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Monday, May 15th



The Priest, minister of hope, epiphany of God among men


Brothers, this is the third time I speak to you during these days and I am always filled with joy and emotion because it is beautiful being together. This is because I look upon this magnificent and vibrant assembly with respect, affection and veneration. If we look at each other, in a climate of sacramental brotherhood, configured to Christ in the only Priesthood, our horizons expand beyond the boundaries of our Churches of origin and an intensely missionary dimension enriches our assembly.

Even physically, we are close to the Vicar of Christ, making the image of the Church we have been given to contemplate on, livelier and more complete, and our prayer becomes more universal and more intense.

Our soul opens up to the rendering of thanks:

"Blessed is he whom thou dost choose / and bring near, to dwell in thy courts! / We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, / thy holy temple… / By dread deeds / Thou dost answer us with deliverance, /O God of our salvation…" (Ps 65:4-5).

It is prodigious in fact that, accepting the challenge of an often indifferent world, tempted by materialism, there is someone capable of making a choice or of persevering in the radical and decisive choice of a virgin, obedient, poor Christ, ready to consecrate his entire life to the presentation of God’s face to the world, to the proclamation of the free and infinite mercy of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

It is prodigious that there is someone, accepting Christ’s calling each day of his entire life and taken by His absolutely unique fascination, with undivided heart, makes the choice for an interior life of consecration while facing a society immersed in the ephemeral and in the insignificant: the choice for an austere and exacting perfection, but also gladdening, while facing a comfortable, resigned and often bored mediocrity.


  1. The Priest, minister of hope for man in the third millennium


Any consideration on the priestly ministry, be it from the ontological point of view, when wishing to define its content, be it from the existential point of view, in defining the precise place the aforementioned minister has in the Church and in the world, must, above all, keep in mind that the words with which Saint Paul described his prodigious deification: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20) can be applied to each and every Christian.

We know that Christ Jesus, the Supreme and Eternal Priest, wanted His entire Church to participate in His only indivisible priesthood (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-10; LG 10).

But the salvific design of God implies that divine life must be communicated within the Church, through the ways instituted specifically by Him: the proclamation of the Word, the Sacraments and the pastoral work, which are properly and specifically priestly acts of Christ, the Head, Teacher and Shepherd of the Church. Therefore, Christ is present in His Church not only inasmuch as He attracts all the faithful to Himself from that Throne of grace and glory which is His redeeming Cross (cf. Col 1:20), forming one sole Body with all men from all times, but also inasmuch as He is always present in time, and in an eminent way, as the Head, the Teacher and the Shepherd who teaches, sanctifies and constantly governs His People. And this presence is achieved by the ministerial priesthood that He wanted to institute within His Church: therefore, the priest, incorporated to Christ through Baptism like all Christians, through the new consecration by the sacrament of Orders becomes ipse Christus, must work for the duties of teaching, sanctifying and pastorally directing the other members of His Body until the end of times, not only in His name but also with His same power (cf. PO 2). In the Priest, the predominance of Christ sacramentally relives, in a specific way His Mastership over the cosmos and over history is actualized again, from which the Word of God is "the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev 1:8), "the Beginning and the End" (Rev 21:6), to serve all of creation summarizing all things and leading them once again, healed, to the house of the Father (cf. Eph 1:10).

I can but recall here, on this theme, in continuity with the Magisterium, some of the recent documents that are fundamental to us, especially in today’s circumstances: the Directory for the ministry and the life of priests, the Circular Letter on The priest, teacher of the Word, minister of sacraments and leader of the Community in view of the Third Christian Millennium, and the inter-dicasterial Instruction on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the lay faithful with the ministry of priests.

Because of this we can assert that the priestly ministry, in the perspective of the third millennium, above all the ministry and in the light that filters through the Holy Door of the Great Jubilee, is above all the mystery of hope, because it makes present all of the redeeming power of Christ who "is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8). The light of the Word made flesh is reflected in the ministry of the priest, the lumen gentium, the light of love, of hope and truth (cf. John Paul II, Letter for Holy Thursday to the Priests, Novo incipienti nostro, no. 4, AAS 71, 1979, 398-400).

The true gift of hope is Him, Christ Jesus, the gift from God to the world: ontologically through sacramental ordination, it is like Him that the priest is configured and who, being invested with holy power, becomes the minister of the epiphany of God among men, prolonging through the centuries – as we have just asserted a short time ago – the mission of the incarnate Word, making the face of the Father known to all, in the Holy Spirit. Because of this we can assert that the pastoral ministry is truly with Christ and in Christ the "manifestation of God hope of man, of God liberation of man, of God salvation of man" (John Paul II, Homily in the Basilica of Saint Peter’s, 6.1.1999).

Evangelization is the traditio Evangelii, which, in the deep significance of Pauline theology, means to transmit the dynamis Theou "the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith" (Rom 1:16), and this is achieved above all and principally through the Word, the Sacraments and the pastoral Duties of the ordained priest, as "man of God" (1 Tim 6:11) and "servant of Christ" (1 Cor 4:1).

For the priests of today and of all times, bringing the Gospel to others, bringing men closer to Christ, means, in the first place, bringing the Gospel itself, fully identifying with the living Word of Christ Himself. And priestly formation must tend towards this goal, initially as well as permanently in every phase: it consists in the specific holiness of the ordained minister.


2. The priestly ministry is at the service of man, the first and fundamental way of the Church.


The times require it, and all the People of God are called upon and urged by the Successor of Peter "to carry on the work of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for he came into the world to bear witness to the truth, to save and not to judge, to serve and not to be served" (Conc. Ecum. Vat. II, Past. Const. Gaudium et spes (GS), 3).

The world, on the threshold on the third millennium, needs even more to experience once again this presence of God, to encounter Him truly on the path of life, to feel the nearness of His goodness full of mercy (cf. Eph 2:4).

The Church, the efficacious sign and instrument of the intimate union of man with God and of the unity of all mankind (cf. Conc. Ecum. Vat. II, Dogm. Const. Lumen gentium, n. 1), "sacrament inseparable of unity" (Saint Cyprian, Epist. ad Magnum, 6: PL 3,1142), and "universal sacrament of salvation" (Dogm. Const. Lumen gentium, n. 48), recognizes its fundamental duty in continuously activating and renewing this union, through the means of Christ’s charity in the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 2: 14; Past. Const. GS, n. 45).

"Each faithful Christian, each son of the Church should feel called upon by this common and urgent responsibility, and in a particular way the priests, especially chosen, consecrated and sent to make the contemporaneity of Christ emerge, of whom they become the authentic representatives and messengers" (Congregation for the Clergy, Directorate for the ministry and the life of Priests, Tota Ecclesia, 31.1.1994, no. 7, L.E.V. 1994, p. 11).


3. Dignity and irreplaceability of the ordained minister


It is suggestive to recall here the image of the crystal that radiates the light of the sun all around, and which Saint Basil uses when he wishes to underline that the soul of the apostle must be "clear" to be able to reflect the light of the Spirit and the truth of the faith: And like the very transparent and clear bodies in contact with a ray also become very luminous and emanate a new light in themselves, so must the souls that have the Spirit in them and that are illuminated by the Spirit must also become holy and reflect the grace on others" (The Holy Spirit, IX, 23). This is particularly necessary in the priest because he is not called upon to proclaim abstract concepts, but to proclaim the Truth, the Person of Christ, with whom man is called upon to enter into union and which only the Spirit can allow to be realized up to the degree of a marital union. Thus, the ordained minister is called upon to collaborate with the Spirit so that this miracle may be realized, and the milder his collaboration with the Paraclete, the more efficacious will his ministry be. Saint John Chrysostom asserts "The Apostles did not come down from the mountain like Moses, bearing stone tables in their hands; they left the Last Supper bearing the Holy Spirit in their hearts and offering everywhere the treasures of knowledge, of grace and spiritual gifts as if from a gushing spring: in fact, they went out into the entire world to preach, as if they themselves were the living law, as if they were books animated by the grace of the Holy Spirit" (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, I). Therefore, as Paul VI once recalled (cf. Message to the Priests, 30.6.1968, at the Conclusion of the year of Faith), the ministerial priesthood is part of an institutional structure wanted by God so that divine life could reach men of all times through specific ministers also established by Him: therefore, priestly ministry "is not any sort of job or service exercised in favor of the ecclesial community, rather it is a service which participates in an absolutely special way and with an indelible characteristic of the power of the priesthood of Christ, thanks to the sacrament of Ordination" (Ibidem).

The attempts on ordained priesthood are certainly quite a few and can be seen under various aspects. I believe that this is one of the major dangers for the Church of Jesus Christ. If one tried to hide the nature of the priestly ministry and in consequence of this one looked for forms of insertion into the society of the new millennium which are not appropriate to the nature of ministerial priesthood, this would be the equivalent of taking away that particular presence of Christ, Teacher, Priest and Pastor of His Church, from the People of God, and which can only be given through the person of the ordained priest.

We all know that this is an absurd hypothesis, because it would also mark the disappearance of the common priesthood of the faithful who, in the ministerial priesthood, find the motivating center, and the return certainly not to the times of the Church at its origins, rather to the most primitive phases of humanity, when the People of God were divided and errant, like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Cor 18:16; Mt 9:36).

Instead we know what God promised His people by the efficacious presence of pastors that gather them and guide them: "I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer 3:15), Jeremiah prophesized.

"I myself, Ezekiel prophesized, will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak" (Ezek 34:15 et segue).

We could speak about an eruption of the divine power and knowledge into the life of every man, which is fully realized in the mission of the Word made Flesh and is prolonged in time through the ministry of His priests, "other Christs".


4. The Holy Spirit in the priestly ministry, the first protagonist of evangelization.


Looking back at what we have said about the enterprise of new evangelization, which, as the Holy Father says "calls for the involvement of the entire People of God, and requires a new fervor, new methods and a new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the Gospel. This task demands priests who are deeply and fully immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of embodying a new style of pastoral life" (Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation PdV, no. 18).

The Holy Spirit answers these needs with the words of the Prophet Jeremiah: "I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer 3:15). Still today, God promises His People the efficacious presence of pastors to gather and guide them, according to his own heart, the heart of God, which was revealed to us fully in the heart of Christ the Good Shepherd (cf. Ap. Exhort. PdV, 28): He keeps nothing for Himself (cf. Lk 9:59), He does not look after His own interests (cf. Jn 13:14-16), He offers Himself up to us completely to liberate us from death and to make us participate in eternal life (cf. Jn 10:10 et segue). He is the Redeemer, par excellence.

In the consecration received through the sacrament of Orders, we can assert that the gift of the Spirit models us in a specific and sacramental way to Jesus Christ, the Supreme and Eternal Priest, the Head and the Teacher, the Husband and the Pastor of His Church (cf. Conc. OF Trent, sess. XII, chap. II; Pius XII, Let. Enc. Mediator Dei, 20.11.1947; Conc. Ecum. Vat. II, Dogm. Const. Lumen gentium, no. 10,28; Decr. Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 2). We would like to remind that the ordained priest is made capable and apt to act not only in the name but also in the person of Christ Himself, and to participate in the authority with which Christ Himself builds, sanctifies and governs His Body.

Therefore, with the priestly ministry, the reconciling and salvific presence of Christ is prolonged in the world: the anointing of the Spirit received in priestly ordination models the life of the priests by the charity of the Word made Flesh Himself, who in this offers the entire world His own style of life (Cf. Post Synodal Ap. Exhort. PdV, no. 36).

Thus, we can understand how the priest, without ceasing to be a brother among brothers, is sacramentally constituted before them to authoritatively proclaim the word of the only Teacher destined to all men, to repeat the gestures of forgiveness, of reconciliation and of offering salvation, above all in Baptism, Penance and the Eucharist, thus making His loving solicitude present up to the total giving of oneself.


Therefore, the holy ministry is not inscribed in the line of ethical relations among men, nor can it be placed only on the level of the human effort to come closer to God: the holy minister is a gift from God and is irreversibly placed on the vertical line of the search for man by his Creator and Savior, on the sacramental horizon of divine intimacy made freely accessible to man. In other words, the ordained minister is by its essence holy because of its origin – Christ conferred it -, as well as for the content – the divine mysteries -, and finally because of the way it is conferred – sacramentally: here lies the only prospective which allows understanding the nature of this priestly service, especially in the cultural context we find ourselves facing today.

Thus, for those who pretend to assert, in the area of secularizing tendencies and doctrinal and existential relativism the self-sufficiency of man on the path for happiness, fully autonomous from the Incarnate God and from His ordained Ministers, we answer with the well-known assertion made by Vatican Council II that only Christ "fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" (Past. Const. Gaudium et spes, no. 22). We must repeat that Christ is present in the priest to indicate to the world that the reconciliation worked by Him is not an act circumscribed to a specific time or to a specific place; this, inasmuch as it is the only efficacious act of universal reconciliation, transcends the categories of becoming human and continuously continues in time until, having reached the last hour of history, Christ will return (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). The ecumenical and missionary dimensions of the priestly ministry emerge here, which embraces all the peoples in all places and transcends all cultures.



5. The priest, at the time of growth of koinonía with Christ


"The new evangelization needs new evangelizers, and these are the priests who are serious about living their priesthood as a specific path toward holiness" (Post Synodal Ap. Exhort. PdV, no. 82).

Therefore, the following are necessary: a life of prayer and penance, a sincere spiritual direction, recourse to the sacrament of Penance made periodically and one’s entire existence rooted, centered and unified in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, with a strong, and at the same time, delicate Marian devotion.

"One must begin with purifying oneself before purifying others – Saint Gregory of Nazianius asserts -; one must be taught before teaching; one must become light before illuminating, come close to God to bring others to Him, be sanctified to sanctify" (Orationes, 2, 71: PG 35,480). This is the reconciliation the Great Jubilee asks of us: a reconciliation of ourselves to reconcile, making us see once again how our own ministry becomes a need and the source of sanctification. We must continuously aim at this unity of life.

Christ lives in the priest! (cf. Gal 2:20): this is the great truth that fills our existence with content, which defines the identity, the formation, the style of life, the ascesis, the same discipline of communion. This truth is hope for the world, it is the reason for the unending fascination of vocations. We must cry this truth out to the world with the humble, ardent and holy pride of our life!


6. The gaze upon the multitudes of non-believers and the presence of so many faithful who often manifest a human vision, we might say flat and horizontal, by the ministerial priesthood, which is sacred and hierarchical, and even of one’s own, the common priesthood of the baptized, must shake us and make us react, like the heart of Paul was shaken and made to react with missionary ardor on hearing the plea of the Macedonian in the vision of Troas: "Help us!" (Acts 16:9).

There is no society that does not need to be evangelized: the words the Holy Father addressed to the participants in the VI Symposium of the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe in 1985 still hold true: "This renewed work of evangelization, which we are undertaking, is placed in an organic and dynamic continuity with the first evangelization, the one by Christ Himself first of all - cf. Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 7- and then the apostolic one (…). To achieve an efficacious work of evangelization we must go back and be inspired by the first apostolic model" (JOHN PAUL ii, Allocution, 11.10. 1985, no. 2 and 18).

The redemption of Christ is necessary for all men; we are, because of the Divine plan, channels, instruments so that it may flow to irrigate all lands and all hearts. Therefore, pastoral charity urges us to: run through the streets of the world making ours that "ignem veni mittere" that burns in the priestly heart of Jesus.

What counts is not the age but the priestly being! We can understand, with the passing of time, with reference to physical conditions and certain changes in responsibilities, how the just desire for merited rest arises. With great difficulty absolute needs would be extended only for reasons of age. No one, as a priest, can totally and definitely retire. The Priesthood is not a job with a limited period of time!

Here in front of me I see some elderly priests: I know that there are some that are ninety years old or more, but I also know what youthful hearts and wills lie beneath those venerable white hairs and beneath those physical frailties. Let us run "ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam"!




The Jubilee commits us to conversion of ourselves to be able to convert and to take a place, at all ages, in the great adventure of the new evangelization. The columns of Saint Peter’s Square almost seem to beat the glorious march of this evangelization. It is a march marked by the specific sanctity of the Priests, the first and irreplaceable evangelizers.

But, in concluding, my word becomes a prayer to the Supreme and Eternal Priest. Lord, keep in Your love the Priests that You protect as guardians of Your Home, as announcers of Your Will, as ministers and dispensers of the holy mysteries: they do not escape the misunderstandings even of the good, the hostility in the world, the unpopularity of public opinion.

Surround them, O Lord, with a spiritual family that prays, that understands, helps and sustains: May Your People find joy in the gift and comfort of faithful and holy Priests. May the Virgin Mary keep them united and gathered in the admirable cathedral of Her Immaculate Heart where You Yourself were ordained Priest.

Lord, we pray to you with the words of Saint Theresa: give them the power to transform the bread and the wine. Give them the power to transform hearts. And that to the question, echo of the anxieties and doubts of the persons: "wherever can we look for Christ?", one may give the same answer as the one given at the time by Saint Ambrose: "in the heart of a wise Priest"!