A dedicated university student diligently prepares for final exams. His professional future will depend on his good results. Besides attending classes, the student will consult various sources, ask for advice from people who have already completed the same studies, and he will also seek the opinion of those who have mastered the topics at hand… but in all cases, his main attention will be focused on the lectures received from the professors. No one studies for exams depending merely on the assistance received from their companions! Security comes from following the guidance received from those who have the task of teaching.
So also, our spiritual life is a continuous preparation for the final exam which consists in the judgment on which our eternal destiny will depend. Though we have real necessity of the counsels of friends, and receive them with gladness and gratitude, it is indispensible to base oneself essentially on the direction of the authentic teachers to whom the Redeemer himself designated the mission of instructing, guiding and sanctifying his flock and to whom He gave a special charism for this task. Our eternal destiny is far too important for us to rely on the support of our older brothers and sisters alone.
Teachings of the Magisterium
I – The Sacrament of Holy Orders confers the special mission of directing souls
The mission to proclaim the Gospel was given to the Apostles
(But) later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.’ (Mk 16:14-15)
‘Presbyters, tend the flock of God’
So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. (1Pet 5:1-4)
The mission conferred to the Prince of the Apostles
[Peter] Feed my lambs. (Jn 21:15)
Priests have the munus docendi, the task of teaching – they must answer the fundamental questions about what we must do in order to do good
The first duty of which I wish to speak today is the munus docendi, that is, the task of teaching. Today, in the midst of the educational emergency, the munus docendi of the Church, exercised concretely through the ministry of each priest, is particularly important. We are very confused about the fundamental choices in our life and question what the world is, where it comes from, where we are going, what we must do in order to do good, how we should live and what the truly pertinent values are. Regarding all this, there are numerous contrasting philosophies that come into being and disappear, creating confusion about the fundamental decisions on how to live; because collectively we no longer know from what and for what we have been made and where we are going. […] This is the function in persona Christi of the priest: making present, in the confusion and bewilderment of our times, the light of God’s Word, the light that is Christ himself in this our world. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, April 14, 2010)
An essential part of the priest’s grace is the task of putting others in touch with God
No man on his own, relying on his own power, can put another in touch with God. An essential part of the priest’s grace is the gift, the task of creating this contact. This is achieved in the proclamation of God’s word in which his light comes to meet us. It is achieved in a particularly concentrated manner in the Sacraments. Immersion in the Paschal Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ takes place in Baptism, is reinforced in Confirmation and Reconciliation and is nourished by the Eucharist, a sacrament that builds the Church as the People of God, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. John Paul II, Pastores Gregis, no. 32). Thus it is Christ himself who makes us holy, that is, who draws us into God’s sphere. However, as an act of his infinite mercy, he calls some ‘to be’ with him (cf. Mk 3:14) and to become, through the Sacrament of Orders, despite their human poverty, sharers in his own priesthood, ministers of this sanctification. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, May 5, 2010)
Christ tends his flock through the Pastors of the Church
Christ tends his flock through the Pastor of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter and the priests, their most precious collaborators, to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, May 26, 2010)
Every priest is called to help the penitent to walk on the demanding path of holiness
‘Spiritual direction’ also contributes to forming consciences. Today there is a greater need than in the past for wise and holy ‘spiritual teachers’: an important ecclesial service. This of course requires an inner vitality which must be implored as a gift from the Holy Spirit in intense and prolonged prayer and with a special training that must be acquired with care. Every priest moreover is called to administer divine mercy in the sacrament of Penance, through which he forgives sins in the name of Christ and helps the penitent to walk on the demanding path of holiness with an upright and informed conscience. To be able to carry out this indispensable ministry, every priest must tend to his own spiritual life and take care to keep himself pastorally and theologically up to date. (Benedict XVI. Message to participants in the course organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, March 12, 2009)
Listening to the confessor’s advice is important for the spiritual journey of the penitent
Dear priests, do not neglect to allow enough room for the exercise of the ministry of Penance in the confessional: to be welcomed and heard is also a human sign of God’s welcoming kindness to his children. Moreover the integral confession of sins teaches the penitent humility, recognition of his or her own frailty and, at the same time, an awareness of the need for God’s forgiveness and the trust that divine Grace can transform his life. Likewise, listening to the confessor’s recommendations and advice is important for judging actions, for the spiritual journey and for the inner healing of the penitent. (Benedict XVI. Address to participants in the course on the internal forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, March 25, 2011)
The priest must practice the ministry of the formation of consciences
Despite the sad fact of the loss of the sense of sin, which is so broadly present in the culture of our time, the priest must practice the ministry of the formation of consciences, forgiveness and peace with dedication and joyfulness. (Congregation for the Clergy. Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, New Edition, no. 70, 2013)
The priest must not fail to exercise the ministry of spiritual direction
Along with the sacrament of Reconciliation the priest will not fail to exercise the ministry of spiritual direction. The rediscovery and extension of this practice, also at times outside the administration of Penance, is of great benefit for the Church in these times. The generous and active attitude of priests in practicing it also constitutes an important occasion for identifying and sustaining vocations to the priesthood and to the various forms of consecrated life. (Congregation for the Clergy. Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, New Edition, no. 73, 2013)
The People of God have a greater need than ever for authoritative guides
The People of God have a greater need than ever for authoritative guides and givers of abundant spiritual sustenance, to enable them to accept and live the ‘high standard of ordinary Christian living’ through an appropriate ‘training in holiness’ (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte, no. 31). (John Paul II. Message to the Clerics Regular of Saint Paul on the Fifth Centenary of the birth of Saint Anthony Mary Zaccaria, no. 2, July 6, 2002)
The priest is called to encourage and lead the ecclesial community
Finally, the priest is called to express in his life the authority and service of Jesus Christ the head and priest of the Church by encouraging and leading the ecclesial community, that is, by gathering together ‘the family of God as a fellowship endowed with the spirit of unity’ and by leading it ‘in Christ through the Spirit to God the Father’. This munus regendi represents a very delicate and complex duty which, in addition to the attention which must be given to a variety of persons and their vocations, also involves the ability to coordinate all the gifts and charisms which the Spirit inspires in the community, to discern them and to put them to good use for the up building of the Church in constant union with the bishops. This ministry demands of the priest an intense spiritual life, filled with those qualities and virtues which are typical of a person who ‘presides over’ and ‘leads’ a community. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, no. 26, March 25, 1992)
The ministers serve their brethren so that they arrive at salvation
For the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God, Christ the Lord instituted in His Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body. For those ministers, who are endowed with sacred power, serve their brethren, so that all who are of the People of God, and therefore enjoy a true Christian dignity, working toward a common goal freely and in an orderly way, may arrive at salvation. (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, no. 18, November 21, 1964)
The direction of souls is one of the principle occupations of the priest
The altar, dear children, is the point of attraction for the eyes and the heart. It proclaims the characteristic connotation of our lives, and from thence is born in all its amplitude the specific occupations of the priest: confessions, the direction of souls, teaching of catechism, care of the sick, the diligent, prudent and patient contact with the faithful of all ages and conditions, in circumstances of doubt, sorrow, public calamities and misery. (John XXIII. Address to the clergy of Rome, no. 1, November 24, 1960)
Christian formation of souls is chiefly the work of priestly activity
This Christian formation of souls, which must chiefly be the work of priestly activity, is such a necessary condition that, if it should be lacking, the apostolate not only will be fruitless but it will not even continue to exist at all. (Pius XI. Letter Vos argentinae episcopos, no. 6, December 4, 1931)
It is the priest’s task to guide the faithful to the safe port of faith
It is the priest’s task to clear away from men’s minds the mass of prejudices and misunderstandings which hostile adversaries have piled up; the modern mind is eager for the truth, and the priest should be able to point it out with serene frankness; there are souls still hesitating, distressed by doubts, and the priest should inspire courage and trust, and guide them with calm security to the safe port of faith, faith accepted by both head and heart; error makes its onslaughts, arrogant and persistent, and the priest should know how to meet them with a defense vigorous and active, yet solid and unruffled. (Pius XI. Encyclical Ad catholici sacerdotii, no. 44, December 20, 1925)
The mandate of teaching was bestowed by Christ on his Church
And first of all education belongs preeminently to the Church, by reason of a double title in the supernatural order, conferred exclusively upon her by God himself; absolutely superior, therefore, to any other title in the natural order. The first reason for such a right rests on the supreme authority of the magisterium and on the mission which the divine Founder of the Church bestowed upon her in those words: ‘All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. Going therefore teach ye […] even unto the consummation of the world’ (Mt 28:18-20). (Denzinger-Hünermann, 3686. Pius XI, Encyclical Divini illius magistri, December 31, 1929)
Authentic teachers endowed with the authority of Christ
Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task ‘to preach the Gospel of God to all men’ in keeping with the Lord’s command. They are ‘heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers’ of the apostolic faith ‘endowed with the authority of Christ’ (Lumen gentium, no. 25). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 888)
Christ left his apostles as shepherds of his flock
And indeed, brethren, because He [Jesus] is the Shepherd, He has given to His members to be so likewise. For both Peter, and Paul, and the other apostles were, as all good bishops are, shepherds. But none of us calls himself the door. This – the way of entrance for the sheep – He has retained as exclusively belonging to Himself. In short, Paul discharged the office of a good shepherd when he preached Christ, because he entered by the door. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of Saint John, 47, 3)
II – The faithful form part of the learning Church and are not called to teach
Christ himself established the distinction within the Church of those who teach and those who are taught
Is there any distinction between the members of the Church?
There is a very notable distinction between the members of the Church; for there are some who rule and some who obey; some who teach and some who are taught.
What do you call that part of the Church which teaches?
That part of the Church which teaches is called the Teaching Church.
What do you call that part of the Church which is taught?
That part of the Church which is taught is called the Learning Church, or the Church Taught.
Who has set up this distinction in the Church?
Jesus Christ Himself has established this distinction in the Church.
[…] And the Church Taught, of whom is it composed?
The Church Taught is composed of all the faithful.
Who, then, are they who possess the teaching power in the Church?
The teaching power in the Church is possessed by the Pope and the Bishops, and, dependent on them, by the other sacred ministers. (Catechism of Saint Pius X, The ninth article of the Creed, no. 38-41. 44-45)
In the Church some teach and govern; and others do not
The Church of Christ is not a community of equals, as if in which all the faithful have the same rights, but it is truly a society of unequals; and this is not only because among the faithful some are clerics and others are lay, but because, above all, in the Church there is the divinely instituted power, by which it pertains to some to sanctify, teach and govern, while others are without it. (Vatican Council I. First draft of the Constitution De Ecclesia Christi, Ch. X: De Ecclesiae Potestate – Mansi, vol. 51)
It is the duty of the faithful to follow the teachings of the Pastors
To solely the shepherds was given all power to teach, to judge, to direct; to the faithful is given the obligation of following their teaching, of submitting with meekness to their opinion, and of allowing themselves to be governed, corrected, and led by them in the way of salvation. Therefore, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to surrender in mind and heart to their own pastors; and for these to submit with them to the Supreme Pastor. (Leo XIII. Letter Epistola Tua to Cardinal Guibert, Acta Sanctae Sedis XVIII pg. 3-9, June 17, 1885)
In the saintly priest, the Christian People recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd
May Saint John Mary Vianney be an example to all priests. He was a man of great wisdom and heroic fortitude in resisting the cultural and social pressures of his time in order to lead souls to God: simplicity, fidelity and immediacy were the essential features of his preaching, the transparency of his faith and of his holiness. The Christian People was edified by him and as happens for genuine teachers in every epoch recognized in him the light of the Truth. In him it recognized, ultimately, what should always be recognizable in a priest: the voice of the Good Shepherd. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, April 14, 2010)
Spiritual direction is a function fitting to the priest
To these motivations of a theological order, I would like to add another of a pastoral order. Certainly, spiritual direction (or ‘spiritual counsel’, or ‘spiritual dialogue’, as some prefer to call it at times), may also be employed outside of the context of the sacrament of penance and even by one who does not have the Sacred Orders. But it cannot be denied that this function – insufficient, if undertaken within a group, without a personal relation – in fact is frequently and happily linked to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and is exercised by a ‘teacher’ of life (cf. Eph 4:11), by a ‘spiritualis senior’ (Rule of Saint Benedict, Ch. 4, 50-51), by a ‘doctor’, (cf. STh., Supplementum, q. 18), by ‘a guide of the things of God’ (ib., q. 36, a. 1) who is a priest, who has been made fitting for special functions ‘in the Church’ through ‘a singular gift of grace’. (ib., q. 35, a. 1) (John Paul II. General Audience, April 11, 1984)
The Magisterium helps Christians in the formation of conscience
Christians have a great help for the formation of conscience in the Church and her Magisterium. As the Council affirms: ‘In forming their consciences the Christian faithful must give careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. Her charge is to announce and teach authentically that truth which is Christ, and at the same time with her authority to declare and confirm the principles of the moral order which derive from human nature itself’ (Dignitatis Humanae, 14). (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, no. 64, August 6, 1993)
Without priestly ministry there is no authentic lay apostolate
Vocations are also the condition of vitality of the Church. There is no doubt that this depends on the ensemble of the members of each community, of the ‘common apostolate’, in particular the ‘apostolate of the laity’. However, it is equally true that for the development of this apostolate the priestly ministry is particularly indispensable. This is, in fact, well known by the lay people themselves. The authentic apostolate of the laity is based on the priestly ministry, and, in turn, manifests its authenticity by achieving, among other things, the emergence of new vocations within its very circles. (John Paul II. Homily for the International Congress for Vocations, no. 3, May 10, 1981)
The faithful need pastors to teach them and must accept their teaching
But by divine institution it is the exclusive task of these pastors alone, the successors of Peter and the other Apostles, to teach the faithful authentically, that is with the authority of Christ shared in different ways; so that the faithful, who may not simply listen to them as experts in Catholic doctrine, must accept their teaching given in Christ’s name, with an assent that is proportionate to the authority that they possess and that they mean to exercise. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, in harmony with the first Vatican Council, teaches that Christ made Peter ‘a perpetual and visible principle and foundation of the unity of the faith and of communion’ (LG, 18); and the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI has declared: ‘The teaching office of the bishops is for the believer the sign and channel which enable him to receive and recognize the Word of God’ (Paul VI, Quinque iam anni). Thus, however much the Sacred Magisterium avails itself of the contemplation, life and study of the faithful, its office is not reduced merely to ratifying the assent already expressed by the latter; indeed, in the interpretation and explanation of the written or transmitted Word of God, the Magisterium can anticipate or demand their assent. The People of God has particular need of the intervention and assistance of the Magisterium when internal disagreements arise and spread concerning a doctrine that must be believed or held, lest it lose the communion of the one faith in the one Body of the Lord (cf. Eph 4:4, 5). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration in defense of the Catholic doctrine on the Church against certain errors of the present day, no. 2, June 24, 1973)
- The laity should exercise their role so that the priest will be freer in attending to his primary commitments of spiritual direction
One of the tasks that demands special attention is the formation of the laity. The priest cannot be satisfied with the laity having a superficial knowledge of the faith, but must seek to give them a solid formation, persevering in his efforts through theology lessons and courses on Christian doctrine, especially through study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium. Such formation will help the laity to expedite in full their role as Christian animators of the temporal order (political, cultural, economic, social). Moreover, entrusted in certain cases to laypersons with sufficient formation and a sincere desire to serve the Church may be some tasks – in accord with the laws of the Church – that do not pertain exclusively to the priestly ministry, and which they can perform on the basis of their professional and personal experience. In this manner the priest will be freer in attending to his primary commitments such as preaching, the celebration of the Sacraments and spiritual direction. (Congregation for the Clergy. Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, New Edition, no. 73, 2013)
A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control
A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet. (1Tim 2:11-3)
Not all have the same function
For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:4-8)
Let each one give thanks to God in his own order – the priest as a priest, and the layman as a layman
These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things, being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen. Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order. (Clement I of Rome. First Epistle to the Corinthians, ch, 40.)
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