The Holy See’s Press Office released the transcript this weekend of a question and answer session Pope Benedict XVI held with priests from Bolzano-Bressanone, where he is spending his vacation. Among the issues addressed by the Holy Father was the way in which priests should address tensions within their ministries, as well as the administration of the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation to nominal Catholics.
During the meeting, which took place at the local Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI said in response to the tensions priests experience in their ministry, “two fundamental aspects” need to be considered: “On the one hand, the irreplaceability of the priest,” who is “completely dedicated to the Lord and therefore totally dedicated to man,” and “on the other hand—and this is even more important today—the multiplicity of charisms and the fact that together they make up the Church.”
After explaining the need to show young people that priests can “serve others in an important way,” the Pope emphasized that celibacy only has meaning “if we truly believe in eternal life and if we believe that God helps us.”
He also said that faced with very busy schedules, it is important that priests “have the courage to limit themselves and the clarity to set their priorities,” the most important one being “the time a priest spends with the Lord and therefore having time for prayer.”
Prayer helps the priest “to learn what is truly essential, to learn where my presence is truly needed as a priest and where I cannot delegate to anybody. And at the same time I should humbly accept that there are many things and moments that require my presence but that cannot be done because I recognize my own limitations. I think that such humility will be understood by people,” the Pope said.
“And with this there is something else I should understand: how to delegate and call others to collaborate,” he added.
Commenting later on the loneliness that priests often experience, Benedict XVI recalled that priests are “a true community of brothers who should sustain and help one another” in order to avoid the danger of “isolation in loneliness and sadness, and therefore it is important we get together regularly.”
“No priest is a priest all by himself. We are a presbyterate and only in this communion with the bishop can each one carry out his service,” the Pope added.
Catechesis for the Sacraments
In response to another question about what do with the children and young people who request First Communion and Conformation but do not appear to be ready to persevere in the faith, Benedict XVI confessed that “when I was younger I was stricter. I said, the sacraments are the sacraments of the faith, and therefore where there is no faith, there is no praxis of faith, and thus the sacrament cannot be conferred. And I discussed this latter with my priests when I was Archbishop of Munich. (…) As time has gone on I have come to understand that we must follow always the example of the Lord, who was very open to those on the fringes of Israel at that time as well, He was a Lord of mercy, very open—according to many official authorities—with sinners, embracing them and allowing himself to be welcomed at their dinners, attracting them to communion with Him.”
“If we can perceive even a flicker of desire for communion in the Church, a desire also of these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, I think it is fair to be more generous. Naturally of course, one aspect of our catechesis should be to make it understood that Communion, First Communion, is not an ending event, but rather demands a continual friendship with Jesus, a journey with Jesus,” the Pope continued.
“In these sense, naturally we should do everything possible in the context of the preparation of the sacraments, in order to reach the parents as well and thus make them aware of the journey they are on with the children. They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus,” the Holy Father said.
“If parents have the desire for their children to make their First Communion, this desire, often a social one, should be extended to a religious desire, in order to make a journey towards Jesus possible,” the Pope stressed.