Saturday, 27 August 2011

Mass with seminarians

As is now usual, the Pope celebrates the Mass for seminarians during World Youth Day. Madrid was no exception. His homily, as, we know, is normal for our Holy Father, was beautiful and powerful, and it is well-worth reading in full. I hope one day, all of his writings, sermons and speeches will be gathered into a magnum opus!

Until then, a large chunk of his homily from last week appears here below, with some highlights.

Dear friends, you are preparing yourselves to become apostles with Christ and like Christ, and to accompany your fellow men and women along their journey as companions and servants. How should you behave during these years of preparation? First of all, they should be years of interior silence, of unceasing prayer, of constant study and of gradual insertion into the pastoral activity and structures of the Church. A Church which is community and institution, family and mission, the creation of Christ through his Holy Spirit, as well as the result of those of us who shape it through our holiness and our sins. God, who does not hesitate to make of the poor and of sinners his friends and instruments for the redemption of the human race, willed it so. The holiness of the Church is above all the objective holiness of the very person of Christ, of his Gospel and his sacraments, the holiness of that power from on high which enlivens and impels it. We have to be saints so as not to create a contradiction between the sign that we are and the reality that we wish to signify.
Meditate well upon this mystery of the Church, living the years of your formation in deep joy, humbly, clear-mindedly and with radical fidelity to the Gospel, in an affectionate relation to the time spent and the people among whom you live. No one chooses the place or the people to whom he is sent, and every time has its own challenges; but in every age God gives the right grace to face and overcome those challenges with love and realism. That is why, no matter the circumstances in which he finds and however difficult they may be, the priest must grow in all kinds of good works, keeping alive within him the words spoken on his Ordination day, by which he was exhorted to model his life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.
To be modeled on Christ, dear seminarians, is to be identified ever more closely with him who, for our sake, became servant, priest and victim. To be modeled on him is in fact the task upon which the priest spends his entire life. We already know that it is beyond us and we will not fully succeed but, as St Paul says, we run towards the goal, hoping to reach it (cf. Phil 3:12-14).
That said, Christ the High Priest is also the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep, even giving his life for them (cf. Jn 10:11). In order to liken yourselves to the Lord in this as well, your heart must mature while in seminary, remaining completely open to the Master. This openness, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, inspires the decision to live in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and, leaving aside the world’s goods, live in austerity of life and sincere obedience, without pretence.
Ask him to let you imitate him in his perfect charity towards all, so that you do not shun the excluded and sinners, but help them convert and return to the right path. Ask him to teach you how to be close to the sick and the poor in simplicity and generosity. Face this challenge without anxiety or mediocrity, but rather as a beautiful way of living our human life in gratuitousness and service, as witnesses of God made man, messengers of the supreme dignity of the human person and therefore its unconditional defenders. Relying on his love, do not be intimidated by surroundings that would exclude God and in which power, wealth and pleasure are frequently the main criteria ruling people’s lives. You may be shunned along with others who propose higher goals or who unmask the false gods before whom many now bow down. That will be the moment when a life deeply rooted in Christ will clearly be seen as something new and it will powerfully attract those who truly search for God, truth and justice.
Under the guidance of your formators, open your hearts to the light of the Lord, to see if this path which demands courage and authenticity is for you. Approach the priesthood only if you are firmly convinced that God is calling you to be his ministers, and if you are completely determined to exercise it in obedience to the Church’s precepts.

So, in summary...

  • Seminary is a time when seminarians prepare themselves to become apostles with Christ and become like Christ, and be with others as companions and servants on their own journeys. 
  • Time in seminary should be spent, primarily in: 
  1. interior silence
  2. unceasing prayer
  3. constant study
  4. gradual insertion into the pastoral and structural life of the Church
  • The Church is shaped by our holiness and our sinfulness, but ultimately, the source of its holiness is the Lord.
  • Priests are living signs of Christ, therefore, priests should strive to be holy themselves. Anything other than this is a sign of contraction, hypocrisy. Seminarians strive towards holiness during their time in seminary.
  • God gives everyone the grace to live their calling; priests should be mindful that their calling is to model themselves on the Lord's cross, and least strive towards that goal.
  • The heart of a seminarian should be open to what the Lord is asking him to do, particularly, in striving to live the Evangelical Counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) in sincerity.
  • Do not be afraid to unmask the false gods that are worshipped in our society!

Pope Benedict also mentions to things that seminarians (and priests) should avoid absolutely in striving to imitate Christ in his charity towards others:

Anxiety: a subjective 'feeling' and interior disposition whereby persons to worry about uncertain outcomes. This word is being eliminated from the English translation of the Embolism (after the Lord's Prayer) in the new translation of Mass, incidentally, not only because it is an in-appropriate translation and oft-misused word, but Christians have no need to be anxious and without hope, as St Paul says (1 Th 4:12-3). The new translation uses 'distress' instead; all people, including Christians, often feel distressed by external threats, not interior feelings, as modern western society tells us. Our passions should not govern our being, and anxiety, according to this understanding (rather than the psychological condition), is contrary to the Gospel. We are a beacon of hope to others. How can we be that beacon without hope burning within ourselves?

Mediocrity: At the end of the film, Amadeus, Salieri says that there is no place for mediocrity in God's glory, it means to be moderate or not very good. This doesn't mean not being good at doing things. I'm not very good at painting. We know from our Thomisic philosophy, that a being is not defined by what it does, but by what it is. The priest's being in ontologically conformed with Christ, so God doesn't want us to be moderately Christ-like. "...because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." (Rev 3:16)

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