09/14/2006, 00.00
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Pope: priest as "servant" and "voice" of Jesus to bring God back "to the centre"

by Franco Pisano

A meeting with the clergy in Freising rounded up the visit of Benedict XVI to Germany. It has been a visit to places of his youth that aimed to present the "issue of Christianity"once again to the West.

Freising (AsiaNews) –Vocation, life and mission of the priest, "servant" and "voice" of Jesus. An encounter with priests and deacons of Bavaria – those who "live" and "spread" the Word – today rounded up the visit of Pope Ratzinger to the places of his youth, a trip dedicated to presenting once again to Germany, and hence to all of the West, the "issue" of the Christian faith. A visit, as he himself said on his arrival last Saturday, which aimed to be an encouragement so that "new generations will remain faithful to the spiritual heritage that resisted throughout all the crises of history". Today, in his leave-taking speech, he said: "I came to Germany to present again to my co-citizens the eternal truth of the Gospel and to confirm believers in their adhesion to Christ." He added: "I am convinced that in Him, in His word, lies not only the way to reach eternal happiness but also to construct a future worthy of man already on this earth."

Filled with warm personal memories and welcome from his compatriots, these days were used by the Pope to present the theme of the "centrality of God", of the quest for the "face of God" in its many facets. He went so far as to caution "his" German Church, extremely generous when it comes to supporting social initiatives in Asia and Africa but much less available to meet requests for aid for evangelization programmes.  The fact was, he said, that people from the first world, rich in technology and means, were "deaf" to God. Two days ago, he said during Mass in Regensburg: "Since the Enlightenment, at least in part, science has vainly sought to make God unnecessary in the universe and hence to man himself." But, it has become clear that "something doesn't add up". "When God is subtracted, something doesn't add up for man, the world, the whole vast universe." This is because God is "Creative Reason", he said in a "lesson" to scientists at the university where he used to teach. Reasoning, therefore, that is vastly superior to human reasoning. There is between Christianity and reason a necessary harmony, a mutual reference by obligation. Reducing reason to merely criteria of natural science or positivism does not allow for answers to the questions that remain ever fundamental for men, to "where we come from" and "where we are going". It is a path that opens doors to nothing and hence to violence against life and men. The same result could be obtained by faith that refuses reference to reason, like Islam, where "God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound to any of our categories, not even that of reason".

For a trip that thus stressed putting "God in the centre", the conclusion could not be other than an encounter with those who chose to make the teaching of Jesus the aim of their life. As Benedict XVI himself did, who re-evoked the bond between the Cathedral of Friesing and "those years when my journey to the priesthood and the exercise of my ministry were linked to this place".

"A priest's life and the real nature of his vocation and ministry are contained in the world view revealed to us by Jesus," he said today. "Optimism, based on confidence in the power of the Father, the 'Lord of the harvest' (Mt 9:38). Jesus' confidence becomes for us a source of hope, since he is capable of looking beyond the veil of appearances to the mysterious yet irresistible workings of the Father."

To qualify the tasks of the priest in this framework, Benedict XVI recalled two definitions of St Augustine. The first is "servus Christi". He said: "The term 'servant' implies a concept of relation: to be a servant is to be in relation to a master. To describe the priest as 'servus Christi'" is to emphasize that his life has an essential 'relational connotation': with every fibre of his being he is in relation to Christ. This takes nothing away from his relation to the community, indeed it provides the foundation for it: precisely as 'Christ's servant' he is 'in his name, servant of his servants' (title of Ep. 217 to Vitale; cf. also De pecc. mer. et rem. III; Ep. 130; Sermo Guelf. 32:3, etc.)."

"The other definition of the ordained minister to which Augustine frequently returns is 'vox Christi'. He develops his reflection on this topic by meditating on the figure of John the Baptist (cf. Serm. 288; 293:3; Serm. Dolbeau 3, etc.). The Precursor of Jesus defines himself as a simple 'voice' sent to proclaim Christ who is the 'Word'."

"The greatness and the humility of the ordained ministry are here revealed. Like Saint John the Baptist, the priest and the deacon are merely the precursors, the servants of the Word. It is not they who are at the centre, but Christ, whose "voice" they must be with their whole existence. It is from this reflection that the answer emerges to a question that no responsible pastor of souls can fail to ask himself, especially in the current situation of an increasing shortage of priests: how to preserve interior unity amid the often frenetic activity of ministry? The way towards a solution to this problem lies in intimate communion with Christ, whose food was to do the will of the Father (cf. Jn 4:34)… However diverse and even, seen from outside, mutually opposed my activities may be, they are unified at the level of underlying motivation: it is all about being with Christ, acting as an instrument in communion with him. From this emerges a new vision of priestly asceticism. This is not to be placed alongside pastoral activity as an extra burden, another task which further weighs down upon my day. In the action itself I learn self-mastery, I learn to give my life with serenity; in disappointment and in failure I learn renunciation, I learn to accept sorrow, I learn detachment from myself. In the joy of success I learn gratitude. In administering the sacraments I receive them interiorly myself... This asceticism of service, service itself as the true asceticism of my life, is undoubtedly a most important motive that nevertheless requires a constant interior reinterpretation of action based upon being."

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