During yesterday’s General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI concluded his brief examination of the priest’s exercise of the tria munera Christi—the three offices of Christ—by focusing on the pastor’s duty to govern the portion of the Christian flock entrusted to him. Like many of the texts he composes, the Pope’s reflection is worth a slow and deliberate reading. His remarks yesterday offer the Church yet another penetrating reflection on priestly life and ministry that cuts through contemporary controversy and sees clearly to the essence of Christ’s priestly grace and its exercise in the Church. Step by step, the Holy Father carefully leads his reader to a proper understanding of the reason and purpose of the Church’s hierarchical structure, a mystery too often misunderstood today.
GENERAL AUDIENCE ADDRESS
May 26, 2010
Dear brothers and sisters,
The Year for Priests is coming to an end; that is why in the last catecheses I began to speak about the essential tasks of the priest, namely: to teach, to sanctify and to govern. I have already given two catecheses, one on the ministry of sanctification, above all the sacraments, and one on teaching. Hence, it remains for me today to speak about the mission of the priest to govern, to guide — with the authority of Christ, not his own — the portion of the people that God has entrusted to him.
In contemporary culture, how can such a dimension be understood, involving as it does the concept of authority and with its origin in the Lord’s own mandate to feed his flock? What is authority really for us Christians? The cultural, political and historical experiences of the recent past, above all the dictatorships in Eastern and Western Europe in the 20th century, made contemporary man suspicious in addressing this concept. A suspicion that, not rarely, is expressed in upholding as necessary an abandonment of all authority that does not come exclusively from men and is subject to them, controlled by them. But precisely a glance at the regimes that in the past century sowed terror and death, reminds us forcefully that authority, in every realm, if it is exercised without reference to the Transcendent, if it does away with the supreme Authority, which is God, ends inevitably by turning against man.
Hence, it is important to recognize that human authority is never an end, but always and only a means and that, necessarily and in every age, the end is always the person, created by God with his own intangible dignity and called to relationship with the Creator himself, in the earthly journey of existence and in eternal life. It is an authority exercised in responsibility before God, before the Creator. An authority thus understood, which has as its only objective to serve the true good of persons and to lucidity to the only Supreme Good that is God, not only is not foreign to men but, on the contrary, is a precious help in the journey toward full realization in Christ, toward salvation.
The Church is called and is committed to exercise this type of authority that is service, and she exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, who received from the Father all power in heaven and on earth (cf. Matthew 28:18). In fact, Christ feeds his flock through the pastors of the Church: It is he who guides it, protects it, corrects it, because he loves it profoundly.