At the Ordination of 35 New Priests of the Prelature, St. Eugene's Basilica, Rome (May 5, 2012)
Dear brothers and sisters,
1. The entry antiphon for the Holy Mass sums up the meaning of today’s liturgical celebration. By the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, God had promised: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, and they will guide you with wisdom” (cf. Is 61:1). And indeed, once more the Lord is faithful to his promise. Thirty-five deacons of the prelature of Opus Dei are about to receive priestly ordination, which makes the priesthood of Christ present in this world.
We give thanks to God for the immeasurable love he has shown us. Not only did he send his Only-begotten Son onto this earth to redeem us from our sins, but he has also wished to make his redeeming Sacrifice present among us, until the end of the world, through the Holy Mass. This is the principal mission that is entrusted to priests, sacramentally identified with the Eternal High Priest. The Holy Father Benedict XVI recalled this in a priestly ordination last Sunday. “The priest,” he said, “is called to live in his own flesh what Jesus Christ experienced personally: that is, to give himself wholly to preaching and healing all the ills of mankind, in body and spirit, and finally to sum up everything in the supreme gesture of ‘giving his life’ for men, a gesture which finds its sacramental expression in the Eucharist.”
2. The Second Vatican Council laid down in the following way the tasks entrusted to priests: “To preach the Gospel, to feed the faithful and to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament.” The readings of the Mass refer in one way or another to these same points.
We have heard how St Paul, after his conversion, went to Jerusalem, where “he tried to join the disciples; but everyone was afraid of him” (Acts 9:26). The persecution headed by Saul against that Christian community was still very recent, and—very understandably—people did not trust him. But thanks to the testimony of Barnabas, who knew very well what had happened at the gates of Damascus, the doubts were dissipated. Barnabas “told them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and how he had preached openly in the name of the Lord in Damascus. Then he came and went with them in Jerusalem, speaking clearly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:27–28).
The Acts of the Apostles refer to the first preaching of the apostles several times. This insistence indicates that, if we are to carry out the mission of passing on the Christian message, we cannot be held up by human considerations, nor be afraid of being criticized because of our faith and our Christian conduct, even when the environment is negative. All of us, priests and laity, can and must learn from this lesson. Like the first disciples, in the face of situations that contradict the Church’s teachings, we have to say: “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Indeed, as Christians we are all called to the apostolate, through the witness of our lives and with our words. Besides, very often the people we meet have never heard about Jesus Christ, or have forgotten Him. The Year of Faith which begins this October will be a good opportunity for us to share more fully in the Church’s evangelizing mission. In this connection there come to my memory some words of St Josemaría—directed to priests, but they are apt for all of us. He said: “They should see you speaking with faith, in the presence of Jesus Christ. … Then the people will move, and God will shower abundant graces on the souls of the faithful, and on you too.”
3. In the Gospel, Jesus compares himself to a vine planted by his heavenly Father; and he adds that all of us baptized are branches. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; for cut off from me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
Without the Lord’s help, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, our lives and our actions will be worthless from a supernatural point of view. And if this is true of us all, how much more can it be said of priests. We know that the Lord has not wished the power of the sacraments to depend on the personal holiness of the minister. It is Jesus who gives us the grace: for this reason, whenever anyone baptizes or administers the other sacraments, it is Christ himself who acts through his visible instrument. But there is no doubt that the grace will be more abundant, will encounter fewer obstacles in reaching souls, if the sacred ministers—as the Church prays in the rite of ordination—seek sincerely to be “ever more united to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father on our behalf, consecrating themselves to God, together with Him, for the salvation of the world.” As our Father wrote in an early note: “Priest: your work is not just to save souls, but to sanctify them.”
Let us continue meditating on the Lord’s words: “Remain in me and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit on its own if it does not remain in vine, so you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Jn 15:4). St Paul, to whom our Founder had so much devotion, repeated: Sollicite cura teipsum (2 Tim 2:15), “Take care of yourselves,” try to improve your spiritual lives constantly. The Pope insisted on this same point last Sunday: the “Eucharistic–sacramental dimension is inseparable from the pastoral dimension, and constitutes the core of its truth and its saving power. … The very preaching, the works, the gestures of different kinds that the Church carries out with its multiplicity of initiatives would lose their saving fruitfulness, if the celebration of Christ’s Sacrifice were missing.”
4. Let us look now at the third priestly task in which the Lord makes you share: to guide souls through spiritual direction and other pastoral activities. St John passes on to us the Lord’s command: “This is his commandment: that you believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that you love one another, in accordance with the commandment that he gave us” (1 Jn 3:23).
This mandatum novum, promulgated by Jesus at the Last Supper, assumes a special meaning in your case. “Pastoral charity” is the new name of this commandment of the Lord for you: you must love like Christ the Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep. In this context, another teaching of St Josemaría is very up-to-date: “My priest sons, in order to carry out completely, faithfully, the duties of your ministry, you will need a big heart, a universal heart, capable of being understanding towards the miseries of those around you, and your own miseries. … This is our life: to love, to say truly, with deeds: caritas mea cum omnibus vobis! (1 Cor 16:24), my love for all souls. This way of behaving will make you into contemplatives, in constant conversation with God.”
Perhaps it will be difficult to behave like this on some occasions, but do not forget that we are never alone. The Holy Spirit is dwelling in our souls: He is the one who will give us the energy to come out of ourselves in order to give ourselves to the others, because the love of Christ is urging us on: caritas Christi urget nos (2 Cor 5:14). And if the temptation of disheartenment were to arise at some moment, when we see our personal faults, let us think of those other words of St John, written for us, and which will help us to renew each day our resolution to serve unconditionally: “In this we will know that we are in the truth, and we will calm our hearts in his presence, even if our hearts reproach us with something, because God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything” (1 Jn 3:19–20).
This precept has to give us great peace. God knows us very well; he is not ignorant of the deepest aspirations of our hearts, or of our weakness, and he loves us with all his infinite love. Let us abandon ourselves, full of trust, in the hands of our Lord, the Good Shepherd, who cares for us and gives us back our health through God’s ministers.
Before I finish, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to the parents, the brothers and sisters, the families of the new priests-to-be for the important role they have played in the priestly vocation of these men. I ask you all to pray for them, that they be priests according to the measure of the Heart of Jesus.
As always—it is a duty—I invite you to pray with affection and thanksgiving for the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, united to his person and his intentions; for the bishops in communion with the Pope; for all the priests and deacons of the Church; and for the candidates to the priesthood throughout the world. Let us make our own the plea of St Josemaría: “Pray for priests, those today and those who are to come, that they may love their brothers—all men—truly, more each day, and without any discrimination, and that they may know how to make themselves beloved by them.”
The fact that this ordination is being celebrated in the first days of May, the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, is a clear invitation to us to pray through the intercession of the one who is Mother of God and our Mother. We beg her to look after these brothers of ours, and after all priests who will be ordained over the centuries in order to make present, in the Church and in the world, the fruits of the saving work of her Son Jesus, the Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep. Amen.