Monday, October 18, 2010

Pope Benedict's Letter to Seminarians

Today, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to seminarians, that is, to people like me who are currently studying to become Catholic priests. I find it interesting that he sent the letter today, because I spent all of last night making notes on his book, In the Beginning.  That book is the shortest of the books on our reading list for that class, but I still managed to get seven pages of notes out of it.

The letter he wrote today has several important points to make, and because I'm currently in a "making notes on things Pope Benedict has written" mode, I'll list these things here. Of course, my commentary on what the Pope says is intermingled with my notes on what he says.
  • The world will always need priests, because the world will always need God.
  • Community is a necessary part of the seminary, as it is a necessary part of any authentic spirituality.
  • The priest must live in constant intimacy with God, so we can lead others to God.  How can we lead others to God, if we do not know God ourselves? In fact, I believe a personal relationship with God is an important thing to have, not only for the priest, but for all people.
  • The priest should have a particular concern for and dedication towards the Eucharist, which is the source, summit and center of the life of the church.
  • In addition to the sacrament of communion, the priest should have a particular concern for the sacrament of confession.  Confession leads people to a true knowledge of themselves.  We must not let indifference overcome our desire for self-improvement, our attempt to grow in holiness.  To ignore confession is dreadful, because to do so is to ignore God's grace.
  • Confession is also good, because it softens our hearts to the struggles of others. Through confession, we become more humble and more compassionate.  We also develop a greater sense for the unity of all humankind through the sacrament of confession; it strengthens our connection to everyone else.
  • The Pope wants us to retain an appreciation for popular piety. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I think he is referring to particular modes of devotion, like the Divine Mercy chaplet or a particular emphasis on a certain saint.
  • The seminary is a time for study. We must not forget the rational, intellectual roots of the Catholic Church, which has always searched for the truth.
  • "I can only plead with you: Be committed to your studies! Take advantage of your years of study! You will not regret it." This is certainly good to keep in mind, seeing as we have just come out of midterms, and many people are feeling rather unhappy about their classes.
  • The Pope lists all the fields of study we encounter in the seminary and encourages us to study all of them. He puts particular emphasis on canon law, for "law is the condition of love".
  • The time in the seminary should include not only spiritual growth, but also personal growth. The priest must be a fully integrated, fully mature person. Today in particular, we can see the disastrous results of certain priests who did not properly integrate the virture of celibacy within themselves, and as a consequence, they acted out sexually.  Only a truly mature person can accept the value of authentic celibacy.
  • Today, unlike in the past, most seminarians had jobs in the outside world before entering the seminary. As a result, the different people in the seminary can have vastly different backgrounds, and boy is this true here!  My class has a banker, a physicist, and a fisherman, among others.  But despite these differences, we must remember what we have in common.  As said earlier, community is an essential part of any authentic spirituality, and it is especially essential to seminary life. We must grow and support each other in mutual self-giving, as all members of the church must do.
  • The letter ends with these consoling and comforting words from the Holy Father: "Dear seminarians, with these few lines I have wanted to let you know how often I think of you, especially in these difficult times, and how close I am to you in prayer. Please pray for me, that I may exercise my ministry well, as long as the Lord may wish. I entrust your journey of preparation for priesthood to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, whose home was a school of goodness and of grace. May Almighty God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
So that's the letter that Pope Benedict wrote today.  When I lead the walking rosary tomorrow, I will certain include the Pope in our intentions.


Anonymous said...

You are going to be the coolest priest who ever lived just because you play Nancy Drew :D

Alana said...

I guess I don't exactly have a "religion", but I definitely have a lot of respect for you and what you chose to do with your life. To believe in something so fervently that you'd make it your career, and to have so much faith about something without questioning anything or without actually seeing it is something that I can't bring myself to do, although I do admit I would probably benefit from it.

I'm sure you'll be an excellent priest, Michael! :)

Michael Kelley said...

Though I'm not Catholic myself, I can respect you greatly for the person you are. And, I will pray for your studies and life as you enter into the ministry. May God bless you, and give you the strength to glorify the name of Jesus every day in the continual renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).

Anonymous said...

I just have one question...
Why are priests necessary for confession? Did God not tell us that we can open up to Him whenever we want? He's always with us, so why must a Priest and all these rituals be involved?

Kira said...

Anonymous 3:39--I can try to answer that question, seeing as I am Catholic myself. I think that we can't just have our sins forgiven ourselves, we need to go to a priest to get the sin off our souls. We must be truly sorry for our sins to be forgiven ... Our sins must be forgiven through confession. It's actually quite hard to explain, and maybe I'm not the best person to be explaining it, but I guess I just did. Oh well. Sorry if this explanation doesn't help much. :-( Not sure what you mean by "these rituals" ... confession and going to church?

Anonymous 3:39 (Ok I should really come up with an actual name. I'm not really anonymous anymore...) said...

Sorry, it doesn't answer it, because we can be truly sorry without a priest, no? What does a priest have to do with our feeling sorry? I still don't see the need for a Priest to be involved...

Oh, and perhaps "rituals" wasn't the right word. Perhaps I should brush up on my Catholic knowledge :) I thought there were other things involved.

Regarding "confession" -- I suppose maybe that's the ritual I thought I was talking about? Whether in your home, or at church with a Priest present, or in a jail cell, or wherever you happen to be, you can pray to God, no? Ask Him for forgiveness? I'm going to look through my Bible for a certain passage I remember... had to do with praying in a closet... Not literally of course, but I think it means something like "on your own time". Isn't a relationship with God personal anyway? For all Christians, and not just priests? It's a great thing to have a Priest involved, but I don't think there needs to be an "inbetween" between you and God.

This is in no way an argument or anything; I'm just learning about other branches of Christianity. I myself am a Protestant.
Unfortunately I don't go to church, but the reason there is because I don't have a driver's licence. If I could take myself, I would. (And I will) :)

Michael Gray said...

@ Anonymous - Oh, okay. Well, like I said, if all you want to do is feel sorry for your sins, no priest is needed. It's not the job of the priest to make you feel bad about yourself, after all. :)

But still, feeling sorry for your sins is only Step #1. Catholics believe you have to make penance (one of the other names for confession) before the sins are forgiven. That's the way it usually works in real life; people generally don't forgive you for something unless you make it up to them somehow.

Kira said...

Anonymous, if you feel that way, that's completely okay. :-) I was just trying to answer a difficult question ... and pretty much failed at it.