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POPE’S GENERAL AUDIENCE: On St Paul’s Ministry in Ephesus

‘Bishops must be very close to the people, to defend them; they must not be detached from the people’

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This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:00 am in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.

Taking up again the series of catecheses on the Acts of the Apostles, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the theme “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28) — Paul’s ministry at Ephesus and leave from the Elders (Biblical passage: Acts of the Apostles 20:32-35).

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greeting to groups of faithful present.

The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

 Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

The Gospel’s journey continues without a pause in the Acts of the Apostles, and it goes across the city of Ephesus manifesting all its salvific scope. Thanks to Paul, about twelve men receive Baptism in Jesus’ name and experience the effusion of the Holy Spirit, who regenerates them (Cf. Acts 19:1-7). Several, then, are the miracles that happen through the Apostle: the sick are cured and the possessed are liberated (Cf. Acts 19:11-12). This happens because the disciple is like his Master (Cf. Luke 6:40) and renders Him present by communicating to brethren the same new life that he received from Him.

God’s power, which breaks out in Ephesus, unmasks those that wish to use Jesus’ name to carry out exorcisms but without having the spiritual authority to do so (Cf. Acts 19:13-17), and it reveals the weakness of magic arts, which are abandoned by a great number of persons who choose Christ and abandoned magic arts (Cf. Acts 19:18-19). A real reversal for a city such as Ephesus, which was a famous center for the practice of magic! Luke thus stresses the incompatibility between faith in Christ and magic. If you choose Christ, you can’t take recourse to a magician: faith is confident abandonment in the hands of a reliable God, who makes Himself known not through occult practices but by revelation and with gratuitous love. Perhaps some of you will say to me: “Ah, yes, this thing of magic is something ancient: today, this doesn’t happen in a Christian civilization.” But, be careful! I ask you: how many of you go to engage in tarot cards, how many of you go to have your hands read by soothsayers or have cards read to you. And to the question: “But why, if you believe in Jesus Christ, do you go to the magician, to the soothsayer, to all these people?” Answer: “I believe in Jesus Christ but for good luck I also go to them.” Please, magic isn’t Christian! These things that are done to divine the future or divine so many things or change situations of life, aren’t Christian. Christ’s grace brings you all: pray and entrust yourself to the Lord.

The spread of the Gospel in Ephesus damages the silversmiths’ trade — another problem –, who make the statues of the goddess Artemis and the cult of this goddess (Cf. Acts 19:23-28).

Paul then leaves Ephesus directly for Jerusalem and arrives at Miletus (Cf. Acts 20:1-6). Here he orders to call the Elders of the Church of Ephesus — the presbyters: they would be the priests — to handover “pastoral” consignments (Acts 20:17-35). We are at the final stages of Paul’s apostolic ministry and Luke gives us his farewell discourse, a sort of spiritual testament that the Apostle addresses to those that, after his departure, will have to guide the community of Ephesus. And this is one of the most beautiful pages of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: I advise you to take the New Testament today, the Bible, Chapter 20 and read Paul’s taking leave from the presbyters of Ephesus — and he does so at Miletus. It’s a way to understand how the Apostles takes his leave and also how presbyters today must take their leave, and also how all Christians must take their leave. It’s a most beautiful page.

In the exhortative part, Paul encourages the leaders of the community that he knows he is seeing for the last time. And what does he say to them? “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock.” This is the work of a Pastor: to do the vigil, to watch over himself and over the flock. The Pastor must watch, the parish priest must watch, do the vigil, the presbyters must watch, the Bishops and the Pope must watch. They must watch to guard the flock, and also watch over themselves, examine their conscience and see how this duty to watch is fulfilled. “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians to feed the Church of the Lord, which He obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28), so says Saint Paul. Asked of the Bishops is the greatest possible proximity to the flock, ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, and promptness in defending it from the “wolves” (v. 29). The Bishops must be very close to the people, to defend them; they must not be detached from the people. After having entrusted this task to the leaders of Ephesus, Paul puts them in God’s hands and commends them “to the word of His grace” (v. 32), ferment of all growth and path of holiness in the Church, inviting them to work with their hands, like him, so as not to be a burden to others, to help the weak and to experience that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (v. 35).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to renew in us love for the Church and for the deposit of faith that she guards, and to make us all co-responsible in guarding the flock, supporting the Pastors in prayer, so that they manifest the firmness and tenderness of the Divine Shepherd.

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forester]

In Italian

A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the professors of the Seminaries of Mission Territories, who ate taking part in the course promoted by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; and the parish groups. I greet, moreover, the participants in the National Assembly of the Italian Federation of Educational Activities; the youngsters of Calusco d’Adda; the Elderly’s Center of Galatone; and the Flag Wavers and Musicians of the City of Foligno. Finally, I greet the young people, the elderly, the sick and the newlyweds. Observed next Friday is the Memorial of Saint Nicholas of Bari. Let us imitate his virtues, learning to put nothing before charity who is in the greatest need, seeking in him the face of God who made Himself man.

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation]
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