Friday, January 05, 2007

Pope Benedict on Priesthood

Just before Christmas Pope Benedict spoke to members of the Roman Curia in what some people have called his annual 'state of the nation address'. The Holy Father looked back over the year and gave his reflections on many of the things that had happened. He spoke also of the priesthood and I think it's worth considering what he said about it. You can read the whole text yourself by clicking here.

The Pope speaks of the need for the priest to be immersed in God. His 'central task' is to bring God to men and women. He 'can only do this if he himself comes from God, if he lives with and by God'. The Pope warns that we need in a 'function-oriented world in which everything is based on calculable and ascertainable performance'. It is a mistake to measure the value of something by what it can do. Being precedes action. A priest centred on God can bring God to our world which the Pope calls 'the prime service that contemporary humanity needs'.

The Holy Father also speaks of the danger of a priest forgetting that God must be the centre of his life and so giving himself over to a form of activism: 'If this centrality of God in a priest's life is lost, little by little the zeal in his actions is lost. In an excess of external things the centre that gives meaning to all things and leads them back to unity is missing. There, the foundation of life, the "earth" upon which all this can stand and prosper, is missing'.
It is in this context, of valuing what we are supposed to be over what we may do, that Pope Benedict speaks about celibacy. He says it is not enough to understand celibacy simply in terms of being more available to the people and warns that such a mentality could easily lead to selfishness: 'The solely pragmatic reasons, the reference to greater availability, is not enough: such a greater availability of time could easily become also a form of egoism that saves a person from the sacrifices and efforts demanded by the reciprocal acceptance and forbearance in matrimony; thus, it could lead to a spiritual impoverishment or to hardening of the heart'.

The true meaning of celibacy is availability to God: 'It cannot mean being deprived of love, but must mean letting oneself be consumed by passion for God and subsequently, thanks to a more intimate way of being with him, to serve men and women, too. Celibacy must be a witness to faith: faith in God materializes in that form of life which only has meaning if it is based on God.
Basing one's life on him, renouncing marriage and the family, means that I accept and experience God as a reality and that I can therefore bring him to men and women'

We live in a world in which people want proof for everything, in which people are valued for what they can do and not for what they are, in which God has been reduced to a hypothesis. It is a world therefore that needs witnesses to God's love: 'For this reason, celibacy is so important today, in our contemporary world'.
The Pope also acknowledges that the circumstances of our contemporary society can make celibacy particularly difficult, he speaks of it being 'constantly threatened and questioned'. And so he speaks of the need to help those called to priesthood: 'persevering guidance on the part of the Bishop, priest friends and lay people who sustain this priestly witness together, is essential. We need prayer that invokes God without respite as the Living God and relies on him in times of confusion as well as in times of joy. Consequently, as opposed to the cultural trend that seeks to convince us that we are not capable of making such decisions, this witness can be lived and in this way, in our world, can reinstate God as reality'.

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