On February 23, the Holy Father met with priests of the diocese of Rome. Following a reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Benedict XVI delivered a long off-the-cuff commentary on the Gospel passage.
The Apostle says: “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
The first call we receive is that of Baptism, the Pope explained, the second is the vocation to be pastors at the service of Christ. “The great ill of the Church in Europe and the West today is the lack of priestly vocations. Yet, the Lord calls always, what is lacking are ears to listen. We listened to the Lord’s voice and must remain attentive when that voice is addressed to others. We must help to ensure the voice is heard so that the call will be accepted”.
According to St. Paul, the primary virtue which must accompany vocation is humility. This is the virtue of the followers of Christ Who, “being equal to God, humbled Himself, accepting the status of servant, and obeying even unto the cross. This was the Son’s journey of humility, which we must imitate. … The opposite of humility is pride, the root of all sin. Pride means arrogance, which above all seeks power and appearance. … It has no intention of pleasing God; rather of pleasing itself, of being accepted, even venerated, by others. The ‘self’ becomes the centre of the world; the prideful self which knows everything. Being Christian means overcoming this original temptation, which is also the nucleus of original sin: being like God, but without God”.
By contrast “humility is above all truth, … recognition that I am a thought of God in the construction of His world, that I am irreplaceable as I am, in my smallness, and that only in this way am I great. … Let us learn this realism; not seeking appearance, but seeking to please God and to accomplish what He has thought out for us, and thus also accepting others. … Acceptance of self and acceptance of others go together. Only by accepting myself as part of the great divine tapestry can I also accept others, who with me form part of the great symphony of the Church and Creation”. In this way, likewise, we learn to accept our position within the Church, knowing that “my small service is great in the eyes of God”.
Lack of humility destroys the unity of Christ’s Body. Yet at the same time, unity cannot develop without knowledge. “One great problem facing the Church today is the lack of knowledge of the faith, ‘religious illiteracy'”, the Pope said. “With such illiteracy we cannot grow. … Therefore we must reappropriate the contents of the faith, not as a packet of dogmas and commandments, but as a unique reality revealed in its all its profoundness and beauty. We must do everything possible for catechetical renewal in order for the faith to be know, God to be known, Christ to be known, the truth to be known, and for unity in the truth to grow”.
We cannot, Benedict XVI warned, live in “a childhood of faith”. Many adults have never gone beyond the first catechesis, meaning that “they cannot – as adults, with competence and conviction – explain and elucidate the philosophy of the faith, its great wisdom and rationality” in order to illuminate the minds of others. To do this they need an “adult faith”. This does not mean, as has been understood in recent decades, a faith detached from the Magisterium of the Church. When we abandon the Magisterium, the result is dependency “on the opinions of the world, on the dictatorship of the communications media”. By contrast, true emancipation consists in freeing ourselves of these opinions, the freedom of the children of God. “We must pray to the Lord intensely, that He may help us emancipate ourselves in this sense, to be free in this sense, with a truly adult faith, … capable of helping others achieve true perfection … in communion with Christ”.
The Pope went on: “Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. … Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God”.
“Where there is truth, there is charity”, the Pope concluded. “This, thanks be to God, can be seen in all centuries, despite many sad events. The fruits of charity have always been present in Christianity, just as they are today. We see it in the martyrs, we see it in so many nuns, monks, and priests who humbly serve the poor and the sick. They are the presence of Christ’s charity and a great sign that the truth is here”.