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 June 20, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 12Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Pope calls priests to ‘father forth’ Christ in all people

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

This week’s column takes its inspiration from the fact this edition of The Voice comes out over the Father’s Day weekend. So, as is only right, I begin by wishing a “Happy Father’s Day” to all the men who share in this great calling.

However, even more importantly, I affirm that I am praying for the fathers of all the families that make up the Church of our Oakland Diocese. I ask the Lord that, through the generous self-sacrifice of our fathers, their spouses and children will find unfailing support for their pilgrimage to our final home in the embrace of our Heavenly Father:

Through the intercession of St. Joseph, foster-father of Jesus, may the Lord God, “from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth takes it title” (Eph. 3:15), strengthen you by his grace, so that you will consecrate all you have and are, your whole heart and mind, to guarding and guiding your wives and children on the path of faith, hope and charity.

The principal theme for my remarks is the fatherhood of the man who is the father of the whole Christian family, Pope Benedict XVI. On May 13, the Holy Father had a meeting with the priests of the Diocese of Rome. The “off-the-cuff” remarks he made at the end of that gathering were recently printed in the English-language edition of the Vatican’s newspaper.

They made a powerful impression on me. They are an eloquent expression of the fatherly soul of the Pope. In this week’s Voice, I would like to report and reflect on some of what he said, so that you, too, will have a glimpse into the paternal love for us all that shapes Pope Benedict’s service in the Chair of St. Peter. (The full text of these remarks follows this message . . . .>>>.)

At the core of the Holy Father’s remarks is his focus on sharing Christ with all men and women. He reminds his priests that since they are convinced that “the genuine authenticity of each person is found exactly in communion with Christ and not without Christ,” then they, as good pastors, will offer Christ to others, so that in him they will know “the joy of having discovered life.”

He reminds them that since Christ is their “Lord… and the light and joy of their lives,” it is “their duty to offer [to others] this essential reality.”

Pope Benedict underscores for clergy of his diocese that they can accomplish the task of sharing Christ with others only if they know and love Christ themselves. It seems clear to me that he speaks from his own most deeply held convictions when he reminds them of the need to listen “with their soul open to Christ, interiorly listening to his Word so that it is assimilated and transformed and forms my being….”

In these words of Pope Benedict I hear echoing the deepest sentiments of St. Paul himself — in addressing his always beloved, but often vexing, Corinthians: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1Cor. 4:15); and in writing to his flock in Thessalonika: “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thes. 2:11-12).

Pope Benedict clearly understands that his task, which is shared with all those consecrated to the Apostolic ministry through the sacrament of Holy Orders, is to “father forth” in people the image of Christ, God’s Son by nature, so that they will be his daughters and sons by grace.

Throughout his remarks the Holy Father shows that he knows that he and his clergy in Rome must, like any good father, go about fulfilling their responsibilities with the gentleness that is the fruit of their great love for those entrusted to their care.

The Pope reminds them that listening to those whom they serve is indispensable for their ministry; there needs to be what the Pope calls “a listening to today’s humanity, our neighbors, those of my parish, those for whom I have been given a certain responsibility. Naturally, listening to the world of today… we listen to all the problems, all the difficulties that are contrary to faith. And we must be able to seriously take upon ourselves these problem.”

The Pope is speaking clearly here of what he knows that he and every pastor must do: take seriously the difficulties of one’s flock, never minimize those difficulties, never discount or underestimate them, but take them so seriously that the pastors “take them upon themselves,” make them their very own.

The Holy Father recognizes that because “his neighbors,” those whom he and the clergy serve, experience difficulties with the faith, they, the bishop and presbyterate of Rome, must present the Church’s faith in Christ as a gentle invitation:

“Naturally, I am aware and we all know that many are not immediately able to identify themselves with, to understand, to assimilate all that the Church teaches. It seems to me important firstly to awaken this intention to believe with the Church, even if personally someone may not yet have assimilated many particulars.

“It is necessary to have this will to believe with the Church, to have trust that this Church,… enlivened by the Holy Spirit, truly carries within the ‘compass’ of the Spirit and therefore is the true subject of faith.

“The individual, then, is inserted into the subject, adheres to it, and so, even if he or she is still not completely penetrated by this, the person has trust and participates in the faith of the Church, wants to believe with the Church.

“To me, this seems like our lifelong pilgrimage: to arrive with our thought, our affections, with our entire life at the communion of faith. We can offer this to everyone, so that little by little one can identify and especially take this step over and over again to trust in the faith of the Church, to insert themselves in this pilgrimage of faith, so as to receive the light of faith.”

It was just two months ago that God gave us our new Holy Father, the Pope. Unfortunately, in those first days after Pope Benedict’s election there were many voices that characterized him as hard, severe. In his candid remarks to the priests of Rome he shows that this not true. His words are a window into his heart; and we see that it is the fatherly heart we expect in a priest.

Yes, he is uncompromising in holding before us Christ, with his call for our unconditional love. A spiritual father who truly loves us will not offer us anything less. But Pope Benedict is patient and understanding in drawing us gently on the path toward that holiness which is the fullness of God’s life.
On Father’s Day we rightly recognize that all fathers need the support of our prayers. Let this day be an occasion to renew your commitment to pray for our Holy Father. Every day ask the Heavenly Father to make the Pope strong and wise, so that he can be the support we need to answer Christ’s call to be saints.

Pray, too, for all of our priests, that they never draw back from making whatever sacrifice is required in order to father forth Christ in you. Every father worthy of that name needs to have such generous dedication to his family, and this is no less true for priests. All that they have and are is dedicated to us, to guiding and directing and leading the adopted daughters and sons of God to an ever-greater likeness to Christ.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give our priests the grace needed for this exacting service. And pray for me, please, that I be the spiritual father for our diocese that the Lord sent me here to be.


L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO
N.20 – 18 May 2005

Papal Response to the Priest of Rome

The Person of Jesus grounds all ministry

On Friday, 13 May, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Holy Father responded “off the cuff” to interventions made by members of the clergy of Rome, which followed his formal Address to them earlier that morning. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Discourse, given in Italian.

At the end, I can only say “thank you” for the richness and depth of these contributions, where a Presbytery full of enthusiasm, of love for Christ and for the flock entrusted to us and of love for the poor is evident. And not only of the city of Rome, but truly of the universal Church, all of our brothers and sisters. Thank you also for the affection you have expressed for me; it helps me greatly.
Presently, I do not feel in a position to enter into details regarding what has been said. It would be good to continue a true discussion, and I hope that it will be possible to have a concrete question-and-answer discussion.

Now, I simply express my gratitude for everything. I truly perceive your pastoral dedication, I perceive your desire to build the Church of Christ here in Rome, I perceive your reflections on how to do better, I perceive how all springs forth from a great love for the Lord and the Church.

‘Roman’ and ‘universal’
I would only like to touch on three or four points that have remained in my mind. You have spoken of this “Roman” and “universal” interlacement. For me, this seems to be a very important point.

On the one hand, this is an authentic local Church that must live as such. There are some people who suffer, who live, who want to believe or are unable to believe. It is here, in the parishes, that the Church of Rome must grow with her great responsibility for the world as she carries within herself this mandate, in a certain way, of “exemplarity”; in this way, there appears in the Church of Rome the face of the Church as such, and it is a model for other local Churches. To be a model, we ourselves must be a local Church that is busy each day in the humble work determined by this “being Church”, in a determined place at a determined time.

The parish and movements
You have spoken of the parish as a fundamental structure, assisted and enriched by movements. And it seems to me that precisely during the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, a fruitful combination between the constant element of the parochial structure and, let us say, the “charismatic” element, was created, which offers new life. Under the wise guidance of the Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishops, all parish priests can together be truly responsible for the growth of the parish, taking in all of the factors that can come from the movements and the living reality of the Church in varied dimensions.

But I wanted to speak once more about this Roman and universal interlacment. One of our brothers spoke of our responsibility towards Africa. We have seen how, in Rome, Africa is present, India is present, the universe is present. And this presence of our brothers and sisters obliges us to think not only of ourselves, but to feel precisely in this moment of history, in all of these circumstances with which we are familiar, the presence of the other continents.

Responsibility towards Africa
It seems to me that at this time we have a particular responsibility towards Africa, towards Latin America and towards Asia, where Christianity – with the exception of the Philippines – is still a very large minority, even if in India it is growing and shows itself a strength for the future. And so, we also think of this responsibility.

Africa is a continent that has enormous potential and the enormous generosity of the people, with an impressive, living faith. But we must confess that Europe exported not only faith in Christ, but also all of the vices of the Old Continent.

It exported the sense of corruption, it exported the violence that is currently devastating Africa. And we must acknowledge our responsibility so that the exportation of the faith, an answer to the intimate hope of every human being, is stronger that the exportation of the vices of Europe. This seems to me a great responsibility.

The weapons trade is still alive, with the exploitation of the earth’s goods. We Christians must do much more in these regards so that faith is made present, and with faith, the strength to resist these vices and to rebuild Christian Africa, destined to be a happy Africa, a great continent of new humanism.

To speak and to listen
Something was then said about the need, on one hand, to proclaim, to speak, but on the other, also to listen. To me, this seems important in two ways.

The priest, deacon, catechist and Religious must, on the one hand, proclaim, but witness. But naturally, for this they must listen, in a two-fold sense: on the one hand, with their soul open to Christ, interiorly listening to his Word so that it is assimilated and transformed and forms my being; and on the other, listening to today’s humanity, our neighbors, those of my parish, those for whom I have been given a certain responsibility.

Naturally, listening to the world of today that exists also in us, we listen to all the problems, all the difficulties and are contrary to faith. And we must be able to seriously take upon ourselves these problems.

In his First Letter, St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, says that we Christians must be ready to explain our faith. This presupposes that we ourselves have understood the reason of faith, that we have truly “digested”, even rationally, with the heart, with the wisdom of the heart, this word that can truly be an answer for others.

‘Apologia’ and ‘logos’
In the First Letter of St. Peter, in the Greek text, with a fine play on words, it is written “apologia”, the answer to the “logos”, of the reason for our faith. And so, the “logos”, the reason for the faith, the word of faith, must become the answer of faith. And we know well that the language of faith is often very far from today’s men and women; it can bring them close only if it becomes in us our modern-day language. We are contemporary, we live in this world, with these thoughts, these emotions. If it is transformed in us, one can find the answer.

Naturally, I am aware and we all know that many are not immediately able to identify themselves with, to understand, to assimilate all that the Church teaches. It seems to me important firstly to awaken this intention to believe with the Church, even if personally someone may not yet have assimilated many particulars. It is necessary to have this will to believe with the Church, to have trust that this Church – the community not only of 2,000 years of pilgrimage of the people of God, but the community that embraces heaven and earth, the community where all the righteous of all times are therefore present – that this Church enlivened by the Holy Spirit truly carries within, the “compass” of the Spirit and therefore is the true subject of faith.

The individual, then, is inserted into this subject, adheres to it, and so, even if he or she is still not completely penetrated by this, the person has trust and participates in the faith of the Church, wants to believe with the Church. To me, this seems like our lifelong pilgrimage: to arrive with our thought, our affections, with our entire life at the communion of faith. We can offer this to everyone, so that little by little one can identify and especially take this step over and over again to trust in the faith of the Church, to insert themselves in this pilgrimage of faith, so as to receive the light of faith.

Christocentrism, a ‘Person’
To conclude, I would like once more to say “thank you” for the contribution expressed here regarding Christocentrism, the requirement for our faith to be ever nourished by personal encounter with Christ, a personal friendship with Jesus.

Roman Guardini correctly said 70 years ago that the essence of Christianity is not an idea but a Person. Great theologians have tried to describe the essential ideas that make up Christianity. But in the end, the Christianity that they constructed was not convincing, because Christianity is in the first place an Event, a Person. And thus in the Person we discover the richness of what is contained. This is important.

And here I think we also find an answer to a difficulty often voiced today regarding the missionary nature of the Church. From many comes the temptation to think this way regarding others: “But why do we not leave them in peace? They have their authenticity, their truth. We have ours. And so, let us live together in harmony, leaving all persons as they are, so that they search out their authenticity in the best way”.

Duty to bring Christ to others
But how can one’s personal authenticity be discovered if in reality, in the depth of our hearts, there is the expectation of Jesus, and the genuine authenticity of each person is found exactly in communion with Christ and not without Christ? Said in another way: If we have found the Lord and if he is the light and joy of our lives, are we sure that for someone else who has not found Christ he is not lacking something essential and that it is our duty to offer him this essential reality?

We then leave what will transpire to the direction of the Holy Spirit and the freedom of each person. But if we are convinced and we have experienced the fact that without Christ life is incomplete, is missing a realty, the fundamental reality, we must also be convinced that we do harm to no one of we show them Christ and we offer them in this way too the possibility to discover their true authenticity, the joy of having discovered life.

In closing, I would like to say “thank you” to all who make up the Presbytery and the Ecclesial Community of Rome, to the parish and vice-parish priests, to all who collaborate in the various offices, to deacons, catechists and above all to the men and women religious who are somewhat the “heart” of the ecclesial life of a diocese. Thank you for this witness that you give.

Let us all go forward together, moved by the love of Christ. And in this way, we will succeed!


 

Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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