paves the way to the future
On Monday, 29 June ,
the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, the Holy Father celebrated the 58th
anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood with a Eucharistic
Concelebration during which he conferred the pallium on 34 Metropolitan
Archbishops. The Pope was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Freising,
together with his brother Georg, by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber on 29
June 1951. Present at the celebration for the Holy Apostles was a
Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople which had
come to take part in the traditional annual exchange of Delegations
between Constantinople and Rome for their Patronal Feasts. The
Delegation was headed by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Director of
the Office of the Orthodox Church at the European Union. It included
Metropolitan Athenagoras of Sinope, Assistant to the Metropolitan of
Belgium, and Deacon Ioakim Billis, Codicographer of the Holy and Sacred
Synod. Thirty-eight Cardinals took part in the rite, including Cardinal
Sodano, Dean of the College, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Also present
were Giovanni Maria Vian, Editor-in-Chief of L'Osservatore Romano, and
the Editor-in-Chief emeritus, Mario Agnes. The following is a
translation of the Holy Father's Homily, which was given in Italian
before the conferral of the pallium.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I address my cordial
greeting to you all with the words of the Apostle by whose tomb we
stand: "May grace and peace be multiplied to you" (1 Pt 1:2). I greet in
particular the Members of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
of Constantinople and the numerous Metropolitans who will receive the
pallium today. In the opening prayer of this solemn day we ask the Lord
that the Church may always follow the teaching of the Apostles from whom
she first received the announcement of the faith.
The request we address to
God at the same time calls us into question: are we following the
teaching of the great founder Apostles? Do we really know them? In the
Pauline Year that ended yesterday, we endeavoured to listen anew to him,
the "teacher of the Gentiles", hence to learn anew the alphabet of
faith. We endeavoured to recognize Christ with Paul and through Paul,
and thus to find the way to an upright Christian life. In the Canon of
the New Testament, in addition to the Letters of St Paul, there are also
two other Letters under the name of St Peter. The first ends with an
explicit greeting from Rome, which, however, appears under the
apocalyptic pseudonym of Babylon: "She who is at Babylon, who is
likewise chosen, sends you greetings" (1 Pt 5:13).
By calling the Church of
Rome "likewise chosen", he sets her within the great community of all
the local Churches
in the community of all those whom God has gathered, so that in the
"Babylon" of this world's time they might build up his People and
introduce God into history.
St Peter's First Letter is
a greeting addressed from Rome to the Christendom of all epochs. It
invites us to listen to "the teaching of the Apostles", which shows us
the way to life.
This Letter is a very rich
text that wells up from the heart and touches the heart. Its centre is
and how could it be otherwise?
the figure of Christ who is illustrated as the One who suffers and
loves, as Crucified and Risen: "When he was reviled, he did not revile
in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.... By his wounds you
have been healed" (1 Pt 2:23f.).
Then starting from the
centre that is Christ, the Letter is also an introduction to the
fundamental Christian Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist and a
discourse addressed to priests in which Peter describes himself as a
fellow priest with them. He speaks to Pastors of all generations as one
who was personally made responsible by the Lord for tending his sheep
and has thus received a specific priestly mandate.
So what does St Peter tell
— precisely in the Year for Priests
about the priest's task? First of all he understands the priestly
ministry as being based totally on Christ. He calls Christ the "Shepherd
and Guardian of ... souls" (2:25). Where the Italian [and the English]
translation speak of "Guardian", the Greek text uses the word
(bishop). A little further on, Christ is
described as the chief Shepherd:
It is surprising that Peter should
call Christ himself a Bishop, Bishop of souls. What did he mean by this?
The Greek term "episcopos"
contains the verb "to see"; for
this reason it is translated as "guardian", in other words "supervisor".
Yet external supervision, as might befit a prison guard, is certainly
not what is meant here. Rather it means watching over, from above
seeing from the lofty position of God.
Seeing from God's
perspective is seeing with love that wants to serve the other, wants to
help him to become truly himself. Christ is the "Bishop of souls", Peter
tells us. This means: he sees us from the perspective of God. In seeing
from God's viewpoint, one has an overall vision, one sees the dangers as
well as the hopes and possibilities. From God's perspective one sees the
essential, one sees the inner man. If Christ is the Bishop of souls, the
objective is to prevent the human soul from becoming impoverished and to
ensure that the human being does not lose his essence, the capacity for
truth and love; to ensure that he becomes acquainted with God; that he
does not get lost in blind alleys; that he does not end in loneliness
but remains altogether open.
Jesus, the "Bishop of
souls", is the prototype of every episcopal and presbyteral ministry. To
be a Bishop, to be a priest, means in this perspective to assume the
position of Christ. It means thinking, seeing and acting from his
exalted vantage point. It means starting from Christ in order to be
available to human beings so that they find life.
Thus the word "Bishop", is
very close to the term "Shepherd"; indeed the two concepts become
interchangeable. It is the shepherd's task to feed and tend his flock
and take it to the right pastures. Grazing the flock means taking care
that the sheep find the right nourishment, that their hunger is
satisfied and their thirst quenched. The metaphor apart, this means: the
word of God is the nourishment that the human being needs.
Making God's word ever
present and new and thereby giving nourishment to people is the task of
the righteous Pastor. And he must also know how to resist the enemies,
the wolves. He must go first, point out the way, preserve the unity of
the flock. Peter, in his discourse to priests, highlights another very
important thing. It is not enough to speak. Pastors must make themselves
"examples to the flock". (5:3). When it is lived, the word of God is
brought from the past into the present. It is marvellous to see how in
saints the word of God becomes a word addressed to our time.
In such figures as Francis
and then again, as Padre Pio and many others, Christ truly became a
contemporary of their generation, he emerged from the past to enter the
present. This is what being a Pastor means
a model for the flock: living the word now, in the great community of
Very briefly, I would like
to call your attention further to two other affirmations in the First
Letter of St Peter which concern us in a special way in our time.
There is first of all the
sentence, today discovered anew, on the basis of which medieval
theologians understood their task, the task of the theologian: "in your
hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to
anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you". (3:15).
Christian faith is hope. It paves the way to the future. And it is a
hope that possesses reasonableness, a hope whose reason we can and must
explain. Faith comes from the eternal Reason that entered our world and
showed us the true God.
Faith surpasses the
capacity of our reason, just as love sees more than mere intelligence.
But faith speaks to reason and in the dialectic confrontation can be a
match for reason. It does not contradict it but keeps up with it and
goes beyond it
to introduce us into the greater Reason of God.
As Pastors of our time it
is our task to be the first to understand the reason of faith. It is our
task not to let it remain merely a tradition but to recognize it as a
response to our questions.
Faith demands our rational
participation, which is deepened and purified in a sharing of love. It
is one of our duties as Pastors to penetrate faith with thought, to be
able to show the reason for our hope within the debates of our time. Yet
although it is so necessary
thought alone does not suffice. Just as speaking alone does not suffice.
In his baptismal and Eucharistic catechesis in chapter 2 of his Letter,
Peter alludes to the Psalm used by the ancient Church in the context of
communion, that is, to the verse which says: "O taste and see that the
Lord is good!" (Ps 34[331:8; 1 Pt 2:3). Tasting alone leads to seeing.
Let us think of the
disciples of Emmaus: it was only in convivial communion with Jesus, only
in the breaking of the bread that their eyes were opened. Only in truly
experienced communion with the Lord were they able to see. This applies
to us all; over and above thinking and speaking, we need the experience
of faith, the vital relationship with Jesus Christ.
Faith must not remain
theory: it must be life. If we encounter the Lord in the Sacrament, if
we speak to him in prayer, if in the decisions of daily life we adhere
then "we see" more and more how good he is; then we experience how good
it is to be with him. Moreover the capacity to communicate faith to
others in a credible way stems from this certainty lived. The Cure d'Ars
was not a great thinker; but he "tasted" the Lord. He lived with him
even in the details of daily life, as well as in the great demands of
his pastoral ministry. In this way he became "one who sees". He had
tasted so he knew that the Lord is good. Let us pray the Lord that he
may grant us this ability to taste, and that we may thus become credible
witnesses of the hope that is in us.
Lastly, I would like to
point out another small but important statement of St Peter. Right at
the beginning of his Letter he tells us that the goal of our faith is
the salvation of souls (cf. 1:9). In the world of language and thought
of the Christianity of today this is a strange, and for some, perhaps
even shocking assertion.
The word "soul" had fallen
into discredit. It is said that this could lead to a division of man
into spiritual and physical, body and soul, whereas in reality he would
be an indivisible unit. In addition, "the salvation of souls" as a goal
of faith seems to indicate an individualistic Christianity, a loss of
responsibility for the world overall, in its corporeity and in its
materiality. Yet none of this is found in St Peter's Letter. Zeal for
the witness in favour of hope and responsibility for others
characterizes the entire text. To understand what he says on the
salvation of souls as a destination of faith, we must start from another
angle. It remains true that the lack of care for souls, the
impoverishment of the inner man, not only destroys the individual but
threatens the destiny of humanity overall.
Without the healing of
souls, without the healing of man from within there can be no salvation
for humanity. To our surprise, St Peter describes the true ailment of
souls as ignorance, that is, not knowing God. Those who are not
acquainted with God, or at least do not seek him sincerely, are left
outside true life (cf. 1 Pt 1:14).
Yet another word from the
Letter could be useful to understand better the formula "salvation of
souls". "Purify our souls by obedience to the truth" (cf. 1:22). It is
obedience to the truth that purifies the soul and it is coexistence with
falsehood that pollutes it. Obedience to the truth begins with the small
truths of daily life that can often be demanding and painful. This
obedience then extends to obedience without reservations before the
Truth itself that is Christ. This obedience not only purifies us but
above all also frees us for service to Christ and thus for the salvation
of the world, which nevertheless always begins with the obedient
purification of one's own soul through the truth.
We may point out the way
towards the truth only if
by obedience and patience
we let ourselves be purified by the truth.
And now I address you, dear
Brothers in the Episcopate, who will shortly receive the pallium from my
hands. It was woven from the wool of lambs which the Pope blesses on the
Feast of St Agnes. In this way it also recalls the lambs and sheep of
Christ, which the Risen Lord entrusted to Peter with the task of tending
them (cf. Jn 2 1:15-18). The pallium recalls the flock of Jesus Christ
which you, dear Brothers, must tend in communion with Peter. It reminds
us of Christ himself, who, as the Good Shepherd, took the lost sheep,
humanity, on his shoulders to bring it home. It reminds us that he, the
supreme Pastor, wanted to make himself the Lamb, to take upon himself
from within the destiny of us all; to carry us and to heal us from
within. Let us pray the Lord that he will grant us to be just Pastors
following in his footsteps, "not under compulsion but willingly, as God
would have you do it... eagerly... examples to the flock" (1 Pt 5:2f).