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Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Msgr. Gianfranco Ravasi


The Church is a teaching Church because of an obligatory commitment that Christ left us. The capital text is in Mt 28:19-20, verse 20 in particular. We are face to face with the great greeting, with the testament that the risen Christ leaves to his Church: "Go, therefore, and mathetÚusate (note the root word, of the disciple: mathetŔs), make disciples panta tÓ Úthne:" all peoples, all the nations. "Make disciples," not "teach" only; not only "instruct," but "make disciples." How: "DidÓskontes," that is, by "teaching," by becoming masters. The Church has a teaching role. All the disciples have a teaching role.

And what is the object of teaching? "To observe all the I commanded you." Hence, I must not teach only one aspect of Christ’s message, a sweet or severe aspect; I must teach the whole gospel, which is yeast, salt and seed. The way Bernanos said it: "Christ did not send us to be honey of the earth, but salt of the earth." Salt is rough. "Christ," this writer continues, "has left in our hands a word which is burning like iron. It is not possible for us not to get burned."

What has the Church of the origins done the way we see it from the Old Testament? Let us briefly consider some points:

1. In Acts 2:42 (one of the famous summaries of Luke) we have a portrait of the Church in Jerusalem, supported by four "columns" that we can list as follows:

This portrait is important for us to succeed to understand also the order of values: didakŔ, koinonýa, Eucharist, spirituality. For this it is said in Acts 5:21: "…they went to the temple early in the morning and taught"; and in Act 5:42: "They did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus." Here is the proclamation: Jesus is Lord, he is Christ whom we proclaim, he is the kingdom.

Furthermore, what is the task, the inheritance that we receive from Christ who is about to ascend into heaven? What does he leave behind for his church? That the Church should preach to all the peoples "conversion and forgiveness of sins" (Lk 24:47). Two inseparable realities, or is it but one reality under two aspects: of justice and of love. Conversion, the profound change in life, a "turning of the mind and of life" (Karl Barth) and the forgiveness of sins. These two things are not to be separated. In a truly illuminating manner, Pascal figured it out by imagining a dialogue between God and the soul. God tells the soul: "If you knew your sins, you would have despaired…" The soul replies: "If you enlighten me with your Word, I will despair." But God answers: "You shall not despair because your sins shall be revealed to you at the same moment that they are forgiven you." Hence, conversion and forgiveness are contemporaneous: crime, punishment and pardon, this is the logic of the biblical proclamation.

2. The women. It is true that in the New Testament there is the weight and the conditioning of history: the fact, for example, that the woman "must remain silent" in the assemblies (cf. 1 Cor 14:34). Nonetheless, Paul, concluding the letter to the Romans (16:7), speaks of women who are ap˛stolos: there is a certain Junia who is called precisely ap˛stolos of the gospel. There are so many women who proclaim the gospel, thus becoming teachers of the faith themselves.

On Easter morning, they are the first witnesses of the resurrection, Mk 16:7: "But go and tell his disciples and Peter, He is going before you to Galilee." They are the ones first to proclaim the resurrection. Even more, the role of the women is that of being proclaimers to the apostles themselves.

Similarly significant is the figure of Mary of Magdala (Jn 20:17-18): "But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father,’" that is: "Go to announce my resurrection." "Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and what he told her," that is, the personal witness and the word of the Risen One.

Hence in the Christian proclamation there is space for the magisterium of women. A Church without female voices is incomplete. Certainly, every member of the Christian community has his/her specific role, but this of the proclamation is of the whole ecclesial community. In the ministerial priesthood and in the common priesthood, some are teachers, others have other roles, as Paul recalls, in the multiplicity of charisms… (cf. 1 Cor 12). All, however, have to have their voice in the proclamation of the gospel. And woe to a Church that does not have female voices.

Psalm 148 brings to light the hymn of the entire believing community, a choir made of the bass voices (of kings, of the powerful, of the old, the elderly), but there also are the voices of the young and of the maidens, of children. Jesus, putting them in the midst as "teachers" (because the typical attitude of the teacher is he who is at the middle), has assumed as model also the child (cf. Mt 18:2). And also the child teachers us the faith, precisely with his attitude of abandonment.

All must exercise their ministry of proclamation. And thus the Church becomes truly a symphony of voices, a multi-colored mosaic; if the tesserae are missing, the mosaic is imperfect. We need also to speak of the teaching Church taking as well the voice of women. (return to summary)


After this rather schematic and explanatory analysis, we could make some proposals or indications for further studies.

1. Teaching is a grace and is born of a grace: it has a beginning and a transcendent end, it is a theophany, a manifestation of God, to which follow the words of the person sent. St. Paul suggests it, too, in 1 Cor 1:6, where he speaks of the martyrion to¨ Christo¨: "the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." On this regard, Fr. Lyonnet points out that it is a suggestive genitive and not objective, or it is a testimony that Christ gives of himself to his people. However, we have to receive this grace, also through contemplation, and allowing ourselves to be touched by its rays. On this regard, a film like Luci di inverno by Ingmar Bergman, with the story of the crisis of vocation of a pastor, offers some interesting pointers. His sacristan understands the drama of this pastor, who continues to be a very good preacher but has lost his faith. It was the sacristan himself who helped him by reminding him about Christ’s experience in Gethsemane, on the cross, marked by God’s silence. In our life there shall also be the moment wherein the light of the theophany is not lighted but God does not abandon us. Let us never fall away from the warmth of God’s hands; we are always, so the prophets and the Psalms say, "work of his hands." But then we always have to be open to this light. Otherwise, we are only "propagandists" (which is another thing), we are proclaimers/publishers of the gospel.

2. Object of the proclamation of our "lesson" are God’s actions, Christ, the kingdom of God. Hence, first of all and above all: the Word, the mystery of salvation revealed, the truth of the gospel. It is a person, an event, an action which etches on history.

3. The method. Just as Jesus teaches us, we must adopt our own language, know the techniques of the proclamation; a training operation is indispensable for the man who equips himself to proclaim, as St. Paul says, "with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). Paul tried so many ways; some he also abandoned. For example, the technique of Athens, of the Aereopagus, is different from his manner in Corinth. Hence, inculturation is needed. The relationship between the theophany and the method is, in a certain sense, the parallel between grace and faith. The grace is gift by excellence, without which we must remain silent; but when the grace of revelation is lighted, we must respond with our freedom and with all our abilities. How many acts of omission, of carelessness, of lack of preparation, that go to from banality to superficiality of the exegetical, theological kind, to the lack of preparation of the linguistic, communication, didactic kind. On this matter, the Paulines are masters, but they also have to be disciples. The divine gift there was when you have chosen this vocation because you have been called; but since that moment onwards, a commitment to be continually renewed begins.

4. The horizon of our Christian lesson.

5. Act of love. Teaching – we ought to profoundly fill it that way – is like an act of love that is born out of passion. One who is not stricken by this interior tremor cannot be a true master. The magisterium is born of love and tend towards love. A German writer-philosopher of last century, Ferdinand Ebner says: "Every misfortune in the world comes from the fact that rarely men know how to say the right word. The word without love is always a wrong word and is already a human abuse of the divine gift of the word." The word can be most correct, founded, motivated but if it is without love, it is already a word that has in itself something broken, it is already an abuse.

And this is the last element of our consideration: we must be recharged in order to be disciples of Jesus Master, disciples of a Founder who is called Primo Maestro. At the end we need to find again that bosom of love from where is born communication. An unprepared, serious communication, which has clear objectives, however, is born from this atmosphere that is immersed in this climate.

Let us end by a quotation, a little bit long, taken from the Pseudo-Dionisius the Aeropagite (VI century). It concerns communication done with humility and love:

"Do not hold it a victory that you use violence against a form of worship or an opinion. It is not because you already have done an unappealable confutation that your position is already good…" Your position is not by itself correct because you have dislodged the other’s position, that you have defeated another. It is not yet the truth. "You shall then do this way, if you allow me to counsel you! You shall stop your polemicizing against the others and you shall speak of the truth in such a manner that all things said cannot be attacked at all…" And this is the part of seriousness, it is preparation. One must present the content of the message in a rigorous manner. "I am aware of not having polemicized against the Greeks and others, because I think it is enough, for honest men, to know and expound the truth in itself…" And here is the other part, the part of humility, which is born of love and awareness, like how Galileo said it, "men know very little; some know some particles more; he who knows all is God." And here is the conclusion of the Pseudo-Dionisius: "Each one in fact affirms at possessing the royal coin (of the truth), but in reality he has perhaps but a deceiving image of a particle of truth."

We have a deceiving image even of a particle of the truth. This declaration, somewhat paradoxical, is, however, said so as that we will always have to know that our knowledge is, as the ancient Greek Christian tradition says: "Truth is like a precious gem. It has a thousand facets: you succeed in seeing only some of them. God alone sees them all."

With this spirit, our teaching shall always be respectful because God alone possess the whole truth. (return to summary)

return to summary


           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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