By Fr. Roy Cimagala
HE, HE, he. This is not about fashion. This is actually about the serious business of priestly formation needed for the clergy to be mature and effective in carrying out their—our, me included—evangelizing mission.
In a get-together the Pope had with parish priests and the clergy of the diocese of Rome recently, this short-pants-long-pants business came out during the question-and-answer portion.
Pope Benedict is developing this tradition of meeting the clergy for an open discussion of priestly concerns at the start of the Lenten season. Pope John Paul II used to write letters to priests on Holy Thursdays. Pope Benedict seems to go a step further by engaging them in a direct meeting.
In this last get-together, the priest who asked the first question said something to this effect: that when he was still a new priest, he felt confident he was doing very well with his homilies and talks because of his theological training and all that.
According to him, one time a believing and wise woman of his parish jolted him when she asked him when he was going to wear long pants.
She meant when was he going to tackle the real spiritual and moral problems and pastoral issues objectively, that is, going beyond the short pants of theories and motherhood statements.
These were the words used by the priest: “That woman was trying to explain to me that life, the real world, God himself, are greater and more surprising than the concepts we elaborate.
“She was inviting me to listen to the human aspect, to try to understand, to comprehend, without being in a hurry to judge. She was asking me to learn how to enter into relationship with reality, without fears, because reality is inhabited by Christ himself who acts mysteriously in his Spirit.”
It’s actually an observation many parishioners have of their priests, again highlighting the grave need for priests to take good care of our continuing and hopefully deepening formation.
With our complex and complicated world today, we priests should be up to par with the challenges. We have to learn to take things on the chin. We play a very crucial role because we actually are responsible for the care of the most fundamentally determining part of human life—one’s spiritual and moral life.
All the powers we have, all the authority and privileged dignity we receive, are geared for this purpose. Failure in this task simply means misusing or even abusing the entitlements that go with priesthood.
Well, the Pope’s reply was a study in effective and profound response to a difficult query. In summary, the Pope’s answer can be divided into four parts.
One, that priests should not ignore or belittle their theological or theoretical training. This is always important and indispensable.
Two, that this theological framework should be personalized in our own experience of faith and made concrete in our actual dealings with people. It has to be internalized and made to guide us in our affairs.
We priests actually know souls well because outside of what we know in public and externally, we know them interiorly through confession and spiritual direction. There, they bare their heart and mind. They come unmasked.
Three, that the priestly work of evangelization today, though contextualized in current situations, should not lose sight of the simplicity of the Word of God.
Priests are not supposed to focus on the technical side of the problems of the times. These have to be known and studied all right, but priests should focus more on what the Lord says to the man of today.
“We do not propose reflections, we do not propose a philosophy, but rather the simple proclamation of the God who has acted, and who has also acted with me,” he said.
We have to understand these words well. They don’t mean that we don’t do any reflecting, philosophizing and theologizing. They mean that we have to go beyond them, not stuck with them, and really do what is necessary: proclaim the Word of God.
Lastly, the Pope advised that it is important to be really attentive to today’s world and also attentive to the Lord in oneself: “to be a man of this time and at the same time a believer in Christ, who in himself transforms the eternal message into a current message.”