Fr. Rainer Herteis, born in 1975, received his priestly ordination on May 6, 2006, in the Diocese Eichstätt (Germany). The story of his life and of his vocation are closely connected with Medjugorje. In June 2007, he was in Medjugorje. Lidija Paris spoke with him.
Fr. Herteis, tell us how you became a priest?
I was born with reduced vision. Already in the kindergarten, the doctors determined an illness of the retina, which is medically incurable. A metabolic disturbance, which led to it that, when I was 25, I could see only very little light. As the doctors were giving me very little hope to see again, I met a woman who told me: I am going to pray for you. I was about 15 when she prayed for me for the first time. I felt a very strong warmth, and I concluded that it could come only from God. This was for me the first experience that God was a living God who can hear our prayers, a God who loves us, and who is there for us.
At this age, I began to seek physical healing… but I always found something else… never the healing of my eyes, but other, much greater gifts: the love of God the Father, the Holy Spirit, the fruit of joy within me. In Medjugorje, I came to know the Church. I came here for the first time in 1991. This first coming remained outwardly fruitless. However, a seed had been sown in my heart, which came up only 6 years later… during the Pentecost holydays 1997, when I came for the second time to Medjugorje, again with the desire to be physically healed… For me, physical healing was always the reason to walk in the Kingdom of God… It happened during German Mass at 9 o'clock. Suddenly my heart was burning in a spiritual sense. I was suddenly in love with the Sacraments of the Church! I had suddenly the desire to stand in front, to speak to people about Jesus, to say Mass, and particularly to sit in the confessional in order to help people to find again joy and peace.
Did you go to the school, do you have a graduation?
I finished the High School in 1996, it went almost normally, except that I was given enlarged test sheets and more test time. Afterwards, I studied music for 3 years… Already during the music studies, I felt that this would not fill my life. In 1997, my vocation was already there, in my heart. In 1999, I began to study theology. My bishop said to me: it is a matter of a heart that is burning for Jesus and for people. In today's world, physical handicaps can be amended with the today's technology. He encouraged me. Since 1997, I was coming each year to Medjugorje, and through these trips, my vocation became stronger and stronger. In the priests’ seminary, I have seen many coming and going again. My vocation, however, was becoming stronger from day to day… thanks to the regular visits to Medjugorje.
This growth, I mean to look for physical healing and to always receive from God something else, is important for all Christians… our notion of what God should do for us is often somehow distorted…
The meaning of my illness is that I was in-born into the Catholic Church. This is where God wanted to bring me. There is a word in the Bible that says: it is better to come to heaven with an eye than to fall into eternal doom with both eyes… Jesus has not given me physical healing, he wanted me to discover the spiritual world. The desire to be healed is still there, but my real desire now is that as much as possible souls come to the way of holiness. I pray for the gifts of the Spirit, in order to be able to help many souls on this way. My prayer life has changed, and by my increasing blindness, my inner eye was opened.
Many are handicapped in different ways. How is it possible to conceive one’s own handicap as something positive, as a grace of God? How is it coming to this step?
It is possible only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. During a retreat, I have consciously given my life into the hands of God. “Jesus, you are my Lord, my life belongs to you, you may do with me whatever you want.” Then, others have prayed over me for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then joy came into my heart. Then I have noticed that my blindness, my cross, my suffering, hold me away from many things that are keeping me away from God. This is only possible if you give meaning to your suffering, your cross, your handicap: I am led to God, it keeps me away me from many things, I can also offer it up, so that many souls come to the faith.
It was always told that one should be healthy in order to be ordained a priest or to become a religious. Which role played your bishop?
Since 1984, we have a Canon in the Canon Law, which says that also blind men can be ordained. A trained layman is entitled to them to help them at the altar. Bishop Mixa relied however on the experience, the handicapped ones that he knows, who are working very well for the Kingdom of God. And he also relayed on the example of John Paul II.
How do you read Mass?
With the help of a tape, which I wear around my neck. On this tape, I read the Mass texts. I have all the texts in the computer with acoustic output. A long preparation for each Mass. For me, that is a time of prayer, I am often interiorly deeply touched and moved. I have also a permanent deacon who helps me.
How can one accept the assistance of another, the fact that you are always dependent on someone’s help?
It requires above all the step that I am finding freedom in faith, in the spiritual world. There, I am completely free. If I am dependent on someone who is supposed to pick me up and makes me wait, in this time I do not despair, I am not bored, but in this time I can always pray… or prepare the homily… One must also learn humility: I need assistance, and that it is important in the spiritual sense. It is a humiliation, but I offer it up. “Lord, I am offering this to you for holiness of the priests”, or something like that… The readiness to offer up, the readiness to become humble, the freedom in the Spirit that the prayer life is always possible… the capacity to accept the perfect helplessness… finally, we are all dependent on God.
Parents very often ask themselves whether the handicap of the child has to do with their own sin.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus says: neither he nor his parents have sinned. This is to be to the glory of God.
As a priest, you are called to live a spiritual fatherhood. In your relative dependence, how are you finding the necessary inner strength?
By living a life of faith where one lives what one says. Listening, hearing, giving advice… I am asking this from the Holy Spirit. Those who come to me for confession or for a talk are often glad that I do not see them! It is a certain protection for people. They also notice that I can listen, and that I am helping them thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit. They say: this priest has a wire to Heaven!
What do the faithful expect from a priest?
That he gives the Sacraments in such a way that they have something for their life. And that he is authentic, that he lives the faith and speaks in such a way that they understand him. And that he has a genuine prayer life. The priest, who prays the Rosary, cannot be lost. It is also good, if a priest recognizes his own gifts and talents and lives them in the Holy Spirit. Then the crosses and the handicaps are not that heavy.