Cardinal Mauro Piacenza stated this in an address Monday at a colloquium in Ars that centered on the theme of "Priestly Celibacy: Foundations, Joys and Challenges." The three-day conference, organized by the Society of John Mary Vianney and the Ars Shrine, ended Wednesday.
"In a world which is gravely secularized, it is ever more difficult to understand the reasons for celibacy," the cardinal acknowledged.
He continued, "However, we must have the courage to ask ourselves, as the Church, if we wish to resign ourselves to such a situation, accepting the progressive secularization of society and of culture as an unchangeable fact, or if we are prepared for a task of a profound and real new evangelization at the service of the Gospel, and thus of the truth of man."
The prelate asserted, "I hold, according to that meaning, that the reasoned support of celibacy and adequately evaluating its worth in the life of the Church and the world might represent some of the most effective means to overcome this secularization."
He added, "What else could the Holy Father Benedict XVI mean when he says that celibacy shows that 'God enters into the reality of our time?'"
"The reduction of celibacy to a mere ecclesiastical law, common in some environments, is to be absolutely overcome in light of the papal magisterium," Cardinal Piacenza pointed out.
He continued: "It is a law only because it is an intrinsic demand of the priesthood and of the configuration to Christ that the sacrament determines.
"In this sense, formation for celibacy, above and beyond every human and spiritual aspect, must include a solid doctrinal dimension, because it is with difficulty that one lives that which one does not understand."
The cardinal noted that "the debate concerning celibacy, which is reignited periodically over the centuries, does not contribute to the serenity of the younger generations in coming to an understanding of a fact that is to determinant of the sacerdotal life."
He urged, "We must not betray our young!"
"We must not lower the level of formation, nor, in fact, what the faith proposes," the prelate exhorted. "We must not betray the holy people of God, which awaits saintly pastors, such as the Curé of Ars."
He added, "We must be radical in the sequela Christi!"
"Let us not be afraid of the fall in the number of clerics," Cardinal Piacenza urged. "The number decreases when the temperature of the faith is lowered, since vocations are a divine affair and not a human one, and they follow the divine logic, which is foolishness from a human point of view. Faith is called for!"
"Celibacy is a question of evangelical radicalism," he affirmed.
"The essential question, then, is not to direct the debate so much to celibacy as to the quality of the faith of our communities," the cardinal stated.
He continued, "Could a community which lacks great esteem for celibacy, as an awaiting for the Kingdom or as a Eucharistic yearning, be truly said to be alive?"
The prelate exhorted, "We must not allow ourselves to be conditioned or intimidated by a world without God, which does not understand celibacy and that would like to remove it."
"On the contrary," he said, "we must recuperate the reasoned understanding that our celibacy offers as a challenge to the world, placing its secularism and agnosticism in profound crisis and crying out, through the centuries, that God is present and active!"
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