On the road of ministering...
Fr Zbigniew Suchy interviews Archbishop Jozef Michalik, Metropolitan of Przemysl, President of the Polish Episcopate Conference.
Fr Zbigniew Suchy: What does the pastoral ministry of the Archbishop of Przemysl look like today?
Archbishop Jozef Michalik: The ministry of every bishop is the realisation of priesthood. We all have received it from Christ: the baptised, priests or bishops and we are trying to follow it to the best of our discernment, knowledge, possibilities and occasions. The office of priesthood has something of mediating, directing towards God and something of care for the people around us. Since the earliest tradition of the Church the priesthood of a bishop has been referred to the Gospel image of a shepherd, who shows his concern for his spiritual sheep or who protects his sheep against wolves. Lord Jesus made specific demands when he said that 'the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep' (John 10:11).
- You have participated in the 7th Congress of Polish Theologians at the Catholic University of Lublin, with its title 'The Church in Public Life. Polish and European Theology Facing New Challenges'. What in your opinion are these challenges?
- The organizers gave me the proceedings. Two volumes. But some speakers have not sent their texts yet. These two volumes do not certainly cover the complex subject matter of the various presence of the Church in our reality at the beginning of the third millennium, nor a brief answer to your question. Therefore, I will only say that the words of Christ, concerning the Church as the reality, which is threatened by the attack of evil, but in the end as the reality 'the gates of the underworld can never hold out against', remain still valid.
- Nevertheless, many speakers mentioned their concern about the thrust of liberal, atheistic powers...
- They have never been friendly to the Church and the conflict between good and evil has always taken place.
- This year many talks contained a note of anxiety that those powers sort of prevail. Well?
- Just after the resurrection there was a version that the Body was stolen and - as we know it from the Revelation - the lie spread in spite of the fact that there were no powerful means of communication: 'This is what you must say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep ... and to this day that is the story among the Jews' (Matthew 28:13-15). However, the Church grew.
- She had a missionary activity of the Apostles.
- Not only that. The disciples themselves were also active. And today such an apostolic activity is in the life of the Church. I will say that congresses, symposia, meetings are needed because they reveal the intellectual potential of the Church but not only the intellectual one. However, at the same time we need a prayerful reflection on this reality which is the Church described on the pages of the Sacred Book. And the Church appears quite clearly from this perspective. It is the apostolic way of St Paul that shows that.
Firstly, Paul shows the truth that the very nature of man is to be a religious being. Sometimes man has a false image of God whom he wants to worship. That meeting of Paul before the Council of the Areopagus teaches us that today little has been changed in this respect. 'Men of Athens', Paul stood before the whole of the Areopagus, 'I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because I noticed, as I strolled round admiring your sacred monuments, that you had an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it' (Acts 17:22-23).
Therefore the first instruction: to meet the desire of human heart and to show the image of the True God. We should not give up evangelization, and the scholars support the zeal of believers showing them the means to follow the way.
Secondly, Paul is aware that the new reality requires a new language. That's why he went to Hellenist scholars to get involved in disputes with them. He experienced an apparent defeat when at the mention of rising from the dead as the foundation of a new life they laughed at him and he was asked to leave them: 'some of them burst out laughing; others said, 'We would like to hear you talk about this again' (Acts 17: 32).
Paul had to return to them since early Christianity used the language of the Greek philosophy to make new concepts precise. Paul, as an erudite man, could not stay, for explicit reasons, outside that community. He sought contacts with men of intellectual areopaguses. However, he did not enter into any agreements with them at the cost of the truth. And this is an important message to the Church of our times - to enrich intellectual knowledge but never hesitate: when man runs out of his intellectual capital of argumentation he should give a testimony of faith and say that Christ has risen from the dead.
Finally, Paul teaches solidarity of believers, the need to support given ecclesiastical communities. He often praises communities for their generosity and sensitivity. He finds people who follow Jesus through their heroic denial of their own 'self'.
But this is not enough. When Paul was old he gave himself to the service of the community by saying the courageous words about his weakness: 'In view of the extraordinary nature of these revelations, to stop me from getting too proud I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud' (2 Cor 12:7). He stands in complete humility and weakness before the young Church and he encourages her by the example of his life, by saying that the weaker he, Paul, is the greater the grace of God becomes: 'About this thing, I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me but he has said, 'My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness' (2 Cor 12:8-9).
- In your homily, when you were analysing the contemporary difficulties of the Church, you identified yourself with the words of Cardinal Jean M. Lustiger: 'The preventive measure is not the demanding and radical teaching of the hierarchy, which would impose sanctions and discipline. The need is rather to exorcize the temptation from inside' ('Promise', p. 132).
- I think so. For even the most perfect structures or bishop's decrees will not save the situation if there is no acceptance from inside, inner efforts of all Christians aiming at taking responsibility for the Church. The courageous words of the shepherds are also needed, they should be heard, should arouse people's conscience and wake them up to prayer and action. It is true that administrative decrees can be affective for some time. However, in the long run they will not fulfil their creative role as the yeast, which is leavened all through.
- So what should the function of a bishop be?
- It moves from the sphere of administration to the sphere of shepherding. Shepherding, with its example in Christ. Please pay your attention to the person of the first martyr among the Apostles - St James. 'Son of Thunder', an impulsive man, he wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up the people who did not receive Jesus (cf. Luke 9:51-56). A man of great ambition, which his mother expressed (cf. Matthew 20, 20-23). The pedagogy of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit caused him to become a new man, ready to forgive and give witness of his blood to his being faithful to ideals.
- Jesus talked to his disciples a lot...
- And this is the way that we should 'peep' while contemplating the life of Jesus.
- My question was deliberately captious. We wanted to meet you as our shepherd. We want to ask questions. We also wanted to open this column for the readers of 'Niedziela'. Naturally, all questions cannot be answered exhaustively here. However, we would like to ask all of them. What do you think about this form of making dialogue?
- It is good if people know their bishop, their shepherd, and the bishop knows his people. Only then we will have understanding, even close relations, mutual acceptance, identification or empathy as the expression of care for faith, for the Church, which lives in the contemporary world and wants to serve all people. Although I am a person of simple faith and do not know whether I can meet the expectations of the people of 'high ambition', but I am willing to share my reflection, to give witness because the issues concerning the faith and conscience of the people in my fatherland cannot be alien to me. Lack of time and multitude of activities can sometimes make contacts with people difficult but not impossible.
- Thank you very much for your time and ... see you at our next meeting. God bless you.