Speeches 2005-13 425
My dear Brother Bishops,
It is with joy that I welcome you as you make your visit ad Limina Apostolorum. I extend my cordial greetings through you to the priests, religious, and faithful of your various dioceses.
Our meeting today affords me the opportunity to thank you collectively for the pastoral work you carry out with love for Christ and for his people. As Saint Paul says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good; if we do not relax our efforts, in due time we shall reap our harvest” (Ga 6,9). With these words, the Apostle encourages his readers to do good to all, but especially to those of the household of the faith. He presents us with a double imperative, one which is most appropriate to your ministry as bishops in the central and southern islands of the Philippine archipelago. You must labor in doing good among Christians and non-Christians alike.
Regarding “those of the household of the faith” who require your apostolic care, the Church in your respective regions naturally shares many of the pastoral challenges confronting the rest of the country. Among them, one of the most important is the task of ongoing catechetical formation. The deep personal piety of your people needs to be nourished and supported by a profound understanding of and appreciation for the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals. Indeed, these elements are required in order for the human heart to give its full and proper response to God. As you continue to strengthen catechesis in your dioceses, do not fail to include in it an outreach to families, with particular care for parents in their role as the first educators of their children in the faith. This work is already evident in your support of the family in the face of influences which would diminish or destroy its rights and integrity. I appreciate that providing this kind of catechetical formation is no small task, and I take the opportunity to salute the many religious sisters and lay catechists who assist you in this important work.
Indeed, as diocesan bishops you never face any challenge alone, being assisted first and foremost by your clergy. Along with you, they have devoted their lives to the service of God and his people, and require in their turn your fatherly care. As you are aware, you and your fellow bishops have a particular duty to know your priests well and to guide them with sincere concern, while priests are always to be prepared to fulfill humbly and faithfully the tasks entrusted to them. In such a spirit of mutual cooperation for the sake of the Kingdom of God, surely “in due time we shall reap our harvest” of faith.
Many of your dioceses already have in place programs of continuing formation for young priests, assisting them in their transition from the structured schedule of the seminary to the more independent setting of parish life. Along these lines, it is also helpful for them to be assigned mentors from among those older priests who have proven themselves to be faithful servants of the Lord. These men can guide their younger confrères along the path toward a mature and well-balanced way of priestly living.
Moreover, priests of all ages require ongoing care. Regular days of recollection, yearly retreats and convocations, as well as programs for continuing education and assistance for priests who may be facing difficulties, are to be promoted. I am confident that you will also find ways to support those priests whose assignments leave them isolated. It is gratifying to note how the Second National Congress for the Clergy, held during the Year for Priests, was just such an occasion for renewal and fraternal support. In order to build upon this momentum, I encourage you to profit from the yearly celebration of Holy Thursday, during which the Church commemorates the priesthood in a special way. In accordance with their solemn promises at ordination, remind your priests of their commitment to celibacy, obedience, and an ever greater dedication to pastoral service. In living out their promises, these men will become true spiritual fathers with a personal and psychological maturity that will grow to mirror the paternity of God.
With respect to Saint Paul’s command to do good to those not of the household of the faith, dialogue with other religions remains a high priority, especially in the southern areas of your country. While the Church proclaims without fail that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (cf. Jn 14,6), nevertheless she respects all that is true and good in other religions, and she seeks, with prudence and charity, to enter into an honest and amicable dialogue with the followers of those religions whenever possible (cf. Nostra Aetate NAE 2). In doing so, the Church works toward mutual understanding and the advancement of the common good of humanity. I commend you for the work you have already done and I encourage you, by means of the dialogue that has been established, to continue to promote the path to true and lasting peace with all of your neighbors, never failing to treat each person, no matter his or her beliefs, as created in the image of God.
Finally, as we strive not to “grow weary of doing good,” we are reminded that the greatest good that we can offer those whom we serve is given to us in the Eucharist. In the Holy Mass, the faithful receive the grace needed to be transformed in Jesus Christ. It is heartening that many Filipinos attend Sunday Mass, but this does not leave room for complacency on your part as shepherds. It is your task, and that of your priests, never to grow weary in pursuing the lost sheep, making sure that all the faithful draw life from the great gift given to us in the Sacred Mysteries.
Dear Brother Bishops, I thank the Lord for these days of your visit to the City of Peter and Paul, during which God has strengthened our bonds of communion. Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may the good Lord bring your work to completion. I assure you of a remembrance in my prayers and willingly impart to you and to the faithful entrusted to your care my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace.
Chapel of the Seminary Friday, 4 March 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am very glad to be here at least once a year with my seminarians, with the young men bound for the priesthood to form the future presbyterate of Rome. I am delighted that this happens every year on the day of Our Lady of Trust, the Mother who day after day accompanies us with her love and gives us the confidence to journey on towards Christ.
“In the unity of the Spirit” is the theme that guides your reflections during this year of formation. It is an expression found, precisely, in the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians that has been presented to us, in which St Paul begs the members of that community to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (4:3). The second part of the Letter to the Ephesians begins with this text, the so-called “paranetical” or exhortatory part, and begins with the word “parakalo”, “I beg you”. However, the same word also comes at the end, “Paraklitos”, thus it is an exhortation in the light, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle’s exhortation is based on the mystery of salvation which he had presented in the first three chapters. In fact, our passage begins with the word “therefore”, “I therefore… beg you…” (v. 1).
The behaviour of Christians is the consequence of the gift, the realization of all that is given to us, every day. Yet, if it is simply the realization of the gift given to us it is not an automatic effect, because with God we are always in the reality of freedom hence — since the response and also the realization of the gift is freedom — the Apostle must recall it, he cannot take it for granted. Baptism, as we know, does not automatically produce a consistent life: this is the fruit of the will and of the persevering commitment to collaborate with the gift, with the Grace received. And this commitment costs us effort, there is a price to pay in person. This may be why St Paul refers here to his actual condition: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you…” (ibid.).
Following Christ means sharing in his Passion, his Cross, following him to the very end, and this participation in the Teacher’s destiny profoundly unites us to him and reinforces the authoritativeness of the Apostle’s exhortation.
We now reach the heart of our meditation, encountering a particularly striking word: “call”, “vocation”. St Paul wrote: “lead a life worthy of the calling, of the klesis to which you have been called” (ibid.). And he was to repeat it a little later, affirming that “you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call” (v. 4). Here, in this case, it is a question of the vocation common to all Christians, namely, the baptismal vocation, the call to be in Christ and to live in him, in his Body. In these words an experience is inscribed and the echo resounds of that of the first disciples, which we know from the Gospels: when Jesus passed along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and called Simon and Andrew, then James and John (cf . Mk Mc 1,16-20); and even earlier, at the River Jordan after his Baptism, when, noticing that Andrew and the other disciple were following him Jesus said to them: “Come and see” (Jn 1,39). Christian life begins with a call and always remains an answer, to the very end. And this is in the dimension of believing and that of doing: both the faith and the behaviour of the Christian correspond to the grace of the vocation.
I spoke of the call of the first Apostles, but the word “call” reminds us above all of the Mother of every call, of Mary Most Holy, the Chosen One, the One Called par excellence. The image of the Annunciation to Mary portrays far more than that particular Gospel episode, despite its fundamental character: it contains the whole mystery of Mary, the whole of her history, of her being; and at the same time it speaks of the Church, of her essence as it has always been; as well as of every individual believer in Christ, of every Christian soul who is called.
At this point we must bear in mind that we are not speaking of people of the past. God, the Lord, has called each one of us, each one is called by name. God is so great that he has time for each one of us, he knows me, he knows each one of us by name, personally. It is a personal call for each one of us. I think we should meditate time and again on this mystery: God, the Lord, has called me, is calling me, knows me, awaits my answer just as he awaited Mary’s answer and the answer of the Apostles. God calls me: this fact must make us attentive to God’s voice, attentive to his word, to his call for me, in order to respond, in order to realize this part of the history of salvation for which he has called me.
Then, in this text, St Paul points out to us several concrete elements of this answer with four words: “lowliness”, “meekness”, “patience”, “forbearing one another in love”. Perhaps we could meditate briefly on these words in which the Christian journey is expressed. Then at the end, we shall once again return to this.
“Lowliness”: the Greek word is “tapeinophrosyne”, the same word that St Paul uses in his Letter to the Philippians when he speaks of the Lord who was God and who humbled himself, he made himself “tapeinos”, he descended to the point of making himself a creature, of making himself man, obedient even unto death on the Cross (cf . Phil Ph 2,7-8). Lowliness, then is not just any word, any kind of modesty, something… it is a Christological word. Imitating God who descends even to me, who is so great that he makes himself my friend, suffers for me and dies for me. This is the humility we must learn, God’s humility. It means that we must always see ourselves in God’s light; thus, at the same time, we can know the greatness of being a person loved by God but also our own smallness, our poverty, and thus behave correctly, not as masters but as servants. As St Paul says: “Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy” (2Co 1,24). Being a priest, even more than being a Christian, implies this humility.
“Meekness”: the Greek text uses here the word “praütes”, the same word that appears in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5,5). And in the Book of Numbers, the fourth Book of Moses, we find the affirmation that Moses was the meekest man in the world (cf Nb 12,3) and in this sense he was a prefiguration of Christ, of Jesus, who said of himself: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11,29). So this word “meek”, or “gentle”, is also a Christological word and once again implies imitating Christ in this manner. For in Baptism we are configured to Christ so we must configure ourselves to Christ, we must discover this spirit of being meek, without violence, of convincing with love and kindness.
“Patience” [magnanimity], “makrothymia”, means generosity of heart, it means not being minimalists who give only what is strictly necessary: let us give ourselves with all that we possess and we will also increase in magnanimity.
“Forbearing one another in love”: it is a daily duty to tolerate one another in our own otherness, and precisely to tolerate one another with humility, to learn true love.
And let us now take a step further. This word “call” is followed by the ecclesial dimension. We have now spoken of the vocation as a very personal call: God calls me, knows me, waits for my personal response. However at the same time God’s call is a call to a community, it is an ecclesial call. God calls us to a community. It is true that in this passage on which we are meditating the word “ekklesia”, “Church”, is not found but the reality is all the more evident. St Paul speaks of a Spirit and a body. The Spirit creates the body and unites us as it were in one body. And then he speaks of unity, he speaks of the chain of being, of the bond of peace. And with these words he refers to the word “prisoner” at the beginning: it is always the same word, “I am in chains”, “chains will bind you”, but behind them is the great, invisible, liberating chain of love.
We are in this bond of peace which is the Church, it is the great bond that unites us to Christ. Perhaps we must also meditate personally on this point: we are called personally, but we are called to a body. And this is not something abstract but is very real.
At this time the Seminary is the body in which your being on a common journey is brought about in practice. Then there will be the parish: accepting, supporting, enlivening the whole parish, the people, those who are likable and those who are not, becoming integrated into this body. Body: the Church is a body so she has structures, she really has a law and this time it is not so simple to integrate. Of course we want the personal relationship with God, but we often do not like the body. Yet in this very way we are in communion with Christ: by accepting this corporeity of his Church, of the Spirit who is incarnate in the body.
However, perhaps we frequently feel the problem, the difficulty of this community, starting from the actual community of the Seminary to the large community of the Church, with her institutions. We must also keep in mind that it is really lovely to be in a company, to journey on in a large company of all the centuries, to have friends in Heaven and on earth and to be aware of the beauty of this body, to be happy that the Lord has called us in a body and has given us friends in all the parts of the world.
I said that the word “ekklesia” is not found here, but there is the word “body”, the word “Spirit”, the word “bond” and in this brief passage the word “one” recurs seven times. Thus we feel that the Apostle has the unity of the Church at heart. And he ends with a “scale of unity”, until Unity: God is One, the God of all. God is One and the oneness of God is expressed in our communion, because God is the Father, the Creator of us all and so we are all brothers and sisters, we are all one body and the oneness of God is the condition for and also the creation of human brotherhood, of peace. Let us therefore also meditate on this mystery of oneness and the importance of always seeking oneness in the communion of the one Christ, of the one God.
We may now go a step further. If we ask ourselves what is the deep meaning of this use of the word “call”, we see that it is one of the doors that open on to the Trinitarian mystery. So far we have spoken of the mystery of the Church of the one God but the Trinitarian mystery also appears. Jesus is the mediator of the call of the Father that happens through the Holy Spirit.
The Christian vocation cannot but have a Trinitarian form, both at the level of the individual person and at the level of the ecclesial community. The mystery of the Church is enlivened throughout by the dynamism of the Holy Spirit, which is a vocational dynamism in the broad and perennial sense, starting with Abraham who was the first to hear God’s call and to respond with faith and action (cf . Gen Gn 12,1-3); until the “behold” of Mary, a perfect reflection of that of the Son of God at the moment when he accepted the Father’s call to come into the world (cf . Heb He 10,5-7).
Thus, at the “heart” of the Church — as St Thérèse of the Child Jesus would say — the call of every individual Christian is a Trinitarian mystery: the mystery of the encounter with Jesus, with the Word made flesh, through whom God the Father calls us to communion with him and for this reason wishes to give us his Holy Spirit; and it is precisely through the Spirit that we can respond authentically to Jesus and to the Father within a real, filial relationship. Without the breath of the Holy Spirit the Christian vocation simply cannot be explained, it loses its vitality.
And finally the last passage. The form of unity according to the Spirit, as I said, calls for the imitation of Jesus, configuration to him in the concreteness of his behaviour. The Apostle writes, as in our meditation: “with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love”, and then adds that the unity of the Spirit should be maintained “in the bond of peace” (Ep 4,2-3).
The unity of the Church does not come from a “mould” imposed from the outside; rather, it is the fruit of a harmony, a common commitment to behave like Jesus, by virtue of his Spirit.
St John Chrysostom made a very fine commentary on this passage. Chrysostom comments on the image of the “bond”, the “bond of peace”. He says: “a glorious bond is this; with this bond let us bind ourselves together with one another and unto God. This is a bond that bruises not, nor cramps the hands it binds, but it leaves them free, and gives them ample play and greater courage” (Homily on the Epistle to the Ep 9,4).
Here we find the evangelical paradox: Christian love is a bond, as we said, but a liberating bond! The image of the bond, as I told you, brings us back to the situation of St Paul who is a “prisoner” and is “in chains”. The Apostle is in chains because of the Lord, just as Jesus made himself a servant to set us free. If we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit we must impress upon our own behaviour that humility, meekness and patience to which Jesus witnessed in his Passion; it is necessary to have hand and heart bound by the bond of love that he himself accepted for us by making himself our servant. This is the “bond of peace”. And St John Chrysostom says further in the same commentary: “if you would attach yourself to another [your brother] ... these thus bound by love bear all things with ease…. thus also here he would have us tied one to another; not simply that we be at peace, not simply that we love one another [to be friends], but that all should be one, one soul” (ibid.).
The Pauline text, a few elements of which we have meditated on, is very rich. I have only been able to convey to you a few ideas, which I entrust to your meditation. And let us pray the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Trust, to help us walk joyfully in the unity of the Spirit. Thank you!
Your Excellencies and Dear Brothers,
It gives me great joy to be with you — the Clergy of Rome — every year at the beginning of Lent and to start out with you on the Church’s journey to Easter.
I would like to thank you, your Eminence, for the beautiful words you offered me and to thank all of you for the work you do for this Church of Rome, which — according to St Ignatius — presides in charity and must also always be exemplary in her faith. Let us do all we can together to ensure that this Church of Rome measures up to her vocation and that we may be faithful workers in this “Vineyard of the Lord”.
We have listened to the passage from the Acts of the Apostles (20:17-38) in which St Paul speaks to the priests of Ephesus, deliberately recounted by St Luke as a testament of the Apostle, as a discourse not only intended for the priests of Ephesus but for priests in every epoch. St Paul does not only speak to those who were present in that place, he truly speaks to us. Let us, therefore, endeavour to understand a little of what he is saying to us at this moment.
I start with: “You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time” (v. 18); and about his behaviour during all this time, St Paul says at the end that he “did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (v. 31). This means that for the whole of this period he was a herald, a messenger and an ambassador of Christ to them; he was a priest to them. In a certain sense it could be said that he was a worker priest because — as he also says in this passage — he worked with his hands as a tentmaker so as not to be a financial burden to them but to be free, and to leave them free.
Yet although he did manual work, he was nevertheless a priest for the whole of the period, he constantly advised them throughout this time. In other words, even though he was not always physically available to preach, his heart and soul were very present for them; he was steeped in the word of God and in his mission.
This seems to me to be a very important point; we cannot be part-time priests, we are priests for ever, with the whole of our soul, with the whole of our heart. This being with Christ and being an ambassador for Christ, this being for others, is a mission that penetrates our being and must ever more deeply penetrate the totality of our being.
Then St Paul says: “I have served the Lord with all humility” (v. 19). “Served”: a key word of the entire Gospel. Christ himself says: I did not come to dominate but to serve (cf . Mt Mt 20,28). He is the Servant of God and Paul and the Apostles continue to be “servants”; they are not masters of faith but servants of your joy, St Paul says in the Second letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1: 24).
“Serving”, must also be decisive for us: we are servants. And serving means not doing what I propose for myself which would be what I should like best; serving means letting myself take on the Lord’s burden, the Lord’s yoke; serving means not being swayed by my own preferences, my priorities, but letting myself truly be “taken on in service” for others.
This means that we too must often do things that do not immediately seem spiritual and do not always correspond with our own choices. All of us, from the Pope to the lowliest parochial vicar, have to do administrative work, temporal work; yet we do it as a service, as part of what the Lord imposes on us in the Church and we do what the Church tells us and expects of us.
This practical aspect of service is important: that it is not we who choose what to do, but we are servants of Christ in the Church. We work as the Church tells us, where the Church calls us, and we try to be precisely this: servants who do not do their own will, but the will of the Lord. Let us truly be in the Church ambassadors for Christ and servants of the Gospel.
I have “[served] the Lord with all humility”. “Humility” is also a key word of the Gospel, of the whole of the New Testament. in humility, the Lord goes before us. In his Letter to the Philippians St Paul reminds us that Christ, who was above all of us, was truly divine in the glory of God, he humbled himself, he lowered himself lowly, becoming a man and accepting all the frailty of being human, obedient to the very end, even unto the Cross (cf.2:5-8).
Humility does not mean false modesty — we are grateful for the gifts the Lord has given us — yet it indicates our awareness that anything we can do is a gift of God, it is given for the Kingdom of God. We work with this “humility”, with this desire not to be noticed. We do seek praise, we do not want to attract attention, it does not matter to us what may be said of us in the newspapers or elsewhere; what matters is what God says. This is true humility, not to appear before men and women but to be in God’s presence, to work humbly for God and thus really to serve humanity and men and women.
“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public” (Ac 20,20).
After a few more sentences St Paul returns to this point and says: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (v. 27). This is important; the Apostle did not preach an “à la carte” Christianity to suit his own inclinations, he did not preach a Gospel to suit his own favourite theological ideas; he did not shrink from the commitment to proclaiming the whole of God’s will, even an inconvenient will and even topics of which he was personally not so enamoured.
It is our mission to proclaim the whole of God’s will, in its totality and ultimate simplicity. But it is important that we teach and preach — as St Paul says here — and really propose the will of God in its entirety. And I think that if the contemporary world is curious to know everything, even we ourselves must be more curious to know God’s: what could be more interesting, more important, more essential for us than knowing God’s wishes, knowing God’s will and God’s face?
This inner curiosity should also be our own curiosity to know God’s will better, more fully. We must therefore respond and reawaken this curiosity in others: truly to know the whole will of God, in order to become thoroughly acquainted with God’s will, hence to know how we can and should live and to recognize what is the path of our life.
Thus we must make known and understood — as far as we are able — the content of the Church’s Creed, from the Creation until the Lord’s return, until the new world. Doctrine, liturgy, morals, prayer — the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — indicate this totality of God's will.
And it is also important if we are not to get lost in detail, not to give the idea that Christianity is an immense packet of things to learn. Ultimately, it is simple: God revealed himself in Christ. But to enter this simplicity — I believe in God who shows himself in Christ and I want to see and do his will — has meaning and, according to the situation, we enter more or less into details; but it is essential to make the ultimate simplicity of faith understood.
Believing in God as he revealed himself in Christ also constitutes the inner richness of this faith, the answers it gives to our questions; even answers which in the first instance we do not like but which are nevertheless the path of life, the true path. To the extent that we accept these things even if they are not quite to our liking, we can understand, or begin to understand that this really is the truth. And the truth is beautiful. God’s will is good, it is goodness itself.
Then the Apostle says: “I did not shrink from... teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 20-21).
The essential is summed up here: conversion to God, faith in Jesus. Let us however linger over the word “conversion” which is the central word or one of the central words of the New Testament. It is interesting here — in order to know the dimensions of this word — to be attentive to the various biblical terms: in Hebrew “šub” means “changing one’s course”, beginning a new direction of life; in Greek “metanoia” means “changing one’s way of thinking”; in Latin “poenitentia”, “my own action to let myself be transformed”; in Italian “conversione”, which coincides better with the Hebrew term “new direction of life”.
Perhaps we can see in a special way the reason for the word of the New Testament, the Greek word “metanoia”, “change in the way of thinking”. At first the thought seems typically Greek, but going more deeply into it we see that it really expresses the essential of what other languages also say: a change of mind, in other words a real change in our perception of reality. Since we are born in original sin, for us “reality” means the tangible things, money, my position, the everyday things we see in the news on television: this is reality. And spiritual tings appear a little “behind” reality. “Metanoia”, a change from the way of thinking, means inverting this impression.
Neither material things, nor money, nor buildings, nor any of the things I can possess constitute the essential, or reality. The reality of realities is God. This invisible reality, seemingly far from us, is the reality. Learning this and thus changing the direction of our thinking, to truly assess how the real, which must orient all things is God, it is the words, the word of God. This is the criterion, God, the criterion of all that I do. This really is conversion if my concept of reality is changed, if my thought is changed. And this must subsequently penetrate each individual aspect of my life: in my judgement of every single thing to take as my criterion what God says about it.
This is the essential, not what I gain for myself, not the advantage or disadvantage to myself that would result from it, but the true reality, to orient ourselves to this reality. It seems to me that in Lent, which is the journey of conversion, every year we should once again apply this change in our conception of reality: namely, that God is reality. Christ is reality and is the criterion of how I act and how I think. To practise this new orientation of our life.
Hence also the Latin word “poenitentia”, which appears to us a little too external and perhaps a form of activism, becomes real: to exercise this means to exercise my self-control, to let myself be transformed, with my whole life, by the Word of God, by the new thought that comes from the Lord and shows me the true reality.
Thus it is not only a matter of thought, of the mind, but is a question of the totality of my being, of my vision of reality. This change in thinking, which is conversion, touches my heart and unites the mind and the heart, and puts an end to this separation between the mind and the heart. It integrates my personality into my heart that is opened by God and opens to God.
Thus I find the way, thought becomes faith, that is, having trust in the Lord an entrustment of myself in the Lord, living with him and taking his path in a true following of Christ. Then St Paul continues: “I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God” (vv. 22-24).
St Paul knows that this journey to Jerusalem will probably cost him his life: it will be a journey towards martyrdom. Here we must bear in mind the reason for his journey. He was going to Jerusalem to give to this community, to the Church of Jerusalem the sum for the poor that he had collected in the world of the Gentiles. Hence it was a charitable journey, but that was not all. This was an expression of the recognition of the unity of the Church between Jews and Gentiles; it was a formal recognition of the primacy of Jerusalem in that time, of the primacy of the first Apostles, a recognition of the unity and universality of the Church.
In this regard, the journey had both ecclesiological and Christological significance. For to this recognition, this visible expression of the Church’s oneness and universality was of such importance to him which might also involve martyrdom.
The unity of the Church deserves martyrdom. Thus he said, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry” (v. 24).
Biological survival alone, St Paul says, is not the priority for me; for me the priority is to carry out my ministry; my priority is being with Christ; living with Christ is true life. Even if he loses this biological life, he does not lose true life.
Instead, if he were to lose communion with Christ in order to preserve his biological life, he would have lost life itself, the essence of his being.
This too seems to me important: to have the right priorities. Of course, we must take care of our health, we must work reasonably, but we must also know that the ultimate value is being in communion with Christ; living our service and perfecting it brings us to the finish line. Perhaps we can linger for a moment over this expression, “if only I may accomplish my course”.
The Apostle wants to be a servant of Jesus to the very end, an ambassador of Jesus for the Gospel of God. This is important, that even in old age, even if we are getting on in years, we do not lose our enthusiasm, our joy of being called by the Lord.
I would say it is easy, in a certain sense, at the beginning of the priestly journey, to be full of zeal, of hope, of courage, of activity, but can easily be followed, once we see how things are going, how the world always stays the same, how the ministry becomes burdensome, by a loss of some of that enthusiasm.
Let us always return to the word of God, to prayer, to communion with Christ in the Sacrament — this intimacy with Christ — and let ourselves renew our spiritual youth, renew our zeal, the joy of being able to go to the end with Christ, to “accomplish [our] course”, never without the enthusiasm of being called by Christ to this important service, to the Gospel of God’s Grace.
And this is important. We have spoken of humility, of this will of God that can be hard. Ultimately, the title of the whole Gospel of God’s Grace is “Gospel” and “Good News”, that God knows us, that God loves me and that the Gospel, what God ultimately wills, is Grace.
Let us remember that the course of the Gospel begins in Nazareth, in Mary’s room, with the words “Hail Mary”. In Greek, however, it is “Chaire kecharitomene” “Rejoice because you are in Grace!”.
And these words continue to be the guiding thread. The Gospel is an invitation to joy so that we may be in Grace, and God’s final word is “Grace”.
Then comes the passage on his imminent martyrdom. Here there is a very important sentence on which I would like to meditate with you briefly. “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of the Lord which he obtained with his own Blood” (v. 28).
I start with the words “take heed”. A few days ago I gave the Catechesis on St Peter Canisius, an apostle of Germany at the time of the Reformation and a word of this Saint has stayed in my mind, a word that for him was a cry of anguish in his time of history. He said: “You see, Peter is asleep, Judas is awake”. This is something that gives us food for thought: the sleepiness of the good. Pope Pius xi said: “it is not the negative forces that are the great problem of our time, but rather the somnolence of the good”.
“Take heed”. If we meditate on this we recall that the Lord in the Garden of Olives said twice to his Apostles: “Watch!”, and they slept. “Watch”, he says to us; let us try not to fall asleep in this season but to be really ready for the will of God and for the presence of his Word, of his Kingdom.
“Take heed to yourselves” (v. 28): this too is a word to the priests of all times. A well-intentioned activism exists but in which a person forgets his own soul, his own spiritual life, his own being with Christ.
In the Breviary Reading for his liturgical Memorial, St Charles Borromeo tells us every year anew: you cannot be a good servant to others if you neglect your soul. “Watch over yourselves”. Let us also be attentive to our spiritual life, to our being with Christ. As I have often said, prayer and meditation on the Word of God is not time wasted for the care of souls, but is the condition for us to be able to be really in touch with the Lord, and thus to speak of the Lord to others from experience. “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of the Lord” (v. 28).
Here two words are important. In the first place: “the Holy Spirit has made you”; in other words the priesthood is not a reality in which one finds an occupation, a useful, beautiful profession one likes and chooses for oneself. No! We are constituted by the Holy Spirit. God alone can make us priests, God alone can choose his priests and, if we are chosen, we are chosen by him. Here the sacramental character of the presbyterate and of the priesthood appears clearly. It is not a profession that must be carried out because someone has to run things, someone has to preach. It is not something we do, simply. It is election by the Holy Spirit and in this will of the Holy Spirit, the will of God, we live and ceaselessly seek to let the Holy Spirit, the Lord himself, take us by the hand.
Secondly, “made you guardians, to feed the Church of the Lord”. Here the word which in the Italian tradition is “custodi” [editor’s note: in the rsv Bible “guardians”], is “episkopos” in Greek. St Paul was speaking to priests, but here he calls them “episkopoi”. We may say that in the evolving situations in the Church the two ministries had not yet become clearly separate, they were still, evidently, the one priesthood of Christ and they, the priests, were also “episkopoi”.
The word “presbyter” comes above all from the Jewish tradition in which the system of “elders”, of “presbyters”, was in force, whereas the word “episcopos” was created — or discovered — in the milieu of the Church of pagans and crept into the language of the Roman administration. “Episkopoi” were those who supervised, who had administrative responsibility in the supervision of the procedure of things. Christians chose this word in the pagan-Christian sector to express the office of the presbyter, of the priest, but of course this immediately changed the word’s meaning.
The word “episkopoi” was immediately identified with the word “shepherds” [pastors], in other words supervising is “pascolare” [tending], doing the work of the pastor or shepherd. In fact this immediately became “poimainein”, “tending” God’s Church; it is considered in the sense of this responsibility for others, of this love for God’s flock. And let us not forget that in the ancient East, “shepherd” was the title of kings: they were the pastors of the flock, which was the people.
Later, the King-Christ transformed this concept — being a true king — from within. He is the Shepherd who made himself a Lamb, the Shepherd who had himself killed for others, to defend them against the wolf; the Shepherd whose first meaning is to love this flock and thus give life to it, to nourish and protect it. Perhaps these are the two central concepts for this office of “shepherd”: to nourish by making the Word of God known, not only with words but by testifying to it for God’s will. and to protect it with prayer, with the full commitment of one’s life. Pastors, the other meaning which the Fathers saw in the Christian word “episkopoi” is: someone who supervises not as a bureaucrat but as one who sees from God’s viewpoint, who walks towards the heights of God and in the light of God sees this small community of the Church.
This is also important for a pastor of the Church, for a priest, an “episkopos” who sees from the viewpoint of God, who tries to see from on high with God’s criterion, not according to his own preferences, but rather as God judges; to see from God’s heights and thus loving with God and through God.
“Made guardians to feed the Church of the Lord which he obtained with his own Blood” (v. 28). Here we find a central word on the Church. The Church is not an organization that was formed gradually; the Church was born from the Cross. The Son acquired the Church on the Cross and not only the Church of that moment, but the Church of all the epochs. He acquired with his Blood this portion of the people, of the world, for God. And this, it seems to me, should make us think. Christ, God, created the Church, the new Eve, with his Blood. Thus he loves us and loved us and this is true at every moment. And this must also enable us to understand that the Church is a gift; being happy that we are called to the Church of God; feeling joy in belonging to the Church.
Of course, there are also always negative and difficult aspects, but basically this must remain: it is a very beautiful gift that I can live out in the Church of God, in the Church that the Lord purchased with his Blood. Being called to know truly the face of God, to know his will, to know his Grace, to know this supreme love, this Grace that guides us and takes us by the hand.
Happiness in being Church, joy in being Church. I think we must relearn this. The fear of triumphalism has perhaps caused us to forget a little that it is beautiful to be in the Church and that this is not triumphalism but humility, being grateful for the gift of the Lord.
It immediately follows that this Church is also not only a gift of God and divine, but also very human: “fierce wolves will come” (v. 29). The Church is constantly threatened, there is always the danger, the opposition of the devil who does not accept the presence this new People of God in humanity, or that God should be present in a living community. Thus we should not be surprised that there are always difficulties, that there are always tares in the Church’s field.
It has always been so, and always will be. But we must be conscious, with joy, that truth is stronger than falsehood, love is stronger than hatred, God is stronger than all the forces in opposition to him. And with this joy, with this interior certitude, let us go on our way inter consolationes Dei et persecutiones mundi, as the Second Vatican Council says (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium LG 8). Among the consolations of God and the persecutions of the world.
And now for the second last paragraph. At this point I would not like to go into any further detail: in the end an important element of the Church appears: being Christian.
“In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ ” (cf. v.35). The preferential option for the poor, love for the weak, is fundamental to the Church, it is fundamental to the service of each one of us: being very lovingly attentive to the weak, even if we do not like them, if they are difficult. But they expect our charity, our love, and God expects this love of ours. In common with Christ we are called to go to the help of those who are weak, with our love, with our events.
Finally, the last paragraph. “And when he had spoken thus, he knelt down and prayed with them all” (v. 36). At the end the discourse becomes a prayer and Paul falls to his knees. St Luke reminds us that the Lord in the Garden of Olives also prayed on his knees and tells us that St Stephen too, at the moment of his martyrdom, knelt to pray. Praying on one’s knees means adoring God’s greatness in our weakness, grateful that the Lord loves us, precisely in our weakness.
Behind this appear the words of St Paul in the Letter to the Philippians, which is the Christological transformation of words of the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah says, in chapter 45, that the whole world, the heavens, the earth and all that is under the earth, will kneel before the God of Israel (cf . Is Is 45,23).
And St Paul follows this through. Christ came down from Heaven to the Cross, the ultimate obedience. And at this moment what the Prophet said is brought about: before the Crucified Christ every knee should bow: the entire cosmos, in Heaven, on earth and under the earth (cf Ph 2,10-11). He is really the expression of the true grandeur of God. The humility of God and his love unto the Cross show us that he is God. Let us kneel before him in adoration. Kneeling is no longer an expression of servitude, but rather of the freedom that God’s love gives us, the joy of being redeemed, of standing together, with Heaven and earth, with the entire cosmos, to worship Christ, to be united to Christ and thus to be redeemed.
St Paul’s discourse ends in prayer. Our own speeches must also end in prayer. Let us pray the Lord that he may help us to be increasingly imbued with his word, increasingly witnesses and not only teachers, to be increasingly priests, pastors [shepherds], “episkopoi”, that is, those who see with God and carry out the service of God’s Gospel, the service of the Gospel of Grace.
Speeches 2005-13 425