Despite troubles, church is gift of God, pope tells priests

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • March 10, 2011
Pope Benedict XVI as he arrives to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass (CNS Photo)VATICAN CITY - Even if the church is beset by problems, it is still a gift of God, Pope Benedict XVI told several hundred pastors of Rome parishes.

Too often, "perhaps because of a fear of triumphalism," priests and other Catholics do not rejoice enough over the gift of being part of the church, the pope said March 10 during his annual Lenten meeting with the Rome pastors.

"Certainly, there always are difficult, negative aspects" of the church's life on earth, "but it is a beautiful gift that we can live in the church" and receive the sacraments of God's love and mercy, the pope said.

"The fact that the church is not only a gift of God and divine, but also very human" means there always will be problems and a need for penance, he said.

"The church is always threatened. There is always a danger, the opposition of the devil," who does not want there to be believers on earth, the pope said.

Christians, however, can be confident that "truth is always stronger than lies, love is stronger than hatred and God is stronger than all the opposing forces," he said.

The meeting at the Vatican began with a strong round of applause for the pope, who will turn 84 April 16 and will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination in June.

Rather than responding to the priests' questions, as he has done in the past, Pope Benedict reflected with them on a reading from one of St. Paul's letters. Only occasionally referring to his notes, he spoke for almost 40 minutes.

A priest is a servant and that means "doing not what would please me most," but what is necessary to serve others, he said.

As priests, "sometimes we have to do things that don't immediately appear spiritual and wouldn't be our choice; from the pope to the lowliest assistant pastor, we all have to do administrative and temporal work," he said.

Pope Benedict said that everything a priest says and does -- whether or not he's formally ministering to someone at the moment -- reflects on his priesthood, because the idea of someone being a "part-time priest" is impossible.

Priesthood is not an occupation a man chooses as a career, he said. "Only God can make a priest, and if there's a choice involved, it's God's."

Priests must preach the truth, the whole truth, taught by the church, and not "an ala carte Christianity according to his own tastes; he mustn't preach a Gospel according to his own ideas and theological preferences. He must not hesitate to proclaim God's whole truth, even the truth that is uncomfortable, even on themes that personally I don't like very much," the pope said.

Pope Benedict said that like St. Paul, today's priests must go forward with the Gospel knowing that sometimes they may face physical danger because of what they preach.

"St. Paul says that pure biological survival is not my priority; my primary concern must be to carry out my service and to be with Christ," the pope said.

"Being with Christ is true life," he said, and while "we certainly must care for our health and work at a reasonable pace, we also must recognize that the ultimate value is to be in communion with Christ."

Pope Benedict told the priests that it's natural that young priests are full of enthusiasm and that a priest's physical energy wanes as he ages, but "it's important that even in old age, even as the years pass, we do not lose our zeal and the joy of being called by the Lord."

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.