Pope's Message To Seminarians
Our dear friend Moneybags is now called, Seminarian Matthew and is now officially a seminarian of his local diocese in Illinois, attending a seminary in Minnesota. Please pray for him. As a way of thanking him for all his hard work over the years of blogging, I would like to post the Holy Father's meeting with seminarians at the Major Seminary of Rome for a question and answer session. His message is to all seminarians and those discerning a priestly vocation.
GREGORPAOLO STANO: DIOCESE OF ORIA, 1ST YEAR (Philosophy I):
Holiness, we are in the first of two years dedicated to discernment, during which we are engaged in scrutinizing ourselves deeply. It is a difficult exercise for us because the Word of God is special, and only someone who is attentive can catch it among the thousand voices that echo within us. We ask you therefore to help us understand how God speaks to us concretely and what are the traces he leaves when He expresses himself in secret.
First, let me thank Monsignor Rector for his speech. I am already curious to know what is the text that you are writing and are trying to learn.
I am not sure if I am up to clarifying the essential points about life in a seminary but I will say what I can.
Now this first question: how can we discern the voice of God among the thousand voices that we hear every day in our world. I would say: God speaks in many different ways to us. He speaks through other persons, our friends, our parents, the parish priest, and here, through the priests to whom you have been entrusted and who guide you.
God speaks through events of our life in which we can discern an act of God. He speaks through Nature, creation. And of course, He speaks above all, in His Words, Sacred Scripture, read in communion with the Church, as well as read personally by each of us in conversation with God.
It is important to read Sacred Scripture, on the one hand, in a very personal way, and as St. Paul says, not as the words of another man or as a document of the past – as we read Homer or Virgil - but as the Word of God who is always present and who speaks to me. To learn to hear the living Word of God in a text that is historically from the past, to enter into prayer, will make of Scriptural reading a conversation with God.
St. Augustine in his homilies often said, “I have knocked several times at the door of this Word, until I could perceive what God Himself is telling me.”
On the one hand, besides this very personal reading, this personal conversation with God, in which I seek to find out what He is telling me, reading in community is also very important because the living subject of Sacred Scripture is the People of God, the Church.
Scripture was not only something private for the great writers – even though the Lord always has need of every person, of his individual response – but it grew along with persons who were involved together along the path of the People of God, and so, their words are an expression of this path, of the reciprocity between the Word of God and the human response.
Scripture lives today as it did in the past, because Scripture does not belong to the past – its subject, the People of God, inspired by God Himself, is always the same, and so the Word is always alive in its living subjects. So it is important to read Sacred Scriptures, listen to Sacred Scripture, in communion with the Church, with all the great witnesses to this Word, starting with the first Fathers to the saints of today, to the Magisterium today.
Above all, it is a Word that becomes vital and living in the liturgy, and I would say that liturgy is the privileged place where each of us enters into the ‘we' of the Children of God speaking to God. This is important.
The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words “Our Father”: only if I am one with the ‘we' in this ‘our’, only then can I find God. Only within this 'we’ which is the subject of the Lord’s Prayer can we hear well the Word of God.
That is why to me this is very important: the liturgy is the privileged place where the Word is alive, it is present; or rather, where the Word, Logos, the Lord speaks to us and puts Himself into our hands. If we listen to the Lord during this grand communion of the Church of all times, which liturgy represents, we will find Him. He opens the door to us gradually.
I would say then that this is the point towards which all the others converge: when we are each personally guided by the Lord along the path, and at the same time, we live within the great ‘we’ of the Church, where the Word of God is alive.
Then, other elements are associated to it – listening to our friends, to our priests who guide us, to the living voice of the Church itself today, in which we can also hear the voices of the events of our time and of creation - all these become decipherable in this profound context.
And so, to summarize: I will say that God speaks to us in many ways. That it is important, on the one hand, to be within the ‘we’ of the Church, tnat ‘we’ that is lived through the liturgy. And it is important to personalize the ‘we’ in our own self.
It is important to be attentive to the other voices of God, to
allow us to be guided by those who have had experience with God, in a manner of speaking, who can help us along this way, so that the ‘we’ becomes ‘us’, and I, as an individual, truly one who belongs to the ‘us.’
That is how our discernment and our personal friendship with God can grow - the capacity to perceive among the thousand voices of everyday, the voice of God, who is always present and speaks to us.
CLAUDIO FABBRI: DIOCESE OF ROME, 2ND YEAR (PHILOSOPHY II)
Holy Father, how was your life structured during the period of your formation for the priesthood and what interests did you cultivate? And based on that experience, what are the cardinal points in the formation of a priest?
I think that our life at the seminary in Freising was structured much like yours is, even if I do not know exactly what your daily schedule is.
I think it started around 6:30 or 7 with a meditation for half an hour, during which each one, in silence, talked to God and sought to prepare the spirit for the Sacred Liturgy. Then came Holy Mass, then breakfast, and lectures in the morning. In the afternoon, seminars, study time, and later, common prayer again.
In the evenings, the so-called ‘puncta,’ the spiritual director or the rector of the seminary, on different nights, would speak to us to help us find the path of meditation, not giving us a readymade meditation, but giving us elements that could help each one personalize the Word of God which would be the object of our meditation.
And that was the daily routine. Of course, there were the great feasts with beautiful liturgy, music...
But, I think, and perhaps I will come back to this later, it is important to have a discipline that precedes me so that I do not have to invent every day what I need to do, how to live; there is a rule, a discipline, which already awaits me and enables me to live each day in an orderly way.
As to my preferences, of course I followed all lectures attentively as much as I could. Initially, in the first two years, philosophy fascinated me. From the very beginning the figure of St. Augustine, and even the Augustinian current in the Middle Ages- St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscans, the figure of St. Francis of Assissi.
What I fiound fascinating above all was the great humanity in St. Augustine, for whom it was not possible to simply identify himself with the Church because he was a catechumen from the beginning, but had to struggle spiritually to find, gradually, access to the Word of God, to a life with God, until he could give the great Yes to His Church.
This was a very human way, where even today we can see how one begins to come into contact with God, how all the resistance in our nature should be taken seriously and then channeled in order to arrive at the great Yes to the Lord. And so his very personal theology won me over, something that he developed primarily through preaching.
This is important, because initially, Augustine only wanted to live a purely contemplative life, write other books on philosophy. But that was not what the Lord willed. He made him a priest and a bishop, and so the rest of his life and work developed substantially in a dialog with people who were very simple.
He had, on the one hand, to find the meaning of Scripture himself, bearing in mind what the people he would address were capable of, and the context in which they lived, to arrive at preaching a Christianity that was realistic but at the same time very profound.
Then, for me, of course, exegesis was very important: we had two exegetes who were rather liberal, but they were believers, and they fascinated us.
I can say that Sacred Scripture was the soul of our theological study: we truly lived with Scripture and learned to love it, to speak with it.
I have mentioned Patristics, an encounter with the Fathers of the Church. Our teacher in dogma was very famous then; he had nourished his dogmatic studies on the Fathers and on liturgy.
And then, a very central point for us was formation in the liturgy. In those times, there were no Chairs for Liturgy as yet, but our professor in Ministry gave us great courses in liturgy, and since he was at that time, also rector of the seminary, the liturgy that he lived and celebrated was the same liturgy that he taught and thought.
Liturgy and Sacred Scripture branded our theological formation, and for that, I am always grateful to the Lord, because those two together are really the center of a priestly life.
Another interest I had was literature. It was obligatory to read Dostoevsky – he was the rage at the time. And the great French Catholic authors - Claudel, Mauriac, Bernanos. As well as German literature, of course I read a German translation of Manzoni [Alessandro, whose I Promessi Sposi is a classic of world literature), because I did not know Italian then.
Therefore, in this sense, we were also able to shape our human horizon. Music was another great love, like the beauty of Nature and of our land. With these preferences, this reality, a long path that was not always easy, I moved ahead. And the Lord helped me to get to the Yes of priesthood, a Yes that has accompanied me every day of my life.
GIANPIERO SAVINO: DIOCESE OF TARANTO,3RD YEAR (THEOLOGY I)
To many we may seem like young men who have firmly and courageously given our Yes and have left everything for the Lord. But we ourselves know how far away we still are from a true consistency to that Yes. Like children, we confide to you the incompleteness of our answer to the call of Jesus and the daily effort of living a vocation that we feel will bring us to the way of resolution and totality. How does one respond to a vocation as demanding as that of being ministers to the holy people of God while being conscious always of our weakness and inconsistency?
It is good to acknowledge our own weakness, because then we know that we need God’s grace. The Lord comforts us. In the college of the Apostles, there wasn’t only Judas, there were good Apostles. Nevertheless, Peter tripped and fell. And many times, the Lord reproached His apostles for their slowness, their closed hearts, the little faith that they had.
That shows us that none of us is really up to the magnitude of this great Yes, to the level of celebrating ‘in persona christi’ , of consistently living in this context, of being united to Christ in His mission as priest.
And the Lord has given us, for our consolation, the parables about the net with the good fish and the bad, of the field where grain grows but also weeds. But He makes us know that He came precisely to help us in our weakness. He did not come, as He said, to call on the just, or those who assume that they are already completely just, that they no longer need grace, or those who pray in praise of themselves. But that He has come to call on those who know thesmelves to be wanting, to rouse those who know that they need the forgiveness of the Lord everyday, that they need His grace in order to move ahead.
And so, that seems to me very important: to acknowledge that we need a permanently ongoing conversion, that we should never think we have 'arrived.' St, Augustine, at the moment of his conversion, thought that he had arrived at the peak of living with God, to the beauty of the sun which is God’s word.
Then he had to understand that even the way after conversion remains a path of conversion – a way which does not lack for great views, joy, the light of the Lord, but which equally, does not lack for dark valleys where we should walk ahead with confidence, relying only on the goodness of the Lord.
That is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is important. It is not right to think that we must live so that we will never have to need forgiveness. To accept our weakness, but to stay the course, not to yield but to move ahead, and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, ever converting ourselves towards a new beginning, and therefore, grow and mature, for the Lord, in communion with Him.
Of course, it is also important not to isolate ourselves, not to think we can go ahead by ourselves. We really need the company of friends who are priests, and friends who are laymen, who can accompany us, who can help us.
For a priest, it is very important, especially in a parish, to see how people trust him and to feel alongside that trust, their generous forgiveness for his shortcomings. And our true friends challenge us and help us to be faithful to the path we have chosen.
I think that this spirit of patience, of humility, can help us be good to others, understand the weaknesses of others, help others forgive as we can forgive.
I think I am not being indiscreet when I say that today I received a beautiful letter from Cardinal Martini. I had sent him felicitations on his 80th birthday – we are of the same age.
In replying to me he wrote, 'I thank the Lord above all for the gift of perseverance.' Today, he writes, 'even the good is done ad tempus, ad experimentum. Goodness, by its very essence, can only be done in a definitive way, and to do that we need the grace of perseverance, and I pray every day,' he concluded, 'that the Lord may give me this grace.'
Coming back to St. Augustine, initially he was happy with the grace of conversion. Then he discovered that there was another grace he needed, the grace of perseverance, which we ask from the Lord every day.
And I get back to what Cardinal Martini wrote, “The Lord has given me the grace of perseverance up to now, and I hope he may continue giving it to me even in this last stage of my journey on this earth..”
I think we should have trust in this gift of perseverance, and that we should pray the Lord with humility, with tenacity and with patience, pray to the Lord that He help us and support us with the gift of true definitiveness, tht he may accompany us day after day to the end, even if the way should go through dark valleys.
The gift of perseverance gives us joy, it gives us the certainty that we are loved by God, and that this love sustains us, aids us and does not leave us alone in our weaknesses.
DIMOV KOICIO: DIOCESEE OF NICOPOLI AND ISTRUM (BULGARIA) 4TH YEAR (THEOLOGY II)
Most Blessed Father, in your comments at the Via Crucis of 2005, you spoke of the filth that is in the Church, and at the homily for the ordination of Roman priests last year, you placed us on guard against the risk of careerism, the attempt to reach a high position through the Church. How can we face this problem in the calmest and most responsible way possible?
It’s not an easy question, but I think I said earlier that the Lord knows, and knew so from the start, that there is sin in the Church, and for our humility, it is important to acknowledge this, to see that sin can be found not only in others but also in the structures of the Church, in the actions of its hierarchy, and in ourselves. We should be humble enough to learn that before the Lord, it is not the ecclesiastical position that counts, but staying in His love and making His love shine forth to others.
Personally, I think that in this respect, a prayer of St. Ignatius is very important: "Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem; accipe memoriam, intellectum atque voluntatem omnem; quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es; id tibi totum restitoì ac tuae prorsus voluntati traoi gubernandum; amorem tuum cum gratia tua mihi dones ed dives sum satis, nec aliud quidquam ultra posco".
This last part seems to me very important: to understand that the true treasure of our life is to remain in the love of our Lord and never to lose this love. Because then we shall really be rich. A man who has found a great love feels truly rich and knows this is the true pearl, that this is the true treasure of his life and not any others that he may already have.
We have found – or rather, we have been found by – the love of the Lord, and the more we allow ourselves to be touched by this love in the sacramental life, in our life of prayer, in our work, in our free time, the more we will understand that, Yes, I have found the true pearl, everything else does not matter. All the rest only counts to the degree that they have been given to me by the love of God. I am rich, I am really rich and exalted if I remain in this love. I will find in it the center of my life, its richness.
Then we allow ourselves to be guided, we leave it to Providence to do what it will with us.
I am reminded of story about St. Bakhita, this beautiful African saint who was a slave in the Sudan, and then found the faith when she came to Italy. She became a nun, and when she was much older, the bishop visited her monastery, her religious house, and did not recognize her.
He saw this tiny, already bent African nun, and he said to Bakhita: “And what do you do, sister?”
Bakhita answered, “I’m doing exactly what you are doing, Excellency.”
And the bishop, surprised, asked: “And what is that?”
Bakhita said; “Excellency, both of us want to do the same thing: to do what God wills.”
I think that is a beautiful answer. The bishop and the old nun, who was almost unable to work anymore, did, in their own ways, the same thing – they sought to to do the will of God, and that way, they did what is right.
I am also reminded of a statement by St. Augustine, who said “We are all only disciples of Christ, and his chair is much higher still, because it is the Cross. And that is the only true height, communion with the Lord, even in His passion.“
I think that if we begin to understand this, in a life of daily prayer, in a life of dedication, in the service of the Lord, then we can free ourselves of this all-too-human temptation.
FRANCESCO ANNESI: DIOCESE OF ROME, 5TH YEAR (THEOLOGY III)
Holiness, from the Apostolic lLetter Salvifici doloris of John Paul II it emerges clearly how much suffering is a source of spiritual richness for everyone who welcomes this in unity with the sufferings of Christ. How do we, today, in a world where every licit or illicit means of eliminating any form of pain is being sought, how can the priest be a witness to the Christian sense of suffering, and how should we behave with those who suffer without the riskf appearing merely rhetorical or pitying?
Yes, how can this be done? Of course, we should acknowledge that it is right to do what is possible to conquer the sufferings of humanity and to aid those who suffer – and there are so many in the world – to find a good life, and to be released from those evils that sometimes we ourselves cause, like hunger and epidemics…
At the same time, while recognizing our duty to work against the suffering caused by man himself, we should also recognize that suffering is an essential part of our spiritual maturation.
I think of the Lord’s parable about the grain that falls to the ground, that only by dying can bear fruit, but this falling to the ground and dying is not a single event but really the process of life: To fall to the earth like a grain of cereal, to die like it does, and be transformed, to become an instrument of God, and thus bear fruit.
It is not by chance that the Lord tells His disciples: “The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to suffer. Therefore, whoever wishes to be my disciple must take up his cross on his shoulders and follow me.”
In fact, we are all a little like Peter who says, “No, Lord, this cannot be. You should not suffer. We don’t want to take up the Cross. We want to create a kingdom that is more human and more beautiful on earth.”
This is wrong, the Lord teaches us. But Peter needed a long time, perhaps his whole life, to understand it. Because the legend of ‘Quo vadis?” perhaps has something true in it: to learn that truly walking with the Cross of the Lord is the way that bears fruit.
So I would say, before we address others, we ourselves should first understand the mystery of the Cross.
Certainly, Christianity gives us joy, because love brings joy. But love is always a process of losing oneself, therefore also a way of getting out of oneself, and in this sense, a painful process. But only that way is it beautiful - it matures us and makes us reach true joy.
Whoever wishes to affirm or promise only a happy comfortable life lies, because this is not the truth of man. The consequence is that then one flees to false Edens. That way, one does not arrive at joy but at self-destruction.
Christianity announces joy, yes, but it is a joy that can grow only on the path of love, and this path of love has to do with the Cross, with communion with the crucified Christ. It is represented by that grain that falls to the ground.
When we begin to understand and to accept this every day - because every day always brings with it a new dissatisfaction, some weight which can even cause pain - when we accept this school of following Christ, as the Apostles learned, then we will be capable of helping those who suffer.
It is true that is is always a problem when one who is in relatively good health and fit must console someone afflicted with a great pain, whether it is disease or the loss of love. In the face of such conditions, that we all know, then almost inevitably everything we say will tend to sound rhetorical and pitying.
But I would say that if the person feels that we are compassionate, that we wish to bear with them the Cross in communion with Christ, abovde all in praying with them, assisting them even with a silence that is full of sympathy and love, helping them however we can, then we become credible.
We should accept that perhaps initially our words may appear like nothing more than words. But if we live truly the spirit of following after Christ, then we will also find the way to be near them with our spirit. Sympathy etymologically means com-passione, with passion for another, helping him, praying, creating the trust that God’s goodness exists even in the dark valleys.
And we can also open the heart to the Gospel of Christ who is the true consoler; open the heart to the Holy Spirit, who is called the Other Comforter, the Other Paraclete, who helps us, who is always present.
We can open hearts not for our words but for the great teaching of Christ, for His presence with us. And in this way, help in order that suffering and pain may both be truly the grace of maturation in communion with Christ who was Crucified and
MARCO CECCARELLI: DIOCESE OF ROME, DEACON(Who will be ordained in the priesthood on April 29)
Holiness, in the next few months, my colleagues and I will be ordained priests. We shall go from the well-structured life of rules in the seminary to situations that are far less clear in our respective parishes. What advice could you give us so we can better live through the start of our priestly ministry?
I would say first, that it is very important even in the life of ministers of the Church, in the daily life of a priest, to keep, as much as possible, a certain discipline. That one should never miss Mass – without the Eucharist, the day is incomplete, and that is why even in the seminary, we are raised in this daily liturgy. It is very important that we feel the need of being with the Lord in the Ecuharist, that this should not be a professional obligation but a duty felt interiorly, that one should never lack for the Eucharist.
The other important thing is to take the time for the Liturgy of the Hours, and thus, for availing of this interior freedom. For all the weight of problems that there may be, praying the Office releases us and helps us to be more open and be in profound contact with the Lord.
Of course we should do all those duties that the pastoral ministry imposes on us, as parish priest, a vice parish priestor other priestly position. But we should never forget these two fixed points – the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, so that every day we have a certain order which, as I said earlier,we should not have to invent everyday. ‘Serva ordinem et ordo servabit te’, serve order and it will serve you, we have learned. And that is true.
Then, it is important not to lose communion with other priests, with our companions along the way, and not to lose our personal contact with the Word of God, with meditation.
How to do this? I have a rather simple formula – to combine preparing for the Sunday homily with my personal meditation, so the words I say will not just be words but will truly be words said by the Lord to myself, and matured in personal conversation with Him.
In order to do this, I would say to start on Monday, because if one starts to do it on Saturday, it’s too late, you will be preparing in haste, and the inspiration will not always be there because we always have other things on our mind. Therefore, I say, on Monday, simply read the text for the following Sunday, which may appear rather inaccessible to us. A little bit like when Moses said before the rocka at Mssa-Meeriba, “But how can I draw water from these rocks?”
But let it be, let the heart digest these texts – the words will work on our subconscious and everyday will become clearer. Of course, we should also refer to books if that is possible. And with this interior work, day after day, one sees how these words open up, become words addressed to me. And because I am their contemporary, the words are also addressed to others. Then I can start translating what I see in my own theological language to the language of others, but the fundamental thoughts remain the same for everyone.
And this way, one can have an ongoing contact with the Word, which does not demand too much time which we may not always have. But find a little time: that way, not only will a Sunday homily mature that will benefit others, but my own heart becomes touched by the word of the Lord: I remain in contact with Him even when circumstances leave me with little time at my disposition.
I will otherwise not dare to give other advice, because life in the great city of Rome is different from what it was 55 years ago in our Bavaria.
I think however those are the essentials: the Eucharist, the Daily Office of the Liturgy – daily prayer and conversation, no matter how brief, with the Lord, on His word that I must proclaim.
And never lose, on the other hand, friendship with your fellow priests, listening to the voice of the living Church, and be always available to the people who are entrusted to your care because it is from these people, from their suffering and from their experience of the faith, their doubts and difficulties, we can learn to look for and to find God, find our Lord Jesus Christ.
From Paparatzi Forum