At this time of resentment, poisoned pens, incomprehension and excessive indifference towards the words that Benedict XVI constantly addresses in his homilies and the catechesis for the universal church, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini’s reflections have a profoundness and quick-wittedness that, despite his ill health, he continues to instil in the Christian community and in men of goodwill through words of wisdom.
In his book, entitled Il Vescovo (The Bishop), published by the Turinese publishing house Rosenberg & Sellier, the former Archbishop of Milan considers the delicate subject of authority within the church.
Cardinal Martini presents readers with two intriguing portraits representing the two opposite faces of authority: a rigid one that is incapable of listening and one that is inspired by the Word of God, taking into consideration the human person.
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini offers a new reflection, based on personal experience, on an institutional figure that is much talked about in the press but perhaps not really fully known.
The book describes the human and spiritual universe in which a pastor moves.
From the question “how does one become a bishop?” and the description of friendly, critical or polemic relationships, the author arrives at the characteristics that give a bishop the ability to proclaim the Gospel in the postmodern world.
A bishop’s daily life, his ordinary and extraordinary actions, his position within the institution of the church: friendships, contacts, pastoral letters, the liturgy, prayer, study and dialogue, fraternity with his fellow brothers, his priests, the community of faithful and all humans.
A bishop is a pastor of men and of souls. He has a big responsibility because he is the heir of the apostolic tradition; he is the spiritual guide of the church, the diocese that unites parishes and communities of Christian faithful.
If his role is limited to that of authority, neglecting his pastoral task of educating and testifying the Gospel as a humble servant of the Lord’s church, his real role ceases as it becomes a role of ecclesiastical authority that is neither prophetic nor linked to a genuine evangelical dimension.
If these defects – authoritarianism and rigidity – grow out of proportion, they can serious detrimental effects on the bishop’s service. Martini states that authoritarian bishops are those who under no circumstances accept dialogue or listen to their advisors, but act rashly without heeding advice he may even have asked for.
Such bishops break the ties that had been forged with their successors and no longer feel like bishops but like fathers and kings of their dioceses. If said bishops also have a cantankerous temperament, then no one is spared from his animosity.
Church leaders govern over free people, who are capable of being inspired by love. Such leaders do not suppress people’s consciences but helps them grow by making them conform to the Trinity model. The church’s vital authority cannot disregard respect for the human person and his or her independence and intelligence. This is because Christians feel the need to know and to understand the reasons behind what an authority figure is asking.
Consideration for the uniqueness of a person, their incomparability and their weakness, has far more lasting effects even in the face of difficult requests. Many feel the need to be understood and loved before having commands and precepts thrown at them.
The words of Cardinal Martini communicate how crucial it is for the church to offer security and support and act as a force of inspiration, highlighting also the importance of a greater human and spiritual dimension of forgiveness and mercy.
Thus, if the Word of God that is inspired and inspiring, is acted upon with wisdom, fraternity and with the merciful eye of a community pastor, it will have a great impact on everyone and the exercise of authority in the church will resemble a service to man rather than an expression of power pointed at a spiritual and doctrinal role.