Speeches 1983 - Monday, 19 September 1983
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. We have gathered here today as Bishops to celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of the world. We have assembled under the sign of faith, and it is in the context of faith that we are experiencing collegiality. It is also in the context of faith that we penetrate and live the vital mystery of the Church, which is truly present in all the ecclesial communities of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
United with you, the local shepherds of God’s people, in the bonds of Christ’s love, I pay homage to all your Dioceses. They are rooted of course in the Apostolic Tradition, but they also enjoy a local stability that, in the case of Saint John’s, Newfoundland, now goes back two full centuries. Yours are ecclesial communities that are striving earnestly to live the Gospel, failing at times and suffering, undergoing purification, but living “by faith in the Son of God” (Ga 2,20). With you I render thanks to the grace of God, praising the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the action of Holy Spirit that has brought the fruits of the Redemption into the hearts of the faithful, and has kept alive in your midst worthy practices of piety and faith.
In a word, with you I offer thanks for the gift of faith in Jesus Christ that has been infused into the hearts of those whom you are called to serve, for the hope that is enkindled by this faith-a hope that gives such meaning to Christian living-and for the works of that love which springs from faith and fulfills the law of God.
2. As we share together sentiments of respect and reverence for the Catholic history of your people, we realize the challenge that is ours as servants pastors, to lead the way into the future, encouraging and calling the faithful to conversion.
I thank you for all that you have done, despite many difficulties and obstacles, in the context of the faith and through love and fidelity, as shepherds of God’s people, holding a sacred trust. The achievements of your local Churches are many because the Eucharist maintains its honoured place as “the center and culmination of the whole life of the Christian community” (Christus Dominus CD 30). The other many aspects of vitality include countless expressions of the charity of Christ towards the poor and towards all those in spiritual and material need. The transmission of the Catholic faith through numerous catechetical efforts has brought honour to generations of your priests, religious and laity, especially Catholic parents.
In the transmission of the faith, so many aspects have had to be the object of your attention and pastoral care. I cannot mention them all, but you will recognize the accomplishments of your local Churches in the issues to which I shall just allude. The promotion of Catholic education and evangelization has been providentially emphasized as priorities in a number of your Dioceses, and they must remain priorities for years to come. In many places the zeal of your people has been manifested through strong parish life, through the Catholic School, through a variety of associations, organizations and movements that have contributed greatly to the vitality of your people’s faith. Efforts have been made to foster Christian unity, to promote vocations and to uphold the dignity of marriage and the Christian family. About this topic I had the occasion to speak last April to a group of your brother Bishops from Ontario.
3. In this hour of collegial unity I would like to emphasize a few aspects of Catholic life which are extremely relevant to the well-being of your local Churches, and therefore affect your pastoral activity and collegial collaboration.
The ministry that is ours as pastors of God’s people is a ministry of faith from which all justification takes its origin. We are called upon to support the faith infused into our people’s hearts at Baptism by preaching to them the content of the faith. Our message of revealed faith is the response we give to the challenges of the modern world, which include secularism, materialism and hedonism. The temptations and difficulties experienced by our people and the obstacles to their Christian living are very great, but greater still is the faith that they have received by hearing the preaching of Christ (Cfr. Rom Rm 10,17). Faith is so great that Saint John does not hesitate to state: “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Io. 4, 4-5).
It is precisely in order to communicate this victory and to permit its power to enter the lives of the faithful that we are called upon to speak to our people about God. We are called to preach the primacy of God, to present him as the Creator and Lord of life. We must never grow tired of proclaiming to our people the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity: how God is a Father who reveals himself in his Son, who is “the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being” (Hebr.1, 3), and how, in the name of his Son, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to be with us for ever (Cfr. Io Jn 14,16 Io Jn 14,25). Through the action of the Holy Spirit, God’s people are united in the communion of the Church and are enabled to share sacramentally in Christ’s Paschal victory. As Bishops we are called to proclaims over and over again the mystery of faith, which is a mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word.
4. Being conscious of the needs of our people before God, we realize that we must teach them to pray and pray with them. Our ministry of faith is therefore a ministry of prayer. We ourselves are never more closely conformed to Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd than when we lead our people in prayer, especially in the Church’s liturgical prayer. Above all, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Church actuates her identity as a praying community, and Jesus Christ offers his Church to his Father.
As Bishops we can never stress enough the importance of prayer in the life of the Church. And as Bishops we can never devote enough time and energy to prayer ourselves; nor can we ever encourage our people enough in this activity that is such an essential part of Christian living. Since the mystery of Christ in his Church is incomplete without prayer, the call to prayer can never be separated from the mission of the Bishop, through whom Jesus desires to repeat the words: “Watch and pray” (Marc.14, 38).
5. To a very special degree there is a need throughout the Church today - and a number of you, I believe, experience this need in a particular way in your own dioceses - to pray and work for vocations to the priesthood. That profound ecclesial renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council can never adequately take place if the local Churches do not have a sufficient number of worthy and holy priests. The building of community in the Church is intimately linked to the power that derives from the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and this in turn is impossible without the priesthood. At the core, too, of the Christian life and mission of the laity is the Eucharist, together with the conversion that it presupposes and requires; and this conversion is linked to the Sacrament of Penance and hence to the ministerial priesthood of the Church. In every aspect of their ministry, priests exist for the Church, and they are so necessary to both the laity and the religious that, without them, all the faithful are impeded in realizing the fullness of their Christian vocation. The entire life of the Church is bound up with the priesthood, which remains a great gift of God to individuals for the well-being of all.
This gift of God must be sought and it must be sought in prayer. A vocation to the priesthood is so important that it is given personally by God to individuals. It is a question of a divine call which is transmitted and authenticated by the Church and remains an invitation that does no violence to human freedom. The acceptance of a vocation to the priesthood, perseverance in the priesthood and the fruitfulness of priestly activity all depend on the action of God, and need his grace. Christ himself sets the whole question in its proper perspective when he says: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Lc 10,2).
Venerable and dear Brothers, here we see our role as pastors: to pray and to lead our people in prayer for vocations. But as pastors and “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1Co 4,1), it is up to us to call the young to be attentive to the voice of the Lord. By announcing the word of God to the young, by extolling the mystery of the priesthood, and by proclaiming the divine call to the priesthood, we shall prepare the way for the action of the Holy Spirit on individual hearts. This pastoral action is all part of the proclamation of the Gospel message, a part of living the mystery of Christ in his Church. The young people must hear about the call of Christ, so as to be in a position to accepts it when it comes. They must know that it is directed to a ministry that has been instituted by Christ, that depends on his will, and that demands immense generosity and love, as well a life that is to be lived in union with Christ. In the very act of proclaiming this call of Christ and of explaining its meaning and requirements, the Gospel message is being preached and the dynamic process of salvation is being actuated. The very word of God is operating in human hearts through the instrumentality of the pastors of the Church.
For this reason we must continue to call, to proclaim and to preach vocations. The Lord of the harvest is ready to listen. God will not abandon his Church. But the Bishops must send forth the call of the Lord and do so perseveringly. And each local Church in its entirety must support this action through prayer and penance. The vital proclamation of the word of God cannot remain without results. In speaking of his word, God says: “It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55,11).
6. Chers Frères, il y a bien d’autres aspects importants de la Parole de Dieu qui se rattachent en profondeur à la foi de votre peuple. S’il plaît a Dieu, j’aurai l’occasion de m’exprimer sur plusieurs d’entre eux avec vos Frères Evêques, lors d’autres visites ad Limina et au cours de ma visite pastorale au Canada l’an prochain. Pour le moment, cependant, je ne voudrais ajouter qu’une autre pensée.
Tandis que nous nous préparons a ce voyage, je voudrais demander qu’un appel soit lance par vous et tous vos Frères Evêques, au nom du Christ et de l’Eglise, en mon nom et au votre, pour inviter les fidèles du Canada a la conversion et a la confession personnelle. Pour certains, cela voudra dire faire l’expérience de la joie du pardon sacramentel pour la première fois depuis bien des années; pour tous, ce sera la grâce d’être appelés a répondre dans la foi a ce que demande la Parole de Dieu. L’appel a la conversion est aussi un appel a la générosité et a la paix; c’est appeler a accueillir la miséricorde et l’amour de Jésus-Christ. C’est appeler a préparer les voies “pour célébrer notre foi”.
Je recommande cette tache collégiale et votre zèle dans toutes vos activités pastorales a la Mère de Jésus, Reine des Apôtres. Qu’elle vous soutienne dans le ministère de la foi et dans le ministère de la prière. Et qu’elle soit pour vous tous source de joie et gage de paix.
Dear Brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ,
1. It is a real joy for me to welcome you to this collegial gathering in which we come together in the name of Christ, who is “the chief Shepherd” (1 Petr. 5, 4) of the Church and the Lord and Saviour of us all. And as we assemble here on the occasion of your “ad Limina” visit, I wish to reflect with you on one of the most important areas of our common pastoral responsibility: Christian marriage and family life.
In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, the Bishops of the Second Vatican Council stated that “the well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of the community set up by marriage and the family” (Gaudium et Spes GS 47). We are all aware of certain contemporary trends that seem to threaten the stability, if not the very existence, of the family: a shift of emphasis toward the comfort of the individual over the well-being of the family as society’s basic social unit, increasing divorce rates, attitudes of sexual permissiveness, and the suggestion that other types of relationships can replace marriage and the family.
In the face of these attitudes we have the important mission of proclaiming Christ’s Good News about Christian married love, the identity and worth of the family, and the importance of its mission in the Church and in the world. Accordingly, in Familiaris Consortio, I noted that the Bishops should exercise particular solicitude for the family, “devoting to it personal interest, care, time, personnel and resources, but above all personal support for the families and for all those who, in the various diocesan structures, assist him in the pastoral care of the family” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 73).
2. This pastoral responsibility is based on the fact that Christian family life is founded on the sacrament of marriage, which is “the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian couples and families” (Ibid. 56). It is up to us, together with our priests, to offer to the faithful the richness of the Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage. This teaching, when explained well, is so very powerful, presenting as it does the covenant of God’s relationship with his people and of Christ’s relationship with the Church. It is of extreme importance for Christian couples to be aware of the divine truth that, in their human love elevated and sanctified by sacramental marriage, they actually “signify and partake in that fruitful love between Christ and his Church” (Lumen Gentium LG 11).
Because Christian marriage expresses the relationship of Christ and the Church, it possesses the qualities of unity, permanence or indissolubility, fidelity and fruitfulness. In the words of the Second Vatican Council we proclaim: “The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by his laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one” (Gaudium et Spes GS 48).
3. The primary responsibilities of married couples are described in both Gaudium et Spes and Humanae Vitae in terms of developing conjugal love and pursuing responsible parenthood. Basic to the marriage relationship is that special interpersonal love which the spouses give to one another. The Church proclaims this conjugal love as eminently human, involving the good of the whole person and enriching and ennobling both husband and wife in their Christian life. This love creates a special unity between a man and a woman, resembling the unity between Christ and his Church. Gaudium et Spes assures us that married love is caught up in God’s love and is affected by Christ’s redemptive power and the saving activity of the Church. As a result, the spouses are led to God and assisted and strengthened in the sublime role of being a father or a mother (Cfr. ibid.).
Marriage is also directed toward building a family. The spouses share with God in the continuing work of creation. Conjugal love is rooted in divine love, and is meant to be creative and life-sustaining. It is through spiritual union and the union of their bodies that the couple fulfill their procreative role by giving life, love and a sense of security to their children.
Giving life and helping their children to reach maturity through education are among the primary privileges and responsibilities of married couples. We know that married couples usually look forward to parenthood, but are sometimes impeded from achieving their hopes and desires by social conditions, by personal circumstances or even by inability to beget new life. But the Church encourages couples to be generous and hopeful, to realize that parenthood is a privilege and that each child bears witness to the couple’s own love for each other, to their generosity and to their openess to God. They must be encouraged to see the child as an enrichment of their marriage and a gift of God to themselves and to their other children.
4. Couples should thoughtfully and prayerfully make their decisions regarding the spacing of births and the size of their family. In pursuing these decisions they need to be attentive to the teaching of the Church regarding the inherent connection between the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marriage act (Cfr. PAULI VI Humanae Vitae HV 12). Couples must be urged to avoid any action that threatens a life already conceived, that denies or frustrates their procreative power, or violates the integrity of the marriage act.
5. As Bishops, together with your priests and others in the family apostolate, you are called upon to help couples know and understand the reasons for the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. This teaching can only be understood in the light of God’s plan for human love and marriage as they relate to creation and Redemption. Let us often present to our people the uplifting and exhilarating affirmation of human love, telling them that “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 11).
Thus, in order to avoid any trivialization or desecration of sexuality, we must teach that sexuality transcends the purely biological sphere and concerns the innermost being of the human persons as such. Sexual love is truly human only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. This full self-giving is possible only in marriage.
It is this teaching, based on the Church’s understanding of the dignity of the human person and the fact that sex is a gift of God, that must be communicated to both married and engaged couples, and indeed to the whole Church. This teaching must be at the basis of all education in sexuality and chastity. It must be communicated to parents, who have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and also to pastors and religious teachers who collaborate with parents in the fulfillment of their responsibility.
6. A special and important part of your ministry to families has to do with natural family planning. The number of couples successfully using the natural methods is constantly growing. But much more concerted effort is needed. As stated in Familiaris Consortio: “the ecclesial community at the present time must take on the task of instilling conviction and offering practical help to those who wish to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way . . . This implies a broader, more decisive and more systematic effort to make the natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and applied” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 35).
Those couples who choose the natural methods perceive the profound difference - both anthropological and moral - between contraception and natural family planning. Yet they may experience difficulties; indeed they often go through a certain conversion in becoming committed to the use of the natural methods, and they stand in need of competent instruction, encouragement and pastoral counselling and support. We must be sensitive to their struggles and have a feeling for the needs that they experience. We must encourage them to continue their efforts with generosity, confidence and hope. As Bishops we have the charism and the pastoral responsibility to make our people aware of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life, including sexuality (Cfr. ibid. 33). The teaching of Christ’s Church is not only light and strength for God’s people, but it uplifts their hearts in gladness and hope.
Your Episcopal Conference has established a special program to expand and coordinate efforts in the various dioceses. But the success of such an effort requires the abiding pastoral interest and support of each Bishop in his own diocese, and I am deeply grateful to you for what you do in this important apostolate.
7. The family is rightly described as the domestic Church. As such, it transmits the faith and the Christian value system from one generation to the next. Parents are called to be involved in the education of their children, precisely as young Christians. The family is also the center of sacramental catechesis. Increasingly, parents are called upon to take an active role in preparing their children for Baptism, First Confession and First Communion. Married couples are also active in programs of marriage preparation. All of this touches the role of the family in sharing, in the life and mission of the Church. With all our hearts we should encourage family prayer and a family sacramental life, centered around the Eucharist. For the vitality of the Christian family derives from its union with Christ in the life of grace, which is nourished by the liturgy and by family prayer.
8. The Christian family also has a responsibility to participate in the development of society. As Bishops in the United States you have a long history of devoted service to families with special needs, particularly through your Catholic social service agencies. Your diocesan agencies have also shown a special concern for the poor, for racial, ethnic and cultural minorities, as well as for the disadvantaged. But as the 1980 Synod of Bishops urged, and as was pointed out in Familiaris Consortio, “the social role of families is called upon to find expression also in the form of political intervention: families should be the first to take steps to see that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 44). Your Episcopal Conference has been diligent in fostering this role through its pro-life activity, and especially the annual “Respect Life Program”, which begins next week for the current year.
9. The pastoral challenge is great, and it requires your personal and constant leadership, the collaboration of priests and religious, and the generous and dedicated efforts of the Catholic laity, especially families. In a country as vast as yours, the task is very complex. But again I commend to you the recommendation of Familiaris Consortio, that is, that the Episcopal Conferences should formulate a Directory for the Pastoral Care for the Family, which will include the content of the preparation for marriage, and that priests and seminarians will be given special preparation for pastoral work with families. Specifically for this reason a special Institute has been established for the study of marriage and family life at the Pontifical Lateran University.
I am aware of your many other pastoral responsibilities and concerns, but from my pastoral journeys I am very much convinced of the vitality of Christian family life even in the face of so many tensions and pressures. I urge you to show the family special love and concern, to collaborate with others in supporting family life, and to proclaim constantly to your people that “the future of humanity passes by way of the family” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 86).
10. We simply cannot accept the contemporary pursuit of exaggerated convenience and comfort, for as Christians we must heed the vigorous exhortation of Saint Paul: “Do not conform yourselves to this age” (Rm 12,2). We must realize that in our struggles to overcome the negative influences of modern society we are identified with Christ the Lord, who by his suffering and death has redeemed the world. Thus we can better impart to our people the message of the Second Vatican Council that in following Christ, who is the principle of life, “by the sacrifices and joys of their vocation and through their faithful love, married people will become witnesses of the mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by his death and Resurrection” (Gaudium et Spes GS 52). Yes, dear Brothers, marriage and the family are closely linked to the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus. And human conjugal love remains for ever a great sacramental expression of the fact that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Ep 5,25). In the power of the Holy Spirit let us communicate this gift of God’s truth to the world.
The proclamation of this truth is our contribution to married couples; it is the proof of our pastoral love for families; and it will be the source of immense vitality for the Church of God in this generation and for generations yet to come. With determination, confidence and hope let us proclaim Christ’s Good News for married love and family life. And may Mary, the Mother of Jesus, be with us in this apostolic task.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. In this hour of collegial unity, we are experiencing together a living hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who is the Supreme Pastor of the whole Church, “which he obtained with his own blood” (Act. 20, 28), and which he calls his own when he says: “. . . and on this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16,18). As Bishops we are called upon to manifest our confidence in the redeeming power of this blood and in the unlimited efficacy of the entire Paschal Mystery. And, as Bishops assembled in the name of Jesus, we believe that we have a special title to be reassured of his presence in our midst (cfr. ibid. 18, 20). In a word, it is “Christ Jesus our hope” (1Tm 1,1) who lives in us, and who through us, boy word and sacrament, continues to extend his Redemption to the world.
2. I wish at this time to praise the power of the Paschal Mystery that has been at work for many years in your local Churches.It is a power that was unleashed among you through the generous, indeed heroic, efforts of succeeding generations of apostles and missionaries. At the basis of all evangelizing zeal there was a clear understanding and faithful acceptance of Christ’s command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you . . .” (Mt 28,20). Immense sacrifices have been made, and are still being made, to fulfill Christ’s command, so that the Good News can be heard and accepted, and so that the power of Christ’s death and Resurrection can penetrate human hearts, build up the community of the Church and radically modify the criteria for human actions.
3. In the life of the Church, the actuation of the Paschal Mystery is intimately linked by Christ’s will to the Sacrament of Baptism and to the other sacraments of Christian initiation. For each Christian, Baptism is a sacramental introduction to the Church that is herself the sacrament of salvation and the household of the faith. Moreover, from the Council of Trent we know that Baptism is not only a sign of faith but also a cause of faith (DENZ.-SCHÖN., 1606).
Baptism is of supreme importance for our people for many reasons. It is the sacrament of interior enlightenment, spiritual liberation and new life. Through Baptism, our people are given a vital participation in the redemptive death and Resurrection of Christ and are called to “walk in newness of life” (Rm 6,4). Baptism is also the source of all the moral responsibilities incumbent on Christians. It is by reason of their Baptism that they must consider themselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rm 6,11). Through Baptism the very power of the Paschal Mystery is sacramentally brought to bear on human weakness and sinfulness, so that Christ’s victory over sin and death actually enters into individual lives and triumphs in individual hearts.
4. God’s gift of Baptism is the basis of all Christian dignity, because it is the origin of incorporation into Christ. As Bishops we know how pastorally important it is to remind our people of their dignity, to speak to them about the hope in which they must anchor their lives, and to call them to place all their confidence in the power of the Crucified and Risen Saviour. Precisely because they have put on Christ in Baptism, been incorporated into him and become his Body, our people have every reason to be buoyed up in hope and by the awareness of their Baptismal identity and Christian dignity. God wills that we pastors of his Church should proclaim this identity and this dignity just as Peter did when he told the faithful: “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Petr. 2, 9).
5. As our people begin to realize more and more the meaning of Baptism in their lives, our explanation of other truths takes on greater cogency. The Apostles themselves have given us examples of how to appeal to the ecclesial communities. On our part we can explain so many things more effectively by reason of our incorporation into Christ through Baptism: the urgency of worshipping the Father together with Christ, who wills that the members of his Body pray with him; the special need to practise chastity so as not to defile the Body of Christ; the importance for members of Christ to assist other members in need; and the value of human suffering offered in the name of Christ. Yes, everything in fact is different and enriched from the perspective of Baptismal consecration and incorporation into Christ. There is a new vision of the world, a new need for diakonia, new exigencies for individuals and for communities, and a new call for a social action that takes its origin and finds its term in the Body of Christ.
6. Baptism is the origin of an ever greater shared-responsibility in the Church and for the Church. Not only are Bishops collegially responsible for situations and needs beyond the limits of their own ecclesial communities, but the laity too are co-responsible in their own way for the well-being of other parts of the Body of Christ, indeed for the well-being of the whole Church. In a great nation such as Canada, with vast Dioceses that have special needs of evangelization and catechesis, there must exist a special solidarity based both on Episcopal collegiality and on that general shared-responsibility which is an exigency of Baptism. All Christ’s faithful must be concerned for the future of the Church throughout Canada; everyone must think about transmitting the faith, about bringing the Gospel to the young, to the unchurched, to the poor, the suffering and to all those in need.
7. The Sacrament of Baptism is, moreover, the foundation of all community in the Church. Together with the word of God which is actuated in it - and is supremely actuated in the Eucharist -Baptism is the cause of the cohesiveness of the fraternal fabric of the Church. In its radical relationship to the Eucharist, which only priests can effect, Baptism bears strongly on the life of priests and on all the activities that they perform as builders and servants of community-sacramental community.
8. Baptism is essential to the Church’s mission as explained by Christ - to teach everything he taught and to baptize - and it is at the basis of all mission in the Church. The zealous efforts of the Canadian Bishops to promote the lay apostolate are mandated by the Second Vatican Council, which considers the lay apostolate as a participation in the saving mission of the Church, and states: “Through Baptism and Confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord himself” (Lumen Gentium LG 33). It is through the awareness of the importance of Baptism that all catechists find encouragement, all lay movements discover their identity and all lay spirituality finds its authentic expressions. Indeed, the religious life itself discovers not only its specific identity in relationship to the Sacrament of Baptism.
9. From these viewpoints and from so many others it is evident that the Church regards Baptism as a great gift of God. It is a gift treasured by the People of God and a gift about which the Magisterium has spoken for centuries, leaving the Church a profound body of teaching to be reflected upon and to be proclaimed. Among its rich content is the Church’s teaching in infant Baptism which deserves our personal pastoral attention. This teaching was summarized in 1980 in a document of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reiterated the Church’s teaching on the necessity of Baptism, also for children, and on the relationship of Baptism and faith. At the same time it offered principles and guidelines governing the pastoral practice of the Baptism of infants. The Church’s esteem for this sacrament and her teaching on its necessity for salvation explain why the new Code of Canon Law speaks of the obligation of parents to see that their infants are baptized within the first weeks after birth.
10. Venerable and dear Brothers, I have chosen to reflect with you today on the Sacrament of Baptism because I am convinced that this consideration can deeply affect your pastoral ministry. There are many other issues and problems that you must deal with directly and indirectly. But a fresh emphasis on the importance of Baptism, in accordance with the Second Vatican Council, can, with God’s grace, have great effects on your local Churches. With a new awareness of their Baptismal identity and Christian dignity, the faithful are able to face the challenges of Christian living with renewed confidence and hope. To help engender this renewed confidence and hope is something extremely relevant to Christian living and to our episcopal ministry.
And as we endeavour to expend ourselves for the flock entrusted to our pastoral care, let us strive to create new attitudes among God’s people-attitudes that beget hope and confidence and incite the faithful to persevere in the call of their Baptism to share in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. With Saint Peter we proclaim: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Petr. 1, 3). A new birth, a new life, a new hope through the action of the Holy Spirit! This is the message of Baptism which we proclaim in Christ and in his Church.
11. J’ajoute un mot en français - puisque plusieurs d’entre vous sont francophones ou de diocèses francophones -, pour évoquer la question des vocations sacerdotales et religieuses, sans reprendre tout ce que j’ai eu l’occasion de dire a vos confrères de la région atlantique. La moisson est abondante, et les ouvriers risquent d’être trop peu nombreux, pour le ministère irremplaçable du prêtre, pour la formation et l’accompagnement spirituel des laïcs, pour être signes de l’absolu du Royaume de Dieu. Or l’Esprit Saint ne peut manquer de susciter des vocations, a la mesure de la foi et des besoins des fidèles. Continuez donc, chers Frères, a mettre tout en oeuvre, auprès des enfants et des jeunes, de leurs parents, des écoles, des séminaires, ou dans la formation permanente des adultes, pour éveiller ces vocations, les fortifier, les mener a maturité. Il y faut des moyens pédagogiques adaptes, il y faut un climat de prière, il y faut le témoignage des prêtres, des religieux, des religieuses, heureux de se consacrer totalement au service du Christ!
Je prie l’Esprit Saint de vous combler de ses dons de lumière et de force, vous et ceux qui collaborent avec vous. Je le prie avec Notre-Dame du Rosaire. Et je vous bénis de tout coeur.
Speeches 1983 - Monday, 19 September 1983