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Benedict XVI on Problems of Priestly Life (Part 1)

"We Have to Leave Most Things to the Lord"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 23, 2006 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI answered a number of questions posed by priests of the Diocese of Albano, during a meeting Aug. 31. The diocese is where the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo is located.

Here is the first of five questions the Pope answered. Other questions and answers will appear Sunday.

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Swiss Hall at the Papal Summer Residence
Thursday, Aug. 31

Some problems for priests

Father Giuseppe Zane, vicar "ad omnia," 83 years old:

Our bishop, if briefly, has described to you the situation of our Diocese of Albano. We priests are fully integrated into this Church and experience all the relative problems and complexities. Young and old, we all feel inadequate. This is firstly because we are so few in comparison with the many needs and we come from different backgrounds; we also suffer from a shortage of priestly vocations. That is why we sometimes feel discouraged.

We try to patch things up here and there and are often forced to attend only to emergencies, without any precise projects. Seeing how much there is to do, we are tempted to give priority to "doing" and to neglect "being"; this is inevitably reflected in our spiritual life, our conversation with God, our prayer and our charity (love) for our brethren, especially those who are far away.

Holy Father, what can you tell us about this? I am a certain age ... but is it possible for these young confreres of mine to hope?

Benedict XVI:

Dear brothers, I would like first of all to offer you a word of welcome and thanks: thanks to Cardinal Sodano for his presence, with which he expresses his love and care for this suburbicarian Church; thanks to you, Your Excellency, for your words.

In a few sentences, you have presented to me the situation of this diocese with which I was not so well acquainted. I knew that it was the largest of the suburbicarian dioceses, but I did not know that its population had increased to 500,000. Thus, I see a diocese full of challenges and difficulties but certainly also full of joy in the faith. And I see that all the issues of our time are present: emigration, tourism, marginalization, agnosticism, but also a firm faith.

I have no claim to be, as it were, an "oracle" that could respond adequately to every question. St. Gregory the Great's words, which you quoted, Your Excellency, which everyone knows, "infirmitatem suam," also apply to the Pope. Day after day, the Pope too must know and recognize "infirmitatem suam," his shortcomings.

He must recognize that only in collaboration with everyone, in dialogue, in common cooperation, in faith as "cooperatores veritatis" -- of the Truth that is a Person, Jesus -- can we carry out our service together, each one doing his share. This means that my answers will not be exhaustive but piecemeal. Yet, let us agree that actually it is only in unison that we can piece together the "mosaic" of a pastoral work that responds to the immense challenges.

Cardinal Sodano, you said that our dear confrere, Father Zane, seems somewhat pessimistic. However, I have to say that each one of us has moments of discouragement in the face of all that needs to be done, and the limits of what, instead, can realistically be done. Once again, this also concerns the Pope. 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. I do my part, I do all I can. I try to identify the priorities. And I am glad that I have so many good collaborators to help me. I can already say, here at this moment: I see every day the great amount of work that the Secretariat of State does under your wise guidance. And only with this network of collaboration, fitting myself and my own limited capacities into a broader reality, can I and dare I move ahead.

Therefore, naturally, a parish priest who is on his own sees even better that so many things still need to be done in this situation which you, Father Zane, have briefly described. And he can only do something to "patch things up," as you said, a kind of "first-aid" operation, knowing that far more ought to be done.

I would say, then, that firstly, what is necessary for all of us is to recognize our own limitations, to humbly recognize that we have to leave most things to the Lord. Today, we heard in the Gospel the parable of the faithful servant (Matthew 24:42-51). This servant, the Lord tells us, gives food to the others at the proper time. He does not do everything at once but is a wise and prudent servant who knows what needs to be done in a specific situation. He does so humbly, and is also sure of his master's trust.

So it is that we must likewise do our utmost to be wise and prudent and to 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. We fit into her with our small gift and do the best we can, especially those things that are always necessary: celebrating the sacraments, preaching the Word, giving signs of our charity and our love.

As for the inner life you mentioned, I would say that it is essential to our service as priests. The time we set aside for prayer is not time taken from our pastoral responsibility but is precisely pastoral "work"; it is also praying for others. In the "Common of Pastors," one reads as a typical feature of the good pastor that "multum oravit pro fratribus." This is proper to the pastor, that he should be a man of prayer, that he should come before the Lord praying for others, even replacing others who perhaps do not know how to pray, do not want to pray or do not make the time to pray. Thus, it is obvious that this dialogue with God is pastoral work!

I would say further that the Church gives us, imposes upon us -- but always like a good Mother -- the obligation to make free time for God with the two practices that constitute a part of our duties: the celebration of holy Mass and the recitation of the breviary. However, rather than reciting it, this means putting it into practice by listening to the word which the Lord offers us in the Liturgy of the Hours.

It is essential to interiorize this word, to be attentive to what the Lord is saying to me with this word, to listen, then, to the comments of the Fathers of the Church or also of the Council in the Second Reading of the Office of Readings, and to pray with this great invocation, the Psalms, by which we are inserted into the prayer of all the ages. The people of the Old Covenant pray with us, and we pray with them. We pray with the Lord, who is the true subject of the Psalms. We pray with the Church of all times. I would say that this time dedicated to the Liturgy of the Hours is precious time. The Church offers to us this freedom, this free space of life with God, which is also life for others.

Thus, it seems important to me to see that these two realities -- holy Mass truly celebrated in conversation with God and the Liturgy of the Hours -- are areas of freedom, of inner life, an enrichment which the Church bestows upon us. In them, as I said, we do not only find the Church of all the ages but also the Lord himself, who speaks to us and awaits our answer. We thus learn to pray by immersing ourselves in the prayer of all times, and we also encounter the people. Let us think of the Psalms, of the words of the prophets, of the words of the Lord and of the apostles, let us think of the Fathers' comments.

Today, we have had St. Columban's marvelous comment on Christ, the source of "living water" from which we drink. In praying, we also encounter the suffering of the People of God today. These prayers remind us of daily life and guide us in the encounter with today's people. They enlighten us in this encounter, because we do not only bring to it our own small intelligence, our love of God, but we learn through this Word of God also to bring God to them.

They expect this of us: that we bring them the "living water" of which St. Columban speaks today. The people are thirsty and try to satisfy this thirst with various palliatives. But they understand well that these diversions are not the "living water" that they need. The Lord is the source of "living water." But he says in Chapter 7 of John that he who believes becomes a "river" because he has drunk from Christ. And this "living water" (cf. John 7:38) becomes a fountain of water in us, a source for others.

In this way we seek to drink it in prayer, in the celebration of Holy Mass, in reading: We seek to drink from this source so that it may become a source within us. And we can respond better to the thirst of people today if we have within us the "living water," the divine reality, the reality of the Lord Jesus made flesh. Thus, we can respond better to the needs of our people.

This deals with the first question. What can we do? We always do all we can for the people -- in the other questions, we will be able to return to this point -- and we live with the Lord in order to respond to people's true thirst.

Your second question was: Is there any hope for this diocese, for this portion of the People of God that makes up this Diocese of Albano, and for the Church? I respond without hesitation: yes! Of course we have hope: The Church is alive! We have 2,000 years of the Church's history with so much suffering and even so many failures: Let us think of the Church in Asia Minor and the great and flourishing Church in North Africa which disappeared with the Muslim invasion.

Thus, parts of the Church can truly disappear, as St. John -- or the Lord through John -- said in the Book of Revelation: "I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (2:5). But, on the other hand, we perceive how the Church has re-emerged from so many crises with new youth, with a new freshness.

Actually, in the century of the Reformation, the Catholic Church seemed almost to have come to her end. This new current which declared: "Now the Church of Rome is finished," seemed to triumph. And we see that with the great saints, such as Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Charles Borromeo and others, that the Church was resurrected. In the Council of Trent, she found a new actualization and the revitalization of her doctrine. And she lived again with great vitality. Let us look at the age of the Enlightenment, when Voltaire said: "At last this ancient Church is dead, humanity is alive!" And instead, what happens? The Church is renewed.

The 19th century became the century of the great saints, of new vitality for a multitude of religious congregations, and faith is stronger than all the currents that come and go. And this also happened in the past century. Hitler once said: "Providence called me, a Catholic, to have done with Catholicism. Only a Catholic can destroy Catholicism." He was sure that he had all the means to be able at last to destroy Catholicism. Likewise, the great Marxist trend was convinced that it would achieve the scientific revision of the world and open doors to the future: The Church is nearing her end, she is done for! The Church, however, is stronger, as Christ said. It is Christ's life that wins through in his Church.

Even in difficult times when there is a shortage of vocations, the Word of the Lord lives for ever. And he who, as the Lord himself said, builds his life on this "rock" of the Word of Christ, builds it well. Therefore, we can be confident. We also see new initiatives of faith in our day. We see that in Africa, despite all her problems, the Church has fresh new vocations, which is encouraging.

Thus, with all the differences of the historical prospect of today, we see -- and not only see but believe -- that the words of the Lord are spirit and life, they are words of eternal life. St. Peter said, as we heard last Sunday in the Gospel: "You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69). And in looking at the Church today, together with all the suffering we see the Church's vitality, and we ourselves can also say: We have believed and have come to know that you offer us the words of eternal life, hence, a never-failing hope.

[Translation issued by the Holy See; adapted]

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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