history for which he has called me. In this text, then, St. Paul indicates to us a concrete element of this response with four words: "humility," "meekness," "magnanimity," "being patient with one another in love." Perhaps we can meditate on these words in which the Christian journey is expressed. We will return in the end, once more, to this.
"Humility": the Greek word is "tapeinophrosyne," the same word that St. Paul uses in the Letter to the Philippians when he speaks of the Lord, who was God and humbled himself, made himself "tapeinos," and descended to the point of making himself a creature, to the point of making himself man, to the point of obedience on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:7-8). So, humility is not just any word, just any modesty, but a Christological word. Imitating the God who comes down to me, who is so great that he becomes my friend, suffers for me, and dies for me. This is a humility to learn, the humility of God. It means that we must always see ourselves in the light of God; thus, at the same time we can know the greatness of being a person loved by God, but also our littleness, our poverty, and this is the right way to conduct ourselves, not as masters, but as servants. As St. Paul says: "We do not intend to be the masters of your faith; we are instead helpers of your joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24). Being a priest implies this humility, more so than being a Christian does.
"Meekness": in the Greek text is the word "prautes," the same word that appears in the beatitudes: "Blessed are the meek for the earth shall be theirs" (Matthew 5:5). And in the Book of Numbers, the fourth book of Moses, we find the statement that Moses was the most meek man in the world (cf. 12:3), and, in this sense, he was a pre-figuration of Christ, of Jesus, who says of himself: "I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29). This word too, "meekness," "sweetness," is a Christological word and again implies this imitation of Christ. Because in baptism we are conformed to Christ, we must therefore conform to Christ, find this spirit of being meek, without violence, of convincing with love and with goodness.
"Magnanimity," "makrothymia" means generosity of heart, not to be minimalists who give what is strictly necessary: Let us give everything we posses, and we will also grow in magnanimity.
"Being patient with one another in love": Supporting one another in our own otherness is a daily task, and especially when we support each other with humility, learning to truly love.
And now we take a step forward. After this word of the call, the ecclesial dimension follows. We have now spoken of vocation as a very personal call: God calls me. He knows me, He awaits my personal response. But, at the same time, God's call is a community call, it is an ecclesial call, God calls us in a community. It is true that in this passage on which we are meditating, the word "ekklesia" -- "Church" -- is not there, but the reality appears that much more. St. Paul speaks of a spirit and a body. The spirit creates the body and unites us in one body. And then he speaks of unity, he speaks of the chain of being, of the bond of peace. And with this word he refers to the word "prisoner" from the beginning: it is always the same word, "I am in chains," "chains will fasten you." But behind this is the great invisible, liberating chain of love.
We are in this bond of peace which is the Church, she is the great bond that unites us to Christ. Perhaps we should also meditate personally on this point: We are called personally, but we are called in a body. And this is not something abstract, but very real.
At this moment, the seminary is the body in which a being is realized concretely in a common path. Then there will be the parish: to accept, to support, to encourage the entire parish, the people, those who are likable and those who are not likable, to insert oneself in this body.
Body: the Church is body, hence it has a structure, and also really has a right and at times it is not so simple to insert oneself. Of course, we want our personal relationship with God, but the body itself does not please us. But precisely in this way we are in communion with Christ: accepting this corporeity of his Church, of the Spirit, who incarnates Himself in the body.
And on the other hand, often perhaps we feel the problem, the difficulty of this community, beginning with the concrete community of the seminary and ending with the great community of the Church, with its institutions. We must also keep present that it is very beautiful to be in company, to walk in a great company of all the centuries, to have friends in Heaven and on earth, and to feel the beauty of this body, to be happy that the Lord has called us in one body and has given us friends in all parts of the world.
I said that the word "ekklesia" is not here, but the word "body" is, the word "Spirit," the word "bond" and seven times, in this short passage, the word "one" returns. Thus we see how the Apostle has at heart the unity of the Church. And he ends with a "scale of unity," up to Unity: God is One, the God of all, God is One and God's unicity is expressed in our communion, because God is the Father, the Creator of us all and that is why we are all brothers, we are all one body and the unity of God is the condition, it is also the creation of human fraternity of peace. Hence, let us meditate also on this mystery of unity and the importance of seeking unity always in communion with the one Christ, the one God.
Now we can take a further step forward. If we ask ourselves what is the profound meaning of this use of the word "call," we see that it is one of the doors that opens to the Trinitarian mystery. Up to now we have spoken of the mystery of the Church, of the one God, but the Trinitarian mystery also appears. Jesus is the Mediator of the Father's call which comes in the Holy Spirit. The Christian vocation cannot but have a Trinitarian form, whether at the level of the individual person or at the level of ecclesial community. The mystery of the Church is altogether animated by the dynamism of the Holy Spirit, which is a vocational dynamism in a wide and everlasting sense, beginning with Abraham, who first heard the call of God and responded with faith and action (cf. Genesis 12:1-3); to the "here I am" of Mary, perfect reflection of that of the Son of God, at the moment that she receives from the Father the call to come into the world (cf. Hebrews 10:5-7).
Thus, in the "heart" of the Church -- as St. Therese of the Child Jesus would say -- the call of every individual Christian is Trinitarian mystery: the mystery of the encounter with Jesus, with the Word made flesh, through which God the Father calls us to communion with himself and because of this wishes to give his Holy Spirit, and it is precisely thanks to the Spirit that we can respond to Jesus and to the Father in an authentic way, within a real, filial relationship. Without the breath of the Holy Spirit the Christian vocation can simply not be explained, it loses its vital lymph.
And, finally, the last passage. The form of unity according to what the Spirit asks, as I said, the imitation of Jesus, conformity to him in the concreteness of his behavior. The Apostle writes, as we meditated: "with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love," and then he adds that the unity of the Spirit is maintained "in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3).
The unity of the Church is not given by a "stamp" imposed from outside, but is the fruit of concord, of a common commitment to behave like Jesus, in the strength of his Spirit. There is a comment of St. John Chrysostom on this passage that is very beautiful. Chrysostom comments on the image of the "bond," the "bond of peace," and he says: "[t]his bond is beautiful, with which we are bound together with one another and with God. It is not a chain that wounds. It does not give cramps to the hands, it leaves them free, it gives them ample space and greater courage" (Homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians 9, 4, 1-3). Here we find the evangelical paradox: Christian love is a bond, as I said, it refers us to the situation of St. Paul, who is "prisoner," who is "in chains." The Apostle is in chains because of the Lord, as Jesus himself, who made himself a slave to free us.
To preserve the unity of the Spirit one must stamp one's behavior with that humility, gentleness and magnanimity that Jesus gave in his Passion; one must have one's hands and heart bound by the bond of love that he himself accepted for us, making himself our slave. This is the "bond of peace." And St. John Chrysostom says in the same commentary: "Be bound to your brothers, those thus bound together in love bear everything with ease. Thus he wishes us to be bound to one another, not only to be in peace, not only to be friends, but for us all to be one, 'one soul'" (Ibid.).
The Pauline text, some elements on which we meditated, is very rich. I have been able to give you only some ideas, which I entrust to you for meditation. And we pray to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Trust, to help us walk with joy in the unity of the Spirit. Thank you!
Papal Address to Pontifical Filipino College
"Complete Priestly Formation Includes Not Only the Academic"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 20, 2011 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave Saturday to a group of students and faculty of the Pontifical Filipino College. The college is marking its 50th anniversary.
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Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
I am pleased to greet you, the students and faculty of the Pontifical Filipino College in this year marking the fiftieth anniversary of its establishment by my predecessor Blessed John XXIII. I join you in giving thanks to God for all your College has contributed to the life of your fellow Filipinos both at home and abroad over the course of the last five decades.
As a house of formation located here, by the tombs of the great Apostles Peter and Paul, the Filipino College has fulfilled the mission entrusted to it in a variety of ways. Its first and most important task remains to assist students in their formation in the sacred sciences. This the College has accomplished well, as hundreds of priests have returned home with advanced degrees obtained from the various Pontifical universities and institutions in the city, and have gone on to serve the Church throughout the world, some of them with great distinction. Let me encourage you, the present generation of students at the College, to grow in faith, to strive for excellence in your studies, and to grasp every opportunity afforded you to attain spiritual and theological maturity, so that you will be equipped, trained, and stout-hearted for whatever awaits you in the future.
As you know, a complete priestly formation includes not only the academic: over and above the intellectual component offered to them here, the students of the Filipino College are also formed spiritually through the Church of Rome’s living history and the shining example of her martyrs, whose sacrifice configures them perfectly to the person of Jesus Christ himself. I am confident that each of you will be inspired by their union with the mystery of Christ and embrace the Lord's call to holiness which demands from you as priests nothing less than the complete gift of your lives and labors to God. Doing so in the company of other young priests and seminarians gathered here from throughout the world, you will return home, like those before you, with a grateful and permanent sense of the Church of Rome’s history, of her roots in the paschal mystery of Christ, and of her wonderful universality.
While you are in Rome, pastoral necessity should not be overlooked and so it is right, even for priests in studies, to consider the needs of those around them, including the members of the Filipino community living in Rome and its environs. In doing so, let the use of your time always strike a healthy balance between local pastoral concerns and the academic requirements of your stay here, to the benefit of all.
Finally, do not forget the affection of the Pope for you and for your homeland. I urge you all to return to the Philippines with an unshakeable affection of your own for the Successor of Peter and with the desire to strengthen and maintain the communion which binds the Church in charity around him. In this way, having completed your studies, you will surely be a leaven of the Gospel in the life of your beloved nation.
Invoking the intercession of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, and as a pledge of grace and peace in the Lord, I willingly impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.
© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Papal Message to Priests on Retreat in Ars
"Your Hands, Your Lips, Become ... the Hands and Lips of God"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 29, 2009 - Here is a translation of the text of a videomessage sent by Benedict XVI and transmitted Monday to a group of priests on an international retreat in Ars, France.
The retreat is being preached by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, Austria. The retreat, held in the context of the Year for Priests, began Monday and concludes Oct. 4.
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Dear brothers in the priesthood,
As you can imagine, I would have been enormously happy to be able to be with you on this international priestly retreat on the theme: "The Joy of Being a Priest: Consecrated for the Salvation of the World." You are many who participate and are benefited by the teachings of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. I cordially greet the other preachers and the bishop of Belley-Ars, Guy Marie Bagnard. I have had to be content with addressing this taped message to you, but I want to believe that with these words, I speak to each one of you in the most personal way possible, so that, as St. Paul said, "I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace" (Philippians 1:7).
St. John Mary Vianney emphasized the indispensable role of the priest when he said: "A good pastor, a pastor according to the heart of God, this is the greatest treasure that the good God can give a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy" (The Cure of Ars, Thoughts, Bernard Nodet, Desclee de Brouwer, Foi Vivante, 2000, p. 101). In this Year of the Priest, we are all called to explore and rediscover the grandeur of the sacrament that has configured us forever to Christ the High Priest and has "consecrated" all of us "in truth" (John 17:19).
Chosen among men, the priest continues to be one of them and is called to serve them giving them the life of God. He it is who "continues the work of redemption on earth" (Nodet, p. 98). Our priestly vocation is a treasure that we bear in earthen vessels (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7). St. Paul expressed happily the infinite distance that exists between our vocation and the poverty of the answer we can give to God. Let us keep present in our ears and in the depth of our heart the Apostle's exclamation full of confidence, who said: "for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). Awareness of this weakness opens us to intimacy with God, who gives us strength and joy. The more the priest perseveres in friendship with God, the more he will continue the work of the Redeemer on earth (cf. Nodet, p. 98). The priest is no longer for himself, but for all (cf. Nodet, p. 100).
Precisely therein lies one of the greatest challenges of our time. The priest, man of the divine Word and of sacred things, must be today, more than ever, a man of joy and hope. To men who can no longer conceive that God is pure Love, he will always affirm that life is worth living, and that Christ gives it all its meaning because he loves men, all men. The religion of the Cure d'Ars is a religion of joy, not a morbid seeking of mortification, as sometimes has been believed: "Our happiness is too great, no, no, we will never be able to understand it" (Nodet, p. 110), he said, and also "when we are along the way and we catch sight of a bell tower, this should make our heart beat as the sight of the roof of the dwelling of the beloved makes the bride's heart beat."
Thus, I would like to greet with particular affection those of you who have the pastoral charge of several churches and who spend yourselves without counting the cost to maintain a sacramental life in your different communities. The recognition of the Church is immense for you all! Do not lose courage, but continue praying so that numerous young men will agree to respond to Christ's call. Christ does not fail to want to increase the number of his apostles to carry out the mission in his fields.
Dear priests, I am also thinking of the enormous diversity of the ministries you exercise at the service of the Church. Think of the great number of Masses you have celebrated or will celebrate, each time making Christ present on the altar. Think of the innumerable absolutions you have given and will give, allowing a sinner to be forgiven. You perceive in this moment the infinite fecundity of the sacrament of [holy] orders. Your hands, your lips, become, in the space of an instant, the hands and lips of God. You bear Christ in yourselves; you have, by grace, entered in the Holy Trinity. As the saintly Cure said: "If one had faith, he would see God hidden in the priest as a light behind a glass, as wine mixed with water" (Nodet, p. 97). This consideration should help to harmonize relations between priests in order to bring about that priestly community to which St. Peter exhorts (cf. 1 Peter 2:9) to form the body of Christ, upbuilt in love (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16).
The priest is the man of the future: he who has taken seriously Paul's words: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above" (Colossians 3:1). What is done on earth is in the order of the means ordered to the last End. The Mass is the only point of union between the means and the End, because it allows us already to contemplate, under the humble appearance of bread and wine, the Body and Blood of him whom we will adore in eternity. The simple but profound phrases of the saintly Cure on the Eucharist help us to perceive better the richness of that unique moment of the day in which we live a vivifying face to face [encounter] for ourselves and for each one of the faithful. "The happiness there is in saying the Mass will be understood only in heaven," he wrote (Nodet, p. 104). Therefore, I encourage you to reinforce your faith and that of the faithful in the sacrament you celebrate which is the source of true joy. The Saint of Ars wrote: "The priest should feel the same joy (of the Apostles) on seeing Our Lord, whom he has between his hands" (Ibid.).
Thanking you for what you are and for what you do, I repeat: "Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests in the life of the Church" (Homily during the Mass of Sept. 13, 2008, on the Esplanade des Invalides, Paris). Living witnesses of the power of God who works in the weakness of men, consecrated for the salvation of the world, you are, my dear brothers, chosen by Christ himself to be, thanks to him, salt of the earth and light of the world. May you be able to experience in a profound way, during this spiritual retreat, the Inexpressible Closeness (St. Augustine, Confessions, III, 6, va 13, p. 383) to be perfectly united to Christ in order to proclaim his love around you and to commit yourselves totally to the service of the sanctification of all the members of the people of God! Entrusting you to the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of priests, I impart to you all my Apostolic Blessing.
Holy Father's Address to French Seminary
"The Task of Forming Priests Is a Delicate Mission"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 26, 2009 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered June 6 upon receiving in audience the community of the French Seminary in Rome.
The audience coincided with the change of hands of the administration of the seminary from the Congregation of the Holy Spirit to the French episcopal conference.
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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Priests and Seminarians,
I welcome you with joy on the occasion of the celebrations of these days that mark an important moment in the history of the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome. After a century and a half of faithful service, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, which had been in charge of conducting the Seminary since its foundation, has now handed it over to the Bishops' Conference of France.
We must thank the Lord for the work carried out in this institution where, since it opened, almost 5,000 seminarians or young priests have been trained for their future vocation.
In acknowledging the work of the members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, Fathers and Brothers, I would like to entrust to the Lord in particular the apostolates which the Congregation founded by Venerable Fr Libermann preserves and develops across the world and most especially in Africa based on his charism which has lost none of its power and justice. May the Lord bless the Congregation and its missions.
The task of forming priests is a delicate mission. The formation offered by the Seminary is demanding, because a portion of the People of God will be entrusted to the pastoral solicitude of the future priests, the People that Christ saved and for whom he gave his life.
It is right for seminarians to remember that if the Church demands much of them it is because they are to care for those whom Christ ransomed at such a high price.
Many qualities are required of future priests: human maturity, spiritual qualities, apostolic zeal, intellectual rigour.... To achieve these virtues, candidates to the priesthood must not only be able to witness to them to their formation teachers but even more, they must be the first to benefit from these same qualities lived and shared by those who are in charge of helping them to attain maturity.
It is a law of our humanity and our faith that we are all too often capable of giving only what we ourselves have previously received from God through the ecclesial and human mediation that he has established. Those who are placed in charge of discernment and formation must remember that the hope they have for others is in the first place a duty for themselves.
This passing on of witnessing coincides with the beginning of the Year for Priests. This coincidence is a grace for the new team of priest-formation teachers gathered by the Bishops' Conference of France. While the team receives its mission, like the whole Church, it is given the possibility to examine more deeply the identity of the priest, a mystery of grace and mercy.
I would like to mention here the eminent figure of Cardinal Suhard, who said of Christ's ministers: "Eternal paradox of the priest. He bears within him those who are contrary. He reconciles, at the price of his life, fidelity to God with fidelity to man. He seems poor and feeble.... He has neither political power nor financial means, nor the force of arms that others use to conquer the earth. His strength lies in being unarmed and being "able to do all things in the One who gives him strength'" (Fulget Ecclesia, n. 141, p. 21, 14 December 1960).
May these words that so vividly evoke the figure of the Holy Curé d'Ars ring out as a vocational appeal to numerous young Christians in France who desire a useful and fruitful life in order to serve God's love.
The particular characteristic of the French Seminary is its location in the city of Peter; echoing the desire of Paul vi (cf. Address to the Alumni of the French Pontifical Seminary, 12 September 1968; ORE, 26 September 1968), I hope that during their stay in Rome the seminarians will give priority to becoming acquainted with the Church's history in order to discover the breadth of her catholicity and her living unity around the Successor of Peter, and that love of the Church will thus be rooted in their hearts for ever.
As I invoke upon you all the Lord's abundant graces through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Clare and Blessed Pius ix, I very warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to all of you and to your families, to the former seminarians who have been unable to come here and to all the Seminary's lay personnel.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
VATICAN CITY, MAY 20, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Vatican's translation of Benedict XVI's address given to the clergy of Rome, which he delivered in Italian on May 13 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
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Dear priests and deacons who serve the Diocese of Rome with your pastoral work,
I am happy to meet you at the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of this Church, "which presides in charity." I greet with affection the Cardinal Vicar and thank him for his kind words, and I also greet the Vicegerent and the Auxiliary Bishops. I offer a friendly greeting to each one of you, and at this very first meeting I want to express my gratitude to you for your daily efforts in the Lord's vineyard.
The extraordinary experience of faith that we lived on the occasion of the death of our beloved Pope John Paul II showed us a Church of Rome that is deeply united, full of life and rich in zeal: all this is also the fruit of your prayers and apostolate.
Thus, humbly attached to Christ, our One Lord, together we can and must encourage that "exemplarity" of the Church of Rome which is genuine service to our sister Churches across the world. The indissoluble bond between "romanum" and "petrinum" implies and indeed requires the Church of Rome's participation in the universal concern of her Bishops.
But responsibility for this participation concerns you in a special way, dear priests and deacons, united to your Bishop by the sacramental bond that also makes you his precious collaborators. I am therefore counting on you, on your prayers, your acceptance and your dedication, so that our beloved Diocese may respond ever more generously to the vocation the Lord has entrusted to it.
For my part, I assure you that despite my limitations, you can count on the sincerity of my paternal affection for you all.
Dear priests, the quality of your lives and your pastoral service seem to indicate that in this Diocese, as in many others of the world, we have now left behind us that period of identity crisis that troubled so many priests. However, still present are the causes of the "spiritual wilderness" that afflict humanity in our day and consequently also undermine the Church, which dwells among humankind. How can we not fear that they may also ensnare the lives of priests?
It is indispensable, therefore, to return ever anew to the solid root of our priesthood. This root, as we well know, is one: Jesus Christ our Lord. It is he whom the Father sent, he is the cornerstone (cf. 1 Peter 2:7). Through him, through the mystery of his death and Resurrection, the Kingdom of God is established and the salvation of the human race brought about.
This Jesus, however, possesses nothing of his own; everything he has is from the Father and for the Father. So he says that his doctrine is not his own but comes from the One who sent him (cf. John 7:16): and that he, the Son, cannot do anything by himself (cf. John 5:19,30).
Dear friends, this is also the true nature of our priesthood. In fact, all that constitutes our priestly ministry cannot be the product of our personal abilities. This is true for the administration of the Sacraments, but it is also true for the service of the Word: we are not sent to proclaim ourselves or our personal opinions, but the mystery of Christ and, in him, the measure of true humanism. We are not charged to utter many words, but to echo and bear the message of a single "Word", the Word of God made flesh for our salvation. Consequently, these words of Jesus also apply to us: "My doctrine is not my own; it comes from him who sent me" (John 7:16).
Dear priests of Rome, the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he entrusts himself to us, he entrusts to us his Body in the Eucharist, he entrusts to us his Church. Therefore, we must be true friends to him, we must have the same perception as he has, we must want what he wants and not what he does not want. Jesus himself tells us: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). Let this be our common resolution: all of us together, to do his holy will, in which lies our freedom and our joy.
Since the priesthood is rooted in Christ, it is by its nature in the Church and for the Church. Indeed, the Christian faith is not something purely spiritual and internal, nor is our relationship with Christ itself exclusively subjective and private.
Rather, it is a completely concrete and ecclesial relationship. At times, the ministerial priesthood has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ in his dual and inseparable dimensions as Eucharist and as Church, as Eucharistic body and Ecclesial body.
Therefore, our ministry is "amoris officium" (St. Augustine, "In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus" 123, 5), it is the office of the Good Shepherd who offers his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:14-15). In the Eucharistic mystery, Christ gives himself ever anew, and it is precisely in the Eucharist that we learn love of Christ, hence, love for the Church.
I therefore repeat with you, dear brothers in the priesthood, the unforgettable words of John Paul II: "Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of every day of my life" (Address at a Symposium in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Decree "Presbyterorum Ordinis," Oct. 27, 1995, n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, Nov. 15, 1995, p. 7). And each one of us should be able to say these words are his own: Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of my every day.
Likewise, obedience to Christ, who made amends for Adam's disobedience, is in practice expressed in ecclesial obedience, which for the priest in daily life means first and foremost obedience to his Bishop. In the Church, however, obedience is not something formalistic; it is obedience to the one who, in turn, obeys and personifies the obedient Christ. All this neither frustrates nor even attenuates the practical requirements of obedience, but guarantees theological depth and its Catholic tone: in the Bishop we obey Christ and the whole Church which he represents in this place.
Jesus Christ was sent by the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of the entire human family, and we priests are enabled through the grace of the sacrament to share in this mission of his. As the Apostle Paul writes, "God... has given us the ministry of reconciliation. ... This makes us ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us. We implore you, in Christ's name: be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:18-29). This is how St. Paul describes our mission as priests.
Therefore, in the Homily prior to the Conclave, I spoke of the "holy restlessness" that must animate us, the concern to bring to everyone the gift of faith, to offer everyone the salvation that alone endures for ever. And in a city as large as Rome, which on the one hand is so steeped in faith yet in which so many people live who have not really perceived in their hearts the proclamation of faith, we should be especially impelled by this restless concern to bring this joy, this center of life, which gives it meaning and direction.
Dear brother priests of Rome, the Risen Christ is calling us to be his witnesses and gives us the strength of his Spirit to enable us to be truly such. It is necessary, therefore, to be with him (cf. Mark 3:14; Acts 1:21-23) for life. As in the first description of the "munus apostolicum" in Mark 3, an account is given of what the Lord thought being an apostle should mean: being with him and being available for the mission. The two things go together and only by staying with him are we also and always on the move with the Gospel towards others.
Thus, it is essential to be with him, and in this way that restlessness pervades us and enables us to bring the power and joy of the faith to others with our whole lives and not only with just a few words.
The Apostle Paul's words can apply to us: "Yet preaching the Gospel is not the subject of a boast; I am under compulsion and have no choice. I am ruined if I do not preach it! ... Although I am not bound to anyone, I made myself the slave of all so as to win over as many as possible. ... I have made myself all things to all men in order to save at least some of them" (I Corinthians 9:16-22).
These words that are the self-portrait of the Apostle are also the portrait of every priest. Making oneself "all things to all men" is expressed in daily life, in attention to every person and family: in this regard, you priests of Rome have a great tradition, and I say so with deep conviction, and you are also honoring it today when the city has spread so much and is profoundly changed. It is crucial, as you well know, that the closeness and attention to everyone are always expressed in Christ's Name and constantly strive to lead people to him.
This closeness and dedication, of course, has a personal cost for each one of you, for us. It involves time, worry, the expenditure of energy. I am aware of your daily efforts and want to thank you on behalf of the Lord. But I also want to help you as much as I can so that you do not yield under this burden.
To be able to bear, indeed, even to grow, as persons and as priests, it is fundamental first of all to have intimate communion with Christ, whose food was to do the will of his Father (cf. John 4:34): all we do is done in communion with him, and we thus rediscover ever anew the unity of our lives in the many facets of our daily occupations.
Let us also learn from the Lord Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself to do the will of the Father, the art of priestly ascesis which is also necessary today: it should not be exercised on a par with pastoral activities as an additional burden that makes our day even more difficult. On the contrary, we must learn how to surpass ourselves, how to give and how to offer our lives.
But, if all this is truly to happen within us so that our very action may truly become our ascesis and our self-giving, so that all this may not be just a wish, there is no doubt that we need moments in which to replenish our energies, including the physical, and especially to pray and meditate, returning to our inner selves and finding the Lord within us.
Thus, spending time in God's presence in prayer is a real pastoral priority; it is not an addition to pastoral work: being before the Lord is a pastoral priority and in the final analysis, the most important. John Paul II showed this to us in the most practical and enlightened way in every circumstance of his life and ministry.
Dear priests, we can never sufficiently emphasize how fundamental and crucial our personal response to the call to holiness is. It is not only the condition for our personal apostolate to be fruitful but also, and more generally, for the face of the Church to reflect the light of Christ (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 1), thereby inducing people to recognize and adore the Lord.
We must first inwardly accept the Apostle Paul's plea that we let ourselves be reconciled to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20), asking the Lord with a sincere heart and courageous determination to take away from us all that separates us from God and is contrary to the mission we have received. The Lord is merciful, we are certain, and will answer our prayer.
My ministry as Bishop of Rome follows in the wake of the ministry of my Predecessors. I welcome in particular the precious heritage bequeathed by John Paul II: dear priests and deacons, let us walk on this path with serenity and trust.
We will continue to seek to increase communion in the great family of the diocesan Church and to collaborate to develop a missionary approach in our pastoral work in conformity with the basic guidelines of the Roman Synod, translated into action with special effectiveness by the City Mission. Rome is a very large Diocese and truly a very special one, because of the universal concern that the Lord has entrusted to his Bishop.
Therefore, dear priests, your relationship with the diocesan Bishop, who unfortunately I am, cannot have the daily immediacy I would have liked and which may be possible in other situations. Through the work of the Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishops, to whom I express my deep gratitude, I can nonetheless be concretely close to each one of you, in the joys and difficulties that accompany every priest on his journey.
I would like above all to assure you of that deeper and more decisive closeness that binds the Bishop to his priests and deacons in daily prayer, and you may be sure that the clergy of Rome are truly particularly present in my prayers. And we are close in faith and love for Christ and in entrustment to Mary, Mother of the one High Priest. That serenity and trust which we all feel we need, both for our apostolic work and for our personal lives, derive precisely from our union with Christ and with the Virgin.
Dear priests and deacons, these are some of the thoughts that I wanted to bring to your attention. Before giving the floor to you for your questions and reflections, I still have some very joyful news to announce. We received a communiqué today. It was written by Cardinal Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, together with Archbishop Nowak, secretary of the Congregation.
[The Holy Father then read the Latin text regarding the cause of the late Pope John Paul II:]
Instante Em.mo ac Rev.mo Domino D. Camillo S.R.E. Cardinali Ruini, Vicario Generali Suae Sanctitatis pro Dioecesi Romana, Summus Pontifex BENEDICTUS XVI, attentis peculiaribus expositis adiunctis, in audentia eidem Cardinali Vicario Generali die 28 mensis Aprilis huius anni 2005 concessa, dispensavit a tempore quinque annorum exspectationis post mortem Servi Dei Ioannis Pauli II (Caroli Wojtyla), Summi Pontificis, ita ut causa Beatificationis et Canonizationis eiusdem Servi Dei statim incipi posset. Contrariis non obstantibus quibuslibet.
Datum Romae, ex aedibus huius Congregationis de Causis Sanctorum, die 9 mensis Maii A.D. 2005.
Iosephus Card. Saraiva Martins
Archiepiscopus tit. Lunensis a Secretis
Benedict XVI Speaks
Informally to His Priests
"We Christians Must Be Ready to Explain Our Faith"
VATICAN CITY, MAY 20, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the spontaneous speech given by Benedict XVI to the clergy of Rome on May 13, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, after hearing the priests' testimonies and questions.
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At the end, I can only say "thank you" for the richness and depth of these contributions, where a Presbytery full of enthusiasm, of love for Christ and for the flock entrusted to us and of love for the poor is evident. And not only of the city of Rome, but truly of the universal Church, of all our brothers and sisters. Thank you also for the affection you have expressed for me; it helps me greatly.
Presently, I do not feel in a position to enter into details regarding what has been said. It would be good to continue a true discussion, and I hope that it will be possible to have a concrete question-and-answer discussion.
Now, I simply express my gratitude for everything. I truly perceive your pastoral dedication, I perceive your desire to build the Church of Christ here in Rome, I perceive your reflections on how to do better, I perceive how all springs forth from a great love for the Lord and the Church.
I would only like to touch on three or four points that have remained in my mind. You have spoken of this "Roman" and "universal" interlacement. For me, this seems to be a very important point.
On the one hand, this is an authentic local Church that must live as such. There are some people who suffer, who live, who want to believe or are unable to believe. It is here, in the parishes, that the Church of Rome must grow with her great responsibility for the world as she carries within herself this mandate, in a certain way, of "exemplarity"; in this way, there appears in the Church of Rome the face of the Church as such, and it is a model for other local Churches. To be a model, we ourselves must be a local Church that is busy each day in the humble work demanded by this "being Church," in a determined place at a determined time.
You have spoken of the parish as a fundamental structure, assisted and enriched by movements. And it seems to me that precisely during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, a fruitful combination between the constant elements of the parochial structure and, let us say, the "charismatic" element, was created, which offers new initiatives, new inspirations, new life. Under the wise guidance of the Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishops, all parish priests can together be truly responsible for the growth of the parish, taking in all of the factors that can come from the movements and the living reality of the Church in varied dimensions.
But I wanted to speak once more about this Roman and universal interlacement. One of our brothers spoke of our responsibility towards Africa. We have seen how, in Rome, Africa is present, India is present, the universe is present. And this presence of our brothers and sisters obliges us to think not only of ourselves, but to feel precisely in this moment of history, in all of these circumstances with which we are familiar, the presence of the other Continents.
It seems to me that at this time we have a particular responsibility towards Africa, towards Latin America and towards Asia, where Christianity -- with the exception of the Philippines -- is still a very large minority, even if in India it is growing and shows itself a strength for the future. And so, we also think of this responsibility.
Africa is a continent that has enormous potential and the enormous generosity of the people, with an impressive, living faith. But we must confess that Europe exported not only faith in Christ, but also all of the vices of the Old Continent.
It exported the sense of corruption, it exported the violence that is currently devastating Africa. And we must acknowledge our responsibility so that the exportation of the faith, an answer to the intimate hope of every human being, is stronger than the exportation of the vices of Europe. This seems to me a great responsibility.
The weapons trade is still alive, with the exploitation of the earth's goods. We Christians must do much more in these regards so that faith is made present, and with faith, the strength to resist these vices and to rebuild a Christian Africa, destined to be a happy Africa, a great Continent of new humanism.
Something was then said about the need, on one hand, to proclaim, to speak, but on the other, also to listen. To me, this seems important in two ways.
The priest, deacon, catechist and Religious must, on the one hand, proclaim, be witnesses. But naturally, for this they must listen, in a two-fold sense: on the one hand, with their soul open to Christ, interiorly listening to his Word so that it is assimilated and transformed and forms my being; and on the other, listening to today's humanity, our neighbors, those of my parish, those for whom I have been given a certain responsibility.
Naturally, listening to the world of today that exists also in us, we listen to all the problems, all the difficulties that are contrary to faith. And we must be able to seriously take upon ourselves these problems.
In his First Letter, St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, says that we Christians must be ready to explain our faith. This presupposes that we ourselves have understood the reason of faith, that we have truly "digested," even rationally, with the heart, with the wisdom of heart, this word that can truly be an answer for others.
In the First Letter of St Peter, in the Greek text, with a fine play on words, it is written: "apologia," the answer to the "logos," of the reason for our faith. And so, the "logos," the reason for the faith, the word of faith, must become the answer of faith. And we know well that the language of faith is often very far from today's men and women; it can bring them close only if it becomes in us our modern-day language. We are contemporary, we live in this world, with these thoughts, these emotions. If it is transformed in us, one can find the answer.
Naturally, I am aware and we all know that many are not immediately able to identify themselves with, to understand, to assimilate all that the Church teaches. It seems to me important firstly to awaken this intention to believe with the Church, even if personally someone may not yet have assimilated many particulars. It is necessary to have this will to believe with the Church, to have trust that this Church -- the community not only of 2,000 years of pilgrimage of the people of God, but the community that embraces heaven and earth, the community where all the righteous of all times are therefore present -- that this Church enlivened by the Holy Spirit truly carries within the "compass" of the Spirit and therefore is the true subject of faith.
The individual, then, is inserted into this subject, adheres to it, and so, even if he or she is still not completely penetrated by this, the person has trust and participates in the faith of the Church, wants to believe with the Church. To me, this seems like our lifelong pilgrimage: to arrive with our thought, our affections, with our entire life at the communion of faith. We can offer this to everyone, so that little by little one can identify and especially take this step over and over again to trust in the faith of the Church, to insert themselves in this pilgrimage of faith, so as to receive the light of faith.
To conclude, I would like once more to say "thank you" for the contribution expressed here regarding Christocentrism, the requirement for our faith to be ever nourished by personal encounter with Christ, a personal friendship with Jesus.
Romano Guardini correctly said 70 years ago that the essence of Christianity is not an idea but a Person. Great theologians have tried to describe the essential ideas that make up Christianity. But in the end, the Christianity that they constructed was not convincing, because Christianity is in the first place an Event, a Person. And thus in the Person we discover the richness of what is contained. This is important.
And here I think we also find an answer to a difficulty often voiced today regarding the missionary nature of the Church. From many comes the temptation to think this way regarding others: "But why do we not leave them in peace? They have their authenticity, their truth. We have ours. And so, let us live together in harmony, leaving all persons as they are, so that they search out their authenticity in the best way."
But how can one's personal authenticity be discovered if in reality, in the depth of our hearts, there is the expectation of Jesus, and the genuine authenticity of each person is found exactly in communion with Christ and not without Christ? Said in another way: If we have found the Lord and if he is the light and joy of our lives, are we sure that for someone else who has not found Christ he is not lacking something essential and that it is our duty to offer him this essential reality?
We then leave what will transpire to the direction of the Holy Spirit and the freedom of each person. But if we are convinced and we have experienced the fact that without Christ life is incomplete, is missing a reality, the fundamental reality, we must also be convinced that we do harm to no one if we show them Christ and we offer them in this way too the possibility to discover their true authenticity, the joy of having discovered life.
In closing, I would like to say "thank you" to all who make up the Presbytery and the Ecclesial Community of Rome, to the parish and vice-parish priests, to all who collaborate in the various offices, to deacons, catechists and above all to the men and women religious who are somewhat the "heart" of the ecclesial life of a Diocese. Thank you for this witness that you give.
Let us all go forward together, moved by the love of Christ. And in this way, we will succeed!
Pope's Address to Diocesan Clergy
On Critical Issues in the Life of the Church
VATICAN CITY. AUG. 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the transcript of Benedict XVI's impromptu address to the clergy of the Aosta Diocese on July 25. The Pope addressed some of the issues mentioned by the diocesan prelate, Bishop Giuseppe Anfossi, as well as by some of the priests attending the meeting.
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Meeting With Diocesan Clergy of Aosta
Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Parish Church at Introd (Aosta Valley)
I would first like to express my joy and gratitude for this opportunity to meet you. As Pope, one risks being somewhat distant from real, everyday life and especially from the priests who work on the front line in so many parishes in this very Valley, and now, as His Excellency said, with the lack of vocations, also in particularly demanding conditions of physical commitment.
It is therefore a grace for me to be able to meet the priests and presbyterate of this Valley in this beautiful church. And I would like to say "thank you" for coming; for you too, it is the vacation period.
To see you gathered together and thus to see myself united with you, being close to the priests who work day after day for the Lord as sowers of the Word, is a comfort and joy to me.
Last week, two or three times, it seems to me, we heard this Parable of the Sower, which was formerly a parable of consolation in a situation different from ours but in a certain sense also similar.
The Lord's work had begun with great enthusiasm. The sick were visibly cured, everyone listened joyfully to the statement: "The Kingdom of God is at hand." It really seemed that the changing of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God would be approaching; that at last, the sorrow of the People of God would be changed into joy. People were expecting a messenger of God whom they supposed would take the helm of history in his hand. But they then saw that the sick were indeed cured, devils were expelled, the Gospel was proclaimed, but the world stayed as it was. Nothing changed. The Romans still dominated it. Life was difficult every day, despite these signs, these beautiful words. Thus, their enthusiasm was extinguished, and in the end, as we know from the sixth chapter of John, disciples also abandoned this Preacher who was preaching but did not change the world.
"What is this message? What does this Prophet of God bring?", everyone finally wondered. The Lord talks of the sower who sowed in the field of the world and the seed seemed like his Word, like those healings, a really tiny thing in comparison with historical and political reality. Just as the seed is tiny and can be ignored, so can the Word.
Yet, he says, the future is present in the seed because the seed carries within it the bread of the future, the life of the future. The seed appears to be almost nothing, yet the seed is the presence of the future, it is a promise already present today. And so, with this parable, he is saying: "We are living in the period of the sowing, the Word of God seems but a word, almost nothing. But take heart, this Word carries life within it! And it bears fruit!". The Parable also says that much of the seed did not bear fruit because it fell on the path, on patches of rock and so forth. But the part that fell on the rich soil bore a yield of thirty- or sixty- or a hundredfold.
This enables us to understand that we too must be courageous, even if the Word of God, the Kingdom of God, seems to have no historical or political importance. In the end, on Palm Sunday Jesus summed up, as it were, all of these teachings on the seed of the word: If the grain of wheat does not fall into the ground and die it remains single, if it falls into the earth and dies it produces an abundance of fruit. In this way he made people realize that he himself was the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died. In the Crucifixion, everything seems to have failed, but precisely in this way, falling into the earth and dying, on the Way of the Cross, it bore fruit for each epoch, for every epoch. Here we have both the Christological interpretation, according to which Christ himself is the seed, he is the Kingdom present, and the Eucharistic dimension: this grain of wheat falls into the earth and thus the new Bread grows, the Bread of future life, the Blessed Eucharist that nourishes us and is open to the divine mysteries for new life.
It seems to me that in the Church's history, these questions that truly torment us are constantly cropping up in various forms: what should we do? People seem to have no need of us, everything we do seems pointless. Yet we learn from the Word of the Lord that this seed alone transforms the earth ever anew and opens it to true life.
I would like, as far as I can, to respond briefly to your words, Your Excellency; but I would also like to say that the Pope is not an oracle, he is infallible on the rarest of occasions, as we know. I therefore share with you these questions, these queries. I also suffer. However, let us, on the one hand, suffer all together for these problems, and let us also suffer in transforming the problems; for suffering itself is the way to transformation, and without suffering nothing is transformed.
This is also what the parable of the grain of wheat that fell into the earth means: Only in a process of suffering transformation does the fruit mature and the solution become clear. And if we did not suffer, the apparent ineffectiveness of our preaching would be a sign of the lack of faith, of true commitment. We must take these difficulties of our time to heart and transform them, suffering with Christ, and thereby transform ourselves. And to the extent to which we ourselves are transformed, we will also be able to respond to the question asked above, we will also be able to see the presence of the Kingdom of God and to make others see it.
The first point is a problem that exists throughout the Western world: the lack of vocations. In these past few weeks I have received "ad limina" visits from the Bishops of Sri Lanka and from the southern part of Africa. Vocations there are increasing; indeed, they are so numerous that it is proving impossible to build enough seminaries to accommodate all these young men who want to be priests.
Of course, this joy also carries with it a certain sadness, since at least a part of them comes in the hope of social advancement. By becoming priests, they become like tribal chiefs, they are naturally privileged, they have a different lifestyle, etc. Therefore, weeds and wheat grow together in this beautiful crop of vocations and the Bishops must be very careful in their discernment; they must not merely be content with having many future priests but must see which really are the true vocations, discerning between the weeds and the good wheat.
However, there is a certain enthusiasm of faith because they are in a specific period of history, that is, in the period in which it is clear that the traditional religions are no longer adequate. People are realizing, they are seeing that these traditional religions contain a promise within them but are waiting for something. They are awaiting a new response that purifies and, let us say, takes on all that is beautiful, setting it free from these inadequate and negative aspects. In this time of transition, in which their culture is truly reaching out to a new time in history, the two offerings -- Christianity and Islam -- are the possible historical responses.
Consequently, in a certain sense there is a springtime of the faith in those countries but, of course, in the context of rivalry between these two responses and also especially in the context of suffering because of the sects, who present themselves, as it were, as a Christian response that is better, easier and more accommodating. So it is that even in the history of a promise, in a springtime moment, the commitment of the one who must sow the Word with Christ and, as we say, build the Church, continues to be difficult.
The situation is different in the Western world, which is a world weary of its own culture. It is a world that has reached the time when there is no longer any evidence of the need for God, let alone Christ, and when it therefore seems that humans could build themselves on their own. In this atmosphere of a rationalism closing in on itself and that regards the model of the sciences as the only model of knowledge, everything else is subjective. Christian life too, of course, becomes a choice that is subjective, hence, arbitrary and no longer the path of life. It therefore naturally becomes difficult to believe, and if it is difficult to believe it is even more difficult to offer one's life to the Lord to be his servant.
This is certainly a form of suffering which, I would say, fits into our time in history, and in which we generally see that the so-called "great" Churches seem to be dying. This is true particularly in Australia, also in Europe, but not so much in the United States.
On the other hand, the sects that present themselves with the certainty of a minimum of faith are growing, and the human being seeks certainty. Thus, the great Churches, especially the great traditional Protestant Churches, are truly finding themselves in a very deep crisis. The sects have the upper hand because they appear with a few simple certainties and say: "This suffices."
The plight of the Catholic Church is not as bad as that of the great Protestant Churches of history, but of course, she shares the problem of our historical period. I do not think that there is any system for making a rapid change. We must go on, we must go through this tunnel, this underpass, patiently, in the certainty that Christ is the answer and that in the end, his light will appear once more.
Thus, the first answer is patience, in the certainty that the world cannot live without God, the God of Revelation -- and not just any God: we see how dangerous a cruel God, an untrue God can be -- the God who showed us his Face in Jesus Christ. This Face of the One who suffered for us, this loving Face of the One who transforms the world in the manner of the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.
Therefore, we ourselves have this very deep certainty that Christ is the answer and that without the concrete God, the God with the Face of Christ, the world destroys itself; and there is growing evidence that a closed rationalism, which thinks that human beings can rebuild the world better on their own, is not true. On the contrary, without the restraint of the true God, human beings destroy themselves. We see this with our own eyes.
We ourselves must have a renewed certainty: he is the Truth; only by walking in his footsteps do we go in the right direction, and it is in this direction that we must walk and lead others.
The first point of my answer is: in all this suffering, not only should we keep our certainty that Christ really is the Face of God, but we should also deepen this certainty and the joy of knowing it and thus truly be ministers of the future of the world, of the future of every person. We should deepen this certainty in a personal relationship with the Lord because certainty can also grow with rational considerations. A sincere reflection that is also rationally convincing but becomes personal, strong and demanding by virtue of a friendship lived personally, every day, with Christ, truly seems to me to be very important.
Certainty, consequently, demands this personalization of our faith, of our friendship with the Lord, and thus new vocations also grow. We see it in the new generations after the great crisis of this cultural struggle unleashed in 1968, when the historical epoch of Christianity truly seemed to be over. We see that the promises of 1968 have not been kept and, let us say, the awareness that another way exists which is more complex because it requires this transformation of our hearts but is truer, and thus new vocations are also born. And we ourselves must also find the creativity to help young people to discover this way in the future, too. This was also evident in the dialogue with the African bishops. Despite the number of priests, many are condemned to a terrible loneliness and many do not survive morally.
And it is therefore important to live in the reality of the presbyterate, of the community of priests who help one another, who are journeying on together with solidarity in their common faith. This also seems to me to be important, for if young people see priests who are very lonely, sad and tired, they will think: "If this is my future, then it is not for me". A real communion of life that shows young people: "Yes, this can be a future for me too, it is possible to live like this," must be created.
I have gone on too long. It seems to me that I have said something on the second point, even if only on part of it. It is true: to the people, especially world leaders, the Church appears as something antiquated and our proposals seem unnecessary. People behave as though they were able to and wanted to live without our words, and they always think they have no need of us. They do not seek our words.
This is true and causes us pain, but it is also part of this historical situation of a certain anthropological vision which claims that the human being must act as Karl Marx said: "The Church has had 1,800 years to show that it could change the world and has not done anything; we will now do it on our own."
This is a very widespread idea and is also supported by philosophers. Thus, we understand the impression of so many that it is possible to live without the Church, which appears as a vestige of the past. But it is becoming ever clearer that only moral values and strong convictions, and sacrifices, make it possible to live and to build the world. It is impossible to construct it in a mechanical way, as Karl Marx proposed, with the theories concerning capital and ownership, etc.
If there is no moral force in souls, if there is no readiness to suffer for these values, a better world is not built; indeed, on the contrary, the world deteriorates every day, selfishness dominates and destroys all. On perceiving this the question arises anew: but where does the strength come from that enables us to suffer for good too, to suffer for good that hurts me first, which has no immediate usefulness? Where are the resources, the sources? From where does the strength come to preserve these values?
It can be seen that morality as such does not survive and is not effective unless it is deeply rooted in convictions that truly provide certainty and the strength to suffer for -- at the same time, they are part of love -- a love that grows in suffering and is the substance of life. In the end, in fact, love alone enables us to live, and love is always also suffering: it matures in suffering and provides the strength to suffer for good without taking oneself into account at the actual moment.
It seems to me that this awareness is growing because we are already seeing the effects of a condition in which the strength that comes from a love that is the substance of my life and gives me the power to carry on the struggle for good does not exist. Here too, of course, we are in need of patience, but also an active patience in the sense of making people understand: "You need this."
Even if they do not convert straightaway, at least they draw closer to the circle of those in the Church who possess this inner strength. The Church has always recognized this inwardly strong group that truly has the strength of faith and of persons who are, as it were, attached to one another, moving ahead, and so participate.
I am thinking of the Lord's Parable of the Mustard Seed which was so small and then became a tree so great that the birds of the sky build their nests in it. And I should say that these birds could be the people who are not yet converted but who at least perch on the tree of the Church. I have pondered on this: in the time of the Enlightenment, the time when faith was divided between Catholics and Protestants, people believed it was necessary to preserve the common moral values by giving them a firm foundation. They thought, "We must make the moral values independent of the religious denominations so that they can prevail "etsi Deus non daretur.'"
Today, we are in an opposite situation; the situation has been reversed. There is no longer any proof of moral values. They become evident only if God exists. I have therefore suggested that lay people, the so-called laity, should think about whether the contrary might not be true for them today: We must live "quasi Deus daretur," and even if we are not strong enough to believe, we must live on this hypothesis, otherwise the world will not function; and this, it seems to me, would be a first step to approaching faith. I also see in so many contacts that, thanks be to God, dialogue with at least part of the secular world is increasing.
The third point: the plight of priests who have become scarce, who must work in as many as three, four and at times even five parishes and are exhausted. I think that the bishop, together with his priests, is trying to discover what the best solution might be. When I was archbishop of Munich they created this type of service solely for the Liturgy of the Word without a priest in order, let us say, to keep the community present in its own church. And they said: "Every community should stay put and wherever there is no priest let us celebrate this Liturgy of the Word."
The French found the Word suitable for these Sunday Assemblies "in the absence of a priest," but after a while they realized that this could go wrong because the meaning of the sacrament is lost, a "Protestantization" occurs and, in the end, if it is only the Word, I can celebrate it myself in my own home.
I remember when I was a professor at Tubingen, there was the great exegete Kelemann -- I do not know if you are familiar with his name -- a pupil of Bultmann, who was a great theologian. Although he was a convinced Protestant, he never went to church. He used to say: "I can also meditate at home on the sacred Scriptures."
The French have transformed somewhat this formula of Sunday Assemblies "in the absence of a priest" into "awaiting the priest." That is, the priest must be expected, and I would say that the Liturgy of the Word should normally be an exception on Sundays, because the Lord wants to come corporally. Consequently, this must not be the solution.
Sunday was created because the Lord was raised and entered the community of the Apostles to be with them. And thus, they also understood that Saturday was no longer the liturgical day, but Sunday, on which the Lord wants to be with us physically again and again, and wants to nourish us with his Body, so that we ourselves may become his Body in the world.
We should find a way to offer many people of good will this possibility: for now I do not presume to give formulas. I always said in Munich, but I am unacquainted with the situation here which is bound to be a little different, that our people are incredibly mobile and flexible. The young travel 50 kilometers or more to go to a discothèque, why can they also not travel 50 kilometers to go to a common church? Yet, this is something very positive and practical and I do not dare to offer formulas. However, an effort should be made to give people this sentiment: "I need to be with the Church, to be with the living Church and with the Lord!"
This is how to convey this impression of importance, and if I consider it important, this also creates the premises for a solution. But I actually leave the question open, Your Excellency.
[Several priests then spoke. The Holy Father answered their questions on the topics of the education of youth, the role of Catholic schools, and the consecrated life as follows:]
These questions are very practical and it is far from easy to come up with equally practical answers.
First of all, I should like to thank you for having called our attention to the need to attract young people to the Church; they are easily attracted instead by other things, by a way of life that is rather remote from our convictions.
The ancient Church chose the way of creating alternative living communities, not necessarily with ruptures. I would say, therefore, that it is important that young people discover the beauty of faith, that it is beautiful to have a direction, that it is beautiful to have God as a friend who can truly tell us the essential things of life.
This intellectual factor must then be accompanied by an emotional and social factor, that is, by socialization in faith; because faith can only be fulfilled if it also has a body, and this involves human beings in their way of life. In the past, therefore, when faith was crucial to community life, teaching catechism, which continues to be important today, would have sufficed.
However, given that social life has drifted away from faith -- since all too often even families do not offer a socialization of faith -- we must offer ways for a socialization of faith so that faith will form communities, offer vital spaces and convince people through a way of thought, affection and lively friendship.
It seems to me that these dimensions ought to go together, for the human person has a body and is a social being. In this sense, for example, it is wonderful to see so many parish priests here who have come with groups of young people to spend their holidays together. In this way, young people share the joy of their holiday period and live it together with God and the Church, in the person of their parish priest or parochial vicar. It seems to me, in Italy too, that the Church today offers alternatives and possibilities for socialization in which young people can walk together with Christ and shape the Church. This is why they must be guided by intelligent answers to the questions of our time: Is there still a need for God? Is it still reasonable to believe in God? Is Christ merely a figure in the history of religion or is he truly the Face of God that we all need? Can we live to the full without knowing Christ?
It is necessary to understand that building life and the future also requires patience and suffering. Nor can the Cross be lacking in young peoples' lives, and getting them to understand this is far from easy. The mountaineer knows that he must face sacrifices and train if climbing is to be a beautiful experience; so too, the young person must understand that for the ascent to life's future it is essential to exercise an interior life.
Consequently, personalization and socialization are the two approaches that must penetrate the actual situations of today's challenges: the challenge of affection and the challenge of communion. Indeed, these two dimensions make it possible to open oneself to the future and also to teach that the sometimes difficult God of faith is also for my own good in the future.
With regard to Catholic schools I can say that many bishops who have come on their "ad limina" visit have frequently stressed their importance. The Catholic school, in situations such as in Africa, becomes an indispensable means of cultural advancement for the first steps to literacy and for raising the cultural standard in which a new culture is formed. Thanks to the Catholic school, it is also possible to confront the challenges of technology that strive for a pro-technological culture, destroying ancient forms of tribal life and their moral content.
Where we live the situation is different, but what I feel important is a general mental discipline that Christianity is not cut off from reality today, either.
As we said earlier, in the wake of the Enlightenment and of the "Second Enlightenment" in 1968, many thought that the historical time of the Church and faith was over and that they had entered a new epoch, when it would be possible to study these things as we study classical mythology.
On the contrary, it is vital to make people understand that faith is permanently up-to-date and perfectly reasonable. Hence, an intellectual assertion is called for that makes the beauty and organic structure of the faith comprehensible.
This was one of the fundamental intentions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has now been condensed in the Compendium. We must not think of a pack of rules to be shouldered like a heavy backpack on our journey through life. In the end, faith is simple and rich: we believe that God exists, that God counts; but which God? A God with a face, a human face, a God who reconciles, who overcomes hatred and gives us the power of peace that no one else can give us. We must make people understand that Christianity is actually very simple and consequently very rich.
School is a cultural institution for intellectual and professional training: it is therefore necessary to make the organic and logical dimensions of the faith understood, in order to make known its important and essential elements for an understanding of what the Eucharist is, what happens on Sunday, and in Christian marriage. It is necessary, of course, to make people comprehend that nonetheless, the discipline of religion is not a purely intellectual and individualistic ideology, as perhaps happens in other disciplines: in mathematics, for example, I know how to do a specific calculation, but in the end other subjects have a practical tendency, a tendency to professionalism, to applicability in life. And so, it is necessary to understand that faith essentially creates assembly and unites.
It is precisely this essence of faith that liberates us from egoistic isolation and unites us in a great community, a very complete one -- in parishes, in the Sunday gathering -- a universal community in which I become related to everyone in the world.
It is necessary to understand this Catholic dimension of the community that gathers in the parish church every Sunday. Thus, if, on the one hand, knowing the faith is one purpose, on the other, socializing in the Church or "ecclesializing" means being introduced into the great community of the Church, a living milieu, where I know that even in the important moments of my life -- especially in suffering and in death -- I am not alone.
Your Excellency said that many people do not seem to need us, but that the sick and the suffering do. And this should be understood from the outset: I will never again be lonely as long as I live. Faith redeems me from loneliness. I will always be supported by a community, but at the same time, I must support the community and, from the first, also teach responsibility for the sick, the lonely, the suffering, and thereby the gift that I make is reciprocated. So it is necessary to reawaken an awareness of this great gift in the person in whom is hidden the readiness to love and to give himself or herself, and thus guarantee that I too will have brothers and sisters to support me in difficult situations, when I am in need of a community that does not leave me stranded.
Regarding the importance of religious life, we know that the monastic and contemplative life are attractive in the face of the stress of this world. They appear like an oasis in which we can truly live. Here too, this is a romantic view: so the discernment of vocations is essential. However, it is the contemplative rather than the active Religious life which the historical situation endows with a certain attraction.
This is more visible in the male branch, where Religious and priests are to be seen carrying out an important apostolate in education, with the sick, etc. It is unfortunately less visible for female vocations where professionalism seems to make the religious vocation superfluous. There are qualified nurses and qualified school teachers, so that it no longer appears to be a religious vocation, and that specific activity will be difficult to resume once the chain of vocations is broken.
But we see more and more that the professionalism required in order to be a good nurse is not enough. The heart must be put into it. Love for the suffering person is necessary. This has a profound religious dimension. So does teaching. We now have new forms such as secular institutes, whose communities show by their lives that there is a way of life that is good for the person, but especially necessary for the religious community, for the faith and also for the human community. I therefore think that also by changing the form -- many of our active female communities began in the 19th century with the specific social challenge of that period and today the challenges are a little different -- the Church is making us understand that service to the suffering and the defense of life are vocations with a deep religious dimension and that there are forms [of Religious life] in which to live such vocations. So many new forms are springing up which make us hope that the Lord will grant the necessary vocations for the life of the Church and the world today.
[Pope Benedict XVI then answered the chaplain of the local District Prison, which has 260 inmates of more than 30 different nationalities, as follows:]
Thank you for your very important and moving words. Shortly before my departure, I had the opportunity to talk to Cardinal Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who is working on a document on the problem of our detainees. These brothers and sisters suffer and at times feel that their human rights are barely respected; they also feel despised and live in a condition in which Christ's presence is truly necessary. And Jesus, in Matthew's Gospel, in anticipation of the Last Judgment, speaks explicitly of their plight: "I was ... in prison and you did not come to comfort me," "I was ... in prison and you came to visit me" (Matthew 25:43,36).
I am grateful to you, therefore, for having mentioned the threats to human dignity in these circumstances, in order to learn that as priests we must also be brothers to the "least" and see in them the Lord who is waiting for us and is of the greatest importance. It is my intention, together with Cardinal Martino, to say a word in public on these particular situations that are a mandate for the Church, for the faith and for her love. Lastly, I am grateful that you said that it is not what you do that is so important but what you are in our priestly commitment. Without a doubt, we must do many things and not succumb to laziness, but all our work will only bear fruit if it is an _expression of what we are.
If what we do shows that we are deeply united to Christ, that we are instruments of Christ, a mouthpiece through which Christ speaks, a hand through which Christ acts: we should be convinced and act with conviction only to the extent that this is truly the result and _expression of what we are.
[Another priest raised the topic of Communion for the faithful who are divorced and remarried. The Holy Father answered him as follows:]
We all know that this is a particularly painful problem for people who live in situations in which they are excluded from Eucharistic Communion, and naturally for the priests who desire to help these people love the Church and love Christ. This is a problem.
None of us has a ready-made formula, also because situations always differ. I would say that those who were married in the Church for the sake of tradition but were not truly believers, and who later find themselves in a new and invalid marriage and subsequently convert, discover faith and feel excluded from the Sacrament, are in a particularly painful situation. This really is a cause of great suffering and when I was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I invited various bishops' conferences and experts to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. Whether, in fact, a moment of invalidity could be discovered here because the Sacrament was found to be lacking a fundamental dimension, I do not dare to say. I personally thought so, but from the discussions we had I realized that it is a highly complex problem and ought to be studied further. But given these people's painful plight, it must be studied further.
I shall not attempt to give an answer now, but in any case two aspects are very important. The first: even if these people cannot go to sacramental Communion, they are not excluded from the love of the Church or from the love of Christ. A Eucharist without immediate sacramental Communion is not of course complete; it lacks an essential dimension. Nonetheless, it is also true that taking part in the Eucharist without Eucharistic Communion is not the same as nothing; it still means being involved in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. It is still participating in the great Sacrament in its spiritual and pneumatic dimensions, and also in its ecclesial dimension, although this is not strictly sacramental.
And since it is the Sacrament of Christ's passion, the suffering Christ embraces these people in a special way and communicates with them in another way differently, so that they may feel embraced by the Crucified Lord who fell to the ground and died and suffered for them and with them. Consequently, they must be made to understand that even if, unfortunately, a fundamental dimension is absent, they are not excluded from the great mystery of the Eucharist or from the love of Christ who is present in it. This seems to me important, just as it is important that the parish priest and the parish community make these people realize that on the one hand they must respect the indissolubility of the sacrament, and on the other, that we love these people who are also suffering for us. Moreover, we must suffer with them, because they are bearing an important witness and because we know that the moment when one gives in "out of love", one wrongs the Sacrament itself and the indissolubility appears less and less true.
We know the problem, not only of the Protestant communities but also of the Orthodox Churches, which are often presented as a model for the possibility of remarriage. But only the first marriage is sacramental: the Orthodox too recognize that the other marriages are not sacramental, they are reduced and redimensioned marriages and in a penitential situation; in a certain sense, the couple can go to Communion but in the awareness that this is a concession "by economy," as they say, through mercy which, nevertheless, does not remove the fact that their marriage is not a sacrament. The other point is that in the Eastern Churches for these marriages they have conceded the possibility of divorce with great irresponsibility, and that the principle of indissolubility, the true sacramental character of the marriage, is therefore seriously injured.
On the one hand, therefore, is the good of the community and the good of the sacrament that we must respect, and on the other, the suffering of the people we must alleviate.
The second point that we should teach and also make credible through our own lives is that suffering, in various forms, is a necessary part of our lives. I would call this a noble suffering.
Once again, it is necessary to make it clear that pleasure is not everything. May Christianity give us joy, just as love gives joy. But love is always also a renunciation of self. The Lord himself has given us the formula of what love is: those who lose themselves find themselves; those who spare or save themselves are lost.
It is always an "Exodus," hence, painful. True joy is something different from pleasure; joy grows and continues to mature in suffering, in communion with the Cross of Christ. It is here alone that the true joy of faith is born, from which even they are not excluded if they learn to accept their suffering in communion with that of Christ.
[The Holy Father answered the priests who asked him for clarification concerning the administration of the sacrament of baptism in special situations, and about the Compendium of the Catechism, as follows:]
The first question is very difficult and I have already had an opportunity to work on it when I was archbishop of Munich, because we had such cases.
Each individual case should first be clarified: If the obstacle to baptism is such that it is impossible to administer it without wasting the sacrament, or should the situation make it possible to say, even in a problematic context, "this person has truly converted, has a complete faith, wants to live the faith of the Church, desires to be baptized," I think that to issue a general formula would not correspond with the diversity of the real situations: we naturally endeavor to do our utmost to give baptism to a person who asks for it with full faith, but let us say that the details must be examined in each individual case.
If a person proves to be truly converted and desires access to baptism, the Church's desire must be to allow this person to be incorporated into the communion of Christ and of the Church, and to support him or her. The Church must be open as long as there are no obstacles that actually contradict baptism. Therefore, the possibility should be sought and if the person is truly convinced and a wholehearted believer, then we are not in relativism.
The second point: We all know that in the cultural and intellectual situation of which we spoke at the start, catechesis has become far more difficult. On the one hand, it needs new contexts to be understood and contextualized, so that it may be evident that this is true and concerns the present and the future, and on the other, therefore, a necessary contextualization has been made in the catechisms of the various bishops' conferences.
Besides, clear answers are necessary to make it possible to perceive what faith is and what the other contextualizations are: a simple way of making people understand. This sparked a "polemic" in the world of catechetics between catechism in the classic sense and the new instruments of catechesis. It is true on the one hand -- I am now speaking only of my German experience -- that many of these books did not reach their goal: they always prepared the ground but were so concerned with preparing the ground on which the person advances that in the end they did not arrive at the answer to be given. On the other, the classic catechisms appeared so formal that the true answer no longer touched the mind of the contemporary catechumen.
At last, we took on this multidimensional commitment: we compiled the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It provides, on the one hand, the necessary cultural contextualizations, but it also gives precise answers. We wrote it in the awareness that the journey from this Catechism to concrete catechesis would not be an easy one. But we understood that the linguistic, cultural and social situations are very different in the various countries, and even within the same country in different social classes; hence, it is the task of the bishop or of the bishops' conference and of the catechists themselves to undertake this final stage in the journey. Our position, therefore, was: "This is the reference point for everyone; what the Church believes can be seen here." Therefore, the bishops' conferences should create instruments that apply to the cultural situation and cover the ground that has yet to be covered. Ultimately, the catechist himself or herself must take the last steps, and perhaps the suitable means for these last steps too are offered to him or her.
After several years we had a meeting in which catechists from across the world told us that the Catechism was going well, that it was a necessary book which helped by conveying the beauty, organic approach and fullness of the faith, but that it needed to be summarized. The Holy Father John Paul II, having taken note of the vote of that meeting, charged a commission to compile this Compendium, that is, a synthesis of the big Catechism to which it refers, extracting the essential.
At first in the draft of the Compendium, we wanted to be even more concise, but in the end we realized that truly to convey the essential in our time, the necessary material that every catechist needed was what we had said. We also added prayers. And I think that it really is a very useful book that "sums up" everything contained in the big Catechism; in this regard, it seems to me that it corresponds in our day to the Catechism of Pius X.
The individual bishops and bishops' conferences remain committed to helping priests and all catechists in their work with this book, as well as to acting as a bridge to a specific group, for the ways of speaking, thinking and understanding differ widely not only between Italy, France, Germany and Africa, but also within the same country it is received very differently. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium, containing the essence of the Catechism, therefore continue to be instruments for the universal Church.
Moreover, we are always in need of the work of the bishops who, in contact with the priests and catechists, help find all the necessary instruments to facilitate this sowing of the Word.
[Lastly, the Holy Father said to everyone present:]
I would like to thank you for your questions that help me to consider the future, and especially for this experience of communion with a great presbyterate of a most beautiful diocese. Thank you.
[The meeting ended with the hymn "Je te salue, Marie."]
[Translation issued by the Holy See; adapted here]
Pope's Q&A Session With Members of Roman
"Our Priestly Vocation: to Choose Life Ourselves" (March 25, 2006)
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI addressed members of the Roman clergy on March 2, in the Hall of Blessings.
After a greeting by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar of Rome, the Pope responded to questions and statements by 10 priests, and later responded to the interventions of five additional priests. The following is a synopsis of the 15 questions and a translation of the Holy Father's responses.
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I am going to speak straightaway, for otherwise, if I wait until the end of all the interventions, my monologue will become too long.
I would first like to express my joy at being here with you, dear priests of Rome. It is a true joy to see so many good pastors at the service of the "Good Shepherd" here, in the first See of Christianity, in the Church which "presides in charity" and must be a model for other local Churches. Thank you for your service!
We have the shining example of Father Andrea, who shows us what it means to "be" a priest to the very end: dying for Christ during a moment of prayer, thereby witnessing on the one hand to the interiority of his own life with Christ, and on the other, to his own witness for people at a truly "panpherical" point in the world, surrounded by hatred and the fanaticism of others. It is a witness that inspires everyone to follow Christ, to give one's life for others and thus to find Life.
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1. Holy Father, we are meeting you at this Lenten gathering for the first time. I want to remember the beloved Servant of God John Paul II. In the words you spoke at his funeral I saw a sign of continuity between you and your beloved Predecessor: "We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father's House, that he sees us and blesses us." This thought inspires a sonnet written in Roman dialect that I have dedicated to you: "A window on high in Heaven."
Benedict XVI: With regard to the first intervention, I first of all say a big "thank you" for this marvelous poem! There are also poets and artists in the Church of Rome, in the presbyterate of Rome, and I will have the possibility of further meditating upon and interiorizing these beautiful words, mindful that this "window" is always "open." Perhaps this is an opportunity to recall the fundamental legacy of the great Pope John Paul II in order to continue to increasingly assimilate this legacy.
Yesterday, we began Lent. Today's liturgy gives us a profound idea of the essential significance of Lent: It is a guide for our life.
It therefore seems to me -- I speak with reference to Pope John Paul II -- that we should insist a little on today's First Reading. Moses' great discourse, on the threshold of the Holy Land after the 40-year pilgrimage in the desert, sums up the whole of the Torah, the whole of the Law. Here we find the essential, not only for the Jewish people but also for us. This essential is the Word of God: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19).
These fundamental words of Lent are also the fundamental words of the legacy of our great Pope John Paul II: "choose life." This is our priestly vocation: to choose life ourselves and to help others to choose life. It is a matter of renewing in Lent our own, so to speak, "fundamental option," the option for life.
But the question immediately arises: How can we choose life, how should we do this? Reflecting upon this, I remembered that the great defection from Christianity which has occurred in the West in the past 100 years was precisely in the name of the option for life. It was said -- I am thinking of Nietzsche but also of so many others -- that Christianity is an option opposed to life. With the Cross, with all the Commandments, with all the "nos" that it proposes to us, some have said that it closes the door to life.
But we, we want to have life and we choose, we opt, ultimately, for life, freeing ourselves by the Cross, freeing ourselves by all these Commandments, by all these "nos." We want to have life in abundance, nothing but life.
Here, the words of today's Gospel immediately come to mind: "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it" (Luke 9:24). This is the paradox we must first be aware of in opting for life. It is not by arrogating life to ourselves but only by giving life, not by having life and holding on to it but by giving it, that we can find it. This is the ultimate meaning of the Cross: not to seek life for oneself, but to give one's own life.
Thus, the New and Old Testaments go together. In the First Reading from Deuteronomy God's response is: "I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live" (Deuteronomy 30:16). At first sight we may not like this, but it is the way: the option for life and the option for God are identical. The Lord says so in St. John's Gospel: "This is eternal life, that they know you" (John 17:3).
Human life is a relationship. It is only in a relationship, and not closed in on ourselves, that we can have life. And the fundamental relationship is the relationship with the Creator, or else other relations are fragile. Hence, it is essential to choose God. A world empty of God, a world that has forgotten God, loses life and relapses into a culture of death.
Choosing life, taking the option for life, therefore, means first and foremost choosing the option of a relationship with God. However, the question immediately arises: with which God? Here, once again, the Gospel helps us: with the God who showed us his face in Christ, the God who overcame hatred on the Cross, that is, in love to the very end. Thus, by choosing this God, we choose life.
Pope John Paul II gave us the great encyclical "Evangelium Vitae." In it we can clearly see -- it is, as it were, a portrait of the problems of today's culture, hopes and dangers -- that a society which forgets God, excludes God, precisely in order to have life, falls into a culture of death.
Precisely in order to have life, a "no" is said to the child, because it takes some part of my life away from me; a "no" is said to the future, in order to have the whole of the present; a "no" is said to unborn life as well as to suffering life that is approaching death. What seems to be a culture of life becomes the anti-culture of death, where God is absent, where that God who does not ordain hatred but overcomes hatred is absent. Here we truly opt for life.
Consequently, everything is connected: the deepest option for the Crucified Christ with the most complete option for life, from the very first moment until the very last.
To me this also seems in some way the nucleus of our pastoral care: to help people make the true choice for life, to renew their relationship with God as the relationship which gives us life and shows us the way to life. And thus, to love Christ anew, who from being the most unknown Being whom we did not reach and who remained enigmatic, became a known God, a God with a human face, a God who is love.
Let us keep this fundamental point for life before us and consider that this program contains the whole Gospel, the Old and the New Testaments, that center on Christ. Lent should be for us a time to renew our knowledge of God, our friendship with Jesus, to be able to guide others in a convincing way to opt for life, which is above all the option for God. It must be clear to us that in choosing Christ, we have not chosen to deny life, but have really chosen life in abundance.
The Christian option is basically very simple: It is the option to say "yes" to life. But this "yes" only takes place with a God who is known, with a God with a human face. It takes place by following this God in the communion of love. What I have said so far is intended as a way of renewing our remembrance of the great Pope John Paul II.
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2. As a parish priest, I ask you for a few words of joyful encouragement for mothers. In memory of our mothers, Your Holiness, for their faith and spiritual strength that can be seen in the human and Christian upbringing that they gave to us, help us talk to the mothers of all the boys and girls who attend catechism classes and are often distracted. Say a few words that we can pass on to them, saying: "This is what the Pope says to you."
Benedict XVI: We come to the second intervention, which was so nice, about mothers. I would say that I cannot communicate important programs just now, words that you could say to mothers. Simply tell them: The Pope thanks you! He thanks you because you have given life, because you want to help this life that is developing and thereby to build a human world, contributing to a human future.
And it is not only by giving biological life that you do so, but by communicating the heart of life, making Jesus known, introducing your children to knowledge of Jesus and friendship with Jesus. This is the foundation of every catechesis.
Therefore, one must thank mothers above all because they have had the courage to give life. And we must ask mothers to complete their gift by giving friendship with Jesus.
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3. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration 24 hours a day in St. Anastasia [Parish] on the Palatine. The faithful take turns in making perpetual adoration. My suggestion is that there should be perpetual adoration of the Eucharist in each one of the five sectors of the Diocese of Rome.
Benedict XVI: The third intervention was by the rector of St. Anastasia's Church. Here, perhaps I can say in parentheses that the Church of St. Anastasia was already dear to me even before I saw it because it was the titular church of our Cardinal de Faulhaber. He always let us know that he had a church in Rome, St. Anastasia's. We always met with this community for the second Mass of Christmas, dedicated to the "statio" of St. Anastasia.
Historians say that it was at St. Anastasia's that the Pope had to visit the Byzantine governor and that it was there that he had his seat. The church also reminds us of the saint, and hence, of the "Anastasis," At Christmas we also think of the Resurrection.
I did not know and I am glad to have been told about it, that the church is now a place of "perpetual adoration"; thus, it is a focal point in Rome of the life of faith. I confidently place in the hands of the cardinal vicar this proposal to create five places of perpetual adoration in the five sectors of the Diocese of Rome.
I only want to say: Thanks be to God that after the Council, after a period in which the sense of Eucharistic adoration was somewhat lacking, the joy of this adoration was reborn everywhere in the Church, as we saw and heard at the Synod on the Eucharist. Of course, the conciliar constitution on the liturgy enabled us to discover to the full the riches of the Eucharist in which the Lord's testament is accomplished: He gives himself to us and we respond by giving ourselves to him.
We have now rediscovered, however, that without adoration as an act consequent to Communion received, this center which the Lord gave to us, that is, the possibility of celebrating his sacrifice and thus of entering into a sacramental, almost corporeal, communion with him, loses its depth as well as its human richness.
Adoration means entering the depths of our hearts in communion with the Lord, who makes himself bodily present in the Eucharist. In the monstrance, he always entrusts himself to us and asks us to be united with his Presence, with his risen Body.
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4. You are a "teacher" who guides thought in a "fully human" faith. We never fail to be moved by your words, by the harmony in which each point finds its mark, in lively synthesis, especially in a time as fragmented as ours. How can we help lay people grasp this synthesis of harmony, this catholicity of faith?
Benedict XVI: We now come to the fourth question. If I have understood it correctly, but I am not sure if I have, it was: "How do we acquire a living faith, a truly Catholic faith, a faith that is practical, lively and effective?"
Faith, ultimately, is a gift. Consequently, the first condition is to let ourselves be given something, not to be self-sufficient or do everything by ourselves -- because we cannot -- but to open ourselves in the awareness that the Lord truly gives.
It seems to me that this gesture of openness is also the first gesture of prayer: being open to the Lord's presence and to his gift. This is also the first step in receiving something that we do not have, that we cannot have with the intention of acquiring it all on our own.
We must make this gesture of openness, of prayer -- give me faith, Lord! -- with our whole being. We must enter into this willingness to accept the gift and let ourselves, our thoughts, our affections and our will, be completely immersed in this gift.
Here, I think it is very important to stress one essential point: No one believes purely on his own. We always believe in and with the Church. The Creed is always a shared act, it means letting ourselves be incorporated into a communion of progress, life, words and thought.
We do not "have" faith, in the sense that it is primarily God who gives it to us. Nor do we "have" it either, in the sense that it must not be invented by us. We must let ourselves fall, so to speak, into the communion of faith, of the Church. Believing is in itself a Catholic act. It is participation in this great certainty, which is present in the Church as a living subject.
Only in this way can we also understand sacred Scripture in the diversity of an interpretation that develops for thousands of years. It is a Scripture because it is an element, an _expression of the unique subject -- the People of God -- which on its pilgrimage is always the same subject. Of course, it is a subject that does not speak of itself, but is created by God -- the classical _expression is "inspired" -- a subject that receives, then translates and communicates this word. This synergy is very important.
We know that the Koran, according to the Islamic faith, is a word given verbally by God without human mediation. The Prophet is not involved. He only wrote it down and passed it on. It is the pure Word of God.
Whereas for us, God enters into communion with us, he allows us to cooperate, he creates this subject and in this subject his word grows and develops. This human part is essential and also gives us the possibility of seeing how the individual words really become God's Word only in the unity of Scripture as a whole in the living subject of the People of God.
Therefore, the first element is the gift of God; the second is the sharing in faith of the pilgrim people, the communication in the holy Church, which for her part receives the Word of God which is the Body of Christ, brought to life by the living Word, the divine Logos.
Day after day, we must deepen our communion with the holy Church and thus, with the Word of God. They are not two opposite things, so that I can say: I am pro-Church or I am pro-God's Word. Only when we are united in the Church, do we belong to the Church, do we become members of the Church, do we live by the Word of God which is the life-giving force of the Church. And those who live by the Word of God can only live it because it is alive and vital in the living Church.
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5. Eugenio Pacelli was born in Rome on March 2, 1876, and on March 2, 1939, was elected Pope and took the name of Pius XII. This great Pope is shrouded in silence, and we are deeply indebted to this Pontiff, who also had great love for Germany. We all truly hope he will soon be raised to the honor of the altars.
Benedict XVI: The fifth intervention was on Pius XII. Thank you for your intervention. He was the Pope of my youth. We all venerated him. As was rightly said, he deeply loved the German people; he also defended them in the great catastrophe after the war. And I must add that before he was nuncio in Berlin he was nuncio in Munich, because at the outset there was no papal representation in Berlin. He was also really close to us.
This seems to me the opportunity to express gratitude to all the great Popes of the last century. The century began with St. Pius X, then Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II.
I believe that this is a special gift in such a difficult century with two World Wars and two destructive ideologies: fascism-Nazism and Communism. It was in this very century, which was opposed to the faith of the Church, that the Lord gave us a series of great Popes, hence, a spiritual inheritance that I would say historically strengthened the truth of the primacy of the Successor of Peter.
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6. The Diocese of Rome is seeking the best way and a new approach to respond to the needs of today's families. Families must be given fresh vitality, they must be made the subject rather than the object of pastoral care. In our time, the family is threatened by relativism and indifference. Parents, engaged couples and children must be assisted with catechesis and continuous guidance; they need priests expert in humanity who understand peoples' needs. Married couples must be encouraged to revive the grace of the sacraments.
Benedict XVI: The next intervention dedicated to the family was made by the parish priest of St. Sylvia. Here, I cannot but fully agree. Furthermore, during the "ad limina" visits I always speak to bishops about the family, threatened throughout the world in various ways.
The family is threatened in Africa because it is difficult to find the way from "traditional marriage" to "religious marriage," because there is a fear of finality.
Whereas in the West the fear of the child is caused by the fear of losing some part of life, in Africa it is the opposite. Until it is certain that the wife will also bear children, no one dares to enter marriage definitively. Therefore, the number of religious marriages remains relatively small, and even many "good" Christians with an excellent desire to be Christians do not take this final step.
Marriage is also threatened in Latin America, for other reasons, and is badly threatened, as we know, in the West. So it is all the more necessary for us as Church to help families, which are the fundamental cell of every healthy society.
Only in families, therefore, is it possible to create a communion of generations in which the memory of the past lives on in the present and is open to the future. Thus, life truly continues and progresses. Real progress is impossible without this continuity of life, and once again, it is impossible without the religious element. Without trust in God, without trust in Christ who in addition gives us the ability to believe and to live, the family cannot survive.
We see this today. Only faith in Christ and only sharing the faith of the Church saves the family; and on the other hand, only if the family is saved can the Church also survive. For the time being, I do not have an effective recipe for this, but it seems to me that we should always bear it in mind.
We must therefore do all that favors the family: family circles, family catechesis, and we must teach prayer in the family. This seems to me to be very important: Wherever people pray together, the Lord makes himself present with that power which can also dissolve "sclerosis" of the heart, that hardness of heart which, according to the Lord, is the real reason for divorce.
Nothing else, only the Lord's presence, helps us to truly relive what the Creator wanted at the outset and which the Redeemer renewed. Teach family prayer and thus invite people to pray with the Church and then seek all the other ways.
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7. Hearing of a mother and some women religious who have helped priests through a crisis prompts me to ask: Why should not women also have a hand in governing the Church? Women often function charismatically, with prayer, or on a practical level, like St. Catherine of Siena, who obtained the popes' return to Rome. It would be right to promote the role of women in institutions too, since their viewpoint, which is different from that of men, could help priests in decision-making.
Benedict XVI: I now reply to the parochial vicar of St. Jerome's -- I see that he is still very young -- who tells us how much women do in the Church and for priests themselves.
I can stress that in the First Canon, the Roman Canon, the special prayer for priests: "Nobis quoque peccatoribus," always makes a deep impression on me. Here, in this realistic humility of priests, precisely as sinners, we pray to the Lord to help us to be his servants. In this prayer for the priest, precisely only in this prayer, seven women appear who surround the priest. They show themselves to be the believing women who help us on our way. Each one of us has certainly had this experience.
Thus, the Church has a great debt of gratitude to women. And you have correctly emphasized that at a charismatic level, women do so much, I would dare to say, for the government of the Church, starting with women religious, with the sisters of the great Fathers of the Church such as St. Ambrose, to the great women of the Middle Ages -- St. Hildegard, St. Catherine of Siena, then St. Teresa of Avila -- and lastly, Mother Teresa. I would say that this charismatic sector is undoubtedly distinguished by the ministerial sector in the strict sense of the term, but it is a true and deep participation in the government of the Church.
How could we imagine the government of the Church without this contribution, which sometimes becomes very visible, such as when St. Hildegard criticized the bishops or when St. Bridget offered recommendations and St. Catherine of Siena obtained the return of the popes to Rome? It has always been a crucial factor without which the Church cannot survive.
However, you rightly say: We also want to see women more visibly in the government of the Church. We can say that the issue is this: The priestly ministry of the Lord, as we know, is reserved to men, since the priestly ministry is government in the deep sense, which, in short, means it is the sacrament [of orders] that governs the Church.
This is the crucial point. It is not the man who does something, but the priest governs, faithful to his mission, in the sense that it is the sacrament, that is, through the sacrament it is Christ himself who governs, both through the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, and thus Christ always presides.
However, it is right to ask whether in ministerial service -- despite the fact that here sacrament and charism are the two ways in which the Church fulfils herself -- it might be possible to make more room, to give more offices of responsibility to women.
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8. I am responsible for the rehabilitation of the victims of religious sects. I am grateful to you, Your Holiness, for your frequent denunciation of the harm they cause. Many simple people are unable to discover their tricks without help, like unfortunate travelers on the infamous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Your Holiness, do you not think it is urgently necessary today to train Good Samaritans? Would not such preparation be good in the seminaries and in specific courses held at the university level and in the permanent formation of the clergy responsible for the care of souls?
Benedict XVI: I did not quite understand the words of the eighth intervention. I more or less understood that today, "humanity" on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho falls among robbers. The Good Samaritan offers assistance with the Lord's mercy.
We can only emphasize that in the end, it is man who fell and who falls again and again into the hands of robbers, and it is Christ who heals us. We must and can help him, both in the service of love and in the service of faith, which is also a ministry of love.
9. The feast of the holy patrons of my parish, the Holy Martyrs of Uganda, is celebrated on June 3. I praise God for this pastoral experience. May more people join in prayer in and for Africa.
Benedict XVI: Then, the Martyrs of Uganda. Thank you for your contribution. You remind us of the African continent, which is the great hope of the Church.
In recent months I have received the majority of the African bishops on their "ad limina" visits. I found it very edifying and comforting to see bishops of a high theological and cultural standard. They are zealous bishops, truly enlivened by the joy of faith. We know that this Church is in good hands, but that she still suffers because the nations are not yet formed.
In Europe it was precisely through Christianity that, in addition to the ethnic groups that existed, the great bodies of nations, the great languages were formed, and thus communion of cultures and places of peace, although later, these great areas of peace, in opposition to one another, created a new sort of war that had previously not existed.
However, in many parts of Africa we still have this situation where there are above all dominant ethnic groups. The colonial power then imposed boundaries within which nations now have to develop.
But there is still the difficulty of finding oneself in a great mass and of discovering, in addition to the ethnic groups, the unity of democratic government as well as the possibility of opposing forms of colonial abuse that continue. Africa still continues to be the object of abuse by the great powers, and many conflicts would not have taken this form if the interests of these great powers had not been behind them.
Thus, I have also seen how, in all this confusion, the Church with her Catholic unity is the great factor that unites in dispersion. In many situations, especially now, after the great war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Church has remained the one reality which functions and makes life continue, which provides the necessary assistance, guarantees coexistence and helps to find the possibility of creating one great solution.
In this sense, in these situations, the Church also carries out a service that replaces the political level, giving the possibility of living together and of rebuilding communion after destruction and of rebuilding, after the outburst of hatred, the spirit of reconciliation. Many people have told me that precisely in these situations, the sacrament of penance is of great importance as a force of reconciliation and must also be administered with this in view.
In a word, I wanted to say that Africa is a continent of great hope, of great faith, of moving ecclesial realities, of zealous priests and bishops. But it has always been a continent which, after the destruction we brought to it from Europe, needs our brotherly help. And this cannot but be born from faith that also creates universal love, over and above human divisions.
This is our great responsibility in this epoch. Europe has exported its ideologies, its interests, but has also exported, with the mission, the factor of healing.
Today, we are especially responsible for having a zealous faith that is communicated, that wants to help others, that is aware that giving faith does not mean introducing an alienating power but means giving the true gift that human beings need precisely in order to be creatures of love.
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10. I see with concern the situation in Rome, especially the plight of young people and adolescents "on the fringe of humanity," many of whom do not go to church. I believe that priests, lay people and religious should be closer to our faithful, especially youth, and we should put our charisms at the service of catechesis.
Benedict XVI: A last point was touched on by the Carmelite parochial vicar of St. Teresa of Avila who has rightly revealed his worries to us.
A simple and superficial optimism which does not discern the great threats to youth, children and families today would certainly be erroneous. We must perceive with great realism these threats that come into being wherever God is absent.
We must be more and more aware of our responsibility so that God will be present and thus, the hope and the ability to walk confidently towards the future.
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11. Adolescents are victims of today's "desert of love" and suffer appallingly from lack of love. They suffer from the fear of being lonely and misunderstood. Some priests also feel "inwardly dislocated." How can we be experts in "agape," in the fullness of love, in order to be able to make the total gift of ourselves to help them?
Benedict XVI: I will now continue, starting with the Pontifical Academy. We can tangibly feel today all that you said about the problem of adolescents, their loneliness and their being misunderstood by adults.
It is interesting that these young people who seek closeness in discothèèques are actually suffering from great loneliness and, of course, also from misunderstanding.
This seems to me, in a certain sense, an _expression of the fact that parents, as has been said, are largely absent from the formation of the family. And mothers too are obliged to work outside the home. Communion between them is very fragile.
Each family member lives in a world of his or her own: They are isolated in their thoughts and feelings, which are not united. The great problem of this time -- in which each person, desiring to have life for himself, loses it because he is isolated and isolates the other from him -- is to rediscover the deep communion which in the end can only stem from a foundation that is common to all souls, from the divine presence that unites all of us.
I think that the condition for this is to overcome loneliness and misunderstanding, because the latter also results from the fact that thought today is fragmented. Each one seeks his own way of thinking and living and there is no communication in a profound vision of life.
Young people feel exposed to new horizons which previous generations do not share; therefore, continuity in the vision of the world is absent, caught up as it is in an ever more rapid succession of new inventions.
In 10 years changes have taken place which previously never occurred in 100 years. In this way worlds are really separated. I am thinking of my youth and of the "ingenuousness," if you will, in which we lived, in a society that was totally agricultural in comparison with contemporary society.
We see that the world is changing at an ever faster pace, so that also with these changes it is fragmented. Therefore, at a moment of renewal and change, the element of stability becomes even more important.
I remember when the conciliar constitution "Gaudium et Spes" was discussed. On the one hand, there was a recognition of the new, of newness, the "yes" of the Church to the new epoch with its innovations, its "no" to the romanticism of the past, a proper and necessary "no."
However, the Fathers -- proof of this is also in the text -- also said that in spite of this, in spite of the necessary willingness to move forward and even leave behind other things that were dear to us, there is something that does not change, because it is the human being himself, his being as a creature.
Man is not completely historical. The absolutizing of historicism, in the sense that man is only and always a creature, the product of a certain period, is not true. His nature as a creature exists, and it is precisely this that gives us the possibility to live through change and to retain our identity.
This is not an instant response to what we should do, but it seems to me that the first step should be to obtain the diagnosis. Moreover, why should this loneliness exist in a society that appears to be a society of the masses? Why should there be this lack of understanding in a society where everyone is seeking to understand one another, where communication is everything and where the transparency of all things to all people is the supreme law?
The answer lies in the fact that we see the change in our own world and do not sufficiently live that element which binds us all together, the element of our nature as creatures which becomes accessible and becomes reality in a certain history: the history of Christ, who is not against our nature as creatures but restores all that the Creator desired, as the Lord says about marriage.
Christianity precisely emphasizes history and religion as a historical event, an event in history starting with Abraham. Then, as a historical faith, after opening the door to modernity with its sense of progress and by constantly moving ahead, Christianity is at the same time a faith based on the Creator who reveals himself and makes himself present in a history to which he gives continuity, hence, communicability between souls.
Here too, therefore, I think that a faith lived in depth which is fully open to today but also fully open to God, combines the two things: respect for otherness and newness and the continuity of our being, communicability between people and between times.
The other point was: How can we live life as a gift? This is a question that we ask now, especially in Lent. We want to renew the option for life, which is, as I have said, an option not to possess ourselves but to give ourselves.
It seems to me that we can only do so by means of an ongoing conversation with the Lord and a conversation with one another. Also with "correctio fraternal," it is necessary to develop the gift of one's self more and more in the face of an ever insufficient capacity to live.
But, it seems to me that we must also unite both things. On the one hand, we must accept our inadequacy with humility, accept this "I" that is never perfect but always reaches for the Lord in order to arrive at communion with the Lord and with all people. This humility in accepting our own limitations is also very important.
Only in this way, on the other hand, can we also grow, develop and pray to the Lord that he will help us not to tire along the way, also accepting humbly that we will never be perfect and accepting imperfections, especially in others. By accepting our own imperfections we can more easily accept those of others, allowing ourselves to be formed and reformed ever anew by the Lord.
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12. Holy Father, I bring you the greetings of my confreres who work in secular hospitals, of the sick and of health-care workers. We ask you for a word of encouragement to help everyone be salt, light and leaven in the health-care sector.
Benedict XVI: Now for hospitals. Thank you for the greeting from the hospitals. I did not know of the mind-set that sees a priest carrying out his ministry in a hospital because he did something wrong. ... I always thought that service to the sick and the suffering was a primary service of the priest, because the Lord came above all to be with the sick. He came to share our suffering and to heal us.
On the occasion of the "ad limina" visits of the African bishops I always say that the two pillars of our work are education -- that is, the formation of the human being which involves so many dimensions, such as education, learning, professionalism, the in-depth education of the person -- and healing.
The fundamental, essential service of the Church is therefore that of healing. All this is done precisely in the African countries: The Church offers healing. She presents people who help the sick, help them to recover in body and soul.
It seems to me, therefore, that we should see the Lord himself as our model of the priesthood in order to heal, help, assist and accompany people on their way toward recovery. This is fundamental to the Church's commitment; it is a fundamental form of love and consequently, a fundamental _expression of faith. Thus, it is also the central point in the priesthood.
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13. Last September I had the joy of taking part in an ecumenical meeting hosted by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Athens. It was a deeply enriching dialogue. I believe the clergy should avoid a conflictual attitude and establish a frank and serene dialogue with everyone.
Benedict XVI: Then, I respond to the parochial vicar of Holy Patrons of Italy Parish who has spoken to us of the dialogue with the Orthodox and of ecumenical dialogue in general.
In today's world situation, we see that dialogue at all levels is fundamental. It is even more important for Christians not to be closed in on themselves but open.
Precisely in relations with the Orthodox I see that personal relationships are fundamental. In doctrine, we are largely united on all the fundamental matters, but it is in doctrine that it seems very difficult to make any headway. But drawing close to one another in communion, in our common experience of the life of faith, is the way to recognize one another as children of God and disciples of Christ.
And this is my experience of at least 40 or almost 50 years. This is an experience of common discipleship, that we actually live in the same faith, in the same Apostolic Succession, with the same sacraments and therefore also with the great tradition of prayer; this diversity and multiplicity of religious cultures, of the culture of faith, is beautiful.
To have this experience is fundamental, and it perhaps seems to me that the convinced opposition to ecumenism of some, of a part of the monks of Mount Athos, stems also from the lack of a visible, tangible experience that the other also belongs to the same Christ, to the same communion with Christ in the Eucharist.
So this is very important: We must tolerate the separation that exists. St. Paul says that divisions are necessary for a certain time and that the Lord knows why: to test us, to train us, to develop us, to make us more humble. But at the same time, we are obliged to move toward unity, and moving toward unity is already a form of unity.
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14. Your encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," has deeply enlightened me, especially Part 2 on pastoral charity, since it invites us to practice charity directly, not to wait for the poor to come to us but to reach out to them and do something concrete for them. However, priests find it very difficult to pass on the faith to the younger generations. Sometimes we feel somewhat let down by a young parochial vicar, yet we went to the same seminary and are only a few years older. Are we expecting too much, or is there something lacking in our formation?
Benedict XVI: Let us now turn to the spiritual director of the seminary. The first problem was the difficulty of pastoral charity. We live it on the one hand, but on the other, I would also like to say: Courage. The Church gives many thanks to God, in Africa but also in Rome and in Europe!
She does so much and so many people are grateful to her, both in the area of the pastoral care of the sick and in the pastoral care of the poor and abandoned. Let us continue courageously to seek to find the best paths together.
The other point was focused on the fact that priestly formation even between close generations seems to be a little different for many people, and this complicates the common commitment to the transmission of faith. I noted this when I was archbishop of Munich.
When we entered the seminary, we all had a common Catholic spirituality that was more or less mature. Let us say that we had a spiritual foundation in common. Seminarians now come from very different spiritual experiences. I observed at my seminary that they live on different "islands" of spirituality that had difficulties communicating.
Let us thank the Lord especially because he has given so many new impulses to the Church and also so many new forms of spiritual life, of the discovery of the riches of the faith. It is necessary above all not to neglect the common Catholic spirituality which is expressed in the liturgy and in the great tradition of faith. This seems to me to be very important. This point is also important with regard to the Council.
We need not, as I said to the Roman Curia before Christmas, live the hermeneutic of discontinuity, but rather the hermeneutic of renewal, which is the spirituality of continuity, of going ahead in continuity. This seems to me to be very important also as regards the liturgy. Let me take a concrete example that came to me this very day with today's brief meditation.
The "Statio" of today, the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, is St. George. Corresponding to this soldier-saint, there were once two readings on two holy soldiers.
The first spoke of King Hezekiah, who was ill and condemned to death and who prayed to the Lord, weeping: "Give me a little more life!" And the Lord was good and granted him another 17 years of life. Hence, a beautiful healing and a soldier who could once again conduct his activities.
The second is the Gospel that tells us of the official of Capernaum with his sick servant. We thus have two motives: that of the healing and that of the "militia" of Christ, of the great fight.
Now, in today's liturgy, we have two totally different readings. We have the one from Deuteronomy: "Choose life," and the Gospel: "Take up your cross and follow Christ," which means it is not necessary to seek your own life but to give life, and this is one interpretation of what "choosing life" means.
I must say that I have always loved the liturgy. I was truly in love with the Church's Lenten journey, with these "stational churches" and the readings linked to these churches: a geography of faith that becomes a spiritual geography of the pilgrimage with the Lord. And I was somewhat unhappy at the fact that they had taken from us this connection between the "station" and the readings.
Today, I see that these very readings are most beautiful and express the Lenten program: choosing life, that is, renewing the "yes" of baptism, which is precisely, a choice of life. In this regard there is an intimate continuity, and it seems to me that we must learn from this that it is only a fraction between discontinuity and continuity.
We must accept newness but also love continuity, and we must see the Council in this perspective of continuity. This will also help us in mediating between the generations in their way of communicating the faith.
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15. There is a great lack of hope in the world today and widespread secularism. Believing in the Church and with the Church means responding to it, seeking the only thing necessary [love], as you pointed out in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est." Contemplation is the only way to understand and love others, a simple way to being more Christian.
Benedict XVI: Lastly, the priest of the Vicariate of Rome ended with a word that I perfectly make my own so that with it we can conclude: becoming simpler. This seems to me to be a very beautiful program. Let us seek to put it into practice and thus we will be more open to the Lord and to people.