Speeches 1998 - Friday, 15 May 1998
Dear Sons of Divine Providence,
1. I am pleased to welcome you at the end of your General Chapter! I greet you all with affection, especially your General Director, Fr Roberto Simionato, whom I thank for his courteous wishes. In congratulating him on his re-election, I hope that, sustained by God’s grace, he can continue with courage and far- sightedness to lead his confrères in the apostolic style of the blessed founder.
I greet the members of the new General Council and those who have completed their six-year term. Through those of you present here who have at- tended the Chapter, I would like to ex- press my appreciation to all the Sons of Divine Providence who live in so many countries of the world; and I warmly encourage them always to keep “up with the times”, as Don Orione loved to repeat.
I also greet the lay people who have taken part in this fraternal meeting for the first time, initiating a new phase which I hope will be rich in apostolic fruit for the life of the Little Work of Divine Providence.
2. In fact, your Chapter's theme was precisely: “Orione Religious and Laity on Mission in the Third Millennium”, a theme you have analyzed with a view to the future, aware that the changed social conditions in which we live call for new forms of apostolate from your still young congregation; new but always animated by the charismatic spirit of your origins.
To respond better to your vocation, you intend to associate the laity more closely with your ministry, recalling, as I stressed in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, that the various members of God’s People “can and must unite their efforts, with a view to co-operation and exchange of gifts, in order to participate more effectively in the Church’s mission” (n. 54). I am certain that closer communion between the religious and lay members of your family, born from the heart of Bl. Luigi Orione, who loved God and his brothers and sisters, will lead to the spiritual enrichment of all and to more effective apostolic and social action in the world.
Our times require daring and generosity, absolute fidelity to the Gospel and to the Church, intense formation and courageous openness to the needs of our neighbour. Your founder would still say today: “We need a fire today that is not a spark but a roaring furnace”. Yes, how can we fail in the present age, especially in this year dedicated in a particular way to reflection on the Holy Spirit, to sense the need for the fire of this divine Person, the fire of holiness?
3. First of all, the fire of holiness. I wrote in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici: “Holiness then must be called a fundamental pre-supposition and an irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation within the Church” (n. 17). And I observed in Redemptoris missio: “It is not enough to update pastoral techniques, organize and co-ordinate ecclesial resources, or delve more deeply into the biblical and theological foundations of faith. What is needed is the encouragement of a new ‘ardour for holiness’ among missionaries and through- out the Christian community” (n. 90).
This is what Don Orione understood when he issued from Chaco, Argentina, heartfelt appeals for new missionaries of the Gospel: “I need saints! I need saints!” (Letters, II, 236). The vitality of the congregation and its apostolate stems from the loving and persevering zeal for holiness of all its members. Holiness before all else! The ideal of conformity to Christ must always be the programme and dynamism which not only motivate your initial and ongoing formation, but also every institution and charitable project, your pastoral and missionary commitment, your relation- ship with the laity and all your institute's programmes for doing good.
4. The fire of divine love feeds that of fraternal love. Your daily presence among the “lowliest” will enable you to realize that it is impossible to spread the regenerating fire of love among others if one has not been inwardly moved by divine love. For this reason, Don Orione wanted a congregation that would live an authentic family spirit modelled on the community of the Apostles, where the bond of Christ’s love was the secret of understanding and co-operation. Continue on this path, faithful to your Father’s insight, for only in this way will you be able to work effectively together, beyond the frontiers of marginalization, at the service of the poor and the abandoned.
Bl. Luigi Orione was deeply aware of this need for the apostolate of communion. Attentive to the signs of the times, he observed: “In a world where there is only one law: force; in a world where cries often ring out from the battles between poor and rich, between father and son, between subject and ruler; in the maelstroms of a society that lives in hatred and seems to want to be swallowed up by it, we resist, with the example of truly Christian love” (Parola, III, 106).
5. We are now rapidly approaching the third millennium, and during your Chapter you reflected on the missionary challenges the Church is facing: first of all, the challenge of once again bringing the liberating message of the Gospel, in its truth and entirety (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 57), to all people and to the whole person.
I am sure that your congregation will make an effective contribution to this effort for the new evangelization, called as it is, in accordance with its particular charism, to offer a witness to charity, your privileged way of uniting people to Christ, to the Pope and to the Church. Your blessed founder reflected: “Who, in the Church and blessed by the Church, will go to the poorest, the most abandoned, the most unfortunate? And how will we show Christ to souls, to the people? With love! How will we make Christ loved? With love! How will we save ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and nations? With love! With the love that becomes a holocaust but conquers everything; with the love that unifies and renews all things in Christ!” (Informatio ex processu, p. 1021).
Dear Sons of Divine Providence, keep unsullied this precious heritage bequeathed by your founder. With the laity’s contribution, make your apostolic activity more effective and better suited to the needs of our time.
To this end, I entrust you and all your praiseworthy pastoral and charitable works to the heavenly protection of the Virgin Mary and Bl. Luigi Orione, and, as I assure you of a constant remembrance in prayer, I affectionately impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, to your confrères, to your communities and to all those who belong to the great spiritual community of the Little Work of Divine Providence.
I warmly greet you all as you come once more to the Tomb of the Prince of the Apostles to greet the Successor of Peter. The seed of all that we find in this holy and historic place is the apostolic witness of the Galilean fisherman, and especially the witness of his martyrdom for the sake of fidelity to the Lord. It is the task of the Successor of Peter to continue to witness to the power of the Risen Christ, and to proclaim the hope which nothing can destroy. In fulfilling that duty, I am greatly strengthened by the support of the entire household of God, gathered in the witness of faith, the proclamation of hope and the work of charity. The Papal Foundation is a cherished part of that household; and I thank you from my heart for the support which you offer me in my ministry of service to the Church throughout the world.
The Church is looking to the coming of the Third Millennium of the Christian era and the challenge which it brings. In this second year of our spiritual preparation, we turn with special urgency to the Holy Spirit, and we repeat the ancient cry: “Come, Holy Spirit!”. We are like the disciples gathered in the Upper Room awaiting the Holy Spirit promised by the Father (cf. Lc 24,49). Like them, we gather with all our fears and frailties, but we gather in prayer and praise. We pray because we know that unless the Holy Spirit comes then our fears and frailties will triumph, and darkness and death will have the last word. But we gather in praise because we know that the ever faithful God who has promised the Holy Spirit will not fail to give this greatest of gifts, “the Spirit of truth” who leads us into all freedom (cf. Jn Jn 8,32 Jn 14,17).
You wait in hope, and your waiting is alive with works of charity. Your charity in supporting me in my ministry is part of a self-giving which opens you more and more to receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is my fervent prayer that you will know a new depth of the peace which only the Holy Spirit can give, and that you will shine in the world more brightly as witnesses to the Risen Christ, who gave himself completely that we might be filled with the goodness of God.
In the midst of the disciples gathered in the Upper Room to await the coming of the Holy Spirit was Mary, Mother of the Lord. May her prayer strengthen you always, and may her love lead you ever more deeply into the mystery of evangelical charity. With renewed thanks for all the good that The Papal Foundation makes possible, I cordially impart to you, your families and all who share in your work my Apostolic Blessing.
“‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (Jn 20,21-23).
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. The principal theme of your plenary assembly is precisely the Holy Spirit, whom the risen Jesus gave to the Apostles at the beginning and who is still present and active in our Churches, constantly spurring them on in their mission.
This customary, familiar meeting gives me deep pleasure. As a sign of communion, it enables me to share more closely in your specific pastoral concerns. I greet and thank your President, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, together with the other Italian Cardinals. I greet the Vice-Presidents, the General Secretary and each of you, venerable and dear Brothers in the Episcopate, thanking the Lord together with you for the gifts he never tires of giving us. In his company the labours and the crosses of our apostolic service become easy and light to bear (cf. Mt Mt 11,28-30).
2. This second year of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee is dedicated to the Holy Spirit because, as I had written in my Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem: “What was accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit ‘in the fullness of time’ can only through the Spirit’s power now emerge from the memory of the Church” and “can be made present in the new phase of man’s history on earth” (n. 51). However, dear Brothers, this new phase is chiefly a time of mission for us, and in Italy’s present situation, the time for a new evangelization.
I rejoice with you because in recent years you have given more concrete form to this great task of the new evangelization, particularly through your Christian-oriented cultural project, which, in the first place, concerns the evangelization of various cultures, to make Jesus Christ the decisive reference point for personal and social thought and behaviour.
With the breath of the Spirit, new possibilities and forms of missionary activity are also increasing in the Italian Dioceses, beginning with the one started here in Rome called the “City Mission”. Their common intention is to awaken among the various ranks of God's People, with the full involvement of the laity, a more vivid and precise aware- ness of the missionary mandate that comes to us from God the Father through the risen Christ. We see the urgent need to find the most effective and feasible ways to fulfil this mandate for every individual person or family, in the areas of life and work, schools and universities, the communications media, hospitals and the many situations of poverty and marginalization. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, the Pope has great confidence in these new forms of mission and expects much from them.
3. In this same perspective of evangelization, we recall with gratitude to the Lord the extraordinary event of the National Eucharistic Congress, for which I was able to be in Bologna with most of you. Indeed, that congress was particularly effective in expressing the centrality and fruitfulness of the Eucharist in the life of the ecclesial community, as well as in every area of action and responsibility.
Another meeting I recall with pleasure is the World Youth Day celebrated in Paris last August: on that occasion many of you were also present, together with 100,000 young Italians filled with faith and enthusiasm. The International Eucharistic Congress and the World Youth Day which will take place in Rome during the Holy Year are meant to follow the spirit of the Paris and Bologna events, as important moments in the life of a Church which wishes to be ever more deeply united with her Lord and, in this way, increasingly able to penetrate the heart of contemporary humanity, to lead it or lead it back to Christ. The Great Jubilee, for which I know Italian Dioceses are actively preparing under your guidance, is really a favourable time and moment (cf. 2Co 6,2) for the commemoration of the Birth of our only Saviour, to become a principle of conversion and mission for us all.
4. The subject of your assembly’s reflection, dear Brothers, is also the pastoral care of human mobility, in its twofold aspect of concern for those who knock at Italy's doors in search of more acceptable living conditions and of spiritual assistance to the many communities of Italians living and working abroad. These dimensions of pastoral care, both of which are indispensable, should be developed with a fully evangelical out- look. This requires attention, solidarity and ready service for individuals and families in their many needs and difficulties, especially employment, housing and health care. No less concern should be shown for the faith and spiritual life of Italians abroad and of the many immigrants in Italy who are Catholic, without neglecting to offer the saving message of the Gospel to all those whom God’s Providence brings to this land.
Another topic you are discussing is the Italian Church’s involvement in radio and television broadcasting. I am very pleased that you have had the courage and far-sightedness to take on an extensive project in this field which is so important for evangelization and the formation of mentalities and behaviour. I also hope and trust that through the friendly co-operation of the various Christian-inspired media, nation- al and local, among which I would like to mention the excellent service offered by the daily newspaper Avvenire, as well as by the other Catholic newspapers, a Christian interpretation of life and events may be more and more concretely offered to everyone.
5. Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, on the happy occasion of our meeting I want to confirm and renew that trust and expectation which I have frequently expressed regarding the Italian Church and nation, which is particularly timely in view of the progress being made in building European unity. Now more than before, Italy is called to make her contribution so that the Christian faith may be a life-giving leaven and unifying bond in the new Europe that is being built. Obviously, to be able to fulfil this task, Italy must first keep alive and active in her own land that religious and cultural heritage which has been present since the witness and martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
In this phase of rapid change, in which efforts are being made, not with- out toil and disagreement, to redesign the country’s institutional, social and economic structures in the European context, I deeply share your concern and insistence that work, a decisive factor in the advancement of the individual and of society, be protected and increased, and that new and effective remedies be found for the frequent situations where it is lacking. The Christian community, on the basis of a deeper understanding of the faith, ought with determination and renewed creativity be actively involved in identifying new forms of initiative, sharing and support. The special attention which is paid to the poor, to children and to youth must be updated by courageously identifying still unexplored ways of participating, so that a greater prospect of hope and trust may be offered along with employment.
May active charity not tire of seeking ways to alleviate the needs of each individual with the solidarity of all, after the example of the first Christian community (cf. Acts 2:42ff. and 4:34ff.). In this regard, I again extend my affectionate remembrance and prayer to the peoples of Campania, so harshly tried by the re- cent natural disaster.
It is clear however that in an increasingly open economy, the principle of subsidiary is becoming more important. This principle allows all the energies and capacity for initiative of Italian society to be used to greater advantage.
6. Practically speaking, the family is the most valuable and important re- source for the present and future of Italy. However, its fundamental structure and its rights and duties are also those most at risk and threatened. I am therefore at your side, dear Brothers, in the projects which you never tire of promoting in order to give the family apostolate an ever more pivotal role in the Church’s activity and to reach the greatest number of families possible in their actual living conditions.
It is equally indispensable to foster and spread a culture favourable to the family and to life, to be consistently and courageously committed to developing social policies that are truly attentive to the family’s role in Italian society and also to guarantee respect for the constitutional norm (art. 29) by which the Italian Republic “recognizes the rights of the family as a natural society based on marriage”: indeed, there are too many bills, administrative measures and judicial decisions which actually oppose these fundamental rights. I therefore sincerely encourage all the cultural, social and political forces, and, in a special way, family organizations them- selves, to face this difficult challenge which is decisive for the features that Italy is acquiring.
In its indispensable task of education, the family is aided by the school, to which our caring attention as Pastors is also directed. We are keenly interested and concerned, dear Brothers in the Episcopate, with all Italian schools, which, if their quality is to be seriously improved, need to be concretely recognised, to this end, as a priority for the entire nation. We are especially and seriously concerned about independent schools, including Catholic schools, whose effective parity, which is a positive and firmly established reality in other European countries, is not yet recognised in Italy. Let us therefore forcefully and urgently ask that this unfortunate anomaly, which does no honour to Italy, be overcome at last.
Venerable Brother Bishops of Italy, in this month dedicated to the Virgin let us entrust the desires and concerns of our hearts to her, our Trust and our Hope.
May God bless each of you and the Churches which are entrusted to you. May he bless the Italian people, protect them from threats and dangers, enlighten their path toward the dawn of the third millennium and sustain the steps of their Gospel preachers who are working to revive their faith and strengthen their hope.
Dear Cardinal Maida,
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. On the occasion of your Ad Limina visit, I welcome with great joy the fifth group of Bishops from the United States, from the States of Michigan and Ohio. Your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul provides a fresh opportunity to reflect on the witness which they gave usque ad sanguinis effusionem, and expresses the profound bond of communion which exists between the Bishops and the Successor of Peter. These days are therefore a time of reflection on your own ministry as Bishops and your special responsibility before Christ for the well-being of his body, the Church. May the example of the first witnesses and their intercession be a source of strength to you in preaching the Gospel, bearing in mind Saint Paul’s words to Timothy: “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith” (1Tm 1,5).
In this series of Ad Limina talks, I have chosen to reflect on the opportunities presented by the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 for evangelization in the light of the extraordinary grace which was and is the Second Vatican Council. At my last meeting with Bishops from your country, I referred to the distinctive apostolic character of the Bishop’s own ministry and its importance for the spiritual renewal of the Christian community. Today I wish to mention the identity and mission of priests, your co-workers in the task of sanctifying the people of God and handing on the faith (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 28). With immense gratitude I think of all your priests whose lives are deeply marked by fidelity to Christ and generous dedication to their brothers and sisters. Alongside their brothers and sisters in the consecrated life, to whom I hope to dedicate a future reflection in this series, they are at the heart of the renewal which the Holy Spirit continually fosters in the Church.
2. Two years ago I celebrated my own Fiftieth Anniversary of ordination, and I can truly say that my experience of the priesthood has been a source of great joy to me throughout these years. Reflecting on the priesthood in Gift and Mystery, I emphasized two essential truths. The priestly vocation is a mystery of divine election, and therefore a gift which infinitely transcends the individual. As I look back, I am constantly reminded of the words of Jesus to his Apostles: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15,16). In meditating on these words, a priest becomes more aware of the mysterious choice that God has made in calling him to this service, not because of his talents or merits but in virtue of God’s “own purpose and the grace which he gave us” (2Tm 1,9).
It is vital for the life of the Church in your Dioceses that you devote much attention to your priests and to the quality of their life and ministry. Through word and example you should constantly remind them that the priesthood is a special vocation which consists in being uniquely configured to Christ the High Priest, the teacher, sanctifier and shepherd of his people, through the imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is not a career, nor does it mean belonging to a clerical caste. For this reason “the priest must be conscious that his life is a mystery totally grafted on to the mystery of Christ and of the Church in a new and specific way and this engages him totally in pastoral activity” (Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, No. 6). Thus the priest’s whole life is transformed so that he may be Christ for others: a convincing and efficacious sign of God’s loving and saving presence. He should live the priesthood as a total gift of himself to the Lord. And if this gift is to be authentic, his thoughts, attitudes, activity and relations with others must all show that he has truly put on the “mind of Christ” (cf. 1Co 2,16). With Saint Paul he should be able to say: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Ga 2,20). We should gratefully recognize the signs of a genuine renewal of the spirituality of the priesthood, and foster a fresh blossoming of the authentic theological tradition of priestly life wherever it may have become obscured.
3. If Bishops and priests are to be truly effective witnesses to Christ and teachers of the faith, they have to be men of prayer like Christ himself. Only by turning frequently and trustingly to God and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit can a priest fulfill his mission. Priests, and seminarians preparing for the priesthood, need to interiorize the fact that there is “an intimate bond between the priest’s spiritual life and the exercise of his ministry” (Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 24). Every priest is called to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God, so that he may enter ever more completely into the Master’s thought and strengthen his attachment to the Lord, his priestly model and guide (cf. General Audience, June 2, 1993, No. 4). A committed prayer-life brings the gift of wisdom, with which “the Spirit leads the priest to evaluate all things in the light of the Gospel, helping him to read in his own experience and the experience of the Church the mysterious and loving plan of the Father” (Letter to Priests 1998, No. 5).
At a time when many demands are made on the priest’s time and energies, it is important to emphasize that one of his first duties is to pray on behalf of the people entrusted to him. This is his privilege and his responsibility, for he has been ordained to represent his people before the Lord and to intercede on their behalf before the throne of grace (cf. General Audience, June 2, 1993, No. 5). In this regard, I would emphasize again the importance in priestly life of faithfully praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the public prayer of the Church, every day. While the faithful are invited to participate in this prayer, following Christ’s recommendation to pray at all times without losing heart (cf. Lk Lc 18,1), priests have received a special commission to celebrate the Divine Office, in which Christ himself prays with us and for us (cf. Letter to Priests 1984, No. 5). Indeed prayer for the needs of the Church and the individual faithful is so important that serious thought should be given to reorganizing priestly and parish life to ensure that priests have time to devote to this essential task, individually and in common. Liturgical and personal prayer, not the tasks of management, must define the rhythms of a priest’s life, even in the busiest of parishes.
4. The celebration of the Eucharist is the most important moment of the priest’s day, the center of his life. Offering the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which the unique sacrifice of Christ is made present and applied until he comes again, the priest ensures that the work of redemption continues to be carried out (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis PO 13). From this unique Sacrifice, the priest’s entire ministry draws its strength (cf. ibid., 2) and the People of God receive the grace to live truly Christian lives in the family and in society. It is important for Bishops and priests not to lose sight of the intrinsic value of the Eucharist, a value which is independent of the circumstances surrounding its celebration. For this reason, priests should be encouraged to celebrate Mass every day, even in the absence of a congregation, since it is an act of Christ and the Church (cf. ibid., 13; Code of Canon Law, c. 904).
In order that the Eucharist may fully produce its grace in the life of your communities, specific attention also needs to be given to promoting the Sacrament of Penance. Priests are the special witnesses and ministers of God’s mercy. At no other time can they be as close to the faithful as when they lead them to the crucified and forgiving Christ in this uniquely personal encounter (cf. Redemptor Hominis RH 20). To be the minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a special privilege for a priest who, acting in the person of Christ, is permitted to enter into the drama of another Christian life in a singular way. Priests should always be available to hear the confessions of the faithful, and to do so in a way that allows the penitent’s particular situation to unfold and be reflected upon in the light of the Gospel. This fundamental task of the pastoral ministry, directed to intensifying the union of each individual with the Father of mercies, is a vital dimension of the Church’s mission. It should be the subject of study and reflection in priests’ gatherings and in courses of continuing formation. To cut oneself off from the Sacrament of Penance is to cut oneself off from an irreplaceable form of encounter with Christ. So, priests themselves should receive this sacrament regularly and in a spirit of genuine faith and devotion. In this way, the priest’s own constant conversion to the Lord is strengthened, and the faithful see more clearly that reconciliation with God and the Church is necessary for authentic Christian living (cf. Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 53).
5. As teachers of the faith, priests play a direct role in responding to the great challenge of evangelization facing the Church as we prepare to enter the third Christian millennium. The Gospel we preach is the truth about God and about man and the human condition: the people of our time want to hear this truth in all its fullness. Thus the Sunday homily requires careful preparation on the part of the priest, who is personally responsible for helping the faithful to see how the Gospel sheds light on the path of individuals and of society (cf. General Audience, April 21, 1993, No. 5). The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent resource for preaching, and by using it priests will help their communities to grow in knowledge of the Christian mystery in all its inexhaustible richness, and so help them to be grounded in true holiness and strengthened for witness and service (cf. Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, 8 April 1993, No. 2).
The parish is a “family of families” and should be organized to support family life in every way possible. My own experience as a young priest in Krakow taught me how much the assistance that priests can give to young couples as they prepare for the responsibilities of married life is also of great benefit to their own priestly spirituality. Priests are called to a unique form of spiritual fatherhood and can come to a deeper appreciation of the meaning of being a “man for others” through their pastoral care of those striving to live out the requirements of self-giving and fruitful love in Christian marriage.
It is the priest’s task to lead the faithful to spiritual maturity in Christ, so that they may respond to the call to holiness and fulfill their vocation to transform the world in the spirit of the Gospel (cf. Christifideles Laici CL 36). In collaborating closely with the laity, priests must encourage them to see the Gospel as the principal force for the renewal of society - the vast and complex world of politics and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi EN 70). A priest need not be an expert in all these things, but he should be an expert in discerning the “higher gifts” which the Holy Spirit abundantly pours out for the building of the Kingdom (cf. 1Co 12,31), and he should help his people apply those gifts in advancing a civilization of love.
6. A Bishop cannot fail to be personally involved in the promotion of vocations to the priesthood, and he needs to encourage the whole community of faith to play an active role in this work. “The time has come to speak courageously about priestly life as a priceless gift and a splendid and privileged form of Christian living” (Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 39). Experience shows that when the invitation is made, the response is generous. A priest’s pastoral contact with young people, his closeness to them in their problems, his attitude of openness, benevolence and availability, are all part of authentic youth ministry. A priest is a true spiritual guide when he helps young people to make important decisions about their lives, and especially when he helps them to answer the question: what does Christ want of me? More needs to be done to ensure that all priests are convinced of the fundamental importance of this aspect of the ministry. In the promotion and discernment of priestly vocations, there is no substitute for the presence of a committed, mature and happy priest with whom young people can meet and talk.
7. As Bishops, you must explain to the faithful why the Church does not have authority to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood, at the same time making clear why this is not a question of the equality of persons or of their God-given rights. The Sacrament of Holy Orders and the ministerial priesthood are given by God as a gift: in the first place, to the Church; and then to the individual called by God. Thus Ordination to the ministerial priesthood can never be claimed by anyone as a right; no one is “due” Holy Orders within the economy of salvation. That discernment belongs, finally, to the Church, through the Bishop. And the Church ordains only on the basis of that ecclesial and episcopal discernment.
The Church’s teaching that only men may be ordained to the ministerial priesthood is an expression of fidelity to the witness of the New Testament and the constant tradition of the Church of East and West. The fact that Jesus himself chose and commissioned men for certain specific tasks did not in any way diminish the human dignity of women (which he clearly intended to emphasize and defend); nor by doing so did he relegate women to a merely passive role in the Christian community. The New Testament makes it clear that women played a vital part in the early Church. The New Testament witness and the constant tradition of the Church remind us that the ministerial priesthood cannot be understood in sociological or political categories, as a matter of exercising “power” within the community. The priesthood of Holy Orders must be understood theologically, as one form of service in and for the Church. There are many forms of such service, as there are many gifts given by the same Spirit (1Co 12,4-11).
The Churches - in particular the Catholic and Orthodox Churches - which set sacramentality at the heart of the Christian life, and the Eucharist at the heart of sacramentality, are those which claim no authority to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood. Conversely, Christian communities more readily confer a ministerial responsibility on women the further they move away from a sacramental understanding of the Church, the Eucharist, and the priesthood. This is a phenomenon that needs to be explored more deeply by theologians in collaboration with the Bishops. At the same time, it is indispensable that you continue to pay attention to the whole question of how women’s specific gifts are nurtured, accepted, and brought to fruition in the ecclesial community (cf. Letter to Women, 11-12). The “genius” of women must be ever more a vital strength of the Church of the next millennium, just as it was in the first communities of Christ’s disciples.
8. Dear Brother Bishops, through you I would like to reach out to all the priests of the United States, to thank them for the holiness of their lives and for their untiring zeal in helping the faithful to experience God’s saving love. The joyful and responsible witness of your priests is an extraordinary tribute to the vitality of the Church in your Dioceses. I invite you and them to renew each day your love for the priesthood and always to see in it the pearl of great price for which a man will sacrifice all else (cf. Mt Mt 13,45). I pray especially for those who are experiencing difficulties in their vocation, and I entrust their worries and cares to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer.
As we celebrate today the Feast of the Ascension, we rejoice in the Lord’s glory at the right hand of the Father and we look towards the approaching Feast of Pentecost. I invoke a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon you and upon the priests, Religious and laity of your Dioceses. May the Paraclete who guides the Church in the task of evangelization renew his sevenfold gift in your hearts, so that with total fidelity you may love and serve the particular Churches entrusted to your care. With my Apostolic Blessing.
Speeches 1998 - Friday, 15 May 1998