Pope Benedict XVI has written a letter to seminarians to mark the conclusion of the Year for Priests.
In the letter published today, he tackles issues including priestly formation, the relevance of celibacy and the scandal of abuse. Drawing on his own experience, it also contains themes not only relevant to candidates for the priesthood but to the faithful in general.
The letter begins:
“When in December 1944 I was drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: “Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed”. I knew that this “new Germany” was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever. Today the situation is completely changed. In different ways, though, many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a “job” for the future, but one that belongs more to the past. You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing. Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity.”
“Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people. God is alive. He has created every one of us and he knows us all. He is so great that he has time for the little things in our lives: “Every hair of your head is numbered”. God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.”
Recalling his own time in seminary, the Holy Father then lists seven points which he considers the most important to consider: the centrality of Christ and the Eucharist, the need to continue striving to grow in holiness through the Sacrament of Penance, and the importance of studying not just in order to know useful things, but to appreciate the faith more.
Some of his most pastoral remarks have been made when he has addressed seminarians, and this text is no exception. It’s worth reading in full.
Vatican Radio has a written summary and full text.