Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Pope on the hermaneutic of continuity and priestly formation

The Pope has made some important remarks in the last few days, in the context of the ad limina visit of the bishops of Brazil.

The official English version (I've been wondering whether I should learn Croatian, Portuguese or one of the other shall we say less commonly standard languages for which texts appear on occasion quite quickly on the Vatican website) is not available as yet, so here are the key parts courtesy of Zenit.

The problems of a vast country

After his opening welcome, the Pope started off with some sentiments that will have resonance for Australia's bishops, on the problems of ministering over vast tracts of territory, and dealing with an occasionally hostile state:

"...In fact, only God's great heart can know, keep and govern the multitude of sons and daughters that he himself engendered in Brazil's immense vastness. In the course of our conversations these days, some of the challenges and problems you are facing have come to light, as the archbishop of Campo Grande mentioned at the beginning of our meeting. We are impressed by the distances that you yourselves, as well as your priests and other missionary agents, have to cover to serve and pastorally encourage your faithful, many of them affected by the problems proper to a relatively recent urbanization, in which the state does not always succeed in being an instrument for the promotion of justice and the common good.

Do not be discouraged! Remember that the proclamation of the Gospel and adherence to Christian values, as I stated recently in the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" "is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development."....

The importance of good priestly formation

In our days, and concretely in Brazil, the laborers in the Lord's field continue to be few for a harvest that is large (cf. Matthew 9:36-37). Despite the shortage we perceive, the adequate formation of those who are called to serve the people of God is truly essential.

For this reason, in the context of the current Year for Priests, allow me to pause today to reflect with you, beloved bishops of Western Brazil, on the most important task of your episcopal ministry, which is fostering [the vocation] of new pastors.

Although God is the only one able to awaken in the human heart a call to the pastoral service of his people, all members of the Church should question if they see and feel the profound urgency of this mission and have a real commitment to it.

One day, when some of the disciples were hesitating, noting that there were "still four months to go" before the harvest, Jesus replied: "I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for the harvest" (John 4:35). God does not see as man does! The haste of the good God is dictated by his desire that "all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).

There are many who seem to want to live the whole of life in a minute, others who wander in tedium and inertia, or abandon themselves to violence of all sorts. Deep down, these are no more than desperate lives that look for hope, as demonstrated by an extended, though at times confused, need of spirituality, a renewed search for points of reference to take up again the journey of life.

The disastrous secularization of the Church post Vatican II

Esteemed brothers, in the decades following the Second Vatican Council, some interpreted the openness not as a demand flowing from the missionary ardor of the Heart of Christ, but as a step toward secularization, perceiving there certain strong Christian values, such as equality, liberty, solidarity.

They showed themselves ready to make concessions and discover areas of cooperation. We witnessed the interventions of some ecclesiastical officials in ethical debates, which responded to the expectations of public opinion, but which failed to speak of certain essential truths of the faith, such as sin, grace, theological life and the last things. Without realizing it, many ecclesial communities fell into self-secularization.

Hoping to charm those who were not joining, they saw many of their members leave, cheated and disillusioned. When our contemporaries come to us, they want to see something that they do not see elsewhere, namely, joy and the hope that springs from the fact that we are with the Risen Lord.

But things are changing for the better

At present there is a new generation born in this secularized ecclesial environment who, instead of looking for openness and consensus, see how the gap between society and the positions of the magisterium of the Church, especially in the ethical field, is ever greater.

In this desert lacking God, the new generation feels a great thirst for transcendence. It is the young men of this new generation who knock on the door of seminaries, and who need to find formators who are true men of God, priests totally dedicated to formation, who give witness of the gift of themselves to the Church, through celibacy and an austere life, according to the model of Christ the Good Shepherd. Thus, these young men will learn to be sensitive to the encounter with the Lord, in daily participation in the Eucharist, loving silence and prayer, working first of all for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Beloved brothers, as you know, it is the bishop's task to establish the essential criteria for the formation of seminarians and priests in fidelity to the universal norms of the Church: It is in this spirit that reflections on this topic should be developed, [which was] the objective of the plenary assembly of your episcopal conference last April. Certain of being able to count on your zeal in regard to priestly formation, I invite all bishops, their priests and seminarians, to imitate in their lives the charity of Christ, Priest and Good Shepherd, as the holy Cure d'Ars did. And, with him, may they take as model and protection of their own vocation the Virgin Mother, who responded in a unique way to God's call, conceiving in her heart and flesh the Word made man to give him to humanity....."

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