Archbishop Piacenza on Priests and Media

“A Real Priority for the Clergy Both During Initial and Ongoing Formation”

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ROME, MARCH 4, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address delivered by Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, the secretary for the Congregation for the Clergy, at the occasion study day on “Communication and the Mission of the Priesthood” held in November at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

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Dean Diego Contreras
Reverend and Esteemed Contributors and Professors
Dear Priests, male and female Religious,
Dear brothers,

I am very pleased to be invited to preside at this First Session of your Study Day bearing the title “Communication in the Mission of the Priest”, inaugurated especially during this Year for Priests, which the Holy Father Benedict XVI hopes will “encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends”[1]

The effectiveness of the ministry, guaranteed, in its essential aspects by Divine Grace, described, as Thomism reminds us, as ex opera operato, is also entrusted mysteriously and at the same time strikingly to the freedom of each individual Priest and along the course of a progressive essential conformation to Christ, the One High Priest, beginning in the Sacrament of Order and continuing throughout the period of our earthly existence.

Every Priest is par excellence, in this sense, a “man of communication”: of the communication with God and of God’s communication with the brethren entrusted to him in the solicitude of the ministry.

In inaugurating this study day I intend to underline, following the course of the interventions that are foreseen, three aspects of the communication of the priest which I hold to be essential.

1. The Priest, Man of Communication

As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hb. 5: 1-2).

The priest is a man related totally to God in the only “relativism” in which one could possibly take pride. He is a man made up of the divine Mercy in the precise function of representing Christ himself: he is an alter Christus, as the best ecclesial tradition teaches. In that sense, regardless of his personal abilities as a communicator, he is established in the representative-communication of Christ himself: the Priest and the Priesthood are not self-sufficient or independent of Christ and, were this to happen, may God forbid, he would lose his proper missionary strength, reducing himself to a mere human reality, unable as a consequence to “communicate” and to represent the Master.

The same exercise of the three priestly munera is eminently an act of communication. I refer here not only to the munus docendi, which achieves this in a direct and immediate manner in preaching and catechesis, but also to the munus sanctificandi, in that extraordinary form of heavenly communication that is the Divine Liturgy, which adheres to his own precise rules of communication that are never to be subject to personal manipulation or adjustment, and to the munus regendi through which priests are called to communicate the solicitude of Christ the Head, the Good Shepherd, who pastures his flock by means of his ministers, thereby to lead it to the Father.

The comprehension, and the re-comprehension where necessary, of the substantial ontological-representative nature of the ministerial Priest, distinct from the baptismal priesthood, constitutes today a real priority for the Clergy both during initial and ongoing formation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in this regard: “This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king” (n.1581).

The first and most effective condition so that each Priest can consciously assume the responsibility of “communication” which he puts in place is determined by the comprehension of his own authentic and deep identity, sacramentally and definitively determined, which can never be lost and which is, for this reason, objectively the “communication” of the Divine. The Holy Father, casting light on the essential nucleus of the spirituality of John Mary Vianney, in whose 150th anniversary we celebrate the Year for Priests, identified it as the “complete identification with his own ministry”. It is exactly this identification that is the irreplaceable condition of every effective “communication”.

2. The Priest, “Communicator” of the Church and in the Church.

The second suggestion, which appears of some urgency for me to give for your consideration, concerns the undeserved and the not rarely embarrassing proliferation of “priest-stars”, found in many means of communication, especially the television, without any permission of their Ordinary and without any real possibility of control on the part of the legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

If on the one hand it would be desirable, in all honesty, to have in such fields a timely reflection on the service of  “oversight” of Ordinaries – epi-scopé (one does not have in mind a suffocating policed regime, but a sense of responsibility and of pastoral charity for all, believers and non-believers alike), on the other hand the frequency, perhaps even in the majority of cases, with which certain priests, and even religious, distance themselves, even sometimes seriously, from the common doctrine, and not only in the sphere of morality but also de fide. It is the sign of the confusion of their own conscious identity which causes, quite often, disorientation amongst the lay faithful and the common listener, who find themselves faced with a sometimes jarring contrast of the “official doctrine of the Church” and that which is “communicated” (I would add “poorly”!) by the reigning “priest-star”.

We know full well how the world, in the johannine sense of the word, and not a few Media amply fulfil this role, has always sought to distort the Truth, to confuse and, above all, to obscure the powerful unity of Catholic doctrine, both understood in its own right as a complete system of understanding which has its proper supernatural origin in God himself, and with respect to the real unity of the ecclesial Body which, as we know well, is the rich seed of effective witness, as the priestly prayer teaches: “ut unum sint”.

It is more important now than ever to avoid the proliferation of that which I have no fear in naming as a communications “Wild-West”, in which some priests portray themselves as speaking in the name of the Church and, representing it in fact, at least by virtue of their sacramental ordination, they cause division and confusion, truly damaging the unity and effectiveness of the ecclesial and evangelical communication. If one considers the extent to which such media contributions can reach, by virtue to the means utilised (sometimes to millions of people), the responsibility borne becomes truly incalculable. The very clear words of the Lord come to mind: “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5: 19).

Your very useful Faculty, the first of its kind, which is so well integrated into the round of academic disciplines at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, also includes the following within its scope: to clarify the epistemological state of Communication, considered within the category of “institutional”, also identifying and forming the ‘agents’ who will be officially enabled for such a task.

Probably a part of the Church, and of the episcopal Body within her called to ‘oversee’, must yet fully take on board the important significance, even on the anthropological level, that the so-called “media revolution” has ha
d in recent decades, and will continue to have, and which, after the French and Industrial revolutions, is the most important of modernity.

3. Communication as a means.

The last observation I would like to offer you, before giving the floor to Prof. Philip Goyert, concerns the meaning and the correct theological ‘positioning’ of communication.

It is not by chance that a certain semantic elision has been created between the terms “communion” (Communio) and “communication”, seeking to identify real or presumed “Trinitarian roots” of human communication. If it clear that man is always the agent, or at least one of the agents, of communication, and that man has been created in the imagine of the Triune God, and is called to grow in his likeness, nevertheless the identification of the abovementioned terms does not appear strictly justified.

Communio belongs to the order of ends and it is absolutely necessary to respect its nature, especially and above all within theological discourse. Communication, on the other hand, belongs to the order of means and may quite legitimately be called a means, perhaps even one of the most effective, to reach, or more exactly to welcome, Communio.

I hold that reflection upon, and appreciation of, the “instrumental” nature and the “finalisation” of communication to Communion is an indispensable premise for any theological thinking which seeks to give a truly edifying contribution, and which allows, even to the communication of Priests, a real finalisation which, in the last analysis, would simply respond to the question: “Is what I am communicating of the Church? Does it favour communion? Do I communicate to my listener, that is to say do I place him in communion with two thousand years of Christian History?”.

Of extraordinary effectiveness for the communication of the Priest, and I conclude with this, is that which was recalled in the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI: “Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life.

The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension. Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society. This is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself, and it is a consequence — to express it in faith terms — of original sin. The Church’s wisdom has always pointed to the presence of original sin in social conditions and in the structure of society: “Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals” (CCC n.407)” (CV n.34).

Clearly it can be a cause of great error even in the field of communication, and of “Communication in the mission of the Priest”, and so I wish all of you from my heart a fruitful labour.

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Notes

[1] Benedict XVI, Allocution to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, 16th March 2009.

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