Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Catholic Priest Must Preach the Word To a Non-Transcendent Culture

In this Year of the Priest, keep in mind that the world culture of the 20th century is "non-transcendent." By that is meant that it is non-relational. By murdering 100,000,000 million + people [Communist ideologies of Russia/China, Nazism, Ruanda, and 1.5 million abortions per annum since 1973 (in this country alone)], we have dumbed ourselves down into a radical individualism which is aided and abetted by a technology that enforces that it be all about us.
speak it with supernatural and moral authority, he must become a contemplative mystic of the Word.

It was interesting in yesterday's first reading (Numbers 12, 1-13) that Aaron and Miriam (his wife) were jealous of Moses who alone spoke the Word. And the reason Moses alone spoke the Word was that he alone had intimate converse with the Lord. However, that converse was not face to face. Moses had asked God: "'I pray thee, show me they glory' (Ex. 33, 18). God refuses his request: 'You cannot see my face' (Ex. 33, 20). Moses is placed near God in the cleft of a rock, and God passes by with his glory. As he passes, God covers Moses with his own hand, but he withdraws it at the end: 'You shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen' (Ex. 33, 23) " [Benedict XVI, "Jesus of Nazareth" 5].

Deuteronomy 34, 10 reads: "Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." Benedict XVI writes: "A curious melancholy hangs over this conclusion of the fifth Book of Moses. The promise concerning 'a prophet like me" has not yet been fulfilled. And it now becomes clear that these words do not refer simply to the institution of prophecy, which in fact already existed, but to something different and far greater: the announcement of a new Moses" [Benedict XVI "Jesus of Nazareth" 5].

The new Moses who sees the Father in the face, knows Him and is His Word, Jesus Christ: "No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" [Mt. 11, 27]. And then, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God... No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father , he has revealed him" [Jn. 1, 1; 1, 18]. And finally, "As the Father has sent me, I also send you" [Jn. 20, 21].

The Catholic Priest has been sacramentally empowered to act in the Person of Christ and to speak authoritatively in His name. The priest's first mission is to preach The Word. This means that the priest must preach Christ, and must experience being Christ in his internal experience so as to preach authentically:

The question then arises, what is the relationship between these two statements: a priest is “ordained . . . for the purpose of offering up gifts and sacrifices”; and his “first task” (primum . . . officium) is to “preach the Gospel” (Evangelium . . . evangelizandi)”?

1.1 The Christological Foundation

To find a solution to this problem, we should first ask ourselves, What does it mean to “evangelize”? What really happens when someone does this? And just what is this Gospel? The Council could certainly have referred to the Gospels to establish the primacy of preaching. I have in mind here a short but significant episode from the beginning of Mark. Everyone was seeking out our Lord for his miraculous powers, but he goes off to a remote place to pray (Mark 1:35-39); when he is pressed by “Simon and those who were with him,” our Lord says, “Let us go on to the nearby villages, so that I may preach there also, for this is what I have come out to do” (1:38). Jesus says that the purpose of his coming is to preach the Kingdom of God. Therefore this should also be the defining priority of all his ministers: they come out to proclaim the Kingdom, and that means, to make the living, powerful and ever-present God take first place in our lives. Now, for the correct understanding of this priority, two further insights can be gained from this brief pericope. First, this evangelization is to go hand in hand with a withdrawal into the solitude of personal prayer—such interior recollection appears, in fact, to be a necessary pre-condition for the preaching. Second, the preaching is connected with the “casting out of devils” (1:39): it is a matter not just of speech, but of effective action. And the preaching takes shape in no bright, happy world, but in a world tyrannized by demons, into which it intervenes, to liberate.

But we must take a further step, beyond the brief but meaningful passage of Mark, and take a look over the entire Gospel, for a correct understanding of Jesus’ own priority. He preaches the Kingdom of God, and he does so especially with parables, but also with signs, in which the living presence of the Kingdom draws near to men. Word and sign are inseparable. Whenever the signs are seen merely as wonders, but without meaning, Jesus ceases to perform them. But no more does he allow his evangelizing to be taken for a merely intellectual affair, a matter for discussion alone. His words demand decision; they bring reality. In this sense, his word is “incarnate”: the mutual relation of word and sign expresses a “sacramental” structure.

To Preach the Word, One Must Become "Gift"

"But we must go a step further. Jesus does not convey a knowledge that is independent from his own person, as any teacher or storyteller would do. He is something different from, and more than, a Rabbi. As his preaching unfolds, it becomes ever clearer that his parables refer to himself, that the “Kingdom” and his person belong together, that the Kingdom comes in his person. The decision that he demands is a decision about how one stands toward him, as with Peter, who said, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Ultimately, the message of his preaching about the Kingdom of God turns out to be quite clearly Jesus’ own Paschal mystery, his destiny of death and resurrection. We see this, for example, in the parable of the murderous vine-dressers (Mark 12:1-11). Word and reality are here intertwined in a new way: the parable arouses the anger of his adversaries, who do everything the parable says. They kill the son. This means that the parables would be void of meaning, were it not for the living person of the incarnate Son who has “come out [ex¯elthon] for this” (Mark 1:38), who “was sent” from the Father (Mark 12:6). The parables would be empty without a confirmation of his word by the Cross and the Resurrection. We now understand that Jesus’ preaching can be called “sacramental” in a deeper sense than we could have seen before. His word contains in itself the reality of the Incarnation and the theme of the Cross and the Resurrection. It is “deed/word” in this very profound sense, instructing the Church in the mutual dependence of preaching and the Eucharist, and in the mutual dependence, as well, of preaching and an authentic, living witness.

We take yet another step forward with the Paschal vision St. John presents us in his Gospel. Peter had said that Jesus is the Christ. John now adds that Jesus Christ is the Logos. He himself is the eternal Word of the Father, who is with God and who is God (John 1:1). In him, this Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). In Christian preaching, one is not dealing with words, but with the Word. “When we speak of the ministry of the word of God, the inter-Trinitarian relation is also understood.” 3 Yet at the same time, “this ministry participates in the function of the Incarnation.” 4 It has rightly been pointed out that the fundamental difference between the preaching of Jesus and the lessons of the Rabbis consists precisely in the fact that the “I” of Jesus—that is, he himself—is at the center of his message. 5 But we must also remember that Jesus himself understood that what especially characterized his speaking, was that he was not speaking “in his own name” (cf. John 5:43 & 7:16). His “I” is totally open to the “Thou” of the Father; it does not remain in itself, but takes us inside the very life of the Trinity. This means that the Christian preacher will not speak about himself, but will become Christ’s own voice, by making way for the Logos, and leading, through communion with the Man Jesus, to communion with the living God.

This brings us back to the Vatican II Decree on the Priesthood. It emphasizes a common characteristic found in all forms of preaching. The priest should never teach his own wisdom. What always matters is the word of God that impels towards truth and holiness (no. 4). With St. Paul as a model, the ministry of the word demands that the priest divest himself profoundly of his own self: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

I would like to recall now an episode from the early days of Opus Dei, which illustrates the point. A young woman had the opportunity to listen for the first time to a talk given by Fr. Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. She was very curious to hear a famous preacher. But after participating in a Mass he celebrated, she no longer wanted to listen to a human orator. She recounted later that from that moment on, her only interest was to discover the word and will of God" [Ratzinger: "The Ministry and Life of Priests" August-September 1997 issue of HPR].

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