While I wait to present to the Church our eight young brothers who will be asking to be ordained priests and deacons, I think about the beautiful missions that will be entrusted to them.
Priests need to be willing to involve themselves in the daily affairs of their people, so that faith can penetrate deep into the concrete lives of Christians. The Church needs priests who reach out to people, who enter into people’s houses, who share in their dramas and their consolations without shying away. Only through this kind of nearness will men be able to open or reopen themselves to Christ who never ceases to call.
All of these considerations make me think back to some recent experiences.
Since last September, three priests of the Fraternity and the parents of other brothers have passed away. At the funerals, I consistently saw a clear witness of joy and faith. The chant and the beauty of the liturgy brought out the peace hidden behind the tears shed for the loss of a beloved one. Nevertheless, it is not rare to meet people who live with sincere devotion, and yet consider the destiny of their loved ones with categories that are far from Christian.
This year, small groups of university students came to visit us in Rome. They were educated in the faith by their families and by adults who have accompanied them. Their seriousness is admirable. They are open, full of desire to learn, and quick to recognize a true witness of life from those who are older than them. At the same time, I often see them preparing for their future without any clear criteria to orient them. They live the faith, belong to the Church, and are committed to their friends and yet, their view of man, work and affective relationships tend to be the same as everyone else, absorbed by the milieu in which they live. As I looked at them, the expression by Madeleine Debrêl often came to my mind, in which she describes Christians as “unusual” men. But what are the elements that constitute the difference that distinguishes Christians from others?
Lately, I have been receiving news quite often from families and people who have been afflicted by suffering in various ways: struggles in the relationships between husbands and wives, the rebellion of a adopted son who lacerates the heart of his parents, the illness of a close family member, an unexpected course of life that hastened the death of a certain person, or the drawn out ordeals that involve families for years. In these situations too, I have seen inspiring witnesses, and have often perceived the light that radiates from those who have unconditionally embraced their vocation. However, the events that wound families and people permanently – infidelity in married life or couples who surrender to the pressure of doctors and reject children with illnesses – are present also among Christian people. Families who have lived these stories of solitude and unspeakable pain are, thanks to the fidelity of certain friends, able to come to the light of a new understanding and awareness, to receive pardon for their sins, and to experience a regeneration that comes from belonging to the heart of Christian community.
Lastly, I have been touched by the stories of small children who become sick and pass away. Many questions and objections arise in the wounded hearts of parents because of these events. For some, it becomes an occasion to deepen their faith, while for others, it is a scandal and they reject the faith. At times, the center of the drama is precisely the witness of the suffering children who accept their destiny with readiness. The words that they say to their parents and their friends pierce the souls of those who hear them and the innocence with which they believe in Christ shines forth with extraordinary light.
Thus, who can really enter into this life experience? Who can stay by the side of young people, looking at their future with them, or help them to rediscover who man is, and what he is made for? Who teaches others to live their illness with a sense of vocation? Who helps adults to live the suffering of children as a precious reality? And who can offer children a way to holiness? Who, in front of things that everyone says and does, and in front of professors, doctors and politicians who reason with their own criteria as if they were obvious, will ask the Christian people the simple question from the song by Roberto Grotti: “But the son of the Almighty One, Christ: what does He ask?”
As I accompany these eight young members of the Fraternity of St. Charles to receive the Sacrament of Ordination to the priesthood, I am certain that they will be companions for those to whom they will be sent. I know that they are aware of their mission in the midst of the Christian community, and that they are heeding the pressing plea of the Church to truly live out their mission in its essential form: the proclamation of Christ, the offering of the Sacraments, and the education in relationship with God and in communion with others.
May God accompany them, together with the prayer of our brothers who have gone before us in heaven.