Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Pope speaks of the Clerical State

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt (1829-1896),
John Henry Newman 1881
Oil on canvas,
47 3/4 in. x 37 1/2 in. (1213 mm x 953 mm)
The National Portrait Gallery, London

Saint John Ogilvie (1579 – 10 March 1615), Scottish Roman Catholic martyr

It was more than noticeable that on the occasion of the respective visits of the Bishops from the United Kingdom to the Vatican, one of the Pope`s main themes to both sets of bishops was the special and distinct role of the clergy.

They are not to be regarded as "mere functionaries" but the receipients of the great "gift of priestly ministry".

In other words, despite what some supporters of the Equality Bill (see post below) thought, they are not employees, workers or office holders. Their rights and duties cannot be defined in terms of a civil secular law despite the increasing pressure of the Secular law to assimilate their position and role to that of worker or employee, the provider of a service or services , or as the Pope said "a functionary"

One does not readily associate a functionary was a person of stature or great integrity or a source of inspiration or "an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth by following that "kindly light" wherever it led him, even at considerable personal cost" (see the comments of the Pope below regarding Cardinal Newman)

But it would appear that what the Pope is saying is that laity and clergy of the Church must themselves first be certain of and recognise the respective roles of clergy and laity which perhaps in recent years has become rather blurred.

Highlighted by the Pope were two priests: Blessed John Henry Newman (whose beatification is coming up soon) and Saint John Ogilvie SJ.(whose four hundredth anniversary is this year)

On the occasion of the ad limina visit of the Bishops of England Wales, the Pope said:

"Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free. Cardinal Newman realized this, and he left us an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth by following that "kindly light" wherever it led him, even at considerable personal cost. Great writers and communicators of his stature and integrity are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps.

Much attention has rightly been given to Newman’s scholarship and to his extensive writings, but it is important to remember that he saw himself first and foremost as a priest. In this Annus Sacerdotalis [Year for Priests], I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel. You yourselves should set a similar example. Be close to your priests, and rekindle their sense of the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as alter Christus. In Newman’s words, "Christ’s priests have no priesthood but His … what they do, He does; when they baptize, He is baptizing; when they bless, He is blessing" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI 242). Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted."

To the Scottish Bishops on their ad limina visit, Pope Benedict XVI said:

"It is a happy coincidence that the Year for Priests, which the whole Church is currently celebrating, marks the four hundredth anniversary of the priestly ordination of the great Scottish martyr Saint John Ogilvie. Rightly venerated as a faithful servant of the Gospel, he was truly outstanding in his dedication to a difficult and dangerous pastoral ministry, to the point of laying down his life. Hold him up as an example for your priests today. I am glad to know of the emphasis you place on continuing formation for your clergy, especially through the initiative "Priests for Scotland". The witness of priests who are genuinely committed to prayer and joyful in their ministry bears fruit not only in the spiritual lives of the faithful, but also in new vocations. Remember, though, that your commendable initiatives to promote vocations must be accompanied by sustained catechesis among the faithful about the true meaning of priesthood. Emphasize the indispensable role of the priest in the Church’s life, above all in providing the Eucharist by which the Church herself receives life. And encourage those entrusted with the formation of seminarians to do all they can to prepare a new generation of committed and zealous priests, well equipped humanly, academically and spiritually for the task of ministry in the twenty-first century.

Hand in hand with a proper appreciation of the priest’s role is a correct understanding of the specific vocation of the laity. Sometimes a tendency to confuse lay apostolate with lay ministry has led to an inward-looking concept of their ecclesial role. Yet the Second Vatican Council’s vision is that wherever the lay faithful live out their baptismal vocation – in the family, at home, at work – they are actively participating in the Church’s mission to sanctify the world. A renewed focus on lay apostolate will help to clarify the roles of clergy and laity and so give a strong impetus to the task of evangelizing society.

That task requires a readiness to grapple firmly with the challenges presented by the increasing tide of secularism in your country. Support for euthanasia strikes at the very heart of the Christian understanding of the dignity of human life. Recent developments in medical ethics and some of the practices advocated in the field of embryology give cause for great concern. If the Church’s teaching is compromised, even slightly, in one such area, then it becomes hard to defend the fullness of Catholic doctrine in an integral manner. Pastors of the Church, therefore, must continually call the faithful to complete fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, while at the same time upholding and defending the Church’s right to live freely in society according to her beliefs."

It would seem that in the facing of increasing opposition from a society already secular and increasingly secular, the key is unity amongst all members of the Church. Corrosive fractious debates and criticisms together with hostile recriminations and discouraging and sapping complaints are to be discouraged. Mutual support and cooperation amongst the members of the Church in their respective roles are essential in view of the great challenges which face the Church in its mission.

The comment about euthansasia is particularly apposite for the Scottish bishops as the Scottish Parliament is due to consider a Bill on the right to "assisted dying". This proposal and Bill has a large measure of support. It will require a great deal of concerted opposition to defeat this proposal. Lack of unity would mean that the proponents of the culture of death will be successful.

Cardinal Newman in the nineteenth century had reservations about the declaration of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility in the First Vatican Council. He privately thought that the declaration would be "inopportune" in its timing. Publicly he remained silent. He was not being dishonest, intellectually or otherwise. He recognised that he was not the centre of the Universe and that he was one cog in the Church. Later in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, he stressed his adherence to the Dogma and his reasons.