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from issue no. 03 - 2007

A necessary Magisterium

by Cardinal Agostino Vallini

When I was a boy the priest of my village told us in catechism class that God sends a pope according to the times. A truth theologically exact for more reasons and that came back to mind on 19 April two years ago when, with the solemn announcement habemus Papam, the Cardinal Protodeacon, communicated to the Church and to the world from the loggia of Saint Peter’s that God had chosen the pope right for this our time, summoned to succeed John Paul II, and he was called Benedict XVI. It was, in truth, no surprise to me. Previous acquaintance with Cardinal Ratzinger, admiration for his delicate and agreeable style in dealing with people, the reading of some of his theological works, had predisposed me to believe that he must be the new pope. The teaching of my old parish priest immediately came to mind and I thanked God: if He had chosen him, he was what was wanted. That immediate perception, rooted in the faith, found confirmation in facts. Let me mention just some of them.
First of all his commitment to the full realization of the Council, with the authoritative and objective setting out of the concept of “reception” of the doctrinal and disciplinarian patrimony. That Vatican II was an immense grace for the Church is almost universally acknowledged, but «nobody can deny», the Pope said in his speech to the Roman Curia at the well-wishing of the first Christmas (22 December 2005), «that in vast parts of the Church, the reception of the Council took place in rather difficult fashion» because of a mistaken interpretation. Against «the hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture» Benedict XVI set “the hermeneutics of reform”, that is of renewal in continuity so that the Church may remain always the same though growing over time and developing like people of God wayfaring in history. A timely, even necessary, correction that has helped everybody, pastors, theologians, ecclesial workers and faithful, to keep to the path of the genuine Council spirit.
A second bearing in the Magisterium of Benedict XVI seems just as clear and fertile. In the cultural context in which we live today, marked by a situation of spiritual loss of direction, of distrust of objective truth and accentuated individualism, from his very first speeches the Pope has been concerned to offer clear and cogent reasons for believing. The Church today is facing a great challenge: how to renew its pastoral mission? How to train baptized people so that the faith becomes a light and joyous force of life? The training generally done in parishes needs rethinking; the catechism for the sacraments of the Christian initiation and Sunday preaching to a low percentage of practising believers is inadequate and insufficient. For a great many people, who even call themselves Christian, when the values of faith are not wholly forgotten, they remain in the background and, to judge from behavior, seem to have lost the power to influence. In these two first years of his pontificate the Pope has stimulated and encouraged a rethinking in the methods and forms of the missionary activity of the Church, so that God not be excluded from people’s lives, from culture and from society itself.
It has been rightly said that the Magisterium of Benedict XVI frequently focuses on three spheres: faith, reason, love. This is a third manner in which the Pope has imposed himself on people’s attention by the clarity of his thinking and cogency of argument. Convinced that faith and reason are complementary as regards truth and salvation, wanting to shake the West above all out of its intellectual and moral torpor, the Pope argues that faith and reason must act in unity, without mutual exclusion. «God does not become more divine», he said in the famous speech at the University of Regensburg, on 12 September 2006, «by the fact that we drive him away from us into a pure and impenetrable voluntarism, but the truly divine God is the God who showed himself as logos and as logos has acted and acts full of love for our benefit». And as we know he devoted his first encyclical, Deus caritas est to the theme of love. The concrete implications of this trinity on the ethical-moral plain are obvious and the Holy Father has not failed to mention them, give reasons for them, repeat them, defend them. The defense and the promotion of human life, of matrimony, of the family, of the education of the new generations, of peace, are recurrent themes in his teaching. He has proposed them and proposes them every day out of fidelity to Christ and to mankind. And people appreciate it. It’s enough to think of the extempore Sunday appointment of the Angelus, not organized by any Vatican department, at which thousands and thousands of people gather in Saint Peter’s Square, drawn by his brief, clear, incisive words that make one think and remain in the heart. Some months ago in Via della Conciliazione, I was stopped by a middle-aged man. «You are a priest», he said, «permit me to tell you something important». «Go ahead», I answered with an encouraging smile. «I regret distancing myself from the Church; but it’s been a while now that on Sunday noons I can’t do without coming to hear the Pope, because he tells me the truth».
To the Holy Father, on his eightieth birthday, we assure our prayers and we offer our devout and filial wishes. Ad multos annos!

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