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The 'Nothingness' Asked of the Twelve


This "nothing" that the disciples share with Jesus expresses at once the power and the impotence of the apostolic office.


On their own, by the force of their own understanding, knowledge and will, they cannot do anything they are meant to do as Apostles.  How could they possibly say "I forgive you your sins"?  How could they conceivably say "This is my body" or impose their hands and pronounce the words "Receive the Holy Spirit"?  Nothing that makes up the activity of the Apostles is the product of their own capabilities.  But it is precisely in having "nothing" to call their own that their communion with Jesus consists, since Jesus is also entirely from the Father, has being only through him and in him and would not exist at all if he were not a continual coming forth from and self-return to the Father.

Having "nothing" of their own draws the Apostles into communion of mission with Christ.  This service, in which we are made the entire property of another, this giving of what does not come from us, is called sacrament in the language of the Church.

This is precisely what we mean when we call the ordination of priests a sacrament:  ordination is not about the development of one's own powers and gifts.  It is not the appointment of a man as a functionary because he is especially good at it, or because it suits him, or simply because it strikes him as a good way to earn his bread;  it is not a question of a job in which someone secures his own livelihood by his own abilities, perhaps in order to rise later to something better.

Sacrament means:  I give what I myself cannot give;  I do something that is not my work;  I am on a mission and have become the bearer of that which another has committed to my charge ...  This very self-expropriation for the other, this leave-taking from oneself, this self-dispossession and selflessness that are essential to the priestly ministry can lead to authentic human maturity and fulfillment.



Pope Benedict XVI. "The 'Nothingness' Asked of the Twelve." from Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996).

Used with permission.

The Author

Benedict73smBenedict72Pope Benedict XVI is the author of Jesus of Nazareth, Vol II, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol I, Caritas in Veritate: Charity in Truth, Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi, God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est,The End of Time?: The Provocation of Talking about God, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, Salt of the Earth: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church at the End of the Millennium, God and the World: Believing and Living in Our Time, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, The Spirit of the Liturgy, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Introduction to Christianity, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, Behold the Pierced One, and God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life.

Copyright © 1996 Ignatius Press
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