Pope Benedict XVI has once again taken the initiative in addressing the scandal of clerical sex abuse, this time in a remarkably personal letter to young men around the world studying to be priests.
Ostensibly, the letter is supposed to be timed to the close of the Year for Priests — which ended in mid-June.
It has an unusually chatty tone for a papal missive. Like the paragraph in which the pontiff — a former university professor — urges seminarians to study hard, and starts listing subjects that are important. He pauses briefly in the list to say, “I could easily go on,” and then does for another dozen or more lines before he’s able to stop. You get the idea he’s passionate about the need for priests (and laymen, no doubt) who hone their intellects in the “essentially rational” dimension of the faith so they’re able to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15).
The pope opens his letter with a personal recollection of being drafted into the German army in World War II, and his answer to his officer about his plans for the future: Catholic priesthood.
“You ought to look for something else,” the lieutenant told the future pope. “In the new Germany priests are no longer needed.”
Just as that bit of optimism about the death of religion was wrong then, so too today is the secularist trend that sees priesthood not as a job of the future but of the past, the pope told the seminarians.
“Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people,” he said. “God is alive, and he needs peo-ple to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.”
The pope also encourages them not to be dissuaded by the example of priest-abusers, who “disfigured their ministry” and caused “great damage” to individuals and to the Church.
“Thank God, all of us know exemplary priests,” he went on, “men shaped by their faith, who bear witness that one can attain to an authentic, pure and mature humanity in this state and specifically in the life of celibacy.”
Were I a seminarian, I think I’d be pretty touched by this letter. As a layman, I found it interesting to see what the pope encouraged them to focus on in their years of preparation: their own prayer life and relationship with God, celebration of the Mass and of the Sacrament of Penance, the practice of popular piety, and development of an appreciation for the diversity in unity in the Church through their experience of living in community.
Read the entire thing at http://bit.ly/aU5f4x. What one piece of advice would you have for a seminarian today?