‘What does the Lord Want of Me?’
On 6 April Pope Benedict XVI held a question-and-answer session in St Peter’s Square with young people of the Latium region of Italy, in preparation for the diocesan-level World Youth Day observed on 9 April, Palm Sunday. Here is one question, with the Pope’s response.
Your Holiness, My name is Vittorio, I am from the Parish of St John Bosco in Cinecitt. I am 20 years old and am studying educational sciences at the University of Tor Vergata.
Once again, in your message you invite us not to be afraid to respond to the Lord with generosity, especially when he suggests following him in the consecrated or priestly life. You tell us that if we are not afraid, if we trust in him, then we will not be deceived.
I am convinced that many of us, here or among those at home who are watching us this evening on television, are thinking of following Jesus in a life of special consecration, but it is not always easy to understand if this is the right path.
Can you tell us how you yourself came to understand your vocation? Can you give us some advice so that we can really understand whether the Lord is calling us to follow him in the consecrated or priestly life? Thank you.
Benedict XVI: As for me, I grew up in a world very different from the world today, but in the end situations are similar.
On the one hand, the situation of ‘Christianity’ still existed, where it was normal to go to church and to accept the faith as the revelation of God, and to try to live in accordance with his revelation; on the other, there was the Nazi regime which loudly stated: ‘In the new Germany there will be no more priests, there will be no more consecrated life, we do not need these people; look for another career.’
However, it was precisely in hearing these ‘loud’ voices, in facing the brutality of that system with an inhuman face, that I realized that there was instead a great need for priests.
This contrast, the sight of that anti-human culture, confirmed my conviction that the Lord, the Gospel and the faith were pointing out the right path, and that we were bound to commit ourselves to ensuring that this path survives. In this situation, my vocation to the priesthood grew with me, almost naturally, without any dramatic events of conversion.
Two other things also helped me on this journey: Already as a boy, helped by my parents and by the parish priest, I had discovered the beauty of the liturgy, and I came to love it more and more because I felt that divine beauty appears in it and that heaven unfolds before us.
The second element was the discovery of the beauty of knowledge, of knowing God and sacred Scripture, thanks to which it is possible to enter into that great adventure of dialogue with God which is theology. Thus, it was a joy to enter into this 1,000-year-old work of theology, this celebration of the liturgy in which God is with us and celebrates with us.
Of course, problems were not lacking. I wondered if I would really be able to live celibacy all my life. Being a man of theoretical and not practical training, I also knew that it was not enough to love theology in order to be a good priest, but that it was also necessary to be always available to young people, the elderly, the sick and the poor: the need to be simple with the simple.
Theology is beautiful, but the simplicity of words and Christian life is indispensable. And so I asked myself: Will I be able to live all this and not be one-sided, merely a theologian, etc?
However, the Lord helped me and the company of friends, of good priests and teachers especially helped me.
To return to the question, I think it is important to be attentive to the Lord's gestures on our journey. He speaks to us through events, through people, through encounters: It is necessary to be attentive to all of this.
Then, a second point, it is necessary to enter into real friendship with Jesus in a personal relationship with him and not to know who Jesus is only from others or from books, but to live an ever deeper personal relationship with Jesus, where we can begin to understand what he is asking of us.
And then, the awareness of what I am, of my possibilities: On the one hand, courage, and on the other, humility, trust and openness, with the help also of friends, of Church authority and also of priests, of families: What does the Lord want of me?
Of course, this is always a great adventure, but life can be successful only if we have the courage to be adventurous, trusting that the Lord will never leave me alone, that the Lord will go with me and help me.