VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the translation of a homily given today by Benedict XVI at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the priestly ordination of 14 deacons of the Diocese of Rome.
* * *
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
As bishop of this diocese I am particularly delighted to welcome into the “presbyterium” 14 new priests. Together with the cardinal vicar, the auxiliary bishops and all the presbyters I thank the Lord for the gift of these new pastors of the People of God. I would like to address a particular greeting to you, dear ordinands: today you are at the center of the attention of the People of God, a people symbolically represented by the people who fill this Vatican Basilica. They fill it with prayer and songs, with sincere and deep affection, with authentic emotion, with human and spiritual joy. Among this People of God, there is a special place occupied by your parents and relatives, friends and companions, superiors and seminary educators, the various parish communities and the different realities of the Church from which you come and who have accompanied you on your journey and those whom you yourselves have already served pastorally. But we do not forget the singular closeness in this moment of many [other] people, humble and simple but great before God, such as, for example, the cloistered, children, the sick and infirm. They accompany you with the precious gift of their prayers, their innocence and their suffering.
It is, therefore, the entire Church of Rome, that today gives thanks to God and prays for you, that puts so much faith and hope in your tomorrow, that awaits abundant fruits of holiness and goodness from your priestly ministry. Yes, the Church counts on you. It counts very much on you! The Church needs each one of you, aware as it is of the gifts that God offers you and, together with the absolute need in the heart of every man to meet with Christ, the one and only universal Savior of the world, to receive from him the new and eternal life, true freedom and perfect joy. Thus each of us feels invited to enter into the “mystery,” into the event of grace that is taking place in your hearts with presbyteral Ordination, letting ourselves be enlightened by the Word of God that has been proclaimed.
The Gospel that we have heard presents to us a significant moment in the journey of Jesus in which he asks his disciples what people think of him and how they themselves judge him. Peter replies in the name of the 12 with a confession of faith, which differs in a substantial way from the view that people have of Jesus; he affirms in fact: You are the Christ of God (cf. Luke 9:20). Whence is this act of faith born? If we go to the beginning of the Gospel passage, we note that Peter’s confession is tied to a moment of prayer: “Jesus was in a solitary place to pray. The disciples were with him,” says St. Luke (9:18). The disciples, thus, become involved in Jesus’ absolutely unique being and speaking with the Father. And in that way they are permitted to see the Master in the depths of his condition as Son. They are permitted to see what others do not see; by “being with him,” by “staying with” him in prayer, there comes a knowledge that goes beyond the opinions of the people to reach the profound identity of Jesus, to reach the truth. Here we are furnished with a very precise pointer for the life and mission of the priest: in prayer he is called to rediscover the ever new face of his Lord and always the most authentic content of his mission. Only he who has an intimate relationship with the Lord is drawn by him, can bring him to others, can be sent. This is an “abiding with him” that must always accompany the exercise of priestly ministry; it must be the central part of it, also and above all in difficult moments when it seems that “having things to do” must take priority. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we must always “abide with him.”
There is a second element I wish to highlight in today’s Gospel. Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus announces his passion and resurrection and follows this announcement with a teaching regarding the path of his disciples, which is a following of him, the Crucified, on the road of the cross. And he then adds — with a paradoxical expression — that being a disciple means “losing oneself,” but in order to fully find oneself again (cf. Luke 9:22-24). What does this mean for every Christian, but especially what does it mean for a priest? Discipleship, but we can safely say: the priesthood can never be a way to achieve security in life or to gain a social position. He who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his own personal prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning of this ministry at its root. He who wants above all to realize an ambition of his own, to achieve a personal success, will always be a slave to himself and public opinion. To be considered, he will have to flatter; he must say what the people want to hear, he must adapt himself to changing fashions and opinions and, thus, he will deprive himself of the vital relationship with the truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he praises today. A man who plans his life like this, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, but only himself and, paradoxically, ends up losing himself. The priesthood — let us always remember — rests on the courage to say yes to another will, in the awareness, to be cultivated every day, that conforming ourselves to the will of God, being “immersed” in this will, not only does not erase our originality, but, on the contrary, we will enter more and more into the truth of our being and our ministry.
Dear Ordinands, I would like propose for your reflection a third point, closely connected to the one just expounded: Jesus’ invitation to “lose yourself,” to take up the cross, recalls the mystery we are celebrating: the Eucharist. You are granted today, with the sacrament of Holy Orders, to preside at the Eucharist! You are entrusted with the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, you are entrusted with his body that is given and his blood that is shed. Of course, Jesus offers his sacrifice, his humble and total gift of love, to the Church his Bride, on the cross. It was on that wood, that the Father dropped a grain of wheat in the field of the world so that dying it would become mature fruit, the giver of life. But, in God’s plan, this gift of Christ is made present in the Eucharist thanks to that “potestas sacra” that the sacrament of Orders confers on you presbyters. When we celebrate Holy Mass we hold in our hands the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of God, which is Christ, the grain broken to multiply and become the true food of life for the world. It is something that cannot but fill you with intimate wonder, lively joy and immense gratitude: Now the love and gift of Christ crucified and glorious, pass through your hands, your voice, your heart! It is an ever new experience of wonder to see that in my hands, in my voice the Lord accomplishes this mystery of his presence!
How can we not now beg the Lord that he grant you an ever vigilant awareness of this gift, which is at the center of your being priests! And that he may give you the grace to know how to experience in depth all the beauty and strength of this your presbyteral service and, at the same time, the grace to be able to live this ministry with consistency and generosity every day. The grace of the presbyterate, that soon you will be granted, will connect you intimately, even structurally, to the Eucharist. For this, it will connect you in the depths of your heart with the sentiments of Jesus who loves to the end, to the total gift of self, to his being bread multiplied for the holy feast of unity and communion. It is this is the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that is destined to enflame your soul with the love itself of the Lord Jesus. It is an outpouring that, while telling of the absolute gr
atuity of the gift, carves into your being an indelible law — the new law, a law that moves you to insert and make flourish in the concrete fabric of the attitudes and gestures of your everyday life the donating love itself of Christ crucified. Let us listen again to the voice of the Apostle Paul. Indeed in this voice we recognize the powerful voice of the Holy Spirit: “You who were baptized into Christ are clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Already with Baptism, and now in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, you clothe yourselves in Christ. May care for the Eucharist always be accompanied by the commitment to a Eucharistic life lived in obedience to one single great law: that of love that gives itself entirely and serves with humility, a life that the grace of the Holy Spirit renders ever more like that of Christ Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, servant of God and men.
Dear friends, the road that today’s Gospel indicates to us is the road of your spirituality and your pastoral action, of its effectiveness and incisiveness, even in the most strenuous and arid situations. Moreover, this is the sure road to find true joy. May Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, who conformed her will to the will of God, who gave birth to Christ, giving him to the world, who followed the Son to the foot of the cross in the supreme act of love, accompany every day in your life and of your ministry. Thanks to the affection of this Mother, tender and strong, you can be joyfully faithful to that which is given to you today as presbyters: conformity to Christ the Priest, who knew how to obey the will of the Father and love man to the end.
Amen![Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]