Solid priestly identity essential as secularism grows, Pope tells priests

Pope Benedict met with priests and bishops participating in an international theological convention on Friday and spoke with them on the importance of understanding what it means to be a priest. This awareness of their identity is all the more important as secularism advances and some try to reduce the priesthood to being almost a 'social worker.'

Speaking of priestly identity in the modern "policentric" context, which often fades our idea of identity, "it is important clearly to bear in mind the theological specificity of ordained ministry, in order not to surrender to the temptation of reducing it to predominant cultural models," the Pope began.

In the presence of "widespread secularization which progressively tends to exclude God from the public sphere and from the shared social conscience, the priest often appears 'removed' from common sense," Pope Benedict said, adding that it's often a result of “the most fundamental aspects of his ministry."

For this reason, he explained, "it is important to avoid a dangerous reductionism which, over recent decades... has presented the priest almost as a 'social worker,' with the risk of betraying the very Priesthood of Christ."

Reacting to this dangerous reduction of priestly identity, the Pope proposed understanding the priesthood by looking at it as the Church sees the texts of the Second Vatican Council, using a “hermeneutic of continuity.”

In the same way, the Pope explained, “there appears to be a need for a hermeneutic that we could describe as 'of priestly continuity,' one which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and passing through the two thousand years of history, the greatness, sanctity, culture and piety which the Priesthood has given the world, reaches our own day."

In the times in which we live, he continued,"it is particularly important that the call to participate in the one Priesthood of Christ in ordained ministry should flower from the 'charism of prophecy.'”

"There is great need for priests who speak of God to the world and who present the world to God; men not subject to ephemeral cultural fashions, but capable of authentically living the freedom that only the certainty of belonging to God can give.”

"Today," said the Holy Father, "the most necessary prophecy is that of faithfulness" which "leads us to live our priesthood in complete adherence to Christ and the Church."

Priests, said the Pope, cannot forget about this fundamental association with God which "is the right framework in which to understand and reaffirm, also in our own time, the value of celibacy which in the Latin Church is a charism imposed by Holy Orders" and "an expression of the gift of the self to God and to others."

"The vocation of priests is an exalted one, and remains a great mystery even for those of us who have received it as a gift."

He continued saying that the "limitations and weaknesses" of priests "must cause us to live and safeguard this precious gift with great faith, a gift with which Christ configured us to Himself, making us participants in His mission of salvation."

"Dear priests," the Holy Father concluded, "the men and women of our time ask us only to be priests to the full, nothing else.

"The lay faithful will be able to meet their human needs in many other people, but only in the priest will they find that Word of God which must always be on his lips, the Mercy of the Father abundantly and gratuitously distributed in the Sacrament of Penance, and the bread of new life."

Five hundred priests and 50 bishops attended the two-day convention from March 11 - 12 at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

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