Madrid (September 6, 1999)
At the priestly ordination of deacons of the Prelature, in the Basilica of St. Michael in Madrid, Spain.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
1. In every priestly ordination we see fulfilled those words of the prophet Jeremiah: I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
In his faithful and merciful love, God the Father constantly provides the Church with men who, through the ministerial priesthood, make Christ the supreme Shepherd present in the midst of the faithful. John Paul II teaches that “in the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd, authoritatively proclaiming his Word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation, particularly in Baptism, Penance and the Eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit. In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the Head and Shepherd.”
Today, once again our Lord’s promise is fulfilled among us. By means of the imposition of the Bishop’s hands and the prayer of consecration, these deacon brothers of ours will be configured with Christ, the High Priest. And they will be able to say with Him the words we heard in the first reading: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. Thanks to the priest’s ministry, the Christian people can sing with confidence: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness... . Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Let us thank our Father God for the care he lavishes on his Church. And let us renew our determination to speak with Him more often in personal prayer and to approach frequently the “tranquil fountains” of Christian life: the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, where his Son Jesus, through each priest, preeminently exercises his role as Good Shepherd.
2. I now direct myself especially to those about to receive priestly ordination. My sons, keep always in mind that, in order to be good and efficacious instruments in our Lord’s hands, it is necessary to identify yourselves more and more closely with Him. The sacrament imprints on your souls an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which configures you with Jesus as Head and Shepherd, and confers on you a “spiritual power” that is a participation in the authority with which Christ himself, through his Spirit, builds up and governs the Church. How clear is Blessed Josemaría’s teaching: “The priest’s identity consists in being a direct and daily instrument of the saving grace which Christ has won for us.” It is your mission, helped by the prayers of all of us, to make this sacramental identification more clearly visible each day in your life, to be an image, the most perfect image possible, of Christ the Good Shepherd to all the faithful.
The driving force of this long process, which will last your entire life, is pastoral charity, which is “a gift freely bestowed by the Holy Spirit and likewise a task and a call which demand a free and committed response on the part of the priest.” “Pastoral charity,” explains Pope John Paul II, speaking of the ministerial priesthood, “is the virtue by which we imitate Christ in his self-giving and service. It is not just what we do, but our gift of self, which manifests Christ’s love for his flock. Pastoral charity determines our way of thinking and acting, our way of relating to people.” Thus the priest is transformed, as the Founder of Opus Dei says, into “a man of Love, the representative among men of Love made man. He lives through Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ.”
We have in Blessed Josemaría a close and accessible example of how to grow in our identification with Christ. He was not ashamed to acknowledge, even in the presence of many people, that he was in love, with a Love that never grew old. Through the strength of pastoral charity the priest lives by Christ and for Christ; he lives, therefore, for the Church and for souls. As our Father said: “It is a divine reality that moves my heart deeply when each day, holding in my hands and raising the Chalice and the Sacred Host, I slowly repeat those words of the Canon, savoring them: per Ipsum, et cum Ipso et in Ipso... Through Him, and with Him and in Him, for Him and for souls: that is my life. I live by his Love and for his Love, despite my personal miseries. And despite these miseries, perhaps because of them, my Love is a love which is renewed each day.”
Let us consider, in light of these words, whether we too, each in accord with our particular situation in the world and in the Church, try to live by Christ and for Christ, whether our life is centered on the Sacrament of the Altar, whether we spend ourselves in the service of mankind, our brothers and sisters, trying to bring them to God.
3. What are the characteristics of pastoral charity? Let us turn our eyes to Jesus, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. From him we have to learn to be deeply concerned for other Christians and for all souls.
The shepherd, as his first task, gathers the flock that has been entrusted to him. “The priest has the mission of gathering Christians, not only for the Eucharist, or for prayers over which he presides, but by showing constant care for their unity.” In this portion of the Church which is the Prelature of Opus Dei, for whose immediate service you are being ordained, you have to be zealous servants of unity. Blessed Josemaría used to say that Christ’s disciples have to be distinguished by their zeal to be builders of unity, both in the Church and in civil society. And in Opus Dei, he added, this has to be, for all of its faithful, a “dominant passion.”
Like Christ, the good shepherd also walks at the head of his flock, that is to say, “he has to clearly mark out the path, giving fearless witness in word and in deed to the faith and to a Christian life.” You have to be the first ones to untiringly traverse the path of the Christian vocation, being an example and an encouragement to the others. Keep always in mind our Father’s teaching: “There are two kinds of shepherd. The shepherd who stays behind the sheep and leads them by loosing the dog on them, throwing rocks at those who stray, shouting at those which straggle behind. And there is the shepherd who goes in front, opening up a path and removing obstacles, encouraging the flock with his whistles.” This is the lovable but demanding task our Lord has entrusted to you: to go in front of the others, leading by your dedication and sacrifice.
Finally, the shepherd is concerned about each of his sheep, and shows special care for those who most need it, without being discouraged by the difficulties or surrendering to fatigue. Meditate on these words of Blessed Josemaría: “We priests do not have rights. I like to consider myself a servant of all, and I am proud of this title. We only have duties, and this brings us joy: the duty of teaching catechism to children and adults, of visiting the sick and the healthy; the duty of bringing Christ to the rich and the poor, of not abandoning the Blessed Sacrament, Christ truly present in the tabernacle beneath the appearance of bread; the duty of being a good shepherd for souls, who cures the sick sheep and searches out the one that has gone astray, without heeding the hours that have to be spent in the confessional.”
4. How much we should thank our Father God for his providence, and specifically for the care that he shows in providing the Church with shepherds according to his heart! Without priests, the Church would not be able to exist: above all because it would not be able to renew in an unbloody manner the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, who offered himself for the whole world on the Cross. Nor would it be able to give supernatural life back to souls who are dead through sin, in the sacrament of Penance.
Let us renew our certainty that ministers of Christ will never be lacking in the Church: God cannot abandon the beloved Spouse of his Son. But it is undoubtedly true that there is a need for many more priests. As our Lord himself said, the harvest is great and the laborers are few. And what better moment could there be to intensify our prayer than an ordination of priests? Let us pray every day that God’s mercy be shown with greater abundance. As the Pope has written, “the Church must never cease to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he send laborers into his harvest (cf. Mt 9:38). She must propose clearly and courageously to each new generation the vocational call, help people to discern the authenticity of their call from God and to respond to it generously.”
I would like to express my warmest felicitations to the relatives and friends of the new priests, while at the same time asking all to continue to pray for them. Pray especially for our Holy Father John Paul II, for the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid and for all of my brother bishops. Let us present our prayers to God through the hands of the Most Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Christians and especially of priests. And let us have recourse to the intercession of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, who loved the priesthood so much and who helped foster so many priestly vocations for the service of the Church and souls. Amen.