A TALK IN THE THRESHOLD OF THE YEAR OF FAITH
Fr. Inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with archbishop Józef Michalik – a metropolitan of Przemyśl, the chairman of Polish Episcopal Conference
Fr. INF. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: – the last Vatican Council brought in moving the conception of the church from the hierarchical order onto the community order. Maybe today we might reach a place where we should think over the model of the Church again which would be more understandable and needed to the contemporary people?
ARCHBISHOP JÓZEF MICHALIK: – The truth about the fact that Christ and God’s people redeemed by him are the Church, has been lively present in the Church from the very beginning. Faith and baptism are included in the lively organism of the Church. The last Vatican Council emphasized the role of the hierarchy in the contemporary Church, emphasizing the relation of the bishop with the whole God’s people, that is the local Church and the general Church. Let’s remember that the First Vatican Council noted the pastoral ministry of the pope (a dogma about infallibility in the matters of faith),whereas the Second Vatican Council was working on connecting the hierarchy with charism, in order to place it in a community, in a full communion of the Church, that is, to enliven the relation with the pope, the whole collegium of bishops and God’s people (for this purpose the institution of Bishops’ Synod was established). Is it necessary to think over the model of the Church again? The model of the Church was defined by Jesus so, it is always actual, whereas the placement of accents can be different, suitable for the times in which the Church is functioning. It seems that it would be more needed to deepen what the Founder of the Church expects from us. We should not fear a more radical following the truth of the Gospel. The virtue is not in the middle but in the centre! If the truth is difficult to understand, we must help others understand it, but not change it in a way that it would become more convenient. In these changes, in this adaptation, first of all, it should be about the faithfulness to Christ’s will, the faithfulness to tradition reaching back to the beginnings of Christianity and reform of the world, our way of thinking and behavior, but not the reform of the Church. Personally I think it is not quite a lucky statement that the Church should still be reformed. It is not strictly theological. The Church should be continuously sanctified: ‘Ecclesia semper sanctificanda’.
– We see more and more often that societies renounce everything which is holy. So, maybe we should remind the world that the Church is the Body of Christ, that it is somehow a sacrament, that is, a sign of his presence in the world?
– Undoubtedly, today in the world there is a very readable tendency for elimination of sacrum and elimination of God from the public life. This dimension of sensitivity to transcendence, to the spiritual supernatural world does not fit today’s concept of the so-called modernity. And, after all, a real modernity is a versatile human development and a versatile progress. We will not deal with a progress if we are developing only one part, one side of human abilities – it will unavoidably lead to a deformation, distortion of high potential and richness which is in the man. We must care about the whole and therefore, we must remind about the spiritual human dimension, his openness to transcendence, to God and that there are some signs and ways leading to recognizing this reality. The church is just this sign which points out to the place of meeting with God.
– How to convince people who are constantly stating: ‘Christ yes but the Church no’? today some people reformulate this statement, saying: ‘The Church is yes but priests no’.
– We must be prepared that people hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. We should not be discouraged. We must give truth as it is. There is no Christ without the Church and there is no Church without Christ. Christ left the Church on the Earth and he identifies himself with this Church. One must not maintain only in the spiritual dimension of the Church – it is not truth either. The Church is not only spiritual. The Church is God-human reality, like Christ is not only God but also a man. And it is irreversible, existing as a redemptive event in history. We must show that the Church is using this corporal earthly aspect that the Church consists of people – different people – and the saints and sinners and it is a great chance for the Church. We can quote a statement of a Czech theologian Fr. Tomasz Halik who says that if he met Christ, he would ask Him about His wounds, like St. Martin did it, because there is no Christ without wounds. A similar question would be asked by him to the Church: Church, where are sinners, where are your wounds? A real Church has wounds, leaves a place for weaknesses, for sins, for hope of religious conversion. A real Church are people who are aiming at the ability to say: it is not me who lives but it is Christ who lives in me. We are fulfilling our ministry on the Earth, therefore its conditions must be considered, but we must not eliminate anything from Christ’s teaching. Looking for Christ without the Church is individualism, subjectivism, is a mistake without a possibility of objectivism of faith deposit, forgiveness and sacramental grace.
Priesthood is not a human creation and there is no Church without priests or sacraments which are a source of redemptive grace. Christ equipped the Church with a sacrament of baptism, which is accepted by everybody belonging to it and which bestows us priestly dignity, giving a chance and responsibility for devoting gifts, for compensating God for sins. However, at the same time Jesus gives the pastoral office to priests, wanting to make them more responsible for the work of redemption which he gave to the world. This special holding the priestly function is supposed to sanctify people and the world, and giving the teaching mission helps to protect the realness of faith, leading to redemption. Luckily, Christ left these authorizations not to angels but particular apostles, people, therefore leaving the Church without priests would be sentencing it to extinction and depriving it of both sacramental graces and guardians in particular situations. And priests as people should try to reach the ideal or the model of Apostles.
– In the context of a discussion about the Church we sometimes ask a question about the profile of a bishop. According to some people, a bishop is supposed to be a theologian, according to others – a lawyer or a pastor. Haven’t we reached a place in which we must realize again that for the sake of the effectiveness of the Gospel he should be, first of all, a saint?
– In this question there is also a danger of bringing everything to the spiritual dimension. A bishop should be a saint theologian (Hans Urs von Balthasar used to say: ‘Among theologians I am interested only in the saints’) should be a saint priest and a saint lawyer, but also a saint (that is, honest, fair) administrator. It is a right thing to demand more from people who were given more. However, these demands are sometimes completely separated from the reality and impossible to meet. We must realize the fact that the Church has so bishops as it has priests and it has so priests as it has families. A priest does not fall down from the sky but he grows with the hierarchy of values which he has learnt at home. During his education in a seminary and in his later priesthood, we build on these fundaments and we are continuously trying to grow. The reality is as it is and we must love it by Christ’s love, in order to change it effectively. Then we will change priests and bishops. One of the popes used to call: ‘Mothers, fathers, give me saint priests’. Surely the same call has been being directed by Jesus for centuries, but it also comes from the heart of every righteous man.
– I like the title ‘excellency’ very much. If we look at its etymology (‘ex coelo’, Latin ‘from Heaven’), we see straightaway that the bishop’s office, and precisely its significance, come from God. Isn’t there lack of this awareness on the side of the hierarchy and on the side of the believers?
– It is an interesting observation and interpretation of the title which has been brought to the dimension which is more secular and which is given to people awarded with a kind of dignity, both in the Church, and outside it. Many bishops prefer the title of a pastor or father. In my opinion, the essence which we give to every word or title is the most important. Personally I think that the simplest titles are the best, as they suit the reality the best.
– We sometimes look for too far, whereas solutions are at hand. A book of the Excellency says about celebrating Sunday. However, shouldn’t encouragements be accompanied by care about pastors so that the Eucharist would really be based on a feast, on celebration? Why is there so little atmosphere of joy in the liturgy? Where are Gregorian songs, mystery, incense smoke?
– In the post- conciliar theology two tendencies were noticed: one – to maintaining the Holiest Eucharist Sacrifice as repeating and making the mystery from Calvary present; whereas another one paid more attention to the fact that one should not notice the upper room or a feast in the Eucharist. One should not omit either of these elements but if a feast, first of all, the spiritual one. We must be careful so that it would not change into an exaggerated celebration, against which St. Paul warned. Whereas the elements improving the liturgy are important, like order and rhythm of prayers, songs and silence etc.), as well as elements of deepened esthetics and symbolic of beauty, helping in experiencing a spiritual closeness with God, to whom our heart , prayer, incense smoke are rising…
– We are often as the Church perceived as a besieged fortress and we get insulted at the world that it is attacking us. But isn’t the fact our biggest failure that this world is not getting frozen by astonishment, looking at us and is not saying the words: ‘Look how they love’?
– Yes. God is love and love is at the base of creation, at the base of the redemptive plan and the existence of the Church as a fruit of death and resurrection of Christ. Undoubtedly the departure from this vision is always a kind of a betrayal of the original ideal. There is a question: what is love to God and people based on? We find the answer in particular reports – deeds are always a criteria of truthfulness of what we say, what we declare and therefore our inner attitude of heart is significant, as well as ‘a feeling of love’, liking, friendliness which are expressed in our way of talking to another man, our friends and strangers, as well as to those who have different beliefs than us; our reaction to a human mistake is significant and a way in which we want to gain a man for our way of looking at the world.
– Shouldn’t we work on the awareness of priests and believers, so that their acceptance of Catholic newspapers would identify itself with a thesis that Catholic newspapers are a good program of catechization of adults, youth and children?
– An old Latin proverb said: ‘Arsartium regimen animarum’ – priesthood is an art of arts. It is worth using every element which can be useful to deepen faith, that is, contact of the man with God, with a redemptive message, with wisdom of inspired God’s Word. These ways of the creative deepening the individual faith include a word, an example of life but also reading a good book, a good Catholic newspaper, as well as exchanging opinions on what we have read, learnt. The promotion of a Catholic newspaper, book always has a sense. These are important sources of religious knowledge and faith. Elaborating a literary taste has an additional value of comprehensive forming of a mature way of thinking and building sensitivity to the beauty of a word. Work on being interested in faith brings fruits also through the fact that we encourage for example the readers of the ‘Sunday’ to create their own newspapers in parishes or co-create those which already exist. Authors use Catholic weeklies professional magazines or books very intensively then. The whole effort is also based on the purpose to reach to a man and awaken his interest, so that he would spend his free time with a book or a Catholic newspaper in hand. It will be possible is sensitivity to the written word is bigger. If hunger of literature is awakened up among priests, nuns, alumni and ordinary people. General reading is getting extinct today and we are observing the extinction of everyday human culture. This sad observation should awaken reflection in us and the sense of responsibility, motivating eagerness of action.