Encouraging and Uniting Our Priests: The Real Message of Benedict XVI’s New Book

By Giuseppe Pellegrino

Amidst all the controversy surrounding the book, has anyone stopped to actually read and reflect on the majestic words and profound theological reflection offered to the Church in the excerpts published Sunday in Le Figaro of the new book From the Depths of Our Hearts?

Underneath the din and darkness of the seemingly endless shouting match occurring in the modern Church, Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah have offered a beautiful reflection on the meaning of the priesthood that is meant to encourage our priests in prayer and unity, bolster the faith of the laity, and remind the world that the Church is the Bride of Christ. This is no small thing in the midst of the present ecclesial and cultural confusion. It sure is tempting to find fault with the authors or with the text and lament the numerous problems they didn’t talk about. But, just for a few moments, give yourself a gift — stop to ponder the tremendous beauty of what they did courageously choose to write about: the irreplaceable witness of the celibate Catholic priesthood.

Here are some of the more powerful passages, each one of which deserves to be prayerfully reflected on. Please consider sharing these with a priest you know; it may bless him and encourage him more than you realize!

The Reason for Writing at This Time:

We live in the sadness and suffering of these difficult and troubled times. It was our sacred duty to recall the truth of the Catholic priesthood. For through it, all of the beauty of the Church is implicated. The Church is not only a human organization. She is a mystery. She is the mystical Bride of Christ. This is what our priestly celibacy unceasingly recalls to the world.

Isn’t it refreshing to hear this so plainly stated?

The Love of the Cross at the Center:

The Cross of Jesus Christ is the radical act of love which actually accomplishes the reconciliation of God with the world marked by sin. For this reason, that event, which in itself is not of a cultic nature, represents the supreme act of adoration of God. In the Cross, the “catabatic” beam of the descent of God and the “anabatic” beam of the offering of humanity to God become one single action. Through the Cross, the body of Christ becomes the new Temple at the Resurrection. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church and humanity itself are unceasingly drawn into this process and implicated in it. In the Cross of Christ, […] a new religious cult is instituted. The love of Christ, which is always present in the Eucharist, is the new act of adoration. This new unity of love and cult is certainly an extraordinary task entrusted to the Church that each generation must accomplish anew.

Isn’t it refreshing to hear Church prelates so clearly proclaim the cross of Jesus Christ as our salvation?

The Priest (Man) as Bridegroom of the Church (Woman):

[T]he Church has always considered marriage as a gift granted by God in the earthly paradise. However, the marital state concerns man in his totality, and since the service of the Lord equally requires the total gift of man, it does not seem possible to simultaneously live both vocations. Thus the aptitude to renounce marriage in order to place oneself totally at the disposition of the Lord became a criterion for the priestly ministry. As for the concrete form of celibacy in the ancient Church, it still right to emphasize that married men could receive the sacrament of Orders only if they committed themselves to respecting sexual abstinence, living a so-called marriage “of Saint Joseph.” Such a situation seems to have been completely normal during the first centuries of the Church.

Isn’t it refreshing to hear that a man is called to healthy self-sacrificing, all-encompassing love for a woman, in imitation of Saint Joseph?

Renouncing All Compromises so as to Put God at the Center:

Without the renunciation of material goods, there can be no priesthood. The call to follow Jesus is not possible without this sign of freedom and of renouncing all compromises. I believe celibacy has great significance as an abandonment of having an earthly domain and one’s own circle of family life; celibacy even becomes truly essential so that our approach towards God can remain the foundation of our life and express itself concretely. This means, of course, that celibacy with its demands must penetrate all the attitudes of one’s existence. It cannot reach its full significance if we conform ourselves to the rules of propriety and the attitudes of life that are commonly practiced today. There can be no stability if we do not put our union with God at the center of our life.

Wouldn’t the priesthood look quite different if more men lived this way? To say nothing of the episcopacy?

 Remembering His Own Ordination:

I keep alive in my memory the remembrance of the day when, on the eve of receiving the tonsure, I meditated on this verse of Psalm 16. I suddenly understood what the Lord was expecting from me at this moment: he wanted to have my entire life, and, at the same time, he totally trusted in me. Thus, I could consider that the words of that psalm applied entirely to my destiny: “The Lord is my inheritance and my chalice: my life is in your hands. The part that falls to me is my delight; I even have the most beautiful heritage” (Psalm 16:5-6). […] On the eve of my ordination, it was deeply impressed on my soul what it means to be ordained a priest, beyond all the ceremonial aspects: it means that we must unceasingly be purified and taken over by Christ so that it is He who speaks and acts in us, and ever less we ourselves. It appeared to me clearly that this process of becoming one with him and giving up what belongs to us lasts a lifetime and unceasingly includes both liberations as well as painful renewals.

How can we help our priests to remember the joy of their first calling?

The World Needs Men Who Will Keep Watch In Prayer:

What does it mean to be a priest of Jesus Christ? […] The essence of the priestly ministry is defined in the first place by the fact of standing before the Lord, keeping watch for Him, being there for Him. […] This means for us that we must hold ourselves before the Lord who is present, that is to say that it points to the Eucharist as the center of the priestly life. […] The priest should be someone who keeps vigil. He must be vigilant in the face of the menacing power of evil. He must keep the world awake for God. He must be someone who remains standing firm against the current of our times. Firm in the truth. Firm in his commitment to the service of good. To hold ourselves firm before the Lord always also means taking care of others with the Lord, who, in his turn, takes care of us along with his Father. And this must mean taking Christ in his care, his Word, his truth, his love. The priest must be firm, courageous, and even ready to suffer outrages for the Lord. […] The priest must be a person full of rectitude, vigilant, who holds himself firm. To all this there is added the need to serve. […] If the liturgy is a central duty of the priest, this equally means that prayer must be a priority that must be always learned anew and ever more profoundly at the school of Christ and the saints of all times.

Isn’t it refreshing to be reminded that the call to prayer is the essence of the priesthood? Can we help our priests have the courage to be men who “keep watch” more than they are “administrators”?

The Meaning of the Word “Holy”:

The word “Holy” expresses the particular nature of God. He alone is the Holy One. Man becomes holy in the measure that he begins to be with God. To be with God means to set aside what is only the self and become one with the entire will of God. However, this liberation of the self can be very painful, and it is never accomplished once and for all. However, by the term “sacrifice” one can also understand priestly ordination in a very concrete manner, in the sense that it implies that the living God radically claims a man in order to bring him into his service.

Do we have the courage to set ourselves aside radically for God, each in his own state of life?

Celibacy as a Joyful Gift for Both Priest and People:

Priestly celibacy rightly understood is a liberation, although at times it is a trial. It allows the priest to establish himself in all coherence in his identity as spouse of the Church. The plan to deprive the communities and the priests of this joy is not a work of mercy. I cannot in conscience, as a son of Africa, support the idea that the peoples being evangelized should be deprived of this encounter with a fully-lived priesthood. The peoples of the Amazon have the right to a full experience of Christ the Bridegroom. We cannot offer them “second-class” priests. On the contrary, the younger a Church is, the more it needs to meet with the radicality of the Gospel.

Have we taken time lately to thank our priest for giving up his life to spend it with us?

A Plea for Unity:

We do it in a spirit of love for the unity of the Church. If ideology divides, the truth unites hearts. Examining the doctrine of salvation can only unite the Church around her Divine Master. We do it in a spirit of charity. This perspective will be the best bulwark against the spirit of division and politics but also against the spirit of indifference and relativism.

Don’t we all need to condemn others a bit less and unite in mutual prayer a bit more?

All of the excerpts of From the Depths of Our Hearts printed here are translated from the original French published in Le Figaro on Sunday, January 12, 2020.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email