|THE CHURCH IN OUR DAY|
|The Bishops of the United States
We publish below extracts from the Collective Pastoral Letter issued by the bishops of the United States during their annual meeting in Washington in November, 1967.
CHAPTER I – THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
Exposition of Basic Council
The motive which prompts us is response to a need many have made known to us together with their desire that the Bishops of the United States interpret the present moment for the American Church. Our action takes the form of a collective pastoral letter, the first since the convocation of the Second Vatican Council, We wish to consider with you the opening chapters of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and some of their implications for Catholic life in the United States.
A special urgency attaches to this letter since we are speaking of a grave matter, involving salvation, namely, the doctrine on the Church, and we do this in a season of particular solemnity, namely, the Year of Faith.
Pope Paul VI has emphasized that the basic theme of the Council is the Mystery of the Church. He, therefore, summons us, with ever-increasing urgency, to more positive pastoral involvement with one another.
The Council altered some patterns which may have proved oppressive in the past. We must not now become prisoners of the present. Our continuity with Christ and the Apostolic age survived all the changing patterns of the past and yet presupposes a continuing relationship with the perennial elements of our religious past. To lose our past in this latter sense is to lose ourselves. Such a loss could account for that spiritual amnesia which, it is said, afflicts a generation suffering a cultural arid spiritual identity crisis. To demean the Church of former ages is to diminish the Church of the present age and to impoverish the future. We know the past has not been perfect but we gain nothing by infidelity to it. We profit from the courage to see in the past many things which might have been done better. With equal insight, we see in the past a faithfulness to God and a service rendered to man which made us confident again.
With sadness we notice that some today, using the noble word "charism" or employing theology almost as therapy, ridicule the Church and, under the guise of being contemporary, seem hostile to everything except their own views. What begins as necessary and solid criticism seems, readily to degenerate into a destructive attitude toward life unworthy of reason and inconsistent with faith. Too often—and here each of us must examine his conscience—the life of prayer and the pursuit of spiritual excellence have become the last and the least of considerations. A new Pelagianism seeks salvation in the correction of structures rather than in conversion to God; a new Gnosticism places all its hope in the apt phrase or the esoteric formula rather than in Jesus Christ crucified and risen. We must not forget that what we are seeking to reform is not a mortal institution but the Church of the Living God.
Problem of God and Problem of Church
There are two perplexing questions which especially trouble contemporary man. The first concerns whether God exists and if He does, what kind of a God He is—and what must be said of Him. The second is a problem for men who believe in God. It asks whether there need be a Church and what must be said of the Church. We discern an inevitable relationship between these two questions. No one who believes in God is totally estranged from the Church. Conversely, everyone who truly belongs to the Church can never be far from God. For it is the Church which summons man to God and speaks of God to man. She is charged by the Spirit with a mission of witnessing to God by the power of her deeds (sacramental, social, sacrificial) and the suasion of her words. Because of this, the Church bears a certain responsibility for belief and unbelief in the world. She yearns to bring all believers into ever more complete communion with herself and all men into ever more conscious communion with God. She longs to do this not because she desires dominion but because there is no better way to serve man and to make him free.
The Second Vatican Council was a Council of the Church about the Church. If any synthesis of the Council can be given, the Church is the key to that synthesis, The Council's preoccupation with the Church by no means made her horizon less catholic, as is proved by a mere listing of the issues it deliberated.
Pope Paul VI, mindful of this centrality of the Church, refers "to the science of the Church, ecclesiology," as "the vivid need of our time" (address: to general audience, April 27, 1966). The Church was "the principal question" studied by the Council, "the center" of Vatican II's deliberations. "To know what the Church is," he declared, "becomes decisive in relation to so many other vital questions: The religious question first of all, the ecumenical question, the humanistic question..."
Although we know the Church, unique among institutions, to be a mystery, still we must know, to some extent, what the Church is before we can say what she must do. The social or cultural, the educational, religious, and ecumenical tasks we undertake depend upon our awareness of the nature and purpose of the Church as well as of our places in her life and action.
Pope Paul puts it plainly:
"We have inalienable duties toward the Church and in her we seek to find truth and salvation without pluralisms which are contrary to the unifying and constitutive principle of the Church and without elastic uncertainties and equivocations..." (address of April 27, 1966).
To Christ Through the Church
At a time when many question the Church, when some forsake her and seek an allegiance to Christ without a Church, the Church reminds us that discipleship in Christ is necessarily a vocation to the Church of Christ. It is Christ who evokes the Church. All who listen carefully to His voice hear the clarity of His summons to belong also to the Church. But for the historic Church, there would be today no possibility of affirming or denying Christ. For without the Church men over the long centuries, would have made of Christ what they preferred Christ to be rather than what He is. Some seek to follow the Lord without the Church in what seems to them a simple, less complex, and more spontaneous religious experience. But we must remind ourselves that without the Church the following of Jesus subtly becomes a following of self or even a following of those false prophets against whom Christ warned and whom the Church resists.
Jesus lives undiminished only in that Church which has written and preached the Scriptures; in that Church wherein Apostolic tradition remains alive in Christian hearts: in that Church which celebrates the sacraments, proclaims the creeds, assembles the Councils, worships the Father, offers the Body of the Lord in her liturgy, and lives by the unfailing Spirit of God. The Church is alive in Christ and Christ lives in His Church. Thus she exists for the glory of God and for the healing of mankind. In Christ, she realizes how mighty is God's glory which abides with us in so tangible a manner. God, however, is not glorified nor are human hearts healed when men seek Christ while consciously rejecting His Church. Man is not allowed to pick and choose when he seeks God's Will for himself.
The Church as Community
It is our visible coming together as a community in the power of the Spirit which makes the Church not only a way of life for us but a sign of salvation for the world. Our coming together signifies Christ for the community itself and for the human family not yet visibly one with us. Our coming together not only signifies Christ, of course, but makes Him effectively present to history so that through the Church Christ Himself acts and saves. Our community with each other is not only a witness to the Lord but an efficacious instrument of His dominion. Thus formation into a lawfully structured Church is not only something we need ourselves; it is something we owe our brethren within the community to whom we make ourselves available, something we owe our brethren outside the community and for whom we become a saving sign of Christ, as well as something we owe God Himself who wishes to share His life with us in the most intimate manner possible.
We share in the life of Christ's community, then, not only out of concern for ourselves and our fellow-men, but in obedience to God's supreme and saving Will. Life itself, Christian life even more, is not only what we decide to make it; it is a recognition of our accountability in freedom, of our obedience in humility to God. A life of service to God is not bondage; it is the enlightened exercise of freedom. Without God, we become prisoners of our own resources and captives of time and space. Without God, our eagerness for life becomes anxious and our plans for the future lead to inevitable futility. If there is no God at the beginning and at the end of life, then man lives with little meaning. He is born by accident and is destined for extinction. One day his history and his world will vanish without a trace that he was here. Without God all the human family will one day perish without ever having known why they were here, for what they were made, to what purpose they had lived so glorious and tragic a history. Without God, human life tends to dust, fatally and forever.
Christians cannot accept this gospel of despair. They ask man heroic in the dreams he has achieved, to dare dream of collaboration with God. They invite our courageous century to attain the further courage of faith. They invite a waiting, expectant age, in all its waiting, to await even God.
The Church as Body of Christ
Thus, the Church does not see herself as one more human institution in a world of many institutions. She does not view herself as an organization of social service at a time when there are so many such services available to us. The Church is a sacred, religious, charismatic, incarnational reality. The Church is "the complement of the Redeemer, while Christ, in a sense, attains through the Church a fullness in all things" (Mystici Corporis, 77).
Catholic spirituality, therefore, is always an ecclesial spirituality. It is a spirituality which lives the life of the Church, her worship, her tradition, her sacraments, her liturgical year. The Church seen as the Body of Jesus should inspire all our prayer and lead us to the full celebration of the Church's sacramental Liturgy. A Catholic spirituality brings us especially to the Eucharist which is, in another and real way, the Body of Christ and, therefore, the cause of our unity, and its final expression.
There are few things more urgent in our present need than the development of a truly modern and deeply ecclesial spirituality. No little of the unrest in the world is due to the unrest in the hearts of men. So much of the turmoil in the lives of some Catholics since the Council is due to the absence of a mature and serious spiritual life. The invitation to a more intense following of Christ is not an invitation to quietism. It calls us to labor more arduously than ever before. We must renew and reform the Church. We must enter into dialogue with each other, with other religions, with the world of unbelief. Yet all this must be done with a serenity and peace of heart which only Christ gives. If we see ourselves as the Body of Jesus, then we shall strive to be one with Christ in His consecration to the Father, one with Him in His openness to the Spirit, one with Him in His love for his Brethren even unto death.
This life-giving union with Christ and His brothers should fire the Catholic with a fervent zeal for the social apostolate. Every Catholic should be eager to endure any hardship for the good of all his fellow-men, recalling the words of St. Paul: "If one of us suffer, all suffer together; if one of us is honored, all rejoice together" (I Cor. 12:16). A Catholic becomes responsible when he realizes that his own dignity and destiny are bound up with the dignity arid destiny of all men. A vocation to Catholic life is also a vocation of service to every member of the human family.
Therefore, indignity, injustice, and inhumanity at any time, in any place, toward any man should arouse in us a deep and burning concern. This concern is not accidental to the devout life, something superadded to the faith as an evidence of its presence or an adornment of its practice. It is the faith at work, the faith alive in the works without which faith is dead. It is a concern active in us when fellow men are denied human or civil rights, when there are riots in our streets, when death and devastation are rained on other men's cities, when men hunger and thirst in other lands or in our own. A Catholic must be one who truly believes that as one of us suffers, all suffer, as one of us is healed, all are healed, when one of us is denied justice, all are threatened. Every Catholic conscience must respond in word and deed to the moral imperative addressed by Christ to nations as well as to men: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them" (Matt. 7:12).
CHAPTER II - THE STRUCTURE OF THE CHURCH
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus went about preaching the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom, present in His Church, does not hover formlessly over the cities or exist unseen among the nations of the world. The People of God, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Spirit. His Church is organized, structured, visible. The visibility of the Church is essential to her identity and is, indeed, a sign, in this case sacramental, of something divine. The Church is a visible sign of the mystery of God, the mystery of grace, the mystery of Christ and of the Spirit. When one realizes that the visibility of the Church is achieved through human persons and human signs, then one understands why her visibility will be inadequate to the task of signifying all that must be signified. Nonetheless, the visibility of the Church is a sign, a sacrament, an instrument through which God acts and dwells with us.
If one reflects on how detached from human history and how inconsistent with the human condition an invisible Church would be, he realizes how necessary is that visibility which Catholics have always believed to be Christ's own provision for His Church.
This does not mean that visibility is merely the best of many possible choices. Nor does it mean that visibility is something for which we settle either for reasons of convenience or because there is nothing else available. It does not mean, finally, that visibility is something extrinsic to the Church, a ceremonial addition or a pragmatic necessity, something tile Church might have done without or may yet do without, or even something which is not really the Church, as if the real Church were to be found only oil an invisible level eluding and resisting all the visible structures of community.
If this latter concept were well-founded, then there would, in effect, be two Churches. One would be invisible and therein alone the reality of the Church would be accessible to us or at least to some of us; the other, visible, would somehow parallel the invisible Church, be being tolerable when useful for the less enlightened, but not for those who, as in every form of Gnosticism, think of themselves as a religious elite and deprecate the need for a visible or, as they sometimes say, institutional Church.
The visibility which is Christ's intention for His Church is explained by none of the above. The visible structuring of tile Church is no less tile Church than her invisible reality. The sacramental Church is the spontaneous result of grace which, like love, seek visible expression and identifies with it. The grace of Christ in which the Church is created is not imprisoned in the visible structure of the Church, but neither is it independent of her. For the Church is a sign or sacrament of grace. This means that the grace of the Lord, requiring visible presence among us (even as did He), is destined to triumph when time shall be no more and is expressed through the institutional structures of the Church and is inseparable from them. This is not to say that grace, salvation, or the Kingdom of God is found only where the organized Church is seen to be at work, but it is to say that all grace seeks to become manifest not only in the Incarnation of Christ, but also in those visible elements of His Church which are not merely human but sacramental in the fullest sense of tile word.
Hidden Grace, Visible Church
As it is a sacrament, tile Church is the result of grace, an intensification of grace and an effective sign of grace at work among us. One who belongs to the Church through faith, hope, and charity has found where God's graces converge concretely. In the visible Church, grace is given an earthly habitation and a name; in the visible Church, Christ's victorious saying presence is recognized and celebrated; in the visible Church, the invisible mystery of the Church achieves its history.
The council clarifies this point for us:
"Christ, the one mediator, established here on earth His holy Church which He unfailingly sustains as a community of faith, hope, and charity, a visible organization through which He communicates truth and grace to all ... As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spit-it of Christ, who vivifies it, in tile building up of the body. This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after His resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd and with the other Apostles to extend and rule, establishing it for all ages as the Pillar and mainstay of truth (I Tim. 3:15). This Church, constituted nod organized in file world as a society, exists in tile Catholic Church, which is governed by tile successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity" (Lumen Gentium, 8).
Nothing in the created universe is potentially more sacred than the human: The human person, human gestures, human words. Through these potentially most sacred of visible realities, the Church acquires her visibility. Sacred though these realities may become, they are not immune from the imperfection and sinfulness of the human condition. And so one must not be utopian in what he expects of his fellowmen, even when they are called by the Spirit or sacramentally ordained for the Church of Jesus Christ. But neither may one be pessimistic about God's power and choice to sanctify us through our fellowmen and created signs.
Of all things visible by which men are drawn to God, tile Church is the sum and the sign. And yet, there recurs in history the temptation to take scandal at the idea of God present among men in flesh like their own, or of a Church audible, visible, human as well as divine, and therefore inevitably imperfect. Hence some men turn away impatiently from tile Church when they find her less than ideal. This turning away from the Church would be less harmful if there were any beneficent alternative to the Church. History records none.
Men may criticize the Church but no one can create the indispensable substitute for her. One who lives the life of tile Church senses in his heart not only the sentiments expressed by Peter's haunting question "Lord, to whom else shall we go?" (John 6:68), but also the conviction that there is no better place to be in than in tile Church: "it is good for its to be here" (Mark 9:5). In other words the Church brings into history an experience we would not wish to forego even were it possible to do so without harm to ourselves and to our brethren.
The Unicity of the Church
And so, in a sense even more profound than the polemic of past centuries could have supposed, we are beginning to dis. cover new meaning in such seemingly harsh but nonetheless inescapable formulations of theological truth as "Neither is there salvation in any other (than Christ)" (Acts 4:2 1) . . . "Outside of Christ, there is no salvation" . . . "Outside the Church, no salvation."
The Second Vatican Council developed broader implications of the doctrine of salvation that is God's will for His children and the consequent validity of many human societies or religious institutions which become signs of salvation for their members.
Speaking of certain non-Christians and even of some atheists, the Council remarked:
"Nor is God Himself far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and every other gift and who as Savior wills that all men be saved ... Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to His grace" (Lumen Gentium, 16).
Pope Paul touched on the same theme in his first encyclical:
"We see these men (i.e., atheists) full of yearning, prompted sometimes by passion and desire for the unattainable, but also by great-hearted dreams of justice and progress. In such dreams noble social aims arc set up in the place of the absolute and necessary God, testifying thereby to the ineradicable need for the Divine Source and End of all things, whose transcendence and immanence it is the task of our teaching office to reveal with patience and wisdom" (Ecclesiam Suam, 108).
What is true of men who have not yet explicitly found God, is certainly true of those who explicitly acknowledge God. For man is saved not only in the solitude of his heart but also by means of those legitimate human, religious, and ecclesial communities which, under God's merry, not only announce but somehow minister salvation to their conscientious members.
But the Council could not possibly imply (lint there is any other God than the God whom we know to be Father, Son, and Spirit; that there is any other Redeemer than the one Savior who died for all men in atoning love and who reigns over the human family as its only source of grace and guarantee of salvation. Nor could the Council suggest that there is any other Church ultimately intended for man's salvation than that Church of Christ which "exists in the Catholic Church" (Lumen Gentium, 8).
In any case, Christians reject the notion that there arc many divergent ways to salvation, ways which by-pass the Church and yet arrive in Christ or ways which turn aside from even Christ, who is the only Way (John 14:6), and yet result in God. The formulations of the theology of salvation which we have cited are more subtle than we may have appreciated; they are not, however, any less valid today than in the past. When one has found Christ and come into the Church he has discovered not one of many equal ways to salvation. He has become one through grace with the one Christ in whom every: effort at salvation', whether His name be known or not, begins and ends; he has done this within the one Church to which all grace is oriented and through which the grace of Christ is uniquely communicated to God's children. When one comes into the visible Church, lie has followed the path, along Which men seek salvation, to its destination.
In the Church of Christ, men find God; they are, however, still called to explore even more fully His infinite mystery. In our continued search within the Church we enjoy the security of those who are at home and who know the Master of the house. Many of God's people are-not yet in the Church of Christ, as He Himself reminds us. We look forward to the day when, together with all who seek God, we can continue even more closely to search out the mystery of the brotherhood by which and in which we are saved under the Fatherhood of God.
Catholicity of the Church
The Church of Christ is not only visible. It is also Catholic in every sense of the word. It provides for differences, but it his no vertical or horizontal lines of division. It has, for example, no vertical lines of division essentially separating conservatives and liberals, no horizontal lines so dividing generations within the Church into young and old or ministries within the Church into clergy and laity as to pit these one against another. There, is no "coming great Church" that is not already present in the world, having come to us across the centuries from the first Pentecost and the primitive Christian community; the Church as it yet may be, however different its style or developed its structures, will be the tree essentially present when first the mustard seed began to sprout; the Church in every stage of its maturity was present in that tiny seed.
In no essential sense can, the Church be constricted within a contemporary Church, a futuristic Church, a traditionalist Church, or a Church of the past. A Church monopolized by any group or reserved to any one period or comfortable in any single culture would run counter to the pluralities recognized and demanded by Vatican II and would, in effect, become that monolithic, uncatholic institution which the partisans of each special group or tendency profess to reject.
What baffles most is the neglect of Scripture and history by some who, professing to seek or even to perfect the Church, seem disinclined to recognize what Christ intended the Church to be. There arc others who measure the Church exclusively in terms of social effectiveness, of cultural conformity, or of whatever efficiency most appeals to their special interest; some speak only of relevancy to those values of the world which they cherish, or of suitability to the temper of the times. These things, many good in themselves, arc hardly adequate norms for evaluating the open, eternal, transcendent, human yet divine Church of God. If one seeks confirmation of this, let him ponder how Jesus Christ would fare if He were measured only in terms of the historical effect of His preaching or by the secular relevancy or suitability of His Person to His times.
If one makes use of only such norms as these, the Church will always be "irrelevant". This must not discourage those who labor for reform or renewal. It is merely a reminder of what we are about. There are those who are frustrated because they cannot fully explain the Church or her activity in a vocabulary which the world can fully comprehend, forgetting that today, as always, both Christ and His Church remain foolishness for some, a stumbling block to others (I Cor. 1:23).
The problem which confronts us, then, is not whether there should be a Church. If there were none, believers would inevitably bring one into being by their desire to converse with one another about the common concerns of the devout, to worship the God awareness of whom brings them together in prayer. Sharing creates community; shared religious beliefs create religious communities which, however spiritual, speedily become structured and visible parts of history. The problem is the kind of Church there must be, especially since God has sent His only Son to live with us and to make known to us the Mystery of our salvation
and the means He intended for its accomplishment. What we must seek is a careful understanding of the type of Church the Lord provided.
We speak in this chapter of but one feature of the Church's visibility, namely, the structures by which the Church is constituted and those by which it is ordered. No one pretends, least of all we who are Bishops, that these latter institutions are the most important, though their validity is fundamental and essential. Everyone knows that the structures and forms involved in the Church's work of sanctification, especially the sacraments, are more important (More "noble" our traditional philosopher might have said) than the structures of juridical authority, even as the order of love takes precedence over the order of law, though by no means contradicting it.
So too the structures for teaching the faith are doubtless more important in the total work of the Church than are those of governing, though faith and order will often depend on how well the work of governing facilitates the work of teaching and implements the work of sanctifying. A contemporary theologian has observed in this connection:
"The order of jurisdiction, necessary and of divine origin though it be, is not the noblest nor most divine thing in the Church. All its greatness is derived from its purpose which is to be the servant of Love ... Did not our Lord Himself say that He had come to serve? ... the Church is greater and nobler than what exists for her sake. The Papacy is for the Church, not vice versa. It is therefore true that the Pope is not a master but a servant, and that the Church, absolutely speaking, is more excellent and nobler than he, although from the standpoint of jurisdiction, he is her head" (Charles Journet: "The Church of the Word Incarnate").
All these offices in the Church and all the structures through which they operate are services, but there is a hierarchy among them, a hierarchy of worth and a hierarchy of relative proximity to the heart of the matter, which is always salvation.The Laity
The spirit of the times suggests that we begin our discussion of the Structured Church with the laity. A major task of (lie layman in the present chapter of Church history is the discovery of his own identity and vocation in tile Church of Christ. Somewhere between the prevailing, but far from universal, silence of the past and the occasionally strident confusion of the present must be heard the authentic voice of the layman.
The laity is a sacramental structure in the Church. The Church is realized, though not completely, in the Christian layman. From his Baptism in Christ to his confirmation anointing in the Spirit, from his communion with Christ and the Church in the Eucharist to his marriage or other vocations to hallow the world, the layman is part of everything meant by discipleship in Christ.
Hence the layman is not to be defined negatively as if he were merely a person not ordained to Holy Orders or not called to religious life under vows. He is a positive part of the Church and a force in her life and action; he is a consecrated person, called to participate in the general priestly work of Christ and His Church. He therefore shares in the prophetic gifts and charismatic endowments with which the Spirit has enriched the Church.
Cardinal Shard, anticipating a generation ago the charter which Vatican Council II has given to the Christian laity, wrote:
"Such is the irreplaceable mission of the laity. They have their own witness.. to bear, their specific problems to solve and reforms to be undertaken, all on their own responsibility. By giving them a free hand, the Church is not making the best of a bad job and using them as substitutes until such times as she has reliable priests to take over the direction of the temporal order. On the contrary, she fully intends, without any ulterior motive, to confide to the laity the full responsibility for human society" ("Priest Among Men").
It is for these reasons that without the laity there is no Church. When the layman, understood as the Church intends, is silent, we all suffer and God's work remains only partly done: when the layman is passive, we arc all weakened; if lie leaves us we are all diminished. Frequently, the layman is the only means by which the secular world knows There is a Church or profits from the fact. "Even when preoccupied with temporal cares, the laity can and must perform a work of great value for the evangelization of the world (Lumen Gentium, 35). "Guided by a Christian conscience," the layman realizes that "there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God's dominion" (Lumen Gentium, 36).
The laity, however, like any part of the structured Church, is not a law unto itself, any more than is the Hierarchy. The layman is not only responsible to Christ as revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition, but also to all those structures in the Church which are essential to the composition of the organized but organic Christian community. The fact that the hierarchical and lay structures arc distinct, in the very nature of the constitution of the Church, and have their respective proper functions, does not destroy the unity of tile Church nor diminish the mutuality of the different gifts and ministries within the Church. Quite tile contrary; these differences are the condition of the unity in the midst of diversity which makes possible the accomplishment by His Church of the manifold works of Christ.
In any consultation of the laity concerning the faith, the layman's ability to speak and his title to be heeded depend, to an extent, upon his openness to Christ and to the whole community, which means, to the grace of his own calling. Let us explain. Those who hold an office of apostolic authority in the Church have a right to be heard when they speak in legitimate exercise of that office. This does not exonerate them from the obligation of witnessing Christ to the community by the personal example of their lives as well as by the official exercise of their office. They would still have to be heard, nevertheless, when they spoke authentically even if, sadly, their personal lives did not reflect their own teaching. "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must, therefore, do what they tell you and listen to what they say" (Matt. 23:1-3). These words of our Lord are all the more pertinent since Jesus had just warned that those in authority of whom He spoke "do not practice what they preach." Things will doubtless be otherwise in His Kingdom, but not so different that authority may be discounted or the possibility of scandal eliminated. It was especially to the disciples that Jesus confided:
"Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.? So he called a little child to him and set the child in front of them. Then he said . . . the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven'." (Matt. 18:1-4).
It was especially to the Apostles that Jesus cautioned after He had washed their feet: "Do you understand what I have done to you.? You call Me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other's feet. I have given you an example (John 13:13-15).
The Layman's Witness
The layman has his right to speak and to be heard in virtue of his status in the Church. Given the nature of the Church, his title to be heard on matters of faith and morals depends not upon his ability to teach with apostolic authority but upon his ability to witness the will of Christ, the judgment of the Gospel or the genuine good of the community. The voice of the Spirit is the more clearly heard when those in authority exercise the charism of their office in appropriate consultation with the laity. Scripture and Tradition assure us, however, that the layman never speaks to and for the community in the Same Way as must those who possess apostolic authority. No one would' layman or all laity together should be heard by the Christian community in the same way that the Pope in his office of Chief Shepherd, or the College of Bishops are to be heard.
The voice of the laity must echo the authentic voice of Christ to the whole community which in heard in the community at large and therefore never in isolation from those who hold Apostolic office. "Anyone who listens to you, listens -to Me" (Luke 10:16) was not spoken to any one of the faithful but to the Church as Christ intended it. Hence, the layman who loses the sense of community loses his ability to echo Christ. Likewise, those in Apostolic office who violate the limits of their authority imperil the sense of community and diminish their effectiveness in echoing Christ authentically.
The man held responsible by Christ because he would not hear the Church (cf. Matt. 18:15-17) was not accused of neglecting selected voices, or even the voice of the majority, but that of the Church as Christ constituted her. In no case does the Church listen to the voice of any individual as such for the statement of the faith of the community. An individual who does not reflect (he spirit of the Church or respect its structure speaks in a manner that the community cannot interpret. This is true of Pope, Bishop, priest or layman in each case with careful regard to the formalities of their respective roles. When an individuals is heard, he is heard as an individual in the community and thus not as an individual as such. He is an individual who has taken his place and found himself in the context of a wider reality, namely, the community of Christ. Even when the Church speaks officially, she relies on the continuing work of the faithful to clarify further what has been taught and to apply concretely the program specified in ecclesiastical pronouncements.
"While the definition of the Faith has been confided to the successors of the Apostles in union with the successors of St. Peter, or to the Pope speaking in their name, the development of revelation has been confided to all who have been baptized in Jesus Christ" (Jean Guitton: "The Church and the Laity) .....
There is never sound reason to believe that the voice of the layman concerning the faith is heard in public-opinion polls or any mere counting of hands. Rather, the faith of the Church is heard in the judgment of the deeply committed Catholic who witnesses to the community the experience of integral Christian living. It is not how many say something which is significant for the Church, but who it is who is speaking and what manner of faith is his. Numbers count only if those who comprise the total really know. Sometimes, as when the Church was threatened with Arianism, the laity were articulate on the side of those who know and who speak accurately the voice of Tradition. Sometimes, as when the Church verged on the brink of conciliarism, it is the voice of Peter who confirms his' uncertain brothers in the Episcopate. Sometimes, as in the Second Vatican Council, Pope and laity listen with special tare to the voice of the Bishops. This is not to say that the Church moves forward disregarding Pope, Bishops, priest, or laity. It is to say that God's Providence provides for special moments and occasions when each structure in the Church is called upon to aid the, others without subverting that order for the Church which is Christ's disposition and the Spirit's gift to the community.
It is imperative, however, to add that we welcome, not avoid the consultation of the laity in every manner consistent with the mission of the Church, the promptings of the Spirit, and the needs of the community of faith.. Thus it is not rhetorical concession to the mood of the hour, but an exercise of the pastoral office we share with, Pope St. Leo which impels us to say to the laity of our times what he said to those of his day: "Recognize, 0 Christian, your dignity!"
It was our intent in the Council to salute that dignity in the chapter on the laity in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and in the Decree on the Apostolate of. the Laity. It is our hope that these documents will be studied in depth and implemented in detail by all the laity who bring the gift of their graces to the structures, permanent and contingent, present and future, of the Church they love no less than do we.....
The sacred calling of the layman was summed up by the Council:
"The supreme and eternal Priest. Christ Jesus, since He wills to continue His witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in the Spirit and increasingly urges them on to, every good and perfect work. For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission lie also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of man" (Lumen Gentium, 34).
In the manifold sacerdotal offices committed by Christ to His Church, priests, from earliest times have been the most proximate and intimate collaborators of the Bishops. They remain so still. By the very nature of the Church in its essence and its structure they must always be so...
The Second Vatican Council left no doubt that the "renewal of the whole Church depends in large measure on... priests" (Optatam Totius, Preface). Hence the reasons why renewal of some aspects of priestly life is so important.
"The pastoral and human circumstances of the priesthood have in very many instances been thoroughly changed (Presbyterorum Ordinis, Preface). With this in mind, Pope Paul spoke to the pastors and Lenten preachers of Rome about an 'oppressing doubt about the value of one's own vocation arid ministry' which can assail even the best of priests" (Feb. 21, 1966).
Confusion about one's role and crisis in identity are not peculiar to modern-day priests. Many sensitive Christians in their various vocations of marriage or religious life, the professions or public life, find themselves in these troubled times frequently overwhelmed, quite as much as any priest, by the sense of inadequacy in the face of mounting pressures, questioned values, and outmoded methods. The Holy Father recognized the same problem which the Council had seen as a "danger", namely, that priests today can easily become "depressed in spirit" unless, of course, the Spirit Himself constantly renews them.
It may not be too much to say that countless priests today dwell in the desert of their temptations. Like their Master, they are tempted to become ministers of the temporal city of man, forsaking their consecration as ministers of Redemption and neglecting Scripture's mandate that they "must worship the Lord their God, and serve Him alone" (Matt. 4:10) ...
Relation of Priests to Renewal
Let us first agree, priests or, for that matter, all Christians, that no benefits of the affluent society or the age of technology can remove the cross and its redeeming burden from the shoulders of any who bear the name of Christian, especially when they are ordained ministers of Christ as we priests are called to be. Conversely, the joy of the priesthood is and must forever be different from any joy which this world alone or the human condition as such can instill...
When a priest falters, the whole Church trembles. When a priest is troubled in heart, the tranquility of all God's People is threatened. Indeed, the world itself is not yet so sophisticated that it does not still take scandal, whatever it may pretend, when a priest is derelict. Everyone knows this, so why should we keep silent about it? However a priest may think of himself as being exactly like everyone else, the world does not so see him. Certainly the believer does not and neither does Christ, as He Himself explicitly said, above all the night before He died: "They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world" (John 17:16). "I shall not call you servants any more; because a servant does not know his master's business; I call you friends ... You did not choose Me, no, I chose you" (John 15:14-16).
The priest bears within him not only the consecration received through us Bishops but the hopes of all the redeemed for the future.
Let us be even more candid. The ministry which we as Bishops share with our brother-priests becomes bearable and fruitful in the degree of our mutual fidelity, our faithfulness to priests, their loyalty to us. If it be true, as it is, that because we are men we know the burdens of priests, it is also true that because they are priests they know the special burdens which trouble us. In times of greatest stress, next only to the presence of the Paraclete, it is the solidarity of priests, compactly closed around us, their understanding, their unselfish devotion, their persevering work, the laughter and the tears they and we share, which blend with all the resources of nature and grace, to enable us the better to perform every priestly function that Christ committed to the college of His Apostles in communion with Peter. This priestly office we share with all the priests in union with us.
Even were it possible for priests to live out their lives in isolation from us, neither we nor they would wish this. The reasons why this is impossible are far from being merely juridical and moral; they are doctrinal and ontological. They are reasons rooted in the very nature of the priesthood as Christ has shared with us the priesthood in which He Himself was constituted.
"The only means of transmitting the Gospel is to have received it by 'tradition'. The priest is not sent to improvise his preaching of the Good News; he is sent by the Church, and more precisely, by the Bishop. For 'the Church is in the Bishop' (St. Cyprian, Ep. 69:8). He is not merely the head who ordains, controls, and reprimands. He is at once the
symbol and the source of unity and life. 'Let priests do nothing without the Bishop's approval, for it is to him that the Lord's people have been committed'. (Canon Apost. 39:2). This is fundamental. If he is cut off from the Bishop, the priest will be cut off from the Mystical Body, 'like the branch from the Vine' . . . With all this in mind, no one can say that priestly 'obedience' is a secondary virtue. It does even more than make the priest accessible: it helps him, with God's grace, to perpetuate the Church and thus to save the world" (Cardinal Suhard: "Priests among Men").
Thus the priesthood we share together is not only something priests have received through us. It is also something by which we and they are bound together and through which we are mutually enriched. Our Episcopacy takes on new meaning and new value in the priesthood of the men we ordain. Through them, our priesthood is increased not only in the number of Christians we reach but in the intensity of grace that their ministry and holiness bestows upon us in the communion of saints and the fraternity of the priesthood. In them we behold not only one of the most sublime expressions of our priesthood but also our brothers by whom we and our churches are made strong: a brother that is helped by his brother is like a strong city (Prov. 18:19).
In his encyclical on priestly celibacy, Pope Paul spoke with personal love as well as official concern about those who have tragically abandoned their priestly witness. He saw in their leaving not only individual disasters, the dimensions of which they themselves well know, but a catastrophe for the Church at large. No new appraisal of the sacral and the secular, no sympathy born of deeper insights into human frailty or human needs, alters the fact that Christian peoples generally, dedicated religious and seminarians eager to grow in the image of Christ, are scandalized by the derelict priest and threatened in the pursuit of their own sacred destinies.
Crisis in Present Priestly Life
Some priests, whose vocation it remains to mirror Christ, have not only lost their own vision but have sought to shatter the ideals of others and made a public display of, their defects. We urge such priests, motivated by their personal need of repentance as well as by a public obligation, of example, speedily to reconcile themselves, as priests have done for centuries, with the Christ whose priesthood all unworthily, even in the case of saints, we sinners bear. To the priests of the 20th century no less than to His contemporary disciples, Christ speaks a language that is diminished in its gravity by no findings of psychology, sociology or theology: "Anyone who is a scandal to bring down one of these little ones who have faith in Me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone round his neck. Alas for the world that there should be such scandals. Scandals indeed there must be but alas for the man who provides them!" (Matt. 18:6-7).
On the other hand, in manner at once impressive and unique, the priest, every priest, is a sign of fidelity to all the People of God; he proclaims God's faithfulness in raising up the priests He promised and he proclaims the Church's faithfulness in serving God and leading men to Him.
Are we and our people to believe that a significant number of priests have lost the vision that gives meaning to their vocation? Even if there are only a few who waver, why has this come about?
To some extent we Bishops may be responsible. To some extent the laity may be responsible. It still remains true, however, that, as in any other collapses of ideals or failures of commitment, the individuals involved, in this case priests, have their plain personal responsibility. However, in this sad problem we have no need for accusers or victims. There is too much sorrow, too much guilt among all of us for that.
It is not the Christian vocation to canonize the human condition as such or to lament over it. It is our vocation to rise above it where it drags us down; to transform it where it might trap others; to ennoble it by the operation, through our agency, of that Spirit who continually refreshes the Church and renews the face of tile earth. In all this Pope Paul has reminded us, his brother Bishops, in the encyclical on priestly celibacy, that we "owe the best part of our hearts and pastoral care to priests and to the young men preparing to be priests" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 92).
It is the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop in whom we Catholics see an expression of the unity of the Church, who instructs its 20th century Bishops:
"It is your fraternal and kindly presence and deeds that must fill up in advance the human loneliness of the priest, which is so often the cause of his discouragement and temptations. Before being the superiors and judges of your priests, be their teachers, fathers, friends, their good and kind brothers, always ready to understand, to sympathize, and to help. In every possible way, encourage your priests to be your personal friends and to be very open with you. This will not weaken the relationship of juridical obedience; rather it will transform it into pastoral love so that they will obey more willingly, sincerely and securely" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 93).
The Relevance of the Priestly Life
On the pastoral level, there are three especially grave problems which we see confronting priests.
The first of these is sometimes said to be disturbing doubt concerning the worth of their lives. It is painful when one, for whatever reason, is faced with doubt concerning the meaning of the career he has chosen. This is a present pain for countless parents, married couples, religious and persons following other special vocations; it must especially afflict, nowadays, many in the armed forces. In the case of the priest assailed by such misgiving there are probably two reasons why his anxiety may today be so acute. One is the sudden review of doctrine and discipline occasioned by the council. This may have left some priests, who are teachers and shepherds of their communities, somehow less secure in their message and with themselves. Here time and the patience to arrive at understanding through study and priestly experience will help. The priest who surmounts the problems and redeems the promises of aggiornamento will find that Church doctrine has been enriched thereby and the service of the Church made more meaningful. He discovers, moreover, that the priest is needed today more than ever before, more needed liturgically in the worship of the people he serves, more needed apostolically in the market place, more needed intellectually in the forum and on the campus, more needed prophetically in the Church and in the world. In every case (and here is the point) he is more, not less needed...
A second reason why misgiving among some priests may be acute in an age of automation is perhaps the prevailing norms by which people generally appear to measure the worth and meaning of modern lives. The priestly ministry cannot be made meaningful in terms of the technological categories we tend to prize here in the United States. Nor can the priesthood be made relevant in terms of any purely humanistic categories such as are widely exalted in Western civilization. Christ's acceptance of the crucifixion, for example, was hardly a "humanistic" approach to the problem of the human condition. Moreover, the Church, speaking for Christ, often makes demands which conflict with purely humanistic norms and contradict merely terrestrial humanism. Among these demands we might include religious poverty and chastity, celibacy and obedience, penance, and even worship itself. All these, viewed in the positive premises of the renunciations they require, serve not to diminish the person but to help accomplish in him freedom and resurrection into new life...
A second problem which confronts priests is loneliness. This problem is not peculiar to the priesthood. Any loneliness in the priest can hardly be seen as unique to his vocation. No one knows better than the priest the loneliness of the aged, the imprisoned, those unmarried despite their preference, the exiled, the abandoned, the dedicated who have renounced consolation to pursue art, science or the service of neighbor.
However, mindful precisely of priests, the Council speaks of the "bitter loneliness", and even of the "seeming sterility of the past labors" which priests may sometimes experience. Pope Paul also cautions that "loneliness will weigh heavily on the priest" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 59). But it is well to keep certain realities in mind when there is consideration of the loneliness involved in the human condition; even more, it is bound up with the vocation of the Christian, always a pilgrim and stranger on the face of the earth. We are not yet, in the fullest sense of the word, "home"; we have not here a lasting dwelling-place and ours is the unrest of those who seek a city. Nor do we yet so completely experience the effects of redemption that estrangement from God, from one another, and even from our true selves is no longer to be feared.
Married or single, religious or lay, priest or people, all must come to terms with loneliness. Often the sustaining of loneliness results in human and Christian maturity, making us aware of our limitations and of our need for one another. "Christ too in the most tragic hours of His life was alone—abandoned the very ones He had chosen as ... witnesses and companions ... and whom He had loved unto the end" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 59) ..."And if hostility, lack of confidence and the indifference of his fellow-men make his solitude quite painful, (a priest) will thus be able to share, with dramatic charity the very experience of Christ, as an apostle who is not above him, by whom he has been sent . . (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 59) In an age perhaps overly given to introspection, personal problems are intensified by the disposition to concentrate on them. A priest who loses himself in his apostolate, serving God's people, particularly the poor and the neglected, in imitation of his Master will find that much of his loneliness disappears. The loneliness which remains is a small price to pay for a vocation whose sacredness and consolations can hardly be exaggerated. In spite of any problems of the priesthood, there is no greater joy than that which accompanies the work of the dedicated priest, no calling more literally divine than his. In moments of isolation, priests, no matter how great their fears, will recall the words which sustained Christ in His greater loneliness: "I am not alone, for the Father is with me" (John 16:32)...
There is an essential difference between priest and people no matter how much the heart of the priest identifies with his people. In a dramatic and altogether decisive manner, the ordained priest is a man of the Church; he becomes the sign of the Church as no other Christian does, he gives expression in his priesthood to special ministries of Jesus Christ, the sole High Priest. His ultimate responsibility is not alone to his people, great though his duties to them, nor is it to himself nor to any priestly caste; his responsibility is to God, by whom he has been called, as Aaron was, to a mission apart from that of the unordained and yet within the community of God's people, a mission to which he is called and ordered by those appointed by God to rule His Church.
Truth itself as well as pastoral solicitude will require a priest, in encouraging the laity in an appreciation of their vocation, not to do so at the price of destroying confidence in his own priesthood. The historic development in the Council of the doctrine of the priesthood of the laity should prove a blessing to all the Church; the fruits of that blessing could be diminished, even lost, if the heightened awareness of the general priesthood in the Church lowered, even momentarily, a true appreciation of the necessary roles of the particular vocation special to the priest called apart and ordained for men in the things that pertain to God.
Many of us think we see an unfortunate eclipse of the clear and separate status of ordained priesthood; this is not good for priests nor for the laity, nor for the Church nor for the world that the Church serves through its diversity of ministries...
Whatever emphasizes the intimate brotherhood of priests, of which the Council speaks, and the tie to their Bishop, as a result of which "they make him present in a certain sense in the individual local congregations and take upon themselves, as far as they are able, his duties and the burden of his care" (Lumen Gentium, 28), gives firm foundation to the needed theology of the priesthood and direction to a new priestly spirituality. We commend to priests in parishes, seminaries, and religious communities the recommendations of the recent "Instruction on Eucharistic Worship" (May 25, 1967) with respect to the concelebrated Mass and a fresh appreciation of the common life to be shared by priests in rectories and religious houses; these should be made truly homelike by the fraternal spirit derived from Christ Himself who dwells with them.
Pointedly and urgently, Pope Paul calls upon the laity to "feel responsible for the virtue of those of their brothers who have undertaken the mission of serving them in the priesthood for the salvation of their souls" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 96).
We understand something of the premises to this pointed admonition, for such it is, of the Holy Father. One consideration was suggested by Rosmini well over a century ago: The people of God produce their clergy and their clergy are therefore a reflection of the spiritual excellence expected by the people from whom they come. Furthermore, nothing would better manifest the readiness of the laity to assume their mature place in the life of the Church and warrant the confidence that the Church will profit from consultation of their minds and hearts than the evidence that they recognize the special reasons for priestly virtue and their own responsibility toward the development of that virtue in word and deed.
Special Witness of Religious
Though we have spoken directly of the priesthood, many of the things we have said apply with equal validity to religious. Without the public witness to the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience which religious vow, without their generous example of community life, the Church would be sorely impoverished. The religious life should serve constantly to remind us of what the Church is. Religious manifest to us the beauty and the discipline harmonized in the Christian life, a beauty that does not neglect the sinful human condition nor the reality of death, yet a discipline which is never so severe that it overlooks the redeemed status of the human condition or the inevitability of resurrection. Religious likewise give us a striking sign of the eschatological dimension of the Church; they remind us of the pilgrim road we all travel and of the values by which we shall live in the Promised Land.
The very presence of religious in the world is a consolation. It is also a salutary rebuke to any of us who may be tempted to make our Christian vocation an easy or a worldly endeavor. The presence among us of religious is a preaching of the Gospel to the laity and the priesthood alike; in our country this preaching has been notably confirmed by the titanic work of teaching, hospital service, care of other people's children, mercy to the aged and pioneering in social work accomplished by Catholic Sisters and Brothers who, usually anonymous and too often unthanked, have borne a professional as well as religious witness of unparalleled heroism, holiness and achievement ...
Every community must have a self-awareness if it hopes to function effectively. The Church of Christ is no exception. Hence, the need to focus attention on the nature and ministry of the Episcopacy in the Church now that we have considered the laity and the priesthood.
We may begin by recalling the relationship of the Episcopacy to the operation of The Holy Spirit among us. The Holy Father states it briefly:
"Christ has entrusted the fulfillment of His work among mankind to two different factors: To the Holy Spirit and to the Apostles. He promised to send the Holy Spirit and He sent the Apostles. Both these missions proceed equally from Christ" (general audience, May 18, 1966).
Pope Paul, reflecting the mind of the Council and of prevailing Catholic tradition, points out that, while the action of the Holy Spirit is by no means restricted to the visible ministry even of the divinely appointed Episcopacy, that ministry is nonetheless ordinarily needed:
"We should always remember that the work of the visible Hierarchy is ordained to the diffusion of the Holy Spirit in the members of the Church. Its ministry is not indispensable to the mercy of God. For His mercy can be bestowed as God pleases. But normally, it is indispensable for us, who have had the occasion and the good fortune to obtain the Word of God, the grace of God, and the guidance of God from the Apostles . . ."
In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Vatican II outlined some essential features of this ministry of the Bishops. They have been appointed, for example, by the Will of Christ "shepherds of His Church to the consummation of the world" (Lumen Gentium, 18). By divine institution, Bishops succeed to the place of the Apostles (Lumen Gentium, 20). Without the Episcopacy, apostolicity in the Church suffers an essential defect. Without the Episcopacy, there is no Eucharist, no priesthood, no historic continuity with the Apostolic age and the primitive Christian community. The Bishops of the world form together a college whose ministry includes not only the shepherding of their respective Churches, each with the cooperation of his presbyterium (Christus Dominus, 11), but also "supreme and full authority over the universal Church, provided we understand (the college of the Bishops) together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head" (Lumen Gentium, 22). The Council dares to add that Bishops preside "in place of God over the flock whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing" (Lumen Gentium, 20). Indeed, when certain conditions are present, the, collegiate body of the Bishops proclaims Christ's doctrine infallibly (Lumen Gentium, 25) ...
The Ministry of Bishops
The Episcopacy is but one ministry in the Church's variety of ministries (Lumen Gentium, 18). However, the Episcopal ministry is uniquely endowed with sacred and sacramental power to direct the members of God's People "toward the common goal of salvation, freely, and in an orderly way" (Lumen Gentium, 18). This ministry, like every ministry in the Church is a form of service; the service in the case of the Bishop is that of presiding over the Church as Christ provided that His Apostles and their successors should do when He would no longer remain visible with His people. He gave those who would share His authority example as to how He wished that it be exercised. Mindful of their human frailty and of the scandals that would inevitably come, He prayed that they would be confirmed by the Holy Spirit and by one another, above all by Peter, when Satan would seek to sift him as wheat and thus prevail against the Church (cf. Luke 22:31). In a special way, the Hierarchy, united with the Pope, is a ministry for unity and peace in the Christian community. The constant underlying theme of conciliar teaching on the Episcopacy is unity—a unity of Pope and Bishops, of Bishops with one another, of Bishops and priests, and clergy.
Some seek to divide the Church neatly into her institutional and her charismatic components, to declare oversimply what is Gospel and what is grace, what is Church and what is Christ. The premises of such divisions are frequently forced and always over-simplified, even when based on appeal to isolated phrases of Scripture. A more reasoned and faithful reading of the sources of theology will discover that, while some elements in the Church are unmistakably spiritual and some manifestly institutional, most, if not all, are blends of the two. Episcopacy and Papacy not only represent institution, Gospel, and Church; they are likewise charismatic, supernaturally vital, and signs of Christ. Conversely, there is no genuinely charismatic figure who does not have relationship to institution, Gospel and Church. Catholicism glories in the history of its powerfully charismatic and persuasively prophetic persons: its reformers many of its mystics, its saints among the laity of both sexes, the clergy of every rank, and even its children. But it is not without gratitude to those institutional personalities who, whatever the human defects which characterize even the saints among them and certainly the sinners, historically helped maintain the Church's continuity, stability and organized witness in the world.
The heresies which began with scandal at the human elements in the Church often ended with a denial of Christ's own humanity and invariably pitted against one another charismatic and institutional elements in the Church as if they were mutually exclusive, indeed antagonistic (cf., for example, Gnosticism, Albigensianism, and not a few elements in the Modernist synthesis) ...
Collegiality: Continuity of Present With Past
These reflections provide a background to the exposition in Vatican Council II of the doctrine of Episcopal collegiality. The full implications of the conciliar teaching on collegiality will be felt for centuries in the developing theology, spiritual life, effective administration, missionary activity, and self-awareness of the Church. So dramatic are some of these implications that a few have been tempted. to see the whole idea of collegiality as if it were a "breakthrough" somehow parting with tradition, a concept reserved for discovery only in our times.
In fact, the development of collegiality in Vatican Council II affords many new directions and rich promise for whole new areas of theological thought and pastoral activity; however, the concepts at issue are as native to the beginning of the Church as the acts and letters of the Apostles. They are as venerable as the institution of Church synods and councils and the fundamental concept of Churches in communion with each other and with Rome. Specifically, and more proximately, the doctrine of collegiality is in complete continuity with the First Vatican Council.
When we Catholics speak of continuity rather than change, or of development rather than repudiation of the past, we are not playing with words or indulging in equivocations. We are expressing a reality that is part of the organic nature of the Church and a law of her life. Development in the present and identity with the past in all essentials are conditions of progress in the Church.
It is sometimes suggested that the contemporary emphasis on Episcopal collegiality runs counter to the claims for Papal primacy defined in Vatican Council I. But the concept of primacy in itself presupposes a college or body within which and over which the primate rules. This was recognized in the deliberations and the projected agenda of Vatican I. It was necessarily implicit in that Council's definition of the prerogatives of the Papacy and was explicit in its references to the divinely established Episcopate. So, Vatican II, explicating the doctrine of Episcopal collegiality, kept full faith with Vatican Council I by its insistence on Papal primacy in all that primacy entails...
The more profound significance of the collegiality of the Bishops is grasped best in the awareness we have of the Church as .a community of charity. The basis of all Hierarchy is love, a love which expresses itself in community according to the Will of Christ, a love which includes and requires every form of service for which a the Lord made provision, including teaching and governing. The consequent institutional inequalities constitute no threat to a community of love. Every family, as we know, comes together unequally but united in love. The charity and the loyalties which characterize the family neither preclude nor destroy the inequalities consistent with love; in effect, they intensify and consecrate those diversities as a result of which each member has a proper and distinctive service to render …
The Apostolic authority essential to the Church and exercised by those who succeed to the place of the Apostles is directed, as we have said, to the service of the community. By virtue of collegiality, that community joins each Bishop as well as all the Bishops together to the service of the universal People of God:
"It is the duty of all Bishops to promote and safeguard the unity of faith and the discipline common to the whole Church, to instruct the faithful, to love the whole Mystical Body of Christ, especially its poor and sorrowing members and those who are suffering persecution for the sake of justice" (Lumen Gentium, 23) ...
The Local Church
Each Bishop represents Christ's saving will for those entrusted to him, for them he is called, with a truth that should comfort his people even as it may frighten him, to be an effective sign of their salvation. Together with his brothers in the Episcopate, he becomes a sign of Christ's universal will for the salvation of all men, Without the local Church, there is no universal Church; yet no local Church can isolate itself from the universal premises and implications of Christ's work and the Church's mission.
The doctrine of collegiality does not, however, diminish the Bishop's special mission to his own diocese. The local Church must always be the direct and unique object of the Bishop's consecrated service and personal apostolate. Through their Bishop, united in the common brotherhood of all Bishops with their elder brother the Successor of Peter, the members of each local Church are assured their place in the universal Church.
The common brotherhood among the Bishops effects fraternal communion among all local Churches and enables each to see the other as truly Catholic, particularly since the brotherhood of the Bishops includes as an essential unifying bond the recognition of the Roman Pontiff. The whole Church sees in the Successor of Peter "the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the Bishops and of the faithful" (Lumen Gentium, 23). Thus, "individual Bishops represent each his own Church but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church" (Lumen Gentium, 23).
"The individual Bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular Churches. These Churches are fashioned after the model of the Universal Church. In them and from them comes the one and only Catholic Church. For this reason, each individual Bishop represents his own Church but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love, and unity" (Lumen Gentium, 23) ...
Collegiality turns us, at one and the same time, to our local Bishop, in whom we see apostolicity expressed, and then to the entire Episcopate, in whom we see apostolicity manifesting ever new evidence of its catholicity. In a marvelous manner, collegiality, taken together with the theology of the local Church, proclaims to us the pluralities of traditions within the Church, the diversities of cultures, and the multiplicity of languages and rites, each of these typified in its Bishops, all of which harmonize into the sign of a Church properly called catholic. Thus in one doctrine is revealed the diversity, the universality, and the catholicity within the unity of the Church of Christ...Teaching Office of Church and Bishops
There remains a word to be said about the teaching office of the Bishops since it is through them that the truths of Christ's saving faith are authentically proclaimed in the local Church. These truths of Christian faith are not efficaciously believed unless they be heard, not heard unless they be preached, not preached except by those who are sent (Rom. 10:14).
One of the most vexing problems of our day is the proper relationship between conscience and authority. The problem, of course, is not new. There has never been a moment in human history when men have not been confronted with the claims of both conscience and some form of authority. By authority here, we do not mean civil jurisdiction as such nor those other valid forces by which the good ordering of any society is sought, forces which seek their fulfillment in external compliance, even when one sees this compliance as morally binding. By authority we mean a force which obligates one in conscience, a force which therefore enters into a man's inner evaluation of himself and which seeks not only external conformity but internal acceptance as well.
We restrict our considerations here to religious authority, an authority which imposes itself more profoundly than any other since it deals with man's relationship to God and has at stake not only his religious welfare now but his ultimate salvation hereafter.
By conscience, we mean a person's awareness of the moral imperative in his life toward truth and virtue, his fellowmen and his God. By moral imperative we intend all those theological and ethical considerations which require a man to call some things good and others evil, some things true for human development, others false.
With few exceptions, modern man is notably concerned about the problem of conscience. The acuteness of the question may reflect a reaction to a time when personal values and decisions are more than ever threatened by group patterns, demanding corporate loyalties, and controlled so often by impersonal forces. The problem may be intensified by the plurality of ideologies seeking the allegiance of each of us in a society which welcomes options in everything but fears decisions, above all decisions which require fidelity and restrict one's spontaneity of behavior.
The Force of Conscience
We shall, speak first of conscience and its force; secondly, of authority and freedom in religion; thirdly, of ecclesial authority and Catholic conscience. The vastness and complexity of these questions should make it obvious that we do not intend an exhaustive consideration of these matters in this letter. We consider them only in relation to their bearing on the place of the Church's teaching office in our Christian life.
The question of conscience was set forth in clear terms by Cardinal Newman many years ago:
"Conscience does not repose on itself, but vaguely reaches forward to something beyond itself and dimly discerns a sanction higher than self for its decisions, as is evidenced in that keen sense of obligation and responsibility which informs them" ("Grammar of Assent").
Conscience, then, though it is inviolable, is not a law unto itself. One cannot, in the name of conscience, violate the rights of others. Thus, conscience must have some norm. Today it is widely asserted that conscience's norm is the dignity of the human person. Men of belief go further, however, and see the norm to be the dignity of the human person indeed, but in the light of God. Judaeo-Christian traditions speak of a God who reveals to us truths and values, ultimately Himself, in whom conscience finds its norm.
We cannot agree, therefore, with those who derive the force of conscience only from social or environmental influences. Conscience ultimately derives from the image of God in which man is made and the grace of God by which man is called.
If on these points we draw heavily on Cardinal Newman it is because few theologians have stated so well the mind of the problems of the Church in the face of a skeptical subjectivist age.
On conscience he wrote and spoke frequently and clearly:
"If man has been betrayed into any kind of immorality, he has a lively sense of responsibility and guilt, though the act be no offence against society, —of distress and apprehension, even though it may be of present service to him, —of compunction and regret, though in itself it be most pleasurable, —of confusion of face, though it may have no witnesses . . ." ("Grammar of Assent").
The force of conscience, then, which we believe makes us beholden to God, no matter how dimly He is perceived or under what form He may be affirmed, obliges us to choose. We are diminished when we choose against it; we are, likewise, compromised when we accept as the dictate of conscience only what we find pleasurable, not attempting to align conscience with the rights of others and with the ultimate question of God's existence and demands upon us. Conscience is not only a gift inspiring us to virtue and restraining us from vice; it is also a demand that must be accomplished, enlightened, formed, elevated.
Every morally responsible person knows that good is not the same as evil, that the former is to be affirmed and the latter repudiated. He knows also that conscience is an indispensable factor in the recognition of what is good and the rejection of what is evil. Yet conscience does not of itself give us all the answers or even all the elements for the definition of what is good; at once a basic element of religion and, in a sense, the most personal of teachers, it is not, for all this, totally luminous, being (as Newman observed) so easily puzzled, obscured, and perverted as to need the formation and perfection the Church provides.
Freedom in the Church
A further question we wish to consider concerns the relationship between freedom and authority in religion.
The Second Vatican Council wisely observed: "A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man. And the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty" (Dignitatis Humanae Personae, 1).
This helped the Council to conclude:
"This Vatican synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. . . The synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as the dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and by reason itself" (Dignitatis Humanae Personae, 2).
The Church, whatever her critics may isolate in her history, regardless of what her loyal sons may wish were done better, is a force for freedom and is freedom's home. It is in the Church and for the Church that Jesus redeems. It is the Church, as we said before, which grace, and hence freedom, seeks. In the Church, the sacrament of freedom is celebrated in the Eucharist; the Gospel of freedom is proclaimed; and a community is formed from that faith in freedom without which we are dead in sin and without which we have no final hope.
St. Paul knew this well and spoke frequently, especially to the Galatians, of the Church's understanding of freedom:
"Before faith came, we were allowed no freedom..." (Gal. 3:13).
"When Christ freed us, He meant us to remain free" (Gal. 5:1).
"My brothers, you were called, as you know, to freedom..." (Gal. 5:13).
". . . Be careful or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love... if you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community" (Gal. 5:13-15).
These are words written by the Church herself, in the Church's own book, by the Church's ardent Apostle, for the Church's people, as the Church's norm. She strives, today as so often in the past, to signify in her every visible structure the freedom which brought her into being, a freedom so full that she can never be completely loyal to it, a freedom so persuasive that it always demands more of her. She knows what she is about even though sin may hinder her mission of making freedom credible to that world which always settles for a lesser freedom or at times hails as freedom what the Church knows to be spiritual bondage.
Thus, the Church speaks in harmony with her nature when she declares:
"In all his activity, a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully, in order that he may come to God, for whom he was created ... and he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience" (Dignitatis Humanae Personae, 3).
The ways in which the freedom of the Christian is to be formulated by the Church in signs convincing to the world and consistent with herself are not always obvious. The ultimate freedom that the Church professes is realized in charity, of course. There is no freedom without authority, however, just is there is no love without obligation. The intricate questions arising from the relation of freedom to only these two moral factors, charity and authority, hint at how early we are in man's growth toward full understanding of freedom in itself and in its ramifications. Can we, then, be as complacent about the present, or as contemptuous of the past as we sometimes sound when there is talk about freedom?
Is it really honest to suggest for example, that we have discovered freedom's perfect formulation only in this century? Is it just to imply that other centuries were wrong when they had to seek other formulations? Is it not prudent to anticipate that future ages will be able to say of us that our way to freedom was less free that we thought? In each age, the Church may need different signs to signify her essential freedom, signs which are not subterfuges but sacraments. This is not to pretend that there were not failings in the past. it is to emphasize that the past was not always untrue to freedom, that the present has not given freedom its final sign, and that the future need not simply repeat our formulas. Even while begging God for pardon from our sins against freedom (as against every virtue), we thank Him, all the same, for what His grace and His freedom have achieved from the beginning of the Church's life.
Freedom and Authority
The Second Vatican Council, in its Declaration on Religious Freedom, does not use the phrase "freedom of conscience". This is in part because such a formula is open to considerable misinterpretation. Cardinal Newman once referred to an attitude, prevalent in his day, common to ours:
"When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting according to their judgment or their humor, without any thought of God at all . . . [Each professes] what he pleases, asking no one's leave, and, accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he likes it, in his own way ... ("Difficulties of Anglicans").
Religious authority was a vital distinction, for Newman, between natural and revealed religion.
"… It must be borne in mind that, as the essence of all religion is authority and obedience, so the distinction between natural religion and revealed lies in this, that the one has a subjective authority, and the other an objective" ("Development of Doctrine").
If there must be authority in religion, an authority essential to freedom's survival, which authority shall it be?
Catholics believe that unaided conscience is insufficient; human nature, inadequate; Scripture, incomplete. These are the three most impressive norms which are available to us, it would seem. Yet "conscience does not repose on itself" ("Grammar of Assent"), humanity is not sufficient "to arrest fierce, willfull human nature in its onward course" ("Apologia pro Vita Sua"); and even of Scripture it must be said that "a book, after all, cannot make a stand against the wild living intellect of man" (ibid.).
Authority in the Church rests ultimately in God (who is too unknown to us to serve as a concrete norm), revealing Himself in Christ (who, even in His Spirit, does not give us clear lines of procedure for doctrinal development or disciplinary progress), in the mystery and sacrament of the Church. In the Church, not only does conscience have its place; human nature, its office; Scripture, its pre-eminence, but in the Church God rules over us in the Revelation of His Son through the Spirit who dwells in the community of Christ.
Some, of course, while admitting that unsteady conscience seeks a sturdy norm, assert that there is no such norm and insist that man must bear bravely with the torment of his conscience, learning to live with darkness on every side. We believe that God does not leave man to himself but has entered history through a Word which is "the true light that enlightens all men" (John 1:8). That Word speaks to us and still enlightens us in the Church of Jesus Christ which carries the double burden of human conscience and divine authority. The only sufficient norm for conscience is authority established in a person. Thus, the Church appeals ultimately to God, to Christ and to herself whom she sees not as institution but as person since she is the Body of Jesus vivified by the Holy Spirit and present in the world.
In the five years since the Council opened, the Church has undergone many changes some the most rapid in her history and perhaps the most profound. Such a period is no time to lose patience, above all with the Church, or to attempt to decide, on the strength of one's own insights alone, what things are to be believed or what values are to be affirmed for salvation. Neither can one undertake in such a season to decide on his own, with any reasonable hope of success, what structures are necessary to make the Church a sign of Christ, indeed, an effective, grace-giving sign. Modern man is as prone to sin and as capable of religious error as man has ever been.
We may be tempted to forget that the Church is spirit and life. At a time when it is asserted that men show less interest in the formal expression of religion, we must remember that the Church's message is much more than mere talk, her structure is not simply that of just one more society. The Church transforms the meaning and enlarges the horizon of history; she changes man in the depths of his interiority; she reinterprets his every concept of self and of community.
Harnack, the German historian, once remarked that there is no other fact in all history which mankind needs so much to have brought home to it as this: A man by the name of Jesus Christ once stood in our midst. The Church is a sign to all the world that Jesus Christ still stands in our midst. The Church speaks to man, more forcefully than anything else in his experience, concerning what he is, what he is for and why he yearns to attain something beyond, something outside himself. The Church speaks to man, clearly and unequivocally, of the grace of Christ at work within him, within even the man who never heard of grace but who nonetheless pleads for it in the unspoken, wordless longing of his heart.
The Church reminds man that the grace of Christ seeks always to become tangible in the Church where uniquely it achieves its concrete, historical and sacramental expression. A Catholic can never see Christ as but one more deity in a modern Pantheon; neither can a Catholic see the Church of Christ as just another of the religious structures on the perplexing fairground of life. Rather, he sees the Church as a mystery; the mystery of that Christ who alone is holy, who alone is Lord, the norm essential for the ultimate interpretation of all reality.
A Catholic then has an especially critical task to perform in contemporary history. He believes that the Church has answers which no other religious community has. He values, of course, every Christian witness, every valid human experience, every man. Yet he well knows that his Christ must always be found in the holy, visible, Catholic Church. Once he has shared in the Mystery of the Church he is forever a man signed and sealed, a man with a mission. He may default his mission or turn a deaf ear to his vocation, but he knows it is there and he knows what it is. His mission is to witness to God in a special way. He is called to serve his fellowmen as a Catholic, to seek their salvation as much as his own and, in both, the glory of God. Those who have heard the call to the Catholic Church and have closed their hearts to it forfeit their identity and deprive their contemporaries by abandoning a work God called them to accomplish in time.
There is an eschatological dimension to the Church even as a community of service: as a community of love, of worship and of faith at work in service; it is primarily holiness the Church promotes, a holiness that cannot be easily measured or arbitrarily dismissed. When all is said and done, it is ultimately holiness that God requires of us; it is holiness that Christ gives and the Church exists to nurture.
In these unsettling times, God may not always speak to us of the need and the nature of holiness in the tranquil terms which we, perhaps naively, tend to associate with sanctity. There are times, of course, when He simply bids us to be still and see that He is God...
In this Year of Faith, we commend meditation on God's Providence over the lives of men and of nations. Reliance on God's Providence does not mean the fond expectation of divine interventions, as if by magic to prevent the consequences of folly or irresponsibility. Neither does it mean blind, unthinking, and impotent passivity in the face of eternal decrees, despotically predetermined without reference to the human condition or the use of human freedom. Christ, of all men the most responsible, accomplished His freedom in His acceptance of the Father's Providence. By God's Providence, we mean a comprehensive dominion by which God, never losing sight of us, includes all events within His purposes, never ceasing to love us, and never failing to guide and preserve His Church.
Of all the dispositions of God's Providence, none is more merciful or more generous than that by which He so loved the world as to send His only-begotten Son and so loved us as to perpetuate the presence of Christ among us through His Church. As we have stressed in this letter, there is such an identity between Christ and His Church that the attitudes we have toward the Church should be those which relate us to a person. If we have spoken of the Church as a community, even as a family, and have tried to penetrate the mystery of her life under other figures, it has been so that we might the more surely come to an understanding of her relation to Christ whose Bride, whose own Body she is.
It is of the Church as at once a community and yet somehow a personality that the Scriptures most often speak to us; under both concepts Christians have found it easiest to express their attachment to her. Maritain explains this double aspect of the Church when he describes the personality of the Church, transcending any conventional notion of personality, as unifying a multitude spread out through the whole world and through all ages, yet possessing in supreme degree the marks of personality: Unity of being and of life, consciousness, memory, perception, voice and a task to accomplish which also is one, through all times and places (cf. Maritain's "Commentary on Lumen Gentium", in Le Paysan de la Garonne, pp. 256-258).
Thinking of the Church as a person we can better appreciate the needs of the Church and how these needs are met. Pope Paul, speaking of the Church after the Council, describes her needs as pressing, urgent, even crying. He reminds us of her need for the filial attachment of all to whom she has given life, her need for their fidelity, collaboration, prayer, the gift of their time and support, the testimony of their lives to her power, her need for generosity, patience, defense, love.
Some of these needs of the Church we can reduce to the needs of the persons who constitute the Church or whom the Church exists to serve: The members of our families, our fellow parishioners, the citizens of our communities, our neighbors but also our enemies, above all, those to whom apply the words in which Christ describes how the needs of the brethren are also His: "all that you have done for these, the least of My brethren, you have done for Me" (Matt. 25:40).
Remembering the sense in which we think of the Church as a person, we can more easily understand how she is the object of faith. The ultimate object of faith is, of course, God. But the Church speaks for God; she teaches by God's authority. Christ is the object of our faith; the Church is Christ's living Body in history. Because faith gives substance to all the things we hope for, being the evidence of things that are not seen (Heb. 11, 1), faith touches on the Church at every turn; the Church walks by faith; She is sustained by faith, responding to God by her faith. But the Church is also the object of faith, the living pledge, within history and in the world, of eternal things that are not yet seen, those things which are the ground, the substance of our hope.
The Church is therefore the object of our gratitude, a gratitude which should be fervently expressed in the incessant prayers we offer for her. Few practices are more conducive to the sense of community than prayer for all the intentions of the Church, the whole Church and all her people: her saints, that they may persevere; her sinners, that, repenting, they may be her consolation and her glory; her poor, her sick, all her children known and anonymous; our Holy Father, the pope, that he may serve with courage and wisdom, being fortified by the fidelity of our great love; her missionaries, that they may spread her beneficent influence; her Bishops, priests, religious, laity, her faithful. In a word, our grateful prayers should be for "all God's holy Church".
These prayers we offer with the Virgin Mother of Christ, especially beloved in our country under the title of the Immaculate Conception, addressing our prayers through her the more confidently because of our grateful awareness of Mary's privileged relations to the Church as these have been proclaimed by the Council, the Holy Father and the piety of the people.
The Church is the object of our loyalty. Loyalty includes obedience, not the merely exterior obedience which could be passive and simply carry out instructions, but an inner, spontaneous spirit of obedience which continues among His members the fundamental act of Christ, His unqualified "Yes" to the will of His Father. It is this "Yes" which dominates the whole scheme of salvation, the Incarnation and the Redemption through which, by His obedience, Christ won for us our place in the Church and our restoration to the friendship of God. The loyalty to the Church of which we speak is therefore loyalty to Christ.
Love of the Church
This collective pastoral has had for its theme the nature of the Church, the central theme of the Council, as she emerges into the turbulent world of today. That world confronts her with a formidable task: That of formulating the Catholic faith in terms which speak to modern mentalities, particularly in the light of new religious and secular problems. This she must do without pretending that the mysteries of faith can be made any more intelligible to men in one century or culture than to those in another; the act of faith is eminently reasonable but the faith itself illumines rather than explains. It is a light by which we walk, a light whose source is God and therefore inaccessible to unaided intelligence.
That is why it was the business of the Council, as Pope John described it, to make the faith shine with new splendor so that it will continue to be "the true light that enlightens all men" (John 1:9). The work of refreshing the faith so that, again in Pope John's, phrase, "the teachings of the Church are affirmed anew" cannot be accomplished by impetuous applications of the Council, its message or its implications. The progress of the realm of the spirit, the Kingdom of God on earth, is not less arduous after the advanced by yielding on what human thought cannot understand or does not choose to accept.
Responding at once to the voice of the Spirit and to a realistic appraisal of the needs of the Church and the times, we ask all, scholars and simple faithful alike, for honest adherence to the teachings of the Council. Such adherence must be accompanied in each of us by greatly increased love for the Church, a love which rejoices, humbly but candidly, in belonging to the "elect people and royal priesthood" who are the Church; a love impelling us to share with others, generously and unashamed, the good fortune, of the faith so that, with all His brethren finding their place in the Mystical Body which is His Church, Christ may be all and in all (cf. Eph. 1:22-23).
With the Holy Father, we ask that the same love and loyalty shown toward the Church which called the Council be shown to the Church which must now interpret the Council, implement its reforms, and give direction to the spirit of renewal which is its heritage.
We have limited this first collective pastoral letter to the visible structures of the Church and her pilgrim journey through history. This we have done conscious, of course, that the Church on earth is a Church of those who, though they be saints in promise, "have not yet appeared with Christ in glory" (Lumen Gentium, 48). Thus "we are exiled from the Lord" (loc. cit.), and look forward to that day "when Christ shall appear and . . . the glory of God will light up the heavenly city" (Lumen Gentium, 51). In brief, we still seek a city, but we do so as already its citizens; we know the road, however dark, which leads home. It is the Church.
Therefore, we must love the Church as Council than it was before; it will not be we love nothing else, save only God, if the Spirit of God is to dwell in our midst, redeeming the times and renewing the face of the earth. St. Augustine says it exactly and unforgettably:
"We too receive the Holy Spirit if we love the Church, if we are unified by charity, if we enjoy the Catholic name and faith. Let us believe it, brethren: in the measure that each of us loves the Church, he has the Holy Spirit" (In John tract. 32, 8).
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