prudent and good servants
On Saturday morning, 12
September , in St Peter's Basilica, the Holy Father presided at
Holy Mass for the second episcopal Ordination of his Pontificate. He
ordained five new Bishops. The other consecrators were Cardinal Tarcisio
Bertone, Secretary of State, and Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Prefect
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while 22 Cardinals
and about 100 Archbishops and Bishops and numerous priests also took
part. Relatives of the new Bishops brought the gifts to the altar during
the Offertory. The following is a translation of the Pope's Homily,
which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We greet with affection and cordially join in the joy of
our five brother priests whom the Lord has called to be successors of
the Apostles: Mons. Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Mons. Franco Coppola,
Mons. Pietro Parolin, Mons. Raffaello Martinelli and Mons. Giorgio
I am grateful to each one of them for the faithful
service they have rendered to the Church, working in the Secretariat of
State, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or the Governorate
of Vatican City State. I am certain that in their new fields of pastoral
action they will carry out with the same love for Christ and the same
zeal for souls the ministry that is entrusted to them today with their
In accordance with the Apostolic Tradition, this
Sacrament is conferred through the imposition of hands and prayer. The
laying on of hands takes place in silence. Human words are hushed. The
soul opens in silence to God whose hand reaches out to the man and takes
him for his own. At the same time, he invests him to protect him so that
he may become entirely God's property, belonging to him fully and
leading men and women into God's hands. Prayer follows, however, as a
second fundamental element of the act of consecration. Episcopal
Ordination is an event of prayer. No man can make another man a priest
or a Bishop. It is the Lord himself, through the words of prayer and the
act of the imposition of hands, who takes that man totally into his
service, draws him into his own Priesthood.
It is he himself who consecrates those chosen. He
the one High Priest who offered the one sacrifice for us all confers on
him participation in his own Priesthood so that his word and his work
may be present in all the ages.
In her Liturgy the Church
has developed an eloquent sign for this connection between prayer and
Christ's action on the human being: during the prayer of Ordination the
open Book of the Gospels is placed on the candidate's head. The Gospel
must penetrate him, the living word of God must, so to speak, permeate
The Gospel is, at its core,
not only a word
Christ himself is the Gospel. With the word, the very life of Christ
must enter into that man so that he may become entirely one with him and
so that Christ may live in him and give shape and content to his life.
In this way what appears as
the essence of the priestly ministry of Christ in the Readings of
today's Liturgy must be brought about in him. The man consecrated must
be filled with and live on the Spirit of God. He must bring to the poor
the Good News
the true freedom and hope that gives life to human beings
and heal them. He must establish the Priesthood of Christ among men and
women, the Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, that is, the
kingdom of justice and peace. Like the 72 disciples sent out by the
Lord, he must be one who brings healing, who helps to heal man's inner
wound, a person's distance from God.
The first and essential
good which man needs is closeness to God himself. The Kingdom of God of
which the Gospel passage speaks today is not something "next to" God,
not some worldly condition: it is simply the presence of God himself,
which is the truly healing force.
Jesus summed up all these
multiple aspects of his Priesthood in a single sentence: "The Son of Man
also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a
ransom for many" (Mk 10:45).
Serving, and in so doing
giving oneself; existing not for oneself but for others, on behalf of
God and in view of God: this is the innermost core of Jesus Christ's
mission and at the same time the true essence of his Priesthood.
Thus he made the term
"servant" his highest title of honour. He brought about with it an
overturning of values, he gave us a new image of God and of man. Jesus
does not come in the guise of a master of this world but the One who is
the true Master comes as a servant. His Priesthood is not dominion but
service: this is the new Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in keeping with
St Paul formulates very
clearly the essence of the apostolic and priestly ministry. Confronting
the disputes that existed in the Church of Corinth between the different
factions that adhered to different Apostles, he asks: What then is an
Apostle? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants, each
according to what the Lord has assigned them (cf. 1 Cor 3:5). "This is
how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the
mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found
trustworthy" (1 Cor 4:1-2).
In Jerusalem, in the last
week of his life, Jesus himself spoke in two parables of those servants
to whom the Lord entrusts his goods in the time of the world. Through
them he has pointed out to you three characteristics of correct service,
in which the image of the priestly ministry is also actualized.
Lastly, let us take a brief
look at these characteristics, to contemplate, through the eyes of Jesus
himself, the task that you, dear friends, are called to take on at this
The first characteristic
which the Lord requires of his
servant is fidelity. He has been entrusted with a great good that does
not belong to him. The Church is not our Church but his Church, the
Church of God. The servant must account for how he has managed the good
that has been entrusted to him.
We do not bind people to
us; we do not seek power, prestige or esteem for ourselves. We lead men
and women toward Jesus Christ, hence toward the living God. In so doing,
we introduce them into truth and into freedom, which derives from truth.
Fidelity is altruism and, in this very way, liberating for the minister
himself and for all who are entrusted to him.
We know how
in civil society and often also in the Church
things suffer because many people on whom responsibility has been
conferred work for themselves rather than for the community, for the
With a few strokes the Lord
sketches an image of the wicked servant, who begins by grovelling and
beating the workers, thereby betraying the essence of his
responsibility. In Greek, the word for "fidelity" coincides with the
word for "faith". The fidelity of the servant of Jesus Christ also
consists precisely in the fact that he does not attempt to adapt faith
to the fashions of the times. Christ alone has the words of eternal life
and we must bring these words to the people. They are the most precious
good that has been entrusted to us.
There is nothing sterile or
static about such fidelity; it is creative. The master rebuked the
servant who, attempting to avoid all risk, had buried the money given to
him in the ground. With this apparent fidelity, the servant had in
reality set aside the good of his master to dedicate himself exclusively
to his own affairs.
Fidelity is not fear but
rather is inspired by love and by its dynamism. The master praises the
servant who has invested his goods profitably. Faith demands to be
passed on: it was not given to us merely for ourselves, for the personal
salvation of our own souls, but for others, for this world and for our
time. We must bring faith into this world so that it may become in it a
living force; in order to increase God's presence in the world.
The second characteristic
that Jesus asks of the servant
is prudence. Here it is necessary first to eliminate a misunderstanding.
Prudence is something other than shrewdness. Prudence, according to the
Greek philosophical tradition, is the first of the cardinal virtues. It
indicates the primacy of the truth which, through "prudence", becomes a
criterion for our action. Prudence demands humble, disciplined and
watchful reason that does not let itself be blinded by prejudices; it
does not judge according to desires and passions but rather seeks the
truth, even though it may prove uncomfortable.
Prudence means searching
for the truth and acting in conformity with it. The prudent servant is
first and foremost a man of truth and a man of sincere reason. God,
through Jesus Christ, has opened wide for us the window of the truth
which, before our own mere forces, often remains narrow and only
In Sacred Scripture and in
faith in the Church God shows us the essential truth about man, which
impresses the right orientation upon our action.
Thus, the first cardinal
virtue of the priest as minister of Jesus Christ consists in letting
himself be moulded by the truth that Christ shows us. In this way we
become truly reasonable people, who judge on the basis of the whole and
not on chance details. Let us not allow ourselves to be guided by what
we see through the small window of our personal astuteness, but, rather,
let us look at the world and at human beings through the large window
that Christ has opened to us on the whole truth and thus recognize what
truly counts in life.
The third characteristic
of which Jesus speaks in the
parables of the servant is goodness: "Good and faithful servant... enter
into the joy of your master" (Mt 25:21, 23). What is meant by the
characteristic of "goodness" can become clear to us if we think of
Jesus' encounter with the rich young man. This man had addressed Jesus
calling him "Good Teacher" and was given the surprising answer: "Why do
you call me good? No one is good but God alone" (Mk 10:17 f.).
Only God is good in the
full sense. He is the Good, the Good par excellence, Goodness
personified. In a creature
being good is therefore necessarily based on a profound interior
orientation towards God. Goodness increases in inner union with the
Goodness presupposes in
particular a living communion with God who is Good, a growing inner
union with him. And in fact, from whom else could one learn true
goodness if not from the One who loved us to the end, to the very end
(cf. Jn 13:1).
We become good servants
through our living relationship with Jesus Christ. Only if our life is
lived in dialogue with him; only if his being, his characteristics enter
into us and shape us can we become truly good servants.
In the Church's calendar
the Holy Name of Mary is commemorated today.
who was and is totally united with her Son, Christ
those amidst the darkness and sufferings of this world have found the
face of the Mother who gives us the courage to go on.
In the Western tradition,
the name "Mary" was translated with "Star of the Sea". The title
expresses exactly this experience: how often does the story which we are
living appear like a dark sea whose waves pound threateningly against
the small vessel of our life. At times, the night seems impenetrable.
Often we can be under the impression that evil alone has power and that
God is infinitely remote. We often glimpse only from afar the great
Light, Jesus Christ who has overcome death and evil.
Yet then we see very near
that light which is kindled when Mary says: "Behold, I am the handmaid
of the Lord". We see the bright light of goodness that emanates from
her. In the goodness with which she met and continually meets the needs
of the great and small aspirations of numerous men and women, we
recognize the goodness of God himself in a very human way. With his
goodness he brings to the world ever anew Jesus Christ, hence the great
Light of God. He gave us his Mother as our own Mother that we might
learn from her to say the "yes" that makes us become good.
Dear friends, at this
moment let us pray the Mother of the Lord for you, that she may always
lead you towards her Son, the source of all goodness. And let us pray
that you may become faithful servants, prudent and good, and thus that
you may one day be able to hear the Lord of history speak these words:
"Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master". Amen.