Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter to the Seminarians, recounts his experience in December 1941 when he was “drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: ‘Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed’. 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 Pope notes that today, the situation is different. “Many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a ‘job’ for the future, but one that belongs more to the past.” One could often hear even parents – after being confided by their son that he wanted to become a priest – would say: “What can you get from that?”
But I think the Pope’s diagnosis fits more appropriately in the first world countries like USA, Spain, Germany, etc. Though there are particular similar cases in the Philippines, they are not yet so common. Stories like parents putting obstacle on their son’s vocation often end up in the Primetime Drama special of a national TV.
Here in Spain, for instance, a young lad’s decision to enter the seminary would raise more than one eyebrow. “What has happened to that boy?” “Isn’t he doing well with his career?” Encouraging the seminarians, the Pope says: “You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing because people will always have need of God.”
Priests still have a future. In a sense, this is what the Pope wants to convey especially to the young people in a highly industrialized world. Oftentimes the vision of a dark future for priests is what prevents young candidates from discovering their priestly vocation. One’s personal concept of success as defined in terms of good and stable job, big salaries and a comfortable life makes the possibility of serving God through His Church something like a nightmare for some.
But the future of priests is not determined by these parameters. Authentically successful life is more than just having big salaries, a stable job and material comfort. Real success is when you find authentic meaning to your existence: why are you here and where are you going. There is real joy in giving one’s life for the good of others. I think, in this sense, the priests still and will always have a future.
The Pope’s reason for affirming that priests still have a future is decisive. He says, “People will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the Universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity.”
A priest’s life still has a future because people will always need God to give meaning to their existence. People will still priests because they will always need God. “Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people.”
Lastly, priests still have a future because, as the Pope rightly observes, “God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others.” Perhaps, this is something that seminarians must reflect every day. God needs you to bring Him to others. Psychologists say that one of man’s deepest needs is the need to be needed. Well, here it is: “It does make sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.”