VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2005 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II’s annual letter to priests gives them very personal advice: to live the words they say when celebrating the Eucharist.
The Pope’s letter, signed March 13 and published today, begins: “My thoughts turn to you, dear priests, as I spend this time recuperating in hospital, a patient alongside other patients, uniting in the Eucharist my own sufferings with those of Christ. In this spirit, I want to reflect with you on some aspects of our priestly spirituality.”
“The priest is someone who, despite the passing of years, continues to radiate youthfulness, spreading it almost ‘contagiously’ among those he meets along the way,” the Holy Father writes. “His secret lies in his ‘passion’ for Christ. As St. Paul said: ‘For to me life is Christ.'”
“Particularly in the context of the new evangelization, the people have a right to turn to priests in the hope of ‘seeing’ Christ in them,” the letter continues. “The young feel the need for this especially; Christ continues to call them, to make them his friends and to challenge some to give themselves completely for the sake of the Kingdom.”
“Vocations will certainly not be lacking if our manner of life is truly priestly, if we become more holy, more joyful, more impassioned in the exercise of our ministry. A priest ‘won’ by Christ more easily ‘wins’ others, so that they too decide to set out on the same adventure,” the Pope states.
To achieve this objective, he gives priests this advice: “for us, the words of institution must be more than a formula of consecration: they must be a ‘formula of life.'”
John Paul II refers to the words of Christ at the institution of the Eucharist: “Take and eat all of you; this is my Body, which will be given up for you”; “Take and drink of it all of you, for this is the cup of my blood.”
The priest, the Holy Father says, repeats these words “in persona Christ” (in the person of Christ). “In a certain sense, when he says the words: ‘take and eat,’ the priest must learn to apply them to himself, and to speak them with truth and generosity.”
“If he is able to offer himself as a gift, placing himself at the disposal of the community and at the service of anyone in need, his life takes on its true meaning,” the Pontiff writes.
John Paul II concludes his letter by placing all priests in the hands of the Virgin Mary.
“I pray to her, then, for all of you, and I entrust to her especially the elderly, the sick, and those in difficulty,” he states. “This Easter, in the Year of the Eucharist, I gladly repeat to each of you the gentle and consoling words of Jesus: ‘Behold your Mother.'”
The Holy Father’s 24th Holy Thursday Letter to Priests was presented to the press today by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.
The prefect said that “in the silence of his suffering,” the Holy Father “repeats with the example of a life given ‘until death’ St. Paul’s affirmation: ‘we proclaim Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God.'”