Sunday 20 November 2011

Pope Benedict on Bishops, Priests and Laity

While the Holy Father is in Benin, his Post-Synodal Exhortation (following the Synod on Africa) has been released with the title Africae munus.

It is a long document but I have picked out three sections that relate to bishops, priests and laity as provoking some thought for all of us, as members of all three groups referred to are reminded of the enormity of the Christan calling. After a careful reading of each one, my question was, "Who would be a bishop?" "Who would be a priest?" "Who would be a Christian?"

I. Bishops

100. Dear brother bishops, the holiness to which the bishop is called requires the exercise of the virtues – in the first place, of the theological virtues – and the exercise of the evangelical counsels. Your own holiness must be outstanding, to the benefit of those entrusted to your pastoral care, those whom you must serve. Your life of prayer will nourish your apostolate

from within. The bishop must be someone in love with Christ. The moral authority and the prestige that uphold the exercise of your juridical power can only come from the holiness of your life.

101. Saint Cyprian of Carthage, in the middle of the third century, stated: “The Church rests on the bishops, and all her conduct follows the direction of those same rulers”. [It's often said among priests that the tone of the diocese is dependent upon the bishop - everything filters down from there.] Communion, unity and cooperation with the presbyterate will be a safeguard against the seeds of division [I don't know what it was like in the past but this is often lacking between priests and bishops in these days - there can be a group close to the bishop but many others feel a bit left out in the cold] and will assist you in listening together to the Holy Spirit. He will lead you on the right path (cf. Ps 22:3). Love and respect your priests! They are esteemed co-workers in your episcopal ministry. Imitate Christ! He created around himself [the creation of this atmosphere is dependent on the bishop as he is the one with the authority] a circle of friendship, fraternal affection and communion which he drew from the depths of the Trinitarian mystery. “I invite you to take continuous care to help your priests to live in intimate communion with Christ. Their spiritual life is the foundation of their apostolic life. Exhort them gently to daily prayer, to the worthy celebration of the sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as Saint Francis de Sales did for his priests … Your priests need your affection, your encouragement and your concern.” [While this obviously can't be a one-way street, many priests that I know - and from more than one section of church politics - don't feel this.]

102. Be one with the Successor of Peter, [it's often the perception that some bishops don't exactly go all out to fulfil this injunction] together with your priests and all the faithful. Do not waste your human and pastoral energies in the vain search for answers to questions which are not of your direct competence, or in the twists and turns of a nationalism that can easily blind. It is easier to follow this idol, or to absolutize African culture, [or the secular "pastoral humanist" agenda, as one friend of mine calls it, referring to humam care without the supernatural element] than to follow the demands of Christ. Such idols are illusions. Even more, they are a temptation, that believing that human efforts alone can bring the kingdom of eternal happiness to earth.

103. Your first duty is to bring the good news of salvation to all, and to offer the faithful a catechesis which leads them to a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ. See to it that laypeople acquire a genuine awareness of their ecclesial mission [which, as this document says a little further on, is out in the world, not in taking over the sacramental work of the priest] and encourage them to engage in it with responsibility, always seeking the common good. The permanent formation programmes offered to lay people, and above all to political or economic leaders, must insist on conversion as a necessary condition for the transformation of the world. It is fitting that they should begin with prayer and continue with a catechesis that will lead to concrete action. The creation of structures, if truly needed, will come later; since they can never replace the power of prayer! [Often, a new department in the curial office is seen as the answer, holding meetings and sending out reams of material to prove the worth of their existence but most of the bumph goes into the filing tray most easily to hand - the waste paper bin!]

104. Dear brother bishops, following in the footsteps of Christ the Good Shepherd, be good pastors and servants of the flock entrusted to your care, exemplary in life and conduct. The good administration of your dioceses requires your presence. To make your message credible, see to it that your dioceses become models in the conduct of personnel, in transparency and good financial management. Do not hesitate to seek help from experts in auditing, so as to give example to the faithful and to society at large. Promote the good functioning of the ecclesial bodies provided for by Church law on the diocesan and parochial level. To you in the first place belongs the task of seeking unity, justice and peace since you have the responsibility for the local Churches.

105. The Synod recalled that “the Church is a communion that gives rise to an organic pastoral solidarity. The bishops, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, are the first promoters of communion and cooperation in the Church’s apostolate.” The national and regional Bishops’ Conferences are charged with the mission of consolidating that ecclesial communion and promoting this pastoral solidarity. [The National Conference is to promote communion THAT communion - the one with the Bishop of Rome.]

II. Priests

108. As close and indispensable co-workers of the bishop, priests are charged with carrying out the work of evangelization. The Second Assembly of the Synod for Africa took place during the year that I dedicated to the priesthood, appealing in a special way for growth in holiness. Dear priests, remember that your witness to living together in peace, over ethnic and racial lines, can touch hearts. The call to holiness bids us become pastors according to the heart of God, feeding our flock with justice (cf. Ez 34:16). To yield to the temptation of becoming political leaders or social agents [a temptation for us in the West as well, as it is so much more acceptable to the world around us] would be to betray your priestly mission and to do a disservice to society, which expects of you prophetic words and deeds. As Saint Cyprian put it in his own day: “Those who bear the honour of the divine priesthood… should lend their ministry only to the service of the altar and give their time to prayer alone”.

109. By devoting yourselves to those whom the Lord entrusts to you for their formation in Christian virtues and their growth in holiness, you not only win them to the cause of Christ but also make them protagonists of a renewed African society. Given the complex situations that you encounter, I ask you to deepen your life of prayer and your ongoing intellectual and spiritual formation. Become ever more familiar with sacred Scripture, the word of God which you daily meditate upon and explain to the faithful. Grow in your knowledge of the Catechism, the documents of the magisterium and the Church’s social doctrine. You will then be capable of forming the members of the Christian community for whom you are immediately responsible, so that they can become authentic disciples and witnesses of Christ.

110. Live obedience to your diocesan bishop in simplicity, humility and filial love. [It is often priests who are traditional by nature that find it hard to be at odds with their bishop, for their natural inclination is to obey but it is not blind obedience but one within the confines of the wider Church and it is not to be hypocritical, obeying publicly but harbouring resentment privately.] “Out of respect for the One who has loved us, it is proper that we obey without hypocrisy, for it is not the bishop whom we see that we are deceiving, but the One who is unseen. In this case, it is not a matter of the flesh, but of God who knows what is hidden.”In the context of the ongoing formation of clergy, I consider it important to reread and meditate on such documents as the conciliar Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, the 1992 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, the 1994 Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests and the 2002 Instruction The Priest, Pastor and Guide of the Parish Community.

111. Build up the Christian communities by your example, living in truth and joy your priestly commitments, celibacy in chastity and detachment from material possessions. When lived in maturity and peace, these signs, so consonant with the lifestyle of Jesus, express “total and exclusive gift of self to Christ, to the Church and to the kingdom of God”. Devote yourselves intensely to putting into practice the diocesan pastoral plan for re-conciliation, justice and peace, especially through the celebration of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, catechesis, the formation of lay people and ongoing dialogue with those holding positions of responsibility in society. Every priest should feel happy to serve the Church. ["Should"!]

112. Following Christ on the path of the priesthood entails making decisions. It is not always easy to live up to these. The evangelical commitments codified through the centuries by the teaching of the magisterium appear radical to the eyes of the world. It is sometimes difficult to follow them, yet not impossible. Christ tells us that we cannot serve two masters (cf. Mt 6:24). He is clearly speaking of money, the worldly treasure that can captivate our hearts (cf. Lk 12:34), but he is also speaking of the countless other goods we possess, such as our life, our family, our education, our personal relationships. These are all important and fine goods which are constitutive of our persons. But Christ asks those whom he calls to abandon themselves completely to divine Providence. He demands a radical decision (cf. Mt 7:13-14) which we sometimes find difficult to understand and live out. Yet if God is our real treasure – that pearl of great price which must be acquired at any cost, even that of great sacrifices (cf. Mt 13:45-46) – then we want our hearts and our bodies, our minds and our thoughts to be for him alone. This act of faith enables us to see every-thing that appears important to us in a different light, and to experience our relationship with our bodies, and our relationships in family or among friends, in the light of God’s call and of what it demands in the service of the Church. This calls for deep reflection. That reflection should begin in the seminary [In other words, self-sacrifice. But this wasn't taught much when I was at seminary and being "other-worldly" was rather frowned upon] and continue throughout our priestly lives. Christ tells us, by way of encouragement, for he knows the strengths and weaknesses of our hearts: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).

VIII. Lay people

128. Through her lay members, the Church is present and active in the world. Lay people have an important role to play in the Church and in society. To enable them properly to take up this role, it is fitting that centres of biblical, spiritual, liturgical and pastoral formation be organized in the dioceses. It is my heartfelt desire that lay people with responsibility in the political, economic and social fields be equipped with a solid knowledge of the Church’s social doctrine, which can provide them with principles for acting in conformity with the Gospel. Lay men and women, in fact, are “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor 5:20) in the public sphere, in the heart of the world! [In all the places the clergy don't get to, among the lapsed in families and in the workplace but we do seem to have lost this aspect that was once so strong and was actually re-iterated by the Second Vatican Council. José Maria Escriva was telling lay people to do this long before the 1960's.] Their Christian witness will be credible only if they are competent and honest professional people.

129. Lay men and women are called, above all, to holiness, a holiness which is to be lived in the world. Dear members of the faithful: cultivate your interior life and your relationship with God, so that the Holy Spirit may enlighten you in all circumstances. In order to ensure that the human person and the common good remain effectively at the centre of all human, political, economic or social activity, deepen your union with Christ, so as to know and love him by devoting time to God in prayer and in the reception of the sacraments. Allow yourselves to be enlightened and instructed by God and by his word.

130. I would like to dwell again on the distinctive feature of a Christian’s professional life. In a word, it means bearing witness to Christ in the world by showing, through your example, that work can be a very positive setting for personal development and not primarily a means of making profit. Your work enables you to participate in the work of creation and to serve your brothers and sisters. Acting in this way, you will be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”, as the Lord asks of us. In daily life, put into practice the preferential option for the poor, whatever your position in society, in accordance with the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12), so as to see in them the face of Jesus who calls you to serve him (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

131. It can be helpful for you to form associations in order to continue shaping your Christian conscience and supporting one another in the struggle for justice and peace. [It appears to me that many of the organisations which we have allowed to fall into abeyance as "old-fashioned" did just this - Young Christian Workers, the SVP, theLegion of Mary - all these groups had /have an outward looking dimension whereas now so many groups in the parish are inward looking.] The Small Christian Communities (SCCs) and the “new communities” are fundamental structures for fanning the flame of your Baptism. Bring your areas of competence to the life and activity of the Catholic universities, which continue to grow following the recommendations of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. I also encourage you to have an active and courageous presence in the areas of political life, culture, the arts, the media and various associations. Do not be hesitant or ashamed about this presence, but be proud of it and conscious of the valuable contribution it can offer to the common good!

1 comment:

Sixupman said...

Excellent comments Father, it was prudent to stay away.

The Holy Name would have made a better fist of things, but they reside in that other, virtual, wasteland - Salford Diocese.