The morning of Wednesday, August 6, Pope Benedict XVI met with some 400 priests of the diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone in the local cathedral. He was welcomed by the local bishop, made some brief opening remarks, and then took six questions. The pope spoke in German and Italian; the following is a rush NCR translation of the transcript of the exchange released this morning by the Vatican.
Bishop Wilhelm Egger: Holy Father, we thank you for accompanying us and helping us to see our situation, our joys and our problems, with the eyes of faith. We remember today Pope Paul VI on the 30th anniversary of his death. Under his pontificate a new system of consultation was arrived at in our diocese, something that has produced many fruits.
Benedict XVI: Your Excellency, dear brothers, thank you for this familial reunion, in this beautiful cathedral of the diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone. For me, it’s a great joy to be together with priests: in the end, the bishop of Rome is the bishop and brother of all priests. His mandate is to confirm the brothers in the faith. Today in this beautiful event, and with the beautiful music, we see in this cathedral something of the splendor of the face of Christ. We pray that the Lord may help us to produce his light in ourselves, even in dark days, so that we might be light for others, illuminating the world and life in this world. Unfortunately, I’m not able to speak Ladino, but forgive me: on Sunday I’ll have a text for speaking also in your beautiful language of Ladino.
First Question: Michael Horrer, Seminarian
Holy Father, my name is Michael Horrer and I’m a seminarian. During the 23rd World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in which I took part along with other youth from our diocese, you continually reminded the 400,000 youth who were present of the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in us young people and in the church. The theme of the World Youth Day was: “You will have the strength of the Holy Spirit, who will descend upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Now, we young people have returned – reinforced by the Holy Spirit and by your words – to our homes, our diocese and our daily life. Holy Father, how can we live concretely here, in our homes and our daily life, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and give witness of them to others, so that our relatives, friends and acquaintances can see and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and so we can exercise our mission as witnesses of Christ? What advice can you give us, so that our diocese remains young, despite the aging of the clergy, and stays open to the work of the Holy Spirit who guides the church?
Thanks for this question. I’m happy to see a seminarian, a candidate for the priesthood in this diocese, in whose face, in a certain sense, I can see the young face of the diocese. I’m also happy to hear that you, along with others, were in Sydney, where in a great festival of the faith we all together experienced precisely the youthfulness of the church. For the Australians, too, it was a great experience. In the beginning they looked at this World Youth Day with great skepticism, because obviously it could have created many problems in daily life, many inconveniences, such as traffic delays and so on. But in the end – and this was seen also by the media, whose prejudices were disassembled piece by piece – everyone felt caught up in the atmosphere of joy and of faith. They saw that the young people who came did not create security problems or any other kind of difficulty, but rather they knew how to be together in joy. They saw that even today faith is a living force, a force capable of giving the right orientation to people. It was a moment in which we truly felt the breath of the Holy Spirit, who dispenses with prejudices, and who makes people understand that, yes, here we find what touches us most closely, this is the direction in which we have to go; this is the way one should live, this is how the future opens.
tYou rightly said that it was a strong moment, from which we’ve carried home a little flame. In daily life, however, it’s often very difficult to perceive correctly the action of the Holy Spirit, or to be a means personally by which the Spirit can be present – so that the breath which dispenses with prejudices can do its work, the breath which creates light in the dark and makes us see that the faith not only has a future, but that it is the future. How can that be done?
Certainly, by ourselves we can’t do it. In the end, it’s the Lord who helps us, but we have to be willing instruments. I would sau it simply: No one can give that which he doesn’t personally possess, which means we cannot transmit the Holy Spirit in an effective way, render the Spirit perceptible, if we ourselves aren’t close to the Spirit. Therefore, I think the most important thing is that we ourselves remain, so to speak, in the rays of the breath of the Spirit, in contact with the Spirit. Only if we are continually touched interiorly by the Holy Spirit, if the Spirit is present in us, only then can be also transmit the Spirit to others. The Spirit will then give us the fantasies, the creative ideas of how to do it; ideas that can’t be programmed but that are born from the situation itself, because it’s there that the Holy Spirit is at work. Thus, the first point: we ourselves must remain in the rays of the breath of the Holy Spirit.
tThe Gospel of John tells us how, after the Resurrection, the Lord went to his disciples, breathed upon them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ This is a parallel to Genesis, where God breathes upon a mixture of earth and it takes form and becomes a human being. Now the human person, who has been obscured interiorly and is half dead, receives anew the breath of Christ, and it is this breath of God which gives a new dimension of life, life with the Holy Spirit. We can therefore say: The Holy Spirit is the breath of Jesus Christ, and we, in a certain sense, must always ask Christ to breathe upon us, so that in us this breath becomes alive, and strong, and works in the world. This means, therefore, that we must hold ourselves close to Christ.
We can do this by meditating on his word. We know that the principal author of Sacred Scripture in the Holy Spirit. When we speak with God through Scripture, when we don’t seek in it simply the past but truly the present Lord who speaks in it, then it’s as if we find ourselves – as I said in Australia – walking through the garden of the Holy Spirit. We speak with the Spirit, and the Spirit speaks with us. Thus learning to be at home in this environment, in the environment of the Word of God, is very important. In a certain sense, it introduces us to the breath of God. Then, naturally, this listening, this walking in the environment of the Word, must transform itself into a response, a response in prayer, in contact with Christ, above all, naturally, in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which he comes to meet us and to enters into us, almost melting with us. Also the Sacrament of Penance is important, which always purifies us, washes us of the darkness that daily life places in us.
tIn brief, it’s a question of life with Christ in the Holy Spirit, in the Word of God and in the communion of the church, in its common life. St. Augustine said: ‘If you want the Spirit of God, you must be in the Body of Christ.’ One finds the ambit of his Spirit in Christ’s mystical body. All this has to determine the unfolding of our day, the way in which it becomes a structured day, a day in which God always has access to us, in which contact with Christ is continualy there, and in which precisely for this reason we continually receive the breath of the Holy Spirit. If we do this, we won’t be too lazy, undisciplined or indolent. Something will happen, our day will take on a certain form, our life will take a certain form in it, and a light will radiate out from us without our having to think about it too much, without adopting a way of acting that’s – to put it this way – ‘propagandistic.’ It will happen on its own, because it reflects our soul.
tTo this I would add a second dimension, logically connected with the first: if we live with Christ, we’ll also do human things well. In fact, the faith does not carry only a supernatural aspect, it reconstructs the human person carrying us to our humanity, as the parallel between Genesis and John 20 demonstrates: it’s based precisely on the natural virtues – honesty, joy, openness to listen to one’s neighbor, the capacity to forgive, generosity, goodness, cordiality among persons. These human virtues are indicative of the fact that the faith is truly present, that we are truly with Christ. I believe that we have to pay much attention, also with regard to ourselves, to this point: to mature in ourselves authentic humanity, because faith leads to the full realization of the human being, of humanity. We habe to pay attention to developing well, in the correct manner, the human aspects also in the professions, in respect of other persons, in being concerned for others, which is the best way of being concerned for ourselves. In fact, ‘being’ for the other is the best way of ‘being’ for ourselves. This is where those initiatives that can’t be planned are born: communities of prayer, communities that read the Bible together, as well as effective aid to those who are in need, who find themselves on the margins of life, to the ill, the handicapped and so many other things besides … It’s here that our eyes are opened to see our personal capacities, to take the corresponding initiatives and to know how to foster in others the courage to do the same. It’s precisely these human things that fortify us, putting us in a certain way newly in contact with the Holy Spirit.
The head of the Knights of the Order of Malta in Rome told me that he went with a few young people at Christmas to the train station in order to bring a little Christmas to people who had been abandoned. While he was getting ready to leave, he heard one of the young people say to another: ‘This is better than the discotech. Here it’s truly beautiful, because I can do something for others!’ These are the initiatives that the Holy Spirit awakes in us. Without lots of words, they make us feel the strength of the Spirit and they make us attentive to Christ.
tWell, maybe I’ve said very little that’s concrete, but I think that the most important thing is that, above all, our life be oriented toward the Holy Spirit, so that we live in the ambit of the Spirit, in the Body of Christ, and from this we experience humanization – we take care of the simple human virtues and learn to be good in the most ample sense of the term. In this way we acquire a sensibility for initiatives of good which naturally develop a missionary force and, in a certain sense, prepare that moment in which speaking of Christ and our faith becomes sensible and comprehensible.
Second Question: Fr. Willibald Hopfgartner, OFM
Holy Father, my name is Willibard Hopfgartner. I’m a Franciscan and I work in school and in different areas of the administration of the Order. In your speech at Regensburg, you underlined the substantial bond between the divine Spirit and human reason. On the other hand, you have always underlined the importance of art and of beauty, of aesthetics. Thus, alongside the conceptual dialogue about God (in theology), should’t the aesthetic experience of the faith in the ambit of the church, through proclamation and liturgy, always be remembered?
Thank you. Yes, I think that the two things go together: reason, precision, honesty in reflection upon the truth, and beauty. A form of reason that in some way wished to strip itself of beauty would be diminished, it would be a blinded reason. Only the two things together form the whole, and precisely for the faith this union is important. The faith must continually confront the challenges of the thought of this epoch, so that it doesn’t seem a sort of irrational legend that keeps us going, but rather truly a response to the great questions; so that it’s not merely habit but also the truth, as Tertullian once put it. Saint Peter, in his first letter, wrote that phrase which the theologians of the Middle Ages took as a legitimization, almost as a commission for their theological work: ‘Be ready in every moment to give an account of the sense of hope that is within you’ – an apologia of the logos for hope, meaning a transformation of that logos, that reason of hope, into an apologia in response to others. Obviously, he was concinved that the faith is logos, that it is a reason, a light that proceeds from the Creative Reason, and not a simple hodge-podge that’s the fruit solely of our thought. That’s why it’s universal, and for this reason can be communicated to everyone.
tThis creator-logos is not simply a technical logos – we’ll come back to this point. It’s ample, it’s a logos which is love, and thus it expresses itself in beauty and in good. In reality, I once said that for me, art and the saints are the greatest apologia for our faith. The arguments adduced by reason are absolutely important and cannot be renounced, but there’s always dissent from somewhere. However, if we look to the saints, this great luminous wake with which God has passed through history, we truly see that here is a force for good that survives through millennia, here is truly light from light. In the same way, if we contemplate the beautiful works of art created by the faith, they represent, I would simply say, the living proof of the faith. If I look at this beautiful cathedral, it is a living proclamation! It speaks to us, and starting from the beauty of the cathedral we can visually proclaim God, Christ, and all God’s mysteries: here they have taken form, and they look at us. All the great works of art, the cathedrals – the Gothic cathedrals and the splendid Baroque churches – are a luminous sign of God, and thus are truly a manifestation, an epiphany of God. In Christianity it’s precisely a matter of this epiphany: that God has become a veiled Epiphany – he appears and is resplendent. We just heard the organ in all its splendor, and I think that the great music born in the church is a way of rendering audible and perceptible the truth of our faith: from Gregorian chant to the music of the cathedrals up to Palestrina and his epoch, through Bach and Mozart and Bruckner and so on … Listening to all these works – the Passion of Bach, his Mass in B Minor, and the great spiritual compositions of the polyphony of the 16th century, the Viennese school, all the great music even of minor composers – suddenly we feel: ‘It’s true!’ Where things such as these works are born, there’s the truth. Without an intuition about the true creative center of the world, such beauty cannot be born.
tFor this reason, I think that we have to be sure that they two things always go together, that we carry them together. When, in our time, we discuss the rationality of the faith, we should discuss precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries leave off, it does not end in positivism. The theory of evolution sees the truth, but it sees only half of it. It does not see that behind evolution there’s the Spirit of creation. We are struggling for the expansion of reason, and thus for a form of reason that is open to the beautiful, not leaving it aside as something totally different or irrational. Christian art is a rational art – think of Gothic art or the great music or, in this case, our Baroque art – but it’s an artistic expression of a greatly amplified reason, in which the heart and reason meet. This is the point. This, I think, is in some ways the proof of the truth of Christianity: the heart and reason meet, beauty and truth touch one another. The more we live in the beauty of the truth, the more the faith can return to being creative also in our time, and express itself in convincing artistic forms.
tSo, dear Fr. Hopfgartner, thank you for the question. Let’s try to ensure that the two categories, the aesthetic and the noetic, are united, and that in this great vastness the completeness and the depth of our faith are manifest.
Third Question: Fr. Willi Fusaro
Holy Father, I’m Fr. Willi Fusaro. I’m 42, and I’ve been ill since the year of my priestly ordination. I was ordained in June 1991; in September of the same year, I was diagnosed wityh multiple sclerosis. I’m an associate in the parish of Corpus Domini in Bolzano. I was very struck by the figure of John Paul II, above all in the last part of his pontificate, when he carried his human weakness with courage and humility before the whole world. Given your closeness to your beloved predecessor, and on the basis of your personal experience, what words can you give me and all of us to help elderly and ill priests to live their priesthood well and fruitfully in the presbyterate and in the Christian community? Thank you!
Thank you, Reverend. I would say that also for me, the two parts of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II are equally important. In the first part, we saw him as a giant of the faith: with incredible courage, extraordinary strength, true joy of the faith and great lucidity, he carried the message of the Gosepl to the ends of the earth. He spoke with everyone, he opened new paths with the movements, with interreligious dialogue, with ecumenical meetings, with a deepened sense of listening to the Divine Word, with everything … with his love for the Sacred liturgy. In real sense, we can say, he brought down not the walls of Jericho, but the walls between two worlds, with the strength of his faith, and this witness remains unforgettable, a light also for this new millennium.
tBut I have to say that for me, the later years of his pontificate were not of lesser importance, because of this humble witness of his passion. The way he carried the Cross of the Lord before us and realized the word of the Lord: ‘Follow me, carrying with me, and following me, the Cross!’ I’m talking about his humility, the patience with which he accepted almost the destruction of his body, his growing incapacity to use words – he who was always the master of the word. In this way he visibly demonstrated to us, it seems to me, the deep truth that the Lord has redeemed us with his Cross, with the Passion as an extreme act of his love. He showed that suffering is not just a ‘not,’ something negative, the absence of something, but it’s a positive reality. Suffering accepted in the love of Christ, in the love of God and others, is a redemptive force, a force of love which is no less powerful than the great acts he committed in the first part of his pontificate. He taught us a new love for the suffering, and helped us understand what it means to say ‘we are saved in the Cross and by the Cross.’
tWe find these two aspects also in the life of the Lord. In the first part he teaches the joy of the Reign of God and carries his gifts to humanity. Then, in the second part, comes the immersion in the Passion up to his last cry upon the Cross. In precisely this way he taught us who God is, that God is love and that in identifying with our suffering as human beings he takes us in his hands and immerses us in his love. Only love offers this bath of redemption, purification and rebirth.
tFor this reason, it seems to me that all of us – and especially in a world that thrives on activism, youthfulness, being young, strong, and beautiful, always able to do great things – we have to learn the truth of a love that expresses itself in suffering, and thereby redeems the human person and unites us with God who is love.
tTherefore, I would like to thank all those who accept suffering, who suffer with the Lord, and I want to encourage all of us to have an open heart for the suffering, for the elderly, and to understand that their passion is a wellspring of renewal for humanity, creating love in us and uniting us with the Lord.
tIn the end, however, it is always difficult to suffer. I remember when Cardinal Mayer’s sister was very ill, and he said to her once when she was impatient: ‘But, look, you’re now with the Lord.’ She replied, ‘That’s easy for you to say, because you’re healthy, but I’m in the passion.’ It’s true, amid real passion it’s difficult to really unite oneself to the Lord and to remain in this disposition of union with the suffering Lord. Let us pray, therefore, for all the suffering and do whatever we can to help them. Let’s show our gratitude for their suffering and assist them as much as possible, with great respect for the value of human life, especially suffering life up to the end.
This is a fundamental message of Christianity, which comes from the theology of the Cross: the love of Christ is present in suffering, in the passion, and it’s a challenge for us to unite ourselves with his passion. We have to love the suffering not only with words, but with all our action and commitment. It seems to me that only in this way are we really Christians. I wrote in my encyclical ‘Spe Salvi’ that the capacity to accept suffering, and those who suffer, is the measure of the humanity that we possess. Where this capacity is missing, the human person is reduced and put on a lesser scale. Hence let us pray to the Lord for help in our suffering, and that he may lead us to be close to all those who are suffering in this word.
Fourth Question: Fr. Karl Golser
Holy Father! My name is Karl Golser, and I am a professor of moral theology here at Bressanone and also the director of the Institute of Justice, Peace and Care of Creation; I’m also a canon. I recall with pleasure the period in which I was able to work with you at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
tAs you know, the Catholic Church has forged profoundly the history and the culture of our country. Today, however, at times we have the sensation that, as church, we are a bit withdrawn into the sacristy. The declarations of the pontifical magisterium on the great social questions don’t find the proper echo at the level of parishes and ecclesial communities.
tHere, for example, in Alto Adige, local authorities and many associations are strongly calling attention to environmental problems, particularly climate change. The principal arguments are the melting of the icecaps, landslides in the mountains, the problems of the cost of energy, traffic and atmospheric pollution. There are many initiatives in favor of environmental protection.
In the average understanding of our Christians, however, all this has little to do with the faith. What can we do to bring a deeper sense of responsibility with regard to creation into the life of our Christian communities? How can we more and more come to see Creation and Redemption together? How can we live, in an exemplary way, a Christian lifestyle that will be sustainable? And how can we unite that lifestyle to a quality of life that will be attractive for the people of our land?
Thanks very much, dear Professor Golser. Certainly you could respond much better than me to these questions, but I’ll try to say something anyway.
You’ve touched the theme of the relationship between Creation and Redemption, and I think that the indissolvable bond between them should receive new emphasis. In recent decades, the doctrine of Creation almost disappeared in theology, it was almost imperceptible. Now we can see the damages that resulted. The Redeemer is the Creator, and if we don’t proclaim God in all his total greatness – as Creator and Redeemer – we subtract value also from the Redemption. In fact, if God has nothing to say about Creation, is he is relegated simply into an ambit of history, how can all of our life truly be understood? How could he truly bring salvation for humanity in its entirety and for the world in its totality? That’s why for me, renewal of the doctrine of Creation, and a new understanding of the indissolvability of the bond between Creation and Redemption, takes on such great importance. We have to recognize anew: He is the Creator Spiritus, the Reason from whom in the beginning everything is born, and of which our reason is nothing but a scintilla. It is him, the Creator himself, who entered into history and can still enter into history and act in it, because He is the God of everything together and not just of one part. If we recognize this, obviously what follows is that the Redemption, what it means to be Christian, and simply the Christian faith in itself, always signify responsibility with regard to Creation.
Twenty or thirty years ago Christians were accused – I don’t know if this accusation is still sustained – of being the true parties responsible for the destruction of Creation, because the term contained in Genesis – ‘subjugate the earth’ – has produced an arrogance with regard to creation of which we are today experiencing the consequences. I think that we must newly learn to see this accusation in all its falsity: to the extent that the earth was considered God’s creation, the duty of “subjecting” it was never understood as an order to make it a slave, but rather as a duty of being a custodian of creation and developing its gifts; of collaborating ourselves in an active way in God’s work, in the evolution that God placed in the world, so that the gifts of creation are prized and not trampled upon or destroyed.
If we observe what was born around monasteries, how in those places little paradises were born and continue to be born, oases of creation, it’s obvious that all this isn’t simply words. Where the Word of the Creator was understood in the correct manner, where there was life with the Creator-Redeemer, in those places there was a commitment to protection creation and not to destroy it. Chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans is relevant here, where it’s said that creation suffers and groans for the state of submission in which it finds itself, and awaits the revelation of the children of God: it will feel itself liberated when those creatures come who are children of God and who treat it from God’s point of view. I believe that this is precisely the reality we see today: Creation is groaning – we can sense it, we can almost hear it – and it is waiting for human beings who see it through God’s eyes. The brutal consumption of creation begins where God is missing, where matter has become simply matter for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate measure, where everything is simply our property and we consume it only for ourselves. The waste of creation begins where we no longer recognize any claim beyond ourselves, seeing only ourselves; it begins where there is no longer any dimension of life beyond death, where in this life we have to grab everything and take hold of life with the maximum intensity possible, where we have to possess everything it’s possible to possess. I believe, therefore, that true and effective measures against the waste and destruction of creation can only be realized and developed, understood and lived, when creation is considered from the point of view of God; when life is considered on the basis of God and has its major dimensions in responsibility before God; life that one day will be given by God in its fullness and never taken away. Giving life, we receive it.
tThus, I believe, we must attempt with all the means we have to present the faith in public, especially where there’s already a sensibility for it. I think the sensation many people have today that the world may be slipping away – because we ourselves are driving it away – and the sense of being oppressed by the problems of creation gives us a fitting occasion in which our faith can speak publicly and can present itself as a positive proposition. In fact, it’s not just a question of finding techniques that can prevent environmental harms, even if it’s important to find alternative sources of energy and so on. But all this won’t be enough if we ourselves don’t find a new style of life, a discipline which is made up in part of renunciations: a discipline of recognition of others, to whom creation belongs just as much as those of us who can make use of it more easily; a discipline of responsibility to the future for others and for ourselves. It’s a question of responsibility before He who is our Judge, and as Judge our Redeemer, but nonetheless our Judge.
tTherefore I think it’s essential to hold together the two dimensions – Creation and Redemption, earthly life and eternal life, responsibility for creation and responsibility for others and for the future – and that it’s our duty to intervene in a clear and decisive manner in public opinion. In order to be heard, we must at the same time demonstrate with our example, with our own style of life, that we are speaking of a message in which we ourselves believe, one by which it’s possible to live. We want to ask the Lord to help us all live the faith, the responsibility of the faith, in such a way that our style of life becomes a form of witness, and that our words express the faith in a credible way as an orientation in our time.
Fifth Question: Fr. Franz Pixner, Dean
Holy Father, my name is Franz Pixner and I am the pastor of two large parishes. I myself, together with many brother priests and also laity, am worried about the growing burden of pastoral care due to, for example, the situations which are being created: the heavy pressure of work, the lack of recognition, difficulties with the magisterium, solitude, the falling numbers not just of priests but also in the community of the faithful. Many wonder what God is asking of us, in this situation, and in what way the Holy Spirit wants to encourage us. In this context many questions arise, for example about priestly celibacy, the ordination of viri probati to the priesthood, the participation of various charisms, in particular the charisms of women, in pastoral life, and the employment of male and female collaborators formed in theology to confer baptism and to give homilies. The question also arises of how we priests, facing these new challenges, can support one another in fraternal community at the different levels of the diocese, dean’s regions, pastoral centers and parishes. I ask you, Holy Father, to give us some good counsel on all these questions. Thank you!
My dear dean, you’ve opened the entire binder of questions which concern and worry pastors and all of us in this time, and certainly you know that I’m not able right now to respond to them all. I imagine that you’ll have the chance to discuss all of this repeatedly with your bishop, and for our part we discuss these questions in the Synod of Bishops. All of us, I believe, need this dialogue among ourselves, a dialogue of the faith and of responsibility, in order to find the right way in this time, which is difficult in many respects for the faith and which puts great burdens on priests. No one has a ready recipe, and we are all searching together.
tWith this reservation, which is that together with you I find myself in the midst of this process of effort and interior struggle, I’ll try to say a few words, precisely as part of a much larger dialogue.
tIn my response, I’d like to consider two fundamental aspects. On the one hand, there is no substitute for the priest, for the meaning and the mode of priestly ministry today; on the other hand – and this stands out more clearly today than before – there’s also the multiplicity of charisms, and the fact that all of us together are the church, we build up the church, and for this reason we must commit ourselves to awakening the charisms. We must keep them alive together, and they in turn sustain the priest. He sustains the others, the others sustain him, and only in this complex and diverse unity can the church today grow toward the future.
tThere will always be a need for the priest who is completely dedicated to the Lord, and for this reason completely dedicated to humanity. In the Old Testament there was the call to sanctification which more or less corresponds to what we today intend with consecration, and also with priestly ordination; something was being consigned to God, and for this reason it was removed from the sphere of the ordinary and given to God. That meant, however, it was now at the disposition of all. Because it was removed and given to God, precisely for that reason it was no longer isolated but was lifted up for all. I think that this can also be said of priesthood in the church. It means that, on the one hand, we are consigned to the Lord, taken out of the common lot, but, on the other hand, we are consigned to Him so that in this way we can belong to him totally and totally belong to others. I think we must continually try to make this clear to young people – to those who are idealists, who want to do something for the community. We have to show that this ‘extraction from the ordinary’ means ‘consigned to the community,’ and that this is an important way, the most important way, to serve their brothers and sisters. Part of this is putting oneself completely at the disposition of the Lord, and thus finding oneself completely at the disposition of other human beings. I think celibacy is a fundamental expression of this totality, and for that reason it’s a great reminder in this world. It makes sense only if we truly believe in eternal life, if we believe that God commissions us and that we can be for him. There is no substitute for the priesthood, because in the Eucharist, beginning with God, the priest always builds up the church. In the sacrament of penance the priest confers purification upon us. In all the sacraments, the priesthood is involved in the “for” of Jesus Christ.
But I know well how difficult it is today – when a priest finds himself running not just a single parish that’s fairly easy to administer, but several parishes and pastoral centers; when he has to be available for this council and the other, and so on – how difficult it is to live such a life. I believe that in this situation it’s important to have the courage to limit oneself, and the clarity to set priorities. A fundamental priority of priestly life is being with the Lord, and thus having time for prayer. St. Charles Borromeo always said: ‘I couldn’t care for the souls of others if I let my own waste away. In the end, I wouldn’t be able to do anything for anyone else. You have to take time for your own being with God.’
tI would therefore like to underline: as much as commitments may pile up, it’s a true priority to find every day, I would say, an hour of time for being in silence for the Lord and with the Lord, as the church proposes with the breviary, with the prayers of the day, in order to be able to enrich yourself interiorly, in order to return – as I said responding to the first question – to the rays of the breath of the Holy Spirit. On that basis, it’s important to get one’s priorities right. I have to learn to see what is truly essential, what absolutely requires my presence as a priest, which I can’t delegate to anyone. At the same time, I have to humbly accept those times when there are many things I should do, and for which my presence is requested, but which I can’t do because I know my own limits. I believe this kind of humility will be understood by the people.
tNow I have to bring in the other aspect: to know how to delegate, to call people to collaboration. I have the impression that the people understand it, and for that matter appreciate it, when a priest spends time with God, when he takes seriously his duty to pray for others: We – they say – aren’t able to pray a great deal, you have to do it for me: at bottom, it’s your duty, so to speak, to be the one who prays for us. They want a priest who honestly commits himself to living with the Lord, and then being at the disposition of everyone – the suffering, the disabled, children and young people (these, I would say, are the priorities – but who also knows how to identify those things which others can do better than him, and who gives space to those charisms. I think of the movements, and multiple other forms of collaboration in the parish. On all these matters there should be conversation in the diocese itself, creating new forms and promoting exchanges. Rightly, you said that in this area it’s important to look beyond the parish towards the community of the diocese, for that matter towards the community of the universal church, which, for its part, must be concerned for what’s happening in the parish and what its consequences are the individual priest.
tYou also touched on another point which is very important in my eyes. Priests, even if they live geographically quite far from one another, are nevertheless a true community of brothers who must sustain one another and help one another. This communion among priests is today even more important. Precisely to avoid falling into isolation, into solitude with their sadnesses, it’s important for priests to meet one another regularly. It should be the duty of the diocese to establish how best to realize meetings of priests – today cars make moving around easier – so that we can experience being together, learning from one another, encouraging each other and helping each other, giving one another heart and consoling each other, so that inn this communion of the presbyterate, together with the bishop, we can render our best service to the local church. Now, this beautiful idea of communion, which everybody recognizes on a theological level, has to be translated into practice in the ways determined by the local church. It also has to be expanded, because no bishop is a bishop by himself, but rather a bishop within the College of Bishops, in the great communion of bishops. We have to commit ourselves to this communion. I think this is a particularly beautiful aspect of Catholicism: through the primacy, which is not an absolute monarchy, but a service to communion, we can have the certainty of this unity, so that just as in a grand community of many voices, everyone together can make the great music of the faith in this world.
tLet’s pray to the Lord for consolation whenever we think we can’t go on; let’s sustain one another, and the Lord will help us to find together the right paths.
Sixth Question: Fr. Paolo Rizzi,
Holy Father, I am Paolo Rizzi, a pastor and instructor of theology at the Superior Institute of Religious Sciences. We would enjoy hearing your pastoral opinion regarding the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. More and more the children and young people who receive these sacraments prepare themselves well during catechetical sessions, but then don’t come to Sunday Mass. It’s natural to ask what sense this makes. Sometimes there’s a desire to say: ‘Just stay home for all of it!’ Instead, however, we go on like always and accept them, thinking that in any case it’s better not to snuff out the wick of a weak flame. The tendency is to think that the gift of the Spirit can have results beyond what we see, and that in an epoch of transition such as ours it’s more prudent not to take drastic steps.
More generally, thirty or thirty-five years ago I thought that we were headed toward having a small flock, a minority community more or less in all of Europe. Today, in part because of the pontificate of John Paul II, I’ve reconsidered. If it’s possible to make forecasts for the future, what do you think? What pastoral attitudes can you suggest? Thanks.
Well, I can’t give an infallible answer right now, I can only try to respond based on what I see. I have to say that I’ve followed a path similar to yours. When I was young I was rather more severe. I said: the sacraments are the sacraments of the faith, and when the faith isn’t there, where there’s not practice of the faith, the sacraments can’t be conferred. When I was Archbishop of Munich I always discussed this with my pastors, and there too there were too factions, one severe and one more generous. I too in the course of time have realized that we have to follow instead the example of the Lord, who was very open also with the people who were at the margins of Israel at that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open – according to many of the official authorities – with sinners, welcoming them or allowing himself to be welcomed by them at their dinners, drawing them to himself in his communion.
Thus I would say in essence that the sacraments are naturally sacraments of the faith. Where there is no element of faith, where First Communion would just be a party with a big lunch, nice clothes and nice gifts, then it can’t be a sacrament of the faith. But, on the other hand, if we can see even a tiny flame of desire for communion in the church, a desire also from these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, it seems right to me to be rather generous. Naturally, for sure, it must be part of our catechesis to make clear that Communion, First Communion, is not automatic, but it demands a continuity of friendship with Jesus, a path with Jesus. I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass, but their parents don’t make it possible. If we see that the children want it, that they have the desire to go, it seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the ‘vow’ of participation at Sunday Mass. In this sense we naturally should do everything possible in the context of sacramental preparation to also reach the parents and – let’s say – also awaken in them a sensibility for the path that their children are taking. They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus, which is the form of life, of the future. If the parents have the desire that their children should make the First Communion, this somewhat social desire should be expanded into a religious desire to make possible a journey with Jesus.
tI would say, therefore, that in the context of catechism with children, the work with parents is always very important. It’s an occasion for meeting the parents, making the life of faith present also to the adults, so that they themselves can learn anew from the children – it seems to me – and to understand that this great solemnity makes sense only, and it’s true and authentic only if, it’s realized in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. The challenge is to convince the parents a bit, through the children, of the necessity of a preparatory path, which reveals itself in participation in the mysteries and begins to foster love for those mysteries.
tThis is a fairly insufficient response, I would say, but the pedagogy of the faith is always a journey, and we have to accept today’s situation, but we also have to open it up little by little, so that it’s not directed at the sole aim of some exterior memory of things, but so that the heart is truly touched. In the moment in which we become convinced, the heart is touched, it’s felt a bit of the love of Jesus, and it’s experienced a bit of desire to move in this direction. In that moment, it seems to me, we can say that we’ve accomplished a real catechesis. The true sense of catechesis, in fact, should be this: to carry the flame of the love of Jesus, even if it’s small, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thereby opening anew the places of the faith in our time.