Friday, February 27, 2015

A Lesson From the Habilitation Drama

By far, the most dramatic moment in the very orderly life trajectory of Joseph Ratzinger was the rejection of his habilitation thesis, the requirement necessary to hold a chair at a German university.

Michael Schmaus, his second reader, informed him of the decision "very directly and without emotion that he had to reject my habilitation thesis because it did not meet the pertinent scholarly standards. I would learn details after the appropriate decision by the faculty. I was thunderstruck. A whole world was threatening to collapse around me. What was to become of my parents, who in good faith had come to me in Freising, if I now had to leave the college because of my failure? And all of my future plans would likewise collapse, since these, too, were all contingent on my being a professor of theology. I thought of applying for the position of assistant pastor in the parish of Saint Georg in Freising, which came with a house; but this solution was not particularly consoling." Milestones, 107

That a priest five years into the priesthood could establish a permanent place for himself and for his family is a reality largely foreign to the diocesan priesthood today. Term limits have all but put an end to any notion of that, except perhaps for a very small elite, e.g. intellectuals.

Both Georg Ratzinger and Joseph Ratzinger were, we could say, "career" priests, in a positive sense. They dedicated themselves to a career, to making a name for themselves, to furthering their personal talents, within the priestly ministry, and were largely supported in that, and achieved it, for the good of the Church.


Today, in the diocesan priesthood this sort of thing is apparently largely discouraged.

In any case, it is nice to see that the future Pope experienced a hiatus of what many clerics today experience their entire lives, through no fault of their own. Just simply because they do not get the position, which they never coveted anyway.

The moral of the story, especially given the abdication, seems to be, it's OK to look after yourself. God is OK with that, always under the law of God and of the Church and the requirements of one's state in life.

In the end Joseph chose the professor priesthood over the public ministry, and he says God told him so! Now, two years into the retirement, he still maintains that it was necessary. It is very instructive that the will of God here ended up agreeing with the intention Joseph Ratzinger had from the start.

I do not say this in a critical spirit but rather in a very Catholic spirit.

Mother Teresa used to say you will never regret what you do for the love of God. We have a funny idea as Catholics that our desires and ambitions are to be rejected. Saints serve God with all their hearts, minds, souls and strengths and need not repent for it. The world is all the better for having known them.
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