17 March 2009

News Flash: "We are not living on the moon!"

So said the Pope Benedict to Father Gianpiero Palmieri during his annual question and answer session with the clergy of the Diocese of Rome. Father Palmieri's posed this question to His Holiness:

In our Christian communities so many people are wounded. Where and how can we help others to come to know Jesus? And also, how can we priests build within us a beautiful and fruitful humanity?
Pope Benedict said that it is "essential" to preach with the "precious knowledge acquired in the study of theology" but that it must also be "assimiliated: from academic knowledge, which we have learned and upon which we have reflected, within a personal vision of life, in order then to reach out to other people."

This, I hope, is what began to happen with me in the first years after ordination. So far as I can tell, the first year after ordination was spent trying to figure out just what a priest did, day in and day out, and how to do it. It is one thing to study the priesthood and another thing to live it.

The second year was then spent trying to assimilate this into my own life, to answer the question, "Now that I know what a priest does, how am I a priest? How can I best be a priest with my gifts and weaknesses? How is the priesthood embodied in my life?"

After learning what a priest did and how the priesthood could be personalized in my life, I could then look about in the third year after ordination and ask, "Who are all of you?"

Naturally, in one way or another, each of these questions will need to answered each day of my life.

It may not have been the best of orders but it seems to have happened with me naturally enough in that way.

In doing so, priests must "make the great word of faith concrete, by our personal experience of faith, in time spent with parishioners," but "it is also important not to lose its simplicity." But back to the quote at hand: "We don't live on the moon!" The Holy Father continued in these words:

I am a man of this time if I live my faith sincerely in the culture of today with the mass media of today, with dialogue, with the realities of the economy, etc if I myself take my own experience seriously, and seek to adapt to this reality. In this way we are on the way to making ourselves understood by others.
In short, he says that we construct a beautiful and fruitful humanity, that we bring the Gospel to others, simply by living the faith in ever aspect of our lives. Priests do not live in some far off world but in the same world inhabited by every other person. Our lives are different, yes, but not distantly removed.

Too often, I think, some priests ignore sharing their own experiences of the faith and water down the Gospel in an attempt to reach people where they are. In doing so, the fact that the life of a priest is different from the lives of others is neglected and the proclamation of the Gospel would seem to be hindered.

To illustrate this point, Pope Benedict quoted Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: "Contemplate drinking from your own well, that is, from your own humanity."

"If you are sincere with yourself," said the Holy Father, "and begin to realize what faith is for yourself, from your human experience now, drinking from your own well as St Bernard put it, then you will also be able to say to others what needs to be said. And in this regard I think it is important to be truly attentive to today's world but also to the Lord within: to be a man of this time and at the same time a believer of Christ, who in himself transforms the eternal message into a current message for today."

Many people today claim that priests are so removed everyday life that they do not adequately know the circumstances of the day or the struggles people face today. Pope Benedict could not disagree more strongly with this claim, and convincingly argues against it:

Who knows the men and women of today better than the parish priest? The rectory is not in the world; rather it is in the parish. And people often come here to the parish priest, usually openly, with no pretext other than suffering, sickness, death or family matters. And they come to the confessional stripped of any veneer, with their very being. No other "profession", it seems to me, gives this possibility of knowing the person as he is, in his humanity, rather than in the role he plays in society. In this sense, we can truly study the person in his core, beyond roles, and learn ourselves what it is to be human, what it is to be in the school of Christ.

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