Priests Reminded That They Are a Sign of Contradiction

Congress of the Congregation for Clergy Is Under Way in Malta

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VALLETTA, Malta, OCT. 19, 2004 ( Just as Christ was a sign of contradiction, so is the Gospel and the priests who proclaim it, says a Vatican official at a major convocation of clerics.

More than 1,000 priests from 80 countries have traveled to Malta to reflect on the priestly ministry, as part of a convocation called by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy.

The theme of this international congress is “Priests, Forgers of Saints for the New Millennium — Following in the Footsteps of the Apostle Paul.”

During these days the figure of St. Paul is being presented, who spent three months in Malta after being shipwrecked when on his way to Rome as a prisoner. The apostle continued to evangelize even then.

For Archbishop Csaba Ternyac, secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, the challenge that every priest has had to face throughout the centuries is how “to live the priesthood in an authentic manner in the present age,” he told Vatican Radio.

“In fact, the priesthood is an everlasting sacramental reality, introduced in time, to make Christ contemporary,” he said.

Just as Christ “was a sign of contradiction, so is the Gospel and those who proclaim it — priests,” the Vatican official said. “It was the experience of our Teacher and of the first apostles. To sail when the wind is favorable is no great thing, but when the wind is unfavorable, it becomes a real challenge.”

“In a society that pursues success, a career, hedonism, financial standing, the young man who responds to the priestly call tries to orient his life another way, seeking not what is ephemeral but enduring values. And this is the challenge that young men love: to go against the current,” the prelate continued.

Archbishop Ternyac said that “it is necessary to constantly update the language and translate the great truths in a way that the people speak and understand.”

It is also “necessary to speak more from experience and with the testimony of life,” as Pope Paul VI emphasized when he said “the world of today has more need of witnesses than teachers,” the archbishop said.<br>
Moreover, the prelate added, it is gratuitous and repetitive to say that the Church is unable to communicate with the people.

Otherwise, “how can one explain the movement that is evident and lived around so many parishes?” he asked.

“Youth activities are growing again, prayer movements. How could young people follow their priests if the latter did not succeed in speaking to them and making themselves understood?” the Vatican official continued.

For the secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, the accusation that the Church does not make itself understood is based, rather, on “the difficulty of living the Gospel, the directions of the magisterium, especially on topics that more than ever affect the society of today: … abortion, euthanasia, divorce, genetic manipulations and other problems,” the archbishop said.

It is precisely “when priests preach with clarity the doctrine of the Gospel and of the magisterium, that they become strangely incomprehensible,” he added. “It is a great paradox, which the great philosopher Simone Weil stated thus: ‘The Catholic priest is comprehensible only if there is in him something incomprehensible.'”

The six-day congress ends Saturday.

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