VATICAN CITY, APRIL 14, 2010 ( Though priests are called to preach a message that is not their own, they are also called to identify with that message, allowing themselves to be profoundly transformed in it.

This was the reflection made today by Benedict XVI at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. As the Year for Priests draws to a close (closing celebrations are scheduled for June 9-11), the Pope said he would dedicate a series of reflections to priestly ministry.

Today he took up the first of the three offices (teaching, sanctifying and governing) the priest receives, reflecting on the importance of the priest in the midst of an "educational emergency."

"We live amid great confusion about the fundamental choices of our life," the Holy Father observed, saying there are "so many contrasting philosophies, which arise and disappear, creating confusion about the fundamental decisions."

But as promised in the Gospel, the Lord has compassion on his "sheep without a shepherd," the Pontiff said. "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."

This means, Benedict XVI explained, that the priest "does not teach his own ideas, a philosophy that he himself has invented, has found and that pleases him; [...] 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."

Not a spokesman

The Pope clarified, however, that this does not mean the priest is "neutral" in relation to this word, "almost like a spokesman who reads a text which, perhaps, he does not appropriate."

Instead, like Jesus 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 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."

This will mean that the priest is often called to be a countercultural voice, the Holy Father acknowledged. But he has a "prophetic force" 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."

The priest is always a teacher, the Pontiff said, but should give his lesson "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."

The Bishop of Rome voiced an exhortation: "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. [...] 'Priestly ordination means: being immersed [...] in the Truth,' 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."

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