PONTIFICATE OF ESSENTIAL FAITH
Prelate priest Ireneusz Skubiś talks with the archbishop senior Alfons Nossol from Opole – a friend of Benedict XVI
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - Do Archbishop remember our conversation nearly 8 years ago, just after the election of cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for the capital of St. Peter? The thoughts of Excellency turned out to be prophetic – pope Benedict XVI is a person of great responsibility for the Church. Does his abdication from ministry is also an act of such a responsibility? How do Excellency perceive this act, which we are witnessing?
ARCHBISHOP ALFONS NOSSOL: - I think that, similarly as acceptance of the election done by the Cardinals’ Collegium, resignation from the papal ministry should be perceived in a great obedience of faith of Benedict XVI. In fact, it is a heroic act. The pope is aware of the significance of this ministry. And now, when, as he said, natural strengths of the body and spirit are slowly leaving him, and he is not able to fulfil the ministry in a way it should be fulfilled. Therefore the man of deep faith, responsibility and conscience decided that it is time when the Holy See was vacant (‘sede vacante’). Surely, this cost him a lot and required many struggles. In my opinion, the papal decision was a surprise, regarding the time, moment, that it came now. Because, frankly speaking, from the very beginning I was aware of it, I knew that Benedict XVI was able to do this heroic act.
– The Holy Father did it in the mid of the Year of Faith.
– We were waiting for the next encyclical of Benedict XVI, after encyclicals about love and hope – about faith in the Year of Faith. If he made a decision in the Year of Faith, as a man of deep faith – earlier thought over, which is a powerful personal act, an act of reason, will and heart, passed on with grace, and in the Year, which he proclaimed and into which he had led us, which he enjoyed – and he must have come into a conclusion that his ministry in the truth and love is not able to be integral, or holistically fulfilled any longer. Considering the significance of this ministry all its dimensions, decided to pass it to his successor, Benedict XVI considered the Year of Faith as a kind of a pressure on himself. For, faith, although it is a grace, is connected with great responsibility. Faith sees differently. It is connected with hope which sees further and with love, which sees deeper. Pope, after St. Bernard was aware, that the measure of love is unmeasured love. For these reasons he decided to say that the end of his ministry came, which he had been able to fulfil and which required complete engagement of all strengths of spirit and body integrally, completely, holistically. So, this year was a year of deep reflection for him, based on love of the Church, love of the community of God’s people. It was kind of a pressure on him. The authority of conscience was decisive here. It might have happened this year in order to give us an example how responsible faith must be – grace of taking this faith and its realisation – so that it would not be only for myself but it would lead the whole community of God’s people towards hope seeing further, towards love seeing deeper. Context of the Year of Faith required, according to his conscience, more responsibility, so that papal ministry would be fulfilled integrally, with power and strength of reason, will and heart.
All this was a reason that he decided to do an act which cost him a lot, similarly as expressing his consent to the election done by Cardinals’ Collegium, concerning this ministry.
– I know that Excellency used to be in friendship with Fr. Prof. Ratzinger. Archbishop is also aware that this Pope is a great theologian. How do Excellency see this pontificate which is ending, from the theological point of view?
– As a theologian, Benedict XVI had a specific gift of interpreting everything essentially. He was able to describe the whole essence of our faith mysteries, events of our faith, vision of our faith. He did it in a very understandable, simple, but very deep way. What John Paul II could describe symptomatically, phenomenologically, he was trying to deepen; he was interested not only in context, the very phenomena, but the very essence. And he really managed to do it. It requires particular concentration, which is conditioned by health of body and soul, therefore it is connected with responsibility. He cannot think non-essentially, define or indicate purposes, whereas the state of his health did not longer allow him for integral, complete, radical ‘in radice’ engagement. Hence, this consequence. Anyway, this pontificate will pass into history of the Church and humankind as a pontificate of essential faith concerning the most essential dimensions of the whole human existence. Three theological virtues: faith, hope and love were for him not only virtues, but it was a realistic Christian attitude, a way of Christian existence, Christian being, Christian existence. In this sense he showed us who we, Christians, should be for today’s world.
– Will there be such a great successor who would be both an excellent theologian and such an extremely warm-hearted man…
– … indeed, Prelate Priest concludes rightly. It is not so easy with similar qualities. The successor of Benedict XVI should be both John XXIII and John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is very difficult, but we should trust the Divine providence.
– Looking at Benedict XVI, the words of Jesus come to my mouth: ‘Blessed of pure heart, as they will see God’ (Mt 5.8).
– Indeed, it is a man who sees God. His theology is both the theology essentially and deeply anchored in the little matter of faith. It caused joy. He was a servant to our joy. Everything he did, everything about which he wrote, everything to which he pointed out, on the basis of obedience to faith, was leading to joy. He was a man who sowed love and taught how we should take and enjoy it. Because Christian faith is Easter faith. A Christian is a man of Easter. In Christianity the cross takes the central place, but the Golgotha is not inhabited by anybody. We can lean on the cross in order to gain new strength and go on – towards the resurrection. Because the cross points out to Easter. As people of Easter we must also express our joy of being Christians.
This Easter faith, joyful faith is needed especially today. Benedict XVI often tried to define it according to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and the attitude of our times. Also our Christian attitude should stand under the motto ‘gaudum et spes’ – joy and hope, not ‘bonjour tristesse’ – Hello, sadness.
– Will Excellency visit the Senior Pope?
– If only there was such an occasion, I would do it and express a great amazement and deep gratitude for his pontificate, crowned by such a surprise of the whole world, even the atheistic world. Everybody understood this gesture of Benedict XVI not only as personal and original, but as the gesture indicating a road to our Christian existence: faith, hope and love.
– Our Catholic weekly ‘Sunday’ is also full of admiration for the excellent pontificate of Benedict XVI, for what he has done for the Church…
– ‘Sunday’ always resembles the resurrection with the power of the Holy Spirit. Congratulations to Your ‘Sunday’.