Pastors of the People and Not State Clerks
On 16 September  the Bishop of Rome [met] the clergy of his docese in the Cathedral of St John Lateran
The Holy Father suggested that the following text be read by the priests and deacons of his diocese in preparation for their meeting on 16 September at the Cathedral of St John Lateran. The following is a translation of the Italian text, which was published in 'L'Osservator Romano' on 20 July.
In a community of disciples and missionaries (203, 316, 324) Aparecida highlights the specific features (200-285) of priestly spirituality for our peoples' life in Jesus Christ. (and for their challenges: their life attacked in its identity, culture, structures, formation processes and limitations (cf. 192-195; 197). The Document's specific mention of these challenges that are then broadly developed is striking..This means that the specific characteristic of the priesthood is to be found in "constant yearning". In other words, Aparecida refrains from providing a set description of the traits specific to priests. It is the constant "yearning" of the priest throughout his life that excludes de facto any conception of the presbyterate as an "ecclesiastical career" with its mechanisms of progress, promotion, retribution and so forth.
2. Against this background Aparecida defines the priest's identity in relation to the community with two characteristics: firstly, as a "gift" (793, 326), contrasting with the terms "delegate"' or "representative". Secondly highlighting "fidelity" to the Master's call, as opposed to "strategy" (372). The initiative always comes from God: anointment by the Holy Spirit, special union with Christ the Head, an invitation to imitate the Master. The thing to highlight is that this divine initiative sets the priest within the realm of the "chosen and sent out", in other words within let us call it — a horizon, let us say in a "passive" capacity — in which the Lord plays the leading role. In this sense both his personal autonomy and his personal activity, are conditioned, because, as he is "chosen and sent out", the priest's identity in the role he carries out is that of a "guided pastor", or, expressed more metaphorically, of a "guided-guide".
3. It is appropriate not to forget that "identity" means "belonging"; one exists to the extent that one belongs. The priest belongs to the People of God; he was taken from it, is sent to it and forms part of it. Aparecida stresses this ecclesial belonging of all missionary disciples in n. 156, which is crucial in this sense: it speaks of "con-vocation" to communion in the Church and affirms that "faith in Jesus Christ reached us through ecclesial communion and that it 'gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church'". Furthermore, the Document points to the existential situation of those who do not share in this belonging of communion: the isolation of the self. A mind that is partially or intentionally detached from the journey the People of God is one of the most damaging disservices to the priest and his identity since by partially or selectively diminishing his belonging to this People. Indeed in the Aparecida text examples can be found of situations of "isolated minds", which in practice deny the affirmation of communion expressed in n. 156. Instead it affirms that "a constitutive dimension of the Christian event is belonging to a concrete communion in which we can be part of an ongoing experience of discipleship and communion with the successors of the apostles and with the successor of Peter . It should be noted that the Document says "concrete communion", in other words the particular Church or communities most clearly defined within the particular Church (for example, the parish), and not a "spiritualized" community with no real traditions or roots. Ultimately what confers an identity upon the priest is his membership in the People of God itself. Moreover what reduces or confuses this same identity is, precisely, intentional detachment from awareness in relation to this People and a tendency to sympathize with any kind of gnostic or abstract calling. In other words it implies the temptation to be a Christian without the Church. "The priestly ministry that springs from Holy Orders has a 'radical communal shape'" (195).
4. In referring to celibacy the Aparecida Document builds the community dimension on the foundations of this decision: "The celibate seeks to assume his own affectivity and sexuality, with maturity, living them serenely and joyfully on a shared journey" (196, and cf. 195).
5. It is the Holy Spirit who brings about this communion and hence makes priests belong to the People of God. It is the Spirit who permeates and motivates every aspect of life and thus also pervades and shapes the specific calling of each one of us. In this way the spirituality proper to priests, men and women religious, parents, business people, catechists and so forth takes shape and develops. Every vocation has a practical and distinct way of living spirituality which gives depth and enthusiasm to the exercise of every duty we are entrusted with (285). In other words the Holy Spirit is the author of the differences in the Church, and priestly life is one of the realities of this variety... yet it is not a static variety because it is the Holy Spirit himself who gives an impulse and harmonizes all. He does not withdraw into "cosy intimacy, but makes us generous and creative persons, happy in proclamation and missionary service" (285). And the Holy Spirit's action goes even further: "we become committed to the demands of reality and able to find a profound significance for everything that we are entrusted with doing for the Church and for the world" (285). To sum up: the ecclesial communion to which the priest belongs is brought about through the Holy Spirit who, for his part, on the one hand creates the diffrences and on the other gives them a "vocation", that is, sets them going in service to the missionary proclamation, makes them aware and involves them with the demands of reality. The Holy Spirit distinguishes and harmonizes; it is in this harmony that is fulfilled the vocation to the priesthood, the priestly identity (a harmony of differences but harmony of communion). It has nothing to do with the isolated awareness of belonging to oneself or to selective groups ("cosy intimacy") the Document calls it (285). Besides the Holy Spirit guides us into the Mystery (cf. Jn 16:53) and gives an impetus to mission (Acts 2:1-36). In this regard he protects the Church's integrity and saves her from two distortions. Without the Holy Spirit we run the risk of losing our bearings in understanding the faith, ending up with a Gnostic proposal. What is more without the Holy Spirit we run the risk of not being "sent", but of "setting our on our own initiative" and ending up confused in a maze of self-referential paths. Through guiding us into the Mystery he saves us from a Gnostic Church; in sending us out on mission he saves us
from a self-referential Church.
The image of the Good Shepherd
6. In speaking of the priest's identity Aparecida highlights the image of the Good Shepherd. With regard to parish priests and the priests who serve in the parishes the Document asks "new attitudes" of them (201). "The first requirement is that the pastor be an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ, because only a priest in love with the Lord can renew a parish. But he must be an ardent missionary who lives in constant yearning to seek out those who are separated and is not satisfied with mere administration" (201). Here once again appears the antinomy gift-strategies: in conceiving of the ministry as a gift the priest gets the better of the functionalist approach — whether or not it is success-orientated — and understands the apostolic work, in this case the parish, from the viewpoint of the disciple-missionary.
7. I shall examine only two aspects of this affirmation: the image of the Good Shepherd ad intra requires disciple-priests in love, and ad extra, ardent missionaries who serve life(199). Disciples who are in love: emphasis is given to fidelity (within a spiritual life centered on listening to the word of God and on the daily celebration of the Eucharist: "My Mass is my life and my life is prolonged Mass!" (St Alberto Hurtado, 191).
To be configured to Christ the Teacher (199) it is necessary to assume the centrality of the commandment of Love (138). "in following Jesus Christ, we learn and practice the beatitudes of the Kingdom, Jesus Christ's own style of life: his love and filial obedience to the Father, his tender compassion in the face of human suffering, his closeness to the poor and the insignificant, his fidelity to the mission entrusted to him, his servant love to the point of giving his own life" (139). I recall that priestly faithfulness is also highlighted in the Final Message and in the Pope's Address at the end of the Prayer of the Holy Rosary, point n. 3, at the Shrine of Aparecida.
Ardent missionaries (201), servants of life (199). Already recalled in n. 195 was: the fullness of affective life is expressed in pastoral charity. This aspect of the ardent missionary includes nourishing the sheep by means of the Eucharist (176-177), the word and their formation. In this regard it should be noted that for Aparecida formation is conceived as the guidance of the disciples (cf. 6,2,24). We shall have to consider this subject later. In addition to feeding the sheep it also speaks of
tending them: reconciliation (177), mercy and pastoral love, with special attention to vulnerable and violated life; violence and insecurity (197).
8. Continuing with this aspect (missionary dynamism), we see that the adjectives used in the Document are strong ones: "ardent missionaries" (199) and "fervent dedication to his pastoral mission" (195) "a priest in love with the Lord" (2001). Clearly the intention is to indicate that something much more than a simple proclamation well delivered is meant. There is an affective-existential commitment in this mission that leads to "tending" the flock entrusted to them (199). The action of' safeguarding entails strenuous dedication and tenderness, just as it also includes an evaluation of oneself and of the flock: we guard what is fragile, what is precious, what can be at risk.... and the origin of this fervent, passionate preservation is born and develops in the very "awareness of belonging to Christ (145). When this grows, by reason of the gratitude and joy that it produces, the eagerness to communicate the gift of this encounter to all also grows. The mission is not limited to a programme or project, but rather means sharing the experience of the event of the encounter with Christ, witnessing to it and announcing it from person to person, from community to community to... the ends of the earth" (545).
9. Together with the topic of the ardent missionary priest Aparecida appeals for "pastoral conversion" , which requires moving from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry". Only in this way will it be possible for "the program of the Gospel to continue to take root in the life of the Church everywhere" with new missionary zeal, making the Church visibly present as a mother who reaches out, a welcoming home, a constant school of missionary communion" (370).
For reasons of time I shall not dwell at length on the theme of pastoral conversion, although it is of capital importantce in the Aparecida Document. It suffices to remember here that pastoral conversion is closely bound to missionary fervour, to apostolic zeal.
10. This missionary fervour is brought about by the Holy Spirit. It is "based on docility to the impulse of the Spirit, to its life-giving power which mobilizes and transfigures all dimensions of existence. It is not an experience limited to the private spaces of devotion, but rather seeks to penetrate everything with its fire and life. Moved by the drive and zeal that come from the Spirit, the disciple and missionary learns to express it in work, dialogue, service, and everyday mission" (284). At the beginning of the final exhortation the Aparecida Document points out once again the missionary leadership of the Holy Spirit: "Let us head out to sea in our boats, under the powerful gust of the Holy Spirit, with no fear of storms, assured that God's Providence has great surprises in store for us" (551).
11. To sum up this aspect of missionary zeal I would now like to refer to the Final Exhortation (552). It calls attention to the fact that in its drafting, the Aparecida document — especially the last sentence: "Let us recover apostolic courage and boldness" — jumps back 30 years, towards one of the most beautiful and vital documents of the Magisterium, Evangelii
Nuntiandi. In citing the Apostolic Exhortation two things are highlighted: the description of spiritual fervour as the gentle and comforting joy of evangelizing like an inner thrust that no one and nothing can extinguish and, secondly, the apostle's idiosyncrasy in both a negative and a positive sense: "not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to consecrate their life so that the Kingdom of God may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world". The negative connotation in the apostle's personality concerns what at the beginning of n. 80 of Evangelii Nuntiandi Paul VI himself pointed out as an "obstacle" to evangelization that persist in our time: the lack of fervour... is all the more serious because it comes from within. It is manifested in fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope":
Servants and full of mercy
12. The attitude of service is one of the characteristics that Aparecida asks of priests. It is born from a twofold dimension: in-love-disciples and ardent missionaries, and — in a special way — the Document emphasizes, for the weakest and neediest. When in n. 199 Aparecida says that the People of God feel the need for disciple-priests who are configured to the heart of the Good Shepherd and for missionary-priests it is pointing to the main task of these priests "to care for the flock entrusted to them and seek out those who have strayed furthest"; and may they be "servant-of-life-priests who are alert to the needs of the poorest, committed to the defense of the rights of the weakest, and promoters of the culture of solidarity. The need is also for priests full of mercy, available to administer the sacrament of Reconciliation".
13. That the option for the poor be "preferential" means that "it should permeate all our pastoral structures and priorities" (396). The Church will continue to be... a travelling companion of our poorest brothers and sisters, even as far as martyrdom" (ibid.). She invites us to be "friends of the poor" (257), to a "closeness that makes us friends" (398), taking into account that today "we tend to defend our spaces of privacy and enjoyment too much, and we easily allow ourselves to be infected by individualistic consumerism. Hence, our opeiton for the poor is in danger of reaming on a theoretical or merely emotional level, without truly impacting our behavior and our decisions" (397). With a healthy realism Aparecida ask us "to devote time to the poor" (ibid.). The profile of a priest who "goes out" towards the abandoned peripheries is thus outlined, and the "infinite dignity" of every person is recognized (388). The purpose of this option of "closer contact" does not consist simply in "strategies for persuing pastoral success, but fidelity in imitation of the Master, ever close, accessible, available to everyone, eager to communicate life in every corner of the earth" (372).
14. As well as this closer contact and work for the poor in all the outskirts of existence, Aparecida points to the spiritual experience of mercy as indispenable to the priest — the mercy of the God of the Covenant, who is rich in mercy (23). "We acknowledge that we are a community of poor sinners, beggars, imploring God's mercy" (100h), and that we need to open ourselves to "the experience of the mercy of the Father" (249). This awareness of being a sinner is fundamental in the disciple and especially in the priest. It saves us from slithering dangerously toward a habitual (I would even say normal) situation of sin, accepted, adjusted with the environment, which is nothing other than corruption. A sinful priest, yes; a corrupt one, no.
15. In considering himself existentially a sinner the priest configures himself to "the image of the Good Shepherd... a man of mercy and compassion, close to his people and servant of all" (198). He grows in "merciful love toward all those whose life is violated in any of its dimensions, as indeed the Lord demonstrates in all his deeds of mercy" (384). Aparecida asks of the priest "a spirituality of gratitude, mercy, fraternal solidarity" (517), and that, like Jesus, he be singularly merciful to sinners (451) and show deeply felt mercy in the administration of the sacrament of Reconciliation (177). The priest's attitude in this sacrament and in general to sinners must be precisely this: deep-felt mercy. It frequently happens that our faithful encounter in confession priests who are either excessively permissive or excessively strict. Neither one is truly a witness of the love and mercy the Lord taught us and asks us to practise, for neither one takes charge of the person. They both — elegantly — dispose of him. The rigourous one refers sinners to the chill of the law, the lax one does not take them seriously and seeks to anaesthetize the awareness of sin. Only the merciful priest takes charge of the person and makes himself a neighbour, makes himself close and accompanies him or her on the way to reconciliation. The other priests know nothing of closeness and prefer to circumvent the problem, as did the priest and the Levite with the man who had been set upon by brigands on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Priests in love with the Lord
16. In n. 7 of this text I said that in the Aparecida Document the image of .the Good Shepherd implies two dimensions: one ad intra, that of disciples in love, and the other ad extra, that of ardent missionaries. Although both these dimensions go hand in hand, from the logical point of view the missionary dimension is born from the inner experience of love for Jesus Christ. Therefore, taking up this dimension of disciples in love, barely outlined, precisely, in n. 7. At the root of the disciple's experience appears, as indispensable, the encounter with Jesus Christ: "likewise today the disciples' encounter with Jesus in intimacy is indispensable for nourishing community life and missionary activity" (154). The category of the encounter (21, 28) is probably the anthropological category most widely used and repeated in the Document of Aparecida (cf. analytical index, p. 261). Being Christian is not the result of an idea but on the contrary of an encounter with a living person. This is clearly evident in the inaugural discourse of the Pope who highlighted a real priority of the mission: "To be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ and to seek life in him presupposes being deeply rooted in him", and he asked himself: "In the face of the priority of faith in Christ and of life in him", (formulated in the title of this Fifth Conference), a further question could arise: could this priority not perhaps be a flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?" (3). After a full explanation, the Pope concludes: "Discipleship and mission are like the two sides of a single coin: when the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot stop proclaiming to the world that only in him do we find salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). In effect, the disciple knows that without Christ there is no light, no hope, no love, no future" (ibid.).
17. The priest, as a disciple "encounters" Jesus Christ, bears witness that he is "not following a character from past history, but the living Christ, present in the today and the now" of his life (Benedict XVI, Inaugural Address). In himself the priest is one to whom the kerygma is addressed and therefore has a deep experience of God" (199) and in his life "the kerygma is... the leitmotiv of a process that culminates in the maturity of the disciple of Jesus Christ" (278a), a process that leads the priest to "cultivate a spiritual life that encourages other priests" (191). "The priest must be a man of prayer, mature in his choice of life for God, and must make use of the means of perseverance, such as the sacrament of confession, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, mortification, and fervent dedication to his pastoral mission" (195).
The priest's challenges and appeals to the People of God
18. As I said in n. 1, the Document of Aparecida refers to situations that affect and damage the life and ministry of our priests (192). It also recalls the theological identity of the presbyteral ministry, its incorporation into today's culture and the situations that affect it. The Document develops them in the preceding paragraphs where we may read them. Now however I want to reflect on demands on their the People of God, as indicated in n. 199. There are five aspects: a) that priests have a deep experience of God, are configured to the heart of Christ the Good Shepherd, docile to the motions of the Spirit, and nourished by the Word of God, the Eucharist and prayer"; b) that they be missionaries moved by pastoral charity which leads them to care for the flock entrusted to them and to seek out those who have strayed furthest; c) that they be in deep communion with their bishop, with other priests, and with deacons, men and women religious, and lay people; d) that they be servants of life alert to the needs of the poorest, committed to the defense of the rights of the weakest, and promoters of the culture of solidarity; e) that they be full of mercy, available to administer the sacrament of Reconciliation". To cultivate and develop this spiritual identity requires "a ministry for priests emphasizing the specific spirituality and permanent and integral formation of priests" (200).
19. Underlying these explicit calls is the anxiety implicit in our faithful: we need pastors of people not State clerks, functionaries. We need men who do not forget that they were "taken from the flock", that do not forget "their grandmother... and their mother..." (2 Tim 1:5); priests who defend themselves from the corrosion of "spiritual worldliness", which is "the greatest danger, the most perfidious temptation, which always recurs — insidiously — when all the others have already been overcome, and regains strength with its very victories". "If this spiritual worldliness invaded the Church and worked to corrupt her, attacking her essence, it would be infinitely more devastating than any other merely moral worldliness. Even worse than the abominable leprosy which, at a certain period in history, destroyed the image of the beloved Bride, when religion seemed to be the fuse that caused the scandal to explode in its very sanctuary and, represented by a libertine pope, concealed the face of Christ beneath precious stones, sheep-skin and spies. Spiritual worldliness is what is practically presented as detachment from other worldliness, whose ideal, however spiritual among other things, would be man and his perfecting, instead of the glory of God. Spiritual worldliness is nothing other than an anthropocentric attitude.... A humanism subtly hostile to the Living God and with thousands of subterfuges secretly, equally hostile to man can find a nesting place within us" (Henri de Lubac, Meditazione sulla Chiesa, Milan, Jaca Book, 1993, pp. 446-447.
20. The faithful People of God to which we belong, from which we were taken and to which we have been sent, has a sense of smell which comes to it from the sensus fidei so that it can tell when a pastor of the people is turning into a State clerk, a functionary. This is not the same as the case of a sinner priest: we are all sinners and we follow the flock. However the worldly priest enters a different process, a process — I hear the word — of spiritual corruption that attacks the very nature
of pastor, distorts it, and gives it a status very different from that of the holy People of God. Both the Prophet Ezekiel and likewise St Augustine, in his Sermo 46, De pastoribus in Ezechiel, identify this kind of shepherd with the one who exploits the flock: he takes the milk and the wool. Throughout its message to priests Aparecida aims for a genuine identity of the "pastor of the people", and not the corrupt or adulterated one of "State clerk".
Weekly Edition in English
4 September 2013, page 6
For subscriptions to the English edition, contact:
Our Sunday Visitor: L'Osservatore Romano