VATICAN CITY – During a 90-minute question-and-answer session with pastors from the Diocese of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the priests to face challenges with trust that God’s love will have the last word.
The pope’s remarks were punctuated by applause and laughter, including his own, as he responded Feb. 22 to questions about youth ministry, prayer, eucharistic adoration, religious art, Scripture, theology and the activities of new church movements.
The laughter and applause came not only when the pope pointed out that several of the questions were really minispeeches, but also when he confessed that he, too, found it difficult to fulfill the biblical call to work during the day and pray at night.
Knowing that the priests were aware of his packed daily schedule, the pope said, “I must confess here that I cannot pray at night; I want to sleep.”
However, he said, the only way to give a spiritual component to every activity that makes up a modern pastor’s day is to set aside time for prayer.
“It is easier to say than to do,” he said, “but we must try.”
“The sign that we truly have prayed, that we have had an encounter with Christ, is that we are there for others,” the pope said.
At the beginning of the gathering, an annual papal tradition, Pope Benedict told the priests, “I am particularly pleased to hear from my clergy, to feel like a bishop.”
He also told them he took comfort in the fact that the Rome pastors come from several nations and include both young and old priests.
Responding to a question about incidents in which the Eucharist had been desecrated, Pope Benedict said that, when faced with any sign of evil, “we must look deeper, to the Lord who offered reparation for the sins of the world.”
While it may appear to many people that the balance between good and evil in the world is tipped toward evil, “the Lord put the immensely greater weight of good on the scale” with his death and resurrection, the pope said.
“God himself entered history,” he said, and believers are called to imitate his love and mercy, adding further to the side of good.
Asked how to be effective in youth ministry, the pope said, “unfortunately, I live fairly far (from this reality) and cannot give many concrete suggestions.”
But, he said, the key thing is to be close to young people, giving them proof that “living a Christian life is possible today.”
Most young people today “live in a world far from God and in this cultural context find Christ and the Christian life, the life of faith, difficult,” he said.
Pope Benedict said no one, young people included, should be led to think that “it is possible all at once to live a 100 percent Christian life, without doubts and sins.”
The Christian life, he said, is a continuing process of conversion, of stumbling, asking forgiveness and starting over.
The process is a source of good for others as well, he said, because when someone experiences his own shortcomings and forgiveness of his faults, he finds it easier to accept the shortcomings of others and offer them pardon.
A Rome pastor, lamenting the fact that many Catholics are ignorant of the Bible, asked the pope how priests should approach educating the faithful to read the Scriptures.
The pope said he hoped the October 2008 world Synod of Bishops would provide concrete suggestions, but in the meantime he wanted to emphasize the importance of seeing each passage as a tiny part of one large story, the story of God’s saving actions.
“It is a journey that has a direction, and Christ is its arrival point,” the pope said.
Pope Benedict also cautioned against anyone thinking they understand everything the Bible has to say.
“It is beautiful having understood a bit, but knowing at the same time that it is an unfathomable treasure waiting to be discovered,” he said.
“The word of God is always greater than we are,” the pope said in response to a question about multiple schools of theology and interpretation. “Different approaches are always needed.”
“The theologian, in his professional responsibility and capacity, must try to find paths that respond to the challenges of our time, while at the same time, being aware that all of this must take place within the faith of the church,” he said.