Calls Attention to 2 Questions: Service and Marriage
WARSAW, Poland, MAY 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered this evening at a meeting with representatives of seven churches of the Polish Ecumenical Council and representatives of other religions. The meeting was in the Lutheran church of the Most Holy Trinity in Warsaw.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
"Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth" (Revelation 1:4-5). In these words with which St. John greets the seven Churches of Asia in the Book of the Apocalypse, I wish to address my own warm greetings to all who are present here, especially to the representatives of the churches and ecclesial communities affiliated to the Polish Council for Ecumenism.
I thank Archbishop Jeremiasz of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church for his greetings and his words of spiritual union addressed to me just now. And I greet Archbishop Alfons Nossol, president of the Ecumenical Office of the Polish bishops' conference.
What unites us here today is our desire to meet one another, and to give glory and honor to our Lord Jesus Christ in our common prayer: "to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father" (Revelation 1:5-6). We are grateful to our Lord, because he gathers us together, he grants us his Spirit and he enables us -- over and above what still separates us -- to cry out "Abba, Father."
We are convinced that it is he himself who intercedes unceasingly in our favor, pleading for us: "May they become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23). Together with you I give thanks for the gift of this encounter of common prayer. I see it as a stage in the implementation of the firm purpose that I made at the beginning of my pontificate, to consider a priority in my ministry the restoration of full visible unity among Christians.
My beloved predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, stated clearly when he visited this Church of the Most Holy Trinity in 1991: "However much we dedicate ourselves to work for unity, it always remains a gift of the Holy Spirit. We will be available to receive this gift to the extent that we open our minds and hearts to him through the Christian life and above all through prayer."
In fact, it is impossible for us to "make" unity through our own powers alone. As I recalled during last year's ecumenical encounter in Cologne: "We can only obtain unity as a gift of the Holy Spirit." For this reason, our ecumenical aspirations must be steeped in prayer, in mutual forgiveness and in the holiness of life of each of us. I express my satisfaction at the fact that here in Poland, the Polish Council for Ecumenism and the Roman Catholic Church have launched numerous initiatives in this area.
"Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him" (Revelation 1:7). The words of the Apocalypse remind us that we are all on a journey toward the definitive encounter with Christ, when he will reveal before our eyes the meaning of human history, whose center is the cross of his saving sacrifice. As a community of disciples, we are directed toward that encounter, filled with hope and trust that it will be for us the day of salvation, the day when all our longings are fulfilled, thanks to our readiness to let ourselves be guided by the mutual charity which his Spirit calls forth within us.
Let us build this trust not on our own merits, but on the prayer with which Christ reveals the meaning of his coming on earth and of his redeeming death: "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). On our journey toward the encounter with Christ who "is coming with the clouds," through our lives we announce his death, we proclaim his resurrection, as we wait for him to come again.
We feel the weight of the responsibility which all this entails; the message of Christ, in fact, must reach everyone on earth, thanks to the commitment of those who believe in him and who are called to bear witness that he is truly sent by the Father (cf. John 17:23). As we proclaim the Gospel, then, we must be moved by the aspiration to cultivate mutual relations of sincere charity, in such a way that, in the light of these, all may know that the Father sent the Son and that he loves the Church and each one of us just as he loved the Son (cf. John 17:23). The task of Christ's disciples, the task of each of us, is therefore to tend toward that unity, in such a way that we become, as Christians, the visible sign of his saving message, addressed to every human being.
Allow me to recall once more the ecumenical encounter that took place in this church with the participation of your great compatriot John Paul II, and his address, in which he outlined as follows his vision of the efforts directed toward the full unity of Christians: "The challenge that we face is to overcome the obstacles step by step ... and to grow together in that unity of Christ which is one only, the unity with which he endowed the Church from the beginning. The seriousness of the task prohibits all haste or impatience, but the duty to respond to Christ's will demands that we remain firm on the path toward peace and unity among all Christians. We know very well that it is not we who will heal the wounds of division and re-establish unity; we are simple instruments that God will be able to employ. Unity among Christians will be a gift of God, in his time of grace. Let us humbly tend toward that day, growing in love, in mutual forgiveness and in mutual trust."
Since that encounter, much has changed. God has granted us to take many steps toward mutual understanding and rapprochement. Allow me to recall to your attention some ecumenical events which have taken place in the world during that time: the publication of the encyclical letter "Ut Unum Sint"; the Christological agreements with the pre-Chalcedonian Churches; the signing at Augsburg of the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification"; the meeting on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the ecumenical memorial of 20th-century witnesses of faith; the resumption of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue at world level; the funeral of Pope John Paul II with the participation of almost all churches and ecclesial communities.
I am aware of the fact that here too, in Poland, this fraternal aspiration toward unity can boast concrete successes. I would like to mention at this time: the signing in the year 2000 in this very church, on the part of the Roman Catholic Church and the churches affiliated to the Polish Council for Ecumenism, of the declaration of the mutual recognition of the validity of baptism; the institution of the Commission for Dialogue of the Polish episcopal conference and the Polish Council for Ecumenism, to which the Catholic bishops and the heads of other churches belong; the institution of the bilateral commissions for theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, Lutherans, members of the Polish National Church, Mariavites and Adventists; the publication of the ecumenical translation of the New Testament and the Book of Psalms; the initiative called "Aid for Children at Christmas," in which the charitable organizations of the Churches work together: Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical.
We note much progress in the field of ecumenism and yet we always await something more. Allow me to draw attention to two questions for today, in somewhat greater detail. The first concerns the charitable service of the churches. There are many brothers and sisters who expect from us the gift of love, of trust, of witness, of spiritual and concrete material help. I referred to this problem in my first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," in which I said: "Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level: from the local community to the particular Church and to the Church universal in its entirety. As a community, the Church must practice love" (No. 20).
We cannot forget the essential idea that from the outset constituted the very firm foundation for the disciples' unity: "within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life" (ibid.). This idea is always current, even if in the course of the centuries the forms of fraternal aid have changed; accepting contemporary charitable challenges depends in large measure on our mutual cooperation. I rejoice that this problem finds a vast resonance in the world in the form of numerous ecumenical initiatives.
I note with appreciation that in the community of the Catholic Church and in other churches and ecclesial communities, various new forms of charitable activity have spread and old ones have reappeared with renewed vigor. They are forms which often combine evangelization and works of charity (cf. ibid., 30b). It seems that, despite all the differences that need to be overcome in the sphere of interdenominational dialogue, it is legitimate to attribute charitable engagement to the ecumenical community of Christ's disciples in search of full unity. We can all enter into cooperation in favor of the needy, exploiting this network of reciprocal relations, the fruit of dialogue between ourselves and of joint action.
In the spirit of the Gospel commandment we must assume this devoted solicitude toward those in need, whoever they may be. In this regard, I wrote in my encyclical that "the building of a better world requires Christians to speak with a united voice in working to inculcate ‘respect for the rights and needs of everyone, especially the poor, the lowly and the defenseless'" (no. 30b). To all those who are taking part in our encounter today I express the wish that the practice of fraternal caritas will bring us ever closer to one another and will render our witness in favor of Christ more credible before the world.
The second question to which I want to refer concerns married life and family life. We know that among Christian communities, called to witness to love, the family occupies a special place. In today's world, in which international and intercultural relations are multiplying, it happens increasingly often that young people from different traditions, different religions, or different Christian denominations, decide to start a family. For the young people themselves and for those dear to them, it is often a difficult decision that brings with it various dangers concerning both perseverance in the faith and the future structuring of the family, the creation of an atmosphere of unity in the family and of suitable conditions for the spiritual growth of the children.
Nevertheless, thanks to the spread of ecumenical dialogue on a larger scale, the decision can lead to the formation of a practical laboratory of unity. For this to happen there is a need for mutual good will, understanding and maturity in faith of both parties, and also of the communities from which they come. I would like to express my appreciation for the Bilateral Commission of the Council for Ecumenical Issues of the Polish episcopal conference and of the Polish Council for Ecumenism, which have begun to draft a document presenting common Christian teaching on marriage and family life and establishing principles acceptable to all for contracting interdenominational marriages, indicating a common program of pastoral care for such marriages. To all of you I express the wish that in this delicate area reciprocal trust and cooperation between the churches may grow, fully respecting the rights and responsibility of the spouses for the faith formation of their own family and the education of their children.
"I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26). Brothers and sisters, placing all our trust in Christ, who makes his name known to us, let us walk every day toward the fullness of fraternal reconciliation. May his prayer cause the community of his disciples on earth, in its mystery and in its visible unity, to become ever more a community of love reflecting the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
[Original text: Polish]
© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana [translation by Holy See; adapted]
"To Be an Expert in the Spiritual Life"
WARSAW, Poland, MAY 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave to priests today in Warsaw Cathedral, on the first day of his apostolic visit to Poland.
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"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you. ... For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:8-12).
Dear priests, I address to you these words of the Apostle Paul, because they perfectly reflect my feelings and thoughts today, my wishes and my prayers. I greet in particular Cardinal Jozef Glemp, archbishop of Warsaw and primate of Poland, to whom I extend my most cordial congratulations on his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination this very day.
I have come to Poland, the beloved homeland of my great predecessor Pope John Paul II, in order to inhale, as he used to do, this atmosphere of faith in which you live, and to "convey to you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened by it." I am confident that my pilgrimage during these days will "encourage the faith that we share, both yours and mine."
I am meeting you today in the great cathedral of Warsaw, every stone of which speaks of the tragic history of your capital and your country. How many trials you have endured in the recent past! We call to mind heroic witnesses to the faith, who gave their lives to God and to their fellow human beings, both canonized saints and ordinary people who persevered in rectitude, authenticity and goodness, never giving way to despair.
In this cathedral I recall particularly the Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, whom you call "the Primate of the Millennium." Abandoning himself to Christ and to his Mother, he knew how to serve the Church faithfully, despite the tragic and prolonged trials that surrounded him. Let us remember with appreciation and gratitude those who did not let themselves be overwhelmed by the forces of darkness, and let us learn from them the courage to be consistent and constant in our adherence to the Gospel of Christ.
Today I am meeting you, priests called by Christ to serve him in the new millennium. You have been chosen from among the people, appointed to act in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Believe in the power of your priesthood! By virtue of the sacrament, you have received all that you are. When you utter the words "I" and "my" ("I absolve you ... This is my body ..."), you do it not in your own name, but in the name of Christ, "in persona Christi," who wants to use your lips and your hands, your spirit of sacrifice and your talent.
At the moment of your ordination, through the liturgical sign of the imposition of hands, Christ took you under his special protection; you are concealed under his hands and in his Heart. Immerse yourselves in his love, and give him your love! When your hands were anointed with oil, the sign of the Holy Spirit, they were destined to serve the Lord as his own hands in today's world. They can no longer serve selfish purposes, but must continue in the world the witness of his love.
The greatness of Christ's priesthood can make us tremble. We can be tempted to cry out with Peter: "Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8), because we find it hard to believe that Christ called us specifically. Could he not have chosen someone else, more capable, more holy? But Jesus has looked lovingly upon each one of us, and in this gaze of his we may have confidence. Let us not be consumed with haste, as if time dedicated to Christ in silent prayer were time wasted. On the contrary, it is precisely then that the most wonderful fruits of pastoral service come to birth.
There is no need to be discouraged on account of the fact that prayer requires effort, or because of the impression that Jesus remains silent. He is indeed silent, but he is at work. In this regard, I am pleased to recall my experience last year in Cologne. I witnessed then a deep, unforgettable silence of a million young people at the moment of the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament! That prayerful silence united us, it gave us great consolation. In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the Host. Be assiduous in the prayer of adoration and teach it to the faithful. It is a source of comfort and light particularly to those who are suffering.
The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life. With this end in view, when a young priest takes his first steps, he needs to be able to refer to an experienced teacher who will help him not to lose his way among the many ideas put forward by the culture of the moment. In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revealed word. Solicitude for the quality of personal prayer and for good theological formation bear fruit in life.
Living under the influence of totalitarianism may have given rise to an unconscious tendency to hide under an external mask, and in consequence to become somewhat hypocritical. Clearly this does not promote authentic fraternal relations and may lead to an exaggerated concentration on oneself. In reality, we grow in affective maturity when our hearts adhere to God. Christ needs priests who are mature, virile, capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity. For this to happen, priests need to be honest with themselves, open with their spiritual director and trusting in divine mercy.
On the occasion of the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II frequently exhorted Christians to do penance for infidelities of the past. We believe that the Church is holy, but that there are sinners among her members. We need to reject the desire to identify only with those who are sinless. How could the Church have excluded sinners from her ranks? It is for their salvation that Jesus took flesh, died and rose again. We must therefore learn to live Christian penance with sincerity. By practicing it, we confess individual sins in union with others, before them and before God.
Yet we must guard against the arrogant claim of setting ourselves up to judge earlier generations, who lived in different times and different circumstances. Humble sincerity is needed in order not to deny the sins of the past, and at the same time not to indulge in facile accusations in the absence of real evidence or without regard for the different preconceptions of the time. Moreover, the "confessio peccati," to use an expression of St. Augustine, must always be accompanied by the "confessio laudis" -- the confession of praise. As we ask pardon for the wrong that was done in the past, we must also remember the good accomplished with the help of divine grace which, even if contained in earthenware vessels, has borne fruit that is often excellent.
Today the Church in Poland faces an enormous pastoral challenge: how to care for the faithful who have left the country. The scourge of unemployment obliges many people to go abroad. It is a widespread and large-scale phenomenon. When families are divided in this way, when social links are broken, the Church cannot remain indifferent. Those who leave must be cared for by priests who, in partnership with the local Churches, take on a pastoral ministry among the emigrants.
The Church in Poland has already given many priests and religious sisters who serve not only the Polish diaspora but also, and sometimes in extremely difficult circumstances, the missions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other regions. Do not forget these missionaries, my dear priests. The gift of many vocations, with which God has blessed your Church, must be received in a truly Catholic perspective. Polish priests, do not be afraid to leave your secure and familiar world, to go and serve in places where priests are lacking and where your generosity can bear abundant fruit.
Stand firm in your faith! To you too I entrust this motto of my pilgrimage. Be authentic in your life and your ministry. Gazing upon Christ, live a modest life, in solidarity with the faithful to whom you have been sent. Serve everyone; be accessible in the parishes and in the confessionals, accompany the new movements and associations, support families, do not forget the link with young people, remember the poor and the abandoned. If you live by faith, the Holy Spirit will suggest to you what you must say and how you must serve. You will always be able to count on the help of her who goes before the Church in faith. I exhort you to call upon her always in words that you know well: "We are close to you, we remember you, we watch."
My Blessing upon all of you!
© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana [translation by Holy See; adapted]
Pope's Address on Arrival in Poland