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Priestly obedience is an act of charity

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 25 August 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. Communion, desired by Jesus among all who share in the sacrament of Orders, must be made manifest in an altogether special way in priests' relations with their bishops. On this subject the Second Vatican Council speaks of a "hierarchical communion" deriving from the unity of consecration and mission. We read: "All priests, in union with bishops, so share in one and the same priesthood and ministry of Christ that the very unity of their consecration and mission requires their hierarchical communion with the order of bishops. At times in an excellent manner they manifest this communion in liturgical concelebration as joined with the bishop when they celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice" (PO 7). Clearly, the mystery of the Eucharist also appears here as a sign and source of unity. The sacrament of Orders is connected with the Eucharist. Orders establishes the hierarchical communion between all those who share Christ's priesthood: "All priests," the Council adds, "both diocesan and religious, by reason of Orders and ministry, fit into this body of bishops and priests, and serve the good of the whole Church according to their vocation and the grace given to them" (LG 28).

2. This bond between priests of any type or rank and the bishops is essential to exercising the priestly ministry. Priests receive from the bishop sacramental power and hierarchical authorization for this ministry. Religious too receive this power and authorization from the bishop who ordains them and from the one who governs the diocese where they exercise their ministry. Even when they belong to orders that are exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishops in regard to their internal governance, they receive from the bishop, in accordance with the norm of canon law, the mandate and consent for their involvement and activity within the diocese. Exception must always be made of the authority by which the Roman Pontiff, as head of the Church, can confer on religious orders or other institutes the power to govern themselves according to their own constitutions and to work on a universal scale. In their turn bishops regard priests as their "necessary helpers and counselors in the ministry and in their role of teaching, sanctifying and nourishing the People of God" (PO 7).

3. Because of this bond of sacramental communion between priests and bishops, presbyters are a support and instrument of the episcopal order, as Lumen Gentium states (cf. n. 28). In each community they continue the bishop's action and in a certain way represent him as pastor in various areas.

It is clear that, by virtue of its same pastoral identity and sacramental origin, the ministry of priests is exercised under the authority of the bishop. According to Lumen Gentium, it is under this authority that they lend their efforts to the pastoral work of the whole diocese by sanctifying and governing that portion of the Lord's flock entrusted to them (cf. LG 28).

It is true that presbyters represent Christ and act in his name, sharing in his office as the one Mediator, according to their degree of ministry. However, they can act only as the bishop's co-workers, thus extending the ministry of the diocesan pastor in the local communities.

4. Spiritually rich relationships between bishops and presbyters are based on this theological principle of sharing within the framework of hierarchical communion. Lumen Gentium describes these relationships as follows: "On account of this sharing in their priesthood and mission, let priests sincerely look upon the bishop as their father and reverently obey him. And let the bishop regard his priests as his co-workers and as sons and friends, just as Christ called his disciples now not servants but friends (cf. Jn 15:15)" (LG 28).

Here Christ's example is the rule of conduct for bishops and presbyters alike. If he who had divine authority did not want to treat his disciples as servants but as friends, the bishop cannot consider his priests as servants in his employ. They serve the People of God with him. For their part presbyters should respond to the bishop as demanded by the law of reciprocal love in ecclesial and priestly communion, that is, as friends and spiritual "sons." The bishop's authority and the obedience of his co-workers, the priests, should thus be exercised in an atmosphere of true, sincere friendship.

This duty is based not only on the brotherhood existing among all Christians by virtue of Baptism and on that arising from the sacrament of Orders, but also on the word and example of Jesus. Even in triumph as the resurrected one, he lowered himself from that incomparable height to his disciples and called them "my brothers," declaring that his Father was "theirs" too (cf. Jn 20:17; Mt. 28:10). Thus, following Jesus' example and teaching, the bishop should treat his co-workers, the priests, as brothers and friends, without diminishing his authority as their pastor and ecclesiastical superior. An atmosphere of brotherhood and friendship fosters the presbyters' trust and their willingness to cooperate and work harmoniously in friendship and in fraternal and filial charity toward their bishops.

5. The Council spells out some of the bishop's duties toward presbyters. Here one need only mention them: bishops should take the greatest interest they are capable of in the temporal and spiritual welfare of their priests; they should foster their sanctification and be concerned for their ongoing formation, examining with them problems that concern the needs of their pastoral work and the good of the diocese (cf. PO 7).

Likewise, the presbyters' duties toward their bishops are summarized in these words: "Priests, never losing sight of the fullness of the priesthood which the bishops enjoy, must respect in them the authority of Christ, the supreme shepherd. They must therefore stand by their bishops in sincere charity and obedience" (PO 7).

Charity and obedience are two spiritual essentials which should guide their conduct toward their own bishop. It is an obedience motivated by charity. The presbyter's basic intention in his ministry can only be to cooperate with his bishop. If the priest has a spirit of faith, he recognizes the will of Christ in his bishop's decisions.

Understandably, obedience can sometimes be more difficult, especially when different opinions clash. However, obedience was Jesus' fundamental attitude in sacrificing himself, and it bore fruit in the salvation that the whole world has received. The presbyter who lives by faith knows that he too is called to an obedience which, by fulfilling Jesus' saying about self-denial, gives him the power and the glory of sharing the redemptive fruitfulness of the sacrifice of the cross.

6. Lastly it should be added that, as everyone knows, today more than in the past, priests' cooperation and thus their union with the bishops are required by the pastoral ministry because of its complexity and vastness. As the Council says: "This union of priests with their bishops is all the more necessary today since in our present age, for various reasons, apostolic undertakings must necessarily not only take on many forms but frequently extend even beyond the boundaries of one parish or diocese. No priest, therefore, can on his own accomplish his mission in a satisfactory way. He can do so only by joining forces with other priests under the direction of the Church authorities" (PO 7).

For this reason "presbyteral councils" too have tried to structure and organize the consultation of priests by their bishops [1] . On their part, presbyters participate in these councils in a spirit of enlightened and loyal cooperation, with the intention of helping to build up the "one body." Individually too, in their personal relations with their own bishop they should remember and keep in mind one thing above all: the growth in charity of each and every one, which is the fruit of self-sacrifice in the light of the cross.

[1]   cf. 1971 Synod of Bishops, Ench. Vat., IV, 1224"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Avec plaisir, je salue les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience. Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de l’Île Maurice, en me souvenant du bon accueil que j’ai reçu chez eux. A tous, je souhaite de renouveler auprès des tombeaux des Apôtres la vigueur de leur foi et de leur sens ecclésial. Avec ma Bénédiction Apostolique!

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the friends of the Christian Brothers from Australia. May your pilgrimage to Rome deepen your love for Christ and your commitment to his Church. My greeting also goes to the teachers and students of the Kuang Jen Middle School in Taipei, whom I thank for their performance of traditional Chinese music. Upon all the English–speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrim groups from England, Ireland, Indonesia, Malta, the Philippines and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini provenienti dal Giappone 

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini che provenite da Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, benvenuti.

Vi auguro che il vostro pellegrinaggio romano vi dia una buona occasione di toccare il cuore e la cultura del Cristianesimo.

Benedico tutte le persone della Parrocchia Kishiwada, della Scuola Saebo e della Città del Sole.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgrub an alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Besonders begrübe ich die Pilgergruppe aus der Pfarrei Heiligenkreuz in Niederösterreich und die jungen Männer aus Nossegem–Zaventem in Belgien, die nach Rom gekommen sind, um im Gebet Stärkung und Klärung in ihrer geistlichen Berufung zu suchen. Schlieblich gilt mein Grub den Pilgern aus Bischofferode, mit denen mich der aufrichtige Wunsch verbindet, dab die derzeitigen sozialen Probleme in ihrer Region in solidarischem Verantwortungsbewubtsein gelöst werden mögen und die Zukunft der Menschen sich auf einer verläblichen wirtschaftlichen Grundlage hoffnungsvoll entwickeln kann.

Euch allen, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie all jenen, die sich uns geistlich verbunden wissen, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Mi cordial y afectuosa bienvenida a esta audiencia a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a los integrantes de la peregrinación que se dirige a Collevalenza para conmemorar el Centenario del nacimiento de Madre Esperanza, así como al grupo de jóvenes venezolanos.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

As minhas afectuosas saudações de boas vindas, a todos os peregrinos que hoje se encontram aqui, a título individual ou ainda em nome do povo que representam. Dentre estes, em deferente e grata presença, tenho o prazer de acolher um grupo de ilustres Personalidades de Timor Leste, que estão a realizar uma peregrinação a Lourdes e a Roma: Maronak Hela Ho Imi!

De coração vos saúdo, e exorto a serdes coerentes com a fé católica que professais e, em nome dela, a trabalhardes sem desânimo pela unidade dos timorenses, pela sua pacifica convivência e pela salvaguarda dos direitos de cada um, bem como pelo desenvolvimento integral da vossa terra, que tive a grande alegria de visitar, alguns anos atrás. No vosso empenhamento, consagrai uma especial atenção à solidez da vida familiar, na certeza de que famílias sadias e felizes são a base da vida social. Sei que a diocese de Díli está a dedicar a este tema um ano particular de reflexão e acção. Pelas mãos da Imaculada Virgem Maria, confiamos ao Deus da reconciliação e da paz os nossos votos comuns de que o vosso povo conheça um futuro de serenidade e prosperidade, no respeito da sua dignidade e da sua cultura.

A isso vos encorajamos, ao abençoar–vos com todos os demais peregrinos do Brasil e de Portugal, nomeadamente o Grupo do Patriarcado de Lisboa e o chamado pelo nome “ Cristo Rei ”; em cada um dos presentes, abençoamos também os seus familiares, desejando–lhes todo o bem no Senhor!

Ai gruppi italiani 

Nel porgere ora il mio saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana desidero anzitutto rivolgere un pensiero ai due gruppi di seminaristi qui presenti: agli Alunni del Seminario Vescovile di Bergamo e ai nuovi alunni del collegio internazionale “Maria Mater Ecclesiae”. Cari giovani, sappiate che è prezioso per voi questo tempo di discernimento e di preparazione per il vostro cammino verso il Sacerdozio ministeriale. Abbiate diligente cura della vostra vita di preghiera e della formazione intellettuale, per giungere così ad una più profonda conoscenza dei misteri divini, che dovrete trasmettere, da evangelizzatori nuovi ben disposti per il nostro tempo, alle numerose persone che incontrerete nel ministero pastorale.

Un pensiero poi va alle Suore capitolari della Congregazione delle Maestre Pie dell’Immacolata, qui convenute in occasione del loro Capitolo generale. Ad esse e all’intero Istituto un vivo incoraggiamento affinché sappiano affrontare i problemi dell’educazione giovanile con grande fiducia, seminando ampiamente nelle anime la parola di Dio. Saluto inoltre il numeroso gruppo dei lavoratori della Ditta “Contempora”, che produce piccoli elettrodomestici. Il Signore aiuti tutti voi, cari lavoratori, a vivere nelle vostre fabbriche e negli uffici confortati dal rapporto di collaborazione e fraternità, e doni sicurezza alle vostre attività, aiutandovi a superare qualsiasi momento di difficoltà.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati, agli sposi novelli 

Nel salutare poi, come di consueto i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli qui presenti, rivolgo un pensiero particolare a quanti partecipano al “Campo Internazionale” organizzato dall’Azione Cattolica Italiana, e sono guidati dall’Assistente Centrale, Monsignor Salvatore De Giorgi. Si tratta di un bel gruppo di giovani non solo italiani, ma anche ungheresi, cechi, rumeni, irlandesi. A tutti e ai rispettivi Assistenti Spirituali un cordiale benvenuto. Cari giovani, alla luce del tema del Convegno “I giovani e l’Europa camminano insieme”, vi invito a farvi costruttori di questo Continente della civiltà della vita e dell’amore, con la luce e la forza che promanano dalla parola di Dio, dalla riconciliazione, dalla presenza di Cristo nell’Eucaristia. Insegnate alla nuova Europa come si superano le barriere storiche dell’odio, cercate con generoso impegno le vie della collaborazione, della solidarietà e della fraternità tra le nazioni. Saluto inoltre i ragazzi dell’organizzazione Polisportiva “San Giacomo”, di Nettuno, radunati oggi con diverse squadre, provenienti da varie parti d’Italia.

Si accresca nel cuore di tutti i giovani qui presenti il desiderio di entrare in amicizia con Cristo, di conoscere i suoi segreti e di servirlo con tutte le forze.

E voi carissimi ammalati, sappiate annunciare a tutti che i veri discepoli di Cristo in ogni situazione della vita, ed in particolar modo nei momenti della sofferenza, trovano in Lui e nella sua croce serenità e cristiana speranza.

Infine, ai vari sposi novelli, auguro di essere sempre segno e profezia della presenza di Dio in mezzo agli uomini, mediante il dono dell’amore fedele, indefettibile e fecondo.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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