An important year goes by
Fr Zbigniew Suchy interviews Archbishop Jozef Michalik, Metropolitan of Przemysl, President of the Polish Episcopate Conference
Fr Zbigniew Suchy - This special time of the liturgical year - Advent - is coming to an end. A lot of conflicting opinions and judgements have piled up about this period of the Church's life and work. Some people grumble that now this period is devoid of its penitential character and that some activities, which are found offensive in the Polish tradition, have been permitted. What does Advent mean to you and how do you spend this time?
Archbishop Jozef Michalik - Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year. It is an occasion to sum up, to look back at the time, which has gone by. I ask myself the question about the pastoral programme, the programme of work, which I have tried to propose to the priests and people - has the programme yielded any fruit? This Advent raises the question about the Year of Pelczar, which was celebrated very vividly in the Archdiocese of Przemysl. We tried to rediscover the figure of this holy Bishop who had carried out his ministry in hard conditions. At first it was the time of partitions and then the effort to find a proper way for the Church when Poland regained its independence after many years. It was also a year of grace for me as I got to know the richness of the holy Bishop's ministry.
This year has been a very important and difficult period for me personally because it has brought new responsibilities. I have assumed them with the awareness that I should not avoid effort and run away from the confidence I have won, in spite of being convinced of my own weaknesses.
Advent has in itself some constant glimmer of hope and expectation. It is awaiting the second coming of Christ. And this eschatological dimension, which lasts from the first Sunday of Advent till 16 December, is focused on creative looking forward to the eschatological future, which will bring full revelation of the Lord's glory and it will reveal our unity, our communion with God and with one another as well as our earthly value.
- The second part of Advent is the recollection of the historical birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. These two thoughts are somehow interwoven.
- The human dimension of Advent is very beautiful and moving. It is the early morning Advent Mass with Mary who teaches us that being with her is the most secure way to experience the Advent of our lives - awaiting the Lord. It is an occasion to reflect that Christianity - as Pascal put it - astonishes us the more we get to know it. It is even more astonishing to come back to these mysteries each year. As a believer gets older he or she experiences this time more and more deeply because every day he/she approaches the fulfilment of his/her own Advent. The words of Karol Wojtyla, which he spoke during the Vatican retreats for Paul VI, become as if real: 'God's logic is the logic of love'. Approaching the understanding of this truth is a great gift, which is worth seeking.
- The Year of Eucharist, which we have begun, can help us get to know God's love better.
- I very much want everyone to see the presence of Jesus in his or her life in this new liturgical year. I want everyone not to spare any effort and time for prayer. God will make it grow but man must create conditions for this gift. After all it is obvious that everyone wants God and has hunger for God. Giovanni Papini presented this truth in his book 'The Life of Jesus' - all people want God although they do not always realise this.
- You have said you are beginning this year with new responsibilities. This is because of your being elected President of the Polish Episcopate Conference. What are your reflections at the end of this calendar year and what are your expectations, not only as a bishop of Przemysl, but as the bishop, who is aware of his responsibility for the life of the Church in Poland?
- I am conscious that we are living in the times, which should arouse a deeper sense of responsibility in us. As for me, I have been still thinking and praying for the gift of proper discernment so that I will not miss the signs of the times and the way to minister to the Church. Life forces and brings certain tasks and draws up programmes. On the other hand, I think that one should follow what one has received from Jesus, who founded the Church. One should find out what he wanted it from us, and what he actually said. He did it during the Last Supper: he prayed for unity.
It is an important concern, about which it is perhaps hard to talk but which we should seek - unity in our families, unity among the people of the Church, unity between priests, bishops, unity between us and the Pope. This process never ends. It is to be continuously deepened. It is necessary for me to reflect on two truths: do I not break this unity myself, with my decisions? And secondly, is the concern to build unity in my heart in spite of impending dangers? It is a challenge that forces me to reflect and make effort than a desire to evaluate or judge.
Another reflection is the awareness to work out long-term programmes. The question about further perspectives. It is very helpful to work during sessions of the Episcopate Conference because I have no doubts that all the bishops present love the Church and do their best to serve her. I am far from giving advice and announcing triumphantly that I know what things should look like. In this time much good has been done, which we cannot boast of, but there have been numerous matters, which we could have made less painful. Have we succeeded? I am afraid that I was not able to establish good contacts with people of 'distance' although I tried very hard. It was not good that many painful matters were publicized tendentiously, creating divisions, causing harm and danger in human hearts since in this way we have provided fuel for rumours in the press, which has not always favoured the truth, but which is greedy for sensation and inclined to present a superficial and falsified picture of the Church.
This experience has reminded me very clearly that a bishop must carry the burden of the words he utters, and the words he does not utter.
I think we have a lot to do in the field of co-operation with mass media. We should learn to seek serious speakers in TV, radio and newspapers, but we should kneel only before Lord God, before the poor and hurt Man and not before a microphone or a camera. We have still much to learn and fail many exams. Fortunately, more and more laymen take pens and write. They write to me and other bishops, and express their admiration or disapproval; they warn and encourage and thus they mark a safer thinking and view on the Church in our world.
Therefore, this coming year I count on the laity, on help of the laymen, who have been taught and are being taught to take responsibility for my (yes, yes, for my) bishop's words and deeds. Those people pray for us and want us to be faithful to the Church and Christ as well as to be faithful to this teaching we have taught them for hundreds of years. They want to hear us defending what is good and hard and what builds firm hope. They have the right to this!
- Thank you very much for the interview.