“Today as in the past the saints are the most effective evangelizers, and all the baptized are called to reach towards the highest measure of Christian life, namely, holiness,” Pope Francis said on November 16, 2017. “To achieve this ideal of holiness, every ordained minister is called to follow the example of the Good Shepherd, who gave His life for His sheep.”
The Holy Father’s remarks came in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace, where he received in audience the participants in the International Assembly of the Confederation Apostolic Union of Clergy.
The Pope reminded listeners that expertise in spirituality of communion comes from “conversion to Christ, to the docile opening to the action of the Spirit, and by welcoming one’s brothers.” He went on to say that apostolic fruitfulness depends not only on activity and organization efforts, “but firstly on divine action.”
Pope Francis noted that the linked closely to the “path of spirituality” is “action in the service of the people of God.” He said this is seen in the “concreteness of the local Church.”
“Pastors are called to be wise and faithful servants who imitate the Lord, who don the apron of service and bend to the lives of their communities, to understand their history and to live the joys and sufferings, expectations and hopes of the flock entrusted to them.”
Address of the Holy Father
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133, 1). These verses of the psalm go well after the words of Msgr. Magrin, president of the International Confederation Apostolic Union of Clergy. It is truly a joy to meet and to feel the fraternity that arises among us, called to the service of the Gospel following the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd. To each one of you, I address my cordial greeting, which I extend to the representatives of the Apostolic Union of the Laity.
In this Assembly you are reflecting on the ordained ministry, “in, for and with the diocesan community”. In continuity with previous meetings, you intend to focus on the role of pastors in the particular Church; and in this rereading, the hermeneutic key is the diocesan spirituality that is the spirituality of communion in the manner of the Trinitarian communion. Indeed, the mystery of the Trinitarian communion is the high model of reference for the ecclesial community. Saint John Paul, in his Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte , recalled that “the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning” is precisely this: “to make the Church the home and school of communion” (43). This involves, in the first instance, “[promoting] a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed” (ibid).
One becomes an expert in spirituality of communion primarily thanks to conversion to Christ, to the docile opening to the action of the Spirit, and by welcoming one’s brothers. As we are well aware, the fruitfulness of the apostolate does not depend only on activity or on organizational efforts, although these are necessary, but firstly upon divine action. Today as in the past the saints are the most effective evangelizers, and all the baptized are called to reach towards the highest measure of Christian life, namely, holiness. This is even more applicable to ordained ministers. The World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, which is celebrated every year on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, constitutes an ideal opportunity to implore of the Lord the gift of zealous and holy ministers for His Church. To achieve this ideal of holiness, every ordained minister is called to follow the example of the Good Shepherd, who gave His life for His sheep. And from where can we draw this pastoral charity, if not from the heart of Christ? In Him the celestial Father has filled us with the infinite treasures of mercy, tenderness and love: here we can always find the spiritual energy indispensable to be able to radiate His love and His joy in the world. And we are led to Christ every day also in the filial relation with our Mother, Mary Most Holy, especially in the contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary.
Closely linked with the path of spirituality is commitment to pastoral action in the service of the people of God, visible today and in the concreteness of the local Church: pastors are called to be wise and faithful servants who imitate the Lord, who don the apron of service and bend to the lives of their communities, to understand their history and to live the joys and sufferings, expectations and hopes of the flock entrusted to them. Indeed, Vatican Council II taught that the right way for ordained ministers to achieve holiness is in “[performing] their duties sincerely and indefatigably in the Spirit of Christ”; “by the sacred actions which are theirs daily as well as by their entire ministry which they share with the bishop and their fellow priests, they are directed to perfection in their lives” (Decreto Presbyterorum Ordinis , 12).
You rightly highlight that ordained ministers acquire the right pastoral style also by cultivating fraternal relations and participating in the pastoral journey of the diocesan Church, in its appointments, its projects and its initiatives that translate the programmatic guidelines into practice. A particular Church has a concrete face, rhythms and decisions; it must be served with dedication every day, bearing witness to the harmony and unity that is lived and developed with the bishop. The pastoral journey of the local community has as an essential point of reference the pastoral plan of the diocese, which must take precedence over the programs of associations, movements or any other particular group.
Dedication to the particular Church must then be expressed more broadly, with attention to the life of all the Church. Communion and mission are correlated dynamics. One becomes a minister to serve one’s own particular Church, in obedience to the Holy Spirit and one’s own bishop and in collaboration with other priests, but with the awareness of being part of the universal Church, which crosses the boundaries of one’s own diocese and country. If the mission is an essential quality of the Church, it is especially so for he who, ordained, is called to exercise the ministry in a community that is missionary by nature, and to educate in global outlook. Indeed, mission is not an individual choice, due to individual generosity or perhaps pastoral disillusionment, but rather it is a choice of the particular Church that becomes a protagonist in the communication of the Gospel to all peoples.
Dear brothers, I pray for each one of you and for your ministry, and for the service of the Apostolic Union of Clergy. May my blessing accompany you. And remember: do not forget to pray for me.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican