Our three crises

As I see it, the current difficulty is threefold and one at the same time: the lack of priests, gaps in the formation of the clergy, and an often erroneous idea about the meaning of mission. There is a missionary trend that emphasizes political involvement or struggle and socio-economic development; this approach offers a diluted interpretation of the Gospel and of the proclamation of Jesus. The shortage of priests, the defects in their missionary activities, and a troubling absence of interior life, for lack of a prayer life and frequent reception of the sacraments can eventually cut the Christian faithful off from the wellsprings from which they ought to quench their thirst. I sometimes have the sense that seminarians and priests are not doing enough to nourish their interior life by founding it on the Word of God, the example of the saints, on a life of prayer and contemplation, all rooted in God alone. There is a form of impoverishment or aridity that comes right from the interior of the Lord’s ministers. Very often Benedict XVI and Francis have denounced careerism among the clergy. Recently, in speaking to various university communities, Pope Francis spoke these strong words: “Your intellectual commitment, in teaching and in research, in study and in the most comprehensive formation, will be all the more fruitful and effective the more fully it is animated by love for Christ and for the Church, the more the relationship between study and prayer is strengthened and made more harmonious. This is not outdated, this is the center! This is one of the challenges of our time: transmitting knowledge and offering a key for vital comprehension, not a heap of notions unconnected to one another.”

The adequate formation of seminarians, revolving around the maturation of faith and leading to personal adherence to Christ, remains fundamental. Today’s world and our egocentric, ever-changing societies scatter us by their turbulence. We are too weighed down with possessions; if we wish to create for the seminarians an atmosphere conducive to an encounter with Christ, silence and the edification of the interior man are indispensable. The fact that the issue is almost invisible makes it all the more serious. We might very well look into the seminaries that, in a number of countries, particularly in the West, are insufficiently provided for. But although this problem is indisputable, the crucial point is elsewhere. Indeed, a true seminary must be a school that leads to the “brook Cherith” (1 Kings 17:1-6), to the source of the Word of God, a place where one learns to develop a genuine interior life. A man formed by that school to become a priest prepares to pray well so as to speak about God better, for one can find words about God only after having encountered him and established personal ties with him. . . . Prayer is always the first thing. Without the vitality of prayer, the priest’s motor and that of the Church idles as a result. We must combine prayer with ongoing work on ourselves. The Church is made solely to adore and pray.