Speeches 1998 - Thursday, 19 November 1998
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am pleased to extend a cordial welcome to you all, members of the plenary assembly and officials of the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples. I thank Cardinal Jozef Tomko for his kind words expressed also on behalf of those present. I greet each of you and thank you for your generous efforts in helping to spread the Gospel message.
The theme of your plenary meeting this year deals with the “missionary dimension of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life”. A very important and timely subject, it closely follows the teaching contained in the Encyclical Redemptoris missio and the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata.
You have rightly focused your reflections on the role of consecrated life in the mission ad gentes. Indeed, this vast throng of monks, religious, members of religious and missionary institutes and societies of apostolic life has made a great contribution to evangelization. In the last century, large numbers of women religious also shared this missionary impulse, expressing by their particular charism the merciful face of God and the motherly heart of the Church.
The history of every people has been affected by the presence of consecrated persons, by their witness, their work of charity and evangelization, and their sacrifice. And all this is not just past history. In mission territories there are still many religious priests; together with women religious and brothers they form the majority of the vital forces for mission. In countries where the Church’s presence has recently been re-established, again it is religious who are on the front lines in proclaiming the Gospel to all peoples.
Today I would like to renew my heartfelt and grateful encouragement to men and women religious. Dear friends, the Pope and the whole Church count on you especially for the mission ad gentes, which is the primordial task and paradigm of the Church's entire mission (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 34,36).
2. In the light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, there are many signs of the Spirit that affect consecrated life itself and its missionary role. Through Synods too, the Church has gained a greater awareness of the missionary vocation connected with the various states of life: lay Christians, ordained ministers, consecrated persons. These states within the Christian community are necessary and complementary: this is why they are promoted and encouraged in reciprocal communion.
Moreover, in the years since the Council, members of the institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life have generously committed themselves to the renewal proposed by the Church and to a deeper understanding of their specific missionary charisms. Thus they rediscovered the missionary dimension inherent in each one’s constitution and practices.
We thank the Lord, then, that vocations to the various forms of consecrated life are clearly on the rise in the young Churches, promising good hopes for the future of mission. The men and women religious who have come from those Churches make their active presence available and contribute to the universal missionary task.
In recent years Bishops too, as Pastors of the Christian people, leaders of ecclesial communion and supporters of pastoral commitment, have more clearly perceived their role as guardians and promoters of the charisms of consecrated life. As I wrote in the above-mentioned Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata: “The Bishops at the Synod frequently reaffirmed this: ‘de re nostra agitur’,‘this is something which concerns us all’. In effect, the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission” (n. 3). In this regard I make a pressing appeal to Bishops, who are responsible for the numerous diocesan institutes in many mission territories, to devote special attention to the formation and spiritual growth of candidates.
3. Despite the great progress achieved thus far, the mission ad gentes still has immense and urgent needs. In Redemptoris missio I wrote: “Today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church. As the end of the second millennium of the Redemption draws near, it is clear that the peoples which have not yet received an initial proclamation of Christ constitute the majority of mankind” (n. 40). And I added: “Our own time, with humanity on the move and in continual search, demands a resurgence of the Church’s missionary activity. The horizons and possibilities for mission are growing ever wider, and we Christians are called to an apostolic courage based upon trust in the Spirit” (ibid., n. 30). Also on the occasion of appointing Bishops in certain Dioceses, especially in Asia, I realize that this mission is still in its early stages.
At the dawn of the new millennium, the mission ad gentes requires fresh enthusiasm and new missionaries, calling on consecrated persons themselves precisely because of their vocation. I stressed this in the Apostolic Exhortation already mentioned: “Today too this duty continues to present a pressing call to institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life: they are expected to make the greatest possible contribution to the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Also those institutes which are being established and are at work in the younger Churches are invited to open themselves to the mission among non-Christians, inside and outside their own countries of origin. Despite the understandable difficulties which some of them will meet, it is good to remind everyone that just as ‘faith is strengthened when it is given to others’, so the mission strengthens the consecrated life, gives it new enthusiasm and new motivation, and elicits faithfulness. For its part, missionary activity offers ample room for all the different forms of the consecrated life” (Vita consecrata VC 78).
I therefore invite institutes of special consecration to be even more committed to the mission ad gentes, convinced as I am that this missionary zeal will attract genuine vocations and will be a leaven for their communities’ authentic renewal.
I now address you, dear Pastors of Churches both old and new, asking you not only to foster the consecrated life but also to increase its awareness of these issues. Institutes which are exclusively missionary are waiting to be strengthened and encouraged in the work of initial evangelization and in stirring up missionary fervour (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 65-66); men and women religious, both contemplative and active, must be encouraged to “play a special part in missionary activity, in a manner appropriate to their institute” (CIC 783 CIC, can. 783; Redemptoris missio RMi 69); consecrated persons, together with the diocesan priests and lay people, must be encouraged to commit themselves to the mission ad gentes, even for a limited time in their ministry (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 67-68 RMi 71-72).
It is the entire Church that needs this flourishing apostolic commitment. Indeed, evangelization and missionary work represent the first, fundamental contribution she offers to humanity.
4. Mission clearly does not consist of and is not exhausted in mere organizational activity, but is closely connected with the universal vocation to holiness (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 90). This applies to every Christian, and even more so to those Christians who live their faith by sharing in the project of an institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life. They are called to an intimate relationship with God who is love (cf. Vita consecrata VC 84). Religious profession requires them to be ever more completely and visibly conformed to the chaste, poor and obedient Christ (cf. ibid., n. 93). Community life spurs them to live communion and to be signs and instruments of unity among the People of God (cf. ibid., n. 51), while ecclesial service challenges them to be consistent in their life and apostolic activity (cf. ibid., n. 85).
“To tend towards holiness”: this is in summary the programme of every consecrated life. “Leaving everything behind for the sake of Christ ..., preferring him above all things, in order to share fully in his paschal mystery” (ibid., n. 93): this is what it means to follow Christ in a way that can involve and transform people.
Communities of consecrated life, including those in the young Churches, will devote their greatest attention to this programme and this following of Christ, and will become oases and “schools of true Gospel spirituality” by showing to one another, to the other faithful and to the world the definitive values and ultimate goals of the human journey.
As I entrust your plenary meeting to the protection of Blessed Mary, Queen of Apostles, I invoke her motherly help upon all the consecrated men and women involved in missionary activity in every corner of the earth.
I assure each and every one that I will remember them in prayer, and I willingly impart to them a special Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!
1. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each and every one of you! I am delighted to be able to welcome you on the occasion of your ad limina visit. The pilgrimage to the tombs of the Princes of the Apostles is a significant moment in the life of every Pastor, for it offers him the opportunity to express his communion with the Successor of Peter and to share with him the concerns and hopes connected with the episcopal ministry.
The affectus collegialis brings us together in prayer, the Eucharistic celebration and meetings to reflect as brothers on the pastoral problems that most concern us. We are all moved by the desire to hear the Lord’s voice amid the many voices of human opinion and thus to respond ever better to his expectations. The Successor of Peter has been entrusted with the mission of strengthening his brothers in faith (cf. Lk Lc 22,32) and of being in the Church “the lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity of faith and of communion” (Lumen gentium LG 18), for which all Bishops, together with him and in their own way, are also responsible.
2. Several months ago my pastoral concern spurred me to make a third Pastoral Visit to you, Pastors, and to the faithful entrusted to you in Austria. On that occasion I called your attention to a theme that seems particularly urgent in the Church of your beloved country: the true meaning of dialogue in the Church. In offering you some criteria that mark dialogue as a spiritual experience, I also emphasized the risks that can make it unproductive. I considered it particularly important for you to encourage a dialogue of salvation in the Church: this dialogue “for everyone who takes part always stands under the Word of God. It therefore presupposes a minimum of willingness to communicate and of basic unity. It is the living faith transmitted by the universal Church which represents the basis of dialogue for all the parties” (Address to the Austrian Bishops in Vienna, 21 June 1998, n. 7).
3. I am pleased that you have made true dialogue in the Churches entrusted to you a priority in your pastoral care and you are trying to involve all believers in it.
This offers us the basic theme for our considerations today: I would like to reflect with you on communion. It is the presupposition of dialogue. For this reason, in the above- mentioned address I referred to the need for “a minimum of willingness to dialogue and of basic unity”, if constructive dialogue is to take place. At the same time, communion is also the fruit of dialogue. If positions are confronted sincerely and openly, and if a basis of shared convictions supports those taking part, then the dialogue can readily lead to a deeper understanding of one another. The dialogue of salvation must be conducted in the communion of the Church. Without this basic conviction, the dialogue runs the risk of being lost in a superficial, non-committal community experience.
4. In this connection, it would be good to look at the nature and mission of the Church with the eyes of the Second Vatican Council. Leafing through the many Council documents which explain the Church’s various aspects, we come upon a viewpoint that deserves attention. When the Council texts speak of communion, they are not so concerned about questions of Church organization, about structures, areas of competence and methods, as they are about the real “thing” (res) from which the Church arises and for which she lives. The texts speak of the Church as mystery. Rediscovering this mystery of the Church and translating it into the Church’s life is the Council’s much- invoked “aggiornamento”, which has nothing to do either with a faddish adaptation of saving truth to contemporary tastes or with an other-worldly spiritualization of the Church into a nebulous and thus unspeakable mystery.
I remember how deeply impressed many Council Fathers were with the title “De Ecclesiae Mysterio” given to the first chapter of Lumen gentium. This expression was as unfamiliar to many then as it is again for many today. “Mystery” means a transcendent saving reality that is revealed in a visible way. According to the Council, the mystery of the Church consists in the fact that through Christ we have access to the Father in the Spirit so that we become sharers in the divine nature (cf. Lumen gentium LG 3-4 Dei Verbum DV 1). Thus the communion of the Church is modeled on, made possible and sustained by the communion of the Triune God. The Church in a certain way is the icon of the Trinitarian communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
5. At first sight these definitions may seem far removed from the pastoral concerns of those who have to deal with the concrete problems of God’s People. I am sure you agree with me that this impression is unfounded. Whoever takes the Church seriously as a saving reality realizes that she is not so by her own power. A Church conceived exclusively as a human community could not find adequate answers to the human longing for a communion capable of supporting and giving meaning to life. Her words and actions could not withstand the seriousness of the questions weighing on human hearts. Man, in fact, longs for something that transcends him, that goes beyond all human viewpoints and reveals their inadequacy and limitedness. The Church as mystery both comforts and encourages us. She transcends us and, as such, can become God’s ambassador. In the Church God’s self-communication is offered to man’s longing to achieve complete self-fulfilment.
6. At this point the question of God arises — perhaps the most serious problem that you, as Pastors in Austria, have to address. Even if the question of God is not raised so clearly in public, it moves human hearts all the same. Unfortunately, it is often answered today with a veiled atheism or manifest indifference. These are attitudes which conceal the desire to create human happiness and community even without God. But these attempts do not and cannot produce satisfying results. Woe to the Church if she were to be so involved in temporal issues that she had no time to devote herself to subjects which concern the Eternal!
Today there is an urgent need to support the renewal of the Church’s spiritual dimension. Questions about the Church’s structure automatically take second place when the decisive question about God is put on the Church’s discussion agenda. This question should be patiently addressed in a sincere dialogue of salvation with men and women inside and outside the Church. In the Church-mystery we also find the key to our mission as Bishops at the service of God’s People. The first question we can be asked as Pastors is not: “What have you organized?”, but: “Whom have you led to communion with the Triune God?”.
7. This reflection sheds light on the Church as mystery and relates it to our participation in God’s saving gifts. Here the Eucharist is particularly important. Not without reason is our reception of the Eucharist also called “Communion”. In this regard, St Augustine described the Eucharist as “the sign of unity and the bond of love” (In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus, XXVI, VI, 13). The Council Fathers referred to this idea when they saw ecclesial communion as rooted in Eucharistic Communion: “Really sharing in the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with him and with one another” (Lumen gentium LG 7).
8. At this point I cannot hide two serious concerns connected with certain negative statistics: they concern participation in the Eucharistic celebration and the shortage of vocations. While I appreciate all that you are doing to protect Sunday in social and economic life, I also feel obliged to urge you: constantly and firmly remind the faithful entrusted to your care to fulfil their Sunday obligation, as Bishops have done from the earliest centuries down to our day. “Leave everything on the Lord’s Day and run diligently to your assembly, because it is your praise of God. Otherwise, what excuse will they make to God, those who do not come together on the Lord’s Day to hear the word of life and feed on the divine nourishment which lasts forever?” (Didascalia Apostolorum, II, 59, 2-3).
Tell your priests: the Pope knows the difficulties of many pastors of souls in coping with the overwork and concerns of every sort connected with their ministry. The Pope knows the pastoral zeal of many diocesan and religious priests, whose commitment sometimes brings them to the point of exhaustion. The burden is even greater in the parishes of your Dioceses, where the physical geography also demands many efforts and sacrifices.
While I express my appreciation to the priests, I also feel obliged to encourage the laity to engage in goodwilled, respectful dialogue with their priests and not to regard them as a “discontinued model” of an ecclesial structure which, in the opinion of some, could manage without the priestly ministry.
9. Precisely this conviction, widespread even among believing men and women, is surely related to the declining number of vocations in your local Churches. I know the efforts you are making to help young people meet Christ and discover the call he gives each of them to a particular task in the Church. Moreover, we are well aware that vocations cannot be “made” by people, but must be sought from God in constant prayer. A vocation — especially at first — is like a tender, vulnerable bud which needs much care and attention. There must be a vital relationship between those who are priests already and the young people who may feel a faint yearning to follow this way. It is very important for young people to meet happy, believable priests who are deeply convinced of the decision they have made and have warm bonds of friendship with their confrères and their Bishop. For this reason, the Bishop must not be perceived as a distant “official” or a condescending “boss”, but must be regarded as a father and friend by those who serve the faithful with him.
The cultivation of true communion between priests and Bishops and their joyful co-operation for the good of the Church are the best soil for vocations to flourish. This was already stressed by the Council: the Bishop should conduct himself among those entrusted to him “as one who serves, as a good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him, as a true father”, so that priests will see themselves as their “sons and friends” (Christus Dominus CD 16).
10. Venerable Brothers, despite everything one certainty gives us strength: the signs of the dawning salvation outnumber the negative trends. Proof of this are the two Tables that the Lord in his goodness continually prepares for us: the Table of God’s Word and the Table of the Eucharist (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 51 Dei Verbum DV 21). It is you, as Bishops, who have the high honour as well as the sacred duty to serve as hosts in persona Christi, so that the faithful can be abundantly nourished at the Table of the Word and Sacrament.
11. In the Council documents the Church is described as “creatura Verbi”, since “such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigour, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life” (Dei Verbum DV 21 cf. Lumen gentium LG 2). This awareness has awakened in the People of God a lively interest in Sacred Scripture, with doubtless benefit for each one’s faith journey.
Unfortunately, there have also been misunderstandings and erroneous developments: some views of the Church have crept up that do not correspond to the biblical data or to the Church’s Tradition. The biblical expression “people of God” (laos tou theou) has been understood in the sense of a popular political assembly (dìmos) organized along lines applicable to any other societal group. And since the democratic form of government is most in harmony with contemporary sensitivities, many of the faithful have called for a democratization of the Church. Calls of this sort have increased in your country too, as well as beyond its borders. At the same time, the authentic interpretation of God’s Word and the proclamation of the Church’s teaching have often been replaced by a wrongly understood pluralism, leading to the idea that revealed truth can be determined by popular surveys and decided democratically.
How can we not feel deep sadness when we see that these mistaken ideas about faith and morality, and about certain matters of Church discipline, have taken root in the minds of so many members of laity? No “base” can determine revealed truth. Truth is not produced by a “church from below”, but comes from “on high”, from God. Truth is not a human creation, but a gift from heaven. The Lord himself entrusted it to us, the Successors of the Apostles, so that — endowed with “a sure charism of truth” (Dei Verbum DV 8) — we might transmit it intact, guard it jealously and explain it faithfully (cf. Lumen gentium LG 25).
12. With affectionate understanding of the deeply felt concerns of your ministry, I say to you: Venerable Brothers, have the courage of love and truth! Certainly, you are right not to accept anything as truth if it lacks charity. But do not accept anything as love if it lacks truth! Preaching the truth in love to people — this is the real remedy for error. I ask you to fulfil this task with all your strength. What Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy is addressed to each of us: “Bear hardship along with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus... Try hard to make yourself worthy of God’s approval, a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, following a straight course in preaching the truth... Preach the word, stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient — correcting, reproving, appealing — constantly teaching and never losing patience” (2Tm 2,3 ibid. 2Tm 4,2).
13. Just as I share your concerns, I am also pleased to share your joy over what you have been accomplishing in the Church and in society for the culture of life. It is the culture of life that spans the poles of truth and love. Courageously persevere in bearing witness to the teaching handed down to you and remain firm in it.
I would particularly like to mention marriage. Even if human experience is often powerless over the breakdown of so many marriages, sacramental marriage is and remains indissoluble according to the will of God. Another example: even if the majority of society decides otherwise, the dignity of every human being remains inviolable from conception in his mother’s womb to natural death, when God wills it. And again: despite the recurring debate, as though it were merely a disciplinary question, the Church has not received any authority whatsoever from the Lord to confer priestly ordination on women (cf. Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4).
14. I will not address other subjects, however significant. But one fact I cannot fail to mention: although in the world we find an ever greater sense of the unity of individuals and peoples, while respecting their valuable cultural characteristics, sometimes there is an impression that the Church in your country is yielding to the temptation to turn in on herself, in order to deal with sociological questions rather than to be enthused about the larger catholic unity: that universal communion, which is the communion of particular Churches gathered round the Successor of Peter (cf. Lumen gentium LG 23).
Venerable Brothers, seek every opportunity to invite your faithful to raise their sights beyond the church towers of Austria. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 could be the perfect occasion to help your faithful to experience a new passion for the richness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and to help them love her more intensely.
15. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate! With great affection I entrust to you these reflections on the Church as communion. Much could be said and written about communion, but the most important thing is that we, as Successors of the Apostles, seek to live it blamelessly. Lastly, I would like to confide a wish to you: in the past few months and years many things have been written about the Church in Austria. Would it not be a good sign if there were less discussion in your country about the Church and more dedication instead to meditation on the Church? I said at the beginning that the Church as communion represents the icon of the communion of the Triune God. Critical analysis fails before an icon. We must abandon ourselves to loving contemplation, if we are to enter more and more deeply into the divine mystery: it is against this background that we can truly understand the Church.
16. I close my words with an invitation to you to look at that icon of ecclesial communion which is the Blessed Virgin, so revered by many of your compatriots: “Eternally present in the mystery of Christ” (Redemptoris Mater RMA 19), she remains among the Apostles in the heart of the early Church and the Church in every age. Then “the Church gathered in the Upper Room with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and his brethren. Thus, one cannot speak of the Church, unless Mary, the Mother of the Lord, is also present with his brethren” (Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermo 30, 1).
May Mary, the Magna Mater Austriae, be your companion and intercessor in your efforts to fulfil your ministry with a joyful, courageous sentire cum Ecclesia and to help form an anima ecclesiastica in the faithful entrusted to you. Assuring you of a constant remembrance in my prayer, so that the Spirit will assist you on your journey with the abundance of his gifts, I cordially impart to you and to all the members of your Dioceses my Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. In the peace of the Risen Lord, I greet you, the Bishops of New Zealand, on the occasion of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum. Your visit has a special significance and intensity since it coincides with your participation in the Special Assembly for Oceania of the Synod of Bishops, centred on Christ the light of the nations and the hope of every people and every age. You and your brother Bishops from Australia, the Pacific and Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands are gathered to reflect on what it means at the approach of the Third Millennium to “walk his way, tell his truth and live his life”. It is my earnest hope that you will live these days with great joy and encouragement, knowing that through the grace of Jesus Christ “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his own wonderful light” (1P 2,9). A particularly significant part of your ad Limina visit is your prayer at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, whose “memory” in this City continually reminds the whole Church of what it means to be fully faithful to the Lord. In a special way it reminds the Successors of the Apostles just how much the Lord can ask of them. Here, as Bishops, you reflect once more on your ministry and how it involves commitment, sacrifice, and often much suffering for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, we are teachers of a great paradox: in the words of Saint Paul, “we preach Christ crucified” (1Co 1,23), to the point that “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16,25). The Cross of Jesus Christ is the origin of the grace which sustains us; it is the source of our communion. It was only in “reproducing the pattern of the Lord’s death” (Ph 3,10) that Peter and Paul overcame their differences (cf. Gal Ga 2,11-21) and confirmed the unity which eventually led them to proclaim with a single voice the love which is greater than all that divides. As an elder brother, I invite you to take courage and, with the example of the Apostles before you, to go forth with renewed faith and love to do what Christ asks of you for the sake of those whom he has redeemed by the blood of his Cross.
2. Without prayerful reflection on Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary we shall never truly understand the relationship between the Church and the world. This was a key theme of the Second Vatican Council, which is so much in our minds and hearts during these days of the Synod when we relive something of the great grace of communion and brotherhood experienced by the Council Fathers. After the devastation of two World Wars and in a world shaken by the tragedies of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the Fathers of the Council sought to discern the new energies which the Holy Spirit was giving for a new evangelization. It should not be forgotten that a more intense dedication to the Church’s mission was the Council’s purpose, a purpose which has gained immeasurably in relevance in more recent years. The task of evangelization always prompts the question of the relationship between the Church and the world; and this question is important, indeed crucial, for your ministry to the Church in New Zealand today.
Your concern must be to inspire and guide new evangelizing energies in the context of a society which is largely secularized. This increasing secularization of society is a complex phenomenon and is not without positive aspects; but it can lead to a situation where the Christian community itself becomes secularized and the distinction between the Church and the world becomes unclear. The Council insisted that the Church’s dialogue with culture needs to be taken seriously. But this does not mean that culture should be made absolute to the point where it is allowed consistently, as it were, to set the Church’s agenda. When this happens, we have what the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, in his first Encyclical Letter, called “conformity to the spirit of the world”, which, he insisted, cannot “enliven the Church and fit her to receive the power and strength of the Holy Spirit’s gifts”; it is not what “makes the Church strong in her following of Christ”; it does not “kindle in the Church the desire to live in fraternal charity, nor make her better able to communicate the message of salvation” (Ecclesiam Suam, 51). No human culture can fully accommodate the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is always there to remind us that the distinction between the Church and the world is the paradoxically essential premise of the dialogue with culture for which the Council called.
3. The roots of this paradox lie deep in the Bible, which elaborates a profound and powerful theology of holiness, divine and human. The Old Testament makes it clear that Israel is to be holy as God himself is holy (cf. Lev Lv 19,2). This meant that Israel had to be distinct, just as God is infinitely distinct from the world, as the Bible stresses consistently in forging its doctrine of divine transcendence. But this otherness of Israel is not otherness for its own sake; it is neither introverted nor defensive. Just as God can make all things “good” (cf. Gen Gn 1,31) precisely because he is above all things, so Israel is to be distinct for the sake of service. Just as the infinite transcendence of God makes possible the communication of the perfect love which culminates in Christ’s Paschal Mystery, so in the Bible’s understanding the holiness of God’s people involves that critical freedom in relation to surrounding culture and cultures which makes possible real and genuine service of the human family.
What is true of Israel in the Old Testament is no less true of the Church in the New Testament and indeed in our own time. The Church in many ways appears and is different; but this difference exists only for the sake of dialogue and service – in other words, for the sake of evangelization. The Council has sometimes been invoked to justify actions which actually go against its purpose, since they hinder or prevent the new evangelization which the Council sought. The problem with “conformity to the spirit of the world” is that the Church’s uniqueness and transcendent nature are eroded through the mistaken understanding that dialogue and service require just such conformity, when in fact they call for the opposite. This general statement has certain quite specific implications for the life of the Church in New Zealand today.
4. One of the most important of these is in the field of Catholic education. There is no doubt that the Catholic schools of your country have magnificently served not only Catholics themselves but society as a whole. They remain one of the great achievements in the story of evangelization in your land, and how can we fail to thank all those – especially the religious men and women – who have worked so splendidly to make your Catholic schools the prime resource which they are? It is again true that Catholic schools exist to implement a specific educational ideal, fully in accord with Catholic teaching and fostering a deepening of faith and commitment on the part of all concerned. If they were no different from other schools, they would scarcely warrant the resources devoted to them, since they would not play their proper part in the life of the Church.
The specifically religious education which Catholic schools impart needs to be comprehensive, systematic and profound, providing a sound knowledge of the Catholic faith and a sure grasp of Catholic moral and social teaching. In this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church remains the point of reference, not only for the Bishops as the prime teachers of the faith but also for the priests and teachers who work with them. In bringing their students to the experience of God’s love, Catholic schools must teach the first steps on the lifelong journey of prayer, the contemplative adventure which leads to friendship with Christ, sustains love of the Church, and inspires the hope of eternal union with God.
Speeches 1998 - Thursday, 19 November 1998