Pope’s Q-and-A With Clergy of Bressanone (Part 2)

“Have an Open Heart for the Suffering and for the Elderly”

BRESSANONE, Italy, AUG. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the second part of a translation of the question-and-answer session Benedict XVI held Aug. 6 with the priests, deacons and seminarians of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone. The Holy Father was on vacation in the Dolomites, where he stayed at the major seminary of Bressanone.

The remaining three questions and answers will appear this week.

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Father Willibald Hopfgartner, OFM: Holy Father, my name is Willibald Hopfgartner, I am a Franciscan and I work in a school and in various areas of guidance of my order. In your discourse at Regensburg you stressed the substantial link between the divine Spirit and human reason.

On the other hand, you also always underlined the importance of art and beauty, of aesthetics. Consequently, should not the aesthetic experience of faith in the context of the Church, for proclamation and for the liturgy be ceaselessly reaffirmed alongside the conceptual dialogue about God (in theology)?

Benecdict XVI: Thank you. Yes, I think these two things go hand in hand: reason, precision, honesty in the reflection on the truth — and beauty. Reason that intended to strip itself of beauty would be halved, it would be a blinded reason. It is only when they are united that both these things form the whole, and precisely for faith this union is important. Faith must continuously face the challenges of thought in this epoch, so that it does not seem a sort of irrational legend that we keep alive but which really is a response to the great questions, and not merely a habit but the truth — as Tertullian once said.

In his First Letter, St. Peter wrote the phrase that medieval theologians took as a legitimation, as it were, a responsibility for their theological task: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” — an apologetic for the logos of hope, that is, a transformation of the logos, the reason for hope in apologetics, in response to men.

He was obviously convinced of the fact that the faith was the logos, that it was a reason, a light that came from creative Reason rather than a wonderful concoction, a fruit of our thought. And this is why it is universal and for this reason can be communicated to all.

Yet, precisely this creative logos is not only a technical logos — we shall return to this aspect with another answer — it is broad, it is a logos that is love, hence such as to be expressed in beauty and in good.

Also, I did once say that to me art and the saints are the greatest apologetic for our faith. The arguments contributed by reason are unquestionably important and indispensable, but then there is always dissent somewhere.

On the other hand, if we look at the saints, this great luminous trail on which God passed through history, we see that there truly is a force of good which resists the millennia; there truly is the light of light. Likewise, if we contemplate the beauties created by faith, they are simply, I would say, the living proof of faith.

If I look at this beautiful cathedral — it is a living proclamation! It speaks to us itself, and on the basis of the cathedral’s beauty, we succeed in visibly proclaiming God, Christ and all his mysteries: Here they have acquired a form and look at us.

All the great works of art, cathedrals — the Gothic cathedrals and the splendid Baroque churches — they are all a luminous sign of God and therefore truly a manifestation, an epiphany of God. And in Christianity it is precisely a matter of this epiphany: that God became a veiled Epiphany — he appears and is resplendent.

We have just heard the organ in its full splendor. I think the great music born in the Church makes the truth of our faith audible and perceivable: from Gregorian chant to the music of the cathedrals, to Palestrina and his epoch, to Bach and hence to Mozart and Bruckner and so forth. In listening to all these works — the Passions of Bach, his Mass in B flat, and the great spiritual compositions of 16th-century polyphony, of the Viennese School, of all music, even that of minor composers — we suddenly understand: It is true!

Wherever such things are born, the Truth is there. Without an intuition that discovers the true creative center of the world such beauty cannot be born.

For this reason I think we should always ensure that the two things are together; we should bring them together.

When, in our epoch, we discuss the reasonableness of faith, we discuss precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries end — it does not finish in positivism; the theory of evolution sees the truth but sees only half the truth: It does not see that behind it is the Spirit of the creation. We are fighting to expand reason, and hence for a reason, which, precisely, is also open to the beautiful and does not have to set it aside as something quite different and unreasonable.

Christian art is a rational art — let us think of Gothic art or of the great music or even, precisely, of our own Baroque art — but it is the artistic expression of a greatly expanded reason, in which heart and reason encounter each other. This is the point. I believe that in a certain way this is proof of the truth of Christianity: Heart and reason encounter one another, beauty and truth converge, and the more that we ourselves succeed in living in the beauty of truth, the more that faith will be able to return to being creative in our time too, and to express itself in a convincing form of art.

So, dear Father Hopfgartner, thank you for your question; let us seek to ensure that the two categories, the aesthetic and the noetic (intellectual), are united and that in this great breadth the entirety and depth of our faith may be made manifest.

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Father Willi Fusaro: Holy Father, I am Father Willi Fusaro, I am 42 years old and I have been ill since the year of my priestly ordination. I was ordained in June 1991; then in September of the same year I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I am a parish cooperator at Corpus Domini Parish, Bolzano. I was deeply impressed by John Paul II, especially in the last part of his pontificate, when he bore his human weakness with courage and humility before the whole world.

Given your closeness to your beloved predecessor and on the basis of your personal experience, what can you say to me and to all of us to truly help elderly or sick priests to live their priesthood well and fruitfully in the presbyterate and in the Christian community? Thank you!

Benedict XVI: Thank you, Reverend Father. I would say that, for me, both parts of the Pope John Paul II’s pontificate were equally important. In the first part in which we saw him as a giant of faith: with incredible courage, extraordinary force, a true joy of faith and great lucidity, he took the Gospel message to the ends of the earth.

He spoke to everyone, he explored new paths with the movements, interreligious dialogue, ecumenical meetings, deepening the manner in which we listen to the divine word, with everything … with his love for the sacred liturgy. He truly brought down — we can say — not the walls of Jericho but the walls between two worlds with the power of his own faith. His testimony lives on, unforgettable, and continues to be a light for this millennium.

However, I must say that because of the humble testimony of his “passion,” to my mind the last years of his pontificate were no less important; just as he carried the Lord’s cross before us and put into practice the words of the Lord: “Follow me, carry the cross with me and walk in my footsteps!”

With such humility, such patience with which he accepted what was practically the destruction of his body and the growing inability to speak, he who had been a master of words thus showed us visibly — it seems to me — the profound truth that the Lord redeemed us with his cross, with the passion, as an extreme act of his love. He showed us that suffering is not only a “no,” something negative, the lack of something, but a positive reality. He showed us that suffering accepted for love of Christ, for love of God and of others is a redeeming force, a force of love and no less powerful than the great deeds he accomplished in the first part of his pontificate.

He taught us a new love for those who suffer and made us understand the meaning of “in the cross and through the cross we are saved.”

We also have these two aspects in the life of the Lord. In the first part he teaches the joy of the Kingdom of God, brings his gifts to men and then, in the second part, he is immersed in the Passion until his last cry from the cross. In this very way he taught us who God is, that God is love and that, in identifying with our suffering as human beings, he takes us in his arms and immerses us in his love and this love alone bathes us in redemption, purification and rebirth.

Therefore, I think that we all — and increasingly so in a world that thrives on activism, on youth, on being young, strong and beautiful, on succeeding in doing great things — must learn the truth of love which becomes a “passion” and thereby redeems man and unites him with God who is love.

So I would like to thank all who accept suffering, who suffer with the Lord, and to encourage all of us to have an open heart for the suffering and for the elderly; to understand that their “passion” is itself a source of renewal for humanity, creating love in us and uniting us to the Lord. Yet, in the end, it is always difficult to suffer. I remember Cardinal Mayer’s sister. She was seriously ill and when she became impatient he said to her: “You see, now you are with the Lord.” And she answered him: “It is easy for you to say so because you are healthy, but I am suffering my ‘passion.'” It is true, in a true “passion” it becomes ever more difficult to be truly united with the Lord and to maintain this disposition of union with the suffering Lord.

Let us therefore pray for all who are suffering and do our utmost to help them, to show our gratitude for their suffering and be present to them as much as we can, to the very end. This is a fundamental message of Christianity that stems from the theology of the Cross: The fact that suffering and passion are present in Christ’s love is the challenge for us to unite ourselves with his passion.

We must love those who suffer not only with words but with all our actions and our commitment. I think that only in this way are we truly Christian. I wrote in my encyclical “Spe Salvi” that the ability to accept suffering and those who suffer is the measure of the humanity one possesses. When this ability is lacking, man is reduced and redefined. Therefore, let us pray the Lord to help us in our suffering and lead us to be close to all those who suffering in this world.

[Translation by L’Osservatore Romano]

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On the Net:

Part 1: www.zenit.org/article-23405?l=english

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