Papal Q&A

On Feb. 7, the Pope held another of his wonderful Q&A sessions with priests. Not yet available in an official English translation (Italian original), but Zenit's been translating them question by question. There's a lot, so I decided to post them here rather than waiting until the next Potpourri, which has already grown to unwieldy proportions. When you read them through, the Pope's personality comes out: wise, yes, but also humble, grateful and with a gentle sense of humor.

#1: On the permanent diaconate. I liked this anecdote about Paul VI:
Each day of the Council, the Gospel was enthroned. And the Pontiff told those in charge of the ceremony that he would like one time to be the one who enthrones the Gospel. They told him no, this is the job of the deacons, not of the Pope. He wrote in his diary: But I am also a deacon, I continue being a deacon, and I would like to also exercise this ministry of the diaconate placing the word of God on its throne. Thus, this concerns all of us. Priests continue being deacons, and the deacons make explicit in the Church and in the world this diaconal dimension of our ministry.
I can't imagine telling the Pope "no" on a matter like that.

#2: On youth ministry. I like the priest who asks this question already because it's the first time I can recall in one of these sessions that any of the questioners express any gratitude or love for the Holy Father. Not that they should fawn, but it's always struck me as odd they aren't more affectionate, at least in what they say --I'm sure these sessions are very warm.

#3: On evangelizing the secular world .

#4: On education.
Professional formation is never sufficient without the formation of the heart. And the heart cannot be formed without, at least, the challenge of the presence of God. We know that many youth live in environments, in situations, that make the light and the Word of God inaccessible. They are in life situations that represent a true slavery, not just exterior, but that provoke an intellectual slavery that obscures the truth in the heart and in the mind.
I thought this was interesting, too:
This imperative of the Lord -- the Gospel should be announced to everyone -- is not a diachronic imperative, not a continental imperative, that in all cultures it be announced in a big way, but rather an interior imperative, in the sense of entering into the various facets and dimensions of a society to make, at least a little, the light of the Gospel more accessible. That the Gospel really be announced to everyone.
So it's not so much having a huge Gospel crusade that everyone sees on television (not that I'm knocking that), but that there be Christians living their faith and giving witness to it in every walk of life.

#5: On Sin & Penance. The Holy Father attributes to the Marxist critique the absence of preaching on the four last things --he says Christians have been afraid to seem irrelevant, even though it isn't possible to do right by the world and the here and now without God:
When one does not know God’s judgment, one does not know the possibility of hell, of radical and definitive failure of life, one does not know the possibility and the necessity of purification. Then man does not work well for the world because in the end he loses the criteria, he no longer knows himself, not knowing God, and he destroys the world. All of the great ideologies promised: We will take things in hand, we will no longer neglect the world, we will create a new, just, correct, fraternal world. Instead they destroyed the world. We see it with Nazism, we it also with communism -- they promised to construct the world as it should have been, and instead, they destroyed the world.

In the "ad limina" visits of the bishops from ex-communist countries I always see how in those lands not only the planet, ecology, was destroyed, but above all, and worse, souls. Rediscovering the truly human conscience, illumined by the presence of God, is the first task in rebuilding the earth. This is the common experience of those countries. The rebuilding of the earth, respecting the cry of suffering of this planet, can only happen by rediscovering God in the soul, with eyes open to God.

That's interesting. In all his remarks about the environment, it didn't occur to me he was thinking also --perhaps especially--about the ex-Communist countries, although of course that makes perfect sense. Then he turns to the question of paradise as justice:

We all want a just world. But we cannot repair all of the destruction of the past, all the people who were unjustly tormented and killed. Only God himself can create justice, which must be justice for all, for the dead too. And as Adorno, a great Marxist, says, only the resurrection of the flesh -- which he holds to be an illusion -- could create justice. We believe in this resurrection of the flesh, in which not all will be equal.

Today we are used to thinking: What is sin? God is great, he knows us, so sin will not count, in the end God will be good to all. It is a beautiful hope. But there is justice and there is true guilt. Those who have destroyed man and the earth cannot immediately sit at table with God together with their victims. God creates justice. We must keep this in mind.
[snip --but you should read it all, it's lovely]
A man who is sincere knows that he is guilty, that he must begin again, that he must be purified. And this is the marvelous reality that the Lord gives us: There is a possibility of renewal, of being new. The Lord begins with us again and in this way we also can begin again with the others in our life.This aspect of renewal, of restitution of our being after so many mistakes, after so many sins, is the great promise, the great gift that the Church offers, and what, for example, psychotherapy cannot offer. Psychotherapy is so widespread today and it is also necessary in the face of so many destroyed and gravely wounded psyches. But psychotherapy’s possibilities are very limited: It can only try a little to re-establish balance in an unbalanced soul. But it cannot give a true renewal, an overcoming of these grave maladies of the soul.

#6: On finding silence. The Pope likes Taize! I expected him to go in the direction of prayer, and he sort of does, but then he talks about silence and meditation as the key to the recovery of Christian art --the recovery of the True Image.

we can rediscover a Christian art and also rediscover the essential and great representations of the mystery of God in the iconographic tradition of the Church. And in this way we can rediscover the true image, covered up by the appearances. It is truly an important task of Christian education: the liberation for the Word behind the word, which always demands new spaces of silence, of mediation, of a deepening of knowledge, of abstinence, of discipline. It is equally the education in the true image, which is in the rediscovery of the great icons created in the history of Christianity: with the humility that liberates from superficial images.

#7: On sharing the Gospel: An Indian priest returning to India asks a big theological question about mission. The Pope talks about "dialogue" --coming together to learn to live in peace as necessary. However:

this dimension of dialogue, which is so necessary, that is, the respect of the other, of tolerance, of cooperation, does not exclude the other dimension, that is that the Gospel is a great gift, the gift of great love, of great truth, that we cannot only keep for ourselves, but that we must offer to others, considering that God gives them the necessary freedom and light to find the truth. This is the truth. And this, then, is also my road. Mission is not imposition, but an offering of the gift of God, letting his goodness enlighten people so that the gift of concrete friendship with God be extended and acquire a human face. For this reason we want and we must always bear witness to this faith and the love that lives in our faith.

We will have neglected a true human and divine duty if we have left others to their own devices and kept the faith we have only for ourselves. We would be unfaithful even to ourselves if we were not to offer this faith to the world, while always respecting the freedom of others.
Love this little addendum, too:

The presence of faith in the world is a positive element, even if no one is converted; it is a point of reference.

Exponents of non-Christian religions have told me: The presence of Christianity is a point of reference that helps us, even if we do not convert. Let us think of the great figure of Mahatma Gandhi: Despite being firmly committed to his religion, for him the Sermon on the Mount was a fundamental point of reference that formed his whole life. And thus the ferment of the faith, although it did not convert him to Christianity, entered into his life. And it seems to me that this ferment of Christian love that shows through the Gospel is -- beyond the missionary work that seeks to enlarge the spaces of faith -- a service that we render to humanity.

Not that the question of conversion is indifferent, but people must be left free:

indeed we desire the conversion of all, but let us allow the Lord to be the one who acts. It is important that those who wish to convert have the possibility of doing so and that there appear in the world for all this light of the Lord as a point of reference and as a light that helps, without which the world cannot find itself.
#8: On large celebrations of the mass: This bold priest basically takes the Holy Father to task for making his public masses too solemn for young people. Yikes. But he asks a good question --what is the balance between solemnity and emotiveness in liturgy? By way of answer the Pope launches a discussion of whether huge masses are even a good idea (which I think was not the direction the priest intended to go!), and refers to the debate in the Church about the question in 1960, how it was resolved, and what questions still remain (Fr. Z. has more discussion of the matter; it was a surprise to me to learn a few years ago that certain people despise World Youth Day and like occasions. Surprised me because I know so many people whose conversions or re-versions took place in Denver or Toronto, and my own experiences in San Antonio & New York when John Paul II visited were amazing. So much good comes of those events, the complaint seemed rather crabbed to me, so it's enlightening to know the Pope shares the concern to a degree). Too long to quote here, but the main question is whether there can truly be said to be communion without a community as such. But then he ends with a mild correction of the premise of the question:
knowing what the Eucharist is, even if one is not able to participate externally as one would wish so as to feel involved, one enters into it with one’s heart, as the ancient imperative of the Church says -- perhaps created for those who are standing in back in the basilica -- “Lift up your hearts! Now let us all go out of ourselves, in this way we are all with the Lord and we are together.” As I said, I do not deny the problem, but if we really follow this word, “Lift up your hearts,” we will all find, even in difficult and sometimes questionable situations, the true active participation.
In other words: "Dude, it's Jesus." Good advice for any mass at any time celebrated in any fashion.

Two more questions await translation, and I'll post them here as they become available.


#9 & 10: On Christian identity: The Holy Father captures the true reason for the Church's crisis in the 70s & 80s --and it wasn't the fault of Vatican II.

I do not wish now to judge these previous generations, who in their way, nevertheless, sought thus to serve others. But there was a danger there that one wanted above all to save one’s own soul; from this followed an extrinsicism of piety that in the end found faith to be a burden and not a liberation.
And this I love:
putting myself into his hands I am free. But it is a great leap that is never definitively accomplished. I think here of St. Augustine, who told us this so many times. Initially after his conversion he thought that he had arrived at the top and was living in the paradise of the novelty of being a Christian. But then he discovered that the difficult road of life continued -- although from that moment always in the light of God -- and that every day it was again necessary to make this leap out of oneself; to give this “I” so that it die and be renewed in the great “I” of Christ, an “I” that is in a certain way more true, the “I” that is common to us all, our “we.”But I would say that we ourselves must precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist -- which is this great and profound meeting with the Lord where I let myself fall into his hands -- take this great step. The more we ourselves learn to do it the more we can also express it to others and make it comprehensible, accessible to others. Only going along with the Lord, abandoning ourselves in the communion of the Church to this openness, not living for myself -- neither for a worldly life nor for personal beatitude -- but making myself an instrument of his peace, I live well and I learn this courage in the face of daily challenges, always new and grave, often impossible. I leave myself behind because you wish it and I am certain that in this way I will move forward well.
Does anyone exemplify that more than the man speaking the words? Everyone knows he has longed all his life for a quiet life as a theology professor, and yet he keeps allowing himself to be called into service?

The 10th question follows on the discussion of evangelization in an earlier question, based on a priest's description of interreligious dialogue and conversions in his parish environs.