Mystery and Gift – Charter for the Forum

Mystery and Gift - Charter for the Forum

I will conclude my summaries of Mystery and Gift with the penultimate chapter on “Being and Priest Today.” He opens with a suggestive comment about the split between progressives and traditionalists is overcome in the “today” of the priesthood Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So he says a priest should not worry about being “behind the times.” All men thirst for Christ. And the priest brings Christ in the Word, the Eucharist, and in confession. In confession, the priest is a “witness of the great miracles which divine mercy works in souls which receive the grace of conversion.”

At the heart of the “Gift and Mystery” of priesthood is the call to holiness, or “a man in contact with God.” With Isaiah, the priest is constantly aware of the holiness of God and sees this holiness descend upon man. Pope John Paul II carried the deep conviction that the priest must be holy, and must respond to a “special call to holiness.” He must be committed to the “radicality of the gospel” and “live in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience.” Celibacy, he said, has “a special fittingness.” It is a terrible tragedy that the founder of the Legionaries could have so deceived the Holy Father and lived an especially foul life in such contradiction to the Gospel. Pope John Paul II’s life and ministry remain untouched by this stain on the Church.

“Christ needs holy priests! Only a holy priest can become, in an
increasingly secularized world, a resounding witness to Christ
and his Gospel. And only thus can a priest become a guide for
men and women and a teacher of holiness. People,
especially the young, are looking for such guides.
A priest can be a guide and teacher only to the extent
that he becomes an authentic witness.” (89)

I am proud to say that I know many such priests; and as a former teacher in the seminary, I lived and worked with many young men who hear this call and are faithful to it. These “John Paul II priests” will bring much fruit to the Lord in years to come. This part of his legacy.

Also, we have the ground breaking work he did in those areas he chose as a special priority — lay apostolate, the family, and dialogue with the world of learning and culture (90).

To be engaged with the world, Pope John Paul II said that we must be “men of the word” but also intellectually prepared to engage the world. We need intellectual formation. The humanities and philosophy and theology are very important for this task he said (92). For most of all, the priest must be a “a man of knowledge in the highest and most religious sense of the term;” and he must, as must all Christians, pass on the knowledge of God as a “personal and living experience of the Mystery.”

Finally, I note that he spoke about his attempt to combine Aristotle and Thomas with currents of modern thought, such as phenomenology. The philosophy of personalism was of particular help to him.

I find this chapter particularly useful and inspiring for the Pope John Paul II Forum for the Church in the Modern World. We take these priorities of his as our own. We plan to have a special conference on John Paul II on the family in the coming year. The need for formation describe the goals we have for university education and the special outreach of the Forum. Although these were all comments about the formation for priesthood, in light of his remarks in the previous chapter on the participation of all the faithful in the priesthood (78), we can apply these principles in their own way to lay apostolate. Humanities, philosophy and theology; interdisciplinary discussion; Thomism and personalism — lifelong prayer and study, all for passing on the knowledge of God, God in all things and God above all things.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Pope John Paul II for his fruitful life and legacy, for the “gift and mystery” of his priesthood and his papacy.


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