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Vatican Conference on Priesthood

When a priest sees himself as nothing more than a “social agent,” he runs the risk of betraying the priesthood itself, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today upon receiving in audience the participants in the International Theological Conference “Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest” organized by the Congregation for Clergy.

The two-day event ended today, which was attended by more than 50 bishops and over 500 priests and was organized around the theme of the Year for Priests.

“Dear brother priests, at this time in which we live, it is especially important that the call to participate in the one priesthood of Christ in the ordained ministry flower in the ‘charism of prophecy’: There is a great need of priests that speak of God to the world and that present God to the world; men not subject to ephemeral cultural ways, but capable of living in an authentic way that liberty, that only the certainty of belonging to God is in a condition to give.”

The Pontiff said the most necessary prophecy is that of fidelity, which is to “live one’s priesthood in total adherence to Christ and to the Church.”

Referring to the Catechism f the Catholic Church, the Holy Father said the

“priest no longer belongs to himself but, because of the sacramental seal received, is ‘property’ of God. This ‘being of Another’ must be made recognizable by all, through a clear witness.”

He said this “belonging to God” also provides the “appropriate framework to understand and reaffirm, also in our days, the value of sacred celibacy.”

Full text

Dear Cardinals, Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood, Distinguished Audience,

I am happy to meet with you on this particular occasion and I greet you all affectionately. I address a particular thought to Cardinal Cl�udio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and I thank him for the words he addressed to me. My gratitude to the whole dicastery, for the commitment with which it coordinates the many initiatives of the Year for Priests, among them this Theological Congress, on the subject: “Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest.” I am delighted with this initiative that witnesses the presence of more than 50 bishops and over 500 priests, many of them national or diocesan leaders of the clergy and of permanent formation. Your attention to topics referring to the ministerial priesthood is one of the fruits of the special Year, which I wished to convoke precisely to “promote the commitment to interior renewal of all priests, so that their evangelical witness in the world of today is more intense and incisive” (Letter for the celebration of the Year for Priests).

The subject of priestly identity, object of your first day of study, is determinant for the exercise of the ministerial priesthood in the present and in the future. In an age such as ours, so “polycentric” and inclined to blur any type of conception of identity, considered by many contrary to liberty and democracy, it is important to have very clear the theological peculiarity of the ordained ministry and not yield to the temptation to reduce it to the prevailing cultural categories.

In the context of widespread secularization, which progressively excludes God from the public sphere and, by tendency, also from the shared social conscience, the priest often seems “strange” to common opinion, precisely because of the more fundamental aspects of his ministry, such as being a man of the sacred, removed from the world to intercede in favor of the world, constituted in that mission by God and not by men (cf. Hebrews 5:1).

For this reason, it is important to overcome dangerous reductionism that, in past decades, using categories that were more functional than ontological, has presented the priest almost as a “social agent,” running the risk of betraying the priesthood of Christ itself. Just as the hermeneutic of continuity is increasingly revealed as urgent to understand in an appropriate way the texts of the Second Vatican Council, similarly an hermeneutic seems necessary that we could describe “of priestly continuity,” which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and going through the 2,000 years of the history of grandeur and holiness, of culture and piety, which the priesthood has written in the world, arrives at our days.

Dear brother priests, at this time in which we live it is especially important that the call to participate in the one priesthood of Christ in the ordained ministry flower in the “charism of prophecy”: There is a great need of priests that speak of God to the world and that present God to the world; men not subject to ephemeral cultural ways, but capable of living in an authentic way that liberty that only the certainty of belonging to God is in conditions to give. As your Congress has pointed out well, today the most necessary prophecy is that of fidelity, which, starting from the fidelity of Christ to humanity, will lead through the Church and the ministerial priesthood to live one’s priesthood in total adherence to Christ and to the Church. In fact, the priest no longer belongs to himself but, because of the sacramental seal received (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1563;1582), is “property” of God. This “being of Another” must be made recognizable by all, through a clear witness.

In the way of thinking, of speaking, of judging the events of the world, of serving and loving, in relating to persons, also in the habit, the priest must draw prophetic strength from his sacramental belonging, from his profound being. Consequently, he must have every care to subtract himself from the prevailing mentality, which tends to associate the value of the minister not to his being, but only to his function, thus not appreciating the work of God, who influences the profound identity of the person of the priest, configuring him to himself in a definitive way (cf. Ibid., No. 1583).

The horizon of the ontological belonging to God constitutes, moreover, the appropriate framework to understand and reaffirm, also in our days, the value of sacred celibacy, which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Holy Orders (cf. “Presbyterorum Ordinis,” 16) and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches (cf. CCEO, can. 373). That is authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, sign of consecration to the Lord and to the “things of the Lord” with an undivided heart (1 Corinthians 7:32), expression of the gift of self to God and to others (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1579).

Hence, the vocation of the priest, which continues being a great mystery also for those of us who have received it as a gift, is sublime. Our limitations and weaknesses must lead us to live and protect with profound faith that precious gift, with which Christ has configured us to Himself, making us participants in his salvific mission. In fact, comprehension of the ministerial priesthood is linked to the faith and calls, ever more strongly, for a radical continuity between the formation of the seminary and permanent formation. The prophetic life, without compromises, with which we will serve God and the world, proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the Sacraments, will foster the coming of the Kingdom of God, already present, and the growth of the People of God in the faith.

Beloved priests, the men and women of our time do not only ask that we be thorough priests and no more. The lay faithful will find in many other persons what they humanly need, but only in the priest will they be able to find that Word of God that must always be on their lips (cf. “Presbyterorum Ordinis,” 4); the mercy of the Father, which is lavished abundantly and free in the sacrament of reconciliation; the Bread of New Life, “true nourishment given to men” (cf. Hymn of the Office on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi of the Roman rite).

Let us pray to God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint John Mary Vianney, to be able to thank him every day for the great gift of the vocation and to live our priesthood with full and joyful fidelity. Thank you all for this meeting! It gives me great pleasure to impart to each one the apostolic blessing.

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2010 (Zenit.org)