When looking at the conference programme before setting off I saw that the first morning was due due to begin at 8.30am with a lecture on Three Patristic Texts on the Priesthood. This looked like a daunting topic for an early morning start. However Fr Carola`s talk brought to life the teaching of Ss Gregory Nazianzus, John Chrysostom and Gregory the Great and made them relevant to our age and situations. Fr Joseph Carola SJ has been Professor of Patristic Theology at the Gregorian University (in Rome) since 2002. When the opportunity for questions came after the talk the topic of priests facing a crisis in their vocation and leaving active ministry came up. Fr Carola spoke of how quite a number of his former pupils at the Greg have left active ministry. It is a question of knowing that a priest will eventually face a crisis and for there to be support systems to help a priest at that stage to help him get over this and remain faithful to his vocation. Unfortunately this is still not well provided for and priests are left to sink or swim. I`m glad I was one of the many who bought a copy of Fr Carola`s new book ( just published this month) entitled Conformed to Christ Crucified: Meditations on Priestly Life and Ministry which consists of Father`s sermons and reflections on this theme. The book is published by the Gregorian and Biblical Press.
Next we heard from Fr Dodaro OSA the director of the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome. His talk was entitled The Priest as sinner in the thought of St Augustine and dealt with the Donatist view of the clergy as spiritual superstars such that if a priest was found to be less than perfect it greatly troubled the Donatist laity as for them the efficacy of the sacraments if not their validity depended on the sanctity of the minister. While it is easy to fall back on the theory of ex opere operato, Fr Dodaro spoke of Augustine`s awareness of the priest as sinner and the need to avoid putting the priest on a pedastal in today`s Church. There must be a way for the priest to convey that he too needs forgiveness from God and needs the prayers rather than praise of his congregation.
The third talk of the morning was by Mgr Feichtinger of the CDF who spoke on The Hermeneutics of the Inquisition which was not as might be deduced from the title a look at the work of the CDF but an exploration of the philosophical background to the `Hermeneutic of Continuity`.
In the evening, after dinner (where we were joined by the Australian ambassador to the Holy See) we were treated to a talk by Blackfen`s Fr Tim Finigan ( pictured above in mid-speech). Fr Finigan`s experiences as a seminarian seemed familiar to the conference. (`Take a stone out of a bag and pretend you are that stone and what do you want to say` etc) He recounted a visit by Mother Teresa to the English College where she caught sight of what was the must-have book of the time, `I`m OK. You`re OK` which moved her to say `Well I`m not OK and you`re not OK. That`s why we need Jesus.`! Fr Finigan echoed the thought I often have ( and the last words I ever said to bishop Kevin Dunn before his death) which is that I wake up every morning and no matter how bad the weather or whatever problems there are, I thank God that Ratzinger is Pope. Father also asked us to thank God for Pope John Paul II who started the fight back against the collapse of the Church. Father`s speech was very warmly received.
And after that I retired for the night.