Joseph Ratzinger's youthful years were not easy, experiencing the Nazi regime and a hostile attitude towards people of faith, especially Catholics. The future pope has told the story of witnessing Nazis beating the parish priest prior to the celebration of the Eucharist.
We don't have a crystal ball to see what's around the corner but it was clear that God had a plan for Fr. Ratzinger who went on to become a well known and respected professor of theology, providing notable contributions to the Second Vatican Council.
Much has been written regarding his contributions to the church as Archbishop and later Cardinal, well known in the Roman Curia, most notably as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, among other high profile positions.
As Catholics, we see Pope Benedict XVI as the Vicar of Christ for our family of faith - it may be difficult to picture him as a young priest, an empty book with chapters of ministry and pastoral service waiting to be written. Now we know that this book is indeed filled with pages upon pages of service, counsel, prayer and witness - all elements that each one of us is called to as people of faith.
On the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, perhaps we can best leave it to the Pontiff himself to share his own reflections on the importance of priests in our world. Below you'll find an excerpt from his letter to seminarians, released in October of 2010. It's a good reminder to us all - in a world that may suggest otherwise, there is still plenty of room for the priesthood:
"When in December 1944 I 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. Today the situation is completely changed. In different ways, though, many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a “job” for the future, but one that belongs more to the past.
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, 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.
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. God is alive. He has created every one of us and he knows us all. He is so great that he has time for the little things in our lives: “Every hair of your head is numbered”. God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time."So to the 24 year old discerning today, we need you. And lots more like you. To Pope Benedict XVI we say thank you for saying yes to the call and for 60 years of shepherding your flock, from Germany to Rome and to our entire global faith community. Happy Anniversary, Grazie & Danke!
Photos: CNN, Archdiocese of Toronto