Acton Institute Powerblog

What Makes a Good Priest?

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Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Warsaw this morning, the start of his four-day pilgrimage in intensely Catholic Poland and the home of his predecessor, John Paul II.

Pope Benedict XVI kneels during a prayer at St John’s Cathedral in Warsaw May 25, 2006. REUTERS/Max Rossi

After his welcoming remarks at the airport, the pope traveled to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist where he gave a splendid address on the meaning of the priesthood. The entire text is worth reading but here’s an excerpt:

The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life. With this end in view, when a young priest takes his first steps, he needs to be able to refer to an experienced teacher who will help him not to lose his way among the many ideas put forward by the culture of the moment. In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revealed word. Solicitude for the quality of personal prayer and for good theological formation bear fruit in life.

Exactly one week ago, the Acton Institute held a conference at the Catholic University of Lublin, where Karol Wojtyla taught for 24 years. There were many seminarians and priests present, and it was pretty clear that they weren’t there to hear about economics as such. Rather the substance of the talks was philosophical and theological, the encounter between man and God referred to by Benedict.

So what tempts priests into speaking outside of their competencies? The need to be “relevant”? The desire to be popular? To wield political power and prestige? This is an especially great temptation when priests are expected to be authorities on everything and in places such as Poland and Italy. Pope Benedict is out to make sure they stick to fundamentals and aren’t tossed about on the waves of passing fads.

If the rest of the pope’s speeches over the weekend are this solid, we are in for a real treat.

Kishore Jayabalan Kishore Jayabalan is director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute's Rome office. Formerly, he worked for the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control. Kishore Jayabalan earned a B.A. in political science and economics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In college, he was executive editor of The Michigan Review and an economic policy intern for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He worked as an international economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. and then graduated with an M.A. in political science from the University of Toronto. While in Toronto, Kishore interned in the university's Newman Centre, which led to his appointment to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York. Two years later, he returned to Rome to work for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the Holy See's lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control. As director of Istituto Acton, Kishore organizes the institute's educational and outreach efforts in Rome and throughout Europe.

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