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from issue no. 03 - 2007

«I, but no longer I»

by Cardinal Angelo Scola

«Being a man of theoretical and no practical training, I also knew that loving theology was not enough for being a good priest, but that there was the need of being always available to the young, the elderly, the sick, the poor; the need to be simple with the simple. Theology is beautiful, but the simplicity of the word and of the Christian life is also necessary. And so I wondered: will I be capable of living all this and of not being one-sided, a theologian only, et cetera? But the Lord helped me and, above all, the company of friends, of good priests and teachers, has helped me».
So, with disarming simplicity, Pope Benedict gave voice to the doubt about his true character that in more or less explicit form was circulating among quite a number of people after his election as Peter’s successor. And he did it – it’s nice to remember – in open-hearted discussion with the young people of his diocese, Rome, at the XXI World Youth Day, on 6 April 2006. The Pope wanted to share with them and with us his own personal path in the faith. A path of fertile humility, made of grace and freedom, of certainty and of realistic fear, of urge and abandonment.
And the Holy Father also wanted to point out the landmarks along this path.
First of all the grace that is the Lord Jesus Himself. The primacy of Christ, that is of the incarnate love of God in the life of the Christian, was brought again to our attention with great force by the encyclical Deus caritas est . The pivot of the Pope’s teaching is the formidable passage in the first paragraph: «The start of being Christian is not an ethical decision or a big idea but the encounter with a happening, with a Person, who gives a new horizon to life and with that the decisive direction».
Out of that, almost naturally, came the development of his speech in Verona: «“I, but no longer I”: that is the formula of genuine Christian existence founded with Baptism, the formula of the resurrection within time, the formula of the Christian “novelty” called to transform the world». A novelty that is fruit of the gift of the Spirit, that hence cannot be produced on our own. It is a given – in the strong sense – to be accepted. As for the Pope of the Totus tuus so also for Benedict XVI, who with wide eyes and joyous heart climbed as a boy up to the sanctuary of Altötting, the Virgin Mary represents the achieved figure of his personality and his existence. In the Annunciation the Immaculate pronounced the fiat that was to unfold all its strength in the stabat of Calvary and was to find full accomplishment in the mystery of the Assumption. Mary, in fact, tells us all there is to know about cooperating in consent, as set out in the fourth canon of the decree on justification of the Council of Trent. That is the horizon proper to the sensus fidei of the Catholic people, expressed in authentic fashion by the experience of the Church of Bavaria. In fully aware belonging to that significant portion of God’s holy people the vocation and mission of Pope Ratzinger took shape.
But the Pope adds a second indication. Precious because it illuminates the fashion through which sacramental grace becomes a compelling and fascinating encounter for the freedom of us human beings: «The company of friends, of good priests and teachers, has helped me». The life of the Christian community is, in fact, guarantee of the path. A company that speaks of the countenance of the Church and invests «the great spheres in which human experience has its unfolding» (speech to the Verona Conference).
All of us have been struck over the last year by the depth with which the Holy Father has wanted to respond to the question that is today ever more crucial. His great friend Hans Urs von Balthasar formulated it in these terms: «Who is the Church?». Pope Benedict is re-travelling the human and Christian path of the apostles and the disciples of the Lord. Peter, John, Matthew, Paul, Stephen, the women… The first links in an unbroken chain of witnesses, historically easily documented, which comes down to involve us also. In it the sacramental nature of the traditio of the Church is expressed.
The grace that is Jesus Christ, lived in the company of the Church: these are the gifts that the Pope never ceases to testify to our freedom.

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