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"The Pastor Leads the Way"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the third part of the Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Feb. 22 session of questions-and-answers with Roman clergy.

Part 1 and Part 2 as published on Catholic Online.

* * *

Fr Angelo Mangano, Parish Priest of San Gelasio, a parish that since 2003 has been entrusted to the pastoral care of the World Church Mission Community, spoke on pastoral work on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. He pointed out the importance of developing unity between spiritual life and pastoral life, which is not an organizational technique but coincides with the life of the Church itself. Fr Mangano asked the Holy Father how to spread the concept of pastoral service among God's People as the true life of the Church, and how to ensure that pastoral work is always nourished by conciliar ecclesiology.

Pope Benedict XVI: I think there are several questions here. One question is: how can we inspire parishes with conciliar ecclesiology and make the faithful live this ecclesiology? Another is how should we behave and make pastoral work spiritual within us?

Let us start with the latter question. There is always a certain tension between what I absolutely have to do and what spiritual reserves I must have. I always see it in St Augustine, who complains about this in his preaching. I have already cited him: "I long to live with the Word of God from morning to night but I have to be with you". Augustine nonetheless finds this balance by being always available but also by keeping for himself moments of prayer and meditation on the Sacred Word, because otherwise he would no longer be able to say anything.

Here in particular, I would like to underline what you said about the fact that pastoral work must never be mere strategy or administrative work but must always be a spiritual task. Nor, of course, can the latter be totally lacking either, because we are on this earth and such problems exist: the efficient management of money, etc. This too is a sector that cannot be totally ignored.

Nonetheless, the fundamental emphasis must be on the very fact that being a pastor is in itself a spiritual act. You rightly referred to John's Gospel, chapter 10, in which the Lord describes himself as the "Good Shepherd". And as a first definitive moment, Jesus says that the Pastor goes first. In other words, it is he who shows the way, he is the first to be an example to others, the first to take the road that is the road for others. The Pastor leads the way.

This means that he himself lives first of all on the Word of God; he is a man of prayer, a man of forgiveness, a man who receives and celebrates the sacraments as acts of prayer and encounter with the Lord. He is a man of charity, lived and practised, thus all the simple acts, conversation, encounter, everything that needs to be done, become spiritual acts in communion with Christ. His "pro omnibus" becomes our "pro meis".

Then, he goes before us and I think that in having mentioned this "leading the way", the essential has already been said. Chapter 10 of John continues, saying that Jesus goes before us, giving himself on the Cross. And this is also inevitable for the priest. The offering of himself is also participation in the Cross of Christ, and thanks to this we too can credibly comfort the suffering and be close to the poor, the marginalized, etc.

Therefore, in this programme that you have developed, it is fundamental to spiritualize daily pastoral work. It is easier to say this than to do it, but we must try.

Moreover, to be able to spiritualize our work, we must again follow the Lord. The Gospels tell us that by day he worked and by night he was on the mountain with his Father, praying. Here, I must confess my weakness. At night I cannot pray, at night I want to sleep. However, a little free time for the Lord is really necessary: either the celebration of Mass or the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and even a brief daily meditation following the Liturgy, the Rosary. But this personal conversation with the Word of God is important; it is only in this way that we can find the reserves to respond to the demands of pastoral life.

The second point: you rightly underlined the ecclesiology of the Council. It seems to me that we must interiorize this ecclesiology far more, that of Lumen Gentium and of Ad Gentes, which is also an ecclesiological Document, as well as the ecclesiology of the minor Documents and of Dei Verbum.

By interiorizing this vision we can also attract our people to this vision, which understands that the Church is not merely a large structure, one of these supranational bodies that exist. Although she is a body, the Church is the Body of Christ, hence, she is a spiritual body, as St Paul said. She is a spiritual reality. I think this is very important: that people see that the Church is not a supranational organization nor an administrative body or power, that she is not a social agency, but indeed that although she does social and supranational work, she is a spiritual body.

I consider that in our prayers with the people, listening with the people to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments with the People of God, acting with Christ in charity, etc., and especially in our homilies, we should disseminate this vision. It seems to me, in this regard, that the homily affords a marvellous opportunity to be close to the people and to communicate the spirituality taught by the Council. And it thus seems to me that if the homily is developed from prayer, from listening to the Word of God; it is a communication of the content of the Word of God.

The Council truly reaches out to our people, not those fragments in the press that presented an erroneous image of the Council but the true spirituality of the Council. Thus, we must always learn the Word of God anew, with the Council and in the spirit of the Council, interiorizing its vision. By so doing, we can also communicate with our people and thus truly carry out a task that is both pastoral and spiritual.

Fr Alberto Pacini, Rector of the Basilica of Sant'Anastasia, spoke of perpetual Eucharistic Adoration -- especially of the possibility of organizing night vigils -- and asked the Pope to explain the meaning and value of Eucharistic reparation with reference to sacrilegious thefts and satanic sects.

Pope Benedict XVI: In general we do not speak much about Eucharistic Adoration, which has truly penetrated our hearts and penetrates the hearts of the people. You have asked this specific question about Eucharistic reparation. This has become a difficult topic.

I remember, when I was young, that on the Feast of the Sacred Heart we prayed using a beautiful prayer by Leo XIII and then one by Pius XI in which reparation had a special place, precisely in reference, already at that time, to sacrilegious acts for which reparation had to be made.

I think we should get to the bottom of it, going back to the Lord himself who offered reparation for the sins of the world, and try to atone for them: let us say, try to balance the plus of evil and the plus of goodness. We must not, therefore, leave this great negative plus on the scales of the world but must give at least an equal weight to goodness.

This fundamental idea is based on what Christ did. As far as we can understand it, this is the sense of the Eucharistic sacrifice. To counter the great weight of evil that exists in the world and pulls the world downwards, the Lord places another, greater weight, that of the infinite love that enters this world. This is the most important point: God is always the absolute good, but this absolute good actually entered history: Christ makes himself present here and suffers evil to the very end, thereby creating a counterweight of absolute value. Even if we see only empirically the proportions of the plus of evil, they are exceeded by the immense plus of good, of the suffering of the Son of God. In this sense there is reparation which is necessary. I think that today it is a little difficult to understand these things. If we see the weight of evil in the world which is constantly increasing, which seems indisputably to have the upper hand in history, one might -- as St Augustine said in a meditation -- truly despair.

But we see that there is an even greater plus in the fact that God himself entered history, he made himself share in history and suffered to the very end. This is the meaning of reparation. This plus of the Lord is an appeal to us to be on his side, to enter into this great plus of love and make it present, even with our weakness. We know that this plus was needed for us too, because there is evil in our lives as well. We all survive thanks to the plus of the Lord. However, he gives us this gift so that, as the Letter to the Colossians says, we can associate in his abundance and, let us say, effectively increase this abundance during our time in history.

I think that theology ought to do more to enable people to understand this reality of reparation better. In history, there were also some erroneous ideas. In the past few days I have been reading the theological discourses of St Gregory Nazianzus, who at a certain moment speaks of this aspect and asks: For whom did the Lord offer his Blood? He states, the Father did not desire the Blood of the Son, the Father is not cruel, it is not necessary to attribute this to the Father's will, but history wanted it, the needs and imbalances of history desired it; it was necessary to enter into these imbalances and recreate true balance here. This is very enlightening.

But it seems to me that we have not sufficiently mastered the language to make this fact understood to ourselves, and subsequently, also to others. We should not offer to a cruel God the blood of God. But God himself, with his love, must enter into the suffering of history, not only to create a balance, but also a plus of love which is stronger than the abundance of the existing evil. This is what the Lord invites us to do.

It seems to me a typically Catholic reality. Luther said: we cannot add anything. And this is true. And then he said: our acts thus do not count for anything. And this is not true, because the Lord's generosity is revealed precisely in his invitation to us to enter and also gives value to our being with him.

We must learn all this better and also be aware of the greatness and generosity of the Lord and the greatness of our vocation. The Lord wants to associate us with his great plus. If we begin to understand it, we will be glad that the Lord invites us to do this. It will be a great joy to be taken seriously by the Lord's love.

Fr Francesco Tedeschi, a lecturer at the Pontifical Urban University who also serves at the Basilica of San Bartolomeo on the Tiber Island in Rome, a site that is the memorial of nine 20th century martyrs, reflected on the exemplarity and capacity for attraction among young people of the figures of the martyrs. The martyrs reveal the beauty of the Christian faith and witness to the world that it is possible to respond to evil with good by basing one's life on the strength of hope. The Pope did not choose to add any further words on this reflection.

Pope Benedict XVI: The applause we have heard shows that you yourself have given ample answers.... Therefore, I can only reply to your question: yes, it is as you have said. And let us meditate upon your words.

Fr Krzystzof Wendlik, Parochial Vicar of Santi Urbano e Lorenzo Parish at Prima Porta, spoke of the problem of relativism in our contemporary culture, and asked the Pope for an enlightening word on the relationship between unity of faith and pluralism in theology.

Pope Benedict XVI: What an important question! When I was still a member of the International Theological Commission, we took a year to address this problem. I was the speaker and I therefore remember it quite well. Yet, I recognize that I am unable to explain the matter in just a few words. I only wish to say that theology has always been multiple. Let us think of the Fathers in the Middle Ages, the Franciscan School, the Dominican School, then the Late Middle Ages and so on. As we have said, the Word of God is always larger than us. Therefore, we can never come to the end of the outreach of his Word, and various approaches, various types of reflection are necessary.

I would simply like to say: it is important that the theologian, on the one hand, in his responsibility and professional capacity, should seek openings that correspond with the needs and challenges of our time.

On the other hand, he needs to be ever aware that all this is based on the faith of the Church and so he must always refer to the Church's faith. I think, if a theologian is personally and profoundly rooted in faith and understands that this work is a reflection on the faith, that he will be able to reconcile unity and plurality.

The last question was asked by Fr Luigi Veturi, Parish Priest of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini. He focused on the theme of sacred art and asked the Pope whether this should be better evaluated as a means for communicating faith.

Pope Benedict XVI: The answer could be very simple: yes! I arrived here a little late because I first paid a visit to the Pauline Chapel where restoration work has been underway for several years. I was told that the work will take another two years. I could glimpse between the scaffolding part of this miraculous artwork. And it is worth restoring it well so that it will once again shine out and be a living catechesis.

In saying this, I wanted to recall that Italy is particularly rich in art, and art is a treasure of inexhaustible and incredible catecheses. It is also our duty to know and understand it properly, not in the way that it is sometimes done by art historians, who interpret it only formally in terms of artistic technique.

Rather, we must enter into the content and make the content that inspired this great art live anew. It truly seems to me to be a duty -- also in the formation of future priests -- to know these treasures and be able to transform all that is present in them and that speaks to us today into a living catechesis.

Thus, the Church also appears as an organism -- neither of oppression nor of power, as some people would like to demonstrate -- with a unique, spiritually fertile history, one which I would dare to say is not to be found outside the Catholic Church. This is also a sign of the Catholic Church's vitality, which, despite all her weaknesses as well as her sins, has always remained a great spiritual reality, an inspirer which has given us all these riches.

It is therefore our duty to enter into this wealth and to be capable of making ourselves interpreters of this art. May this also be true for pictorial and sculptural art, as well as for sacred music, which is a branch of art that deserves to be revived. I would say that the Gospel variously lived is still today an inspiring force that gives and will give us art.

Above all, the most beautiful sculptures also exist today, which show that the fertility of faith and of the Gospel are not extinguished, that there are still musical compositions today.... I believe that it is possible to emphasize a situation which is, let us say, contradictory to art, an even somewhat desperate situation of art.

The Church also inspires today, because faith and the Word of God are inexhaustible. And this gives all of us courage. It gives us the hope that the future world will also have new visions of faith and at the same time, the certainty that the 2,000 years of Christian art that have already passed are still valid and still a "today" of the faith.

Well, thank you for your patience and your attention. My good wishes for your Lent!

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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