INTERNATIONAL PRIESTS' CONVENTION
HOMILY OF CARDINAL ANGELO SODANO
My dear Brother Priests,
Your meeting is drawing to a close and the time has come to depart. Each of us will return to our daily work with our gaze fixed on Christ, who has called us to continue his saving work in the world.
Once again, our thoughts turn to the meaning of our vocation. Once again, our gaze is directed towards Jerusalem, to that Upper Room where the great mission of the Apostles began, to the day of Pentecost which marked the beginning of the great missionary endeavour throughout the whole world.
Today's Mass in honour of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, invites us to enter into the mystery of Pentecost and it offers us some reminders, some particular "calls" for our spiritual lives.
A call to faith
The first call from the Queen of Apostles is to an intense and living faith. "In the redemptive economy of grace, brought about through the action of the Holy Spirit, there is a unique correspondence between the moment of the Incarnation of the Word and the moment of the birth of the Church. The person who links these two moments is Mary: Mary at Nazareth and Mary in the Upper Room at Jerusalem" (Redemptoris Mater, n. 24).
At Nazareth through her "fiat", Mary became the first to believe, the Holy Spirit descended upon her, and she became the Mother of the Son of God. She believed with an intense and living faith in Bethlehem, throughout the life of Christ, and especially during the dark night of trial at the foot of the Cross; she hoped and believed in the Resurrection.
In God's plan, Mary's faith journey was longer; it started before that of the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room. She is offered to us as an example. We may say that Mary, even more than Abraham, can be proclaimed as "she who believed" (Lk 1: 45).
Mary's primacy in faith is not superseded, but by God's plan she "ever remains in the Church's heart, hidden like a special heritage of God's revelation" (Redemptoris Mater, n. 27).
"Thus, she is a pre-eminent and wholly unique member of the Church; indeed, she is the exemplary realization (typus) of the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 967).
When the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles in the Upper Room, giving them an intense and living faith like Mary's, she is there among them, praying for that gift. In this sense Mary is the Mother of the Apostles' faith and the faith of all who believe in Christ. All generations "look" towards her, they draw inspiration from her faith and come to believe in Christ. She was the first to believe in him and by her faith she conceived the Word first in her heart and then in her body, thanks to her "fiat".
At the start of the Third Millennium, so greatly in need of a new Pentecost, we ask Mary to pray that we priests will receive the gift of an intense and living faith in Christ, like hers.
A call to holiness
A second summons from the Queen of the Apostles is to holiness. The Holy Spirit came down on Mary Immaculate and found in her his dwelling-place and his temple. "From the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, [she] was preserved immune from all stain of original sin" (Ineffabilis Deus, DS 2803). Mary is called holy and "blessed" by all generations (cf. Lk 1: 48).
The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus Christ, her Son, the innocent Lamb, the new Adam. "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (Jn 8: 46) asks Jesus. From this innocence, the New Creation proceeds.
When the Holy Spirit descends upon the new-born Church, upon the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, communicating the fire of holiness and configuring them to Christ, Mary Immaculate is present among them, as first-fruits, as a model, as a mother in holiness.
The constant call to authentic holiness, the nostalgic admiration for innocence, must be firmly rooted in the hearts of priests and must lie at the foundation of their ministry. The priest's holy life is like a lighthouse in the midst of a secularized world, which seems to be drowning in the pursuit of pleasure, in the cult of the body, in the "consumer society". The priest, with his holy life of service, poverty and sobriety, is like the morning star, a point of reference for spiritual values and hope in the world to come, where his true native land lies, while the earthly city is built for man.
A call to apostolic zeal
The third invitation from the Queen of Apostles is to ardour for our mission. Today too, as at the origins of the Church, we need apostles inflamed with zeal for the mission to bring the light of the Gospel to all families and to every heart.
After the death and Resurrection of Christ, the Apostles remained gathered in prayer with Mary. They were confused and fearful. They could not bring themselves to set out upon the mission which Christ had clearly conferred upon them in that very Upper Room before his death, and which he had confirmed after his Resurrection at the time of his Ascension into heaven.
It must have been quite a task for Mary to sustain them, to help them to hope, confident that a greater transforming grace would soon come. She knew exactly what it meant to receive the Holy Spirit, and she could see that this gift had not yet been given to the disciples. After the descent of the Spirit, the Apostles were able to bear witness courageously to Christ in Israel and in all the nations of the earth, devoting their lives to this mission even to the shedding of their blood.
The closeness of Mary, as a strong and courageous mother, allows priests to overcome pessimism and discouragement and allows them to remain open to the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit for the fulfilment of their mission.
How necessary is this closeness of Mary for so many apostles today who, when they are faced with the hardness of the world, find themselves tempted to abandon their mission and to give up, as if the Church were not able to renew today's world in Christ!
The new evangelization to be undertaken in the Third Millennium (new in its methods and its ardour) needs courageous apostles, conscious that God's grace is not lacking and that it knows no limit.
Each of us has to rely on Mary's cooperation. To her, with filial simplicity, we must entrust the most important and delicate missions, the most difficult tasks, knowing that we are placing them in good hands.
The voice of the Upper Room
Dear brother priests, this is the voice which seems to come from the Upper Room in Jerusalem. It is a triple call: to faith, to holiness, to apostolic zeal. I too often think of that Upper Room, ever since I had the joy of celebrating Holy Mass there with the Pope on the occasion of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March of the Great Jubilee Year 2000.
Unfortunately, that particular building is no longer in the hands of Christians, even if there are hopes that the Israeli Authorities might give it back in the future. Yet that Upper Room remains in our hearts for ever: there Christ instituted the Eucharist and made us his ministers, there the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles gathered in prayer with Mary, from there the mission of Christ's Church began, sanctified within by his Holy Spirit.
Looking towards that Upper Room, each of us can discover the meaning of his own vocation and can obtain the strength to pursue his own journey.
It is true that we priests work in different fields. There are the parish priests and the professors. There are the military chaplains and the directors of parish oratories, there are the preachers and the confessors, there are those with plenty of energy and those who are elderly or sick. But we all feel called to serve the Church, for the spread of the Kingdom of God in the world. This is the mission that we wish to accomplish with holy enthusiasm and great inner joy.
My brothers, the island which is hosting us has a name which will serve as a reminder of our pilgrimage: Gozo. It is a Spanish word which we translate as "joy", rejoicing, gladness. Let this be our distinctive characteristic, recalling the words of the Apostle Paul who sanctified this island with his presence and who still today repeats the words which he once addressed to the Bishops, priests and deacons of Philippi: "Gau-dete in Domino semper, iterum dico gaudete". "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice... and the God of peace will be with you" (Phil 4: 4-9).