A blueprint for reform in the Catholic Church. The author draws on twenty-five years at the head of a young missionary order which he founded, and proposes a road forward out of the quagmire the Catholic Church and its priests find themselves in today.
“Will there still be priests in the Church’s future? Has not the time come for us to humbly inquire into the direction change should take?” So writes Mons. Massimo Camisasca. He dedicates nearly half of his book to silence, prayer, liturgy, and the Mass, and then moves on to discuss several commonly underdeveloped themes (study, fatherhood, common life, and friendship). He closes with three chapters on hot-button issues (virginity, women, mission) which he treats on the basis of the preceding reflections. With a preface by Mons. Bruguès, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education.
Why are we convinced that the human sciences are enough? Why have we preferred to create liturgical enthusiasts, specialists in prayer, social action professionals – but not true men, mature men, men of God? Why do we no longer know how to form people authentically fascinated by silence, reading, and study? These questions pertain to us all, but impact directly the Church and her leaders.
Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P., Secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education
Will There Still Be Priests in the Church’s Future?
The Holy Father has named .
Below is the letter sent by Msgr. Camisasca to the members of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo.
To all of the members of the Fraternity of St. Charles
This morning the Holy See announced that the Holy Father Benedict XVI wished to appoint me bishop of Reggio Emilia – Guastalla, thereby joining me to the College of the successors of the Apostles.
It is a decision that honors me, but especially one that honors our Fraternity.
The close bonds of affection and vocation which exist between me and all of you require that I say something more to you. I would have desired to remain with you always, occupied wholly and only with all of you. Not only have I done nothing to pursue other tasks, but I have done everything I could to avoid them – to the point of expressing to my highest Superiors my wish to continue to serve the Church by serving your lives. In the end, I have placed myself under the will of the Holy Father.
Certainly, the practical forms of our relationship will now change, but nothing can remove my fatherhood towards you. And this will remain so, while taking nothing away from the new people that is now entrusted to me. We know from our experience that love can, by the Spirit’s gift, spread itself without diminishing.
Speaking with the confidence which I can allow myself with you, I do not hide from you that, as the day of my episcopal consecration draws near, I have experienced moments of dismay. To leave those who have lived with me for many years in an intense bond of shared responsibility, to leave each of you, to leave the daily rapport with the seminarians, to live in a new city, to face new responsibilities… all of this has been a source of great pain for me. In the end I have abandoned myself to the will of God and have regained peace, placing myself in the arms of the mother of God, Mary most holy.
I thank each of you for the witness of obedience that you have given me during these twenty-seven years. Above all for the intense communion that we have lived, both in the many happy hours, and in the times of trial. I would like to mention many names, indeed the names of all of you.
Allow me here to simply mention Gianluca Attanasio and Paolo Sottopietra, who have been my two closest friends and invaluable collaborators during these last twenty years. With them I also remember Msgr. Paolo Pezzi, now archbishop of Moscow, the first bishop from the ranks of our Fraternity.
I am certain that your prayers for me will not be wanting, nor the help from heaven of our holy patrons and that of Fr. Giussani. I will have much need of them.
I hope to see you soon, both at my episcopal consecration and at my entrance into the Diocese – and then to receive you personally when, passing through what will by then be my new city, you wish to visit me.
I know already that I have your promise, indeed your desire, to love and obey my successor and his collaborators, just as you have done with me.
God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Phil 1,8).
One by one, I embrace you in the Lord, who is our peace.
don Massimo Camisasca
Rome, 29 September 2012
Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels
To introduce us to the profound meaning of what happens to you today and in reflex to us, let us place ourselves on the same wavelength of the question that Andrew and John directed to Jesus: Master, where do you live? (Jn 1.38).
As well as this evening we also ask: “Where do you live?”. To be able to stay with Him, we must know where he lives. Your “yes” today is placed on the path that you are completing here in the seminary, a path in which you learn where Jesus lives and how to stay with him. To know Jesus, to know Him interiorly, profoundly, to experience him constitutes the fullness of our existence.
The question of the two future apostles responds to a question of Jesus, who asks them: what are you looking for? (Jn 1.38). We too are asked this evening by Jesus whether we really seek him. We too respond: “yes, we want to find you, we want to stay with you, to learn from your voice the wisdom which guides and governs the world, to learn from your heart the charity which heals the wounds and makes possible unity”.
“Where do you live?” is a question which makes one immediately think of a home. To stay with you, we must come to your house. The theme of the house runs the course of the Old Testament. To give a house to God was the dream of David, the realization of Salomon and the project of renewal following the exile.
The psalms remind us: The one thing I ask to the Lord, this alone I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to taste the sweetness of the Lord and admire his sanctuary (Psalm 26.4); Blessed is he who lives in your house: always sings your praises (Psalm 83.5); Lord, I love the house where you dwell and the place where your glory dwells (Psalm 25.8); for what joy when I said to myself: let us go to the house of the Lord (Psalm 121.1); We will quench ourselves of the goods of your house, of the holiness of your temple (Psalm 64.5).
To you as well this evening you are being given a house. This house in which you have lived these past few years is revealed in this liturgical gesture as being the house that God has assigned you forever. On the depth with which you enter this house depends the good and happiness of your life.
To enter this house certainly means getting to know the people which make it up, recognizing the profound links that make us one body. Above all the discovery of the reasons which generated this house, the motives through which God willed and follows our story with paternal benediction.
A recent translation of the Bible translates the question of the apostles: where do you dwell? This expression brings us to a more profound consideration of the story told in the Gospel. Through the question of the dwelling, the apostles want to discover what is the secret and profound place in which Jesus lives, the place in which his heart reposes and is nourished, where he remains. At the same time this point inaugurates his public life, the long and frenetic itinerary of the journey which will bring him to the village of Judah, to Galilee and to Samaria, Jesus constantly remains near the Father. One cannot go if there is not, at the same time, a place where one remains. He came from very far away, he is the eternal Word of God that has become man, but always remaining near the Father. It is here where he would like to bring his own, it is here where he would like to bring us.
To go to the Father we must become one with him. Indeed he said: Who sees me, sees the Father (cfr. Jn 12.45). To know the Father, we must know him. To remain in the Father we must remain in Him. For this reason the Gospel of John, which opens with this revelation that Jesus makes to us of the place in which he remains, will close, in the fifteenth chapter, with an insistent reminder to remain. In seven verses the verb is repeated nine times.
We discover in this way the more profound and true meaning of our house: it does not exist to close ourselves in it, but instead to open us to always new dimensions of the life of the Father. Whoever is faithful in little will receive much. Whoever embraces the humble dimensions, which are sometimes scandalous for their weakness and poverty, of our human companionship, will be guided to experience God, to know God, He who we cannot contain and which our mind cannot measure.
This, in the end, is the truest secret of the celebration this evening: through daily and apparently banal things, we are guided towards profound and abundant joy.
I wish to each one of you to live and to renew each day this experience: within the house of men, lives the house of the Father, in which you will live forever. Amen.
A few days ago we began Lent.
I want to share some reflections with you that have been with me during these days, and that I have already put before the seminarians.
Lent invites us to leave behind the image we have of ourselves, to encounter God and to be able to find our I in him. It is he who opens wide the true dimensions of our personality. It is he who teaches us what the good would be for our lives, and what are the paths to reach it. Of course, in this transition we have the impression of dying. Fr. Giussani commented countless times on this experience of mortification as being like death. It seems like you have to leave everything.
Sacrifice is to leave space for the Other. To let the Other occupy a space in my life, to gradually enter my life until he fills it completely, until he becomes my I: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2,20). Sacrifice is to leave space for Christ. It is the Passover, the passage from the apparent to the real, from the devil to God, from the I as the meaning of everything to God as the meaning of everything.
The purpose of Lent is not mortification, but that each person would find himself: the one who loses himself, finds himself. Sacrifice is the path which is necessary for our nature, which is inclined to evil and division, to be able to discover its identity.
But it is not a sudden passage. It requires much time. The common meaning of sacrifice, which is by no means trivial, is suffering. Why do we think of these two words as strongly connected? Why does making a sacrifice cause us to suffer? Because it involves a change. It is a sacrifice, because it is the passage to a greater good in which we do not yet fully perceive the light. But God guides us and fills us with consolation.
In the eleventh chapter of The City of God, St. Augustine says that the one sacrifice is communion. The one sacrifice is the passage to communion, to be able to say: “you are my I.” The one sacrifice, therefore, is love. It is the great revolution introduced into the world’s history first by the prophets, and then by Jesus. His love makes possible every sacrifice to affirm the other, even the sacrifice of one’s life. This is why the Church identifies virgins and martyrs with the highest form of love, because virginity and martyrdom testify that the greatest joy in life is to affirm the other, to affirm that everything is the other.
The little Lenten sacrifices we did as children made no sense except from this perspective: to affirm the fact that the other is everything. Likewise, the sacrifices that the Church invites us to live during this time of Lent, such as fasting, almsgiving and prayer, are not a renunciation, but an affirmation. In this sense sacrifice is an anticipation of the Resurrection.
Sacrifice, then, is the path to communion, it is the space we open to the Beloved. It is also true that in the supreme moment in the history of the world, sacrifice and communion are two words that indicate the same reality: the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we come to perceive that sacrifice is already communion, it is already everything, because sacrifice is to make space for the Other, and this is already everything.
(Letter sent to the priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles, February 2010)
in the photo: Way of the Cross in Siberia
Our life is defined by what attracts us, not by our limitations. When someone travels, he always has the destination in mind, and this awareness also determines his itinerary. If someone undertakes a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, or Czestochowa, or Chartres, what dominates his heart? His desire to arrive. If we were to hear again the testimonies of the seminarians who traveled the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela this year, we would surely be struck by the fact that the moment of greatest emotion for them was their arrival in the plaza in front of the Cathedral, where they knelt down and sang Non nobis Domine.
Our goal dominates our life, determining and illuminating the steps we take every day. This fact shows the profound difference between every kind of human messianism and Christianity. Human messianism, indeed every revolutionary ideal, must necessarily deny the present so as to affirm the future. “The lives lost now, the sacrifices of today, don’t matter – they are necessary for a better tomorrow.” In Christianity, on the other hand, the goal illuminates and energizes the present, giving us light and good judgment concerning it, and the strength to live it.
Sure, the pilgrim’s feet are sore during the journey, but the pain is not everything: desire for the goal and being with others makes the challenge bearable. The same is true in a life enlightened by Christ: the evils we suffer do not define us. This is not to minimize what we suffer, but we can get through it, and even turn it to our advantage: because of the humiliation it costs us, our suffering can become a springboard for our lives.
I want to use the image of a pilgrimage to describe our path toward affective maturity, which is, in the first place, made possible by the presence of an authority. Without an authority, there is no guide on the pilgrimage of life, no direction, no certainty about the road to take. It is this certainty, in fact, that sets boundaries for our limitations and sins. This certainty of the road makes it so our limitations and sins don’t have the last word, but are confined and, little by little, if God wills it, sometimes even overcome. Echoing a saying of Fr. Giussani, we are mendicant pilgrims. We are pilgrims on the road, but we are not stragglers, people without a goal, going this way today and that way tomorrow – this is not a pilgrim. A pilgrim is a person in whom the goal is alive, which is precisely why he can reach it. The goal is alive in him because others are with him, travelling toward the same goal. There is nothing static about our company, nothing pre-defined, nothing that stifles the personality, the originality of the I. On the contrary, everything is for us and for our growth, because each person’s uniqueness can contribute to generating glory, which is multi-colored.
Love of God, self and neighbor
Jesus’ saying, which is also found in the Old Testament, comes to mind: “Love God with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mt 22, 37-39). I want to say at least a few words about each of these three loves: of God, of neighbor and of self.
Reading the gospel we note the insistence with which Jesus invites us to love God with our whole self. At the same time, he speaks of love of neighbor as being a love that is similar to our love for God (cf. Mt 22, 39). Why is this so? We can also think of John who says: “How can you love the God you do not see, if you do not first love your neighbor whom you do see?” (cf. 1 Jn 4, 20). Which comes first?
The contradiction here is only apparent. To love God with our whole self means that the transformation of our life is never-ending. The one who attracts us is infinite, and can never be reduced to the idea that we have of Him. Within the carnality of our earthly lives, there is an infinite who attracts us.
Affective fulfillment is not in the first place something that I do to love others, to tolerate others, to make myself better. Affective maturity is to adhere to the One who attracts me. He attracts me above all through his active Spirit, through his Son who speaks to me. He attracts me through the body of his Son. This is affective maturity, to let ourselves be attracted: Amor meus, pondus meum. We are familiar with this saying of Augustine, because we read it every year in the breviary: “Weight doesn’t only go down, but to its proper place. Fire goes up, a rock down, both moved by their weight to seek their place. My weight is my love; it takes me wherever I go. Your Gift ignites us, and carries us upwards” (Confessions, 13, 9). This is that delectatio victrix that Fr. Giussani cited in one of his earliest texts: the infinite that attracts me. This infinite, however, is not an infinite sentiment, or an infinite experience – it is a Person. The infinite is a You, made flesh.
This is affective maturity: to not resist the One who attracts me. But the infinite attracts me through his Spirit, and I can never separate his Spirit from his Body – which is how we begin to discover love of neighbor. Why did Jesus say that this commandment is like the first? Because I cannot love the God that I do not see, if I do not love the neighbor that I see. The place where God attracts me is in the human reality in which he has set my life. This human reality is made up of an infinite series of relationships, ranging from the people who have most affected my life to those whom I met only for a moment, but who, without my being aware of it, have left something within me. The “neighbor” is a neologism invented by Jesus. It is the infinite that reaches you through the people who are closer to you than others. He has put them precisely where they are so that the infinite would not be an idea, a mere sentiment, a party, a faction, an ideology. The greatest grace that God can impart to a man or a woman’s life are the people that he has them encounter, and the companionship that these people provide for them. The infinite bonds spoken of in the Song of Songs are above all in our everyday encounters.
Purification of love
Christ attracts me primarily through things and people. My wounded, tired soul could stop at that. Idolatry is nothing other than to confuse the creature with the Creator, which is why there is a continual need for the purification of love.
My comments here come directly from a saying of Fr. Giussani that I have referred to many, many times and that, in the book I wrote about him, I cited as one of the loftiest, most impressive and truly innovative points in the Church’s recent history: the definition of virginity as distance in possession, or possession that includes distance in it. We must take this expression in its entirety. In it is the exaltation of the human in Christ, which so characterized Fr. Giussani’s entire life, and the inevitability of sacrifice, which he always cited as the condition of the road. No one wants to do away with or repress friendship and sentiments, or to put them “in parentheses”, but we must be very clear and ask ourselves: what does God want of me? And what does that mean for the other, in light of the road that God has assigned to him?
Christ is not paradoxical. Christ gives us an abundance of human affections to help us to understand what it means to love him. It doesn’t scandalize me when someone says: “It seems that I love that person more than I love Jesus”, because our path towards the Infinite is without end, and, before you love the God that you don’t see, you love the neighbor that you see. But love the neighbor that you see so as to walk toward God, to walk toward the fullness of yourself.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mt 19, 20): this saying brings us to the deepest heart of the revolution brought about by Jesus, the same revolution that He expressed when he said: “The one who loses his life will find it” (cf. Lk 9, 25), the same revolution that he brought in saying: “I have come that you would have life, and fullness of joy” (cf. Jn 10, 10; Jn 15, 11). Jesus came for our fulfillment. Someone who does not love himself cannot love God and others. “They believe that they love God because they don’t love anyone”, wrote Simone Weil.
You cannot love yourself if you do not acknowledge that you have received your being from the One who made you – that you are a creature. In this way you discover the positiveness of creation. Then you discover that you have been saved, you discover the preciousness of Christ’s death and resurrection; and finally you discover that you have been called, you discover the privilege of every vocation.
These loves – love of God, love of neighbor and love of self – are a single love. They are a description of the movement of love. Since God is infinite, I must learn to be patient with my limits, and indeed that there are some limitations that I will have until the end of my life. Perhaps God will save me precisely because, humiliating me through those limitations, he will compel me to pray, to acknowledge him, to love him. “So that I would not become too elated, he gave me a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me” (cf. 2 Cor 12,7). These are the words of St. Paul! Certainly, many of the affections that arise in our lives speak to us of a new richness that awaits us. But when they become disordered, they also point to a gap in our existence.
Love of work
Every responsibility that is entrusted to a person is a fundamental path of love. For every person, in fact, work is the channel for his expression. It brings him into relation with others and with the whole world, and in it he responds to the one who has called him. This is why we must change the way we look at work, acquiring, in our prayer, a passion for the responsibility that has been entrusted to us, and at the same time a detachment from it. It is true that in the Christian life we experience the unity of what, in the world, is divided. How can you be passionate and detached at the same time? Is it possible? Definitely. Not only is it possible, but it is desireable. Only in this way can a person find the truth of himself. Life calls us to let those we have given birth to and raised walk by themselves. It is very difficult to detach ourselves from those we are tempted to possess.
We would never leave our children and our friends, or abandon them, even if they are called to travel a road that we had not foreseen. We should not be offended by the fact that one day we are here, and the next day we are called to be somewhere else. Certainly there will be a period of adjustment, perhaps even some regret or nostalgia, but that’s it. We should attend to what we are being asked at the present moment, knowing that what we have done up until now is never lost – not a moment will be lost. This certainty makes us experience a fullness in the moment, in the present. Why does the Church suffer? Because everybody feels they have the right to do what they want, disregarding even the Pope. No one obeys any more, no one is prepared to recognize the glory that is within obedience.
Is to give oneself to “empty oneself” (cf. Phil 2, 7)? Yes, but with a special emphasis: that charity, when it is shared, is never diminished. When I give myself wholly to Christ, I am filled a hundred times over.
The seed must die to give way to the plant. To die is to learn a language. To learn Hungarian, for example, means to die, because we must forget something first, otherwise we will not be able to learn the language. The same with Chinese. To enter into a place to the point of being immersed in that place, to the point of becoming of that place, without losing oneself: isn’t this the second chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philipians? “He did not consider his equality with God a treasure to be grasped, but emptied himself, to the point of taking on human form, of becoming man” (cf. Phil 2, 6-7). And he did so that we might become God, divine, partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter says (cf. 2 Pt 1, 4). This is the description of what mission is. (Notes from an address to the priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles, July 2009)
Prayer establishes a bond between our lives that would otherwise be impossible, since it leads to the discovery, like a treasure slowly lifted out of the depths of the sea, of the mysterious and profound unity in which God has bound all of humanity. Indeed, the deepest essence of prayer is intercession: «To intercede, to ask on behalf of another, is the prerogative of a heart that is in sympathy with the mercy of God. Christian intercession is an expression of the communion of saints », says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is the priest in particular who situates himself as one who intercedes for all – a bit like Moses, who raised his hands during the battle, and offered his sacrifice for the whole people (cf. Ex 17,8-14). This is clearly seen in the words recited at the moment of consecration: «This is my body, this is my blood, given for you ». At its heart, prayer is always intercession, and intercession is always an offering of oneself. Thus when we recite the psalm, saying: «Lord, my strength, my fortress, my rock» (cf. Ps 17,3; Ps 30,4; Ps 117,14), we also say these words for those who are unable to say them. They are of decisive importance for those people as well. In this way we understand the priestly significance of baptism, and the significance of the ordained priesthood. Through the latter, in the eucharistic sacrifice, the common priesthood becomes objective supplication and offering. Here we see the cosmic value of the eucharistic sacrifice, which encompasses the entire history of the world each time it is offered. This is so true that it is impossible to celebrate Mass conscious of its nature or to participate in it attentively, without bringing to it everything that has been lived during that day, that hour, that week. Not only the people we have met, but also those whom we will never meet. In prayer – the place where everyone becomes a priest – each of us brings the mystery and life of all to Christ, and especially of those who do not pray or do not know how to pray, those who have stopped praying or have never learned how.
I was christened in the chapel of the Holy Innocents at the Mangiagalli clinic in Milan: my brother and I were born prematurely, and we could not be taken to a church outside the hospital. From its very beginning, my life has been marked by the Holy Innocents: those innocent children who were slaughtered by King Herod in the hope that Jesus would also be killed.
When, as a young man, I became interested in the liturgy, I was moved and almost shocked by the feast of the Holy Innocents. The Church places it after Christmas and the feast of St. Stephen and before the feast of St. John the Baptist. So, in the liturgy, the newborn Jesus is surrounded by Mary, representing virginity, and by the martyrs—the two fundamental ways to follow Him.
Who, then, is a martyr? The word “martyr” comes from the Greek and means “witness”; i.e., people who through their lives and choices and words point to Someone else, Someone who is the light and the foundation of their lives. They indicate the One who is discovered through them because He has been the greatest discovery of their lives. When talking about Him, telling stories about Him, and living for Him, the witnesses are necessarily confronted with some difficulties, and they have to overcome some obstacles. The most common ones are represented by those people who do not want to be disturbed in carrying out their every-day routine and who don’t want to meet new people who are a stimulus for change.
On the other hand, there are also people who perceive the presence of Jesus and understand that His primacy discloses an entire world, an entirely new world. It undermines the power of those who want to replace God with money, power, or the endless illusions created by their void promises. Jesus dwells on earth among His enemies. Bernanos wrote that He would be in agony until the end of the world. For this reason, Christians have been and always will be persecuted, until the end of time and in every part of the world. In places where the witness of the martyrs points to the new Lord who offers peace, forgiveness, and joy in their lives, the people begin to hate the lords who, like Herod did, feel threatened on their thrones.
The current and coming issues of Fraternity and Mission are going to be devoted to those parts of the world where Christians are at present harshly persecuted. If we forget about the present-day martyrs, it would mean that we have forgotten Christ and ourselves. We want to talk about them because they are an integral part of us, because they help us understand the dignity of our vocation, the great gift that we have received, and the reality that we have been bought at a high cost. They are aware of this. They know that they have been bought through the blood of Christ, and they are not afraid to shed theirs in the name Christ because they have actually experienced in their lives Jesus’ victory over pain and death. To become aware of the reality of martyrdom, beyond the pain and tragedy that it involves, creates the opportunity to develop a more honest and peaceful approach to our whole life—including our daily trials and tribulations. In this way we participate in His saving Passion.
Four years ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope and took the name Benedict XVI. Four years is too short to allow a view, even just a summary of the dawn of a pontificate. One’s thoughts run immediately to the twenty-seven years of the reign of John Paul II. Yet we must not forget that Joseph Ratzinger is already eighty-two years old; he is aware of this; and that he has therefore wanted to impress a clear path upon his pontificate, knowing to do only the essential and very incisive.
He probably does not believe that it is effective to move people from one task to another. This was done at the beginning of his pontificate, but then it was stopped. He prefers the interior change of individual persons, as was clearly requested in his surprising Letter to the Catholic Episcopate. He is convinced that God can do anything, even change the heart of the ecclesiastics and open them to a truer account of the good of the Church and their own lives.
What are the lines of this concentration? First, its focus is directed at the liturgy. One of the last books published before his accession to the papacy, Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy, if reviewed today, may be a useful key to understanding the totality of this pontificate in its development so far. I do not want here to refer to the motu proprio concerning the rehabilitation of the Mass of St. Pius V, but something much deeper, the same concept that Ratzinger has of the liturgy as the moment of the manifestation of God’s absolute prior initiative in human life, his grace, his mercy, and at the same time his ability to intervene in history, to give shape to existence, to accompany, visibly and invisibly, the paths of the cosmos toward their recapitulation.
Whoever wants to understand something of this pontificate must read and reread carefully the homilies of Benedict XVI, especially those given during important liturgical moments, Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, Pentecost. This was noted several times by Sandro Magister in his articles. In those texts, Joseph Ratzinger clearly appears as a new Leo the Great, a new Ambrose, a new Augustine, one who is able to draw an existential pedagogy from the liturgical itinerary, revealing all the way of man towards God and of God towards man.
There is no lack, of course, in these homilies, of the depth of the history of the Church, the ancient liturgical prayers, especially Latin, from which Ratzinger draws freely to show the continuity of tradition and its efficacy. But also the liturgical gestures, timing, space. For him, everything is revealing a pedagogy of the renewed world. It is as if Benedict XVI had renounced discerning what to do depending on its immediate efficacy. He knows that the crisis of the Church and in the Church is profound. He wants to sow deeply.
In light of these considerations, we understand two other initiatives that I put at the same level as attention to the liturgy. I’m talking about the Pauline year and the announcement of the year dedicated to the priesthood. Through the current Pauline year, Benedict XVI wants to return to the roots of the Church and at the same time promote an exposition focused entirely on the faith in Christ and on Christian doctrine. For Paul, there is only Christ, and Christ crucified and risen. He never addressed in his letters the childhood of Jesus (everything is concentrated in four words: born of a woman), he did not speak of life in Nazareth, or even three years in the apostolic community. For Paul, the Jesus that interests him is specifically the Jesus of the passion, death and resurrection, who has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son of God made flesh. The Pauline year permits sensitive and attentive pastors to repropose the heart of Christian experience in such a vital way.
Similarly, and with the same radicality, Benedict XVI knows that the most serious crisis of the Church today is the priestly life: teachers are scarce, uncertain lessons are taught in many schools of theology. There remains an emotional crisis for many priests, marked by loneliness and withdrawal. But most of all in many countries, there is a progressive reduction of the People of God, whose education and growth is the primary purpose of the life of the priest. It is therefore no accident that Pope Ratzinger wanted this year of the priesthood, linking it to the 150th anniversary of the death of the holy Cure D’ars.
One last remark: the heart of the Pope looks to the east, Russia, China. In his book on Benedict XVI, written after the appointment of the pope, and that remains the only book on this interesting pontificate (Benedict XVI: The Choice of God, Rubbettino editor), George Weigel, providing precisely this attention of Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “Asia is the continent that has seen the biggest failure of Christian mission in two millennia.” He adds: “China may be the largest field of Christian mission of the twenty first century.” But even India, where we witness today a horrific persecution of the small Catholic minority, is an important reference point. Its profound Hindu and Buddhist culture engages Christian wisdom and the belief in salvation that only comes through Christ.
Today, the relationship with authority, or, in a wider sense, the experience of obedience to someone else, is considered by many impossible, even evil, something to be avoided. This is true not only in the field of education, in the professional environment, and in families, but also within the Church.
Why is authority necessary?
Wouldn’t it be easier to live without obeying any authority? Wouldn’t it be much nicer to follow only our instincts and spontaneously do what it seems useful and appropriate on the spot? These are far from being rhetorical questions. First and foremost, educating people about authority means helping them to discover the need for authority, not only in order to bring to light the good in their lives, but simply for life in itself. Why can’t man live without authority, and what authority do we recognize as crucial in our life? The life of man, of every man, consists in the tension between two opposite poles: on the one side, the origins from which we come, and on the other, the destination towards which we are walking. The secret of education is to help man face this tension in the present, in his relationships with things and people.
The first step is to help man disentangle himself from the self-reliance that makes him unhappy and deeply melancholic. In the magazine Traces, Father Giussani describes loneliness as an “original” experience; i.e., one that has existed since man came into being. In the catechesis on the creation of man and woman, Pope John Paul II expressed the same concept. The discovery of our loneliness, of our inability to face life on our own, leads to the revelation of our dependence. We depend, mainly but not exclusively, on other people. In each person there is a “fundamental dependence,” and through the experience of life, man comes up with the following question: “Is this dependence just the result of chance, or does it come from a benign Presence, from Somebody who wanted us to exist and who loves us?” The discovery of love as the origin of life is crucial to man’s progress towards the recognition of authority and the achievement of obedience as a fully aware and desired experience.
We constantly seem to be attracted by something outside of us, which at the same time is also found in the depths of our being. Man’s desires reveal interests that both set him in motion and are signs of his expectations. This is where authority falls. It coincides with those people God has put in our lives who accompany us in the discovery of our genuine desires, on the path towards the purification of those desires that leads to the answer. Obviously, many people could be included in this sphere of our life, although not all of them are important in the same way. The challenge is to discover among the number of potential authorities that we encounter in everyday life, the most crucial one or ones; i.e., those that allow us to take in the meaning of everything.
(Obedience to God or to men?
This authority can only be embodied by God, in the strictest sense. He is our only Saviour and Creator; He is the One we come from and the One who is waiting for us, who knows us in the deepest way possible, and who consequently coincides with our true happiness. Nonetheless, men run a big risk. How is it possible to obey a mysterious and invisible God without falling into the temptation of obeying ourselves, of obeying the idea that we have of Him, confusing our desires and His will? Original sin—original and at the same time so contemporary—makes this danger even more present. God became man and is present among us today, through the people He has chosen, in order to save us from this mistake. His decision to come among us, which He chose freely, indicates the way towards obedience. In the course of the history of Israel, and also during Jesus’ life, it was very clear that obedience to God coincided with obedience to a man. “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16).
Shall we then obey God or men? Looking at the life of the Church, we can find the answer to this apparent dilemma: strictly speaking, God is the only one to be obeyed. As a matter of fact, there is no man on earth that can claim to cover the same role as God in men’s lives. Jesus said that nobody can be called “master” but Him (Matthew 23:10). Nonetheless, if we want to obey God rather than our idea of him, we are obliged to obey men. We could summarize the concept as follows: the only one to be obeyed is God, but in order to obey to Him, we have to obey the people He has chosen.
Authority is always embodied by people who are chosen by God and who have a relationship with Him. They have to “answer” to Him, and they must lead the people in their care to Him. No authority is justified in itself; it is always justified in relation to the Saviour and Creator. This is the true meaning of the expression “authority is meant to serve.” This should not be interpreted in the sociological meaning of primus inter pares (first among peers), which is doomed to slowly disappear; but in the theological meaning: authority must first serve God in order to serve men.
Is obedience appealing, or is it only a challenge?
Man is constantly torn between the need to belong somewhere or to somebody and the temptation to be self-reliant, between the good that he experiences and the evil he ends up causing. Is obedience natural, or does it require a spiritual rebirth? How can man understand what the authorities leading to truth and the good are? How can man reconcile what his conscience perceives as good with the tempting invitations he receives from the outside world or the authorities surrounding him? I have tried to outline some of the antitheses arising from obedience and authority that man experiences, antitheses that have always been dominant and always will be. Is it possible to solve such antitheses, and how?
The only one that can help man start on the path towards obedience is the One who knows us in the deepest way possible, who created us, who constantly saves us, and who walked along the same path when He was a man. “He learned obedience by the things He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). God attracts us because He coincides with our happiness. He has created us with an innate desire for Him, with a fundamental need for goodness, truth, happiness, and justice; and to fulfil such needs, He sent His son. The path towards obedience coincides with the revelation of new and unknown dimensions, with the discovery of God as the source of happiness. He is indeed always new, always incommensurable, endless. His life coincides with ours. Thus in man arises the need for a detachment, a challenge, for a deep conversion to this new being that slowly claims more and more space in man’s life and that implies sacrifice and mortification. This is actually the most difficult side of obedience and authority; but it can indeed be faced with joy if the promises we have been made, and the fruits brought into our life so far by the realization of that promise, are clear.
The Holy Spirit leads us to face obedience with happiness, even when we do not fully understand it. St. Paul comes to mind: “In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4 and 12:10); as well as the perfect happiness of St. Francis.
Authority and friendship
If it is true, as we assumed earlier, that authority is established by God so that man can advance towards Him, how can man actually follow this path? The duty of authority is to show the way towards God and to involve man in it. This is also the reality of friendship. Those in authority create bonds with other people, first and foremost showing their relationship with the Mystery; they share their lives with other people and listen to the experiences that other people are going through. Always keeping in mind the place that God has chosen for them in the world, they live a friendship that is a sign of God, of His infinity and of His unpredictability. The relationship that blossoms between those in authority and those under it is a constant dialogue, desired and full of initiative. But at the same time, the reverse is true; one must relinquish one’s independence, offering one’s availability in constant cooperation. This has been the most meaningful experience of my life over the past twenty-five years. It is not the only kind of relationship possible between master and disciple, but it seems to me that it is the best way to tackle the apparent antitheses without any kind of compromise to integrity. In such a friendship, authority remains intact; it does not give up its responsibilities; it is not reduced to mere memories of youth or to empty company, but it risks itself in front of the other person, exactly as the Son of God did, when He was made man. He showed His face to the people, offering a dialogue to them. Christ shows people the reason for His actions and the paths behind His decisions; in this way He makes man part of His life. Paul IV wrote: “In our time we need masters, but they will only be credible if they are truthful witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi IV. 41) This clearly expresses what I am trying to describe: Having authority essentially means offering my life, providing answers that are true, and the criteria necessary for decisions. In other words, discretely entering other people’s lives, with the highest respect, with the ability to understand their own humanity, offering to their needs and desires the answers that I am able to find, in the light of my own experience and the centuries-long wisdom of the Church.
From this point of view, the authority that I have exercised so far has always been, in different measures, a matter of shared responsibilities. Jesus sent His apostles ahead of Himself. In order to let them understand who He was, He sent them to speak about Him. The most effective way to help the people entrusted to us by God live their relationship with authority in the right way, is to give them responsibilities both great and small. This is not simply a matter of receiving or giving, but everyone gives or receives as God determines.
Authority, paternity, and maternity
When God established the Church as a guided company, He was aware of the fundamental necessity of man to have a father and a mother. We all know how the absence, the lack, or the unreasonable invasion of parental figures can cause insecurity, fear, and resistance towards love and guidance. An authority that guides the person according to the qualities I have been outlining can truly become father and mother to the person and can help him discover the paternity of God and the maternity of the Church. At the same time, the person must not be allowed to deny his biological parents. They must not be forgotten, nor put aside; they must be welcomed, loved, and in some cases rediscovered. They must be seen through renewed eyes in a new relationship that includes the choice of chastity that has been embraced. In this way, each person has the chance to rediscover the value of all paternity as understood through the paternity of God, who is the only one that can truly be called “Father.”
Friend, father, mother: these are the words that I have picked to describe my experience of authority since, in a way, they also convey the fragility of this path. A paternity or a friendship cannot be imposed but only proposed. Even in a community that originates from a charisma, it is always imperative to combine the objective value of authority with the subjective relationships of friendship or paternity. We have to be constant signs of the other-ness of God that reaches people through the merciful patience of Christ. In order to be so, the one in authority must be extremely mature both as a person and as a Christian; it is necessary to exercise great discretion and patience and to be very humble in admitting one’s own mistakes. It is also necessary to be open to receiving advice from many assistants and brothers in faith. The person in authority must always be the objective sign of Christ, the one who can stand up in defence of everyone’s differences, the one who has a personal relationship with each person and is able to value every contribution.
The steps of a method
a) Education requires communication. People in authority must know that the words they use influence on the lives of the people entrusted to them. For this reason, it is always necessary to prepare carefully so that nothing is left to chance, and to be aware that each can have multiple meanings. In the past few years, I have noticed that despite growing in experience, I take longer to prepare my talks and interviews. I think it is a common experience that when we are young – about twenty or thirty years old – we tend to speak quite quickly, without thinking too much about what we are saying, while as time goes by, talking becomes more and more difficult since the things that we say come from deep inside us and acquire so profound a meaning that it seems better to remain quiet. Each time I have to break the armour around myself anew. Talking becomes an event, the repetition of certain words allows us to shed new light on their meaning.
b) In the seminary I have always tried to teach about tradition, always presented to my students the method of teaching that I received myself: music and songs, literature and poetry, beginning with the masters. Father Giussani has been a guide for me. His words have always opened my mind to higher intellects, have introduced me to Leopardi, Pascoli, Pavese, Dante, Manzoni. He understood that man cannot teach on his own; on the contrary, the best master is the one that is able to point to other masters.
c) In order to educate, it is not necessary to say everything right from the beginning. Most of time, hasty conclusions lead to rather negative consequences. True teaching is, as a matter of fact, the evidence of an accepted event, the becoming clear of something that has been previously experienced. If things are made prematurely explicit, the value of the teaching is killed. What is necessary is rather to accompany people towards the personal discovery of the truth, without replacing their freedom, without skipping steps. Jesus did not start His mission saying things like: “God exists, and He is the Father.” Rather he said, “Look at the birds of the air, look at the flowers in the countryside: they neither weave nor sew; nonetheless their beauty is greater than anything woven or sewed by man” (Matthew 6:26-29). Each word He chose vibrated – even if not explicitly – with the presence of the Father who creates and rules all things. He spoke about God while speaking about ordinary things, things everyone could see, experiences common to the people who were listening to Him. Each one of the words He pronounced went straight to the heart as a clear and fascinating proposal that required an answer. Heraclitus wrote: “The fascination of the implicit is more powerful than the fascination of the explicit.”
To resist revealing everything immediately also means looking at the other person with true respect; it implies remembering that we are in front of a person who was made according to God’s design and who remains therefore an unfathomable mystery that cannot be reduced to any scheme or plan.
In conclusion, I would like to add that possessing authority over another person means helping that person to acknowledge and to face the problems that arise along this path. Since man’s freedom is fragile, it is sometimes necessary to give proper instructions so that the other person can see what is not immediately clear to them.
Authority and guidance
A person in authority is a person who can both accompany and decide. They must know the stages through which they are guiding the person who has been entrusted to them, and they must sensibly understand the other person’s nature in relation to the path they are following. The possible friendship that might grow must never put at risk a firm guidance. The good for the other person and his happiness are at stake, as well as the fulfilment of the duties that God has given us.
Obedience or freedom
So, according to the steps outlined in this article, we have come to understood that, contrary to what many of our contemporaries think, freedom does not mean merely responding to ourselves—non-obedience is not the ideal lifestyle. On the contrary, obeying only ourselves soon becomes a trap: we become dependent on the will of the world, enslaved by a consumer mentality. Let us only think for a moment about the pervasive power of advertisement. Those who believe they do not depend on anything or anyone end up falling into the trap of the predominant mentality. St. Ambrose wrote: “How many masters do they end up obeying—those who refuse to serve the only Master?”