At the general audience in St. Peter’s Square this morning, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Year for Priests, laying out the essentials of the priestly mission and identity. He also prayed that this Year will be “an opportunity for the inner renewal of all priests and, consequently, for the revitalization of their commitment to the mission."
The Pope announced that much of his teaching in coming months will center of St. John Mary Vianney, during this Year marking the 150th anniversary of his death.
Of the many virtues exhibited by the Cure of Ars, the Holy Father said he finds that one of the most remarkable was “his complete identification with his ministry. He used to say that a good pastor, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure the good Lord can give a parish.”
The Priestly Mission
“In fact, it is by considering the dual term 'identity-mission' that each priest will become better aware of the need for that progressive self identification with Christ which guarantees the faithfulness and fruitfulness of his evangelical witness,” Benedict continued. “Thus, in the life of a priest, missionary announcement and worship are inseparable, just as sacramental identity and evangelizing mission are likewise inseparable.”
The goal of priests' mission, the Pope taught, could be described as, “'of worship': that all men and women may offer themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, receiving the charity which they are then called to dispense abundantly to one another.”
This charity is dispensed through love for others and works of mercy, which Benedict described as “not so much a question of social morals as the expression of a sacramental conception of Christian morality.” These outward manifestations of the indwelling of charity finds its full expression through priestly ministry, where “the spiritual sacrifice of all the faithful is accomplished, in union with the sacrifice of Christ, the only mediator,” the Pope said. “This is the sacrifice that priests offer bloodlessly and sacramentally while awaiting the second coming of the Lord.”
Benedict XVI also addressed the issue of priestly identity, saying, "In the face of so many uncertainties and so much weariness, even in the exercise of priestly ministry, it is vitally important to regain a clear and unequivocal view of the absolute primacy of divine grace.” "The mission of each individual priest depends, then, also and above all on an awareness of the sacramental reality of his 'new existence.' Upon the certainty of his own identity - not artificially and humanly constructed but freely and divinely given and received - depends his perennial enthusiasm for the mission."
“Having received such an extraordinary gift of grace with their consecration, priests become permanent witnesses of their own encounter with Christ,” and “are able to carry out their mission to the full, announcing the Word and administering the Sacraments,” he added.
The Pope noted that after Vatican Council II, "in some places the impression arose that there were more important things in the mission of priests in our time: some people believed that the priority was to build a new society."
However, Pope Benedict countered that “announcement and power” remain the “two essential elements of priestly ministry,” demonstrated when Christ sent his disciples to preach the Gospel and gave them power to drive out demons. In other words "Word and Sacrament, are the pillars of priestly service, over and above the many forms it can take."
The Pope warned that when this two-fold core of the priest is forgotten, “it becomes truly difficult to understand the identity of priests and of their ministry in the Church.” He called on all people to remember this important truth during this Year for Priests, and to “pray for all the clergy. ... Prayer is the primary duty, the true path of sanctification for priests and the heart of authentic pastoral care of vocations.”
Benedict concluded by offering encouragement, saying, "The low numbers of priestly ordinations in some countries not only must not discourage us, it should stimulate us to dedicate greater space to silence and to listening to the Word, to improving spiritual guidance and the Sacrament of Confession, so that the voice of God, which always continues to call and to confirm, may be heard and followed by many young people."