Holy Father, I am Father Gianpiero Palmieri, pastor of St. Frumenzio ai Prati Fiscali parish. I would like to ask you a question on the evangelizing mission of the Christian community and, in particular, on the role and formation of priests within this evangelizing mission.
[Benedict XVI:]..........(Opening paragraphs have been deleted in the interests of longevity. Full translation can be read here.)
We are together so that you can tell me your experiences, your sufferings, also your successes and joys. Therefore, I wouldn't say that the oracle speaks here, to whom you ask questions. We are, rather, in a family exchange, in which it is very important for me to know, through you, life in the parishes, your experiences with the Word of God in the context of our world today. I also would like to learn, to come close to the reality, of which in the Apostolic Palace one is also a bit removed. And this is also the limit of my answers. You live in direct contact, day by day, with today's world; I live in diversified contacts, which are very useful. (I think most of us would completely agree with that analysis.)
[Translation by ZENIT]
I thought Fr. Palmieri's question was brilliant, and I don't know if it's the translation, but I find Benedict's reasoning is difficult for me to follow. I also know the written word often times does not convey the intent of the spoken word. However, that's not going to stop me from commenting on Benedict's answer.
Read in black and white Benedict seems to be saying that the priesthood by it's special nature makes priests far better judges of men and witnesses for the Gospel than laity. (I'm assuming Benedict meant the totality of laity, because the word women is never used.) I found this very interesting in that Fr. Palmieri specifically cites the wise advice of a woman and how much of an impact that had on his thinking. In essence she gently suggested he quit acting like a teenager who thinks they have all the answers and grow up.
In his own gentle way, Benedict spends quite a bit of time denying most of the reality of the wise woman's advice. Priests are not boys in short pants. If they take themselves seriously, they are providers of the simplicity of the Gospel founded on the profound thinking of previous theologians and Fathers of the Church. In reflecting on their academic training and their own experience, priests can become universal fonts of wisdom. No need for wise women. Sigh.
In his question Fr. Pamieri asks the following:
"We run the risk of being too schematic, incapable of knowing in a wise way the heart of the men of today. Is not the proclamation of salvation in Jesus also the proclamation of the new man Jesus, Son of God, in which our poor humanity is redeemed, made genuine, transformed by God?"
Fr. Palmieri's question goes directly to one of the questions I have about Catholic Christology. Should we not be teaching the message of the Risen Christ. Isn't the Resurrection the advent of the New Man in which our humanity is redeemed, made genuine, and transformed. Isn't that the end point of all of Jesus's teaching, the transformation on this earth of mankind? Apparently not, because Benedict reinforces atonement theology when he says:
"Naturally, great words of the tradition -- such as sacrifice of expiation, redemption of Christ's sacrifice, original sin -- are incomprehensible as such today. We cannot simply work with great formulas, [although] truths, without putting them in the context of today's world. Through study and what the masters of theology and our personal experience with God tell us, we must translate these great words, so that they enter into the proclamation of God to the man of today."
I don't know that Benedict has ever been clearer in what he expects his clergy to teach. He wants them to continue to teach concepts which he freely admits are 'incomprehensible as such today' and he expects clergy to use thinking from past ages and their own experience to make them comprehensible. He may be more a bit more removed in his Apostolic Palace than he thinks he is. (Just an observation.)
There is one other thing Fr. Palmieri stated that also peaked my interest:
She was asking me to learn how to enter into relationship with reality, without fears, because reality is inhabited by Christ himself who acts mysteriously in his Spirit.
Jesus taught a lot about right relationship and very little about sinful acts. Right relationship interestingly, is the best definition we have for what happens in the quantum universe. Atoms and molecules are not discrete particles mindlessly acting on Newtonian laws of physics. They are actually in relationship with each other and can change from wave to particle. That is the true basis for our reality, constant transformation and right relationship. It is mysterious and it is organized by a force one could call a variant of love. Fear and it's off spring hate, are disorganizing principles because they preclude right relationships. Jesus knew all about fear and hate. He constantly upbraided His disciples for wallowing in fear and attempting to exclude others.
Atonement theology is all about fear, and what makes it most insidious, is it teaches us to actually fear the God of love. No wonder it's incomprehensible to modern man. Modern man is proving in all kinds of different scientific endeavors that the grease of the universe really is love.
Personally, I hope Benedict heard the wisdom of the woman Fr. Palmieri quoted because she's on to real truth. Unfortunately for her she's not an exalted Father of the Church. She's just a wise mother in the Church.