Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"the Church is holy and imperishable"

One section of the homily delivered to the Bishops of Brazil at Vespers, 11 May 2007, by His Holiness, the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI:

"Certainly the present is a difficult time for the Church, and many of her children are experiencing difficulty. Society is experiencing moments of worrying disorientation. The sanctity of marriage and the family are attacked with impunity, as concessions are made to forms of pressure which have a harmful effect on legislative processes; crimes against life are justified in the name of individual freedom and rights; attacks are made on the dignity of the human person; the plague of divorce and extra-marital unions is increasingly widespread.

"Even more: when, within the Church herself, people start to question the value of the priestly commitment as a total entrustment to God through apostolic celibacy and as a total openness to the service of souls, and preference is given to ideological, political and even party issues, the structure of total consecration to God begins to lose its deepest meaning.

"How can we not be deeply saddened by this? But be confident: the Church is holy and imperishable (cf. Eph 5:27). As Saint Augustine said: "The Church will be shaken if its foundation is shaken; but will Christ be shaken? Since Christ cannot be shaken, the Church will remain firmly established to the end of time" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 103, 2, 5: PL 37, 1353). A particular problem which you face as Pastors is surely the issue of those Catholics who have abandoned the life of the Church.

"It seems clear that the principal cause of this problem is to be found in the lack of an evangelization completely centred on Christ and his Church.

"Those who are most vulnerable to the aggressive proselytizing of sects—a just cause for concern—and those who are incapable of resisting the onslaught of agnosticism, relativism and secularization are generally the baptized who remain insufficiently evangelized; they are easily influenced because their faith is weak, confused, easily shaken and naive, despite their innate religiosity.

"In the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I stated that 'being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction' (DCE, no.1). Consequently, there is a need to engage in apostolic activity as a true mission in the midst of the flock that is constituted by the Church in Brazil, and to promote on every level a methodical evangelization aimed at personal and communal fidelity to Christ. No effort should be spared in seeking out those Catholics who have fallen away and those who know little or nothing of Jesus Christ, by implementing a pastoral plan which welcomes them and helps them realize that the Church is a privileged place of encounter with God, and also through a continuing process of catechesis.

"What is required, in a word, is a mission of evangelization capable of engaging all the vital energies present in this immense flock. My thoughts turn to the priests, the men and women religious and the laity who work so generously, often in the face of immense difficulties, in order to spread the truth of the Gospel. Many of them cooperate with or actively participate in the associations, movements and other new ecclesial realities that, in communion with the Pastors and in harmony with diocesan guidelines, bring their spiritual, educational and missionary richness to the heart of the Church, as a precious experience and a model of Christian life.

"In this work of evangelization the ecclesial community should be clearly marked by pastoral initiatives, especially by sending missionaries, lay or religious, to homes on the outskirts of the cities and in the interior, to enter into dialogue with everyone in a spirit of understanding, sensitivity and charity. On the other hand, if the persons they encounter are living in poverty, it is necessary to help them, as the first Christian communities did, by practising solidarity and making them feel truly loved.

"The poor living in the outskirts of the cities or the countryside need to feel that the Church is close to them, providing for their most urgent needs, defending their rights and working together with them to build a society founded on justice and peace. The Gospel is addressed in a special way to the poor, and the Bishop, modelled on the Good Shepherd, must be particularly concerned with offering them the divine consolation of the faith, without overlooking their need for 'material bread'. As I wished to stress in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, 'the Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the sacraments and the word'(DCE, no. 22).

"The sacramental life, especially in the celebration of Confession and the Eucharist, here takes on a particular importance.

"As Pastors, it is your primary task to ensure that the faithful share in the eucharistic life and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You must be vigilant to ensure that the confession and absolution of sins is ordinarily individual, inasmuch as sin itself is something profoundly personal (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 31, III). Only physical or moral impossibility exempts the faithful from this form of confession, in which case reconciliation can be obtained by some other means (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 960, Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 311). It is appropriate, therefore, to instil in priests the practice of generously making themselves available to the faithful who have recourse to the sacrament of God’s mercy (cf. Apostolic Letter Misericordia Dei, 2).

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