17 March 2009

Benedict on culture, youth and young priests

The third question posed to Pope Benedict by Father Giuseppi Forlai during his annual meeting with the Clergy of Rome is one dear to one my heart. Father Forlai addressed two concerns: ministry to the youth and the length of stay of a Parochial Vicar. Father Forlai asked His Holiness for "an authoritative word on these two aspects of the challenges facing educators: the necessary length of appointment and the urgent need for priest-teachers who are adequately prepared culturally."

In response, Pope Benedict spoke about the nature of a parish, noting that a parish "where only games were played and refreshments provided would be absolutely superfluous." The meaning of a parish, he said, "must be cultural, human and Christian formation for a mature personality."

In today's culture, "so many things are known, but without a heart, without an interior connection, because a communal vision of the world is lacking. For this reason a cultural solution inspired by the faith of the Church, and by knowledge of God, is absolutely essential. I would say that this is precisely the role of such a centre, that one not only finds possibilities there for one's leisure time but above all for an integral human formation that completes the personality."

A priest, then, must somehow "fit into today's culture, and be deeply cultured if he is to help young people to enter a culture inspired by faith."

Culture itself is what is at stake, for a true culture always God as its end.

We see today that there are people with very great knowledge but lacking an inner orientation. Thus knowledge can also be dangerous because without a profound ethical orientation it leaves the individual to his own devices, and hence without the necessary indicators to become truly human. In this regard, the core of all cultural training, which is so necessary, must undoubtedly be faith: to know the face of God, revealed in Christ, and thus to have the fundamental point of reference for the rest of culture, which would otherwise become disoriented and disorienting. A culture without a personal knowledge of God and without a knowledge of the face of God in Christ is a culture that could be destructive, because it would have no knowledge of the necessary ethical bearings. In this regard, I think, we really have a profound cultural and human mission, which opens people to all the wealth of the culture of our time but also provides the criterion, the discernment to test what is true culture and what might become anti-culture.
This is the task of the priest today, especially in regards to the youth.

When speaking of the relationship between a priest and young people, Pope Benedict said, "There is no doubt that a personal relationship with the educator is important and demands a certain amount of time so that he and the young people may get used to each other."

The Holy Father noted especially the years between 16 and 19 in which "the personality is formed: it is an inner journey of great importance, of great existential growth." As such, he suggested an assignment of three years for each Parochial Vicar so that they might establish a relationship with young people and still be able to receive a few assignments as a young priest in order to "become acquainted with other contexts, learn about other situations in other parishes and thus enrich his human skills."

In this response, the Pope Benedict sees "that both needs can be reconciled: on the one hand, the young priest can have different experiences to enrich his own human experience; and on the other, the need to be with young people for a certain length of time, to be able to introduce them into life, to teach them to be human people, is recognized."

I am now in my fourth year as the Parochial Vicar here at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, and I expect to be able to have fifth year here before being assigned to another parish, either as Parochial Vicar or as Pastor (the latter seems more likely).

I certainly cannot argue with the Holy Father's suggestion, but I'm also grateful for the possibility of another year here.

Let us pray that even without a number of assignments the Lord will grant to me the skills that will be necessary in the years ahead.

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