I picked up a very interesting book recently, Questions and Answers by Pope Benedict XVI. It was said that this Pope had a unique way of encountering various groups of people in the Church by having live Q&A sessions with them.
Now, that is quite a brave move for the Pope, as any “off the mark” response cannot be edited on the spot. So, I delved straight into the book to see what kind of impromptu responses this erudite Pope would give. I was not disappointed. Some of the questions were those that I would myself have asked, and it was fortuitous then to find the answers in a single book given by the Pope himself, no less.
Here is a sampling of the encounters:
One child asked the Pope if she has to go confession every time she receives Communion, even when she has committed the same sins? She realised that they are always the same.
Now, I find the observation of the child very insightful. For those of us who confess regularly, do you also realise that it is always the same sins that constantly cripple us that we especially need the Lord’s healing touch through the sacrament of reconciliation?
In great simplicity, the Pope used the analogy of regular house cleaning to help the child see the need for regular confession, even if for the same sins. Having relayed the Pope’s explanation to my 11 year old child, it made perfect sense to her.
Another question from a child had me laughing and at the same time, mortified, for the parents. The innocent child told the Pope she wants to go to Mass but her parents do not take her as they prefer to sleep on Sundays. She asked the Pope to say something to her parents.
The Pope’s answer was magnificently kind, said “in great love and great respect” for the child’s parents, with practical tips on how to get them to bring the family to Mass.
Now, if there is a lesson to be learnt by parents, it is this: Bring your children to Mass without fail before they ask the priest, bishop or (God forbid) the Pope to have a word with you.
Another child asked the Pope: What is Eucharistic Adoration? Honestly, I don’t quite get it myself.
The Pope explained that: “adoration is recognizing that Jesus is my Lord, that Jesus shows me the way to take, and that I will live well only if I know the road that Jesus points out and follow the path he shows me.”
The Pope further went on to distil the explanation to an essential formula that adoration is an embrace with Jesus in which we say to him: “I am yours, and I ask you, please stay with me always.”
May this simple and yet profound prayer to Jesus be found on our lips in the great Catholic tradition of Eucharistic Adoration.
A 19 year old girl told the Pope that it is difficult to love in this time where the secular media portrays a version of sexuality where everything is permissible. Also, the family based on the concept of marriage seems like a Church invention and the Church’s prohibition of premarital relations are difficult to understand and even old fashioned to some believers. It is easy to confuse love with selfishness. What has the Word of God to say about this?
In addressing this cogent question, the Pope brings us back to the starting pages of the Bible where love and marriage are defined, just after the story of man’s creation to show that marriage is a sacrament instituted by the Creator already at the beginning, not a Church invention. Hence, it is engraved in the human self.
The Pope points out that although this divine plan is threatened throughout the ages, if we look at the whole cultural history of humanity, it can be noted that man has not fully forgotten this plan that “exists in the depths of his being. He has always known in a certain sense that other forms of relationship between a man and a woman do not truly correspond with the original design for his being.”
To live this plan, the Pope says we need a new heart that is already given to us at baptism. And, this new heart needs living with Christ, and in communal with the Church, in order to make marriage possible.
Not one to gloss over the difficulties of marriage, the Pope also compares marriage to a goal in sport or profession that requires discipline and sacrifices. Life, including marriage, is like that too, demanding sacrifices which we must not see in a negative light, but rather a help to live as people with new hearts, human and happy.
A large segment of the book is taken up with questions from priests, ranging from spiritual to very practical matters. I find that the answers given by the Pope shed light on how he sees the Holy Orders (priesthood) and himself as a priest and the Successor of St. Peter.
An elderly priest outlined a rather stark situation – priests in their diocese sometimes feel discouraged, due to the problems and complexities faced on top of shortage of priests compared to the greater needs in the community. It seems they could only at times “patch things up here and there and are often forced to attend to emergencies, without any precise projects.”
To that, the Holy Father answered humbly that this situation also concerns himself. In his own words, the Pope has this to say: “What must I do at this time for the Church, with so many problems, so many joys, so many challenges that concern the universal Church? So many things happen, day after day, and I am unable to respond to them all.”
His solution is to identify the priorities and do his part, with all that he can. Additionally, he counselled that priests should work in collaboration with others. Turning to the Parable of the Faithful Servant in the Gospel, the Holy Father touched on the wise servant who “does not do everything at once but is a wise and prudent servant who knows what needs to be done in a specific situation… So it is that we must likewise do our utmost to be wise and prudent and trust in the goodness of our “Master”, the Lord, for in the end it is he himself who must take the helm of his Church.”
Another priest asked the Pope what are the priorities priests should aim for given the multitude of tasks they face. Drawing on the Gospel of the mission of the 70 disciples, the Pope crystallised the 3 orders of Jesus relevant to the priests of today: to pray, provide care and preach.
There are many other questions and answers in the book, which ended fittingly on this exhortation from the Holy Father: “Let us pray to the Lord to help us understand his presence, to be full of his revelation, his joy, to help one another to go forward in the company of faith and with Christ to increasingly find the true Face of God, and hence, true life.”
Contributor: Jenny Ang