L'Osservatore Romano inexplicably never posted its 8/8/08 issue online in which it was to have printed the transcript of the Holy Father's encounter with the clergy in Bressanone on Wednesday. But the Vatican Press Office did publish the transcript. Here is the full translation.
Clearly, the transcripts of the Holy Father's unscripted discourses show that they are not reducible to soundbites, and that is why none of the preliminary summaries really do justice to what he actually says, and the way in which he says it.
THE HOLY FATHER'S ENCOUNTER
WITH THE DIOCESAN CLERGY OF
Bressanone Cathedral, August 6, 2008
Opening Remarks by Bishop Wilhelm Egger
In German -
Holy Father, in the name of the priests and deacons present, I greet you most cordially.
Holy Father, every Wednesday you normally give a catechesis for the faithful. We thank you that today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, you are giving this catechesis for us - diocesan priests as well as members of the religious orders - through your answers to our questions.
He continued in Italian-
Holy Father, we are thankful that you are with us to help us to see with the eyes of the faith our situation, our joys and our problems.
Today, we remember Paul VI 30 years after his death. It was under his Pontificate that our diocese was reorganized, an event that has borne much fruit.
[He says a sentence in Ladino about St. Peter having been a witness of the Transfiguration, and that Christians are witnesses for Jesus Christ today. I cannot make out the sense of the connecting phrase as I do not understand the word that appears to be the main verb!]
THE HOLY FATHER
In German -
Dear Bishop Egger, dear brothers in the priestly service, I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Bishop Egger for having enabled me to be with you all on this beautiful feast day, the Transfiguration of Christ, in the Cathedral of Brixen, which has an Altar of the Transfiguration.
I think it is as if, in this majestic cathedral, with this beautiful music and being together, we too can experience something like being on Mount Tabor [site of the Transfiguration], to see something of the radiance that lit up the figure of Christ, after which, like the apostles, we must descend once more to the valleys of our daily routine.
But we ask of him that from such hours spent with him, especially from our daily celebration of the Eucharist, something of this light may remain in our soul, to help us to get through the day, with the gift of being able to pass on the light of Christ to others.
Excellency, dear brothers, thank you for this informal meeting in this beautiful cathedral of the diocese of Blozano-Bressanone. It is a great joy for me to be with priests - the Bishop of Rome is the bishop and the brother of all priests; his mandate is to confirm his brothers in the faith.
On this beautiful feast today, we see in this Cathedral, with the beautiful music, something of the splendor from the face of Christ, and we pray to the Lord that we can carry this light even in the darkest days to be able to bring it to others in order to illuminate the world and life in this world.
Unfortunately, I am unable to speak in Ladino. Please forgive me. But on Sunday I will have a text to say in your Ladino language.
The Holy Father now answers questions presented to him. The first Q-and-A was conducted in German.
Holy Father, my name is Michael Horrer and I am a seminarian. At the 23rd World Youth Day in Sydney, in which I participated along with other young people of this diocese, you referred to the working of the Holy Spirit among young people and in the Church. The theme of the gathering was: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1,8).
Now, strengthened anew by the Holy Spirit and your words, we have returned to our homes, to our dioceses, and to our daily lives. Holy Father, how can we now - concretely in our daily life - experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit and make others experience it, so that even our relatives, friends, acquaintances and all those we deal with, may feel experience the power of the Holy Spirit and can thus carry out the task of being witnesses to Jesus Christ?
What would you advise so that our diocese, despite the aging of the clergy, remains young and remains open to the working of the Holy Spirit under the guidance of the Church?
THE HOLY FATHER:
Many thanks for this question. I am happy to meet a seminarian, a candidate for priesthood in this diocese, in whom I can see the young face of the diocese, and I am happy that you and your colleagues were in Sydney where we, in fact, experienced together the 'youngness' of the Church in a great feast of faith.
It was a great experience even for the people of Australia. Earlier, they had looked at it with great skepticism because, of course, it would bring many inconveniences to their daily routine, many problems, for instance, with traffic, etc.
But in the end - as we saw in the media, whose prejudices crumbled piece by piece - they were all caught in the grip of the atmosphere of joy and faith: young people came but they did not bring with them any problems with security or any other kind, but rather simply got together joyfully.
They saw that even today, faith is an actual force, a force that orients men correctly. We can say we truly felt the breath of the Holy Spirit which swept away prejudices to make it visible that, yes, this is what concerns us, this the direction in which we must go, this is the way one can live, this is the way to the future.
Now, you have correctly said that it was a great moment from which we could bring back with us, so to speak, a flame. But in daily life it is far more difficult to feel the working of the Holy Spirit or to be its instrument, so that he may be present, so that his breath can be felt which can sweep away the prejudices of our time, bring light to darkness, and make us feel that faith not not only has a future but is
How can we do this? We cannot do it by ourselves, of course. In the end, it is the Lord who helps us do it, but we must be ready to be his instruments.
I would simply say: No one can give something that he himself does not have. Which means that we cannot transmit the Holy Spirit and make him felt when we ourselves are not close to him.
And so I think, the first thing is that we ourselves should remain within range, so to speak, of the Holy Spirit, to be in touch with him. Only when we ourselves are in touch with him, renewing ourselves interiorly when he is present in us, can we then be able to transmit him to others, because he himself gives us the imagination and creative ideas on how to do this - ideas which one cannot plan beforehand but which arise with the occasion whenever the Holy Spirit is at work. Therefore, Point #1 is to remain ourselves within reach of his breath.
The Gospel of St. John tells us how the Lord, after the Transfiguration, came to the Apostles, breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." It is a parallel to the Creation story, when God breathed on the clay which took on life and became man. This time Christ breathed once again on man, who had become all dark inside and half dead - with this, the breath of God gave man a new dimension of life, life with the Holy Spirit.
We can therefore say that the Holy Spirit is the breath of Jesus Christ, and we must always let ourselves receive anew, so to speak, the breath of Christ, so that this breath becomes alive in us, and can exert its power even on the world around us.
And this means that we must always be close to Christ. And we do that by surrounding ourselves with his Word. We know that the Holy Ghost is the main author of Sacred Scripture. When, through Scriptures, we converse with God - we do not only seek the past in it, it is actually God speaking to us - then, as I said in Australia, we walk together in the garden of the Holy Spirit, talking to him as he talks to us.
To be at home in this space, the space of God's Word, is very important. It leads us to the breath of God itself. Then, of course, this listening, this walking through and with the Word of God, should be transformed into an answer, which we give in prayer, in reaching out to Christ. Especially in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which he comes to us and into us, almost dissolving into us. But also in the Sacrament of Penance, in which we allow ourselves to be purified anew, to wash out the dark stains that daily life leaves in us.
In short, a life with Christ in the Holy Spirit, in the Word of God, and in the communion of the Church, in its living community. St. Augustine said, "If you wish to have the Spirit of God, then be in Christ's body". God's spirit finds its space in the mystical Body of Christ [the Church].
All this should therefore determine our daily routine - our day must be structured so that God will always have access to us, so that the contact with Christ can take place all the time and thus allow the Holy Spirit to breathe on us.
When we do this, when we are not too lazy or undisciplined or otherwise too inert, then something happens in us - the day takes shape, our own life takes shape, and light radiates from us without us even thinking of it, no need, so to speak, to advertise it. It comes by itself because it reflects our inner being.
Which leads me then to a second dimension logically linked to the first: If we live with Christ, then we also do human things right. Faith is not simply about the supernatural, rather it restores man's humanity, as the parallel between Genesis and John 20 shows. In fact, it is built on natural virtues: on honesty, on joyousness, on the readiness to listen to others, on the capacity to forgive, on generosity, goodness, sincerity. These human virtues are signs that faith is truly present, that we are truly with Christ.
And therefore, I believe, that we should take care that we allow simple humanity to mature in us, that our faith must be incarnated in our humanity, that it is our duty to do all human things right and well, with consideration for others, with the same concern for others that we have for ourselves. It is in 'being' for others that we do best for ourselves.
And out of this comes the corresponding initiatives that one cannot program: togetherness in prayer and in reading Scriptures, actual help for those who are in need, those who are at the margins of life, the sick, the handicapped... Then, too, we can see - what am I best able to do, so that I can undertake what I must do and thereby give encouragement to others. And to the degree that we strengthen these human activities, the more we are in touch with the Spirit of God.
The Grand Master of the Order of Malta told me in Rome that one Christmas, he went with some young people to the train station in order to bring a piece of Christmas to the indigent and abandoned. And he overheard one of the young people say, "This is much much better than going to the disco! It feels really good that I can do something for others." It is with such initiatives that we share the Holy Spirit with others. Without need for words, the power of the Spirit makes itself felt which confers a readiness and wakefulness for Christ.
I have perhaps said too little that is concrete, but I think it is important that we ourselves should live in the Holy Spirit - and we live in him when we live in the Body of Christ - in order to renew our humanity; to tend to simple human virtues; and to learn to be good in the broadest sense of the word. From all this, missionary power develops of itself, bringing us to the point where we can speak sensibly and understandably about Christ and our faith.
[This exchange was also conducted in German.]
Holy Father, my name is Willibald Hopfgartner, a Franciscan. I work in a school and perform other leadership activities for the order. In your Regensburg lecture, you underscored the important relationship between the divine Spirit and human reason. On other occasions, you have also underscored the significance of art and beauty, of aesthetics. Therefore, besides the conceptual teaching about God (in theology), should not the aesthetic experience of the faith be constantly a theme as well in the Church, in our preaching and in the liturgy?
THE HOLY FATHER:
Thank you. Yes, I believe that both go together: reason, precision, honesty in reflecting on the truth - and beauty. Reason which does away with beauty would be diminished and blinded. But both together make a whole, and this belonging together is important for the faith.
Faith must alays confront the challenges of the present so that it does not appear to be some irrational legend that we keep alive, but is really an answer to the great questions - so that it may not simply be a habit but the truth, as Tertullian once said.
St. Peter in his First Letter wrote something that the medieval theologians took to be a legitimization, and even an assignment, of what their theological work must be: "Always be prepared at any moment to give a reason for the hope that is in you" - an apologia for the Logos of hope, meaning, to transform the Logos, the reason for hope, into an answer for men.
Evidently, he was convinced that faith is Logos, that it is reason - light which comes from Creative reason itself, and not some jumble that we ourselves put together. And that is why it is universal, it can be communicated to everyone.
But this creative Logos is not just technical reasoning - we shall return to this later. Rather it is wide-ranging, it is a Logos which is love, one that can be expressed in beauty and in goodness. In fact, I once said that, for me, art and the saints are the greatest 'apologia' (explanations) of our faith.
The arguments of reason are absolutely important and indispensable, but they will always be subject to some dissent. But when one looks at the saints - at the broad swath of light with which God has marked history - then we can see that there is really a power of good that withstands through centuries, the presence of the Light of Lights.
In the same way, when we see the beauties created out of faith, then I would say, simply, this is the living evidence of faith.
When I look at this beautiful cathedral, it is a living message in itself. It speaks to us directly. Through the beauty of a cathedral, we can visibly proclaim God, Christ, and all the mysteries. They have taken form here and look down on us.
All the great art masterpieces, the cathedrals - the Gothic as well as the splendid baroque churches - they are all luminous signs of God, real manifestations of the divine, an epiphany of God. Christianity is all about this epiphany: God made manifestly brilliant.
Earlier we heard the organ in all its splendor, and I think that great music born in the Church is likewise the audible and perceptible rendering of the truth of our faith. From Gregorian chant to cathedral music in the time of Palestrina, through Bach, and finally in Mozart, Bruckner and so forth...
When we hear these great works - the Passion of Bach, his Mass in A-minor, the great spiritual compositions, from the 16th century polyphony to the School of Vienna, all music, even by minor composers - then suddenly we feel, "This is true!" Wherever such things are hidden, there is Truth.
Without the intuition to discover the creative center of the world, such beauty cannot be born. That is why I think we should always make sure that reason and beauty go together, that we bring them together.
When we dispute in our day over the rationality of faith, then what we are disputing is that reason does not end where experimental knowledge ends; that it does not end with positivism; that the theory of evolution sees the truth but only half of it; that it does not see the creative Spirit behind it.
We are fighting for a broadening of reason, for reason that is open even to the beautiful, which is not to be considered as something to be left aside because it is totally alien and unreasonable.
Christian art is rational art - one thinks of Gothic art, or great music, or even of our own baroque art - the artistic expression of a much wider ratio
, in which heart and reason meet each other.
That, I think, is the proof of Christianity's truth: that reason and heart, truth and beauty, come together. The more we ourselves live in the beauty of the truth, then the more faith in our time can be more creative and express itself in convincing artistic form.
Therefore, my dear Fr. Hopfgartner, thank you for the question. Let us act in a way that both categories - the esthetic and the n
oetic - are united, so that the integrity and profundity of our faith may be manifested in this broad perspective.
[The following exchange was carried out in Italian.]
Holy Father, I am don Willi Fusaro, 42 years old, and I have been ailing since the year I was ordained as a priest. This took place in June 1991, and the following September, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I work in the parish of Corpus Domini in Bolzano.
The figure of John Paul II has made a deep impact on me, especially the last part of his Pontificate when, before the whole world, he carried his human frailty with courage and humility.
Since you were close to your beloved predecessor, and on the basis of your own personal experience, what words can you offer to me and to all of us that can truly help priests who are old or sick to live their priesthood well and fruitfully, in their ministry as well as in the Christian community? Thank you.
THE HOLY FATHER:
Thank you, Reverend. Yes, I too would say that for me the two parts of Pope John Paul II's pontificate were equally significant. In the first part, we saw him as a giant of the faith: when, with incredible courage, extraordinary force, true joy in the faith, and great lucidity, he brought the Gospel message to the ends of the earth.
He spoke to everyone, he opened new paths with the ecclesial movements, inter-religious dialog, ecumenical encounters, new attention to hearing and understanding the Word of God, his love of Sacred Liturgy.
We can say that he caused to come down - not the walls of Jericho - but the walls between two worlds, through the sheer force of his faith. And his testimony remains unforgettable, and will continue to be a light for this new millennium.
But I must say that the last years of his Pontificate were not any less significant, because of the humble testimony of his personal Passion [suffering) - how he carried the Cross of the Lord before our eyes, making real the words of the Lord: "Follow me, carry the Cross with me and after me!"
This humility, the patience with which he accepted what was virtually the destruction of his body, his growing inability even to use words - he who was a master of words - thus did he show us visibly the profound truth that the Lord redeemed us with his Cross, with his Passion, as the extreme act of his love for us.
John Paul II showed us that suffering is not simply something negative, the lack of something, but a positive reality; that suffering accepted for the love of Christ, for the love of God and our fellowmen, is a redemptive force - showing the power of love, no less powerful than the great things that he achieved earlier in his Pontificate.
He taught us a new love for those who suffer, he made us understand the meaning of the words "We are saved in the Cross and through the Cross".
Even in the life of the Lord, we saw these two aspects: the first part when he teaches us the joy of the Kingdom of God, bringing his gifts to all men; and then, in the second part, when he plunges into his Passion up to his final cry on the Cross.
That is how he taught us that God is love, and that in identifying himself with our suffering as human beings, he takes us in his hands, he immerses us in his love, the love which is the bath of redemption, of purification and of rebirth.
And so I think that all of us - in a world that lives for activism; for youth; for being young, strong, and beautiful; for success and great achievements - should learn ever anew the truth about love which ia capable of suffering, and which, precisely in that way, redeems man and unites him with God.
So I want to thank all those who accept suffering, who suffer with the Lord, and to encourage all of us to keep our hearts open for those who suffer, for older people, and to understand that their very suffering is a spring of renewal for mankind, it creates love in us and unites us to the Lord.
But ultimately, suffering is always difficult. I remember a sister of Cardinal Mayer. She was very sick, and when he became impatient with her, he would tell her, "Look, you are now with the Lord." And she answered, "That's easy for you to say because you are healthy, but I am suffering."
And that's true. When one is truly suffering, it becomes difficult to unite oneself with the Lord and maintain a willingness to be one with the suffering Lord. So let us pray for all those who suffer, and let us do what we can to help them, to show them our thanks for their suffering [in our behalf], to help them, showingh great respect for the value of human life, and in particular, of a life of suffering to the very end.
This is a fundamental message of Christianity, which comes from the theology of the Cross: that suffering, passion, is also the presence of Christ's love; it is a challenge for us to unite ourselves with his suffering.
We should love those who suffer not only with words, but in all our actions and with our commitment. Only then, I think, are we really Christians.
I wrote in the encyclical Spe salvi
that the ability to accept suffering and those who suffer is a measure of the humanity that we possess. When this ability is lacking, then man is diminished, re-dimensioned. So let us all pray the Lord to help us in our suffering and bring us close to all those who suffer in this world.
[The following exchange was in German.]
Holy Father, my name is Karl Golser, I am a professor of moral theology here in Brixen and also director of the Institute for Justice, Peace and the Protection of Creation. I am also a canon, and I think back happily to the time when I had the opportunity to work with you in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
As you know, the Catholic Church has had a lasting influence on the history and culture of our land. Today however, we often get the impression that as a Church, we have voluntarily retreated to the sacristy. The statements of the Papal magisterium on the great questions of society do not, on the whole, receive the attention that they deserve at the level of the parishes and church communities.
Here in the Tyrol, for instance, the authorities and various associations pay great attention to environmental problems and especially to climate change, to issues like the melting of glaciers, landslides in the mountains, energy costs, traffic and air pollution problems. Many initiatives have been undeertaken to protect the environment.
However, in our average consciousness as Christians, all this has little to do with our faith. What can we do so that we can bring a sense of responsibility for the environment into the lives of Christian communities? What can we do so that we are able to see that Creation and Redemption belong together? How can we unite these aspects in an exemplary Christian lifestyle that can be engaging for all men on earth?
THE HOLY FATHER:
Many thanks, dear Professor Golser. You can certainly answer better than I can, but I will try nonetheless to say something. Yes, you have brought up the link between Creation and Redemption, and I think that this unbreakable link must receive new emphasis.
In the past few decades, the doctrine of Creation has almost been fully silenced in theology and is now hardly perceptible. And now we can observe the resulting damage.
The Redeemer is the Creator - and if we do not proclaim God in his total grandeur, as Creator and Redeemer, then we also debase Redemption. If God has nothing to do with Creation, when he is present only in some part of history, then how can he encompass our life? How can he bring healing to man in his wholeness and to the world in its totality?
That is why a renewal of the doctrine of creation and a new understanding of the inseparability of Creation and Redemption is of great importance.
We must learn this anew: God is the Creator Spiritus
, the creative reason that is the origin out of which everything comes, and of which our reason is but a spark. And it is him - the Creator himself - who entered history, who can enter history and affect it, because he is the God of everything and not just of part.
When we acknowledge this, then it is clear that Redemption, being
Christian, the mere fact of Christian belief, always implies a responsibility for Creation.
Twenty to thirty years ago - and I don't know how much the allegation continues to be held - Chistians were accused of being responsible for the destruction of Creation, because the words in Genesis to "master the earth" had led to an arrogance over creation whose effects we now observe.
I think that we must learn once again to understand this accusation in all its falseness: As long as the world is thought of as God's creation, then the task of 'mastering' it can never be understood as an order to enslave it, but as an assignment to be the protector of Creation and to develop all its bounty - for us to collaborate ourselves actively in the work of God, in the evolution he has imposed on the world, so that the gifts of Creation can be properly valued and appreciated, not trampled on and destroyed.
When we look at what was born around the medieval monasteries, how so-called little Edens, oases of Creation, were born and continue to be born, it becomes visible that we are not simply using words, but that where the Word of the Creator is correctly understood, where life is lived with the concept of a redeeming Creator, there is where Creation is sought to be redeemed and not destroyed.
This is the relationship referred to in Romans 8, where it is said that Creation suffers and groans under the subjection in which it finds itself and awaits the coming of the children of God, who will feel liberated when human creatures come who are children of God and who will treat them in that light.
And that, I think, is what we can observe today as reality: Creation groans - we feel it, we can virtually hear it - and it waits for men who will look at it with the eyes of God.
The brutish abuse of Creation arises where God is absent, where matter is simply matter for us, where we ourselves are the final ends, where we claim possession of the whole to be used only by us.
The abuse starts where there exists nothing beyond death, in which we feel compelled to grab everything for ourselves and seek to possess as much as we can, and must have everything that can possibly be had.
Thus, I think that genuinely effective actions against the waste and destruction of Creation can only be realized and developed, understood and experienced, when Creation is seen as originating with God, where life itself is seen as originating from him, and has larger dimensions - a responsibility to God - and that once God has given us life in its fullness, it can never be taken away. Rather, in giving life, we receive life.
I believe we should, with all the means we possess, show our faith publicly in this way [responsibility towards Creation], especially in places where such consciousness already exists. And I think the feeling that the world is perhaps slipping past us - because we ourselves want it out of the way, this feeling of being oppressed by environmental problems, is an opportunity for us to speak openly of our faith, an opportunity which can serve to further show its real worth.
This has to do not only with finding ways to prevent technology from causing damage, but equally important, to find alternative enrgy sources and so many other initiatives.
But all that will not be enough if we ourselves do not adapt a new lifestyle, a discipline that is capable of renunciation, a discipline that recognizes that creation belongs to others as much as it does to us who can more freely do with it as we please; a discipline of responsibility for the future, ours and that of others, because it is our responsibility to him who is our Judge, and as Judge, also our Redeemer, but nonetheless our Judge.
So I believe that we must bring together both dimensions - Creation and Redemption, earthly living and eternal life, responsibility for Creation and responsibility for others and for the future - and that it is our task to speak about this openly and understandably.
At the same time, we must show with our own example, our own lifestyle, that it is a message we ourselves believe and one that can be put into practice.
And let us pray to the Lord that he may help us all to live our faith, the responsibility for our faith, in such a way that our lifestyle will be a testimony, and to speak such that our words can credibly convey that faith is indeed a guideline for our time.
[The following exchange was also in German]
Holy Father, my name is Franz Pixner and I am parish priest of two large parishes. I myself and my brother priests and even laymen are worried over the increasing weight of pastoral work because of things like the pastoral units which are now being created; heavy work pressures; lack of recognition; difficulties about the Magisterium; loneliness; the shrinking number of priests and also of the community of believers. Many are asking what God wants of us in these circumstances and how the Holy Spirit can encourage us.
Then there are questions about celibacy, for instance, about the consecration of viri probati as priests, on how to make use of various charisms, especially that of women, in pastoral work, on allowing theologically trained collaborators, men and women alike, to undertake tasks in preaching and in baptism.
There is also the problem of how, in the face of new challenges, we priests can help each other in brotherly solidarity on the levels of the diocese, the diaconate, pastoral and parochial work.
We ask you, Holy Father, to give us good advice on all these questions. Thank you.
THE HOLY FATHER:
My dear Dean, you have gone through the entire spectrum of questions that concerns and occupies pastors and all of us these days, and you surely know that I am in no position to answer all these questions here.
These are questions that you must have discussed repeatedly with your bishop, and that we will discuss yet again during the next Bishops Synod.
I believe we all need to dialog with each other, in a dialog of faith and responsibility, in order to find the right way for these times that are in many ways difficult for the faith and exhausting for priests. No one has any ready prescriptions. We must all try to find a way out together.
With the understanding that I stand with you all in the middle of this process of great effort and interior struggles, I will try to say a couple of words, as part of a dialog that must be much larger.
I would like my answer to consider two essential parts. One is the irreplaceability of the priest, the meaning and the ways of priestly service today.
The other - which concerns us more now than before - is the multiplicity of charisms and that everyone together is the Church, everyone together makes up the Church, and that therefore we must all commit ourselves to awakening charisms, to tending this living communion which will then sustain the priest himself. He sustains others, who sustain him in turn, and it is only in these many-layered and many-sided togetherness that the Church can grow today and in the future.
For one thing, there will always be need for priests who are fully dedicated to the Lord and therefore, fully dedicated to man as well.
In the Old Testament, there is a 'call' to holiness that somewhat corresponds to what we call consecration when we refer to priestly ordination: it means something given over to God, and therefore removed from the sphere of the ordinary, to be given to him. But that means that now, it is at everyone's disposal. While it has been given to God, it is not isolated, but elevated to be there 'for' all. I think this can be said also of the priesthood in the Church.
It means that, on the one hand, we are consecrated to the Lord, taken out of the ordinary, but on the other hand, we are consecrated to him so that we belong totally to him, and through him to all others.
I think that we must always try to show especially to young men, who are idealistic and eager to do something for 'the whole', that being 'selected out' of the ordinary means being dedicated to the whole, and that this is a great way - the greatest way - to serve others.
But an important part of this is to place one's entire self at the disposition of the Lord, and in this way, at the disposition of all. I think that celibacy is an expression of this total dedication, and for this very reason, a great sign to the world, because it makes sense only if we truly believe in eternal life and if we believe that God calls us and we can be there for him.
And that is why the priesthood is irreplaceable. Because, starting with God in the Eucharist, it is always building the Church; and in the sacrament of Penance, it dispenses purification; because in the Sacraments, priesthood means being involved 'for' Jesus Christ.
But I know how difficult it is today to live such a life - when a priest finds himself having to lead not just a single parish but several, so-called pastoral units, when he must be available for this advice or that... and so on.
I think that in this situation, it is important to have the courage to set limits and to have clear priorities. A fundamental priority of priestly existence is being with the Lord and therefore, to have time for prayer.
St. Charles Borromeo always said, "You cannot care for the soul of others when you allow your own to wither away, so that in the end, you cannot do anything for others. You must find time to be with God yourself."
And so I wish to emphasize: No matter how much we are overwhelmed, it is an important priority to make time every day - I would say, an hour, to be in silence for the Lord and with the Lord, as the Church recommends that we do with the Breviary and the prayers for the day, so that we may renew ourselves interiorly every day, and so that - as I said in my answer to the first question - we can come within range of the Holy Spirit's breath.
And after this, then we can order our priorities: I must learn to see what is really essential, where my presence as a priest is absolutely required and where it cannot be delegated. At the same time, I must also acknowledge humbly that much of what I must do and what I am expected to do I cannot do, because I recognize my limitations. I believe that people will understand this kind of humility.
To which I would also add this: be able to delegate and call on others to collaborate. I have the impression that people can see, they can recognize, if a priest is with God, when he is conscious of his function as someone who prays for others. We cannot pray much, they say, you must do it for me - that is your metier, so to speak, to be someone who can pray for me.
People want a priest who strives honestly to live with the Lord, and therefore is really there for others - for those who suffer, those who are dying, for children, for the youth (I would say they should be the priorities); and one who also knows what others can do better than him and makes room for these charisms.
I am thinking of the movements and the many other different forms of forms of collaboration in the parish. But these are all things that are discussed and considered together in the diocese, where the ways of collaboration must be devised and exchanges are facilitated.
You have said rightly that is is important in these matters to look beyond the parish to the diocesan community, and to the universal Church, which for its part, must always look to see what is concretely going on in the parishes and what consequnces these have for each individual priest.
You have also addressed another point, which I find very important, namely that priests, although they may perhaps live geographically far apart from each other, are a true community of brothers, who must help and sustain each other. This communion among priests is even more important today.
Precisely in order not to fall into isolation, into loneliness and all its sorrows, it is important that we can regularly meet one another. The Diocese should look to this, to how meetings among priests can best be worked out - today we have cars which makes it much easier for us to come to each other - so that we can always be able to experience being together, learn from each other, correct each other, help, strengthen and comfort each other so that in this communion of priests, together with the bishop, we can best render our service to our local churches.
Indeed, no priest is a priest alone. We are a priesthood, a presbyterium, and only in communion with the bishop can each of us render his service. This beautiful communion, which is universally recognized on what we might call the theological level, must be translated into practice in ways that are for the local Church to determine.
And this concept must be broadened. No bishop is a bishop by himself, but only a bishop in collegium, in the greater conmmunion among bishops. We must all commit ourselves to this communion.
I think that's what is beautiful in Catholicism: through the Primacy, which is not an absolute monarchy but a service to communion, we can be sure of this communion, so that in a greater community of many voices, we can all together bring the great music of the faith to the world.
Let us pray the Lord that he may always comfort us when we think we cannot go on. Let us sustain each other, and the Lord will then help us to find together the right ways.
This last exchange is in Italian.
Holy Father, I am Paolo Rizzi, parish priest and professor of theology at the Superior Institute of Religious Sciences. We would like your pastoral opinion on the situation with the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation.
Increasingly and more often, the children who receive these sacraments are prepared intensely through catecheses, but afterwards, they even stop coming to Sunday Mass, and so we ask ourselves - what sense is there in all this? Sometimes, one wants to say, "Then just stay home, all of you!"
Nonetheless, we continue to accept this fact, thinking that in any case, it is better not to extinguish the wick to a flickering flame. One thinks that the gift of the Spirit may work its effect beyond our sight, and that in a time of transition such as this, it would be more prudent not to take drastic action.
More in general, some 30 to 35 years ago, I thought that we were already on the way to becoming a smaller flock, more or less a minority community in Europe; and that therefore, one should give the Sacraments only to those who can be truly committed to a Christian life. Later, in part due to the style of John Paul II's Pontificate, I reconsidered this. Do you think it is possible to provide for the future in this respect? What pastoral attitude should we take? Thank you.
THE HOLY FATHER:
Well, I cannot give you an infallible response at this time! I can only try to answer according to the way I see it. I must say that I have followed a course similar to yours. When I was younger, I was quite severe. I would say: the Sacraments are Sacraments of the faith, and therefor where there is no faith, where faith is not practised, then the Sacrament cannot be conferred.
Then when I was Archbishop of Munich, I would discuss this with my parish priests: and even then, there were two factions, one severe, the other more accommodating.
Even I, in the course of time, came to understand that we should instead follow the example of the Lord, who was very open even to persons who were marginal in the Israel of those times. He was a Lord of mercy, too open - according to the official authorities - with sinners, welcoming them or allowing himself to be a guest at their dinners, drawing them to him in communion.
Therefore, I would say substantively, that of course, the Sacramentss are Sacraments of faith: where there is no element of faith, where First Communion is only a feast with a grand meal, beautiful clothes, and beautiful gits, then it is no longer a sacrament of the faith.
But, on the other hand, as long as we can still see a tiny flame of desire for communion with the Church, a desire even by children who want to come into communion with Jesus, I think we should be more accommodating.
Naturally, it should be an aspect of our catechesis to make them understand that Communion, First Communion, is not just a singular event, but something that requires a continuity of friendship with Jesus, of walking with Jesus.
I know that children often want to go to Church on Sundays but their parents may not give them this possibility. If we see that the children want this, that they have the desire to go to Mass, it almost seems to me like a Sacrament of desire, a 'vote' to participate in Sunday Mass.
In this context, we must do all we can during their preparation for the Sacraments to reach their parents as well and, let us say, to awaken in them a sense of the path that their children are taking. They must be able to help their children follow their desire to enter into friendship with Jesus as a way of life, a way to the future.
If parents want their children to have First Communion, this desire, even if it may be purely social, should be broadened into a religious desire, so that they can see it as a way to be with Christ.
I would say then that in the context of catechesis for children, working with tthe parents, involving them, is very important. This is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, to make the life of the faith present even among adults, so that they themselves can learn the faith anew from their children, and they may understand that this great solemnity [First Communion] only makes sense - can only be true and authentic - if it is realized as a journey with Jesus in the context of a life of faith.
Therefore, we must be able to convince parents, through their children, of the need for this preparatory journey, which is demonstrated by participation in the mysteries, so that they can begin to love these mysteries.
I know this is certainly a rather inadequate response, but the pedagogy of the faith, teaching the faith, is always a journey, and we should accept the situations today but also open it up a bit so that ultimately, sacraments do not remain simply exterior manifestations but truly touch the heart.
The moment one is convinced, then the heart is touched, it will have somehow felt the love of Jesus, felt the desire to move in his direction. That is the moment when we will have made a true catechesis.
In fact, the true sense of catechesis should be this: to carry the flame of Jesus's love, no matter how tiny that flame, to the heart of children, and through the children, to their parents, in this way opening up anew the places of faith in our time.
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Translation note: The Vatican transcript included an Italian translation of the German portions of the encounter. I translated the German parts directly, and used the Italian translation provided simply to check that I had not misunderstood anything. However, in case of a disparity in translation (choice of synonyms used or the way of expression), I gave preference to my direct translation from the German, because of course, it captures better the Holy Father's speech pattern and rhythm.
P.S. This note becomes more relevant as I have just seen that John Allen has posted his own translation. Feel free to compare!
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 8/9/2008 3:34 PM]