A Church Ever Young and New

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

At the General Audience, Wednesday morning, September 11, in the large hall of Castel Gandolfo, Pope Paul VI spoke to an immense gathering, urging the faithful to the great work of "building the Church" with unity of intention and complete dedication.

A Church always young and new

Dear Sons and Daughters!

Since the Council the life of the Church has manifested events and views, needs and duties, transformation and newness, dangers and hopes of which you are aware, but which it is well to consider. People speak of reforms, of transformations, of aggiornamento, which fill men's minds with expectation and surprise and also with doubts and reservations. We must examine this great phenomenon with attention and with confidence, discerning in it the generally positive elements of vitality and spontaneity and, in certain aspects, elements that come from the Spirit of the Lord, arousing and permeating his Mystical Body anew, animating it, vivifying and sanctifying it. This was the aim of the Council: to awaken, to reform, to rejuvenate the Church; to illuminate its conscience, to strengthen its resources, to purify its defects, to fortify its structures. The Council sought to enlarge the horizons of the Church, to recompose its unity, to dispose it for new defences and for new contacts with the world, putting it into closer contact with its sources and, finally, to hasten it on its pilgrim journey towards its eschatological goal—its final, open and glorious encounter with Christ, Our Lord. This is a great and difficult task. No wonder it is accompanied by resistance and difficulty as well as by results that are surprising, sometimes irregular and counteracting, though more often by promising and wonderful ones. We are not walking in the dark. The Council has left us a whole body of teaching. We would do well to remember it and keep it as strong motivation for the work of aggiornamento and development, of which the Church stands in need, and as a criterion in her orientation.

On another occasion We spoke of fidelity to the Council, and it would be well for us to have this guiding compass as our guide in order to guarantee our indispensable link with tradition and the continuity of our progress towards a Christianity that is ever more alive and authentic, toward a Church that is always equal to her own best standards, always young and always new.

Signs of Spiritual energy

One of the manifestations of this revival is the spontaneity of thought and of action that has characterized many of the sons of the Church. We want to regard the flowering of such spiritual energies with respect and with understanding. They spring from an act of reflection, a reckoning of conscience, a gesture of liberation from habits that have grown outworn and irrational. They emerge from seriousness of purpose, and a sense of personal responsibility, from the search for what is essential. They arise from an interior deepening of the religious spirit, from a faithful attempt to give to spiritual life a new language of its own and to theology some new and original expression, from practical and courageous sacrifice which gives testimony of an unusually authentic Christianity. All of this merits attention and often admiration. These are the shoots of spring which sprout up fresh and vigorous on the old trunks where people thought there was no possibility of new life. These are precious energies and so much the more worthy of our warm hearted regard the more often their source is ingenuous and youthful.

Whoever has a sense of the psychology of the rebirth of the ideals of a generation, whoever intuits in current opinions signs of the future they affirm, whoever, above all, has a pastoral heart for the vicissitudes of the world of man cannot despise or neglect such evidence of spiritual spontaneity. Frequently, however, they arise from individuals who are in error and take a collective form. This is the source of those indeterminate currents of spirituality or activity which polarize around one person as interpreter, or around one single formula or one school or even one magazine. Often the promoter is a priest or a religious who is responsible for such fervent groups. From time to time they attempt to attribute to themselves special vocations or even charismatic gifts.

Danger of deviation

But this spiritual growth usually flourishes outside the normal furrows of the apostolic field (cf. 1 Cor. 3, 9). Instinctively, it is a phenomenon with "anti-institutional" tendencies. There is a summons today to religious liberty, to autonomy of conscience, to maturity of the contemporary Christian. There is recourse to a spirit of criticism that is often intractable and superficial, and very close to free examination. It unwillingly tolerates the magisterium of the Church and frequently contests the limits of that magisterium. It wishes to pass outside the lines of organised Catholic forces, which it considers to be a closed ghetto, yet it does not notice that it is forming other ghettoes still more closed and arbitrary, where only the initiates are acceptable and esteemed. The proponents of these ideas find superiors and their brothers a nuisance and they empathize more readily with outsiders and adversaries . There is not infrequently a lack of doctrinal integrity and of real fraternal and social charity. They form an understanding of the Church which is all their own, devoid of the usual obligations towards community and unaccompanied by any canonical norms. They propose, instead, their own norms, perhaps good and austere, but cut off from the context of the Church and therefore virtually adrift. They are streams which do not become rivers. They are often magnificent forces which, without wishing it, contribute little, frequently disturb and, after moments of great fervour, weaken and disappear.

A call to act in unity

The Church admits plurality of forms of spirituality and of the apostolate, and often encourages the rise of free associations (cf Apost. Act. n: 19), but it does not cease to recommend that the apostolate be ordered and organised and that a dispersal of energies be avoided (ibid. n. 19 and 20). "The laity", the Council expressly says, "act in unity and in the manner of an organic body so as to better express the community of the Church and execute more efficaciously the work of the apostolate" (ibid.). The Council repeated the same recommendation for priests, deriving it from the most ancient and most authentic tradition of the Church. The Council recalls that the "union of Presbyters and Bishops is particularly necessary in our day" (Presbyt.. Ord. n. 7), and that each of the presbyters is chosen by his brethren within the bond of charity, of prayer and of unconditioned collaboration (ibid. n. 8).

One could say that this exhortation is a very real interpretation of the spirit of the Council and tends to characterize the renewal of the Church in our time. The so-called "Pastoral of Unity" or better, "Pastoral of Organic Unity", draws from it its most authoritative impulse. Our venerated predecessor, Pius XII, drew attention to it in his discourse on March 10, 1955, when, speaking in his Lenten Pastoral to the Clergy of Rome, he observed: "When, on the one hand, one sees the fervour of great undertakings, where there is no stop, no relaxation of pace, no sparing of persons, and when, on the other hand, one sees that the results are not such as the expenditure of energy and the sacrifice involved would lead one to expect, there arises doubt as to whether there is too much combat for its own sake, too much looseness and too much disunity. Who knows... what ought not to be re-examined in the apostolic task in the light of principles which regulate every tight collaboration" (Discorsi e Rad. vol. XVII, p. 9).

An organic priesthood in the ecclesial Community

"An organic priesthood in the ecclesial community": here we have a most happy formulation of programme. We are glad to see this being affirmed in the Church of God and that you priests who are listening to Us make it the object of your study and of your proposals in the current meetings and discussions of the 18th Week of a Pastoral Aggiornamento. We know the authority and experience of the promoters and speakers of this programme from which the Italian clergy draws precious inspiration and the incentive to be equal to the circumstances and urgent needs of their office and sacred mission. We cannot but express Our pleasure and We willingly encourage, promote and second this activity.

To all of you, priests and faithful here present, Our encouragement and Our exhortation is addressed to you so that you may develop a clear conscience in all things, that in every way the obligation to "build up the Church" may be accomplished with unity of intention, with fidelity of labour, with organised purpose, with dedication of heart and of work in the tested certitude that you so that you may develop a sacred enterprise of our time. You are humble yet essential collaborators, active and meritorious instruments of Christ Himself, of the one Architect, the ever present and unwearying Builder Who, in placing Peter at the cornerstone of His mystical edifice, spoke the prophetic. words: "I will build My Church" (Matt. 16, 18).

To all of you Our Apostolic blessing.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 September 1968, page  1

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