Speeches 1987 - II

I wish to support you as you continue to engage in fruitful dialogue with theologians regarding the legitimate freedom of inquiry which is their right. You rightly give them sincere encouragement in their difficult task, and assure them how much the Church needs and deeply appreciates their dedicated and constructive work. They, on their part, will recognize that the title Catholic theologian expresses a vocation and a responsibility at the service of the community of faith, and subject to the authority of the pastors of the Church. In particular your dialogue will seek to show the unacceptability of dissent and confrontation as a policy and method in the area of Church teaching.

7. Speaking on your behalf, Archbishop Quinn has shown full awareness of the seriousness of the challenge facing your teaching ministry. He has spoken of the dual task of the conversion of the mind and the conversion of the heart. The way to the heart very often passes through the mind, and throughout the length and breadth of the Church there is need today for a new effort of evangelization and catechesis directed to the mind. Elsewhere I have mentioned the relationship between the Gospel and culture. Here I wish to underline the importance of the formation of the mind at every level of Catholic life.

Catholic children and young people need to be given an effective opportunity to learn the truths of the faith, in such a way that they become cap able of formulating their Catholic identity in terms of doctrine and thought. Here the Catholic press can make a magnificent contribution to raising the general level of Catholic thought and culture. Seminaries, especially, have the responsibility of ensuring that future priests should acquire a high level of intellectual preparation and competence. Continuing education programmes for priests, religious and laity play an important part in stimulating a necessary and serious intellectual approach to the multitude of questions confronting faith in our contemporary world.

A crucial aspect of this "apostolate of the mind" concerns the duty and right of bishops to be present in an effective way in Catholic colleges and universities and institutes of higher studies in order to safeguard and promote their Catholic character, especially in what affects the transmission of Catholic doctrine. It is a task which requires personal attention on the part of bishops, since it is a specific responsibility stemming from their teaching office. It implies frequent contacts with teaching and administrative personnel, and calls for providing serious programmes of pastoral care for students and others within the academic community. Much is already being done, and I take the opportunity to encourage you to seek ways of intensifying these apostolates.

One of the greatest services we bishops can render to the Church is to consolidate present and future generations of Catholics in a sound and complete understanding of their faith. The ecclesial community will thus be wonderfully strengthened for all aspects of Christian moral living and for generous service. The intellectual approach that is needed, however, is one intimately linked to faith and prayer. Our people must be aware of their dependence on Christ’s grace and of the great need to open themselves ever more to its action. Jesus himself wants us all to be convinced of his words: "Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15,5).


8. The Synod to be held this coming month in Rome will undoubtedly deal in further detail with the many important points raised by Archbishop Weakland in his presentation on the role of the laity. These remarks, like my own, particularly concern the Catholic laity in the United States.

It has been stated that " the Church in the United States of America can boast of having the largest number of educated faithful in the world". This statement has many implications. The situation which it describes is cause for humble rejoicing and gratitude because it represents a major achievement: the sustained educational effort by the Church in this country for many, many decades. At the same time the education of the faithful offers great promise and potential in the years ahead. For " it can be assumed they will continue to take a prominent role in U. S. society and culture in the future".

Primarily through her laity, the Church is in a position to exercise great influence upon American culture. This culture is a human creation. It is created through shared insight and communication. It is built by an exchange among the people of a particular society. And culture, while having a certain dynamic endurance, is always changing and developing as a way of life. Thus the American culture of today stands in continuity with your culture of fifty years ago. Yet it has changed; it has been greatly influenced by attitudes and currents of thought.

But how is the American culture evolving today? Is this evolution being influenced by the Gospel? Does it clearly reflect Christian inspiration? Your music, your poetry and art, your drama, your painting and sculpture, the literature that you are producing - are all those things which reflect the soul of a nation being influenced by the spirit of Christ for the perfection of humanity?

I realize these are difficult questions to answer, given the complexity and diversity of your culture. But they are relevant to any consideration of the role of the Catholic laity, "the largest number of educated faithful in the world". And it is above all the laity, once they have themselves been inspired by the Gospel, who bring the Gospel’s uplifting and purifying influence to the world of culture, to the whole realm of thought, and artistic creativity, to the various professions and places of work, to family life and to society in general. As bishops with the task of leading the laity and of encouraging them to fulfill their ecclesial mission in the world, we must continue to support them as they endeavour to make their specific contribution to the evolution and development of culture and to its impact on society.

9. With reference to this question, and in such areas as politics, economics, mass media and international life, the service we bring is primarily a priestly service: the service of preaching and teaching the word of God with fidelity to the truth, and of drawing the laity ever more into the dialogue of salvation. We are charged to lead cur people to holiness, especially through the grace of the Eucharist and the whole sacramental life. The service of our pastoral leadership, purified in personal prayer and penance, far from bearing an authoritarian style in any way, must listen and encourage, challenge and at times correct. Certainly, there is no question of condemning the technological world but rather of urging the laity to transform it from within so that it may receive the imprint of the Gospel.

10. We serve our laity best when we make every effort to provide for them, and in collaboration with them, a comprehensive and solid programme of catechesis with the aim of “maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Catechesi Tradendae CTR 19). Such a programme will also assist them in developing that habit of discernment which can distinguish the spirit of the world from the Spirit of God, and which can distinguish authentic culture from elements that degrade human dignity. It can provide them a solid basis for growing in their knowledge and love of Jesus Christ through continual conversion and personal commitment to the demands of the Gospel.

11. In speaking of the laity, I feel a particular desire to support you in all you are doing on behalf of family life.Archbishop Weakland has mentioned "the large number of divorces and the breakup of so many families" as a special pastoral problem. I know that all of us feel great sadness and deep pastoral concern for all those whose lives are affected in this way.

As you will recall, on the occasion of your ad limina visits four years ago, I spoke at some length on the topic of marriage. Without repeating all that I said on that occasion, I wish to encourage you to continue in your many zealous and generous efforts to provide pastoral care of families. I also urge you in the face of all the trends which threaten the stability of marriage, the dignity of human love, and the dignity of human life, as well as its transmission, never to lose confidence and courage. Through the grace given us as pastors we must endeavour to present as effectively as possible the whole teaching of the Church, including the prophetic message contained in Humanae Vitae and in Familiaris Consortio.

The faithful teaching of the intrinsic relationship between the unitive and the procreative dimensions of the marriage act is of course only a part of our pastoral responsibility. With pastoral solicitude for couples, Familiaris Consortio pointed out that "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).

On the occasion of the last ad limina visits I stated: "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. Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Familiaris Consortio FC 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 programme 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 most important apostolate" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Allocutio ad quosdam episcopos Civitatum Foederatarum Americae Septemtrionalis occasione oblata "ad limina" visitationis coram admissos, 6, die 24 sept. 1983: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VI/2 [1983] 621).

12. My profound gratitude to you extends to the many other areas in which, with generous dedication, you have worked for and with the laity. These include your persevering efforts at promoting peace, fostering justice and supporting the missions. In the area of the defense of human life, you have worked with exceptional commitment and constancy. Already during the ad limina visits of 1978, Paul VI drew attention to this activity of yours, assuring you of the appreciation of the Holy See. Because of their exceptional importance, I wish to quote at some length his words of strong support for you and make them my own:

"In the name of Jesus Christ, we thank you for your ministry at the service of life. We know that you have laboured precisely in order that the words of the Good Shepherd would be fulfilled: ‘that they may have life and have it to the full’. Under your leadership, so many of the Catholic people-priest, deacons, religious and laity - have joined in numerous initiatives aimed at defending, healing and promoting human life.

"With the enlightenment of faith, the incentive of love and an awareness of your pastoral accountability, you have worked to oppose whatever wounds, weakens or dishonours human life. Your pastoral charity has found a consistent expression in so many ways - all related to the question of life, all aimed at protecting life in its multiple facets. You have endeavoured to proclaim in practice that all aspects of human life are sacred.

"In this regard, your efforts have been directed to the eradication of hunger, the elimination of subhuman living conditions, and the promotion of programmes on behalf of the poor, the elderly and minorities. You have worked for the improvement of the social order itself. At the same time, we know that you have held up to your people the goal to which God calls them: the life above, in Christ Jesus (Cfr. Phil Ph 3,14).

"Among your many activities at the service of life there is one which, especially at this juncture of history, deserves our strongest commendation and our firmest support: it is the continuing struggle against what the Second Vatican Council calls the ‘abominable crime’ of abortion (Gaudium et Spes GS 51). Disregard for the sacred character of life in the womb weakens the very fabric of civilization; it prepares a mentality, and even a public attitude, that can lead to the acceptance of other practices that are against the fundamental rights of the individual. This mentality can, for example, completely undermine concern for those in want, manifesting itself in insensitivity to social needs; it can produce contempt for the elderly, to the point of advocating euthanasia; it can prepare the way for those forms of genetic engineering that go against life, the dangers of which are not yet fully known to the general public.

"It is therefore very encouraging to see the great service you render to humanity by constantly holding up to your people the value of human life. We are confident that, relying on the words of the Good Shepherd who inspires your activity, you will continue to exercise leadership in this regard, sustaining the entire ecclesial community in their own vocation at the service of life.

"It is also a source of worldwide honour that, in your country, so many upright men and women of differing religious convictions are united in a profound respect for the laws of the Creator and Lord of life, and that, by every just means at their disposal, they are endeavouring, before the witness of history, to take a definitive stand for human life" (Pauli VI Ad archiepiscopos et episcopos VI et VIII Regionum pastoralium Civitatum Foederatarum Americae Septemtrionalis, occasione oblata “ad limina” visitationis coram admissos, die 26 maii 1978: Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, XVI (1978) 408).

Nine years have passed since these words were spoken and yet they are still relevant today - relevant in their prophetic vision, relevant in the needs they express, relevant in the defense of life.

13. In his Encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII placed the question of the advancement of women in the context of the characteristics of the present day, "the signs of the times". He made it clear that the cause in question was one of human dignity. This is indeed the aim of all the Church’s efforts on behalf of women: to promote their human dignity. The Church proclaims the personal dignity of women as women - a dignity equal to that of men. This dignity must be affirmed in its ontological character, even before consideration is given to any of the special and exalted roles fulfilled by women as wives, mothers or consecrated women.

There are many other aspects involved in the question of women’s equal dignity and responsibility, which will undoubtedly be properly dealt with in the forthcoming Synod of Bishops. At the basis of all considerations are two firm principles: the equal human dignity of women and their true feminine humanity. On the basis of these two principles Familiaris Consortio has already enunciated much of the Church’s attitude towards women, which reflects the "sensitive respect of Jesus towards the women that he called to his following and his friendship" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Familiaris Consortio FC 22). As I have stated and as Archbishop Weakland has pointed out, women are not called to the priesthood. Although the teaching of the Church on this point is quite clear, it in no way alters the fact that women are indeed an essential part of the Gospel plan to spread the Good News of the Kingdom. And the Church is irrevocably committed to this truth.


14. My interest in the question of vocations is well known to all of you. It is a recurring theme in my conversations with bishops around the world. It is one of the subjects I frequently speak about in my meetings with young people. It is a crucial factor for the future of the Church as we draw near to the beginning of the third millennium. Therefore, I am very pleased that you have chosen this topic as one of those to be emphasized today.

Archbishop Pilarczyk has presented an "overview of the ministerial realities of the Church in this country", mentioning aspects that offer much consolation to you as bishops and aspects which are cause for pastoral concern. He mentioned that it was important "to speak of some of the very positive implications of lay, religious and clerical vocations in America". In doing this, he rightly drew attention to the way that the Holy Spirit is at work in your midst, something that we must indeed be ever attentive to and grateful for. As Lumen Gentium reminds us, "The Spirit guides the Church into the fullness of truth (Cfr. Io Jn 16,13) and gives her unity of fellowship and service... By the power of the Gospel the Spirit makes the Church grow, perpetually renews her, and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse" (Lumen Gentium LG 4).

It is indeed encouraging to note how lay people, in ever-increasing numbers, have become involved in the life of the Church, and how this has led to "a depth and variety of ministry far greater than ever before". Certainly, the more active participation of the laity in the mission of the Church is an eloquent sign of the fruitfulness of the Second Vatican Council, one for which we all give thanks. And I am confident that the forthcoming Synod of Bishops will give fresh impetus to this participation and solid direction for its continued growth and consolidation.

It is important for our people to see clearly that the ministry of the ordained priest and the involvement of the laity in the Church’s mission are not all opposed to one another. On the contrary, the one complements the other. Just as the priestly ministry is not an end in and of itself, but serves to awaken and unify the various charisms within the Church, so too the involvement of the laity does not replace the priesthood, but supports it, promotes it and offers it space for its own specific service.

At this time, I would like to make a few remarks about vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life.

The insufficient number of seminarians and candidates for religious life is indeed a cause of pastoral concern for all of us, for we know that their public witness to the Gospel and their specific roles in the Church are irreplaceable. In many parts of the world the Church is experiencing, as Archbishop Filarczyk observed, that "society is becoming increasingly secular and therefore increasingly inhospitable to Christian belief" It is especially difficult today for young people to make the generous sacrifices entailed in accepting God’s call. Yet it is possible for them to do so through grace and with the support of the community. And it is precisely in this situation that we are called to bear witness to the hope of the Church.

In our pastoral mission we must often evaluate a situation and decide on a course of action. We must do this with prudence and pastoral realism. At the same time we know that today, as always, there are "prophets of doom". We must resist them in their pessimism, and continue in our efforts to promote vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.

Prayer for vocations remains the primary way to success, since Jesus himself left us the commandment: "Beg the harvest master to send out labourers to gather his harvest" (Mt 9,38). I ask you therefore to encourage prayer for vocations among all the people, particularly among priests and religious themselves, but also in families, where the first seeds of vocations are usually planted, and in schools and religious education programmes. The prayers of the elderly and the sick have an efficacy that must not be forgotten.

In addition to prayer, young people must be invited. It was Andrew who brought his brother Peter to the Lord. It was Philip who brought Nathanael. And how many of us and of our priests and religious came to hear the Lord’s call through the invitation of someone else? Your own presence among the youth is a blessing and an opportune time to extend this invitation to them and to ask young people themselves to pray for vocations.

Just last Thursday, speaking in Miami about vocations to the priesthood, I emphasized the basis of our hope: " There is still one more factor to be considered in evaluating the future of vocations, and it is the power of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. As the Church of Christ, we are all called to profess his power before the world; to proclaim that he is able, in virtue of his Death and Resurrection, to draw young people to himself, in this generation as in the past; to declare that he is strong enough to attract young men even today to a life of self-sacrifice, pure love and total dedication to the priesthood. As we profess this truth, as we proclaim with faith the power of the Lord of the harvest, we have a right to expect that he will grant the prayers that he himself has commanded to be offered. The present hour calls for great trust in him who has overcome the world".

15. I would like to thank you for all you are doing to ensure a solid formation for the priesthood in the United States. The apostolic visitation to the seminaries has been carried out with generous collaboration. And I am grateful for the letters many of you have sent me expressing your appreciation for this initiative and telling me of the many positive effects which have resulted from it.

At the same time, your pastoral interest and personal involvement in seminary training is something that can never end. It is too central a task and too important a priority in the life of the Church. The Church of tomorrow passes through the seminaries of today. With the passing of time, the pastoral responsibility will no longer be ours. But at present the responsibility is ours and it is heavy. Its zealous fulfilment is a great act of love for the flock.

In particular, I ask you to be vigilant that the dogmatic and moral teaching of the Church is faithfully and clearly presented to the seminarians, and fully accepted and understood by them. On the opening day of the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962, John XXIII told his brother bishops: "The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught”. What Pope John expected of the Council is also a primary concern for priestly formation. We must ensure that our future priests have a solid grasp of the entirety of the Catholic faith, and then we must prepare them to present it in turn to others in ways that are intelligible and pastorally sound.

16. I cannot let this opportunity pass without expressing once again my gratitude for the great interest you have taken in the religious life. I am pleased to note, as Archbishop Pilarczyk has said, that there is "an increased understanding of and appreciation for religious life on the part of bishops and priests, thanks, in large part, to the pontifical commission" established in 1983.

In asking the commission to study the problem of vocations, I did so "with a view to encouraging a new growth and fresh move forward in this most important sector of the Church’s life". The response which you have all made to this request has been most gratifying. And I know you will continue with this important effort. The religious life is a precious gift from the Lord, and we must continue to assure religious of the love and esteem of the Church.

17. There are many other issues, dear brother bishops, which come to mind as we reflect together in this extraordinary hour of ecclesial communion. All of them touch us in our role as pastors and challenge our apostolic love and zeal.

Because of its importance in the life of the Church, I spoke to the priests in Miami about Confession and our own need to receive the Sacrament regularly. I also expressed my gratitude for their generous ministry in making Confession available to the faithful. In this regard I would ask you as bishops to make every effort to ensure that the important norms of the universal Church with regard to the use of general absolution are understood and observed in a spirit of faith. In this regard I would ask that the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia continue to be the object of prayerful reflection.

18. I wish to encourage you also in the pastoral care that you give to homosexual persons. This includes a clear explanation of the Church’s teaching, which by its nature is unpopular. Nevertheless your own pastoral experience confirms the fact that the truth, howsoever difficult to accept, brings grace and often leads to a deep inner conversion. No matter what problem individual Christians have, and no matter what degree of response to grace they make, they are always worthy of the Church’s love and Christ’s truth. All homosexual and other persons striving to fulfill the Gospel precept of chastity are worthy of special encouragement and esteem.

19. From time to time the question of sex education, especially as regards programmes being used in schools, becomes a matter of concern to Catholic parents. The principles governing this area have been succinctly but clearly enunciated in Familiaris Consortio. First among these principles is the need to recognize that sex education is a basic right and duty of parents themselves. They have to be helped to become increasingly more effective in fulfilling this task. Other educational agencies have an important role, but always in a subsidiary manner, with due subordination to the rights of parents.

Many parents will undoubtedly be heartened by the reference in the Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of California, A Call to Compassion, to an absolutely essential aspect of this whole question: " The recovery of the virtue of chastity " - they wrote - " may be one of the most urgent needs of contemporary society". We cannot doubt that the Catholic Church in the United States, as elsewhere, is called to make great efforts to assist parents in teaching their children the sublime value of self-giving love; young people need great support in living this fundamental aspect of their human and Christian vocation.

20. Among your many pastoral obligations is the need to provide for the spiritual care of the military and their dependants. This you do through the Military Ordinariate. The functioning of this extended archdiocese requires the fraternal and sensitive collaboration of all the bishops in permitting and encouraging priests to commit themselves to this worthy ministry. The Church is grateful to all the chaplains who generously serve God’s people in this particular situation with its special needs.

21. I wish at this time to offer you my encouragement as you seek to guide the Church of God in so many areas: as you seek to lead your people in fulfilling their mission within the United States and well beyond her boundaries. Everything you do to help your people to look outside themselves to Christ in need is a great ecclesial and apostolic service.

My final word is about our pastoral identity as bishops of Jesus Christ and his Church. Because of this identity we are called to holiness and to daily conversion. In speaking to you eight years ago in Chicago I stated: "The holiness of personal conversion is indeed the condition for our fruitful ministry as bishops of the Church. It is our union with Jesus Christ that determines the credibility of our witness to the Gospel and the supernatural effectiveness of our activity" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Allocutio ad sacros Praesules Conferentiae Episcopalis Civitatum Foederatarum Americae Septemtrionalis, in urbe Chicagia habita, 3, die 5 oct. 1979: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, II, 2 (1979) 631). May God give us all this great gift of union with Jesus and allow us to live it together in strength and joy, in the communion of the Church of God.





Immaculate Conception School (Los Angeles)

Wednesday, 16 September 1987

Dear Students of Immaculate Conception School,

It is a real pleasure for me to visit your school today, together with your Archbishop and with Mrs Reagan, the wife of the President of the United States. When I speak about visiting your school I mean visiting you!

1. I consider your school - and all the other parochial schools in America - to be very important for your future and for the future of the Church and of your country.

In this school, you learn not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also - and most important-religion.You learn about God, about God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and about God’s love. You learn that God made you to know him, to love him and to serve him in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next. You learn how much God loves you and how much he wants you to share that love with others, as Jesus taught us.

You learn to love God, and to see his image and to love him in your parents, your teachers, your fellow students, and in all God’s children. You learn to love your country and all the people in it, no matter who they are. And you learn to love the people outside the United States, those in other countries - both near and far away.

You learn how important it is, in order to be truly happy, to follow God’s commandments. You learn how important it is therefore to be truthful, honest, kind and considerate, and to avoid cheating and fighting and lying. You learn to know the difference between good and bad influence, and how important it is to avoid those things - such as the use of drugs - which hurt yourselves and others and which give offence to God. Sometimes they can even destroy your lives and the lives of others. You have seen this happen around you.

2. In short, in this school you learn how to live in a way that is pleasing to God and that will bring happiness and peace to you, your families and your community. You learn skills that help you to become a more complete person and a more conscientious citizen, and prepare you for your future. Your learn how to be morally good and how to build a better society.

One of the most important things you can ever learn here is to pray: to speak to God, to express what is in your heart, to show your dependence on him, to thank him for the gift of life, for your families, and for everything you have received. Here you also learn how to pray as a community, at Mass, together with Christ and with each other.

3. For many, many years, Catholic schools - such as Immaculate Conception - have been an important part of education in the United States of America. They have truly helped to form this nation. Catholic schools have educated the first Americans, the Native Americans; they have educated black Americans and white Americans and the children of immigrants from every race and from every nation - and indeed from many different religious denominations.Catholic schools continue to provide not only a vision of life’s purpose but a gateway to life’s opportunities.

Students of Immaculate Conception School: you can be proud of your school. Make sure that your school can always be proud of you. Your parents, your parish and your archdiocese have made great efforts to give you this Catholic education. Do not let them down.

4. Finally, dear boys and girls, I ask you to do me a favour: to think frequently about these words of Jesus: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you” (Mt 7,12). The words that are important in life are not "me", but "others"; not "to get", but "to give", and "to serve" - to give and to serve the way Jesus did, with love and sacrifice for others.

May God bless you, and your teachers, and your families, and all those who work and sacrifice to make this school and every Catholic school a place that prepares students to lead a good Christian life and to be happy with God for ever in heaven.

Speeches 1987 - II