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Priests exercise a ministry of preaching

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 21 April 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the Church we all are called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, to communicate it ever more fully to believers (cf. Col 3:16), and to make it known to non-believers (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). No Christian can be excused from this task stemming from the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and working under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Thus it must be stated immediately that evangelization is not reserved to only one category of the Church's members. Nevertheless, bishops are its principal agents and leaders for the entire Christian community, as we saw in discussing them. In this work they are assisted by presbyters, and to a certain degree by deacons, according to the Church's norms and practice, both in ancient times and in those of the "new evangelization."

2. For presbyters, it can be said that proclaiming the word of God is the first task to be carried out (cf. LG 28; CCC 1564), because the basis of personal and communal Christian life is faith, which results from the Word of God and is nourished on this word. The Second Vatican Council emphasized this evangelizing mission and related it to the formation of the People of God and to everyone's right to receive the Gospel message from priests (cf. PO 4). The need for this preaching is highlighted by St. Paul, who adds to Christ's command his own experience as an apostle. In his work of evangelization, carried out in many regions and contexts, he noted that people did not believe because no one as yet had proclaimed the Good News to them. Although the way of salvation was now open to all, he observed that everyone had not yet been able to take advantage of it. Thus, he also explained the need for preaching because of Christ's command: "But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" (Rom 10:14-15). The Apostle was concerned to communicate the Word of God in abundance to those who had become believers. He himself said to the Thessalonians: "We treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you conduct yourselves as worthy of the God who calls you..." (1 Thess 2:11-12). The Apostle urgently exhorted his disciple Timothy to carry out this ministry: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ...proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:1-2). "Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching" (1 Tim 5:17).

3. The preaching of presbyters is not a mere exercise of the word that answers a personal need to express oneself and to communicate one's own thought, nor can it consist solely in sharing one's personal experience. This psychological element, which can have a didactic-pastoral role, is neither the reason for nor the principal element in preaching. As the Fathers of the 1971 Synod of Bishops said: "The experiences of life, whether of men in general or of priests, which must be kept in mind and always interpreted in the light of the Gospel, cannot be either the sole or the principal norm of preaching" (Ench. Vat., IV, 1186). The mission of preaching is entrusted by the Church to presbyters as a sharing in Christ's mediation, to be exercised by virtue of and according to the demands of his mandate. Priests, "in their degree of ministry, share in the office of the one Mediator, Christ (1 Tim 2:5), and proclaim to all the divine word" (Ench. Vat., IV, 1186). This expression cannot fail to make us reflect: it is a "divine word," which therefore is not "ours" and cannot be manipulated, changed or adapted at will, but must be proclaimed in its entirety. Since the "divine word" has been entrusted to the apostles and the Church, "Each priest shares in the special responsibility of preaching the whole of the Word of God and of interpreting it according to the faith of the Church," as the Fathers also said at the 1971 Synod (Ench. Vat., IV, 1183).

4. The proclamation of the word takes place in close connection with the sacraments, through which Christ imparts and develops the life of grace. In this regard it must also be noted that a good part of preaching, especially today, takes place during the celebration of the sacraments and especially during holy Mass. It should also be observed that the proclamation already occurs through the administration of the sacraments, both because of the theological and catechetical richness of the liturgical texts and readings, given today in the vernacular and understandable by the people, and because of the ritual's pedagogical procedure. Doubtless, however, preaching must precede, accompany and crown the administration of the sacraments, in relation to the preparation necessary to receive them and to their fruitfulness in faith and life.

5. The Council recalled that proclaiming the divine word has the effect of producing and nourishing faith, and of contributing to the Church's development. It said: "Through the saving word the spark of faith is lit in the hearts of unbelievers, and fed in the hearts of the faithful. This is the way that the congregation of faithful is started and grows" (PO 4). This principle must always be kept in mind: the goal of spreading, strengthening and increasing the faith must remain fundamental for everyone who preaches the Gospel, and thus for the priest who is especially and so often called to exercise the ministry of the word. A preaching which would be a tissue of psychological themes related to the person, or taken up with raising problems without resolving them, or causing doubts without indicating the source of Gospel light that can illumine the way for individuals and society, would not achieve the essential objective desired by the Savior. It would instead result in a source of disorientation for public opinion and of damage for believers themselves, whose right to know the true content of Revelation would thus be ignored.

6. Moreover, the Council has shown the breadth and variety of forms that the authentic proclamation of the Gospel can take, according to the Church's teaching and mandate to preachers: "To all men, therefore, priests are debtors that the truth of the Gospel which they have may be given to others. And so, whether by entering into profitable dialogue they bring people to the worship of God, whether by openly preaching they proclaim the mystery of Christ, or whether in the light of Christ they treat contemporary problems, they are relying not on their own wisdom, for it is the word of Christ they teach, and it is to conversion and holiness that they exhort all men" (PO 4). These then are the ways to teach the divine word according to the Church: the witness of one's life, which makes it possible to discover the power of God's love and gives persuasive force to the preacher's word; explicitly preaching the mystery of Christ to non-believers; catechesis and the ordered, organic exposition of the Church's doctrine; application of revealed truth to judging and solving practical cases. Under these conditions preaching shows its beauty and attracts people who want to see the glory of God today too.

7. This requirement of authentic and complete proclamation is not opposed to the principle of adapting preaching, which was especially stressed by the Council (cf. PO 4). Clearly, the priest must above all ask himself, with a sense of responsibility and realistic evaluation, whether what he says in his preaching is understood by his listeners and whether it has an effect on the way they think and live. He should also strive to take stock of his own preaching, the various needs of his listeners and the different reasons they come together and seek his help. Clearly he should know and recognize his talents and use them to good advantage, not to show off (which would simply destroy his credibility with his listeners), but the better to bring the divine word to human minds and hearts. More than to natural talents, however, the preacher must have recourse to those supernatural charisms that the history of the Church and of sacred eloquence presents in so many holy preachers. He will feel compelled to ask the Holy Spirit for the most appropriate effective way to speak, act and dialogue with his audience. All this is true as well for everyone who exercises the ministry of the word by writing, publishing, and by radio and television broadcasting. The use of these communications media also requires the preacher, lecturer, writer, religious entertainer and especially the priest to call upon and have recourse to the Holy Spirit, the light who gives life to minds and hearts.

8. According to the Council's directives, the divine word should be proclaimed in all areas and at all levels of society, also taking non-believers into account--this means true atheists or, as is more often the case, agnostics, the indifferent or the heedless. In order to interest them it will be necessary to devise more appropriate measures. Here once again one need only point out the problem, which is serious and must be addressed with intelligent zeal and a calm attitude. It can be useful for the priest to remember the wise words of the 1971 Synod of Bishops, which said: "By evangelization the minister of the word prepares the ways of the Lord with great patience and faith, conforming himself to the various conditions of individuals and peoples' lives" (Ench. Vat., IV, 1184). The ever necessary calling upon the Lord's grace and on the Holy Spirit, its divine steward, will be felt even more intensely in all those cases of (at least practical) atheism, agnosticism, ignorance and religious indifference, sometimes hostile prejudice and even animosity, which show the priest how inadequate are all human means for opening souls to God. Then, more than ever, he will experience the "mystery of empty hands," as it has been called. But for this very reason he will remember that St. Paul, almost crucified by similar experiences, always found new courage in the "power of God and the wisdom of God" present in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-29), and he reminded the Corinthians: "When I came among you it was in weakness and fear, and with much trepidation. My message and my preaching had none of the persuasive force of 'wise' argumentation, but the convincing power of the Spirit. As a consequence, your faith rests not on the wisdom of men but on the power of God" (1 Cor 2:3-5).

Perhaps this is the important viaticum for today's preacher."

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

Ai fedeli di espressione francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française. Je souhaite la bienvenue, en particulier, aux fidèles du diocèse de Dax venus sous la conduite de Monseigneur Robert Sarrabère, et aux prêtres du diocèse de La Rochelle accompagnés par Monseigneur Jacques David. Je salue également les membres de l’École de la Foi de Fribourg et le groupe des jeunes Libanais qui viennent d’un pays cher à mon cœur.

En ce temps pascal, je demande au Christ de vous faire grandir dans la foi et de vous donner chaque jour la force d’aimer. Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous garde!

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to greet the Officers and men of Her Majesty’s Ship "Ark Royal" and the students of Britannia Royal Naval College. My greeting also goes to the students of the Mater Dei School in Bangkok. Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Christ our Risen Lord.

Ad un gruppo proveniente dal Giappone

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini di Hiroshima e del gruppo “ World Peace Flower ”, vi ringrazio sentitamente per la vostra preghiera e per il dono della grande bandiera per la pace nel mondo.

Auspico che la vostra preghiera e la vostra attività per la pace nel mondo continuino sempre sotto la protezione della Madonna.

Con questo augurio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Dechanten und Pfarrern aus der Diözese Hildesheim, der Pilgergruppe des Ferienwerkes Bodensee und den Pilgern der Christlich–Sozialen Union Oberpfalz.

Möge Euer Besuch in Rom die Berufung und Sendung als Christ in Euch neu erwecken und stärken. Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular, al grupo de religiosos Franciscanos procedentes de América Latina, que hacen en Roma un curso de espiritualidad.

Saludo igualmente a la delegación de la “ Asociación Víctimas del Terrorismo ”, a quienes aliento en su firme propósito de alejar el odio de sus corazones y hacer de la fe cristiana motivo de consuelo y esperanza, sabiendo que el Dios de la misericordia y del perdón les asiste en esa prueba. En esta circunstancia, deseo recordar las palabras que dirigí al Episcopado Español durante su última visita “ ad Limina ”: “ Ante el triste fenómeno del terrorismo, que tanto dolor y muerte ha sembrado en no pocos hogares españoles, no podemos por menos de reprobarlo enérgicamente, pues viola los derechos más sagrados de las personas, atenta a la pacífica convivencia y ofende los sentimientos cristianos de vuestras gentes ”.

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Queridos peregrinos de língua portuguesa, o Papa saúda–vos a todos e de coração vos abençoa, a vós e às vossas famílias. Aproveito este momento para dirigir uma cordial saudação ao grupo de peregrinos timorenses, vindos de Portugal, e que quiseram manifestar filial adesão ao Sucessor de Pedro, com a sua presença nesta Audiência. Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs, acolho–vos afectuosamente com a recordação inesquecível da minha Visita a Díli; e volto a assegurar que nunca deixei de acompanhar com profunda solicitude os acontecimentos da vossa querida terra. Elevemos conjunta e fervorosamente a nossa oração ao Senhor Omnipotente, para que todos aqueles que têm responsabilidade pelo futuro de Timor Leste procurem, num diálogo franco e corajoso, o bem–estar da população, no respeito dos seus direitos e das suas tradições culturais e religiosas.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana

Sono lieto di rivolgere ora un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Un pensiero particolare va agli Allievi Carabinieri della Scuola di Chieti, alcuni dei quali hanno ricevuto in questi giorni il sacramento della Confermazione. Cari giovani, mi compiaccio con voi per il cammino di fede che vi proponete di fare in questo periodo di formazione. Siate testimoni dei valori del Vangelo in ogni circostanza, svolgendo il vostro servizio per il bene della società. Vi protegga sempre la Vergine Santissima, che invocate con il titolo di “Virgo Fidelis”.

Saluto, poi, il gruppo dei fedeli di Antillo, in diocesi di Messina. Carissimi, ben volentieri benedico la nuova campana della vostra Chiesa. Il suo suono vi ricorderà non soltanto i caduti di tutte le guerre, ai quali essa è dedicata, ma anche la necessità della preghiera e della partecipazione alla Santa Messa, soprattutto nei giorni festivi.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo, infine, il mio saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli.

Il tempo pasquale che stiamo vivendo, cari giovani, vi invita ad andare oltre le soglie dell’esperienza umana per rinascere dallo Spirito Santo e cominciare una vita nuova, piena di amore e di entusiasmo. È questo il mio augurio, che estendo, in particolare, agli Alunni dell’Istituto “Dante Alighieri” dell’Opera “Don Orione” di Tortona.

Anche voi, cari ammalati, sappiate che ogni sofferenza, vissuta nella luce del Cristo crocifisso e risorto, trova in Lui superamento e senso.

Ed a voi, cari sposi, auguro che la vostra famiglia sia illuminata dalla Pasqua, tanto nei momenti lieti quanto nelle circostanze difficili. Costruite con Cristo la vostra nuova realtà familiare e non vi mancherà il suo conforto ed il suo aiuto. A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica!

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