Juan María Molina, Schoenstatt Fathers seminarian •
In August, I returned to Chile with a question: what will continuing on the journey to the priesthood be like under these circumstances? It is clear that the reality of the Church in the world is not the best, but it is something altogether very different to be studying and living in the center of the storm…
The first half of 2018 had me living in Germany at our community’s central house for a time of prayer and study. My seventh year of study towards the priesthood began this way. I had lived in Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay. Of all of these places, the sojourn in Chile will surely be the most important or at least the longest. In Germany – amidst a freezing winter – while experiencing snow for the first time, I received echoes of Pope Francis’ visit to Chile. Apparently that was only the beginning of a year of contingency for the Church. What was unique was the Pope was the great promoter of a purification in the Church— embracing the victims and confronting those responsible.
Many of the consequences were indirectly very well-known: accusations of abuse multiplied, webs of those practices were discovered, along with the abuses, necessary hidden practices were revealed, all of the bishops tendered their resignations in an unheard of act for the world-wide Church, and petitions of excuses with dissimilar credibility multiplied. Surely less indirectly, there were also other types of consequences: suspicions, pastoral discouragement, loss of apostolic initiative, revision of structures and pedagogical practices, accounts, accusations, disappointment, sadness and an enormous uncertainty.
I saw all of this at a distance until I returned to Chile in August with a question: how to continue the journey to the priesthood under these circumstances? It is clear that the reality of the Church in the world has not been the best, but it is something very different to be studying and living in the center of the storm. In this, I am more aware that in this country there is a historic-cultural substratum that has become a cauldron of a particular culture for these types of practices, especially the place that my community occupies in one country and in another is different. I still remember the shame I felt, when upon entering the novitiate, a Chilean brother flaunted the number of community brothers they had who were bishops. That brother abandoned the road to the priesthood, and today is a good father to his family. The fate of some of those brother bishops is now known.
Ending this contingent year, I am encouraged to share a personal synthesis of what it is means to me to journey towards the priesthood amidst these circumstances. As a means of memory, one of the first expressions of this new time is an accusation made in some graffiti put on one of the outer walls of the seminary for some months: “pedophilia.” And regrettably, we know of cases that proved to be true.
- Journeying towards the priesthood after the abuses is to journey purposefully in the footsteps of Jesus he traveled in our midst. It has become a slogan: “to put Christ in the center.” For me, it means to go from the logic of control to contemplation. It is to get off center to acknowledge that neither life nor vocation comes from me, but Christ gives them. Thus it is to receive life as it comes. This exercise in contemplation breaks the temptation to want to control, as if the existence of God depended on what I would do.
- Journeying towards the priesthood after the abuses is being more connected to the world. United to the former, there is another fundamental change: to acknowledge that the world is better than how it is depicted. I am sorry that the suspicion before novelty, before what does not fall neatly in our framework, of what was always done this way… is so rooted in us. It makes us feel attacked by invisible enemies and we think we are always situated on the correct side. We are suspicious of those who denounce abuses. We are suspicious of those who are abused – yes! I still hear discourses making the abused responsible for being abused! We are suspicious of the laity’s intentions. We are suspicious of women’s intentions and of feminism. We are suspicious of the means of communication. We are suspicious of our superiors. Once again I see in this a marked cultural footprint: it seems that Chileans are distrustful by nature. Nevertheless time after time, I experience a reality that is better than what I thought. Thus the invitation Jesus extends to Zacchaeus – for Zacchaeus – in this year – to come down quickly (LK 19:1), He also makes the same invitation to me, so that I can also come down soon from the moral watchtower in which we have often placed the priesthood and that we live in humble communion with the world.
- Journeying towards the priesthood after the abuses has been much better with women. Proof of the former, I submit the comforting experience of being spiritually accompanied by a woman as evidence. She is over 50 years of age; she is a religious in the community of the Servants of the Holy Spirit. Her contribution does not only rest in being a woman because she has had wonderful preparation for her task. Nevertheless the fact of being a woman contributes vision and a perspective that is new for me. In my case, it occurred more by chance than by making myself a liberal, but I have experienced how much women have been in supporting our journey towards the priesthood.
- Journeying towards the priesthood after the abuses is to check oneself over in order to become responsible. This context has obliged me to confront an uncomfortable question, but a necessary question: how close was I to abusive practices or realities? Do I recognize dynamics of this type in my formation, in the community, in my pastoral circle? It is true that abuse can be an inscrutable danger for our times. Nonetheless, I personally saw it was necessary to go through that examination of conscience to allow myself a critical, mature and responsible look with the clamor of the times. I especially think that the renovation is more probable that it is made from my unprejudiced and restless youth than from far away desks or combing gray hairs, and not because I am better, but because Bilardo cannot play with three forwards.
- Journeying towards the priesthood after the abuses involves doing it in synod, aware of ones own weakness, and that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. I acknowledge that many models so often pontificated today don’t hold up. In some cases, it is true that they engendered unhealthy conduct, and in other cases, their generosity is put to the test. It is rare to see in young priests the fear that some of their practices could be considered abusive. The less dangerous route seems to be to do nothing, go with some bureaucracy, or find refuge behind some study. I hope this fear of making a mistake is something only transitory, because I also am aware that a new model cannot be reached through a meticulous process, some over meditated metaphysical principles and then applied. In these circumstances, to make or to propose becomes very complicated. Such attitudes would be not to know the cultural reality, finite, limited from man himself. It seems to me that the journey is done together, dialoguing together, building together, dreaming together and acknowledging ourselves as community.
- Journeying towards the priesthood after the abuses is to journey looking towards the future. In synthesis, I have the impression that after these events nothing else can be the same. Even though it may sound pretentious, the present seems to demand a new St. Francis of Assisi capable of rebuilding the Church. More modest than the vertigo of the inexorable change, I see the possibility of being bearers of a new priesthood. The fullness of this new priesthood does not come through a return towards an original foundation, but towards a future to be discovered and built, perhaps following the tracks of the former points.
Paraphrasing Father Kentenich, I allow myself to affirm that according to the Plan of Divine Providence, it should be the present crisis, with its powerful impulses, an extraordinarily advantageous means for us in the work of our sanctification. It is this sanctification that the times demand of us. She is the shield to wear, the sword with which to fight for the realization of our desires.
Original Spanish: Translation: Carlos Cantú, Austin, TX USA – Edited: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA