Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Preacher

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes 1746 - 1828
San Juan Bautista niño en el desierto / The Young St John the Baptist in the Desert 1810
Oil on canvas
105 cm x 90 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Goya portrays St John the Baptist as a young man. He holds a Cross. The Cross has a banner with the words “Ecce Agnus” ("Behold the Lamb")

He is reflecting on the future Passion of Christ.

When he was a cardinal, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said:

"The miracle of the Church is that it survives millions of terrible homilies every Sunday."

As pope, Benedict XVI has made it abundantly clear that he thinks one of the primary duties of the Church is to elevate the quality of the homilies.

Sandro Magister has often picked this up as a theme for some of his articles. For example in The Homilies of Benedict XVI: A Model for a Confused Church he wrote:

"The homilies have become a distinguishing feature of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. They may be the least known and understood feature, but they are certainly the most revealing. He writes many of them himself, and improvises them at times; they are the most genuine manifestation of his mind."

In a Lecture given on October 24, 1995, during the International Symposium organized by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the promulgation of Presbyterorum Ordinis, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said:

"This brings us back to the Vatican II Decree on the Priesthood.

It emphasizes a common characteristic of all forms of preaching. The priest should never teach his own wisdom. What always matters is the Word of God, which impels toward truth and holiness. With St. Paul as a model, the ministry of the Word demands that the priest divest himself profoundly of his own self: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

I would like to recall now an episode from the early days of Opus Dei, which illustrates the point. A young woman had the opportunity to listen for the first time to a talk given by Fr. Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. She was very curious to hear a famous preacher, but after participating in a Mass he celebrated, she no longer wanted to listen to a human orator. She recounted later that from that moment on, her only interest was to discover the Word and will of God.

The ministry of the Word requires that the priest share in the kenosis of Christ, in his “increasing and decreasing.” The fact that the priest does not speak about himself, but bears the message of another, certainly does not mean that he is not personally involved, but precisely the opposite: it is a giving-away-ofthe- self in Christ that takes up the path of his Easter mystery and leads to a true finding-of-the-self, and communion with him who is the Word of God in person.

This paschal structure of the “not-self,” which turns out to be the "true self ” after all, shows, in the last analysis, that the ministry of the Word reaches beyond all “functions” to penetrate the priest’s very being, and presupposes that the priesthood is a sacrament. ...

Augustine points out that in the New Testament John is described, with an expression taken from Isaiah, as a “voice,” whereas Christ, in St. John’s Gospel, is called “the Word.” The relationship between “voice” (vox) and “word” (verbum) helps to clarify the relationship between Christ and the priest.

A word exists in the heart before it is grasped by someone else’s sense of hearing. Through the conveyance of the voice, it enters into another’s perception and is then present in the other person’s heart, without being lost by the one who speaks the word. The audible sound—that is, the voice— which bears the word from one person to another (or to others), passes away, but the word remains.

The priest’s function, finally, is very simple: to be a voice for the Word (“he must increase and I must decrease”). The only purpose of the voice is to transmit the word and then disappear.

Here we see both the sublimity and the humility of the priesthood. Like John the Baptist, the priest is only a precursor, a servant and minister of the Word. The focus is not on himself but on the Other. Yet he is vox, voice, with all his being. It is his mission to become a voice for the Word. It is precisely in this radical relatedness to another that he takes part in the grandeur of the Baptist’s mission, in the mission of the Logos himself.

It is also in this context that Augustine calls the priest the friend of the bridegroom (Jn 3:29), who does not take the bride but shares, as a friend, in the joy of the wedding: the Lord has made the servant into a friend (Jn 15:15), who now belongs to his household and remains in his house, no longer as a servant but as a free man (Gal 4:7, 4:21–5:1)."