Reflects on Fundamentals of Identity and Mission
VATICAN CITY, JULY 1, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Priests need to take a good look at their identity, says Benedict XVI, and he offered the example of St. John Vianney and the Year for Priests as an opportunity for this examination.
The Pope took up again today during the general audience the theme of the Year for Priests, under way since the feast of the Sacred Heart, June 19. He spoke about how important it is for priests to understand their identity and their mission.
He pointed to St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests and model for this jubilee year, noting that "what shines forth in the existence of this humble minister of the altar [is] the complete identification of the man with his ministry."
It is fundamentally important for a priest to grow in progressive identification with Christ, the Holy Father explained, saying this "will guarantee him fidelity and fruitfulness in the evangelical testimony."
It is the priest's awareness of his "new being," which is fundamental to his mission, he added.
"The priest's renewed enthusiasm for his mission will always depend on the certainty of his personal identity, which is not artificially constructed, but rather given and received freely and divinely," the Pontiff explained. "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.'
"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. […] 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."
Established in service
However, Benedict XVI observed, without taking into account the "consecration-mission" of the priest, "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," the Po pe asked. "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 God 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."
Thus, the Holy Father invited the faithful to take advantage of the jubilee and pray for all priests and for priestly vocations.
He encouraged the multiplying of prayer initiatives and also "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," the Bishop of Rome concluded. "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."