releasing and retracting an undelivered draft written by Pope John Paul II, the Vatican Information Service released today their translation of an address given by Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of Switzerland on Tuesday. In his speech, the Holy Father did touch on a few of the topics, such as the need to return faith to the center of people’s lives and the importance of the liturgy, which were highlighted in his predecessor’s speech
The visit of the Swiss bishops came, in large part, as a conclusion of their 2005 “ad Limina” visit, which was cut short due to John Paul II’s failing health. In addition to offering the newly published address, Pope Benedict also spoke to the bishops in the midst of a Mass he concelebrated with them on Tuesday.
The Holy Father began his talk by addressing the question of faith, affirming that while people once used to grow in the virtue of faith, "as a part of life," today, "the opposite seems more natural, in other words, that in the end it is not possible to believe, that in fact God is absent. In any case, the faith of the Church appears to be a thing of the distant past." For this reason, "I believe it is important to become aware of the fact that faith is at the center of everything."
"Faith," said the Pope, "is above all faith in God... This centrality of God must, I believe, become visible in a completely new way in all our thoughts and actions. It is what animates our activities, which, otherwise, can easily degenerate into activism and become empty of meaning."
"This complete form of faith as expressed by the Creed, of a faith in and with the Church as a living entity in which the Lord is at work," is what "we must seek to put truly at the center of our activities. Even today, we see this very clearly: development causes damage when it is promoted exclusively, without (also) nourishing the soul."
"If, alongside aid in favor of developing countries, alongside the teaching of everything man is capable of doing, everything his intelligence has invented and his will made possible, if alongside all that, his soul is not also illuminated...then we learn only how to destroy. For this reason, I believe, we must reinforce our missionary responsibilities. If we are happy in our faith, we feel obliged to speak of it to others; the extent to which mankind welcomes it is in the hands of God."
Turning to address the question Catholic education, Benedict XVI mentioned "one thing which causes us all 'concern,' in the positive sense of the word: the fact that the theological formation of future priests and of other teachers and announcers of the faith should be outstanding. We need, then, good theological faculties, good major seminaries and well-trained teachers of theology."
"The unity of Scripture," Pope Benedict said turning to biblical scholarship, "is not a purely historical or critical fact ... but a theological fact. These writings form one Scripture, and can be fully understood only if read in 'analogia fidei,' as a unit in which there is a movement towards Christ and, conversely, in which Christ draws all history to Him." In this context, the Pope underlined the importance that, "alongside, with and within historical-critical exegesis," there be "an introduction to living Scripture as the actual Word of God."
The Pope then went on to speak about catechesis which "over the last fifty years has, on the one hand, made considerable progress in terms of methodology but, on the other, has lost a lot in terms of anthropology and the search for points of reference, to such a degree that it often does not even manage to cover the contents of the faith." It is important, Benedict XVI continued, for catechesis to fully value the faith, "and to find ways for that faith to be understood and accepted. Because religious ignorance today has reached a frightening level."
On the subject of the liturgy, the papal address made it clear that this "is not some 'self-expression' of the community which in the liturgy enters center stage, it is rather the community abandoning its 'being itself' to enter the great banquet of the poor, to become part of the great living community in which God Himself nourishes us. ... And it must be borne in mind that the homily is not an interruption of the liturgy for the purposes of making a speech, but that it is part of the sacramental event, bringing the Word of God into the present moment of the community."
"This means that the homily is itself part of the mystery, of the celebration of the mystery, and hence cannot be separated therefrom," said the Pope, highlighting the importance of it being the celebrant who pronounces the homily. "The priesthood is a thing of beauty only if the mission to be accomplished is seen as a whole, from which things cannot be cut off here and there. And this mission has always involved - even in the Old Testament rite - the priest's duty to link the sacrifice with the Word, which is an integral part of the whole."
As for the Sacrament of Penance, said the Holy Father, "we truly must learn it anew. Even from a purely anthropological point of view it is important, on the one hand, to recognize sin and, on the other, to exercise forgiveness. The widespread lack of awareness of sin is a worrying phenomenon of our times. The gift of the Sacrament of Penance consists, then, not only in the fact that we receive forgiveness, but also in the fact that we become aware of our need for forgiveness, ... and so we can also better understand others and forgive them."
On the question of episcopal ministry, the Pope highlighted the importance "that bishops, as successors of the Apostles, ... bear true responsibility for the local Churches entrusted by the Lord to their care. ... On the other hand, they must open the local Churches to the Universal Church." In this context, the Holy Father mentioned the difficulties of the Orthodox "with their autocepahlous Churches," and of Protestants "with the breakup of regional Churches. ... We are aware," he added, "of the enormous significance of universality, how important it is that the Church should open herself to totality, truly becoming, in her universality, one Church."
In closing, Benedict XVI touched on the question of ecumenism, highlighting the importance of guaranteeing the essential and God-given values of our society. "I believe," he concluded, "that if we learn to act together in this field we can achieve a large measure of unity, even where full theological and sacramental unity is not yet possible."