This is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered on 7th February 2011 upon receiving in audience members of the Congregation for Catholic Education, gathered in their plenary assembly.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I address to each of you my cordial greeting for this visit on the occasion of the plenary meeting of the Congregation for Catholic Education. I greet Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the dicastery, thanking him for his courteous words, as well as the secretary, undersecretary, officials and collaborators.
The topics you are addressing in these days have education and formation as common denominator, which today constitute one of the most urgent challenges that the Church and her institutions are called to address. The educational endeavor seems to have become ever more arduous because, in a culture which too often makes relativism its creed, the light of truth is lacking, more than that, it is considered dangerous to speak of truth, thus instilling doubt on the basic values of personal and community life. Important, because of this, is the service carried out in the world by the numerous formative institutions that are inspired in the Christian vision of man and of reality: to educate is an act of love, exercise of “intellectual charity,” which requires responsibility, dedication, consistency of life. The work of your Congregation and the choices you will make in these days of reflection and study will certainly contribute to respond to the present “educational emergency.”
Your Congregation, created in 1915 by Benedict XV, has carried out its work for almost one hundred years at the service of the various Catholic institutions of formation. Among these, undoubtedly, the seminary is one of the most important for the life of the Church; hence, it exacts a formative plan that takes into account the context referred to above. Several times I have stressed how the seminary is a precious stage of life, in which the candidate to the priesthood experiences being “a disciple of Jesus.” Required for this time destined to formation is a certain detachment, a certain “desert,” because the Lord speaks to the heart with a voice that is heard if there is silence (cf. 1 Kings 19:12).; but required also is willingness to live together, to love “family life” and the community dimension that anticipate that “sacramental fraternity” which must characterize every diocesan presbyter (cf. “Presbyterorum Ordinis,” No. 8) and which I also wished to recall in my recent Letter to Seminarians: “one does not become a priest on one’s own. There is the ‘community of disciples,’ the totality of those who wish to serve the common Church.”
In these days you also studied the draft of the document on the Internet and formation in the seminaries. Because of its capacity to surmount distances and put people in mutual contact, the Internet presents great possibilities also for the Church and her mission. With the necessary discernment for its intelligent and prudent use, it is an instrument that can serve not only for studies, but also for the pastoral action of future presbyters in different ecclesial fields, such as evangelization, missionary action, catechesis, educational projects, the management of institutes. Also of extreme importance in this field is to be able to count on adequately prepared formators who will be faithful guides and always up-to-date, in order to support the candidates to the priesthood in the correct and positive use of the media.
This year, then, is the LXX anniversary of the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, instituted by the Venerable Pius XII to foster collaboration between the Holy See and the local Churches in the precious work of promotion of vocations to the ordained ministry. This anniversary could be the occasion to know and evaluate the most significant vocational initiatives promoted in the local Churches. In addition to stressing the value of the universal call to follow Jesus, the vocational pastoral must insist more clearly on the profile of the ministerial priesthood, characterized by its specific configuration to Christ, which distinguishes it essentially from the other faithful and puts itself at their service.
Moreover, you also undertook a revision of what the apostolic constitution “Sapientia Christiana” prescribes on ecclesiastical studies, regarding Canon Law, the Higher Institutes of Religious Studies and, recently, philosophy. A sector on which to reflect particularly is that of theology. It is important the render ever more solid the bond between theology and the study of sacred Scripture, so that the latter is really its soul and heart (cf. “Verbum Domini,” No. 31).
However, the theologian must not forget that he is also the one who speaks to God. Hence, it is indispensable to have theology closely united with personal and community prayer, especially liturgical prayer. Theology is sciencia fidei and prayer nourishes faith. In the union with God, mystery is, in some way, savored, it comes close, and this proximity is light for the intelligence. I would also like to stress the connection between theology and the other disciplines, considering that it is taught in Catholic Universities and, in many cases, in civil ones. Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of the “circle of knowledge,” to indicate that an interdependence exists between the different branches of knowledge; but God is He who has a relationship only with the totality of the real; consequently, to eliminate God means to break the circle of knowledge.
In this perspective, the Catholic universities, with their very precise identity and their openness to the “totality” of the human being, can carry out a valuable work of promoting the unity of knowledge, orienting students and teachers to the Light of the world, “the true light that enlightens every man” (John 1:9). These are considerations that are valid also for Catholic schools. First of all, there must be the courage to proclaim the “great” value of education, to form solid persons able to collaborate with others and to give meaning to their life. Today there is talk of inter-cultural education, object of study also in your Plenary Assembly.
Required in this realm is a courageous and innovative fidelity, which is able to combine the clear awareness of one’s identity with openness to others, because of the exigencies of living together in multi-cultural societies. Emerging also for this end is the educational role of the teaching of the Catholic religion as scholastic discipline in inter-disciplinary dialogue with others. In fact, this contributes widely not only to the integral development of the student, but also to knowledge of the other, to mutual understanding and respect. To attain such objectives particular attention must be given to the care of the formation of leaders and formators, not only from a professional point of view, but also religious and spiritual, so that, with the consistency of one’s life and with personal involvement, the presence of the Christian educator will be expression of the love and witness of the truth.
Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for all that you do with your competent work at the service of educational institutions. Always keep your gaze turned to Christ, the only Teacher, so that with his Spirit he will render your work effective. I entrust you to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, Sedes Sapientiae, and I impart to all my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.