The Year For Priest June 2009-June 2010
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Q: Holiness, I am Mathias Agnero and I come from Africa, specifically from the Ivory Coast. You are a theologian-Pope, while we, when we succeed, barely read some book of theology for formation. It seems to us, however, that a break has been created between theology and doctrine and, even more so, between theology and spirituality. One feels the need that study not be wholly academic, but that it nourish our spirituality. We feel the need of it in the pastoral ministry itself.
At times, theology does not seem to have God at the center and Jesus Christ in the first "theological place," but there are instead diffuse tastes and tendencies; and the consequence is the proliferation of suggestive opinions that allow the introduction in the Church of non-Catholic thought. How can we not be disoriented in our life and in our ministry, when it is the world that judges the faith and not vice versa? We feel ourselves disoriented!
Benedict XVI: Thank you. You touch upon a very difficult and painful problem. There really is a theology that above all seeks to be academic, to appear scientific and forgets the vital reality, the presence of God, his presence among us, his speaking today, not only in the past. St. Bonaventure already distinguished two forms of theology in his time; he said: "There is a theology that comes from the arrogance of reason, which seeks to dominate everything, makes God pass from subject to object that we study, while he should be subject that speaks to us and guides us."
It is really this abuse of theology, which is arrogance of reason and does not nourish faith, but obscures the presence of God in the world. Then, there is a theology that seeks to know more out of love for the beloved, it is stimulated by love and guided by love, it seeks to know the loved one more. And this is true theology, which comes from love of God, of Christ, and seeks to enter more profoundly in communion with Christ. In reality, the temptations are great today; imposed above all is the so-called "modern vision of the world" (Bultmann, "moderns Weltbild"), which becomes the criterion of all that is possible or impossible. And thus, it is precisely with this criterion that everything is as always, that all historical events are of the same sort, excluded in fact is the novelty of the Gospel, the eruption of God is excluded, the true novelty which is the joy of our faith.
What should be done? I would say first of all to theologians: Have courage! And I would like to say a big thank you also to so many theologians who do a good job. There are abuses, we know it, but in all parts of the world there are so many theologians who truly live by the Word of God, nourish themselves by meditation, live the faith of the Church and wish to help so that the faith is present in our day. To these theologians I would like to say a big "thank you."
And I would say to theologians in general: "do not be afraid of this specter of scientific nature!" I follow the theology of '46; I began to study theology in January of '46 and hence I have seen almost three generations of theologians, and I can say: the theories that at that time, and then in the '60s and '80s, were the newest, absolutely scientific, absolutely almost dogmatic, in the meantime have grown old and are not longer of any value! Many of them seem almost ridiculous. Hence, one must have the courage to resist what is apparently of a scientific nature, not subject oneself to all the theories of the moment, but to really think from the great faith of the Church, which is present in all times and opens to us access to truth.
Above all, also, we must not think that positivist reason, which excludes the transcendent -- which cannot be accessible -- is true reason! This weak reason, which presents only things that can be experienced, is really an insufficient reason. We theologians must use the great reason, which is open to the grandeur of God. We must have the courage to go beyond positivism to the question of the roots of being. This seems to me to be of great importance. Hence, one must have the courage of the great, ample reason, have the humility not to subject oneself to all the theories of the moment, to live from the great faith of the Church of all times. There is no majority against the majority of the saints: the true majority are the saints of the Church and we must be oriented to the saints!
Then, to seminarians and priests I say the same thing: think that sacred Scripture is not an isolated book: it is living in the living community of the Church, which is the same subject in all centuries and guarantees the presence of the Word of God. The Lord has given us the Church as living subject, with the structure of bishops in communion with the Pope, and this great reality of bishops of the world in communion with the Pope guarantees to us the testimony of the permanent truth. Let us have trust in this permanent magisterium of the communion of bishops with the Pope, which represents for us the presence of the Word. And then, let us also have trust in the life of the Church and, above all, we must be critical.
Certainly theological formation -- I would like to say this to seminarians -- is very important. In our time we must know sacred Scripture well, also, in fact, against the attacks of sects; we must be really friends of the Word. We must also know the currents of our time to be able to respond reasonably, to be able to give -- as St. Peter says -- "reason of our faith." Formation is very important. But we must also be critical: the criterion of the faith is also the criterion with which to see theologians and theologies. Pope John Paul II gave an absolutely sure criterion in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Here we see the synthesis of our faith, and this Catechism is truly the criterion to see where there is an acceptable or not acceptable theology. Hence, I recommend reading, the study of this text, and thus we can go forward with a critical theology in the positive sense, that is, criticism against the tendencies in vogue and open to the true novelties, with the inexhaustible profundity of the Word of God, which reveals itself new in all times, also in our time.
Priest Is Formed by Christ’s Charity Itself"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 13, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before and after praying the midday Angelus with crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
The Year for Priests concluded a few days ago. Here in Rome we experienced some unforgettable days with the presence of more than 15,000 priests from every part of the world. So, today I would like to give thanks to God for all the good things that have come to the universal Church this year. No one could ever measure them but certainly they see them and still more they will see their fruits.
The Year for Priests concluded on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is traditionally the “day of priestly sanctification”; this time it was so in a very special way. In fact, dear friends, the priest is a gift from the Heart of Christ: a gift for the Church and for the world. From the Heart of the Son of God, overflowing with charity, there stream all the goods of the Church and in a special way it is the origin of the vocations of those men who, conquered by the Lord Jesus, leave everything to dedicate themselves entirely to the service of the people, following the example of the Good Shepherd. The priest is formed by Christ’s charity itself, that love that moved him to give his life for his friends and also to pardon his enemies. Because of this priests are the first builders of the civilization of love. And here I think of many priests, known and unknown, some elevated to the honors of the altar, others whose memory remains indelibly in the faithful, perhaps in a small parish community -- as happened in Ars, that village of France where St. John Marie Vianney undertook his ministry. There is no need to add words to what has been said of him in recent months. But his intercession must accompany us from now on. May his prayer, his “Act of Love,” that we have recited so many times during the Year for Priests, continue to nourish your colloquy with God.
There is another figure whom I would like to recall: Father Jerzy Popie?uszko, priest and martyr, who was proclaimed “Blessed” just last Sunday in Warsaw. He exercised his generous and courageous ministry alongside those who worked for freedom, for the defense of life and its dignity. His work in the service of goodness and truth was a sign of contradiction for the regime that governed Poland at that time. The love of the Heart of Christ led him to give his life, and his witness was the seed of a new springtime in the Church and society. If we look at history we can observe that so many pages of authentic spiritual and social renewal have been written by the contribution of Catholic priests, animated only by the passion for the Gospel and for man, for his true religious and civil liberty. How many initiatives of integral human promotion have begun in the intuition of a priestly heart!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust all the priests of the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart -- whose liturgical memorial we celebrated yesterday -- so that by the power of the Gospel they may continue to build in every place the civilization of love.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
[After the Angelus the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially the group of faithful from Seychelles. Last Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I had the joy of concluding the Year for Priests, marked by moving moments of community prayer and adoration. Let us continue to remember all priests in our prayers, thanking Christ for this great gift of his love and asking him to keep them in his grace as faithful friends and ministers. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome and a blessed Sunday!
© Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Spanish, he said:]
I cordially greet the Spanish-speaking groups that have participated in this Marian prayer, particularly the faithful from Colombia and Mexico, as well as the members of the Brotherhood of Our Father Jesus of Nazareth and Holy Mary of Sorrows, of Jaen.
Precisely in this Andalusian diocese, and specifically in the city of Linares, the beatification of Manuel Lozano Garrido took place yesterday. [He] was a faithful layman who knew how to irradiate the love of God with his example and his writings, even among the sufferings that confined him to a wheelchair for nearly 28 years. At the end of his life, he also lost his sight, but he continued to win hearts for Christ with his serene joy and his unwavering faith.
Journalists can find in him an eloquent testimony of the good that can be done when one's pen reflects the greatness of the soul and is put at the service of truth and noble causes. Happy Sunday.
[Translation by Kathleen Naab]
[In Italian, the Pope said:]
I would like first of all to recall with joy the proclamation of two new blesseds, both of whom lived in the last century. Yesterday in Spain, Manuel Lozano Garrido was beatified. He was a layman and journalist who, despite sickness and handicap, worked with Christian spirit and fecundity in the field of social communications. This morning in Slovenia, Cardinal Bertone, as my legate, presided at the final celebration of the National Eucharistic Congress, in which he proclaimed blessed the young martyr Lojze Grozde. Grozde was particularly devoted to the Eucharist, which nourished his indestructible faith, his capacity for sacrifice for the salvation of souls and his apostolate in Catholic Action to bring other young people to Christ.
Papal Homily at End of Year for Priests
"The Priesthood ... Is not Simply Office, but Sacrament"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 11, 2010 - Here is the Vatican translation of the address delivered today by Benedict XVI at the papal Mass on the feast of the Sacred Heart that marked the end of the Year for Priests.
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Dear Brothers in the Priestly Ministry,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Year for Priests which we have celebrated on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the holy Curè of Ars, the model of priestly ministry in our world, is now coming to an end. We have let the Curé of Ars guide us to a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry. The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ’s words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation – words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood – words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite it to him.
The priesthood, then, is not simply "office" but sacrament: God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings – who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word "priesthood". That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year. We wanted to reawaken our joy at how close God is to us, and our gratitude for the fact that he entrusts himself to our infirmities; that he guides and sustains us daily. In this way we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist – and that God is indeed waiting for us to say "yes".
Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation. We have to beg for workers for God’s harvest, and this petition to God is, at the same time, his own way of knocking on the hearts of young people who consider themselves able to do what God considers them able to do. It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the "enemy"; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers.
Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in "earthen vessels" which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be a priest: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).
We are celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in the liturgy we peer, as it were, into the heart of Jesus opened in death by the spear of the Roman soldier. Jesus’ heart was indeed opened for us and before us – and thus God’s own heart was opened. The liturgy interprets for us the language of Jesus’ heart, which tells us above all that God is the shepherd of mankind, and so it reveals to us Jesus’ priesthood, which is rooted deep within his heart; so too it shows us the perennial foundation and the effective criterion of all priestly ministry, which must always be anchored in the heart of Jesus and lived out from that starting-point.
Today I would like to meditate especially on those texts with which the Church in prayer responds to the word of God presented in the readings. In those chants, word (Wort) and response (Antwort) interpenetrate. On the one hand, the chants are themselves drawn from the word of God, yet on the other, they are already our human response to that word, a response in which the word itself is communicated and enters into our lives. The most important of those texts in today’s liturgy is Psalm 23(22) – "The Lord is my shepherd" – in which Israel at prayer received God’s self-revelation as shepherd, and made this the guide of its own life. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want": this first verse expresses joy and gratitude for the fact that God is present to and concerned for humanity. The reading from the Book of Ezechiel begins with the same theme: "I myself will look after and tend my sheep" (Ez 34:11). God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind. I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered. God looks after me. He is not a distant God, for whom my life is worthless. The world’s religions, as far as we can see, have always known that in the end there is only one God. But this God was distant. Evidently he had abandoned the world to other powers and forces, to other divinities. It was with these that one had to deal. The one God was good, yet aloof. He was not dangerous, nor was he very helpful. Consequently one didn’t need to worry about him. He did not lord it over us.
Oddly, this kind of thinking re-emerged during the Enlightenment. There was still a recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way. But wherever God’s loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry.
It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me. "I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10:14), the Church says before the Gospel with the Lord’s words. God knows me, he is concerned about me. This thought should make us truly joyful. Let us allow it to penetrate the depths of our being. Then let us also realize what it means: God wants us, as priests, in one tiny moment of history, to share his concern about people. As priests, we want to be persons who share his concern for men and women, who take care of them and provide them with a concrete experience of God’s concern. Whatever the field of activity entrusted to him, the priest, with the Lord, ought to be able to say: "I know my sheep and mine know me". "To know", in the idiom of sacred Scripture, never refers to merely exterior knowledge, like the knowledge of someone’s telephone number. "Knowing" means being inwardly close to another person. It means loving him or her. We should strive to "know" men and women as God does and for God’s sake; we should strive to walk with them along the path of friendship with God.
Let us return to our Psalm. There we read: "He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me" (23:3ff.). The shepherd points out the right path to those entrusted to him. He goes before them and leads them. Let us put it differently: the Lord shows us the right way to be human. He teaches us the art of being a person. What must I do in order not to fall, not to squander my life in meaninglessness? This is precisely the question which every man and woman must ask and one which remains valid at every moment of one’s life. How much darkness surrounds this question in our own day! We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus, who felt compassion for the crowds because they were like a flock without a shepherd. Lord, have mercy on us too! Show us the way! From the Gospel we know this much: he is himself the way.
Living with Christ, following him – this means finding the right way, so that our lives can be meaningful and so that one day we might say: "Yes, it was good to have lived". The people of Israel continue to be grateful to God because in the Commandments he pointed out the way of life. The great Psalm 119(118) is a unique expression of joy for this fact: we are not fumbling in the dark. God has shown us the way and how to walk aright. The message of the Commandments was synthesized in the life of Jesus and became a living model. Thus we understand that these rules from God are not chains, but the way which he is pointing out to us. We can be glad for them and rejoice that in Christ they stand before us as a lived reality. He himself has made us glad. By walking with Christ, we experience the joy of Revelation, and as priests we need to communicate to others our own joy at the fact that we have been shown the right way.
Then there is the phrase about the "darkest valley" through which the Lord leads us. Our path as individuals will one day lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where no one can accompany us. Yet he will be there. Christ himself descended into the dark night of death. Even there he will not abandon us. Even there he will lead us. "If I sink to the nether world, you are present there", says Psalm 139(138). Truly you are there, even in the throes of death, and hence our Responsorial Psalm can say: even there, in the darkest valley, I fear no evil. When speaking of the darkest valley, we can also think of the dark valleys of temptation, discouragement and trial through which everyone has to pass. Even in these dark valleys of life he is there. Lord, in the darkness of temptation, at the hour of dusk when all light seems to have died away, show me that you are there. Help us priests, so that we can remain beside the persons entrusted to us in these dark nights. So that we can show them your own light.
"Your rod and your staff – they comfort me": the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church’s ministry, of the priest’s ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God’s gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd’s staff – a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.
At the end of the Psalm we read of the table which is set, the oil which anoints the head, the cup which overflows, and dwelling in the house of the Lord. In the Psalm this is an expression first and foremost of the prospect of the festal joy of being in God’s presence in the temple, of being his guest, whom he himself serves, of dwelling with him. For us, who pray this Psalm with Christ and his Body which is the Church, this prospect of hope takes on even greater breadth and depth. We see in these words a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist, in which God himself makes us his guests and offers himself to us as food –as that bread and fine wine which alone can definitively sate man’s hunger and thirst. How can we not rejoice that one day we will be guests at the very table of God and live in his dwelling-place? How can we not rejoice at the fact that he has commanded us: "Do this in memory of me"? How can we not rejoice that he has enabled us to set God’s table for men and women, to give them his Body and his Blood, to offer them the precious gift of his very presence. Truly we can pray together, with all our heart, the words of the Psalm: "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Ps 23:6).
Finally, let us take a brief look at the two communion antiphons which the Church offers us in her liturgy today. First there are the words with which Saint John concludes the account of Jesus’ crucifixion: "One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out" (Jn 19:34). The heart of Jesus is pierced by the spear. Once opened, it becomes a fountain: the water and the blood which stream forth recall the two fundamental sacraments by which the Church lives: Baptism and the Eucharist. From the Lord’s pierced side, from his open heart, there springs the living fountain which continues to well up over the centuries and which makes the Church. The open heart is the source of a new stream of life; here John was certainly also thinking of the prophecy of Ezechiel who saw flowing forth from the new temple a torrent bestowing fruitfulness and life (Ez 47): Jesus himself is the new temple, and his open heart is the source of a stream of new life which is communicated to us in Baptism and the Eucharist.
The liturgy of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus also permits another phrase, similar to this, to be used as the communion antiphon. It is taken from the Gospel of John: Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me. And let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said: "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (cf. Jn 7:37ff.) In faith we drink, so to speak, of the living water of God’s Word. In this way the believer himself becomes a wellspring which gives living water to the parched earth of history. We see this in the saints. We see this in Mary, that great woman of faith and love who has become in every generation a wellspring of faith, love and life. Every Christian and every priest should become, starting from Christ, a wellspring which gives life to others. We ought to be offering life-giving water to a parched and thirst world. Lord, we thank you because for our sake you opened your heart; because in your death and in your resurrection you became the source of life. Give us life, make us live from you as our source, and grant that we too may be sources, wellsprings capable of bestowing the water of life in our time. We thank you for the grace of the priestly ministry. Lord bless us, and bless all those who in our time are thirsty and continue to seek. Amen.
Pope's Greetings to World's Priests
"Serve God and Your People With Holiness and Courage"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 11, 2010 - Here are translations of several of the greetings Benedict XVI gave today at the end of the Mass in St. Peter's Square to close the Year for Priests, on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
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At the end of this extraordinary concelebration, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Congregation for Clergy, for the work carried out during the Year for Priests and for having organized this conclusive day. A special thought of gratitude goes to the esteemed cardinals and bishops who wished to be present, in particular all those who came from afar.
Dear French-speaking priests, you have a particular proximity with St. John Mary Vianney. I hope it will become a veritable spiritual complicity. May his sure example inspire you so that the gift that you made of yourselves to the Lord will bear good fruit! I renew my confidence in you and encourage you to progress on the paths of holiness. May the Lord keep you all in his very loving heart!
I now wish to greet all the English-speaking priests present at today's celebration! My dear brothers, as I thank you for your love of Christ and of his bride the Church, I ask you again solemnly to be faithful to your promises. Serve God and your people with holiness and courage, and always conform your lives to the mystery of the Lord's cross. May God bless your apostolic labors abundantly!
I cordially greet the Spanish-speaking priests, and ask God that this celebration may become a vigorous stimulus to continue living your priesthood with joy, humility and hope, being daring messengers of the Gospel, faithful ministers of the Sacraments and eloquent witnesses of charity. With the sentiments of Christ, Good Shepherd, I invite you to continue aspiring every day to sanctity, knowing that there is no greater happiness in this world than spending one's life for the glory of God and the good of souls.
Dear priests of countries of official Portuguese language, I thank God for what you are and what you do, reminding all that nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests in the life of the Church. Following the example and under the patronage of the Holy Cure of Ars, persevere in the friendship of God and let your hands and your lips continue to be the hands and lips of Christ, only Redeemer of humanity. Well done!
"Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23/22:6). With these words of the Psalm I greet the Polish priests. Dear Brothers, Christ has chosen you, has called you, has filled you with goodness and fidelity. Accept this gift every day with a sincere heart and take it with love to those to whom you have been sent. Be holy and lead others to holiness in Christ. May God bless you!
Finally I address my cordial greeting to the priests of Rome and of Italy, as well as to the prelates, the priests and the seminarians of all the Rites of the Eastern Catholic Churches. I know, finally, that in all parts of the world very many celebratory and spiritual meetings have been held with great and fruitful participation. Hence, I wish to thank Bishops, priests and organizers and I hope that all will continue with renewed impulse the path of sanctification in this sacred ministry that the Lord has entrusted to you. I bless you all from my heart!
The Priest's Mission as Guide
"The Authority of Christ, Not His Own"
VATICAN CITY, MAY 26, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today for the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
The Year for Priests is coming to an end; that is why in the last catecheses I began to speak about the essential tasks of the priest, namely: to teach, to sanctify and to govern. I have already given two catecheses, one on the ministry of sanctification, above all the sacraments, and one on teaching. Hence, it remains for me today to speak about the mission of the priest to govern, to guide -- with the authority of Christ, not his own -- the portion of the people that God has entrusted to him.
In contemporary culture, how can such a dimension be understood, involving as it does the concept of authority and with its origin in the Lord's own mandate to feed his flock? What is authority really for us Christians? The cultural, political and historical experiences of the recent past, above all the dictatorships in Eastern and Western Europe in the 20th century, made contemporary man suspicious in addressing this concept. A suspicion that, not rarely, is expressed in upholding as necessary an abandonment of all authority that does not come exclusively from men and is subject to them, controlled by them. But precisely a glance at the regimes that in the past century sowed terror and death, reminds us forcefully that authority, in every realm, if it is exercised without reference to the Transcendent, if it does away with the supreme Authority, which is God, ends inevitably by turning against man.
Hence, it is important to recognize that human authority is never an end, but always and only a means and that, necessarily and in every age, the end is always the person, created by God with his own intangible dignity and called to relationship with the Creator himself, in the earthly journey of existence and in eternal life. It is an authority exercised in responsibility before God, before the Creator. An authority thus understood, which has as its only objective to serve the true good of persons and to lucidity to the only Supreme Good that is God, not only is not foreign to men but, on the contrary, is a precious help in the journey toward full realization in Christ, toward salvation.
The Church is called and is committed to exercise this type of authority that is service, and she exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, who received from the Father all power in heaven and on earth (cf. Matthew 28:18). In fact, Christ feeds his flock through the pastors of the Church: It is he who guides it, protects it, corrects it, because he loves it profoundly.
But the Lord Jesus, Supreme Shepherd of our souls, willed that the Apostolic College, today the bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter, and priests, their most valuable collaborators, should participate in his mission to take care of the People of God, to be educators in the faith, guiding, animating and sustaining the Christian community or, as the Council says, seeing to it that the "faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6).
Hence, every pastor is the means through which Christ himself loves men: It is through our ministry -- dear priests -- it is through us that the Lord gathers souls, instructs them, protects them, and guides them. In his commentary to the Gospel of St. John, St. Augustine says: "may it be, therefore, a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord" (123,5); this is the supreme norm of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, such as that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, open to all, attentive to neighbors and solicitous toward those far away (cf. St. Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle with the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. Id. Letter 95, 1).
If such a pastoral task is founded on the sacrament, nevertheless its efficacy is not independent of the personal existence of the presbyter. To be a pastor according to the heart of God (cf. Jeremiah 3:15) there must be a profound rootedness in living friendship with Christ, not only of the intelligence, but also of liberty and of the will, a clear awareness of the identity received in priestly ordination, an unconditional willingness to guide the entrusted flock where the Lord wishes and not in the direction that, apparently, seems more suitable and easy. That requires, first of all, the continuos and progressive willingness to let Christ himself govern the priestly existence of the presbyters. In fact, no one is really capable of feeding Christ's flock if he does not live a profound and real obedience to Christ and to the Church, and the docility itself of the people to their priests depends on the docility of priests to Christ; because of this, at the base of pastoral ministry is always the personal and constant encounter with the Lord, profound knowledge of him, conforming one's will to the will of Christ.
In the last decades, the adjective "pastoral" has often been used almost in opposition to the concept of "hierarchical," exactly as the idea "communion" has also been interpreted in the very same opposition. This is perhaps the point where a brief observation might be useful on the word "hierarchy," which is the traditional designation of the structure of sacramental authority in the Church, ordered according to the three levels of the sacrament of holy orders: episcopate, presbyterate, diaconate. Prevailing in public opinion, for this reality of "hierarchy," is the element of subordination and the juridical element; because of this for many the idea of hierarchy appears in contrast to the flexibility and the vitality of the pastoral sense and even contrary to the humility of the Gospel. But this is a badly understood sense of hierarchy, caused also historically by abuses of authority and careerism, which are in fact abuses and do not stem from the very being of the reality of "hierarchy."
The common opinion is that "hierarchy" is always something linked to domination and thus does not correspond to the true sense of the Church, of unity in the love of Christ. But, as I have said, this is a mistaken interpretation, which has its origin in abuses of history, but does not correspond to the true meaning of what the hierarchy is.
Let us begin with the word. Generally, it is said that the meaning of the world hierarchy is "sacred dominion," but the real meaning is not this, it is "sacra origine," that is: This authority does not come from man himself, but has its origin in the sacred, in the sacrament; hence it subjects the person to the vocation, to the mystery of Christ; it makes of the individual a servant of Christ and only insofar as he is a servant of Christ can he govern, guide for Christ and with Christ. Because of this, whoever enters in the sacred order of the sacrament, the "hierarchy," is not an autocrat, but enters in a new bond of obedience to Christ: he is tied to him in communion with the other members of the sacred order, of the priesthood. And even the Pope -- point of reference for all the other pastors and for the communion of the Church -- cannot do what he wants; on the contrary, the Pope is custodian of the obedience to Christ, to his word taken up again in the "regula fidei," in the Creed of the Church, and must proceed in obedience to Christ and to his Church. Hence, hierarchy implies a triple bond: first of all, the one with Christ and the order given by the Lord to his Church; then the bond with the other pastors in the one communion of the Church; and, finally, the bond with the faithful entrusted to the individual, in the order of the Church.
Hence, it is understood that communion and hierarchy are not contrary to one another, but condition each other. Together they are only one thing (hierarchical communion). Hence, the pastor is pastor precisely when guiding and protecting the flock and at times impeding its dispersal. Outside a clearly and explicitly supernatural vision, the task of governing proper to priests is not comprehensible. But, sustained by true love for the salvation of each member of the faithful, it is particularly precious and necessary also in our time. If the goal is to take the proclamation of Christ and lead men to the salvific encounter with him so that they will have life, the task of guiding is configured as a service lived in total donation for the upbuilding of the flock in truth and in sanctity, often going against the current and remembering that the one who is the greatest must be made the smallest, and one who governs, must be as one who serves (cf. Lumen Gentium, 27).
Where can a priest today get the strength for such exercise of his ministry, in full fidelity to Christ and to the Church, with a total dedication to the flock? There is only one answer: in Christ the Lord. Jesus' way of governing is not that of domination, but it is the humble and loving service of the washing of the feet, and Christ's kingship over the universe is not an earthly triumph, but finds its culmination on the wood of the cross, which becomes judgment for the world and point of reference for the exercise of authority that is the true expression of pastoral charity. The saints, and among them St. John Mary Vianney, exercised with love and dedication the task of caring for the portion of the People of God entrusted to them, showing also that they were strong and determined men, with the sole objective of promoting the true good of souls, able to pay in person, to the point of martyrdom, to remain faithful to the truth and to the justice of the Gospel.
Dear priests, "tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by constraint but willingly, [...] be examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2). Hence, do not be afraid to lead to Christ each of the brothers that he has entrusted to you, certain that every word and every attitude, if stemming from obedience to the will of God, will bear fruit; know how to live appreciating the merits and acknowledging the limits of the culture in which we find ourselves, with the firm certainty that the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest service that can be done to man. In fact, there is no greater good in this earthly life, than to lead men to God, reawaken faith, raise man from inertia and despair, to give the hope that God is near and guides personal history and that of the world.
This, in sum, is the profound and ultimate meaning of the task of governing that the Lord has entrusted to us. It is about forming Christ in believers, through that process of sanctification that is conversion of criteria, of the scale of values, of attitudes, to let Christ live in every faithful. St. Paul thus summarizes his pastoral action: "My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!" (Galatians 4:19).
Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to invite you to pray for me, the Successor of Peter who has a specific task in governing the Church of Christ, as well as for all your bishops and priests. Pray that we will be able to take care of all the sheep of the flock entrusted to us, also those who are lost. To you, dear priests, I address a cordial invitation to the closing celebrations of the Year for Priests, next June 9, 10 and 11, here in Rome: we will meditate on conversion and mission, on the priestly gift, sustained by all the People of God. Thank you!
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In these final days of the Year for Priests, I would like to speak of the priest's ministry of governing, in the name of Christ, the flock entrusted to his care. Authority, in the Christian understanding, is a service to the true, ultimate good of the person, which is our salvation in Christ; exercised in the Lord's name, it is an expression of the constant presence and care of the Good Shepherd. The spiritual authority conferred in Holy Orders should be matched by the priest's interior fidelity to his pastoral mission and his personal readiness to follow obediently the lead of Christ. Understood in the light of faith, this authority, while involving the exercise of power, remains a service to the building up of the Church in holiness, unity and truth. Christ's power was expressed in the washing of the feet, and his kingship by the wood of the Cross; so too, the priestly ministry of governance must be expressed in pastoral charity. I ask all of you to support your priests in their ministry of leading men and women to God, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel and its message of hope. In a special way I also ask you to pray for my own ministry of governance in the Church, and for the spiritual fruitfulness of the celebrations at the conclusion of the Year for Priests.
I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Australia, India, Barbados, Canada and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke Almighty God's blessings of joy and peace!
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he said:]
Finally, I address my greeting to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Today the Church remembers St. Philip Neri, who is distinguished for his joy and for his special dedication to youth, whom he educated and evangelized through the inspired pastoral initiative of the Oratory. Dear young people, look at this saint to learn to live with evangelical simplicity. Dear sick, may St. Philip Neri help you to make of your suffering an offering to the heavenly Father, in union with Jesus crucified. And you, dear newlyweds, supported by the intercession of St. Philip, be inspired always in the Gospel to build a truly Christian family.
On the Priest's Mission to Sanctify
"Be Conscious of the Great Gift That Priests Are for the Church"
VATICAN CITY, MAY 5, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Last Sunday, in my pastoral visit to Turin, I had the joy of pausing in prayer before the Holy Shroud, joining the more than 2 million pilgrims that during the solemn exposition of these days, have been able to contemplate it. This sacred Cloth can nourish faith and reinvigorate Christian piety, because it impels one to go to the Face of Christ, to the Body of Christ crucified and resurrected, to contemplate the Paschal Mystery, the center of the Christian message. Of the Body of the resurrected Christ, living and operating in history (cf. Romans 12:5), we, dear brothers and sisters, are living members, each one in our own function, namely, with the task that the Lord has entrusted us.
Today, in this catechesis, I would like to return to the specific tasks of priests, which, according to tradition, are essentially three: to teach, to sanctify, to govern. In one of the preceding catecheses I spoke about the first of these three missions: teaching, the proclamation of the truth, the proclamation of the God revealed in Christ or, in other words, the prophetic task of putting man in contact with the truth, of helping him to know the essential of his life, of reality itself.
Today I would like to reflect briefly with you on the second task the priest has, that of sanctifying men, above all through the sacraments and the worship of the Church. Here first of all we must ask ourselves: what does the word "saint" mean? The answer is: "Saint" is the specific quality of God's being, that is, absolute truth, goodness, love, beauty -- pure light. Hence, to sanctify a person means to put him in contact with God, with his being light, truth, pure love. It is obvious that this contact transforms the person. In ancient times there was this firm conviction: No one can see God without dying right away. The force of truth and light is too great! If man touches this absolute current, he does not survive. Moreover, there was also this conviction: Without a minimum contact with God, man cannot live. Truth, goodness, love are fundamental conditions of his being. The question is: How can man find this contact with God, which is fundamental, without dying, overwhelmed by the grandeur of the divine being? The faith of the Church tells us that God himself creates this contact, which transforms us little by little into true images of God.
Thus we return again to the task of the priest to "sanctify." No man on his own, by his own strength, can put another in contact with God. An essential part of the grace of priesthood is the gift, the task to create this contact. This is done in the proclamation of the Word of God, in which He comes to meet us. It is done in a particularly profound way in the sacraments. Immersion in the Paschal Mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ happens in baptism, is reinforced in confirmation and in reconciliation, is nourished in the Eucharist, the sacrament that builds the Church as People of God, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation 'Pastores Gregis,' No. 32).
Hence, it is Christ himself who makes us saints, namely, who attracts us to the sphere of God. But as an act of his infinite mercy he calls some to "be" with him (cf. Mark 3:14) and to be converted, through the sacrament of Holy Orders, despite human poverty, into participants in his own priesthood, ministers of this sanctification, dispensers of his mysteries, "bridges" of the encounter with him, of his mediation between God and men and between men and God (cf. po, 5).
In the last decades there have been tendencies oriented to having the dimension of proclamation prevail in the identity and mission of the priest, separating it from that of sanctification: It has often been affirmed that it would be necessary to surmount a merely sacramental ministry. But, is it possible to genuinely exercise the priestly ministry "surmounting" the sacramental ministry? What does it mean exactly for priests to evangelize, in what does the so-called primacy of proclamation consist?
As the Gospels state, Jesus affirms that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is the objective of his mission; this proclamation, however, is not only a "speech," but includes, at the same time, his very action; the signs, the miracles that Jesus does indicate that the Kingdom comes as a present reality and that it coincides in the end with his very person, with the gift of himself, as we have heard today in the reading of the Gospel. And the same is true for the ordained minister: he, the priest, represents Christ, the One sent by the Father, he continues his mission, through the "word" and the "sacrament," in this totality of body and soul, of sign and word. In a letter to Bishop Honoratus of Thiabe, St. Augustine says, referring to priests: "The servants of Christ, the ministers of his word and of his sacrament must, therefore, do what he commanded or permitted" (Epist. 228,2). It is necessary to reflect if in some cases this undervaluing of the faithful exercise of the munus sanctificandi did not represent, perhaps, a weakening of the faith itself in the salvific efficacy of the sacraments and, in short, in the present action of Christ and of his Spirit, through the Church, in the world.
Who, therefore, saves the world and man? The only answer we can give is: Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, crucified and resurrected. And where is the mystery realized of the death and resurrection of Christ, which brings salvation? In the action of Christ through the Church, in particular in the sacrament of reconciliation, in which from the death of sin one returns to the new life, and in every other sacramental act of sanctification (cf. po, 5). Hence, it is important to promote a suitable catechesis to help the faithful to understand the value of the sacraments, but it is also necessary, following the example of the Holy Curé d'Ars, to be available, generous and attentive in giving the faithful the treasure of grace that God has placed in our hands, and of which we are not the "owners," but custodians and administrators. Above all in this our time in which, on one hand, it seems that faith is weakening and, on the other, that a profound need and widespread search of spirituality is emerging, it is necessary that every priest remember that in his mission, the missionary proclamation, worship and the sacraments are never separated, and that he promote a healthy sacramental ministry to form the People of God and to help them live the liturgy, the worship of the Church, the sacraments in fullness as free gifts of God, free and effective acts of his saving action.
As I reminded in the Holy Chrism Mass of this year: "At the centre of the Church’s worship is the notion of 'sacrament.' This means that it is not primarily we who act, but God comes first to meet us through his action, he looks upon us and he leads us to himself. (...) God touches us through material things (...) that he takes up into his service, making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself" (Holy Chrism Mass, April 1, 2010). The truth according to which in the sacrament "it is not we men who do something" also affects, and must affect, the priestly awareness: Every presbyter knows well that he is a necessary instrument of the salvific action of God, but always as an instrument. This awareness must make one humble and generous in the administration of the sacraments, in respect of the canonical norms, but also in the profound conviction that one's mission is that of making all men, united to Christ, able to offer themselves to God as a living and holy host agreeable to him (cf. Romans 12:1).
Exemplary, on the primacy of the munus sanctificandi and of the correct interpretation of sacramental ministry, continues to be St. John Mary Vianney, who, one day, before a man who said he had no faith and wanted to debate with him, the parish priest answered: "O, my friend, you conduct yourself very poorly, I don't know how to reason ... but if you are in need of some consolation, place yourself there (his finger indicated the immobile footstool of the confessional) and believe me, that many others placed themselves on it before you, and they did not have to regret it" (cf. Monnin A., Il Curato d'Ars. Vita di Gian Battista Maria Vianney, vol. i, Turin, 1870, pp. 163-164).
Dear priests, live the liturgy and worship with joy and love: It is action that the Risen One carries out through the power of the Holy Spirit in us, with us and for us. I would like to renew the invitation I recently made to "return to the confessional as a place in which to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but also as a place in which 'to dwell' more often, so that the faithful may find compassion, advice and comfort, feel that they are loved and understood by God and experience the presence of Divine Mercy beside the Real Presence in the Eucharist" (Address to the Apostolic Penitentiary, March 11, 2010). And I would also like to invite each priest to celebrate and live the Eucharist with intensity, which is at the heart of the task of sanctifying; it is Jesus who wants to be with us, to live in us, to give himself to us, to show us the infinite mercy and tenderness of God; it is the only Sacrifice of love of Christ that makes itself present, is realized among us and reaches the throne of grace, the presence of God, embraces humanity and unites us to him (cf. Address to the Clergy of Rome, February 18, 2010).
And the priest is called to be minister of this great Mystery, in the sacrament and in life. If "the great ecclesial tradition has rightly separated sacramental efficacy from the concrete existential situation of the individual priest and so the legitimate expectations of the faithful are appropriately safeguarded," this does not take anything away from the "necessary, indeed indispensable, aspiration to moral perfection that must dwell in every authentically priestly heart": There is also an example of faith and witness of sanctity that the People of God rightly expect from their pastors (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, March 16, 2009). And it is in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries where the priest finds the root of his sanctification (cf. po, 12-13).
Dear friends, be conscious of the great gift that priests are for the Church and for the world; through their ministry, the Lord continues saving men, making himself present, sanctifying. Know how to thank God, and above all be close to your priests with your prayer and support, especially in difficulties, so that they will be increasingly shepherds according to the heart of God. Thank you.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[In English, he said}
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
During my recent visit to Turin, I prayed before the sacred Shroud, which invites us to contemplate the face of Christ and to ponder the mystery of his death and resurrection. As members of Christ's Body, the Church, all the baptized are called to share in his saving work. In these final days of the Year for Priests, however, I would like to return to the specific ministry of the priest and, today, to his ministry of sanctification. Holiness, as we know, is proper to God, who is himself absolute truth, goodness, love and beauty. As ministers of Christ, priests bring us into life-giving contact with the mystery of God's holiness. Thanks to the priest's preaching of the Gospel and his celebration of the sacraments, we are enabled to approach God and to be transformed gradually into the divine image. In the celebration of the sacraments, and in particular the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Christ's sanctifying work is constantly made present and effective. In their devout celebration of the sacraments, priests sanctify the faithful and are themselves sanctified and configured ever more closely to Christ. I ask all of you to pray for priests and their ministry of sanctification, that they may be true shepherds according to God's heart.
I offer a cordial welcome to the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience. My warm greetings go to the teachers and students of the Institute of Saint Joseph in Copenhagen. Upon all of you, including those from England, Scotland, Canada, Indonesia and the United States of America, I invoke Almighty God's blessings of joy and peace!
I send cordial greetings to all who will be taking part in the congress on the Family in Jonkoping, Sweden, later this month. Your message to the world is truly a message of joy, because God's gift to us of marriage and family life enables us to experience something of the infinite love that unites the three divine persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, are made for love -- indeed at the core of our being, we long to love and to be loved in return. Only God's love can fully satisfy our deepest needs, and yet through the love of husband and wife, the love of parents and children, the love of siblings for one another, we are offered a foretaste of the boundless love that awaits us in the life to come. Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society. Like any truly worthwhile goal, it places demands upon us, it challenges us, it calls us to be prepared to sacrifice our own interests for the good of the other. It requires us to exercise tolerance and to offer forgiveness. It invites us to nurture and protect the gift of new life. Those of us fortunate enough to be born into a stable family discover there the first and most fundamental school for virtuous living and the qualities of good citizenship. I encourage all of you in your efforts to promote a proper understanding and appreciation of the inestimable good that marriage and family life offer to human society. May God bless all of you.
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he said]
Last May 3 in New York opened the eighth review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The process toward a concerted and secure disarmament is closely connected with the full and solicitous fulfillment of related international commitments. Peace, in fact, rests on the trust and respect of the obligations assumed, and not only on the balance of forces. In such a spirit, I encourage the initiatives that pursue a progressive disarmament and the creation of areas free of nuclear arms, in the prospect of their complete elimination from the planet. I exhort, finally, all the participants in the meeting in New York to surmount the conditionings of history and to knit patiently the political and economic fabric of peace, to help integral human development and the authentic aspirations of peoples.
Finally, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear young people, especially you students of Palermo, with your presence you witness faith in Jesus Christ who calls you to build his Church together with your pastors, each one according to his responsibility. Correspond with generosity to his invitation. Dear sick, you are also here today to fulfill an act of faith and ecclesial communion. The daily weight of your suffering, if offered to Jesus Christ Crucified, gives you the possibility of cooperating in your salvation and that of the world. And you also, dear newlyweds, with your union are called to be expression of the love that binds Christ to the Church. Be always conscious of the high mission to which the sacrament you received commits you.
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 28, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are drawing close to the end of the Year for Priests and, on this last Wednesday of April, I would like to speak about two saintly priests who were exemplary in their giving of themselves to God and in their witness of charity -- lived in the Church and for the Church -- toward their neediest brothers: St. Leonard Murialdo and St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo. Regarding the first, we mark the 110th anniversary of his death and the 40th of his canonization; regarding the second, the celebrations have begun for the second centenary of his priestly ordination.
Murialdo was born in Turin on Oct. 26, 1828: it was the Turin of St. John Bosco, of St. Joseph Cottolengo himself, a land fertilized by so many examples of holiness of the lay faithful and priests. Leonard was the eighth child of a simple family. As a child he entered, together with his brother, the school of the Escolapios Fathers of Savona for elementary, middle and high school; he found prepared educators, in a climate of religiosity founded on serious catecheses, with regular pious practices. During his adolescence, however, he went through a profound existential and spiritual crisis that led him to advance his return to his family and to conclude his studies in Turin, enrolling in the two-year period of philosophy.
A "return to the light" occurred -- as he recounts -- after a few months, with the grace of a general confession, in which he rediscovered God's immense mercy; at 17 the decision matured to become a priest, as a response of love to God who had seized him with his love. He was ordained on Sept. 20, 1851. Precisely in that period, as a catechist of the Guardian Angel Oratory, Don Bosco met and came to esteem him, convincing him to accept the direction of the new Oratory of St. Louis in Porta Nuova, which he did until 1865. There he also came into contact with the grave problems of the poorest classes, he visited their homes, developing a profound social, educational and apostolic sensitivity that led him later to dedicate himself independently to multiple initiatives in favor of youth. Catecheses, school and recreational activities were the foundation of his educational method in the Oratory. Don Bosco wanted him with him on the occasion of the audience granted by Blessed Pius IX in 1858.
In 1873 he founded the Congregation of St. Joseph, whose apostolic objective was, from the beginning, the formation of youth, especially the poorest and most abandoned. The environment of Turin at the time was marked by the intense flourishing of charitable works and activities promoted by Murialdo until his death, which occurred on March 30, 1900.
I wish to underline that the central nucleus of Murialdo's spirituality was the conviction of the merciful love of God: a Father who is always good, patient and generous, who reveals the greatness and immensity of his mercy with forgiveness. St. Leonard experienced this reality at the existential, not the intellectual level, through a living encounter with the Lord. He always considered himself a man graced by the merciful God: because of this he lived the joyous sense of gratitude to the Lord, the serene awareness of his own limitations, the ardent desire of penance, the constant and generous commitment to conversion. He saw all his existence not only illumined, guided, sustained by this love, but continually immersed in the infinite mercy of God. He wrote in his Spiritual Testament: "Your mercy surrounds me, O Lord ... How God is always and everywhere, so he is always and everywhere love, is always and everywhere mercy."
Recalling the moment of crisis he had in his youth, he wrote: "See how the good God wanted his goodness and generosity to shine again in an altogether singular way. Not only did he admit me again to his friendship, but he called me to a choice of predilection: he called me to the priesthood, and this only a few months after my return to him." Because of this, St. Leonard lived his priestly vocation as a free gift of the mercy of God with a sense of gratitude, joy and love. He wrote as well: "God has chosen me! He has called me, has in the end forced me to the honor, to the glory, to the ineffable happiness of being his minister, of being 'another Christ.' And where was I when God sought me? At the bottom of the abyss! I was there, and God came there to seek me; there he made me hear his voice."
Underlining the greatness of the mission of the priest who must "continue the work of redemption, the great work of Jesus Christ, the work of the Savior of the world," namely, that of "saving souls," St. Leonard always reminded himself and his confreres of the responsibility of a life consistent with the sacrament received. Love of God and love for God: this was the force of his journey of holiness, the law of his priesthood, the deepest meaning of this apostolate among poor young people and the source of his prayer. St. Leonard Murialdo abandoned himself with confidence to Providence, fulfilling generously the divine will, in contact with God and dedicating himself to poor young people. In this way he joined contemplative silence with the tireless ardor of action, fidelity to the duties of each day with the ingeniousness of initiatives, strength in difficulties with the serenity of the spirit. This was his way of holiness to live the commandment of love, towards God and towards his neighbor.
With the same spirit of charity, 40 years before Murialdo lived St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, founder of the work he himself called "Little Home of Divine Providence" and also called today "Cottolengo." Next Sunday, in my pastoral visit to Turin, I will be able to venerate the remains of this saint and meet the guests of the "Little Home."
Joseph Benedict Cottolengo was born in Bra, a town in the province of Cuneo, on May 3, 1786. The first born of 12 children, six of whom died at an early age, he showed from his boyhood great sensitivity toward the poor. He embraced the path of priesthood, imitated also by two brothers. The years of his youth were those of the Napoleonic venture and of the consequent hardships in the religious and social realm. Cottolengo became a good priest, sought after by many penitents and, in the Turin of that time, a preacher of spiritual exercises and conferences for university students, where he earned notable success. At the age of 32, he was appointed canon of the Most Holy Trinity, a congregation of priests that had the task of officiating in the Church of Corpus Domini and of giving decorum to the religious ceremonies of the city, but he felt ill at ease in that post. God was preparing him for a particular mission and, in fact, with an unexpected and decisive meeting, made him understand what his future destiny would be in the exercise of the ministry.
The Lord always puts signs on our way to guide us according to his will to our real good. For Cottolengo this happened, in a dramatic way, on Sunday morning of Sept. 2, 1827. Arriving in Turin from Milan was a stage coach crowded as never before, where a whole French family was crammed in which the wife, with five children, was in an advanced state of pregnancy with high fever. After having wandered through several hospitals, that family found lodgings in a public dormitory, but the woman's situation got worse and some started to look for a priest. By a mysterious design they came across Cottolengo, and it was in fact he who, with a heavy and oppressed heart, was to accompany the death of this young mother, amid the torment of the whole family.
After having performed this painful task, with a suffering heart, he went before the Most Blessed Sacrament and prayed: "My God, why? Why did you want me to be a witness? What do you want from me? Something must be done!" Rising, he had all the bells rung, lighted the candles and welcoming the curious in the church, he said: "Grace has done it! Grace has done it!" From that moment Cottolengo was transformed: all his capabilities, especially his economic and organizational abilities, were used to give life to initiatives in support of the neediest.
He was able to involve in his enterprise dozens and dozens of collaborators and volunteers. Moving to the outskirts of Turin to expand his work, he created a sort of village. Every building he succeeded in constructing he gave a significant name: "house of faith," "house of hope," "house of charity." He activated the style of "families," establishing true and proper communities of persons, volunteers, men and women, religious and laity, united to address and overcome together the difficulties that presented themselves. Every one in that Little Home of Divine Providence had a specific task: those who worked, prayed, served, instructed, administrated. The healthy and the sick all shared the same daily burden. The religious life was also defined in time, according to the particular needs and exigencies. He even thought of his own seminary, for the specific formation of priests for the Work. He was always ready to follow and serve Divine Providence, never to question it. He said: "I am a good for nothing and I don't even know what I am doing. However, Divine Providence knows what it wants. And it is for me only to second it. Forward in Domino." For his poor and neediest he described himself always as "the laborer of Divine Providence."
Next to the small towns he also wished to found five convents of contemplative sisters and a monastery of hermits, and he regarded it as among the most important accomplishments: a sort of "heart" that had to beat for the whole Work. He died on April 30, 1842, saying these words: "Misericordia, Domine; Misericordia, Domine. Good and Holy Providence ... Holy Virgin, now it is up to You." His whole life, as a newspaper of the time wrote, had been "an intense day of love."
Dear friends, these two priests, of whom I have presented some traits, lived their ministry in the total gift of their lives to the poorest, to the neediest, to the last, always finding the profound root, the inexhaustible source of their action in the relationship with God, drinking from his love, in the profound conviction that it is not possible to exercise charity without living in Christ and in the Church. May their intercession and example continue to enlighten the ministry of so many priests who spend themselves with generosity for God and for the flock entrusted to them, and may they help each one to give himself with joy and generosity to God and to his neighbor.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As the Year for Priests draws to its close, I would like to devote today's catechesis to the example of two remarkable priests of the nineteenth century associated with the Italian city of Turin. Saint Leonard Murialdo, the founder of the Congregation of Saint Joseph, devoted his life to the education and pastoral care of disadvantaged young people. He saw his priestly vocation as a gracious gift of God's love, to be received with gratitude, joy and love. Imbued with a powerful sense of the Lord's mercy, he encouraged his confreres to unite contemplation and apostolic zeal, and to confirm their preaching by the example of their lives. Saint Joseph Cottolengo, who lived a generation before Saint Leonard, was another outstanding apostle of charity. Early in his priesthood, after a dramatic encounter with human suffering, he founded the "Little Home of Divine Providence," involving scores of people -- priests, religious and laity alike -- in a great charitable outreach which continues today. May the example of these two great priests, outstanding for their love of God and their devotion to Christ and the Church, continue to inspire and sustain the many priests today who generously devote their lives to God and to the service of our brothers and sisters in need.
I offer a most cordial welcome to the ecumenical delegations from the Lutheran Church of Norway and from the Church of England. My warm greeting also goes to the group of Jewish leaders visiting the Vatican with the Pave the Way Foundation. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Norway, Indonesia and the United States of America I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On the Priest's Mission as Teacher
"In the Church, Christ Is Never Absent"
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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In this Easter season, which leads us to Pentecost and also directs us to the celebrations closing the Year for Priests, planned for next June 9, 10 and 11, I cherish dedicating again some reflections to the topic of the ordained ministry, pausing on the fruitful reality of the priest's configuration to Christ the Head, in the exercise of the three "munera" he receives, that is, the three offices of teaching, sanctifying and governing.
To understand what it means to act "in persona Christi Capitis" -- in the person of Christ the Head -- on the part of the priest, and to understand also what consequences stem from the task of representing the Lord, especially in the exercise of these three offices, it is necessary to clarify first of all what is intended by [the word] "representation." The priest represents Christ. What does it mean, what does it signify to "represent" someone? In ordinary language it means -- generally -- to receive a delegation from a person to be present in his place, to speak and act in his place, because the one who is represented is absent from the concrete action.
We ask ourselves: Does the priest represent the Lord in the same way? The answer is no, because in the Church, Christ is never absent, the Church is his living body and he is the Head of the Church, present and active in it. Christ is never absent; in fact he is present in a way totally free of the limits of space and time, thanks to the event of the Resurrection, which we contemplate in a special way in this Easter season.
Hence, the priest who acts "in persona Christi Capitis" and in representation of the Lord, never acts in the name of someone who is absent, but in the very Person of the Risen Christ, who makes himself present with his truly effective action. He really acts and does what the priest could not do: the consecration of the wine and the bread so that they will really be the presence of the Lord, [and] the absolution of sins. The Lord makes present his own action in the person who carries out such gestures. These three tasks of the priest -- which Tradition has identified in the different mission words of the Lord: teach, sanctify, govern -- in their distinction and in their profound unity, are a specification of this effective representation. They are in reality the three actions of the Risen Christ, the same one who today teaches in the Church and in the world and thus creates faith, gathers his people, creates the presence of truth and really builds the communion of the universal Church; and sanctifies and guides.
The first task of which I wish to speak today is the "munus docendi," namely, that of teaching. Today, at the height of the educational emergency, the "munus docendi" of the Church, exercised concretely through the ministry of each priest, is particularly important. We live amid great confusion about the fundamental choices of our life and the questions about what the world is, from where it comes, where we are going, what we must do to carry out the good, how we must live, what are the really pertinent values. In relation to all this there are so many contrasting philosophies, which arise and disappear, creating confusion about the fundamental decisions, how to live, why we do not know more, ordinarily, from what thing and for what thing we were made and where we are going.
Fulfilled in this situation is the word of the Lord, who has compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mark 6:34). The Lord had made this confirmation when he saw the thousands of people who followed him in the desert because, in the diversity of currents of that time, they no longer knew the true meaning of Scripture, what God was saying. The Lord, moved by compassion, interpreted the word of God, he himself is the Word of God, and thus he gave guidance. This is the function in persona Christi of the priest: to render present, in the confusion and disorientation of our times, the light of the Word of God, the light that is Christ himself in this our world. Hence the priest does not teach his own ideas, a philosophy that he himself has invented, has found and that pleases him; the priest does not speak of himself, does not speak by himself, to create perhaps admirers or his own party; he does not say his own things, his own inventions, but, in the confusion of all the philosophies, the priest teaches in the name of Christ present, he proposes the truth that is Christ himself, his word, his way of living and of going forward. True for the priest is what Christ said of himself: "My teaching is not mine" (John 7:16); that is, Christ does not propose himself, but, as Son, is the voice, the word of the Father. The priest must also speak and act like this: "My doctrine is not mine, I do not propagate my ideas or what pleases me, but I am the mouth and heart of Christ and make present this unique and common doctrine, which the universal Church has created and which creates eternal life."
This fact -- that the priest does not invent, does not create and does not proclaim one's own ideas inasmuch as the doctrine he proclaims is not his, but Christ's -- does not mean, on the other hand, that he is neutral, almost like a spokesman who reads a text which, perhaps, he does not appropriate. Also in this regard Christ's example is applicable, who said: I am not of myself and I do not live for myself, but I come from the Father and I live for the Father. That is why, in this profound identification, the doctrine of Christ is that of the Father and he himself is one with the Father. The priest who proclaims the word of Christ, the faith of the Church and not his own ideas, must also say: I do not live from myself and for myself, but I live with Christ and from Christ and because of this all that Christ has said to us becomes my word, even if it is not mine. The life of the priest must be identified with Christ and, in this way, the word that is not his own becomes, however, a profoundly personal word. On this topic, St. Augustine said, speaking of priests: "And we, what are we? Ministers (of Christ), his servants; because all that we contribute to you is not ours, but we bring it out from his storeroom. And we also live from it, because we are servants like you" (Discourse 229/E, 4).
The teaching that the priest is called to give, the truth of the faith, must be internalized and lived in an intense personal spiritual journey, so that the priest really enters into a profound, interior communion with Christ himself. The priest believes, accepts and tries to live, first of all as his own, all that the Lord has taught and the Church has transmitted, in that journey of identification with the very ministry of which St John Mary Vianney is an exemplary witness (cf. Letter for the proclamation of the Year for Priests). "United in the very same charity -- affirms again St. Augustine -- we are all hearers of him who is for us in Heaven the only Teacher" (Enarr. in Ps. 131, 1, 7).
Consequently it is not rare that the voice of the priest might seem the "voice of one crying in the desert" (Mark 1:3), but precisely in this consists his prophetic force: in not ever being homologated, or homologable to some prevailing culture or mentality, but in showing the unique novelty capable of bringing about an authentic and profound renewal of man, namely that Christ is the Living One, and the nearby God, the God who operates in the life and for the life of the world and gives us truth, the way to live.
In the careful preparation of his Sunday preaching, without excluding the weekday preaching, in the effort of catechetical formation, in schools, in academic institutions and, in a special way, through that unwritten book that is his own life, the priest is always "docent," he teaches. But not with the presumption of one who imposes his own truth, rather with the humble and happy certainty of one who has found the Truth, who has been gripped and transformed, and because of this, can do nothing less than proclaim it. In fact, no one can choose the priesthood for himself, it is not a way to arrive at security in life, to win a social position; no one can give it to him, or seek it by himself. The priesthood is response to the call of the Lord, to his will, to become heralds not of a personal truth but of his truth.
Dear brother priests, the Christian people ask to hear from our teachings the genuine ecclesial doctrine, by which to be able to renew the encounter with Christ who gives joy, peace, salvation. Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers and doctors of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church constitute, in this regard, indispensable points of reference in the exercise of the munus docendi, so essential for conversion, the journey of faith and the salvation of men. "Priestly ordination means: being immersed [...] in the Truth" (Homily for the Chrism Mass, April 9, 2009), that Truth which is not simply a concept or a whole of ideas to transmit and assimilate, but which is the Person of Christ, with which, by which and in which to live. And thus, necessarily, is also born the timeliness and comprehensibility of the proclamation. Only this awareness of a Truth made Person in the incarnation of the Son justifies the missionary mandate: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Only if it is the Truth is it destined to every creature, it is not an imposition of something, but the opening of the heart to that for which it is created.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord entrusted a great task to priests: to be heralds of his Word, of the Truth that saves; to be his voice in the world to carry that which helps the true good of souls and the authentic journey of faith (cf. Corinthians 6:12). May St. John Mary Vianney be an example for all priests. He was a man of great wisdom and heroic strength in resisting the cultural and social pressures of his time to be able to lead souls to God: simplicity, fidelity and immediacy were the essential characteristics of his preaching, the transparency of his faith and of his holiness. The Christian people were edified and, as happens with authentic teachers of every era, recognized in him the light of Truth. Recognized in him, in a word, was that which must always be recognized in a priest: the voice of the Good Shepherd.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As the Year for Priests draws to its close, I would like to devote the catecheses of this Easter season to a series of reflections on the ordained ministry. I wish to speak in particular of the priest's configuration to Christ, the head of the Church, through the exercise of the three "munera" of teaching, sanctifying and governing. In their ministry priests act in persona Christi, "in the person of Christ." The three "munera" are in fact actions of the Risen Christ, who even today, through his priests, continues to teach, sanctify and govern his Church. The first of the three "munera" is that of teaching, so important for our times. The priest is called to preach and teach not himself, but Jesus Christ and his revelation of the Father. This teaching, far from abstract doctrine, is a living proclamation of the person of Christ, who is himself Truth, the source of our joy, peace and spiritual rebirth. The priest's "munus docendi" demands that his whole life testify to the truth of the message that he proclaims, in harmony with the apostolic tradition and often in opposition to the spirit of the dominant culture. Following the example of the great Cure of Ars, may every priest proclaim Christ faithfully and speak in such a way that all can hear in him the voice of the Good Shepherd.
I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present in today's Audience, especially those from England, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Korea, Canada and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Christ!
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Father Lombardi's Statement on Abuse Scandals
The Church's Commitment Has "Not Been Weakened but Confirmed"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the
translation of a commentary by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of
Vatican Radio, who spoke on the air Saturday about recent sexual abuse scandals.
Father Lombardi is also the director of the Vatican press office.
* * *
The issue of the sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy continues to be widely presented by the media in many countries, especially in Europe and North America even in recent days, after the publication of the Pope's letter to Irish Catholics. It is no surprise. The question is of such a nature that by itself it draws the media's attention, and the way that the Church faces it is crucial for her moral credibility.
In reality, the cases brought to the public's attention occurred some time ago, even decades ago, but recognizing them and making amends in regard to the victims is the price of the reestablishment of justice and of that "purification of memory" that permits one to look with renewed commitment together with humility and confidence to the future. Numerous positive signs from the different bishops' conferences, individual bishops and Catholic institutions of various countries on different continents contribute to this confidence: The directives for the correct handling and prevention of abuses have been reemphasized, updated and renewed in Germany, Austria, Australia, Canada, etc.
In particular good news comes from the 7th annual report on the application of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" of the Church in the United States. Without indulging in a satisfaction that would be out of place, one cannot but recognize the extraordinary effort of prevention accomplished with numerous courses of formation and training both for young people and for all pastoral and educational personnel, and it must be recognized that the number of accusations of abuse has fallen by 30%, most having to do with incidents that occurred more than 30 years ago. Without entering into other details, it must be admitted that the measures decided upon and in place are showing themselves to be effective. The Church in the United States has taken the good road for renewing itself. We think that this is important news in the context of the recent media attacks, which have undoubtedly caused damage.
But it should not escape an observer who is not superficial that the authority of the Pope and the intense and consistent commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have not been weakened but confirmed in supporting and orienting the episcopates in combating and uprooting abuses wherever they manifest themselves.
The recent letter of the Pope to the Church in Ireland is an intense witness that contributes to preparing the future through a path of "healing, renewal, reparation." With humility and confidence, in the spirit of penance and hope, the Church now enters Holy Week asking for the mercy and grace of the Lord who suffers and rises for all.
Papal Address to Participants in Priesthood
"There Is a Great Need of Priests That Speak of God"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today upon receiving in audience the participants in the International Theological Conference "Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest," organized by the Congregation for Clergy.
* * *
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
I am happy to meet with you on this particular occasion and I greet you all affectionately. I address a particular thought to Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and I thank him for the words he addressed to me. My gratitude to the whole dicastery, for the commitment with which it coordinates the many initiatives of the Year for Priests, among them this Theological Congress, on the subject: "Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest." I am delighted with this initiative that witnesses the presence of more than 50 bishops and over 500 priests, many of them national or diocesan leaders of the clergy and of permanent formation. Your attention to topics referring to the ministerial priesthood is one of the fruits of the special Year, which I wished to convoke precisely to "promote the commitment to interior renewal of all priests, so that their evangelical witness in the world of today is more intense and incisive" (Letter for the celebration of the Year for Priests).
The subject of priestly identity, object of your first day of study, is determinant for the exercise of the ministerial priesthood in the present and in the future. In an age such as ours, so "polycentric" and inclined to blur any type of conception of identity, considered by many contrary to liberty and democracy, it is important to have very clear the theological peculiarity of the ordained ministry and not yield to the temptation to reduce it to the prevailing cultural categories.
In the context of widespread secularization, which progressively excludes God from the public sphere and, by tendency, also from the shared social conscience, the priest often seems "strange" to common opinion, precisely because of the more fundamental aspects of his ministry, such as being a man of the sacred, removed from the world to intercede in favor of the world, constituted in that mission by God and not by men (cf. Hebrews 5:1).
For this reason, it is important to overcome dangerous reductionism that, in past decades, using categories that were more functional than ontological, has presented the priest almost as a "social agent," running the risk of betraying the priesthood of Christ itself. Just as the hermeneutic of continuity is increasingly revealed as urgent to understand in an appropriate way the texts of the Second Vatican Council, similarly an hermeneutic seems necessary that we could describe "of priestly continuity," which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and going through the 2,000 years of the history of grandeur and holiness, of culture and piety, which the priesthood has written in the world, arrives at our days.
Dear brother priests, at this time in which we live it is especially important that the call to participate in the one priesthood of Christ in the ordained ministry flower in the "charism of prophecy": There is a great need of priests that speak of God to the world and that present God to the world; men not subject to ephemeral cultural ways, but capable of living in an authentic way that liberty that only the certainty of belonging to God is in conditions to give. As your Congress has pointed out well, today the most necessary prophecy is that of fidelity, which, starting from the fidelity of Christ to humanity, will lead through the Church and the ministerial priesthood to live one's priesthood in total adherence to Christ and to the Church. In fact, the priest no longer belongs to himself but, because of the sacramental seal received (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1563;1582), is "property" of God. This "being of Another" must be made recognizable by all, through a clear witness.
In the way of thinking, of speaking, of judging the events of the world, of serving and loving, in relating to persons, also in the habit, the priest must draw prophetic strength from his sacramental belonging, from his profound being. Consequently, he must have every care to subtract himself from the prevailing mentality, which tends to associate the value of the minister not to his being, but only to his function, thus not appreciating the work of God, who influences the profound identity of the person of the priest, configuring him to himself in a definitive way (cf. Ibid., No. 1583).
The horizon of the ontological belonging to God constitutes, moreover, the appropriate framework to understand and reaffirm, also in our days, the value of sacred celibacy, which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Holy Orders (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," 16) and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches (cf. CCEO, can. 373). That is authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, sign of consecration to the Lord and to the "things of the Lord" with an undivided heart (1 Corinthians 7:32), expression of the gift of self to God and to others (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1579).
Hence, the vocation of the priest, which continues being a great mystery also for those of us who have received it as a gift, is sublime. Our limitations and weaknesses must lead us to live and protect with profound faith that precious gift, with which Christ has configured us to Himself, making us participants in his salvific mission. In fact, comprehension of the ministerial priesthood is linked to the faith and calls, ever more strongly, for a radical continuity between the formation of the seminary and permanent formation. The prophetic life, without compromises, with which we will serve God and the world, proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the Sacraments, will foster the coming of the Kingdom of God, already present, and the growth of the People of God in the faith.
Beloved priests, the men and women of our time do not only ask that we be thorough priests and no more. The lay faithful will find in many other persons what they humanly need, but only in the priest will they be able to find that Word of God that must always be on their lips (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," 4); the mercy of the Father, which is lavished abundantly and free in the sacrament of reconciliation; the Bread of New Life, "true nourishment given to men" (cf. Hymn of the Office on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi of the Roman rite).
Let us pray to God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint John Mary Vianney, to be able to thank him every day for the great gift of the vocation and to live our priesthood with full and joyful fidelity. Thank you all for this meeting! It gives me great pleasure to impart to each one the apostolic blessing.
Papal Address on Internal Forum
"It Is Necessary to Turn to the Confessional"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today upon receiving in audience participants in the course on the internal forum promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary.
* * *
I am happy to meet with you and to address to each one of you my welcome, on the occasion of the annual course on the internal forum, organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary. I cordially greet Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, who, for the first time as Major Penitentiary, has led your study sessions and thank him for the words he addressed to me. With him I greet Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent, the staff of the Penitentiary and all of you who, with your participation in this initiative, manifest the strong need to reflect further on an essential subject for the ministry and life of presbyters.
Your course is placed, providentially, in the Year for Priests, which I proclaimed for the 150th anniversary of the birth in heaven of St. John Mary Vianney, who exercised in a heroic and fruitful way the ministry of reconciliation. As stated in the letter of proclamation: "All of us priests must hear those words which regard us personally that he (the Curé d'Ars) put in Christ's mouth: 'I will charge my ministers with proclaiming to sinners, whom I am always ready to receive, that my Mercy is infinite.' From the Holy Curé d'Ars we priests can learn not only an inexhaustible trust in the sacrament of penance, which drives us to put it at the center of our pastoral concerns, but also the method of the 'dialogue of salvation' that should be carried out in it."
Where do the roots of heroism and fruitfulness sink, with which St. John Mary Vianney lived his own ministry of confessor? First of all in an intense personal penitential dimension. The awareness of one's own limits and the need to take recourse to Divine Mercy to ask for pardon, to convert the heart and to be sustained on the path of sanctity, are essential in the life of the priest: Only one who has first experienced its greatness can be a convinced herald and administrator of the Mercy of God. Every priest becomes minister of penance by his ontological configuration to Christ, High and Eternal Priest, who reconciles humanity with the Father; however, fidelity in administering the sacrament of reconciliation is entrusted to the responsibility of the presbyter.
We live in a cultural context marked by a hedonistic and relativistic mentality, which tends to cancel God from the horizon of life, does not favor the acquisition of a clear picture of values of reference and does not help to discern good from the evil and to mature a correct sense of sin. This situation makes even more urgent the service of administrators of Divine Mercy.
We must not forget, in fact, that there is a sort of vicious circle between obfuscation of the experience of God and the loss of the sense of sin. However, if we look at the cultural context in which St. John Mary Vianney lived, we see that, in several aspects, it was not so dissimilar from ours. Also in his time, in fact, a hostile mentality to faith existed, expressed by forces that sought actually to impede the exercise of the ministry. In such circumstances, the Holy Curé d'Ars made "the church his home," to lead men to God. He lived radically the spirit of prayer, the personal and intimate relationship with Christ, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration and evangelical poverty, appearing to his contemporaries as such an evident sign of the presence of God, as to drive so many penitents to approach his confessional.
In the conditions of liberty in which it is possible to exercise today the priestly ministry, it is necessary that the presbyters live in a "lofty way" their own response to their vocation, because only one who becomes every day the living and clear presence of the Lord can arouse in the faithful the sense of sin, give courage and have the desire born for the forgiveness of God.
Dear brothers, it is necessary to turn to the confessional, as place in which to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, but also as place in which to "dwell" more often, so that the faithful can find mercy, counsel and comfort, feel loved and understood by God and experience the presence of Divine Mercy, close to the real Presence in the Eucharist.
The "crisis" of the Sacrament of Penance, so often talked about, is a question that faces first of all priests and their great responsibility to educate the People of God to the radical demands of the Gospel. In particular, it asks them to dedicate themselves generously to the listening of sacramental confessions; to guide the flock with courage, so that it will not be conformed to the mentality of this world (cf. Romans 12:2), but will be able to make choices also against the current, avoiding accommodations and compromises. Because of this it is important that the priest have a permanent ascetic tension, nourished by communion with God, and that he dedicate himself to a constant updating in the study of moral theology and of human sciences.
St. John Mary Vianney was able to establish with penitents a real and proper "dialogue of salvation," showing the beauty and greatness of the Lord's goodness and arousing that desire for God and heaven, of which the saints are the first bearers. He affirmed: "The good God knows everything. Before you even confess, he knows that you will sin again and yet he forgives you. How great is the love of our God, which drives him to willingly forget the future, so as to forgive us" (Monnin A., "Il Curato d'Ars. Vita di Gian-Battista-Maria Vianney," Vol. 1, Turin, 1870, p. 130).
It is the priest's task to foster that experience of "dialogue of salvation," which, born of the certainty of being loved by God, helps man to acknowledge his own sin and to introduce himself, progressively, into that stable dynamic of conversion of heart, which leads to the radical renunciation of evil and to a life according to God (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1431).
Dear priests, what an extraordinary ministry the Lord has entrusted to us! As in the Eucharistic Celebration he puts himself in the hands of the priest to continue to be present in the midst of his people, similarly, in the sacrament of reconciliation he entrusts himself to the priest so that men will have the experience of the embrace with which the Father receives the prodigal son, restoring him the filial dignity and reconstituting him fully heir (cf. Luke 15:11-32).
May the Virgin Mary and the Holy Curé d'Ars help us to experience in our life the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of the Love of God (cf. Ephesians 3:18-19), to be faithful and generous administrators. My heartfelt thanks to all of you to whom I willingly impart my blessing.
Papal Homily at Roman Parish
"He Is Concerned About Our Good, Our Happiness, Our Salvation"
ROME, MARCH 7, 2010 - Here is a translation of the homily that Benedict XVI gave during a pastoral visit this morning to the parish of San Giovanni della Croce in Colle Salario in the northern part of the Diocese of Rome.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters!
“Convert, says the Lord, the kingdom of heaven is near!” We pronounced these words before the Gospel for this Third Sunday of Lent. They present us with the fundamental theme of this “difficult time” of the liturgical year: the invitation to conversion and the doing of works of penitence. Jesus, as we heard, mentions two historical events: the Romans’ brutal treatment of a group of Jews in the temple (cf. Luke 13:1) and the tragedy of the 18 people who were killed when a tower in Siloam collapsed (13:4). The people took these episodes to be divine punishment of the victims for their sins and, thinking themselves righteous, believe that they are safe from such things, not being in need of conversion in their lives. But Jesus denounces this attitude as an illusion: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (13:2-3). And he invites us to reflect on these facts in view of a greater commitment to conversion, for it is precisely closing oneself to the Lord, not walking the road of the conversion of ourselves, that leads to death, the death of the soul.
During Lent each of us is invited by God to bring about a change in our lives, thinking and living according to the Gospel, correcting something in our way of praying, of acting, of working and in our relations with others. Jesus makes this appeal to us not with a severity that is an end in itself but precisely because he is concerned about our good, our happiness, our salvation. On our part we have to answer him with a sincere interior effort, asking him to make us understand those particular things about us that we need to change.
The conclusion of the Gospel passage returns to the perspective of mercy, showing the necessity and the urgency of the return to God, the renewal of life according to God’s will. Referring to a custom of his time, Jesus presents the parable of the fig tree planted in an orchard; this fig tree does not bear fruit (cf. Luke 13:6-9). The dialogue that develops between the owner and the gardener manifests, on one hand, God’s mercy, which is patient and allows man, all of us, time for conversion; and, on the other hand, the necessity of immediately making the interior and exterior changes of life so as not to lose the opportunities that God’s mercy offers us to overcome our spiritual laziness and to return God’s love with our filial love. St. Paul too, in the reading that we heard, exhorts us not to deceive ourselves: It is not enough to be baptized and be nourished at the same Eucharistic meal if one does not live as a Christian and is not attentive to the signs from the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of San Giovanni della Croce! I am very glad to be among you today to celebrate the Lord’s Day. I cordially greet the cardinal vicar, the auxiliary bishop of the district, your pastor, Father Enrico Gemma, whom I thank for the beautiful words he addressed to me on your behalf, and the other priests who assist him. My thoughts go out to all those who live in this quarter, especially the elderly, the sick, those who are alone and those in difficulty. I remember all of you in this Holy Mass.
I know that your parish is young. In fact, it began its pastoral activity in 1989, for a period of 12 years in a provisory location, and then in the new parish complex. Now that you have a new sacred edifice, my visit aims to encourage you to realize more and more that Church of living stones that you are. I know that the experience of the first 12 years formed a way of life that still remains. The lack of adequate structures and consolidated traditions moved you, indeed, to entrust yourselves to the strength of the Word of God, which has been the light along your way and bore concrete fruit of conversion, of participation in the sacraments, especially the Sunday Eucharist, and of service.
I exhort you now to make this Church a place in which you learn the Lord better and listen to him who speaks to us in the sacred Scriptures. These will remain the vivifying center of your community so that it becomes a continual school of Christian life, from which every pastoral activity begins. The building of the new parish church has led you to a joint apostolic commitment, with special attention to the field of catechesis and the liturgy. I congratulate you on the pastoral efforts that you are undertaking. I know that various groups of the faithful gather to pray, form themselves in the school of the Gospel, participate in the sacraments -- above all penance and the Eucharist -- and live that essential dimension of the Christian life that is charity. I acknowledge with gratitude those who contribute to help the community to participate more in the liturgical celebrations and make them more lively as well as those who, with the parish Caritas and the Sant’Egidio group, try to meet the many exigencies of the area, especially those of the poor and needy. Finally, I acknowledge those who praiseworthily help families by seeing to the Christian education of the children and those who come to the oratory.
From the very beginning this parish was open to the movements and to the new ecclesial communities, thus developing a wider awareness of the Church and experiencing new forms of evangelization. I call on you to continue in this direction with courage but also to dedicate yourselves to bring all of these realities together into a unified pastoral project. I was happy to hear that your community wishes to promote, in regard to the vocations and the role of consecrated persons and the laity, the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God. As I already noted, this demands a change in mentality, above all with regard to the laity, “moving from considering them ‘collaborators’ of the clergy to recognizing them as truly ‘co-responsible’ for the being and action of the Church, promoting a mature and dedicated laity in this way” (cf. “Address a the Opening of the Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of Rome,” May 26, 2009).
Dear Christian families, dear young people, who live in this area and who attend this parish, let yourselves be more and more drawn by the desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not wait until others bring you other messages that do not lead to life, but make yourselves missionaries of Christ for the brothers and sisters where you live, work, study or only pass your free time. You should also establish here a strong and organic vocational program that educates families and young people in prayer and the living of life as a gift that comes from God.
Dear brothers and sisters! The difficult time of Lent invites all of us to recognize the mystery of God, which makes itself present in our life, as we heard in the first reading. Moses sees a burning bush in the desert, but the fire does not consume the bush. In a first moment, moved by curiosity he comes nearer to see this mysterious event when a voice from the bush calls to him, saying: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). And it is precisely this God who sends him into Egypt with the task of leading the people of Israel into the promised land, demanding from Pharaoh, in the name of this God, the freedom of Israel.
At this point Moses asks God what his name is, the name with which God shows his particular authority so that he can present it to the people and then to Pharaoh. God’s answer might seem strange; it seems to be an answer and not an answer. God simply says of himself: “I am he who is!” “He is,” and this must suffice. Thus, God did not reject Moses request, he manifests his name and in this way made it possible to invoke him, to call him, enter into relation with him. This means that he delivers himself over, in a certain way, to our human world, becoming accessible, almost one of us. He confronts the risk of relation, of being with us. What began at the burning bush in the desert finishes at the burning bush of the cross, where God, who became accessible in his Son made man, made truly one of us, is delivered into our hands and, in this way, realizes the liberation of humanity. On Golgotha, God, who during the night of the flight from Egypt revealed himself as he who frees from slavery, reveals himself as he who embraces every man with the salvific power of the cross and resurrection and frees man from sin and death. He accepts him in his embrace of love.
Let us remain in the contemplation of this mystery of the name of God to better understand the mystery of Lent, and to live as individuals and as community in permanent conversion, in a way to be a constant epiphany in the world, witness of the living God, for love, frees and saves. Amen.
Pope's "Lectio Divina" to Roman Priests
"The Priest's Mission Is to Be a Mediator, a Bridge That Connects"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 24, 2010 - Here is the "lectio divina" delivered by Benedict XVI to the parish priests of Rome upon receiving them in audience at the Vatican on Feb. 18.
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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
It is always a very joyful as well as an important tradition for me to be able to begin Lent with my Presbyterium, the Priests of Rome. Thus, as the local Church of Rome but also as the universal Church, we can start out on this essential journey with the Lord towards the Passion, towards the Cross, the Easter journey.
Let us meditate this year on the passages from the Letter to the Hebrews that have just been read. The Author of this Letter introduced a new way of understanding the Old Testament as a Book that speaks of Christ. The previous tradition had seen Christ above all, essentially, in the key of the Davidic promise, the promise of the true David, of the true Solomon, of the true King of Israel, the true King since he was both man and God.
And the inscription on the Cross truly proclaimed this reality to the world: now there is the true King of Israel, who is King of the world, the King of the Jews hangs on the Cross. It is a proclamation of the kingship of Jesus, of the fulfilment of the messianic expectation of the Old Testament which, at the bottom of their hearts, is shared by all men and women who await the true King who will bring justice, love and brotherhood.
However, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews discovered a citation which until then had gone unnoticed: Psalm 110 : 4 "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek". This means that not only does Jesus fulfil the Davidic promise, the expectation of the true King of Israel and of the world, but he also makes the promise of the real Priest come true. In a part of the Old Testament and especially in Qumran there are two separate lines of expectation: of the King and of the Priest. In discovering this verse, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews realized that the two promises are united in Christ: Christ is the true King, the Son of God in accordance with Psalm 2: 7, from which he quotes but he is also the true Priest.
Thus the whole of the religious world, the whole reality of sacrifices, of the priesthood that is in search of the true priesthood, the true sacrifice, finds in Christ its key, its fulfilment. And with this key it can reinterpret the Old Testament and show precisely that also the religious law abolished after the destruction of the Temple was actually moving towards Christ. Hence it was not really abolished but renewed, transformed, so that in Christ all things might find their meaning. The priesthood thus appears in its purity and in its profound depth.
In this way the Letter to the Hebrews presents the theme of the priesthood of Christ, of Christ the priest, at three levels: the priesthood of Aaron, that of the Temple; Melchizedek; and Christ himself as the true priest.
Indeed, the priesthood of Aaron, in spite of being different from Christ's priesthood, in spite of being, so to speak, solely a quest, a journey in the direction of Christ, is nevertheless a "journey" towards Christ and in this priesthood the essential elements are already outlined. Then Melchizedek we shall return to this point who is a pagan.
The pagan world enters the Old Testament. It enters as a mysterious figure, without father or mother the Letter to the Hebrews says it simply appears, and in this figure can be seen the true veneration of the Most High God, of the Creator of the Heavens and of the earth. Thus the pagan world too experiences the expectation and profound prefiguration of Christ's mystery. In Christ himself everything is recapitulated, purified and led to its term, to its true essence.
Let us now look at the individual elements concerning the priesthood as best we can. We learn two things from the Law, from the priesthood of Aaron, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says: If he is truly to be a mediator between God and man, a priest must be man. This is fundamental and the Son of God was made man precisely in order to be a priest, to be able to fulfil the priest's mission.
He must be man: We shall come back to this point, but he is unable, on his own, to make himself a mediator for God. The priest needs divine authorization, institution, and only by belonging to both spheres the divine and the human can he be a mediator, can he be a "bridge".
This is the priest's mission: to combine, to link these two realities that appear to be so separate, that is, the world of God far from us, often unknown to the human being and our human world. The priest's mission is to be a mediator, a bridge that connects, and thereby to bring human beings to God, to his redemption, to his true light, to his true life.
As the first point, therefore, the priest must be on God's side. Only in Christ is this need, this prerequisite of mediation fully brought about. This Mystery was therefore necessary: the Son of God is made man so that he may be the true bridge for us, the true mediation. Others must have at least an authorization from God, or in the Church's case, the Sacrament, that is they must introduce our being into the being of Christ, into divine being.
Only with the Sacrament, this divine act that makes us priests in communion with Christ, can we accomplish our mission.
And this seems to me a first point for our meditation: the importance of the Sacrament. No one can become a priest by himself; God alone can attract me, can authorize me, can introduce me into participation in Christ's mystery; God alone can enter my life and take me by the hand.
This aspect of divine giving, of divine precedence, of divine action that we ourselves cannot bring about and our passivity being chosen and taken by the hand by God is a fundamental point we must enter into. We must always return to the Sacrament, to this gift in which God gives me what I will never be able to give; participation, communion with divine being, with the priesthood of Christ.
Let us also make this reality a practical factor in our life: if this is how it is, a priest must really be a man of God, he must know God intimately and know him in communion with Christ and so we must live this communion; and the celebration of Holy Mass, the prayer of the Breviary, all our personal prayers are elements of being with God, of being men of God. Our being, our life and our heart must be fixed in God, in this point from which we must not stir. This is achieved and reinforced day after day with short prayers in which we reconnect with God and become, increasingly, men of God who live in his communion and can thus speak of God and lead people to God.
The other element is that the priest must be man, human in all senses. That is, he must live true humanity, true humanism; he must be educated, have a human formation, human virtues; he must develop his intelligence, his will, his sentiments, his affections; he must be a true man, a man according to the will of the Creator, of the Redeemer, for we know that the human being is wounded and the question of "what man is" is obscured by the event of sin that hurt human nature even to the quick.
Thus people say: "he lied" "it is human"; "he stole" "it is human"; but this is not really being human. Human means being generous, being good, being a just person, it means true prudence and wisdom. Therefore emerging with Christ's help from this dark area in our nature so as to succeed in being truly human in the image of God is a lifelong process that must begin in our training for the priesthood. It must subsequently be achieved, however, and continue as long as we live. I think that basically these two things go hand in hand: being of God and with God and being true man, in the true sense meant by the Creator when he formed this creature that we are.
To be man: the Letter to the Hebrews stresses our humanity; we find this surprising for it says: "He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness" (5:2). And then even more forcefully "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (5:7).
For the Letter to the Hebrews, the essential element of our being human is being compassionate, suffering with others: this is true humanity. It is not sin because sin is never solidarity but always tears solidarity apart, it is living life for oneself instead of giving it.
True humanity is real participation in the suffering of human beings. It means being a compassionate person metriopathèin, the Greek text says that is, being at the core of human passion, really bearing with others the burden of their suffering, the temptation of our time: "God, where are you in this world?".
The humanity of the priest does not correspond to the Platonic or Aristotelian ideal which claims that the true man is the one who lives in contemplation of the truth alone and so is blessed happy because he only has friendship with beautiful things, with divine beauty, while "the work" is left to others.
This is a hypothesis; whereas here it is implied that the priest enter, like Christ, into human wretchedness, carry it with him, visit those who are suffering and look after them and, not only outwardly but also inwardly, take upon himself, recapitulate in himself the "passion" of his time, of his parish, of the people entrusted to his care.
This is how Christ showed his true humanity. Of course, his Heart was always fixed on God, he always saw God, he was always in intimate conversation with him. Yet at the same time he bore the whole being, the whole of human suffering entered the Passion.
In speaking, in seeing people who were lowly, who had no pastor, he suffered with them. Moreover, we priests cannot withdraw to an Elysium. Let us rather be immersed in the passion of this world and with Christ's help and in communion with him, we must seek to transform it, to bring it to God.
Precisely this should be said, with the following really stimulating text: "Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears" (Heb 5: 7). This is not only a reference to the hour of anguish on the Mount of Olives but sums up the whole history of the Passion that embraces Jesus' entire life. Tears: Jesus wept by the tomb of Lazarus, he was truly moved inwardly by the mystery of death, by the terror of death. People forgive the brother, as in this case, the mother and the son, the friend: all the dreadfulness of death that destroys love, that destroys relationships, that is a sign of our finiteness, our poverty. Jesus is put to the test and he confronts this mystery in the very depths of his soul in the sorrow that is death and weeps. He weeps before Jerusalem, seeing the destruction of the beautiful city because of disobedience; he weeps, seeing all the destruction of the world's history; he weeps, seeing that people destroy themselves and their cities with violence and with disobedience.
Jesus weeps with loud cries. We know from the Gospels that Jesus cried out from the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46) and cried out once again at the end. And this cry responds to a fundamental dimension of the Psalm: in the terrible moments of human life many Psalms are a loud cry to God: "Help us, hear us!".
On this very day, in the Breviary, we prayed like this: God, where are you? "You have made us like sheep for slaughter" (Ps 44: 11 [rsv]). A cry of suffering humanity! And Jesus, who is the true subject of the Psalms, truly bears this cry of humanity to God, to God's ears: "help us and hear us!". He transforms the whole of suffering humanity, taking it to himself in a cry to God to hear him.
Thus we see that in this very way he brings about the priesthood, the function of mediator, bearing in himself, taking on in himself the sufferings and passion of the world, transforming it into a cry to God, bringing it before the eyes and to the hands of God and thus truly bringing it to the moment of redemption.
In fact the Letter to the Hebrews says that "he offered up prayers and supplications", "loud cries and tears" (5: 7). It is a correct translation of the verb prosphèrein. This is a religious word and expresses the act of offering human gifts to God, it expresses precisely the act of offering, of sacrifice. Thus with these religious terms applied to the prayers and tears of Christ, it shows that Christ's tears, his anguish on the Mount of Olives, his cry on the Cross, all his suffering are nothing in comparison with his important mission. In this very way he makes his sacrifice, he becomes the priest. With this "offered", prosphèrein, the Letter to the Hebrews says to us: this is the fulfilment of his priesthood, thus he brings humanity to God, in this way he becomes mediator, he becomes priest.
We say, rightly, that Jesus did not offer God some thing. Rather, he offered himself and made this offering of himself with the very compassion that transforms the suffering of the world into prayer and into a cry to the Father. Nor, in this sense, is our own priesthood limited to the religious act of Holy Mass in which everything is placed in Christ's hands but all of our compassion to the suffering of this world so remote from God is a priestly act, it is prosphèrein, it is offering up. In this regard, in my opinion, we must understand and learn how to accept more profoundly the sufferings of pastoral life, because priestly action is exactly this, it is mediation, it is entering into the mystery of Christ, it is communication with the mystery of Christ, very real and essential, existential and then sacramental.
A second term in this context is important. It is said that by means of this obedience Christ is made perfect, in Greek teleiothèis (cf. Heb 5: 8-9). We know that throughout the Torah, that is, in all religious legislation, the word tèleion, used here, means priestly ordination. In other words the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that precisely by doing this Jesus was made a priest, and his priesthood was fulfilled. Our sacramental priestly ordination should be brought about and achieved existentially but also Christologically, and through precisely this, should bring the world with Christ and to Christ and, with Christ, to God: thus we really become priests, teleiothèis. Therefore the priest is not a thing for a few hours but is fulfilled precisely in pastoral life, in his sufferings and his weaknesses, in his sorrows and also in his joys, of course. In this way we increasingly become priests in communion with Christ.
Finally the Letter to the Hebrews sums up all this compassion in the word hypakoèn, obedience: it is all obedience. This is an unpopular word in our day. Obedience appears as an alienation, a servile attitude. One does not enjoy one's own freedom, one's freedom is subjected to another's will, hence one is no longer free but determined by another, whereas self-determination, emancipation, would be true human existence.
Instead of the word "obedience", as an anthropological keyword we would like the term "freedom". Yet, on considering this problem closely, we see that these two things go together: Christ's obedience is the conformity of his will with the will of the Father; it is bringing the human will to the divine will, to the conformation of our will with God's will.
In his interpretation of the Mount of Olives, of the anguish expressed precisely in Jesus' prayer, "not my will but your will", St Maximus Confessor described this process that Christ carries in himself as a true man, together with the human nature and will; in this act "not my will but your will" Jesus recapitulates the whole process of his life, of leading, that is, natural human life to divine life and thereby transforming the human being. It is the divinization of the human being, hence the redemption of the human being, because God's will is not a tyrannical will, is not a will outside our being but is the creative will itself; it is the very place where we find our true identity.
God created us and we are ourselves if we conform with his will; only in this way do we enter into the truth of our being and are not alienated. On the contrary, alienation occurs precisely by disregarding God's will, for in this way we stray from the plan for our existence; we are no longer ourselves and we fall into the void.
Indeed, obedience, namely, conformity to God, the truth of our being, is true freedom, because it is divinization. Jesus, in bearing the human being, being human in himself and with himself, in conformity with God, in perfect obedience, that is, in the perfect conformation between the two wills, has redeemed us and redemption is always this process of leading the human will to communion with the divine will.
It is a process for which we pray every day: "May your will be done" And let us really pray the Lord to help us see closely that this is freedom and thus enter joyfully into this obedience and into "taking hold of" human beings in order to bring them by our own example, by our humility, by our prayer, by our pastoral action into communion with God.
Continuing our reading, a sentence of difficult interpretation follows. The Author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus prayed loudly, with cries and tears, to God who could save him from death and that in his total abandonment he is heard (cf. 5:7).
Here let us say: "No, it is not true, his prayer went unheard, he is dead". Jesus prayed to be released from death, but he was not released, he died a very cruel death.
Harnack, a liberal theologian, therefore wrote: "Here a not is missing", it must be written "He was not heard", and Bultmann accepted this interpretation. Yet this is a solution that is not an exegesis but rather a betrayal of the text. "Not" does not appear in any of the manuscripts but "he was heard"; so we must learn to understand what "being heard" means, in spite of the Cross.
I see three levels on which to understand these words. At a first level the Greek text may be translated as: "He was redeemed from his anguish", and in this sense Jesus is heard. This would therefore be a hint of what St Luke tells us: An angel strengthened him (cf. Lk 22: 43), in such a way that after the moment of anguish he was able to go, straight away and fearlessly towards his hour, as the Gospels describe it to us, especially that of John.
This would be being heard in the sense that God gives him the strength to bear the whole of this burden and so he was heard. Yet to me it seems that this answer is not quite enough.
Being heard, in the fullest sense Fr Vanhoye emphasized this would mean "he was redeemed from death", however not for the moment, for that moment, but for ever, in the Resurrection: God's true response to the prayer to be saved from death is the Resurrection and humanity is saved from death precisely in the Resurrection which is the true healing of our suffering and of the terrible mystery of death.
Already present here is a third level of understanding: Jesus' Resurrection is not only a personal event. I think it would be helpful to keep in mind the brief text in which St John, in chapter 12 of his Gospel, presents and recounts, in a very concise manner, the event on the Mount of Olives.
Jesus says: "Now is my soul troubled" (Jn 12: 27) and, in all the anguish of the Mount of Olives, what shall I say? "Father, save me from this hour... Father glorify your name" (cf. Jn 12: 27-28).
This is the same prayer that we find in the Synoptic Gospels: "all things are possible to you... your will be done (cf. Mt 26: 42; Mk 14: 36; Lk 22: 42) which in Johannine language appears: either as "save me" or "glorify" [your name]. And God answers: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again" (cf. Jn 12: 28). This is the response, it is God hearing him: I will glorify the Cross; it is the presence of divine glory because it is the supreme act of love. On the Cross Jesus is raised above all the earth and attracts the earth to him; on the Cross the "Kabod" now appears, the true divine glory of God who loves even to the Cross and thus transforms death and creates the Resurrection.
Jesus' prayer was heard in the sense that his death truly becomes life, it becomes the place where he redeems the human being, where he attracts the human being to himself.
If the divine response in John says: "I will glorify" you, it means that this glory transcends and passes through the whole of history over and over again: from your Cross, present in the Eucharist, it transforms death into glory. This is the great promise that is brought about in the Blessed Eucharist which ever anew opens the heavens. Being a servant of the Eucharist is, therefore, a depth of the priestly mystery.
Another brief word, at least about Melchizedek. He is a mysterious figure who enters Sacred History in Genesis 14. After Abraham's victory over several kings, Melchizedek, King of Salem, of Jerusalem, appears and brings out bread and wine.
This uncommented and somewhat incomprehensible event appears only in Psalm 110  as has been said, but it is clear that Judaism, Gnosticism and Christianity then wished to reflect profoundly on these words and created their interpretations. The Letter to the Hebrews does not speculate but reports only what Scripture says and there are various elements: he is a king of righteousness, he dwells in peace, he is king where peace reigns, he venerates and worships the Most High God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, and he brings out bread and wine (cf. Heb 7: 1-3; Gn 14: 18-20).
It is not mentioned here that the High Priest of the Most High God, King of Peace, worships God, Creator of Heaven and earth with bread and wine.
The Fathers stressed that he is one of the holy pagans of the Old Testament and this shows that even from paganism there is a path that leads to Christ. The criteria are: worshipping God Most High, the Creator, fostering righteousness and peace and venerating God in a pure way. Thus, with these fundamental elements, paganism too is on its way to Christ, and in a certain way, makes Christ's light present.
In the Roman canon after consecration we have the prayer supra quae that mentions certain prefigurations of Christ, his priesthood and his sacrifice: Abel, the first martyr, with his lamb; Abraham, whose intention is to sacrifice his son Isaac, replaced by the lamb sent by God; and Melchizedek, High Priest of God Most High who brings out bread and wine.
This means that Christ is the absolute newness of God and at the same time is present in the whole of history, through history, and history goes to encounter Christ. And not only the history of the Chosen People, which is the true preparation desired by God, in which is revealed the mystery of Christ, but also in paganism the mystery of Christ is prepared, paths lead from it toward Christ who carries all things within him.
This seems to me important in the celebration of the Eucharist: here is gathered together all human prayer, all human desire, all true human devotion, the true search for God that is fulfilled at last in Christ. Lastly. it should be said that the Heavens are now open, worship is no longer enigmatic, in relative signs, but true. For Heaven is open and people do not offer some thing, rather, the human being becomes one with God and this is true worship.
This is what the Letter to the Hebrews says: "Our priest... is seated at the right hand of the throne... in the sanctuary, the true tent which is set up... by the Lord" (cf. 8: 1-2).
Let us return to the point that Melchizedek is King of Salem. The whole Davidic tradition refers to this, saying: "Here is the place, Jerusalem is the place of the true worship, the concentration of worship in Jerusalem dates back to the times of Abraham, Jerusalem is the true place for the proper veneration of God".
Let us take another step: the true Jerusalem, God's Salem, is the Body of Christ, the Eucharist is God's peace with humankind. We know that in his Prologue, St John calls the humanity of Jesus the tent of God, eskènosen en hemìn (cf. Jn 1: 14). It was here that God himself pitched his tent in the world, and this tent, this new, true Jerusalem is at the same time on earth and in Heaven because this Sacrament, this sacrifice, is ceaselessly brought about among us and always arrives at the throne of Grace, at God's presence.
Here is the true Jerusalem, at the same time heavenly and earthly, the tent which is the Body of God, which as a risen Body always remains a Body and embraces humanity. And, at the same time, since it is a risen Body, it unites us with God.
All this is constantly brought about anew in the Eucharist. We, as priests, are called to be ministers of this great Mystery, in the Sacrament and in life. Let us pray the Lord that he grant us to understand this Mystery ever better, that he make us live this mystery ever better and thus to offer our help so that the world may be opened to God, so that the world may be redeemed. Thank you.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
the Marian Devotion of St. John Vianney
"The Holy Curé d'Ars Was Attracted Above all by Mary's Beauty"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 28, 2009 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in the courtyard of the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo, on Aug. 15, the solemnity of the Assumption.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the heart of the month of August, a holiday period for many families and also for me, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the ultimate meaning of our existence, helped by today's Liturgy which invites us to live in this world oriented to eternal happiness in order to share in the same glory as Mary, the same joy as our Mother (cf. Opening Prayer).
Let us, therefore, turn our gaze to Our Lady, Star of Hope, who illumines us on our earthly journey, and follow the example of the Saints who turned to her in every circumstance.
You know that we are celebrating the Year for Priests in remembrance of the Holy Curé d'Ars, and I would like to draw from the thoughts and testimonies of this holy country parish priest some ideas for reflection that will be able to help all of us especially us priests to strengthen our love and veneration for the Most Holy Virgin.
His biographers claim that St John Mary Vianney spoke to Our Lady with devotion and, at the same time, with trust and spontaneity. "The Blessed Virgin", he used to say, "is immaculate and adorned with all the virtues that make her so beautiful and pleasing to the Blessed Trinity" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 303).
And further: "The heart of this good Mother is nothing but love and mercy, all she wants is to see us happy. To be heard, it suffices to address oneself to her" (ibid., p. 307). The priest's zeal shines through these words. Motivated by apostolic longing, he rejoiced in speaking to his faithful of Mary and never tired of doing so. He could even present a difficult mystery like today's, that of the Assumption, with effective images, such as, for example: "Man was created for Heaven. The devil broke the ladder that led to it. Our Lord, with his Passion, made another.... The Virgin Most Holy stands at the top of the ladder and holds it steady with both hands" (ibid.).
The Holy Curé d'Ars was attracted above all by Mary's beauty, a beauty that coincides with her being Immaculate, the only creature to have been conceived without a shadow of sin.
"The Blessed Virgin", he said, "is that beautiful Creature who never displeased the good Lord" (ibid. p. 306). As a good and faithful pastor, he first of all set an example also in this filial love for the Mother of Jesus by whom he felt drawn toward Heaven. "Were I not to go to Heaven", he exclaimed, "how sorry I should be! I should never see the Blessed Virgin, this most beautiful creature!" (ibid., p. 309).
Moreover, on several occasions he consecrated his parish to Our Lady, recommending that mothers in particular do the same, every morning, with their children.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us make our own the sentiments of the Holy Curé d'Ars. And with his same faith let us turn to Mary, taken up into Heaven, in a special way entrusting to her the priests of the whole world.
[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father addressed the crowd in various languages. In English, he said:]
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors gathered here at Castel Gandolfo and also in St Peter's Square. As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, we are invited to raise our eyes to Heaven and contemplate Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother. She who on earth believed in God's word is now glorified in body and soul. May Mary's intercession and example guide you always and renew your hearts in faith and hope. May God grant you and your families abundant blessings of peace and joy!
I wish you all a good Feast of the Assumption!
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Mary, Mother of Priests
"The Perfect Model for Their Existence"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 27, 2009 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Aug. 12 during the general audience given at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priests. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation.
When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes".
St Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.
Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.
Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests.
Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27).
The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home".
This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being.
To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence it is not something external and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate.
It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them.
In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world.
Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.
The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as "Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry". The Council continues, "priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18).
The Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: "Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305).
This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today's world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, including the Sisters of St Anne, the altar servers from Malta, and the pilgrims from Australia and the United States of America. As the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin draws near in this Year of the Priest, my Catechesis today is centred on Mary the Mother of priests. She looks upon them with special affection as her sons. Indeed, their mission is similar to hers; priests are called to bring forth Christ's saving love into the world. On the Cross, Jesus invites all believers, especially his closest disciples, to love and venerate Mary as their Mother. Let us pray that all priests will make a special place for the Blessed Virgin in their lives, and seek her assistance daily as they bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus. Upon you and your families I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!
I now address the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the Memorial of St Clare of Assisi, who was able to live her adherence to Christ with courage and generosity. Imitate her example, particularly you, dear young people, so that like her you may respond faithfully to the Lord's call. I encourage you, dear sick people, to be united with the suffering Jesus as you carry your cross with faith. And may you, dear newlyweds, be apostles of the Gospel of love in your family.
After his Catechesis, the Pope appealed for solidarity and prayer for the peoples of Eastern Asia hit by the typhoon "Morakot" and, in Japan, also by an earthquake. In order to recall the earthquake last April in Italy, in Abruzzo, the Pope lit "the torch of hope" which will be carried in procession for the 29th "Tendopoli San Gabriele", from L'Aquila to the Passionist Shrine at Isola Gran Sasso.
Lastly, my thoughts turn to the numerous peoples who have been hit by a violent typhoon in the past few days in the Philippines, in Taiwan, in certain south-Eastern Provinces of the People's Republic of China and in Japan, which latter country has also been sorely tried by a strong earthquake.
I wish to express my spiritual closeness to all who are in conditions of serious hardship, and I ask everyone to pray for them and for all those who have lost their life. I hope they will not be left without the comfort of solidarity and material assistance.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Papal Message on the Sacrament of Penance
"To the Extent That the Sense of Sin Is Lost, Feelings of Guilt Increase"
VATICAN CITY, AUG. 25, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's letter sent by his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on the occasion of Italy's 60th National Liturgical Week, being held in Barletta with the theme: "Celebrate Mercy: 'Let Yourselves Be Reconciled With God.'"
The letter is addressed to Bishop Felice de Molfetta of Cerignola-Ascoli Satriano, president of Italy's Center of Liturgical Action.
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Most Revered Excellency:
On the occasion of the 60th National Liturgical Week, which will be held in Barletta this Aug. 24-28, I am happy to give you, the collaborators of the Center of Liturgical Activity (CLA), the relators and all the participants, the cordial greeting of the Supreme Pontiff, who desires the serene and fruitful development of the meeting and assures all of a special remembrance in prayer.
He expresses appreciation for the commitment over these decades, in constant adherence to the doctrine and indications of the conciliar constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" (SC), and in wise obedience to the episcopate and the Holy See in proposing the mystery of the faith, which is given to man in the Church when celebrated (cf. SC, 6-7). At the same time, he invites CLA to continue on this path with the same fidelity and spirit, helping to spread -- among laborers of the Lord's vineyard -- new courage and new perseverance.
Over these 60 years, the liturgical weeks have given bishops, priests, consecrated persons, experts, diocesan directors, and faithful who love the liturgy, precious opportunities to reflect more profoundly, always from the perspective of ecclesial service, that is, that of making the community grow in the spirit and life of the liturgy. It has been possible to grow closer to its center (Easter, the Eucharist), and its articulation (the sacraments, Word of God, Liturgy of the Hours, Liturgical Year), and its relation to life, culture, art and music. Thanks to the uninterrupted succession of the weeks and the work of those who programmed them and implemented them, the Church in Italy, especially in those dioceses in which they have been held, has reaped great benefit, growing in zeal for the "full and active participation by all the people […] for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit" (SC, 14).
The theme of the 60th Week, "Celebrate Mercy: 'Let Yourselves Be Reconciled With God'" (2 Corinthians 5:20), is rooted in this line, calling attention to the sacrament of penance or reconciliation -- a particularly opportune choice given both its importance and pertinence -- 35 years after the new Rite of Penance came into force for the Church in Italy, and in happy coincidence with the Year for Priests. The objective of your meeting consists in understanding the whole penitential process of Christian life, in which the sacrament is integrated as an intense moment, always in an ecclesial context. It will be interesting to verify if, beyond the change in the rite, an adequate theological, spiritual and pastoral mentality has been formed.
In this connection, in a message sent to the participants in the recent 20th course on the Internal Forum, promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Supreme Pontiff stated: "These days, the correct formation of believers' consciences is without a doubt one of the pastoral priorities because, unfortunately, as I have reaffirmed on other occasions, to the extent that the sense of sin is lost, feelings of guilt increase which people seek to eliminate by recourse to inadequate palliative remedies. The many invaluable spiritual and pastoral tools that contribute to the formation of consciences should be increasingly developed" (Benedict XVI, March 12, 2009).
And he adds: "Like all the sacraments, the sacrament of Penance too requires catechesis beforehand and a mystagogical catechesis for a deeper knowledge of the sacrament: 'per ritus et preces.' … Catechesis should be combined with a wise use of preaching, which has had different forms in the Church's history according to the mentality and pastoral needs of the faithful" (ibid.).
Along with an adequate formation of the moral conscience, maturity of life and celebration of the sacrament, it is necessary to foster in the faithful the experience of spiritual support. Precisely for this reason, the Pope continued to note, today "wise and holy 'spiritual teachers'" are needed, exhorting priests to keep "ever alive within them the knowledge that they must be worthy 'ministers' of divine mercy and responsible educators of consciences," inspired in the example of the Cure d'Ars, St. John Vianney, of whom precisely this year we observe the 150th anniversary of his death (cf. ibid.).
His Holiness invokes the heavenly intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, so that the 60th liturgy week may contribute to foster a new start and renewal in the celebration of mercy and in the meaningful experience of divine pardon and, being grateful for the service given to the Church by the Center of Liturgical Activity, imparts to Your Excellency, to the archbishop of Trani-Barletta-Bisceglie and Nazareth, and to the rest of the bishops and priests present, to the relators and to all the participants a heartfelt special apostolic blessing.
For my part, I assure you of remembrance in prayer and take advantage of the opportunity to confirm my affection in the Lord.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone,
Secretary of State
On St. John Eudes
"He Wanted to Remind People … of the Heart"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 19, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today during the general audience held at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. He reflected on St. John Eudes and the formation of the clergy.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
Celebrated today is the liturgical memorial of St. John Eudes, tireless apostle of devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who lived in France in the 17th century, a century marked by opposing religious phenomena and also by great political problems. It was the time of the Thirty Years War, which devastated not only a great part of Central Europe, but also devastated souls.
While contempt was being spread for the Christian faith by some currents of thought that were prevalent then, the Holy Spirit inspired a fervent spiritual renewal, with prominent personalities such as that of Berulle, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort and St. John Eudes. This great "French school" of holiness also had St. John Mary Vianney among its fruits. By a mysterious design of Providence, my venerated predecessor, Pius XI, proclaimed John Eudes and the Curé d'Ars saints at the same time, on May 31, 1925, offering the Church and the whole world two extraordinary examples of priestly holiness.
In the context of the Year for Priests, I wish to pause to underline the apostolic zeal of St. John Eudes, directed in particular to the formation of the diocesan clergy.
The saints have verified, in the experience of life, the truth of the Gospel; in this way, they introduce us into the knowledge and understanding of the Gospel. In 1563, the Council of Trent issued norms for the establishment of diocesan seminaries and for the formation of priests, as the council was aware that the whole crisis of the Reformation was also conditioned by the insufficient formation of priests, who were not adequately prepared intellectually and spiritually, in their heart and soul, for the priesthood.
This occurred in 1563 but, given that the application and implementation of the norms took time, both in Germany as well as in France, St. John Eudes saw the consequences of this problem. Moved by the lucid awareness of the great need of spiritual help that souls were feeling precisely because of the incapacity of a great part of the clergy, the saint, who was a parish priest, instituted a congregation dedicated specifically to the formation of priests. He founded the first seminary in the university city of Caen, a highly appreciated endeavor, which was soon extended to other dioceses.
The path of holiness he followed and proposed to his disciples had as its foundation a solid confidence in the love that God revealed to humanity in the priestly Heart of Christ and the maternal Heart of Mary. In that time of cruelty and loss of interior silence, he addressed himself to the heart so as to leave in the heart a word from the Psalms very well interpreted by St. Augustine. He wanted to remind people, men and above all future priests of the heart, showing the priestly Heart of Christ and the maternal Heart of Mary. A priest must be a witness and apostle of this love of the Heart of Christ and of Mary.
Today we also feel the need for priests to witness the infinite mercy of God with a life totally "conquered" by Christ, and for them to learn this in the years of their formation in the seminaries. After the synod of 1990, Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic exhortation "Pastores Dabo Vobis," in which he took up and actualized the norms of the Council of Trent and above all underlined the need for continuity between the initial and permanent moments of formation. For him, for us, this is a real point of departure for a genuine reform of priestly life and apostolate, and it is also the central point so that the "new evangelization" is not simply an attractive slogan, but rather is translated into reality.
The foundations of formation in the seminary constitute that irreplaceable "humus spirituale" in which it is possible to "learn Christ," allowing oneself to be progressively configured to him, sole High Priest and Good Shepherd. The time in the seminary should be seen, therefore, as the actualization of the moment in which the Lord Jesus, after having called the Apostles and before sending them out to preach, asks that they stay with him (cf. Mark 3:14).
When St. Mark narrates the vocation of the Twelve Apostles, he tells us that Jesus had a double objective: The first was that they be with him, the second that they be sent to preach. But in going always with him, they truly proclaim Christ and take the reality of the Gospel to the world.
In this Year for Priests, I invite you to pray, dear brothers and sisters, for priests and for those preparing to receive the extraordinary gift of the priestly ministry. I conclude by addressing to all the exhortation of St. John Eudes, who said thus to priests: "Give yourselves to Jesus to enter into the immensity of his great Heart, which contains the Heart of his Holy Mother and of all the saints, and to lose yourselves in this abyss of love, of charity, of mercy, of humility, of purity, of patience, of submission and of holiness" (Coeur admirable, III, 2).
With this spirit, we will now sing together the Our Father in Latin.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the pilgrims from India and Nigeria. Our catechesis considers Saint John Eudes whose feast we celebrate today. He lived in seventeenth-century France which, notwithstanding considerable trials for the faith, produced many outstanding examples of spiritual courage and insight. Saint John Eudes’ particular contribution was the foundation of a religious congregation dedicated to the task of giving solid formation to the diocesan priesthood. He encouraged seminarians to grow in holiness and to trust in God’s love revealed to humanity in the priestly heart of Jesus and in the maternal heart of Mary. During this year let us pray in a special way for priests and seminarians that, inspired by today’s saint, they may spiritually "enter into the heart of Jesus", becoming men of true love, mercy, humility and patience, renewed in holiness and pastoral zeal. My dear Brothers and Sisters, upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
©Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On the Curé d'Ars
"Since His Earthly Youth He Sought to Conform Himself to God
VATICAN CITY, AUG. 17, 2009 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Aug. 5 at his Summer Residence in Castel Gandolfo, during which commented on the Holy Curé d'Ars.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's Catechesis I would like briefly to review the life of the Holy Curé of Ars. I shall stress several features that can also serve as an example for priests in our day, different of course from the time in which he lived, yet marked in many ways by the same fundamental human and spiritual challenges.
Precisely yesterday was the 150th anniversary of his birth in Heaven. Indeed it was at two o'clock in the morning on 4 August 1859 that St John Baptist Mary Vianney, having come to the end of his earthly life, went to meet the heavenly Father to inherit the Kingdom, prepared since the world's creation for those who faithfully follow his teachings (cf. Mt 25: 34).
What great festivities there must have been in Heaven at the entry of such a zealous pastor! What a welcome he must have been given by the multitude of sons and daughters reconciled with the Father through his work as parish priest and confessor!
I wanted to use this anniversary as an inspiration to inaugurate the Year for Priests, whose theme, as is well known, is "Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests". The credibility of witness depends on holiness and, once and for all, on the actual effectiveness of the mission of every priest.
John Mary Vianney was born into a peasant family in the small town of Dardilly on 8 May 1786. His family was poor in material possessions but rich in humanity and in faith. Baptized on the day of his birth, as was the good custom in those days, he spent so many years of his childhood and adolescence working in the fields and tending the flocks that at the age of 17 he was still illiterate.
Nonetheless he knew by heart the prayers his devout mother had taught him and was nourished by the sense of religion in the atmosphere he breathed at home. His biographers say that since his earthly youth he sought to conform himself to God's will, even in the humblest offices.
He pondered on his desire to become a priest but it was far from easy for him to achieve it.
Indeed, he arrived at priestly ordination only after many ordeals and misunderstandings, with the help of far-sighted priests who did not stop at considering his human limitations but looked beyond them and glimpsed the horizon of holiness that shone out in that truly unusual young man.
So it was that on 23 June 1815 he was ordained a deacon and on the following 13 August, he was ordained a priest. At last, at the age of 29, after numerous uncertainties, quite a few failures and many tears, he was able to walk up to the Lord's altar and make the dream of his life come true.
The Holy Curé of Ars always expressed the highest esteem for the gift he had received. He would say: "Oh! How great is the Priesthood! It can be properly understood only in Heaven... if one were to understand it on this earth one would die, not of fright but of love!" (Abbé Monnin, Esprit du Curé d'Ars, p. 113).
Moreover, as a little boy he had confided to his mother: "If I were to become a priest, I would like to win many souls" (Abbé Monnin, Procès de l'ordinaire, p. 1064). And so he did. Indeed, in his pastoral service, as simple as it was extraordinarily fertile, this unknown parish priest of a forgotten village in the south of France was so successful in identifying with his ministry that he became, even in a visibly and universally recognizable manner, an alter Christus, an image of the Good Shepherd who, unlike the hired hand, lays down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10: 11).
After the example of the Good Shepherd, he gave his life in the decades of his priestly service. His existence was a living catechesis that acquired a very special effectiveness when people saw him celebrating Mass, pausing before the tabernacle in adoration or spending hour after hour in the confessional.
Therefore the centre of his entire life was the Eucharist, which he celebrated and adored with devotion and respect. Another fundamental characteristic of this extraordinary priestly figure was his diligent ministry of confession.
He recognized in the practice of the sacrament of penance the logical and natural fulfillment of the priestly apostolate, in obedience to Christ's mandate: "if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (cf. Jn 20: 23).
St John Mary Vianney thus distinguished himself as an excellent, tireless confessor and spiritual director. Passing "with a single inner impulse from the altar to the confessional", where he spent a large part of the day, he did his utmost with preaching and persuasive advice to help his parishioners rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence (cf. Letter to Priests for the inauguration of the Year for Priests).
The pastoral methods of St John Mary Vianney might hardly appear suited to the social and cultural conditions of the present day. Indeed, how could a priest today imitate him in a world so radically changed? Although it is true that times change and many charisms are characteristic of the person, hence unrepeatable, there is nevertheless a lifestyle and a basic desire that we are all called to cultivate.
At a close look, what made the Curé of Ars holy was his humble faithfulness to the mission to which God had called him; it was his constant abandonment, full of trust, to the hands of divine Providence.
It was not by virtue of his own human gifts that he succeeded in moving peoples' hearts nor even by relying on a praiseworthy commitment of his will; he won over even the most refractory souls by communicating to them what he himself lived deeply, namely, his friendship with Christ.
He was "in love" with Christ and the true secret of his pastoral success was the fervor of his love for the Eucharistic Mystery, celebrated and lived, which became love for Christ's flock, for Christians and for all who were seeking God. His testimony reminds us, dear brothers and sisters, that for every baptized person and especially for every priest the Eucharist is not merely an event with two protagonists, a dialogue between God and me. Eucharistic Communion aspires to a total transformation of one's life and forcefully flings open the whole human "I" of man and creates a new "we" (cf. Joseph Ratzinger, La Comunione nella Chiesa, p. 80).
Thus, far from reducing the figure of St John Mary Vianney to an example albeit an admirable one of 18-century devotional spirituality, on the contrary one should understand the prophetic power that marked his human and priestly personality that is extremely timely.
In post-revolutionary France which was experiencing a sort of "dictatorship of rationalism" that aimed at obliterating from society the very existence of priests and of the Church, he lived first in the years of his youth a heroic secrecy, walking kilometers at night to attend Holy Mass. Then later as a priest Vianney distinguished himself by an unusual and fruitful pastoral creativity, geared to showing that the then prevalent rationalism was in fact far from satisfying authentic human needs, hence definitively unlivable.
Dear brothers and sisters, 150 years after the death of the Holy Curé of Ars, contemporary society is facing challenges that are just as demanding and may have become even more complex.
If in his time the "dictatorship of rationalism" existed, in the current epoch a sort of "dictatorship of relativism" is evident in many contexts. Both seem inadequate responses to the human being's justifiable request to use his reason as a distinctive and constitutive element of his own identity.
Rationalism was inadequate because it failed to take into account human limitations and claims to make reason alone the criterion of all things, transforming it into a goddess; contemporary relativism humiliates reason because it arrives de facto at affirming that the human being can know nothing with certainty outside the positive scientific field.
Today however, as in that time, man, "a beggar for meaning and fulfillment", is constantly in quest of exhaustive answers to the basic questions that he never ceases to ask himself.
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had very clearly in mind this "thirst for the truth" that burns in every human heart when they said that it is the task of priests "as instructors of the people in the faith" to see to the "formation of a genuine Christian community", that can "smooth the path to Christ for all men" and exercise "a truly motherly function" for them, "showing or smoothing the path towards Christ and his Church" for non-believers and for believers, while also "encouraging, supporting and strengthening believers for their spiritual struggles" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 6).
The teaching which in this regard the Holy Curé of Ars continues to pass on to us is that the priest must create an intimate personal union with Christ that he must cultivate and increase, day after day.
Only if he is in love with Christ will the priest be able to teach his union, this intimate friendship with the divine Teacher to all, and be able to move people's hearts and open them to the Lord's merciful love. Only in this way, consequently, will he be able to instil enthusiasm and spiritual vitality in the communities the Lord entrusts to him.
Let us pray that through the intercession of St John Mary Vianney, God will give holy priests to his Church and will increase in the faithful the desire to sustain and help them in their ministry. Let us entrust this intention to Mary, whom on this very day we invoke as Our Lady of the Snow.
On Priestly Identity
"One Who Prays Is Not Afraid; One Who Prays Is Never Alone"
VATICAN CITY, JULY 1, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square. He continued with the theme he took up last week: the Year for Priests.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
As you know, with the celebration of First Vespers for the solemnity of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Pauline Year has come to a close -- the year that marked the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the spiritual fruits that this important initiative has brought to so many Christian communities.
As a precious her itage of the Pauline Year, we can reap the Apostle's invitation to go deeper into the knowledge of the mystery of Christ, so that he becomes the heart and center of our personal and social realities.
This is, in fact, the indispensable condition for a true spiritual and ecclesial renewal. As I already emphasized during the first Eucharistic celebration in the Sistine Chapel after my election as the Successor of the Apostle St. Peter, it is precisely from that full communion with Christ that "flows every other element of the Church's life: first of all, communion among all the faithful, the commitment to proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel, the ardor of love for all, especially the poorest and lowliest" (1st Message at the End of the Eucharistic Concelebration With the Members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, April 20, 2005).
This is true in the first place for priests. Because of this, I thank Divine Providence, which now offer s us the possibility of celebrating the Year for Priests. It is my heartfelt wish that this will be an opportunity for interior renewal for every priest, and consequently, [a year of] firm reinvigoration in the commitment to his own mission.
Just as during the Pauline Year, our constant reference point was St. Paul, so in the coming months we will look to St. John Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars, recalling the 150th anniversary of his death. In the letter I wrote to priests for this occasion, I wanted to emphasize what shines forth in the existence of this humble minister of the altar: "the complete identification of the man with his ministry."
He often said that "a good pastor, a pastor after the heart of God, is the greatest treasure that the good God can give to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy." And almost unable to conceive the greatness of the gift and the task entrusted to a poor human creature, he si ghed, "Oh how great is the priesthood! … If he could understand himself, he would die. … God obeys him: He pronounces two words and Our Lord descends from heaven at his beckoning and enters into a tiny Host."
In truth, precisely considering the binomial "identity-mission," every priest can better see the need for this progressive identification with Christ that will guarantee him fidelity and fruitfulness in the evangelical testimony.
The very theme of the Year for Priests -- Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests -- shows that the gift of divine grace precedes every possible human response and pastoral accomplishment, and thus, in the life of the priest, missionary proclamation and worship are never separable, just as the ontological-sacramental identity and the evangelizing mission are not separable.
Apart from that we could say the objective of every priest's mission is "cultic": so that all pe ople can offer themselves to God as a living host, holy and pleasing to Him (cf. Romans 12:1), that in creation itself, in people, it becomes worship and praise of the Creator, receiving from it that charity that they are called to abundantly dispense among each other.
We clearly see this in the beginnings of Christianity. St. John Chrysostom said, for example, that the sacrament of the altar and the "sacrament of one's brother" or, as they say, the "sacrament of the poor," are two aspects of the same mystery. Love for neighbor, attention to justice and to the poor, are not just themes of social morality, but rather the expression of a sacramental conception of Christian morality, because through the ministry of the priest, the spiritual sacrifice of all the faithful is carried out, in union with that of Christ, the one Mediator: the sacrifice that priests offer in an unbloody and sacramental manner awaiting the new coming of the Lord.
Th is is the principal dimension, essentially missionary and dynamic, of priestly identity and ministry: by way of the proclamation of the Gospel, those who still do not believe are begotten in the faith, so that they can unite their sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ, that translates in love for God and neighbor.
Dear brothers and sisters, faced with so many uncertainties and struggles, it is urgent to recover -- also in the exercise of priestly ministry -- a clear and unmistaken judgment about the absolute primacy of divine grace, recalling what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "The smallest gift of grace surpasses the natural good of the whole universe" (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 113, a. 9, ad 2).
The mission of every priest depends, therefore, also and above all on the awareness of the sacramental reality of his "new being." The priest's renewed enthusiasm for his mission will always depend on the certainty of his personal identity, which is n ot artificially constructed, but rather given and received freely and divinely. What I have written in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" is also true for priests: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (No. 1).
Having received such an extraordinary gift of grace with their "consecration," priests become permanent witnesses of their encounter with Christ. Beginning precisely from this interior awareness, they can plentifully fulfill their "mission," by means of the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. After the Second Vatican Council, the impression has come about that in our times, there is something more urgent in priests' missions; some believed that they should in the first place build up a distinct society. On the other hand, the verses from the Gospel that we hea rd at the beginning call our attention to the two essential elements of priestly ministry. Jesus sends the apostles, at that time and now, to proclaim the Gospel and he gives them the power to cast out evil spirits. "Proclamation" and "power," that is to say "word" and "sacrament," are therefore the two foundational pillars of priestly service, beyond its many possible configurations.
When the "diptych" consecration-mission is not taken into account, it becomes truly difficult to understand the identity of the priest and his ministry in the Church. Who in fact is the priest, if not a man converted and renewed by the Spirit, who lives from a personal relationship with Christ, constantly making the Gospel criteria his own? Who is the priest, if not a man of unity and truth, aware of his own limits and at the same time, of the extraordinary greatness of the vocation he has received, that of helping to extend the Kingdom of G od to the ends of the earth?
Yes! The priest is a man totally belonging to the Lord, because it is God himself who calls him and who establishes him in his apostolic service. And precisely being totally of God, he is totally of mankind, for all people. During this Year for the Priest, which will continue until the next solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us pray for all priests. May there be an abundance of prayer initiatives and, in particular, Eucharistic adoration, for the sanctification of the clergy and for priestly vocations -- in dioceses, in parishes, in religious communities (especially monasteries), in associations and movements and in the various pastoral groups present in the whole world -- responding to Jesus' invitation to pray "to the lord of the harvest that he may send workers to his harvest" (Matthew 9:38).
Prayer is the first task, the true path of sanctification for priests, and the soul of an authentic "vocational ministry." The numerical scarcity of priestly ordinations in some countries should not discourage, but instead should motivate a multiplication of opportunities for silence and listening to the Word, and better attention to spiritual direction and the sacrament of confession, so that the voice of God, who always continues calling and confirming, can be heard and promptly followed by many youth.
One who prays is not afraid; one who prays is never alone; one who prays is saved! St. John Vianney is undoubtedly a model of an existence made prayer. Mary, Mother of the Church, help all priests to follow his example so as to be, like him, witnesses of Christ and apostles of the Gospel.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There is a close link between the Pauline Year, which concluded last Sunday, and the Church’s curren t celebration of the Year for Priests. As we have seen, Saint Paul, in his life and his writings, teaches us that the mystery of Christ must stand at the very heart of our lives as individuals and as a community. This is true in a very special way of priests. In Saint John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, we see a wonderful example of a priest whose person was completely identified with his ministry. The priest’s personal identity, grounded in his calling and his sacramental configuration to Christ, may not be separated from his pastoral activity. Indeed, the ministry of every priest is essentially "cultic", in the fullest sense of the word: it is meant to enable the faithful to offer their lives to God as a pleasing sacrifice (cf. Rom 12:1). It is my hope that this Year for Priests will help all priests to appreciate the immense grace of their vocation, consecration and mission. During this Year may the whole Church pray and work more fervently for the sanctification of priests, an increase of priestly vocations, and a greater appreciation of the role of the priest in the life of the ecclesial community.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the pilgrimage groups from England, Scotland, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On the Year for Priests
"The Priest Is a Slave of Christ"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 24, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Last Friday, June 19, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day traditionally dedicated to pray for the sanctification of priests, I had the joy of inaugurating the Year for Priests. The year was proclaimed on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the "birth into eternal life" of the Curé d'Ars, St. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney. Entering into the Vatican basilica for the celebration of vespers, almost as a first symbolic gesture, I paused in the Choir Chapel to venerate the relic of this saintly pastor of souls: his heart. Why a Year for Priests? Why particularly in memory of the holy Curé d'Ars, who apparently did nothing extraordinary?
Divine Providence has ordained that this personage would be placed beside that of St. Paul. As the Pauline Year is concluding, a year which was dedicated to the Apostle of the Gentiles, the epitome of an extraordinary evangelizer who made various mission trips to spread the Gospel, this new jubilee year invites us to gaze upon a poor farmer turned humble pastor, who carried out his pastoral service in a small town.
If the two saints are quite different insofar as the life experiences that marked them -- one traveled from region to region to announce the Gospel; the other remained in his little parish, welcoming thousands and thousands of faithful -- there is nevertheless something fundamental that unites them: It is their total identification with their ministry, their communion with Christ. This brought St. Paul to say: "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). St. John Vianney liked to repeat: "If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind glass, like wine mixed with water."
The objective of this Year for Priests, as I wrote in the letter sent to priests for this occasion, is to support that struggle of every priest "toward spiritual perfection, on which the effectiveness of his ministry primarily depends." It is to help priests first of all -- and with them all of God's people -- to rediscover and reinvigorate their awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of grace that the ordained ministry is for he who receives it, for the whole Church, and for the world, which would be lost without the real presence of Christ.
Undoubtedly, the historical and social conditions in which the Curé d'Ars lived have changed, and it is justifiable to ask oneself how it's possible for priests living in a globalized society to imitate him in the way he identified himself with his ministry. In a world in which the customary outlook on life comprehends less and less the sacred, and in its place "useful" becomes the only important category, the catholic -- and even ecclesial -- idea of the priesthood can run the risk of being emptied of the esteem that is natural to it.
It is not by chance that as much in theological environments as in concrete pastoral practice and the formation of the clergy, a contrast -- even an opposition -- is made between two distinct concepts of the priesthood. Some years ago, I noted in this regard that there is "on the one hand a social-functional understanding that defines the essence of the priesthood with the concept of 'service': service to the community in the fulfillment of a function. … On the other hand, there is the sacramental-ontological understanding, which naturally does not deny the servicial character of the priesthood, but sees it anchored in the being of the minister and considers that this being is determined by a gift called sacrament, given by the Lord through the mediation of the Church" (Joseph Ratzinger, Ministry and Life of the Priest, in Principles of Catholic Theology).
The terminological mutation of the word "priesthood" toward a meaning of "service, ministry, assignment" is as well a sign of this distinct understanding. The primacy of the Eucharist is linked to the sacramental-ontological conception, in the binomial "priest-sacrifice," while to the other [conception] would correspond the primacy of the word and service to the proclamation.
Considered carefully, these are not two opposing understandings, and the tension that nevertheless exists between them should be resolved from within. Thus the decree "Presbyterorum Ordinis" from the Second Vatican Council affirms: "Through the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel, the People of God are called together and assembled. All belonging to this people … can offer themselves as 'a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God' (Rom 12:1). Through the ministry of the priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes" (No. 2).
We then ask ourselves, "What exactly does it mean, for priests, to evangelize? What is the so-called primacy of proclamation?" Jesus speaks of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as the true objective for his coming to the world, and his proclamation is not just a "discourse." It includes, at the same time, his actions: His signs and miracles indicate that the Kingdom is now present in the world, which in the end coincides with himself. In this sense, one must recall that even in this idea of the "primacy" of proclamation, word and sign are inseparable.
Christian proclamation does not proclaim "words," but the Word, and the proclamation coincides with the very person of Christ, ontologically open to the relationship with the Father and obedient to his will. Therefore, authentic service to the Word requires from the priest that he strains toward a deep abnegation of himself, until being able to say with the Apostle, "It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me."
The priest cannot consider himself "lord" of the word, but rather its servant. He is not the word, but rather, as John the Baptist proclaimed, (precisely today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist), he is the "voice" of the Word: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths'" (Mark 1:3).
Now then, to be the "voice" of the Word doesn't constitute for the priest a merely functional element. On the contrary, it presupposes a substantial "losing oneself" in Christ, participating in his mystery of death and resurrection with all of oneself: intelligence, liberty, will, and the offering of one's own body as a living sacrifice (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Only participation in the sacrifice of Christ, in his kenosis, makes the proclamation authentic! And this is the path that should be walked with Christ to the point of saying with him to the Father: Let it be done, "not what I will but what you will" (Mark 14:36). The proclamation, therefore, always implies as well the sacrifice of oneself, the condition so that the proclamation can be authentic and effective.
Alter Christus, the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father, who in incarnating himself, has taken the form of a slave, has made himself a slave (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). The priest is a slave of Christ in the sense that his existence, ontologically configured to Christ, takes on an essentially relational character: He is in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ at the service of man. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: He is the minister of their salvation, of their happiness, of their authentic liberation -- maturing, in this progressive taking up of the will of Christ, in prayer, in this "remaining heart to heart" with him. This is therefore the essential condition of all proclamation, which implies participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church.
The holy Curé d'Ars often repeated with tears in his eyes: "What a frightening thing to be a priest!" And he added: "How we ought to pity a priest who celebrates Mass as if he were engaged in something routine. How wretched is a priest without interior life!"
May this Year of the Priest bring all priests to identify themselves totally with Jesus, crucified and risen, so that in imitation of St. John the Baptist, we are willing to "decrease" so that he increases; so that, following the example of the Curé d'Ars, they constantly and deeply understand the responsibility of their mission, which is sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God. Let us entrust to the Virgin, Mother of the Church, this Year for Priests just begun and all the priests of the world.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then addressed the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of priests – marked the beginning of the Year for Priests commemorating the sesquicentennial of the death of the Curé of Ars, Saint John Mary Vianney, patron of parish priests. The Pauline Year now ending and the current Year for Priests invite us to consider how the Apostle Paul and the humble Curé of Ars both identified themselves completely with their ministry, striving to live in constant communion with Christ. May this Year for Priests help all priests to grow towards the spiritual perfection essential to the effectiveness of their ministry, and enable the faithful to appreciate more fully the great gift of grace which the priesthood is: for priests themselves, for the Church and for our world. Configured to Christ in the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest is called to become an alter Christus, "another Christ". His personal union with the Lord must thus unify every aspect of his life and activity. During this Year for Priests, let us entrust all priests to Mary, Mother of the Church, and pray that they will grow in fidelity to their mission to be living signs of Christ’s presence and infinite mercy.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Norway, Sweden, Malawi, South Africa, Indonesia and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the Catholic educators participating in the annual Rome Seminar sponsored by the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. I also greet the many student groups present. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Pope's Homily at Launch of Year for Priests
"The Heart of God Throbs With Compassion"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 25, 2009 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered last Friday at vespers inaugurating the Year for Priests. The year began June 19, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and it coincides with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, known as the Curé d'Ars.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In a little while, we shall be singing in the Antiphon to the Magnificat: "The Lord has welcomed us in his Heart Suscepit nos Dominus in sinum et cor suum". God's heart, considered to be the organ of his will, is mentioned 26 times in the Old Testament.
Man is judged according to God's Heart. Because of the pain his heart feels at the sins of man, God decides on the flood, but is subsequently moved by human weakness and forgives.
Then there is an Old Testament passage in which the subject of God's Heart is expressed with absolute clarity: it is in chapter 11 of the Book of the Prophet Hosea in which the first verses describe the dimension of the love with which the Lord turned to Israel at the dawn of its history: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11: 1). Israel, in fact, responds to God's tireless favour with indifference and even outright ingratitude.
"The more I called them", the Lord is forced to admit, "the more they went from me" (v. 2). Nonetheless he never abandons Israel to the hands of the enemy because "my heart", the Creator of the universe observes, "recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender" (v. 8).
The Heart of God throbs with compassion! On today's Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church offers us this mystery for contemplation, the mystery of the Heart of a God who feels compassion and pours forth all his love upon humanity. It is a mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God's immeasurable love for the human being. He does not give in to ingratitude or to rejection by the People he has chosen; on the contrary, with infinite mercy he sends his Only-Begotten Son into the world to take upon himself the burden of love immolated so that by defeating the powers of evil and death he could restore the dignity of being God's children to human beings, enslaved by sin.
All this comes about at a high price: the Only-Begotten Son of the Father is sacrificed on the Cross, "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (cf. Jn 13: 1).
A symbol of this love which goes beyond death is his side, pierced by a spear. In this regard, the Apostle John, an eye-witness, says: "one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water" (cf. Jn 19: 34).
Dear brothers and sisters, thank you because, in response to my invitation, you have come in large numbers to this celebration with which we begin the Year for Priests. I greet the Cardinals and Bishops, in particular the Cardinal Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy with their collaborators, and the Bishop of Ars. I greet the priests and seminarians of the various seminaries and colleges of Rome; the men and women religious and all the faithful.
I address a special greeting to H.B. Ignace Youssef Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for Syrians, who has come to Rome to meet me and to acknowledge publicly the "ecclesiastica communio" which I have granted him.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pause together to contemplate the pierced Heart of the Crucified One. We have heard again, just now, in the brief Reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians, that "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ... and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2: 4-6). To be in Jesus Christ, is to be already seated in heaven.
The essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of Jesus; in Christ the whole of the revolutionary newness of the Gospel was revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and already makes us live in God's eternity.
The Evangelist John writes: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (3: 16). His divine Heart therefore calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in him and, following his example, to make of ourselves a gift of love without reserve.
If it is true that Jesus' invitation to "abide in my love" (cf. Jn 15: 9) is addressed to every baptized person, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Day for priestly sanctification, this invitation resounds more powerfully for we priests, particularly this evening at the solemn inauguration of the Year for Priests, which I wanted to be celebrated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé d'Ars.
One of his beautiful and moving sayings, cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, immediately springs to my mind: "The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus" (n. 1589).
How is it possible not to remember with emotion that the gift of our priestly ministry flowed directly from this Heart? How can we forget that we priests were consecrated to serve humbly and authoritatively the common priesthood of the faithful?
Ours is an indispensable mission, for the Church and for the world, which demands full fidelity to Christ and in unceasing union with him this to remain in his love means that we must constantly strive for holiness, this union, as did St John Mary Vianney.
In the Letter I addressed to you for this special Jubilee Year, dear brother priests, I wanted to highlight certain qualifying aspects of our ministry, with references to the example and teaching of the Holy Curé d'Ars, model and protector of all of us, priests, and especially parish priests.
May my Letter be a help and encouragement to you in making this Year a favourable opportunity to grow in intimacy with Jesus, who counts on us, his ministers, to spread and to consolidate his Kingdom, to radiate his love, his truth.
Therefore, "in the footsteps of the Curé of Ars", my Letter concluded, "let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!" (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, see p. 5).
To let oneself be totally won over by Christ! This was the purpose of the whole life of St Paul to whom we have devoted our attention during the Pauline Year which is now drawing to a close; this was the goal of the entire ministry of the Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we shall invoke in particular during the Year for Priests; may it also be the principal objective for each one of us.
In order to be ministers at the service of the Gospel, study and a careful and continuing pastoral and theological formation is of course useful and necessary, but that "knowledge of love" which can only be learned in a "heart to heart" with Christ is even more necessary. Indeed, it is he who calls us to break the Bread of his love, to forgive sins and to guide the flock in his name. For this very reason we must never distance ourselves from the source of Love which is his Heart that was pierced on the Cross.
Only in this way will we be able to cooperate effectively in the mysterious "plan of the Father" that consists in "making Christ the Heart of the world"! This plan is brought about in history, as Jesus gradually becomes the Heart of human hearts, starting with those who are called to be closest to him: priests, precisely.
We are reminded of this ongoing commitment by the "priestly promises" that we made on the day of our Ordination and which we renew every year, on Holy Thursday, during the Chrism Mass. Even our shortcomings, our limitations and our weaknesses must lead us back to the Heart of Jesus.
Indeed, if it is true that sinners, in contemplating him, must learn from him the necessary "sorrow for sins" that leads them back to the Father, it is even more so for holy ministers. How can we forget, in this regard, that nothing makes the Church, the Body of Christ, suffer more than the sins of her pastors, especially the sins of those who are transformed into "a thief and a robber" of the sheep (Jn 10: 1 ff.), or who deviates from the Church through their own private doctrines, or who ensnare the Church in sin and death?
Dear priests, the call to conversion and recourse to Divine Mercy also applies to us, and we must likewise humbly address a heartfelt and ceaseless invocation to the Heart of Jesus to keep us from the terrible risk of harming those whom we are bound to save.
I have just had the opportunity to venerate in the Choir Chapel the relic of the Holy Curé D'Ars: his heart. It was a heart that blazed with divine love, that was moved at the thought of the priest's dignity and spoke to the faithful in touching and sublime tones, affirming that "After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is" (cf. Letter, Year for Priests, p. 3).
Dear Brothers, let us cultivate this same emotion in order to carry out our ministry with generosity and dedication, or to preserve in our souls a true "fear of God": the fear of being able to deprive of so much good, through our negligence or fault, those souls entrusted to us, or God forbid of harming them.
The Church needs holy priests; ministers who can help the faithful to experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are his convinced witnesses.
In the Eucharistic Adoration that will follow the celebration of Vespers, let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest on fire with that "pastoral charity" which can enable him to assimilate his personal "I" into that Jesus the High Priest, so that he may be able to imitate Jesus in the most complete self-giving.
May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Heart we shall contemplate with living faith tomorrow, obtain this grace for us. The Holy Curé d'Ars had a filial devotion to her, so profound that in 1836, in anticipation of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he consecrated his parish to Mary, "conceived without sin".
He kept up the practice of frequently renewing this offering of his parish to the Blessed Virgin, teaching the faithful that "to be heard it was enough to address her", for the simple reason that she "desires above all else to see us happy".
May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, accompany us during the Year for Priests which we are beginning to day, so that we are able to be sound and enlightened guides for the faithful whom the Lord entrusts to our pastoral care. Amen!
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Vatican Statement on the “Murphy Case”
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The following is the full text of the statement given to the New York Times on Wednesday by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office.
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The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.
During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.
It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of Crimen sollicitationis and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.
In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically. The Congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.
In such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, no. 2). In light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested that the Archbishop of Milwaukee give consideration to addressing the situation by, for example, restricting Father Murphy's public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts. Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident.