Vatican City, May 13, 2004 / 22:00 pm
Continuing his series of reflections on the ‘munus sanctificandi’ (mandate to sanctify) of bishops, the Pope met with U.S. prelates from California, Nevada, and Hawaii who were near the end of their ‘ad limina’ visit.
"As Bishops you must be at the forefront of this spiritual journey of sanctification," said the Pope. "Your episcopal ministry of ecclesial service ... demands a pattern of life that unequivocally rejects any temptation to ostentation, careerism, or the recourse to secular models of leadership and instead requires you to bear witness to the 'kenosis' of Christ, in pastoral charity, humility and simplicity of life."
"The crisis of the loss of the sense of sin," was a weighty component of the Pope’s reflections and he exhorted the bishops to have the courage to "address this today with particular urgency. While the effects of sin abound - greed, dishonesty and corruption, broken relationships and exploitation of persons, pornography and violence - the recognition of individual sinfulness has waned. In its place a disturbing culture of blame and litigiousness has arisen which speaks more of revenge than justice and fails to acknowledge that in every man and woman there is a wound which, in the light of faith, we call original sin."
"Sin is an integral part of the truth about the human person," said the Holy Father. "Given this reality, the bishop's duty to indicate the sad and destructive presence of sin, both in individuals and in communities, is in fact a service of hope. ... Let us boldly announce that indeed we are not the sum total of our weaknesses and failures! We are the sum of the Father's love for us, and capable of becoming the image of His Son!"
This hope is vividly illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son, which speaks of conversion and repentance: "The prodigal son is in a certain sense all men and women. We all can be lured by the temptation to separate ourselves from the Father and thus suffer loss of dignity, humiliation and shame, but equally so we all can have the courage to turn back to the Father who embraces us with a love which, transcending even justice, manifests itself as mercy," said the Pope.
His reflections on the Prodigal son led onto reflection on the "divinely instituted" Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is "the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church.” John Paul II then pointed to the hope he has in the young who, despite the fact that “the profound power of this Sacrament is often considered today with indifference… readily give testimony to the graces and transforming benefits it bestows.”
The Holy Father then directly appealed to bishops and priests to encourage participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation - “arm yourselves with more confidence, creativity and perseverance in presenting it and leading people to appreciate it" – and to have frequent recourse to it themselves “in order to obtain the gift of that mercy of which you yourselves have been made ministers."