On the occasion of the priestly ordination of 24 deacons of the Prelature, in the Basilica of Saint Eugene, Rome (October 6, 2001)
Reading Sacred Scripture with a spirit of faith always brings abundant light, because the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit...and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Today on the occasion of the priestly ordination of a group of deacons in the Opus Dei Prelature, the liturgy offers us three readings that are rich in teachings relevant for everyone, and in a special way for you who within a few minutes, by the working of the Holy Spirit, will become priests of Jesus Christ forever.
1. The words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading are fully fulfilled in Christ. He himself applied them to his mission when preaching for the first time in the synagogue at Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. Among the various missions that the Messiah is seen as coming to fulfill, I would like to focus on one that is of great interest not only for priests, but for all Christians. I refer to the fact that each Christian is sent to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor; that is, to become a visible sign of the mercy of our Father God.
From the very fact of being children of God in Christ, it is clear that we are called to participate in Christ’s mission. Bringing the good news to the poor, consoling the afflicted, proclaiming the freedom Christ won for us, giving witness by word and deed to God’s mercy, are all tasks proper to any Christian faithful. How necessary in today’s world are authentic sowers of peace and joy, the peace and joy that Jesus has brought to us, as Blessed Josemaria liked to say. This need has become dramatically evident in recent weeks, after the tragic terrorist acts that have set the world in turmoil and that unfortunately, in different degrees, are repeated in other places where they are no longer news.
Truly there is a great need for men and women who foster peace not only by their words, but above all by their daily conduct. People with a great heart, who carry out a sowing of harmony, not via “slogans” applied to distant lands, but in their immediate environment: in their family, their place of work, their own community. Let us pray, then, for these intentions so close to the Pope’s heart. I remind you that the Holy Father recently asked Catholics to pray the rosary every day during the month of October for peace in the world.
The task of sowing peace is entrusted in a special way to priests, identified with Christ, Head of the Church. My dear deacons, within a few moments the Holy Spirit will bestow on you the power to forgive sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation. In addition, when you celebrate Mass, you will make present the offering of Christ’s unique sacrifice, consummated on Calvary for the remission of sins. In words of our Founder, I remind you that “the administration of these two sacraments has so important a part in the priest’s mission that everything should hinge on it. Other priestly tasks, such as preaching and giving instruction in the faith, would lack solid foundation if they were not aimed at teaching people to draw close to Christ, to meet Him in the loving tribunal of penance and in the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, the Mass.”
Many of our contemporaries, weary and filled with fear, are in need of comfort. Citing words of the prophet Isaiah once again, they need to be given “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” Priests, as mediators between God and men, have a special duty to spread this supernatural peace and joy throughout the whole world. You do so especially in the sacrament of Penance, where Christ, making use of the priest, bends over each soul to cure and restore peace. Therefore I ask those of you who are about to becoming priest to always make yourselves available to exercise the ministry of reconciliation. May no soul who seeks the mercy of God find the confessional empty, perhaps because you did not find the time to wait there for the prodigal son who returns repentant to his Father’s house.
Meditate often on the example of Blessed Josemaria and his efforts to be a sower of peace and joy precisely through the sacrament of reconciliation. Right from the first steps of his priesthood, thousands of people received God’s forgiveness through his ministry, together with words of consolation and the advice appropriate for their soul’s spiritual growth.
2. In the second reading, St. Paul speaks to us of the unity of the body and the diversity of its members. So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. This image of the Church can without doubt be applied also to the Prelature of Opus Dei, which is part of the Church. As John Paul II has said, the Prelature is “organically structured,” made up of priests and laity who mutually collaborate in the fulfillment of its mission. “The organic way that priests and laity work together,” the Pope said, “is one of the privileged areas where pastoral activity will take on life and be strengthened, marked by the ‘new dynamism’ the Great Jubilee has awoken in all of us.”
As you know, during these days in Rome the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is being held, to study more deeply the bishop’s role as shepherd of the People of God. Listening to the interventions of bishops from all over the world, there frequently comes to mind the need to be closely united to the Pope and, in each particular Church, to one’s own pastor. All the faithful have to realize the urgent need to collaborate in the building up of the Church in unity, respecting legitimate differences. This is a consequence, perhaps the first in the order of charity, of the sowing of peace that we are all called to foster.
In this area as well, priests, and not only priests, have a specific role as instruments of unity in the Church. Their contribution can have many different manifestations, but above all it is found in unity with the Roman Pontiff and with their own Ordinary; then, in unity with other priests; finally, in unity with all the faithful, to whom they are united by the common priesthood received in Baptism.
A special expression of being instruments of unity is the priestly fraternity that you all have to feel. All of us priests need to feel the real help of our brothers, to experience human manifestations of the deep spiritual bond that unites us. Frater qui adiuvatur a fratre quasi civitas firma. Help one another, support one another, lend each other a hand. Then the whole Church will be strengthened by your unity.
3. The Gospel of the Mass offers us the decisive key for grasping how to put all of this into practice. The way to fulfill what the Holy Spirit is expecting of you is clear: follow Christ, our only Model, who in the parable of the Good Shepherd has left sculpted the features of a shepherd of souls. I am the good shepherd, he tells us. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The charity that fills Jesus’ heart is a necessary point of reference for any priest. You, my dear deacons, have to show yourselves ready to give your life for your brothers, day after day, in a constant and voluntary service, in the smallest matters of each day, spending yourselves generously wherever you are sent, independent of personal likes or dislikes, with full availability.
Being priests of Christ, all Christians will be an integral part of your flock, and you have to show yourselves ready to provide spiritual help to anyone who asks you, while centering your pastoral care on the faithful of the Prelature. Like Jesus, you should be able to affirm: I know my own and my own know me. Like Christ, do all you can to meet their spiritual needs and to teach everyone the high goals of personal holiness and apostolate to which God is calling them. Keep present the example of Blessed Josemaria: how many hours of prayer for all men and women, especially for his daughters and sons, considering them one by one in God’s presence. You too, like our Father, should do everything possible, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to know the true spiritual needs of the persons entrusted to you, and to offer them the healthy and abundant food of Catholic doctrine and the spirit of Opus Dei.
4. It is a great joy to have among us the parents, brothers and sisters, and relatives of the new priests. I share in your own joy, because God has chosen a priest from among those dear to you. You too, in various ways, have been God’s instruments in helping the seed of a priestly vocation to mature. Thank our Lord for this gift. At the same time, I ask you, I ask everyone, to continue praying for them, since now they have even greater need of your prayers.
Now is a good moment to formulate sincere resolutions. Every priestly ordination contains so much of God’s grace! The best resolution will be the decision to draw closer to our Lord. Each of you should consider how best to do so in your own personal circumstances: greater faithfulness to your Christian commitments; more generosity in launching out towards new and demanding goals; having recourse to the sacrament of Confession, if need be, to cancel past offenses and begin a new life, one of ardent love for our Lord. Those are the greatest presents that you can offer the new priests.
Before ending, I want to ask you to pray for the Holy Father. I know I am repeating what I already said, but love, friendship, the desire to serve, always speak the same language. Also pray for all the bishops, and in a special way for the cardinal vicar of Rome, and for all priests. Let us beg that everywhere vocations of holy priests may increase, so essential for spreading the kingdom of God throughout the world.
In this month traditionally dedicated to Marian prayer, let us entrust all of these intentions to our Lady, trying to recite devoutly the rosary each day, as the Pope has recommended to us. Amen.
Romana, n. 33, July-December 2001, p. 177-180.