BRESSANONE, Italy, AUG. 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says the key for priests facing an ever increasing number of responsibilities is defining their priorities and sticking to them -- and making sure prayer is at the top of the list.
The Pope affirmed this Aug. 6 when he met with priests, deacons and seminarians of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone and answered in German six questions they asked him. The Holy Father was on vacation in the Dolomites, where he stayed at the major seminary of Bressanone.
Father Franz Pixner asked a question about "the increasing burden of pastoral care" and the problems that sometimes come with it, such as "the intense pressure of work, the lack of recognition, difficulties concerning the magisterium, loneliness, the dwindling number of priests, but also of communities of the faithful." He said that in such a context, questions arise about things such as the celibacy of priests and the involvement of women in pastoral care.
"The question is also asked how we priests, confronted by the new challenges, can help one another in a brotherly community, at the various levels of the diocese, diaconate and pastoral and parish unit," Father Pixner added.
"In my answer," Benedict XVI said, "I would like to examine two fundamental aspects: on the one hand, the irreplaceableness of the priest, the meaning and the manner of the priestly ministry today; and on the other -- and this is more obvious than it used to be -- the multiplicity of charisms and the fact that all together they are Church."
The Pope affirmed that there "will always be a need for the priest who is totally dedicated to the Lord and therefore totally dedicated to humanity. [ ] We are consigned to the Lord, separated from ordinary life, but on the other hand, we are consigned to him because in this way we can belong to him totally and totally belong to others."
He added: "Part of this, moreover, is truly making oneself available to the Lord in the fullness of one's being and consequently, finding oneself totally available to men and women. I think celibacy is a fundamental expression of this totality and already, for this reason, an important reference in this world because it only has meaning if we truly believe in eternal life and if we believe that God involves us and that we can be for him."
Time for God
Still, the Holy Father continued, "I know well how difficult it is today -- when a priest finds himself directing not only one easily managed parish but several parishes and pastoral units; when he must be available to give this or that counsel, and so forth -- how difficult it is to live such a life. I believe that in this situation it is important to have the courage to limit oneself and to be clear about deciding on priorities."
"A fundamental priority of priestly life is to be with the Lord and thus to have time for prayer," he affirmed. "I would therefore like to emphasize: Whatever the demands that arise, it is a real priority to find every day, I would say, an hour to be in silence for the Lord and with the Lord, as the Church suggests we do with the breviary, with daily prayers, so as to continually enrich ourselves inwardly, to return -- as I said in answering the first question -- to within the reach of the Holy Spirit's breath.
"And to order priorities on this basis: I must learn to see what is truly essential, where my presence as a priest is indispensable and where I cannot delegate anyone else. And at the same time, I must humbly accept when there are many things I should do and where my presence is requested that I cannot manage because I know my limits. I think people understand this humility."
Benedict XVI said that another important aspect is linked to the priest's use of time: "knowing how to delegate, to get people to collaborate."
"I am thinking of movements and of many other forms of collaboration in the parish" he explained. "[N]ew forms of collaboration should be created and interchanges encouraged.
"You rightly said that in this it is important to look beyond the parish to the diocesan community, indeed, to the community of the universal Church, which in her turn must direct her gaze to see what is happening in the parish and what the consequences are for the individual priest."
The Pope then turned his attention to another of Father Pixner's points: priestly community.
"Priests, even if they live far apart, are a true community of brothers who should support and help one another. In order not to drift into isolation, into loneliness with its sorrows, it is important for us to meet one another regularly," he said.
The Holy Father added that it is the task of dioceses to establish how to best organize priestly meetings.
"Today we have cars which make traveling easier," the Pontiff quipped, "so that we can experience being together ever anew, learn from one another, mutually correct and help one another, cheer one another and comfort one another, so that in this communion of the presbyterate, together with the bishop we can carry out our service to the local Church. Precisely, no priest is a priest on his own; we are a presbyterate, and it is only in this communion with the bishop that each one can carry out his service."