Venerable and Dear Brothers,
Your annual gathering in Assembly is a moment of grace, in which you live a profound experience of encounter, sharing and discernment on your common journey, animated by the Spirit of the Risen Lord. It is a moment of grace that manifests the nature of the Church. I thank Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco for the cordial words with which he received me, making himself interpreter of your sentiments: to you, Eminence, I address best wishes for your renewed confirmation as head of the Italian Episcopal Conference. May the collegial affection that animates you nourish increasingly your collaboration at the service of ecclesial communion and the common good of the Italian nation, in the fruitful interlocution with its civil institutions. In this new five-year period, continue together the ecclesial renewal entrusted to you by the Vatican II Ecumenical Council. May the 50th anniversary of its beginning, which we will celebrate in the Fall, be a reason to reflect further on the texts, the condition of a dynamic and faithful reception. “What interests the Council most is that the sacred deposit of the Christian doctrine be protected and taught more effectively,” affirmed Blessed Pope John XXIII in his opening address. And it is worthwhile to meditate and read these words. The Pope exhorted the Fathers to reflect further and to present this perennial doctrine in continuity with the age-old tradition of the Church: “to transmit the doctrine pure and integral, without attenuations or distortions,” but in a new way, “according to what is required by our times.” (Address at the Solemn Opening of Vatican II Ecumenical Council, October 11, 1962). With this key of reading and application – certainly not from the point of view of an “unacceptable hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture, but of a hermeneutics of continuity and reform – to listen to the Council and to make our own the authoritative indications, is the way to identify the way with which the Church can offer a meaningful answer to the great social and cultural transformations of our time, which have visible consequences also on the religious dimension.
Scientific rationality and the technical culture, in fact, not only tend to make the world uniform, but often cross over the respective specific areas, with the pretext of delineating the perimeter of the certainties of reason solely with the empirical criterion of their own conquests. Thus the power of human capacities ends by restraining the measure of acting, free from every moral norm. Precisely in this context, there is no lack of re-emergence, at times in a confused way, of a singular and growing question of spirituality and of the supernatural, sign of a “concern that shelters in the heart of the man who does not open himself to the transcendent horizon of God. This situation of secularism characterizes above all the society of ancient Christian tradition and erodes that cultural fabric that, up to the recent past, was a unifying reference, capable of embracing the whole of human existence and of articulating the most significant moments, from birth to the passage to eternal life. The spiritual and moral patrimony in which the West sinks its roots and which constitutes its vital lymph, today is no longer understood in its profound value, to the point that it no longer grasps the urgency of truth. Thus even fecund earth risks becoming an inhospitable desert and the good seed is suffocated, trampled upon and lost.
It is a sign of the lessening of religious practice, visible in the participation in the Eucharistic liturgy and, even more so, in the Sacrament of Penance. So many of the baptized have lost their identity and membership: they do not know the essential contents of the faith or think they can cultivate it without ecclesial mediation. And while many look with doubt at the truths taught by the Church, others reduce the Kingdom of God to some great values, which certainly have something to do with the Gospel, but which again have no concern with the central nucleus of the Christian faith. The Kingdom of God is a gift that transcends us. As Blessed John Paul II affirmed: “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God.” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio [December 7, 1990], 18). Unfortunately, it is God Himself who is excluded from the horizon of so many persons, and when the discourse on God does not meet with indifference, closure or rejection, it is nevertheless relegated to the subjective realm, reduced to an intimate and private event, marginalized from the public conscience. The heart of the crisis that wounds Europe passes through this abandonment, this lack of openness to the Transcendent. It is a spiritual and moral crisis: man pretends to have an identity fulfilled simply in himself.
In this context, how can we correspond to the responsibility which has been entrusted to us by the Lord? How can we sow with trust the Word of God, so that every man can find the truth about himself, his own authenticity and hope? We are aware that new methods of the Gospel proclamation or pastoral actions to make the Christian proposal meet with greater reception and sharing, are not enough. In the preparation of Vatican II, the prevailing question to which the conciliar Assembly intended to give an answer was: “Church, what do you say of yourself?” Reflecting on this question, the conciliar Fathers were, so to speak, led back to the heart of the answer: it was about beginning again from God, celebrated, professed and witnessed. Externally, seemingly at random, but fundamentally not at random, in fact, the first Constitution approved was that of the Sacred Liturgy: divine worship orientates man to the future City and restores to God his primacy, molds the Church, incessantly convoked by the Word, and shows the world the fecundity of the encounter with God. In turn, while we must cultivate a grateful look for the growth of the good seed even in a terrain that is often arid, we perceive that our situation requires a renewed impulse, which will point to what is essential of the faith and of Christian life. At a time in which God has become for many the great unknown and Jesus simply a great personality of the past, there will be no new thrust of the missionary action without the renewal of the quality of our faith and our prayer; we will not be able to give adequate answers without a new reception of the gift of Grace; we will not know how to win men over to the Gospel if we ourselves do not first have a profound experience of God.
Dear brothers, our first, true and only task remains that of committing our life to what has worth and remains, to what is really reliable, necessary and ultimate. Men live from God, of Him who often unwittingly or only tentatively they seek to give full meaning to existence: we have the task of proclaiming it, of showing it, of leading to the encounter with Him. However, it is always important for us to remember that the first condition to speak about God is to speak with God, to become increasingly men of God, nourished by an intense life of prayer and molded by his Grace. Saint Augustine, after an anxious but sincere search for truth, finally succeeded in finding it in God. Then he became aware of a singular aspect that filled his heart with wonder and joy: he understood that throughout his long journey it was truth that was seeking him and had found him. I would like to say to each one: we must let ourselves be found and seized by God, to help every person we meet to be reached by Truth. It is from the relationship with Him that our communion is born and that the ecclesial community is generated, which embraces all times and all places to constitute the one People of God.
That is why I wished to proclaim a Year of Faith, which will begin next October 11, to rediscover and receive again this precious gift that is faith, to know more profoundly the truths that are the lymph of our life, to lead the man of today, often, distracted, to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ “Way, Life and Truth.”
In the midst of transformations that interested ample strata of humanity, the Servant of God Paul VI indicated clearly as task of the Church that of “affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation.” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi [December 8, 1975, 19). I would like to recall here how, on the occasion of the first visit of the Pontiff to his native land, Blessed John Paul II visited an industrial quarter of Krakow conceived as a sort of “city without God.” Only the obstinacy of the workers had led to the erection first of a cross and then of a church. In those signs, the Pope recognized the beginning of what he defined for the first time as “New Evangelization,” explaining that “evangelization of the new millennium must refer to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. It must be, as that Council taught, a work shared by bishops, priests, religious and laity, by parents and young people.” And he concluded: “You have built the church; build your lives with the Gospel.” (Homily in the Shrine of the Holy Cross, Mogila, June 9, 1979).
Dear brothers, the old and new mission that is before us is that of introducing men and women of our time to the relationship with God, to help them to open their mind and heart to that God who seeks them and wants to be close to them, to lead them to understand that to do his will is not a limitation of liberty, but it is to be truly free, to realize the true good of life. God is the guarantor, not the counter-current of our happiness, and where the Gospel enters – and hence the friendship of Christ – man experiences his being the object of a love that purifies, warms and renews, and renders us capable of loving and serving man with divine love.
As the main topic of your Assembly evidences opportunely, the New Evangelization needs adults who are “mature in the faith and witnesses of humanity.” Attention to the world of adults manifests your awareness of the decisive role of those who are called, in the different realms of life, to assume an educational responsibility in addressing the new generations. Watch and work so that the Christian community will be able to form adult persons in the faith because they have encountered Jesus Christ, who has become the fundamental reference of their life; persons who know Him because they love Him and they love Him because they have known Him; persons capable of giving solid and credible reasons of life. Particularly important, in this formative journey – 20 years after its publication – is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, precious aid for an organic and complete knowledge of the contents of the faith and to lead to the encounter with Christ. Also thanks to this instrument, may the assent of faith become criterion of intelligence and action that involves the whole of existence.
Finding ourselves in the novena of Pentecost, I would like to conclude these reflections with a prayer to the Holy Spirit
Spirit of Life, which in the beginning hovered over the abyss,
Help humanity of our time to understand
That the exclusion of God leads to being lost in the desert of the world.
And that only where faith enters, do dignity and liberty flourish
And the whole society is built on justice.
Spirit of Pentecost, which makes of the Church one Body,
Restore in the baptized an authentic experience of communion;
Render yourself a living sign of the presence of the Risen One in the world,
Community of saints that lives in the service of charity.
Holy Spirit, which trains to the mission,
Make us recognize that, also in our time,
So many persons are in search of the truth about their existence and the world.
Make us collaborators of their joy with the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
Grain of the wheat of God, which renders good the terrain of life and assures the abundance of the harvest.