Q-and-A Session With Parish Priests (Part 4)

«Our Humble, Daily Work Is Essential»

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 6, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Feb.26 with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome for a question-and-answer session. Here is a translation of the fourth question and the Holy Father’s answer.

ZENIT will continue publishing these transcriptions over the coming days. Parts 1, 2 and 3 were published Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

* * * [Father Giampiero Ialongo:]

Holiness, I am Father Giampiero Ialongo, one of the many parish priests that exercises his ministry on the outskirts of Rome, specifically in Torre Angela, together with Torbellamonaca, Borghesiana, Borgata Finocchio, Colle Prenestino, the latter being suburbs, as many others, which are often forgotten and ignored by public institutions. I am happy because the president of the municipality has called us to a meeting this afternoon: We will see what materializes from this meeting with the town council. Perhaps more than in other areas of our city, in our suburbs people are experiencing in a very intense way the unease caused by the international economic crisis, which is beginning to be felt in the concrete conditions of the life of many families.

As a parish Caritas, but above all as a diocesan Caritas, we promote many initiatives that are oriented, first of all, to listening, as well as to specific material aid for those who request it, regardless of race, culture or religion. Despite this, we realize increasingly that we are faced with a genuine emergency. I think that many, too many people, not only those who have retired but also those who have work, a contract for an indeterminate time, are experiencing serious difficulties in having their families reach the end of the month. The food and clothes packages that we offer, and on occasion concrete financial aid to pay light and water bills or the rent, can be a help, but is certainly not the solution.

I am convinced that, as the Church, we must ask ourselves what more we can do, but above all we should ask ourselves what are the reasons that have led to this generalized situation of crisis. We should have the courage to denounce an economic and financial system that is unjust at its roots. Given the injustice introduced in this system, I do not think a bit of optimism is enough.

What is needed is an authoritative word, a free word, which will help Christians, as you have already said in a certain sense, Holy Father, to administer the goods that God has given, and that he has given for all and not only for a few, with evangelical wisdom and responsibility. In this context, I would like to hear this word once again, as you have already expressed it on other occasions. Thank you, Your Holiness.

[Benedict XVI:]

First of all, I would like to thank the cardinal vicar for his words of confidence: Rome can give more candidates for the Lord’s harvest. Above all we must pray to the Lord of the harvest, but also do our part to encourage young people to say yes to the Lord. And, of course, young priests are called to give an example to today’s youth: that it is good to work for the Lord. In this sense, we are full of hope. Let us pray to the Lord and do what we should.

I now answer the question that touches the sensitive point of the problems of our time. I would make a distinction between two levels. The first is the level of macroeconomics, which is made a reality and reaches even the last citizen, who suffers the consequences of an erroneous construction. Naturally, to denounce this is a duty of the Church. As you know, for a long time we have been preparing an encyclical on these issues. And on this long path I see how difficult it is to speak competently, because if the economic reality is not addressed competently, one cannot be credible. And, on the other hand, we must speak with a great ethical consciousness, created and inspired by a conscience forged by the Gospel. Hence, these fundamental errors must be denounced, the underlying errors, which have now manifested themselves with the bankruptcy of the large American banks.

In the end, it is about human avarice as sin or, as the Letter to the Colossians says, of avarice as idolatry. We must denounce that idolatry that is opposed to the true God and that falsifies the image of God through another god, «mammon.» We must do so with courage, but also by being specific. Because great morality is not helpful if it is not based on knowledge of the reality, which also helps to understand what can be done concretely to change the situation gradually. And, of course, to be able to do so, knowledge of that truth and the good will of all is necessary.

We are faced with the central point: Does original sin really exist? If it did not exist, we could appeal to lucid reason, with arguments that are irrefutable and accessible to all, and to the good will that is in everyone. With that alone we could adequately proceed and reform humanity. But it is not like this: reason — ours also — is confused; we see it every day. Because egoism, the root of avarice, consists in loving myself more than anything else and of loving the world in reference to myself. It happens in all of us.

It is the obscuring of reason, which can be very learned, with extremely beautiful scientific arguments but which, nevertheless, can be confused by false premises. So one goes forward with great intelligence and makes great strides on an erroneous path. As the Fathers [of the Church] say, the will is also «twisted:» it does not simply try to do good, but above all seeks itself or seeks the good of its own group. For this reason, it is not easy to really find the path of reason, of true reason; it is developed with difficulty through dialogue. Without the light of faith, which penetrates the darkness of original sin, reason cannot go forward. But it is faith, precisely, that then runs into the resistance of our will. It does not want to see the way, which would be a path of self-denial and of correction of one’s own will in favor of the other, not of oneself.

That is why I would say that what is needed is the reasonable and reasoned denunciation of the errors, not with great moral statements, but rather with concrete reasons that prove to be understandable in today’s economic world. The denunciation is important, it has always been a mandate for the Church. We know that in the new situation that was created by the industrial world, the social doctrine of the Church, beginning with Leo XIII, has attempted to make these denunciations — and not only the denunciations, which are not sufficient — but also to show the difficult paths in which, step by step, the assent of reason and of the will is called for, together with the correction of my conscience, to deny my own will, in a certain sense, to deny myself in order to be able to collaborate in the true objective of human life, of humanity.

Having said this, the Church always has the duty to remain vigilant; she must discover with her best efforts the reasons of the economic world, to enter its reasoning and to illumine this reasoning with the faith that frees us from the egoism of original sin. It is a task of the Church, to enter into this discernment, into this reasoning, to make itself heard, including at the various national and international levels, to help and to correct. And it is no easy task, given that so many personal interests and national groups are opposed to a radical correction.

Perhaps it is pessimism, but for me it seems to be realism: While there is original sin, we will never achieve a radical and total correction. Nevertheless, we must do everything possible to implement corrections that are at least provisional, sufficient to enable humanity to live and to put obstacles to the dominance of egoism, which presents itself under pretexts of science and of na
tional and international economy.

This is the first level. The other consists in being realistic. To realize that these great objectives of macro-science are not realized in micro-science — the macroeconomics in the microeconomics — without the conversion of hearts. If there are no just men, there is no justice either. We have to accept this. For this reason, education in justice is a priority objective, we can even say it is the priority. Because St. Paul says that justification is the effect of the work of Christ, it is not an abstract concept related to sins that do not interest us today, but refers precisely to integral justice. Only God can give it to us, but he gives it to us with our cooperation at various levels, at all possible levels.

Justice cannot be created in the world only with good economic models, even if these are necessary. Justice is only brought about if there are just men. And there are no just men without the humble, daily endeavor of converting hearts, and of creating justice in hearts. Only in this way is corrective justice extended. That is why the work of the parish priest is so essential, not only for the parish, but for humanity. Because if there are no just men, as I have said, justice remains something abstract. And good structures are not put in place if they face the opposition of egoism, including that of competent people.

Our humble, daily work is essential to attain the great objectives of humanity. And we must work together at all levels. The universal Church must denounce, but she must also proclaim what can be done and how it can be done. The episcopal conferences and the bishops must act. But we must all educate in justice. I believe that even today Abraham’s dialogue with God is genuine and realistic (Genesis 18:22-23), when he says: «Will you really destroy the city? Perhaps there are 50 just men, perhaps 10.» And 10 just men are enough for the city to survive. That is why we must do what is necessary to educate and guarantee at least 10 just men, but if it is possible, many more. With our proclamation we make it possible to have many just men, for justice to really be present in the world.

Hence, the two levels are inseparable. If, on one hand, we do not proclaim macro-justice, micro-justice does not grow. But, on the other, if we do not carry out the humble endeavor of micro-justice, macro-justice will not grow either. And always, as I said in my first encyclical, with all the systems that can grow in the world, in addition to the justice we seek, charity continues to be necessary. To open hearts to justice and charity is to educate in the faith, to lead to God.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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On ZENIT’s Web site:

Part 1: http://www.zenit.org/article-25258?l=english

Part 2: http://www.zenit.org/article-25264?l=english

Part 3: http://www.zenit.org/article-25275?l=english

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