VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The priesthood is not a profession, to be engaged in part-time, but a full-time and perpetual vocation, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope affirmed this on Thursday in a traditional meeting with priests of the Diocese of Rome held annually at the beginning of Lent, Vatican Radio reported.
"One is not a priest for part of the time; we are so with our whole soul, with our whole heart," he said.
The Pontiff added that "this being with Christ and being an ambassador of Christ, this being for others is a mission that penetrates our being and must penetrate ever more the totality of our being."
The Holy Father gave an in-depth lectio divina inspired by chapter 20 of the Acts of the Apostles, in which St. Paul speaks to the elders of Ephesus.
The Pope concentrated on the meaning of service and on the fidelity that must animate the presbyter.
Service, he pointed out, requires a humility that is not an exhibition of "false modesty," but rather love for the will of God, for proclaiming without "creating the idea that Christianity is an immense package of things to learn."
The priest, in fact, "does not preach a Christianity a la carte, according to his own tastes, preaching a Gospel according to his own preferred ideas, according to his own theological ideas," the Pontiff said.
He continued, "He does not exempt himself from proclaiming the whole will of God, also the uncomfortable will, also topics that personally do not please him so much."
The Holy Father underlined the theme of conversion, especially in regards to the season of Lent, understood above all as a change of thought and heart, with a focus not on things of the world and how they are presented, but on the presence of God in the world itself.
"Let us not lose the zeal, the joy of being called by the Lord," he exhorted.
"Let us renew our spiritual youth," Benedict XVI said, encouraging the priests to keep "the joy of being able to go with Christ to the end, of 'staying the course to the end' always with the enthusiasm of being called by Christ for this great service."
In the same way, he exhorted them to be "attentive also to our spiritual life, to our being with Christ."
The Pope affirmed, "To pray and to meditate on the Word of God is not time wasted" or taken away from the care of souls, but rather "it is a condition so that we can really be in contact with the Lord and thus speak firsthand of the Lord to others."
Despite the difficulties the Church is facing, there must be no loss of hope, he said.
The Pontiff stated, "Truth is stronger than lies; love is stronger than hatred, God is stronger than all the adverse forces."
"And with this joy," he added, "with this interior certainty let us start out [...] in the consolations of God and in the persecutions of the world."
In his greeting to the Holy Father, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, mentioned the 60th anniversary of the Pontiff's priesthood, which will be celebrated on June 29.
The cardinal underlined the clergy's most appreciated priestly qualities of Benedict XVI: "humble and joyful fidelity, without cracks, to the Lord Jesus; total willingness to serve the Church where Providence has called him, to the formidable weight of the Supreme Pontificate; love of the Word of God and of the liturgy and the joy of living time according to the rhythm of the liturgical year; the exercise of intelligence and the passion to propose and defend the search of truth without compromises; gentleness of manner and the magnanimity of heart; serenity of a soul wholly given to Christ."
During the audience, the Pope also met with a Pakistani priest, Father Shahzad Niamat, in representation of the clergy, religious and seminarians of Pakistan present in Rome.
Father Niamat later reported to Fides that he "explained to the Pope the situation of Christians in Pakistan, where witnessing to the faith at times can lead to death."
He added, "The Holy Father was very concerned; he expressed to us his solidarity, his support and assured us of his prayers."
The priest said, "We also thanked the Holy Father for his words and recent appeals dedicated to Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, for Asia Bibi, for the law on blasphemy."
He noted that the Pontiff "communicated the hope that things might change and that in Pakistan full respect of human dignity and religious liberty will be exercised."