After my teaching session at Wonersh today, I checked my Google Android phone for the Vatican Bollettino and was delighted to read the Holy Father's Letter to Seminarians. I thought that both staff and students would be keen to see this asap so I wrote a "tweet" in felt pen on the "Breaking News" noticeboard in the Ambulacrum (the main throroughfare on the ground floor.)
It is a beautiful and heartfelt letter addressed to men studying for the priesthood. There is much there for the students to ponder and for others to rejoice in. I felt that it had the characteristic of a father-figure speaking to younger men who might be discouraged or nervous at times because of the assault that some sections of the media have relentlessly engaged in over recent years against the priesthood.
The beginning of the letter is striking since Pope Benedict recalls his own military service for which he was drafted and the Lieutenant's contemptuous dismissal of his vocation to the priesthood, saying that in the "new" (i.e. Nazi) Germany, priests would no longer be needed. He comments:
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.The letter is imbued with a genuinely priestly spirit, speaking of the role of the priest in celebrating the Eucharist, the importance of the sacrament of penance, and the part that popular piety has to play in the life of the people of God.
As a teacher of theology, I smiled at his fatherly encouragement of the seminarians in their theological studies. My own role is to teach dogmatic theology. At Wonersh I do the course on Sacramental Theology, and at Parkminster I am working through all the various tracts of dogma. Pope Benedict said:
What we call dogmatic theology is the understanding of the individual contents of the faith in their unity, indeed, in their ultimate simplicity: each single element is, in the end, only an unfolding of our faith in the one God who has revealed himself to us and continues to do so.I know that my colleagues who teach Canon Law will be delighted to read the Holy Father's encouragement to seminarians in their subject:
But you should also learn to understand and – dare I say it – to love canon law, appreciating how necessary it is and valuing its practical applications: a society without law would be a society without rights. Law is the condition of love.Near the end of the letter, Pope Benedict says:
Dear seminarians, with these few lines I have wanted to let you know how often I think of you, especially in these difficult times, and how close I am to you in prayer. Please pray for me, that I may exercise my ministry well, as long as the Lord may wish.I know that seminarians around the world will be encouraged by the Holy Father's prayerful concern for them, and we all pray that the Lord will wish Him to exercise his ministry ad multos annos.