.- At the closing Mass of the Year for Priests on Thursday, Pope Benedict reviewed the purpose of the year, saying that he wanted the universal Church to appreciate and reflect on the priesthood, which shows the “audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings.” Because the Church focused on the good of the priesthood, the Devil reacted by inspiring the timing of the recent revelations of clerical sex abuse within the Church, the Pope said.
“It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the 'enemy,'” the Pontiff explained, “he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world.”
“And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite.”
During his homily the Pope noted how the Year for Priests was celebrated to ensure “a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry.”
“The priest is not a mere office-holder,” he noted. “Rather, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ's name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life.”
“Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ's words of thanksgiving ... which open the world to God and unite it to Him. The priesthood, then, is not simply 'office' but Sacrament.”
The fact that God confers Holy Orders on men demonstrates His “audacity” in entrusting Himself to human beings,” the Pope observed. Moreover, “this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word 'priesthood'. ...This is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year.”
Speaking on the desire for increased vocations, the Holy Father noted that we “wanted to reawaken our joy at how close God is to us ... we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist.”
Reflecting on clerical sex abuse scandals and the failures of some within the priesthood to live according to the tenets of their ministry, Pope Benedict said that we “too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey.”
“Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events,” the Pontiff added. “But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God's gift, a gift concealed in 'earthen vessels' which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes His love concretely present in this world.”
“So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, His gift becomes a commitment to respond to God's courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility,” the Holy Father urged.
The Pope continued his homily by commenting on Psalm 23, which was one of the readings during the closing Mass.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” the Holy Father quoted from the Psalm. “God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind. I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered.”
“God wants us, as priests, in one tiny moment of history, to share His concern about people. As priests, we want to be persons who share His concern for men and women, who take care of them and provide them with a concrete experience of God's concern,” he underscored.
Commenting on the end of the Psalm, which references the “table set,” and “dwelling in the house of the Lord,” the Pope said, “we see a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist, in which God Himself makes us His guests and offers Himself to us as food - as that bread and fine wine which alone can definitively sate man's hunger and thirst.”
“How can we not rejoice that one day we will be guests at the very table of God? ... How can we not rejoice that He has enabled us to set God's table for men and women, to give them His Body and His Blood, to offer them the precious gift of His very presence?” Benedict XVI asked the thousands of priests present.
The full text of the Pope's Homily is available here.