CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 19, 2009 ( A priest must be a witness and apostle of the love that is in the hearts of Christ and Mary, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today during the general audience in Castel Gandolfo in which he reflected on St. John Eudes and the priesthood, in the context of the Year for Priests. The feast of the 17th-century French saint is celebrated today.

Noting the difficulties in 17th-century France, the Holy Father said that "the Holy Spirit inspired a fervent spiritual renewal, with prominent personalities. […] 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."

Speaking about the formation of diocesan priests, the Pontiff recalled how in the 16th century, "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," he said, "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."

The saint, Benedict XVI went on to explain, was moved "by the lucid awareness of the great need of spiritual help that souls were feeling" and as a parish priest, he "instituted a congregation dedicated specifically to the formation of priests."

Path of holiness

The Pope noted that St. John Eudes' proposal for holiness was founded on "a solid confidence in the love that God revealed to humanity in the priestly Heart of Christ and the maternal Heart of Mary."

"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," the Holy Father affirmed.

He contended that today as well, there is 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."

Benedict XVI said that like Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 "actualized the norms of the Council of Trent," he emphasizes the "need for continuity between the initial and permanent moments of formation."

"The time in the seminary should be seen," he proposed, 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."

"In this Year for Priests," the Holy Father concluded, "I invite you to pray […] 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.'"