Pope’s Q-and-A Session With Roman Clergy, Part 3

On Reaching Out to a Secular World

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Thursday with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome. During the meeting, the participants asked the Pope questions. Here is a translation of the third question and the Holy Father’s answer.
Parts 1 and 2 appeared Monday and Tuesday.

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[Father Paolo Tammi, pastor at St. Pius X Parish and religion professor:]

I would like to extend to you just one of the many expressions of gratitude for the effort and the passion with which you have written the book about Jesus of Nazareth, a text that, you yourself have said, is not an act of the magisterium, but the fruit of your personal search for the face of God. It has contributed to putting the person of Jesus Christ in the center of Christianity and certainly it is contributing — and will continue to do so — to a patient righting of the partial visions of the Christian event, such as the political vision, in which a great part of my adolescence and that of my contemporaries developed; or the moralist vision, too insistent — in my opinion — in Catholic preaching; or finally the vision that likes to define itself as demythologizing the figure of Jesus Christ, like that of certain teachers of secular thought who truly think it very normal to suddenly concern themselves now with the Founder of Christianity and his human adventure to deny his historicity or to attribute his divinity to a fantasy of the apostolic Church.

You, on the other hand, do not cease to teach us, Your Holiness, that Jesus is truly everything, that with him, man and God, it’s only possible to fall in love; that it is not merely the same as belonging to a club, supposing that such a thing exists, or spouting off pretty phrases about him just to protect a cultural identity. I limit myself to add that in a secular environment like a school, where historical and philosophical motivations in favor or against religion obviously have their legitimate space, I see every day that the kids maintain a great emotional distance, whereas I have seem them be moved in Assisi — where I took them a few days ago — upon hearing a passionate testimony of a young friar minor. I ask you: How can the life of a priest become ever more passionate with the essential, which is the Spouse Jesus? And also, how can you see when a priest is in love with Jesus? I know that you have answered this several times, but it’s certain that your answer can help or correct us, to renew our hope. I ask you to answer this again here with your priests.

[Benedict XVI:]

How can I correct the parish priests, who are working so well? We can only help each other. So, you are familiar with this secular environment not only from an intellectual distance, but above all from an emotional one, with faith. And we should, according to circumstances, find the way to build bridges. It seems to me that the situations are difficult, but you are right. We should always think: What is essential? Even if afterward the point varies in which it is possible to link in the kerygma, the context, the way of acting. But the question should always be: What is essential? What has to be discovered? What would I like to give? And here, I always repeat: The essential is God.

If we don’t speak of God, if God is not discovered, we are always stuck in secondary things. Thus it seems fundamental to me that the question “Does God exist” is at least proposed. And that of, How could I live without God? Is God truly an important reality for me?

It continues to impress me that the First Vatican Council would have wanted precisely to bring this dialogue to the table, to understand God with reason — even if in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we need God to help us and purify our reason. It seems that already there is a search to respond to this challenge posed by a secular environment regarding God as the fundamental question, and then regarding Christ as God’s answer. Naturally, I would say that the “preambula fidei” exist, that perhaps they are the first step to open the heart and the mind to God: the natural virtues.

Recently I received a visit from a head of state who told me, I am not a religious person, the foundation of my life is Aristotelian ethics. This is already something very good, and it places us beside St. Thomas, on the path toward Thomas’ synthesis. And therefore, this could be a point of contact: To learn and to make understandable the importance for human coexistence of this rational ethics, that afterward interiorly opens — if its lived in its consequences — to the question of God, to the responsibility before God.

So it seems to me that, on one hand, we should have clear before us what is the essential that we want to and should transmit to the others and what are the “preambula” in the situations in which we can take the first steps. In truth, today a first ethical education is a fundamental step. This is also what happened in ancient Christianity. Cyprian, for example, tells us that his life before was totally dissolute. Afterward, living in the catechumenal community, he learned a fundamental ethics and in that way, the path toward God opened. Also St. Ambrose in the Easter Vigil says: Until now we have spoken of morality, now we move on to mystery.

They had traveled the journey of the “preambula fidei” with a fundamental education in ethics, which created the possibility of understanding the mystery of God. Therefore, I would say that perhaps we should carry out an interaction with education in ethics — so important today — on one hand, also with its pragmatic evidence, and at the same time not omit the question of God. And in this intertwining of two paths, it seems to me that perhaps we manage to open ourselves a bit to this God who alone can give light.

[Translation by Kathleen Naab]

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