Speeches 2005-13 61907
I am pleased to welcome you as you gather in Rome for the Twelfth World Congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care. I thank your President, Doctor Christian Kuhn, for the kind words expressed on behalf of the Executive Board of the Commission.
The theme of your Congress this year, “Discovering the Face of Christ in Every Prisoner” (Mt 25,36), aptly portrays your ministry as a vivid encounter with the Lord. Indeed, in Christ the “love of God and love of neighbour have become one”, so that “in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in him…God” (Deus Caritas Est ).
Your ministry requires much patience and perseverance. Not infrequently there are disappointments and frustrations. Strengthening the bonds that unite you with your bishops will enable you to find the support and guidance you need to raise awareness of your vital mission. Indeed, this ministry within the local Christian community will encourage others to join you in performing corporal works of mercy, thus enriching the ecclesial life of the diocese. Likewise, it will help to draw those whom you serve into the heart of the universal Church, especially through their regular participation in the celebration of the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 59).
Prisoners easily can be overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, shame and rejection that threaten to shatter their hopes and aspirations for the future. Within this context, chaplains and their collaborators are called to be heralds of God’s infinite compassion and forgiveness. In cooperation with civil authorities, they are entrusted with the weighty task of helping the incarcerated rediscover a sense of purpose so that, with God’s grace, they can reform their lives, be reconciled with their families and friends, and, insofar as possible, assume the responsibilities and duties which will enable them to conduct upright and honest lives within society.
Judicial and penal institutions play a fundamental role in protecting citizens and safeguarding the common good (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 2266). At the same time, they are to aid in rebuilding “social relationships disrupted by the criminal act committed” (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 403). By their very nature, therefore, these institutions must contribute to the rehabilitation of offenders, facilitating their transition from despair to hope and from unreliability to dependability. When conditions within jails and prisons are not conducive to the process of regaining a sense of a worth and accepting its related duties, these institutions fail to achieve one of their essential ends. Public authorities must be ever vigilant in this task, eschewing any means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners. In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances” (Ibid., 404).
I am confident that your Congress will provide an opportunity to share your experiences of the mysterious countenance of Christ shining through the faces of the imprisoned. I encourage you in your efforts to show that face to the world as you promote greater respect for the dignity of the detained. Finally, I pray that your Congress will be an occasion for you yourselves to appreciate anew how, in attending to the needs of the imprisoned, your own eyes are opened to the marvels God does for you each day (cf. Deus Caritas Est ).
With these sentiments I extend my heartfelt wishes to you and all the participants in the Congress for the success of your meeting and willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and your loved ones.
Dear Brother Bishops,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear young friends!
With great joy I am now setting foot, for the first time since the beginning of my Pontificate, in the land of Austria, a country which I know well, not least from its geographical closeness to my birthplace. I thank you, Mr President, for the cordial words with which you have welcomed me in the name of the whole Austrian people. You know how close I feel to your native land and to many of the people and places in your country. This cultural space in the heart of Europe transcends borders and brings together ideas and energies from various parts of the continent. The culture of this country is deeply imbued with the message of Jesus Christ and the activity which the Church has carried out in his name. All this, and much more, gives me a vivid sense, dear Austrian friends, of being “at home” here in your midst.
The reason for my coming to Austria is the 850th anniversary of the shrine of Mariazell. This Marian sanctuary in some way represents the maternal heart of Austria, and has always had a particular importance also for Hungarians and the Slavic peoples. It symbolizes an openness which not only transcends physical and national frontiers, but, in the person of Mary, reminds us of an essential dimension of human beings: their capacity for openness to God and his word of truth.
In this way, I would like, during these three days here in Austria, to go as a pilgrim to Mariazell. In recent years, I have been pleased to notice among many people an increased interest in the idea of pilgrimage. Journeying as pilgrims, young people in particular have found a new way to reflect and meditate; they come to know one another and together they encounter creation and the history of faith which, often and perhaps unexpectedly, they experience as a source of strength for the present. I intend my pilgrimage to Mariazell to be a journey made in the company of all the pilgrims of our time. In this spirit I will soon lead the people in prayer in the centre of Vienna, prayer which, like a spiritual pilgrimage, will accompany these days throughout your country.
Mariazell does not only represent 850 years of history, but shows us on the basis of that history – as reflected in the statue of the Blessed Mother pointing to Christ her Son – the way to the future. In view of this, today I would like, along with Austria’s political authorities and the representatives of international organizations, to take another look at our present and our future.
Tomorrow, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the patronal feast of Mariazell, will bring me to that holy place. In the Eucharistic celebration in front of the Basilica we will gather, as Mary has shown us, around Christ who comes into our midst. We will ask him to help us better to contemplate him, to see him in our brothers and sisters, to serve him in them, and to walk with him on the way that leads to the Father. As pilgrims to the Shrine, we will be united in prayer and, thanks to the communications media, united also with the faithful and all men and women of good will within this country and far beyond its borders.
Pilgrimage means more than just journeying to a shrine. The journey back to our everyday life is also fundamental. Each week of our ordinary life begins with Sunday – with this liberating gift of God which we wish to receive and treasure. And so we will celebrate Mass this Sunday in Saint Stephen’s Cathedral – in communion with all those gathered for Holy Mass in the parish churches of Austria and throughout the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen! I know that in Austria many people, on Sunday, the day of rest from work, and during their free time on other days of the week, engage in volunteer work and service to others. Such commitment, offered generously and disinterestedly for the welfare of others, also marks the pilgrimage of our life. Whoever, “looks to” his neighbour – seeing him and helping him – looks to Christ and serves him. Guided and encouraged by Mary, we wish to sharpen our gaze as Christians, in order to see the challenges which need to be met in the spirit of the Gospel and, full of gratitude and hope, to walk from a past which has been at times difficult, yet always filled with grace, towards a future of promise.
Mr. President, dear Friends! I am looking forward to spending these days in Austria. At the beginning of my pilgrimage, I greet all of you with a heartfelt Grüß Gott!
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
As the first stop of my pilgrimage to Mariazell I have chosen the Mariensäule, to reflect briefly with all of you on the significance of the Mother of God for Austria past and present, and her significance for each one of us. I offer a cordial greeting to all those gathered here to pray beneath the Mariensäule. I thank you, dear Eminence, for the warm words of welcome at the beginning of our celebration. I greet the Mayor of the capital and the other Authorities present. I particularly greet the young people and the representatives of the foreign-language Catholic communities in the Archdiocese of Vienna, who will gather after this Liturgy of the Word in the church and will remain until tomorrow in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I have heard that you have been here for three hours already. I can only express my admiration and say Vergelt’s Gott! With this adoration you will very concretely accomplish what all of us wish to do in these days: with Mary, to look to Christ.
From earliest times, faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has been linked to a particular veneration for his Mother, for the Woman in whose womb he took on our human nature, sharing even in the beating of her heart. Mary is the Woman who accompanied Jesus with sensitivity and deference throughout his life, even to his death on the Cross. At the end, he commended to her maternal love the beloved disciple and, with him, all humanity. In her maternal love, Mary continues to take under her protection people of all languages and cultures, and to lead them together, within a multiform unity, to Christ. In our problems and needs we can turn to Mary. Yet we must also learn from her to accept one another lovingly in the same way that she has accepted all of us: each as an individual, willed as such and loved by God. In God’s universal family, in which there there is a place for everyone, each person must develop his gifts for the good of all.
The Mariensäule, built by the Emperor Ferdinand III in thanksgiving for the liberation of Vienna from great danger and inaugurated by him exactly 360 years ago, must also be a sign of hope for us today. How many persons, over the years, have stood before this column and lifted their gaze to Mary in prayer! How many have experienced in times of trouble the power of her intercession! Our Christian hope includes much more than the mere fulfilment of our wishes and desires, great or small. We turn our gaze to Mary, because she points out to us the great hope to which we have been called (cf. Ep 1,18), because she personifies our true humanity!
This is what we have just heard in the biblical reading: even before the creation of the world, God chose us in Christ. From eternity he has known and loved each one of us! And why did he choose us? To be holy and immaculate before him in love! This is no impossible task: in Christ he has already brought it to fulfilment. We have been redeemed! By virtue of our communion with the Risen Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Let us open our hearts; let us accept this precious legacy! Then we will be able to sing, together with Mary, the praises of his glorious grace. And if we continue to bring our everyday concerns to the immaculate Mother of Christ, she will help us to open our little hopes ever more fully towards that great and true hope which gives meaning to our lives and is able to fill us with a deep and imperishable joy.
With these sentiments I would now like to join you in looking to Mary Immaculate, entrusting to her intercession the prayers which you have just now presented, and imploring her maternal protection upon this country and its people:
Holy Mary, Immaculate Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, in you God has given us the model of the Church and of genuine humanity. To you I entrust the country of Austria and its people. Help all of us to follow your example and to direct our lives completely to God! Grant that, by looking to Christ, we may become ever more like him: true children of God! Then we too, filled with every spiritual blessing, will be able to conform ourselves more fully to his will and to become instruments of his peace for Austria, Europe and the world. Amen.
Mr President of the Federal Republic,
Members of the Federal Government,
Deputies to the National Council and Members of the Federal Council,
Presidents of the Provinces,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great joy and honour to meet you today, Mr President, together with the members of the Federal Government and representatives of the political and civic life of the Republic of Austria. Our meeting here in the Hofburg reflects the good relations, marked by reciprocal trust, which exist between your country and the Holy See, relations to which you, Mr President, have just alluded. For this I am most pleased.
Relations between Austria and the Holy See are part of that vast network of diplomatic relations in which Vienna serves as an important crossroads, inasmuch as a number of international Organizations have their headquarters in this city. I am pleased by the presence of many diplomatic representatives, whom I greet with respect. I thank you, distinguished Ambassadors, for your dedicated service, not only to the countries which you represent and to their interests, but also to the common cause of peace and understanding between peoples.
This is my first visit as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pastor of the universal Catholic Church to this country, which I know well from many earlier visits. It is – may I say – truly a joy for me to be here. I have many friends here and, as a Bavarian neighbour, Austria’s way of life and traditions are familiar to me. My great predecessor of blessed memory, Pope John Paul II, visited Austria three times. Each time he was received most cordially by the people of this country, his words were listened to attentively, and his apostolic journeys left their mark.
In recent years and decades, Austria has registered advances which were inconceivable even two generations ago. Your country has not only experienced significant economic progress, but has also developed a model of social coexistence synonymous with the term “social solidarity”. Austrians have every reason to be grateful for this, and they have demonstrated it not only by opening their hearts to the poor and the needy in their native land, but also by demonstrating generous solidarity in the event of catastrophes and disasters worldwide. The great initiatives of Licht ins Dunkel (“Light in the Darkness”) at Christmastime, and Nachbar in Not (“Neighbour in Need”) bear eloquent testimony to this attitude.
Austria and the expansion of the European Union
We are gathered in an historical setting, which for centuries was the seat of an Empire uniting vast areas of Central and Eastern Europe. This time and place thus offer us a good opportunity to take a far-ranging look at today’s Europe. After the horrors of war and traumatic experiences of totalitarianism and dictatorship, Europe is moving towards a unity capable of ensuring a lasting order of peace and just development. The painful division which split the continent for decades has come to an end politically, yet the goal of unity remains in great part still to be achieved in the minds and hearts of individuals. If, after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, certain excessive hopes were disappointed, and on some points justified criticisms can be raised about certain European institutions, the process of unification remains a most significant achievement which has brought a period of unwonted peace to this continent, formerly consumed by constant conflicts and fatal fratricidal wars. For the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in particular, participating in this process is a further incentive to the consolidation of freedom, the constitutional state and democracy within their borders. Here I would like to recall the contribution made by my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, to that historic process. Austria too, as a bridge-country situated at the crossroads of West and East, has contributed much to this unification and has also – we must not forget – greatly benefited from it.
The “European home”, as we readily refer to the community of this continent, will be a good place to live for everyone only if it is built on a solid cultural and moral foundation of common values drawn from our history and our traditions. Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots. These represent a dynamic component of our civilization as we move forward into the third millennium. Christianity has profoundly shaped this continent: something clearly evident in every country, and particularly in Austria, not least from the numerous churches and important monasteries. Above all, the faith is seen in the countless people whom in the course of history, and in our own day as well, it has brought to a life of hope, love and mercy. Mariazell, Austria’s great national shrine, is also a meeting-place for the different peoples of Europe. It is one of those places where men and women have drawn, and continue to draw, “strength from on high” for an upright life.
During these days, the witness of Christian faith at the heart of Europe is also finding expression in the Third European Ecumenical Assembly meeting in Sibiu/Hermannstadt (in Romania), whose motto is: “The Light of Christ Shines on All. Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe”. One spontaneously recalls the 2004 Central European Katholikentag, on the theme: “Christ – The Hope of Europe”, which brought so many believers together in Mariazell!
Nowadays we hear much of the “European model of life”. The term refers to a social order which combines a sound economy with social justice, political pluralism with tolerance, generosity and openness, but also means the preservation of the values which have made this continent what it is. This model, under the pressure of modern economic forces, faces a great challenge. The oft-cited process of globalization cannot be halted, yet it is an urgent task and a great responsibility of politics to regulate and limit globalization, so that it will not occur at the expense of the poorer nations and of the poor in wealthier nations, and prove detrimental to future generations.
Certainly – as we know – Europe has also experienced and suffered from terribly misguided courses of action. These have included: ideological restrictions imposed on philosophy, science and also faith, the abuse of religion and reason for imperialistic purposes, the degradation of man resulting from theoretical and practical materialism, and finally the degeneration of tolerance into an indifference with no reference to permanent values. But Europe has also been marked by the capacity for self-criticism, which gives it a distinctive place within the vast panorama of the world’s cultures.
It was in Europe that the notion of human rights was first formulated. The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right – it is the very opposite. It is “a deep wound in society”, as the late Cardinal Franz König never tired of repeating.
In stating this, I am not expressing a specifically ecclesial concern. Rather, I wish to act as an advocate for a profoundly human need, speaking out on behalf of those unborn children who have no voice. In doing so, I do not close my eyes to the difficulties and the conflicts which many women are experiencing, and I realize that the credibility of what we say also depends on what the Church herself is doing to help women in trouble.
In this context, then, I appeal to political leaders not to allow children to be considered as a form of illness, nor to abolish in practice your legal system’s acknowledgment that abortion is wrong. I say this out of a concern for humanity. But that is only one side of this disturbing problem. The other is the need to do everything possible to make European countries once again open to welcoming children. Encourage young married couple to establish new families and to become mothers and fathers! You will not only assist them, but you will benefit society as a whole. I also decisively support you in your political efforts to favour conditions enabling young couples to raise children. Yet all this will be pointless, unless we can succeed in creating once again in our countries a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden, but rather as a gift for all.
Another great concern of mine is the debate on what has been termed “actively assisted death”. It is to be feared that at some point the gravely ill or elderly will be subjected to tacit or even explicit pressure to request death or to administer it to themselves. The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care and accompaniment on the journey towards death – especially with the help of palliative care – and not “actively assisted death”. But if humane accompaniment on the journey towards death is to prevail, structural reforms would be needed in every area of the social and healthcare system, as well as organized structures of palliative care. Concrete steps would also have to be taken: in the psychological and pastoral accompaniment of the seriously ill and dying, their family members, and physicians and healthcare personnel. In this field the hospice movement has done wonders. The totality of these tasks, however, cannot be delegated to it alone. Many other people need to be prepared or encouraged in their willingness to spare neither time nor expense in loving care for the gravely ill and dying.
The dialogue of reason
Finally, another part of the European heritage is a tradition of thought which considers as essential a substantial correspondence between faith, truth and reason. Here the issue is clearly whether or not reason stands at the beginning and foundation of all things. The issue is whether reality originates by chance and necessity, and thus whether reason is merely a chance by-product of the irrational and, in an ocean of irrationality, it too, in the end, is meaningless, or whether instead the underlying conviction of Christian faith remains true: In principio erat Verbum – in the beginning was the Word; at the origin of everything is the creative reason of God who decided to make himself known to us human beings.
In this context, permit me to quote Jürgen Habermas, a philosopher not of the Christian faith. He has stated: “For the normative self-understanding of the modern period Christianity has been more than a mere catalyst. The egalitarian universalism which gave rise to the ideas of freedom and social coexistence, is a direct inheritance from the Jewish notion of justice and the Christian ethics of love. Substantially unchanged, this heritage has always been critically reappropriated and newly interpreted. To this day an alternative to it does not exist”.
Europe’s tasks in the world
Given the uniqueness of its calling, Europe also has a unique responsibility in the world. First of all, it must not give up on itself. The continent which, demographically, is rapidly aging, must not become old in spirit. Furthermore, Europe will grow more sure of itself if it accepts a responsibility in the world corresponding to its singular intellectual tradition, its extraordinary resources and its great economic power. The European Union should therefore assume a role of leadership in the fight against global poverty and in efforts to promote peace. With gratitude we can observe that the countries of Europe and the European Union are among those making the greatest contribution to international development, but they also need to make their political importance felt, for example, with regard to the urgent challenges presented in Africa, given the immense tragedies afflicting that continent, such as the scourge of AIDS, the situation in Darfur, the unjust exploitation of natural resources and the disturbing traffic in arms. Nor can the political and diplomatic efforts of Europe and its countries neglect the continuing serious situation in the Middle East, where everyone’s contribution is needed to promote the rejection of violence, reciprocal dialogue and a truly peaceful coexistence. Europe’s relationship with the nations of Latin America and Asia must also continue to grow through suitable trade agreements.
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen! Austria is a country which is greatly blessed: by an immense natural beauty which attracts millions of holiday-makers each year; unique cultural treasures, created and amassed by many generations; and many artistically talented and creative individuals. Everywhere one can see the fruits of the diligence and gifts of industrious men and women. This is a reason for pride and gratitude. But Austria is certainly not an “enchanted island” nor does it consider itself such. Self-criticism is always a good thing, and, of course, is widespread in Austria. A country which has received so much must also give much. It can be rightly self-assured, while also sensing the need for a certain responsibility with regard to neighbouring countries, in Europe and in the world.
Much of what Austria is and possesses, it owes to the Christian faith and its beneficial effects on individual men and women. The faith has profoundly shaped the character of this country and its people. Consequently it should be everyone’s concern to ensure that the day will never come when only its stones speak of Christianity! An Austria without a vibrant Christian faith would no longer be Austria.
Upon you and all the people of Austria, especially the elderly and infirm, as well as the young whose lives lie ahead of them, I invoke hope, confidence, joy and God’s blessings! Thank you.
Venerable and dear Brothers in the Priestly Ministry,
Dear Men and Women of Consecrated Life,
We have come together in the venerable Basilica of our Magna Mater Austriae in Mariazell. For many generations people have come to pray here to obtain the help of the Mother of God. We too are doing the same today. We want to join Mary in praising God’s immense goodness and in expressing our gratitude to the Lord for all the blessings we have received, especially the great gift of the faith. We also wish to commend to Mary our heartfelt concerns: to beg her protection for the Church, to invoke her intercession for the gift of worthy vocations for Dioceses and religious communities, to implore her assistance for families and her merciful prayers for all those longing for freedom from sin and for the grace of conversion, and, finally, to entrust to Mary’s maternal care our sick and our elderly. May the great Mother of Austria and of Europe bring all of us to a profound renewal of faith and life!
Dear friends, as priests, and as men and women religious, you are servants of the mission of Jesus Christ. Just as two thousand years ago Jesus called people to follow him, today too young men and women are setting out at his call, attracted by him and moved by a desire to devote their lives to serving the Church and helping others. They have the courage to follow Christ, and they want to be his witnesses. Being a follower of Christ is full of risks, since we are constantly threatened by sin, lack of freedom and defection. Consequently, we all need his grace, just as Mary received it in its fullness. We learn to look always, like Mary, to Christ, and to make him our criterion and measure. Thus we can participate in the universal saving mission of the Church, of which he is the head. The Lord calls priests, religious and lay people to go into the world, in all its complexity, and to cooperate in the building up of God’s Kingdom. They do this in a great variety of ways: in preaching, in building communities, in the different pastoral ministries, in the practical exercise of charity, in research and scientific study carried out in an apostolic spirit, in dialogue with the surrounding culture, in promoting the justice willed by God and, in no less measure, in the recollected contemplation of the triune God and the common praise of God in their communities.
The Lord invites you to join the Church “on her pilgrim way through history”. He is inviting you to become pilgrims with him and to share in his life which today too includes both the way of the Cross and the way of the Risen One through the Galilee of our existence. But he remains always one and the same Lord who, through the one Baptism, calls us to the one faith. Taking part in his journey thus means both things: the dimension of the Cross – with failure, suffering, misunderstanding and even contempt and persecution – , but also the experience of profound joy in his service and of the great consolation born of an encounter with him. Like the Church, individual parishes, communities and all baptized Christians find in their experience of the crucified and risen Christ the source of their mission.
At the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ and of every Christian is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Proclaiming the Kingdom in the name of Christ means for the Church, for priests, men and women religious, and for all the baptized, a commitment to be present in the world as his witnesses. The Kingdom of God is really God himself, who makes himself present in our midst and reigns through us. The Kingdom of God is built up when God lives in us and we bring God into the world. You do so when you testify to a “meaning” rooted in God’s creative love and opposed to every kind of meaninglessness and despair. You stand alongside all those who are earnestly striving to discover this meaning, alongside all those who want to make something positive of their lives. By your prayer and intercession, you are the advocates of all who seek God, who are journeying towards God. You bear witness to a hope which, against every form of hopelessness, silent or spoken, points to the fidelity and the loving concern of God. Hence you are on the side of those who are crushed by misfortune and cannot break free of their burdens. You bear witness to that Love which gives itself for humanity and thus conquered death. You are on the side of all who have never known love, and who are no longer able to believe in life. And so you stand against all forms of injustice, hidden or apparent, and against a growing contempt for man. In this way, dear brothers and sisters, your whole life needs to be, like that of John the Baptist, a great, living witness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate. Jesus called John “a burning and shining lamp” (Jn 5,35). You too must be such lamps! Let your light shine in our society, in political and economic life, in culture and research. Even if it is only a flicker amid so many deceptive lights, it nonetheless draws its power and splendour from the great Morning Star, the Risen Christ, whose light shines brilliantly – wants to shine brilliantly through us – and will never fade.
Following Christ – we want to follow him – following Christ means taking on ever more fully his mind and his way of life; this is what the Letter to the Philippians tells us: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ!” (cf. 2:5). “To Look to Christ” is the theme of these days. In looking to him, the great Teacher of life, the Church has discerned three striking features of Jesus’ basic attitude. These three features – with the Tradition we call them the “evangelical counsels” – have become the distinctive elements of a life committed to the radical following of Christ: poverty, chastity and obedience. Let us reflect now briefly on them.
Jesus Christ, who was rich with the very richness of God, became poor for our sake, as Saint Paul tells us in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 8:9); this is an unfathomable statement, one to which we should always return for further reflection. And in the Letter to the Philippians we read: He emptied himself; he humbled himself and became obedient even to death on a Cross (cf. 2:6ff.) The one who himself became poor, called the poor “blessed”. Saint Luke, in his version of the Beatitudes, makes us understand that this statement – calling the poor blessed – certainly refers to the poor, the truly poor, in Israel at that time, where a sharp distinction existed between rich and poor. But Saint Matthew, in his version of the Beatitudes, explains to us that material poverty alone is not enough to ensure God’s closeness, since the heart can be hard and filled with lust for riches. Matthew – like all of Scripture – lets us understand that in any case God is particularly close to the poor. So it becomes evident: in the poor Christians see the Christ who awaits them, who awaits their commitment. Anyone who wants to follow Christ in a radical way must renounce material goods. But he or she must live this poverty in a way centred on Christ, as a means of becoming inwardly free for their neighbour. For all Christians, but especially for us priests, and for religious, both as individuals and in community, the issue of poverty and the poor must be the object of a constant and serious examination of conscience. In our own situation, in which we are not badly off, we are not poor, I think that we ought to reflect particularly on how we can live out this calling in a sincere way. I would like to recommend it for your – for our – examination of conscience.
To understand correctly the meaning of chastity, we must start with its positive content. Once again, we find this only by looking to Christ. Jesus’ life had a two-fold direction: he lived for the Father and for others. In sacred Scripture we see Jesus as a man of prayer, one who spends entire nights in dialogue with the Father. Through his prayer, he made his own humanity, and the humanity of us all, part of his filial relation to the Father. This dialogue with the Father thus became a constantly-renewed mission to the world, to us. Jesus’ mission led him to a pure and unreserved commitment to men and women. Sacred Scripture shows that at no moment of his life did he betray even the slightest trace of self-interest or selfishness in his relationship with others. Jesus loved others in the Father, starting from the Father – and thus he loved them in their true being, in their reality. Entering into these sentiments of Jesus Christ – in this total communion with the living God and in this completely pure communion with others, unreservedly at their disposition – this entering into the mind of Christ inspired in Paul a theology and a way of life consonant with Jesus’ words about celibacy for the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 19,12). Priests and religious are not aloof from interpersonal relationships. Chastity, on the contrary, means – and this is where I wished to start – an intense relationship; it is, positively speaking, a relationship with the living Christ and, on the basis of that, with the Father. Consequently, by the vow of celibate chastity we do not consecrate ourselves to individualism or a life of isolation; instead, we solemnly promise to put completely and unreservedly at the service of God’s Kingdom – and thus at the service of others - the deep relationships of which we are capable and which we receive as a gift. In this way priests and religious become men and women of hope: staking everything on God and thus showing that God for them is something real, they open up a space for his presence – the presence of God’s Kingdom – in our world. Dear priests and religious, you have an important contribution to make: amid so much greed, possessiveness, consumerism and the cult of the individual, we strive to show selfless love for men and women. We are living lives of hope, a hope whose fulfilment we leave in God’s hands, because we believe that he will fulfil it. What might have happened had the history of Christianity lacked such outstanding figures and examples? What would our world be like, if there were no priests, if there were no men and women in religious congregations and communities of consecrated life – people whose lives testify to the hope of a fulfilment beyond every human desire and an experience of the love of God which transcends all human love? Precisely today, the world needs our witness.
We now come to obedience. Jesus lived his entire life, from the hidden years in Nazareth to the very moment of his death on the Cross in listening to the Father, in obedience to the Father. We see this in an exemplary way at Gethsemane. “Not my will, but yours be done”. In this prayer Jesus takes up into his filial will the stubborn resistance of us all, and transforms our rebelliousness into his obedience. Jesus was a man of prayer. But at the same time he was also someone who knew how to listen and to obey: he became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Ph 2,8). Christians have always known from experience that, in abandoning themselves to the will of the Father, they lose nothing, but instead discover in this way their deepest identity and interior freedom. In Jesus they have discovered that those who lose themselves find themselves, and those who bind themselves in an obedience grounded in God and inspired by the search for God, become free. Listening to God and obeying him has nothing to do with external constraint and the loss of oneself. Only by entering into God’s will do we attain our true identity. Our world today needs the testimony of this experience precisely because of its desire for “self-realization” and “self-determination”.
Romano Guardini relates in his autobiography how, at a critical moment on his journey, when the faith of his childhood was shaken, the fundamental decision of his entire life – his conversion – came to him through an encounter with the saying of Jesus that only the one who loses himself finds himself (cf. Mk 8:34ff.; Jn 12,25); without self-surrender, without self-loss, there can be no self-discovery or self-realization. But then the question arose: to what extent it is proper to lose myself? To whom can I give myself? It became clear to him that we can surrender ourselves completely only if by doing so we fall into the hands of God. Only in him, in the end, can we lose ourselves and only in him can we find ourselves. But then the question arose: Who is God? Where is God? Then he came to understand that the God to whom we can surrender ourselves is alone the God who became tangible and close to us in Jesus Christ. But once more the question arose: Where do I find Jesus Christ? How can I truly give myself to him? The answer Guardini found after much searching was this: Jesus is concretely present to us only in his Body, the Church. As a result, obedience to God’s will, obedience to Jesus Christ, must be, really and practically, humble obedience to the Church. I think that this too is something calling us to a constant and deep examination of conscience. It is all summed up in the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola – a prayer which always seems to me so overwhelming that I am almost afraid to say it, yet one which, for all its difficulty, we should always repeat: “Take O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All that I have and all that I possess you have given me: I surrender it all to you; it is all yours, dispose of it according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more”.
Dear brothers and sisters! You are about to return to those places where you live and carry out your ecclesial, pastoral, spiritual and human activity. May Mary, our great Advocate and Mother, watch over and protect you and your work. May she intercede for you with her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I thank you for your prayers and your labours in the Lord’s vineyard, and I join you in praying that God will protect and bless all of you, and everyone, particularly the young people, both here in Austria and in the various countries from which many of you have come. With affection I accompany all of you with my blessing.
Speeches 2005-13 61907