Pope’s Q-and-A Session With Roman Clergy, Part 9

On the Christian Identity

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Feb. 7 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 last two questions and the Holy Father’s answers.

ZENIT began this series of questions-and-answers Feb. 11.

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[Monsignor Renzo Martinelli, Delegate of the Pontificia Accade­mia dell’Immacolata:]

Holy Father, […] returning to the problem of the educational emergency, the question is this: Recently you said to the Slovenian bishops, “If, for example, man is understood in an individualistic way — which is a widespread tendency today — how can the effort to build a just and solidary society be justified?” How can one propose to young people that on which you have always insisted, namely, that the Christian “I”, once it puts on Christ, is no longer “I”? The Christian’s identity, you said at Verona very profoundly, is the “I” no longer “I” because there is the communal subject who is Christ. How does one propose, Your Holiness, this conversion, this new modality, this Christian originality of being a communion that effectively proposes the newness of the Christian experience?

[Benedict XVI:]

It is the great question that every priest who is responsible for others poses every day. Even for himself, naturally. It is true that in the 20th century there was the tendency toward an individualistic piety, to save one’s own soul above all and create merits that were even calculatable, that one could, on certain lists, also indicate with numbers. And certainly the whole movement of the Second Vatican Council aimed at overcoming this individualism.

I do not wish now to judge these previous generations, who in their way, nevertheless, sought thus to serve others. But there was a danger there that one wanted above all to save one’s own soul; from this followed an extrinsicism of piety that in the end found faith to be a burden and not a liberation. It is certainly the basic will of the new pastoral approach indicated by Vatican II to get away from this overly narrow Christianity and to discover that I save my soul by giving it, as the Lord told us today in the Gospel; only freeing myself from me, going out of myself; as God did in the Son, God going out of himself to save us. And we enter into this movement of the Son, we try to leave ourselves because we know where we are going. And we do not fall into a void, but we leave ourselves behind, abandoning ourselves to God, going out, putting ourselves at his service, as he wills and not as we will.

This is true Christian obedience, which is freedom: not as I wish, with my plan for life for myself, but putting myself in his service, that he may do with me as he pleases. And putting myself into his hands I am free. But it is a great leap that is never definitively accomplished. I think here of St. Augustine, who told us this so many times. Initially after his conversion he thought that he had arrived at the top and was living in the paradise of the novelty of being a Christian. But then he discovered that the difficult road of life continued — although from that moment always in the light of God — and that every day it was again necessary to make this leap out of oneself; to give this “I” so that it die and be renewed in the great “I” of Christ, an “I” that is in a certain way more true, the “I” that is common to us all, our “we.”

But I would say that we ourselves must precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist — which is this great and profound meeting with the Lord where I let myself fall into his hands — take this great step. The more we ourselves learn to do it the more we can also express it to others and make it comprehensible, accessible to others. Only going along with the Lord, abandoning ourselves in the communion of the Church to this openness, not living for myself — neither for a worldly life nor for personal beatitude — but making myself an instrument of his peace, I live well and I learn this courage in the face of daily challenges, always new and grave, often impossible. I leave myself behind because you wish it and I am certain that in this way I will move forward well. We can only implore the Lord that he help us to follow this road every day, to help, to enlighten others in this way, to move them so that they too can be thus liberated and redeemed.

[Father Umberto Fanfarillo, Pastor of Santa Do­rotea in Trastevere:]

Holy Father, I am the pastor of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere, Father Umberto Fanfarillo, a Conventual Franciscan. Together with the Christian community of the area of the parish, I would like to indicate a conspicuous even if not a profound presence of other religious contexts, which we encounter every day with reciprocal esteem, in conscientious and also in a respectful coexistence.

In this substantial positivity of intentions I can also include the commitment of the Accademia dei Lincei and the nearby American university of John Cabot, with more than 800 students from about 60 countries and with religious affiliations that range from Catholic to Lutheran, from Jewish to Muslim. It was indeed these young people who gathered in prayer at our church when John Paul II died. Some of them, coming to our parish, express respect and serenity before our religious symbols, such as the crucifix and the images of Mary, of the saints and the Pope. In the confines of the parish the Peter Pan House welcomes children who are sick with tumors and is connected with the Bambino Gesù Hospital.

Even here there are exceptional moments of charity in interreligiosity and religious attention to the sick and needy brother. At Regina Coeli Prison, which is also in the confines of the parish, there are analogous realities and respectful encounter among expressions of religiosity. Recently, in the climate of respect and witness, two young Anglicans who became Catholic received the sacrament of Confirmation. I believe that these things are also continually met in the lodging places that characterize the Trastevere quarter of Rome.

Holy Father, we are all looking for new and more balanced attitudes of conscientiousness and respect. We have always appreciated your interventions marked by respect and dialogue in the search for truth. Help us once more with your word.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this testimony of a parish that is truly multidimensional and multicultural. It seems to me that you have somewhat concretized what we discussed earlier with our Indian confrere: this ensemble of a dialogue, of a respectful coexistence, respecting each other, accepting each other as they are in their alterity, in their communion. And at the same time there is the presence of Christianity, of Christian faith as a point of reference upon which focus their attention, as a ferment that in the respect for freedom is nevertheless a light for all and that brings us together precisely in respect for differences. Let us hope that the Lord will always help us in this sense to accept the other in his alterity, to respect him and to make Christ present in the gesture of love, which is the true expression of his presence and of his word. And may the Lord help us thus to truly be servants of Christ and of his salvation for the world. Thank you.

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