Private audience for priests December 9, 1985
St. John Paul II
Hall of Paul VI, December 9, 1985
The Holy Father has addressed the following address to the two thousand priests of the Neocatechumenal Communities received in audience in the Hall of Paul VI on Monday. “Dearly beloved!
1. I have listened with great interest to the words addressed to me by Kiko Arguello in the name of all of you. He has described how all the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way, throughout the various nations of the world, have committed themselves to continuous prayer and meditation for the Extraordinary Synod, which was celebrated 20 years after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Your spiritual participation in the preparation and your presence at the closing ceremony of the Synod have been a significant and solemn manifestation of your fidelity to Christ the Redeemer and to the pilgrim Church which transmits grace to men, especially in the sacramental signs which are a memorial of and make real the efficacy of the Redemption. In this audience I am glad to recall the many meetings I have had with your communities, particularly during pastoral visits in my diocese of Rome, meetings in which I have encouraged your spiritual experience, which is based on the fundamental experience of the Sacrament of Baptism, on the awareness that to realize the baptismal dimension means above all to live the authentic identity of being Christian. It means uniting oneself intimately to the Eucharistic Christ; it means loving concretely and effectively all men as brothers in Christ; it means making and directing one’s moral choices in conformity and harmony with the baptismal promises. “This way, way of faith, way of Baptism rediscovered,” I said to your friends in the parish of Canadian Martyrs in Rome, “must be a way of the new man. The latter sees what is the real measure, or better, the nothingness of his created entity, of his being creature with respect to the Creator, to His infinite majesty, to God the redeemer, to the holy God who makes holy, and he tries to fulfill himself within that perspective” (lnsegnamenti III 2 , p. I 044).
2. The majority of you are made up from a large group of pastors and priests who work within the ambit of the Neocatechumenal Way. In the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, solemnly approved on the 7th of December 1965, the Second Vatican Council gave its attention and care also to the ministry and life of priests. In this important document – which I invite you to meditate on again – the Council, taking the Word of God, together with the teaching of the Fathers, the Magisterium and the living tradition of the People of God as its basis, underlined that presbyters, in virtue of the sacred ordination and the mission that they receive from the Bishops, “are promoted to the service of Christ, Teacher, Priest and King, participating in his ministry, by which the Church here on earth is constantly built up into the People of God, Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, I). Pastors and priests present here, you certainly wish for a word from the Pope to understand even better what the Church of today expects from you. I give it very willingly because I am sure that my exhortation can only have a positive and beneficial influence on your Communities and on every one of its members, in order of their presence in the ecclesial reality.
3. The aims proposed by your Neocatechumenal Communities certainly correspond to one of the most agonizing questions of the Pastors of souls today, especially those in the great urban agglomerations. You try to reach the mass of adults who are baptized, but have had little instruction in the faith, in order to lead them, by a spiritual way, to rediscover the baptismal roots of their Christian existence and to make them always more aware of their duties. In this way, the work of the priests continues to be fundamental. From this derives the necessity that your position as leaders of the Communities be very clear so that your actions may be in harmony with the real demands of the pastoral situation. The first demand that is made on you is to know how, within the community, to keep the faith with your priestly identity. In virtue of Holy Orders, you have been marked with a special character which conforms you to Christ the Priest, so that you can act in his name (cf. Presbyterorum. Ordinis, 2). The sacred minister, therefore, must be welcomed, not only as a brother who shares the way in the Community but above all as the one who, acting in persona Christi, carries in himself the irreplaceable responsibility of Teacher, Sanctifier and Guide of souls, a responsibility which he can in no way renounce. Lay people must be able to recognize this reality from the responsible behavior which you maintain. It would be an illusion to believe you can serve the Gospel by diluting your charism in a false sense of humility or in a misunderstood manifestation of fraternity. I repeat what I had the opportunity to say to the Ecclesiastical Assistants of the International Catholic Associations: “Do not let yourselves be deceived! The Church wants you to be priests and the lay people you meet want you to be priests and nothing other than priests. The confusion of charisms impoverishes the Church instead of enriching her” (Speech of 13th September, 1979, n. 4: Insegnamenti II/1979], p. 1391).
4. Another delicate task that cannot be renounced that I hope you undertake is to build up ecclesial communion, not only within your groups, but with all the members of the parochial and diocesan community. Whatever service has been entrusted to you, you are always the representative of and the providi cooperatores of the Bishop, to whose authority you should feel particularly united. In fact, in the Church it is the right and duty of the bishop to give directives for pastoral activity (cf. Can. 381 ff.) and everyone has the obligation to conform to these. Do this in such a way that your communities, while losing nothing of their originality and richness, can be inserted harmoniously and fruitfully into the family of the parish and the diocese. With regard to this, I expressed myself last year on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy: “It is the task of the pastors to make an effort to see that the parishes benefit from the positive values that these communities can bring and as a result be open to the communities. However, it must be very clear that the Communities cannot put themselves on the same plane as the parish community itself as a possible alternative. On the contrary, they have the duty to serve the parish and the local Church. It is precisely this service, given in conjunction with the parish and the diocese, that the validity of these experiences within the Movements and Associations can be seen” (Speech of 20th. October 1984, n. 7 – the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, p. 84).
5. Here I offer another point for reflection. Exercising your ministry for the guidance of the Neocatechumenal Communities, you do not feel sent only to one particular group but to serve the whole Church. “The spiritual gift which priests have received in ordination – the Second Vatican Council reminds us – does not prepare them merely for a limited and circumscribed mission, but for the fullest and the universal mission of salvation … The reason is that every priestly ministry shares in the fullness of the mission entrusted by Christ to the apostles” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 10). The consciousness of this mission and the need to conform to it should help to give greater encouragement to your apostolic initiatives, to be open to the problems and needs of the whole Church. Moreover, this same awareness, which makes you feel and live more deeply the bond with the universal Church, with its visible Head and with the bishops, makes easier the most important task of the priests within the communities, that is, the vigilance over correct comportment regarding both ideas and activities. Beloved priests, strengthen always in yourselves this vital link with the whole of Catholicism. It will be of great help to you, especially when you feel tired or disheartened when you see that, because of deafness and the indifference of hearts, all your efforts awaken no response. Then you can be consoled with the thought that you are not alone and that your work, if it meets with failure in one part of the Mystical Body of the Church, is certainly not useless, because God uses it for the good of the whole Church.
6. Dearly beloved priests, I end this meeting which I am pleased to have with you, renewing my confidence in your service to the Church and urging you to put all your trust in Him who has loved us as his chosen ones and has called us to participate in his priesthood. It is precisely because of this that St Paul reminds us that in all our tribulations ‘we conquer in him who loved us’ (Rm 8:37). I end with the exhortation by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: ‘Do not lose your confidence, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised’ (Heb 10:35-36). Under the gaze of Mary Immaculate, Mother of Priests and Queen of Apostles, continue on your way with new enthusiasm. May my Apostolic Blessing accompany you and all the Neocatechumenal Communities entrusted to your guidance. I want to add again: Happy Christmas to you all.
Among you I have found many priests, but also many lay people, many married itinerants. I must say to you that the first people who went to Bethlehem, who recognized the Mystery of the Incarnation, were itinerants: they were shepherds. Then Jesus himself became itinerant when he was thirty, beginning with the messianic declaration at Nazareth. As well as that, he made all his Apostles itinerant, sending them all over the world. The Church, too, is certainly itinerant, on a way, and we can say that the Pope tries more and more to be itinerant, even if with more ‘sophisticated’ and, perhaps, less authentic methods than yours, for you are poor itinerants, with no airplanes. But we hope that all of us, the Pope too, will always be, using all possible means, itinerants of the Gospel, that is, itinerants of the Mystery, of this Mystery that was revealed by the birth of Jesus, by the incarnation of the Son of God and then by his mission, by his death on the cross and by his resurrection. This is how a life was revealed to us, a new life, a divine life, eternal life. We are itinerants of this life. It would not be possible for us to be itinerants of this life, of eternal life, if the same life had not been given to us first. We already have this life, and this life impels us, this life comes from Jesus Christ. This life comes to us through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. He is the source of the divine life in creatures, the source of divine life in us.
It is he who drives us. Jesus Christ the itinerant, the itinerant of the Father, urges us for it is the Father who sent him and made him itinerant among us. So Jesus Christ the itinerant pushes us; the one who was sent, the missionary, because he is the Word of God in the mission, “missiones divinarum personarurn” – as I learned from St Thomas. “Missio” means to be sent and therefore to be itinerant. Christ urges us in the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is sent too, sent in a different way – not like Christ, not in a visible, incarnate, human form – a Holy Spirit, not incarnate. It could be said that the mission of the Holy Spirit is even more penetrating, for it descends into what is the most intimate of man, of every creature. As St Augustine said, ‘Intimior intimo meo’. This then is the mission of the Holy Spirit, of the Spirit that is sent. And you become itinerants with the strength of the incarnate Son who gave us an example of the visible mission. Thanks to the mission of the Son and Holy Spirit, with the life which comes through them from the Father, you become itinerant. As St Paul says, the mission urges us; woe to me if l do not evangelize! I wish you the joy of the Christmas feasts. I wish you the joy of the itinerant shepherds who found the way to Bethlehem. I wish you the joy that comes from those who convert. There are many among you who are converted, who have found Christ, who have rediscovered God, coming often from the opposite shore. I wish you again the joy that comes from the conversion of people, of souls. As Christ said, ‘There is more joy in heaven for one sinner who converts than for ninety nine just men.’ I wish you this joy and that in this way your itinerary and your Neocatechumenal Way will be rewarded.
Once again I wish you ‘Merry Christmas’. I say it in Italian to make things more simple but it should be said in many languages. I want to extend this wish for a Merry Christmas to all the communities, to all the peoples from whom you come, to your parishioners, to your colleagues, to your families. May Jesus Christ be praised.