Pope Benedict XVI Letter to Seminarians

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?

On the Feast of St Luke, October 18, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to seminarians. He is very fatherly and encouraging. It may be found here. It has a great opening:

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.

 The National Socialists announced the new age, an age without God and therefore without priests, with great fanfare, confidence, and violence, and this as a benefaction to mankind and the future. The secular prophets are with us still, still confident of a world without God, and therefore without priests, but with less fanfare and violence. But as Benedict says, “where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence.”

The youth need not euphoria or violence, but the joy and peace that come from the knowledge of God. They need priests to teach them, counsel them, and bring them the sacraments. As I said in a previous post, the father is a sign of some greater. Fr. Bouyer said, the man as father “is its bearer or transmitter much more than its cause.” We need priests because we yearn for that greater reality. We need the revelation of God transmitted to us. Tradition is transmitted, handed down, to us. The priest is the bearer of good news.

I think there is a deeper connection between the opening reference to the Nazi commander and the subsequent scripture passage. Benedict selects simple but powerful saying of our Lord: “Every hair of your head is numbered”. Recall — “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.” Mt 10:29 Man measures and disposes things with confidence, buying dear and selling cheap. The National Socialists placed a low premium on the lives of so many. And in the age of “technical mastery of the world and globalization” the temptation for reduction and cheapening of human life continues apace. But with the heavenly Father, not so.  The tiny sparrows are with the Father, and all men have been redeemed at a great premium, the sacrifice of the Son.  With the Father we find the true measure, the goodness of creation and grace of the cross.

The priest reminds us of the humble but true perspective for life:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.

According to Lumen gentium the ministerial priest has a role essentially different from the laity :

The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. #10

So indeed how right he is, Pope Benedict XVI, in the concluding sentence of the opening paragraph — “it does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.”.

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