How to speak about the ministry

Andrea Tornielli recalls some remarks of Cardinal Martini shortly before his term as archbishop of Milan ended. Asked whether he preferred to be called Father or Pastor, he replied:

I dont much like these terms. The term Father has never meant much to me because it reminds me of that word of Jesus: Call no one on earth your father. ... I know that, of course, there is a certain fatherhood and responsibility, but thats not the title that, evangelically, seems most apt. I smile a little when people say to me, We dont call you Eminence, but Father, because its more evangelical. The term Pastor also isnt entirely persuasive. It scares me a little.There are two terms that I personally prefer. One is that of John the Baptist, the friend of the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29-30): the friend of the Bridegroom rejoices at the voice of the Bridegroom: "He must increase; I must decrease." This seems very important to me. In that sense I am in polemics with those forms of dominion, of fatherhood, of possession, of moral superiority. I am instead happy when a priest or lay person encounters Jesus.The other term is similar. Its found in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul says: I feel for you a kind of divine jealousy, having promised you to to a single Bridegroom, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor 11:2). That is what most pleases me. People need to encounter Christ. One helps them meet Christ, yes; then he has to step back. The point is to bring people to Christ.

The Cardinal has St. Augustine on his side, who applied the idea of the friend of the Bridegroom to St. John the Baptist and St. Paul (citing the same two texts), St. Stephen, martyrs, and to ordained ministers. He was particularly critical of those who wished to put themselves in the place of Christ, like a Donatist bishop who called himself a mediator between God and his people. For Augustine, the bishop or priest was simply an attendant at the marriage between Christ and his Bride. Thats what Cardinal Martini said: Yes, one helps people encounter Christ, and then you have to step back. He must increase, and I must decrease.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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