On Priestly Sanctification

“Nothing More Beautiful Than to Be Conquered by Christ”

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 31, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the document published by the Congregation for Clergy, for the World Day of Prayer for Sanctification of Priests, to be observed this Friday.

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Eucharist, Priesthood and Ecclesial Communion

1. The Legacy of John Paul II and the Exhortation of Benedict XVI<br>
The church events which we have lived through during the month of April of this Year of the Eucharistic (2005) have been an unrepeatable grace in our Christian and priestly lives. Pope John Paul II has left us a priestly inheritance with his Holy Thursday letter to priests of 14 March 2005, which is a synthesis of his previous documents on priesthood. Pope Benedict XVI has called us to live this Year of the Eucharist rediscovering the friendship of Christ and making it the key of our priestly existence (Discourse to the Parish Priests of Rome, 13 May 2005).

The exhortations of John Paul II and Benedict XVI stand as a prolongation of the invitation of Christ himself “stay in my love … you are my friends” (John 15:9-14). This invitation has a relational sense to live in harmony with the mind of Christ, heart to heart, as St. Paul said: “have the same mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5).

Our priestly “existence” is called to be: a grateful existence, giving, saving, memorable, consecrated, held out to Christ, Eucharistic at the school of Mary (cf. John Paul II, Holy Thursday Letter 2005).

Thus our priestly existence profoundly related to Christ, is apprehended through the means of an experience of lived faith: “to stand before the Eucharistic Jesus, to profit in a certain sense, from our ‘solitudes’ to fill up with this Presence, means to give to our consecration all the warmth of the intimacy with Christ, from which our life takes joy and meaning” (Holy Thursday Letter 2005, n. 6).

The secret or the key of priestly life is the passionate love of Christ which brings with it Christ’s passionate announcement “its secret lies in the ‘passion’ which he lives through Christ. Saint Paul says ‘for me to live is Christ’ (Philippians 1:21)” (Holy Thursday Letter 2005, n. 7).

The priest discovers and lives profoundly his identity when he decides to place nothing before the love of Christ and to make Him the center of his life. We are called to “always return again to the root of our priesthood. This root, as we well know is a single thing, Our Lord Jesus Christ (Benedict XVI, Discourse of 13 May 2005).

This experience of a relationship with Christ means to enter in his friendship, to the point of not being able to exclude Him, never to feel alone, not to doubt his love. “The Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he gives himself to us, he gives himself to us in his body in the Holy Eucharist, he entrusts us to his Church. And thus we must truly be his friends, to have with him only one desire, to want that which He wants and not to want that which He does not want. Jesus himself says: ‘you are my friends if you do that which I command’ (John 15:14)” (Benedict XVI, Discourse of 13 May 2005).

2. Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist

John Paul II in the encyclical “Ecclesiae de Eucharistia” and the Apostolic Exhortation “Mane Nobiscum Domine” lays out for us certain lines of “Eucharistic spirituality” for all vocations. In re-reading these texts we feel profoundly touched, especially if we have had this experience before the Tabernacle. Christ continues to speak today, from heart to heart.

The words of Eucharistic consecration which mold and transform us are a “formula of life”; through them we are “involved in this spiritual movement” of transformation in Christ (Holy Thursday Letter, n. 1 & 3).

Our Christian and priestly spirituality is relational or of friendship, it is a giving in union with the charity of the Good Shepherd, it is transforming so that it makes us a clear sign of Jesus himself, it is Marian in that it approaches the school of Mary, it is of ecclesial communion, it is ministerial or of service, it is missionary. … It is nearly always an attitude of thanksgiving “Eucharistic,” of one who feels loved by the Lord and as a consequence, wants to love all and wants to be loved by all.

In this sense, all of our life is centered on the Eucharist, as the Paschal Mystery, which is announced, celebrated, lived and communicated to the others. Through this “if the Eucharist is the center and summit of the life of the Church, likewise it is the center of priestly ministry (“Ecclesiae de Eucharistia,” n. 31).

The consequence of a relational life on our part is very logical, that as all the faithful, we are called to be: “souls enamored of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart” (“Mane Nobiscum Domine,” n. 18).

When we enter into the mind of Christ, in his heart, especially in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist, we experience the call to continue this intimate relationship during the day, without being able to exclude “spending a certain amount of time in dialogue with the Eucharistic Lord” (“Mane Nobiscum Domine,” n. 30).

If we do not experience this intimacy with Christ, priestly identity or existence vanishes and does not find sense in life anymore: “Jesus in the tabernacle wants you to be at his side, so that he can fill your hearts with the experience of his friendship, which alone gives meaning and fulfillment to your lives” (ibidem).

Pope Benedict XVI speaking to priests on 13 May, invites us with some insistence to consider this intimacy with Christ as a “pastoral priority”: “So that the time to remain in the presence of God is a true pastoral priority, and in the final analysis the most important” (Benedict XVI, Discourse of 13 May 2005).

Our relationship with the Holy Eucharist grounds our relationship with the Church as the ecclesial Body of Christ. From this is born our pastoral charity which constitutes our fundamental attitude and our principle of service, one could say “the office of love”: “ministerial priesthood has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ, in its dual and inseparable dimension of Eucharist and Church, of the Eucharistic body and of the ecclesial body. Therefore our ministry is ‘amoris Officium’ (Saint Augustine, ‘Johannes Evangelium Tractatus,’ 123, 5), it is the office of the Good Shepherd, who offers his life for his sheep (cf. John 10:14-15)” (Benedict XVI, 13 May 2005).

3. Eucharist and Priesthood in “Ecclesial Communion”

The love of the Church, as mystery of communion through mission, is learnt from the love of Christ himself, “who loved the Church and was offered in sacrifice for her” (Ephesians 5:15). Citing John Paul II, when he affirmed that “the holy Mass is in an absolute way the center of my life and every day” (Discourse of 27 October 1995, on the 30th Anniversary of the Decree “Presbyterorum Ordinis”) Pope Benedict XVI comments “in the same way, obedience to Christ, which corrects the disobedience of Adam, is found in ecclesial obedience, which for the priest is in his daily work, above all in obedience to his Bishop” (Benedict XVI, Discourse 13 May 2005).

The Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005) is therefore a strong invitation to enter into the mind of Christ, to love the Church as he did and to live with him in the communion of the Church. The Petrine ministry has been experienced in our hearts as never before in the month of April of this year, with two Popes who have invited us to a life centered on Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist, through experience, eating that “same bread” which in which we are “one body” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Ecclesial Communion is made real for us in this “listening” or should we say lived “obedience” (“obaudire”) in the ministry of the Apostles, of which we are part. The early community was “of one heart and one body” (Acts 4:32) because at the celebration of the “breaking of the bread” (Eucharist), it kne
w how to “listen” with fidelity in an attitude of prayer to the apostolic teaching “they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Our own “ecclesial communion” is born from the love of Christ and his Church. And such love can be learnt only in the intimacy with the same Christ, present in the Holy Eucharist and hidden in the preached word of the Apostles. Therefore, “communion” is listening or loving obedience, an effective and affective life.

When we have meditated this year on the question of Christ to Peter “do you love me?” to communicate to him the primacy of shepherding, we have felt more than ever, we who are personally called, like shepherds of the same flock. It is as if our response has been like that of Peter “you know that I love you.” In fact, if we live in communion with him who “who is the head of universal charity” that is to live also in communion with Peter and his successors.

Our “obedience” lived with love is an essential part of our priestly spirituality, since as pastors we are inserted in the same ecclesial “communion” which the Petrine ministry serves.

If we live this ecclesial communion (“one body”), in relation to the Eucharistic Christ (“one bread”), our priestly life proceeds as it should. Communion with our own bishop forms part of the same Eucharistic and priestly life so as to construct a “sacramental fraternity” in the presbyterate as called for by the Second Vatican Council (“Presbyterorum Ordinis,” n. 8).

The celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist unites us to Christ, leaving us transformed by Him in his obedience to the Father. Through this, our obedience “mirrors the obedience of Christ” (Benedict XVI, Discourse 13 May 2005).

4. The Missionary Testament of John Paul II and the Message of Benedict XVI

Pope John Paul II has left us a great missionary testament in his last message for the World Missionary Day of the current year (October 2005), which will conclude the Year of the Eucharist. He signed the message on 22 February the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and it was published in the middle of April after his death.

It is his true missionary testament that invites us to imitate Christ “broken bread,” “bread of life for the life of the world” (John 6:51). His Apostles are also made “broken bread” by means of pastoral charity and are servants of a community which must make itself “broken bread” for all of mankind.

In his Holy Thursday letter he said to us “above all in the context of the new evangelization, the people have the right to present themselves to the priests with the hope of seeing Christ in them (cf. John 12:21)” (Holy Thursday Letter 2005, n. 7).

Pope Benedict XVI, during his inauguration Mass in St. Peter’s Square made an appeal to everybody, remembering however at the same time “the work of the shepherd, as fisher of men.” After having repeated the appeal of John Paul II, made at the inauguration of his pontificate (“open wide the doors to Christ”), he added “whoever lets Christ enter will not loose anything, nothing that will render life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of the human conditioned opened up. Only in this friendship do we experience what is good and free” (Benedict XVI, Homily 24 April 2005).

In truth there is nothing more beautiful than to be conquered by Christ. Living faithfully in communion with the Petrine charism and ministry, rediscovering this reality of our pastoral vocation as sources of the paschal joy of Christ in us and others “There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world” (ibidem).

This Eucharistic, priestly and missionary life in communion with the Church is learnt by living in the “cenacle” with Mary the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14). Now we can imitate her oneness with the priestly heart of Christ, because she is our mother, because of the fact that she is the “Mother of the unique High Priest. Truly in our union to Christ and to the Virgin we are nourished by that serenity and that faith of which we all have need, either for our apostolic work or for our personal existence” (Benedict XVI, 13 May 2005).

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