Love is most important

Deacon Michal Ceglarek from the Major Seminary in Lodz talks to Fr Leon Knabit, a Benedictine.

Fr Leon Knabit, born in 1929, joined the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec as a diocesan priest and took the perpetual vows on 15 August 1963. He was the abbot of Tyniec for many years. He is known for leading interesting TV programmes and for his popular books concerning religious issues. He is regarded as an excellent confessor and retreat giver.

Deacon Michal Ceglarek: – What do you think about the priests who have left their priesthood recently?

Fr Leon Knabit, OSB: – I am sure that they lacked confidence and perhaps faith in some cases. I am trying to explain their decisions in the following way: if I really believe that Jesus stands by me, that Jesus loves me, Jesus who has done so much for me, I cannot leave him in my thoughts and I cannot stop trusting him. Lord Jesus says, ‘Trust me. I am with you and I care for you.’

– These priests must be very hurt, and often hurt by others...

– Certainly, they are hurt. They might have endured some injustice, evil treatment, obvious inconsequence. There is always some inner crisis when they decide to leave. And the rest, e.g. some relationship with a woman, is usually a secondary reason. These priests must have had the grace to cope with their difficulties or resist possible temptations. Even when they thought that their emotions took control of their lives they should have remembered that with Christ one can manage to control feelings. Since God is always bigger than what happens to me.

– So how should we react to the opinion of those who claim that they lacked freedom in the Catholic Church, that they could not develop and when they ‘left’ the Church and priesthood they really felt free?

– This is a complete illusion. After all, these priests took the vows of obedience to their bishops; nobody forced them to enter the seminary on the conditions that were presented to them in detail. Why did they say after they had experienced difficulties in the priesthood, ‘Lord Jesus, I cannot accept it. I am not going to give you that much.‘ Evil is in the Church and we find it offensive. This is the human side of the Church and one should know this. But one cannot reform the Church on your own since it always causes some painful dilemma.

– So humility is needed?

– Surely, it is.

– What would you tell to a priest or a deacon who says, ‘I am leaving’, ‘I was stupid when I received the holy orders’, and ‘I am going to begin my life anew’?

– Think it over; consider that you betrayed Christ… But you are free, you can leave. Lord Jesus told Saint Faustina, ‘I am trying to tell people, explain it to them, warn them, sometimes I even punish them in some way but if they do not want to listen to me then I let them do what they wish.’ I know that among those priests who have left their priesthood a considerable part of them, if not the majority, regret their decisions. If someone is called to marriage he loves his wife, children, daily family ‘round.’ But when someone is to become a priest he is called to something different. And it is difficult for him to change his way. An engine looks wonderful on rails but if it pulls off the rails, if it says, ‘I am completely free, I needn’t run on rails’ and begins running on roads it will be hard since its steel wheels are not suitable for roads.

– So what kind of a person a priest should be nowadays?

– He should be the one who helps people cross to the other side of existence.

– When Benedict XVI came to Poland he reminded the priests that all their words were to lead people to heaven…

– And that love is the most important thing in doing this. Without it ‘I would be nothing.’ If a priest did not have love for people ‘nothing would help him’, as the Bible says. Therefore, speaking about a model of a priest only for our times means to narrow the problem because a priest is a priest forever, for all times. And the priest’s task will always be basically the same.

– What are the things priests need most to fulfil their missions?

– Most of all, they should be aware that they must necessarily have a relationship of friendship with Christ. And Christ gives them all the graces they need to fulfil their vocations. Many priests, especially in the West, but also here, have lost the sense of being priests. They forget that service means to lead people and to preside. Priests are needed to the existence of the Church since without them there is no Eucharist.

– Why do you think we can see a decrease in the number of priestly vocations?

– That decrease is not seen everywhere. It could be caused by the pressure of laicisation, stressing that faith and morality have no sense. And there are various unclear situations in the Polish Church and certainly, they do not bring zeal to those who consider leaving their priesthood. The issue of vetting and all the affairs in the hierarchy that have not been fully explained do not support vocations. And I do not mean some kind of depravity. Such cases have always occurred and will always occur. If Judas decided to betray Jesus today people will do similar acts since this is part of their nature. However, society expects clergy call evil all cases of evil. Society wants to have certain things solved in all aspects. And people need authorities.

– Are fewer vocations not some prediction of what has happened in Western Europe for several decades?

– By all means. God tells all people, both laity and clergy, that if they realize what they are doing in the right time and if they have the desire to be true witnesses, this phenomenon can be with all certainty stopped. We are all responsible for the Church. No one should judge other people but should rather look at his/her own conscience.

– Many ‘enlightened’ people claim that in order to avoid the situation, which has happened in the West, the formation of seminarians should be liberalized or we should find some other solution.

– Absolutely not. Liberalization will not surely bring about an increase in vocations. St Benedict did not have offices of vocations nor leaflets but after he had spent three years in the wilderness about 150 young men gathered around him, wanting to follow his way. This shows that we need true witnesses of Christ. A sensible priest can help other people discover their vocations. But a bad testimony given by some clergyman is often the pretext not to enter the seminary. So we do not need to invent new programmes. It is enough to be a witness.

Fr Leon Knabit speaks about the best way to overcome stress:
Rest is necessary to overcome stress. When I look at other people’s stresses I can see that they are most often caused by difficulties, which last for a long time, sometimes too long. And the bowstring cannot be always drawn. People need to regenerate their psyches and must have time to forget their problems for a while, must have time to trust Lord God in their matters of life. Regular cleaning prevents mess, both in finances and stock. A day of reflection or retreats has similar effects. Our order has monthly days of reflection. Then we think about our lives and leave urgent jobs aside. This helps you order many matters.
(a fragment from Fr Knabit’s book entitled ‘Sekrety mnichow’ [The Secrets of Monks].

"Niedziela" 9/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: