I am quite overwhelmed by the abundance and theological density of the Holy Father’s homilies, discourses, and writings. It is a privilege and a grace to be united to the mens of the Holy Father and to the prayer of his heart by reading and meditating his teachings. Yesterday, in Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father ordained fourteen deacons to the priesthood. The following extract, from the homily His Holiness preached, is yet another illustration of his zeal for priestly holiness in the Church.
Being in Prayer with Jesus
The Gospel that we just heard shows us a significant moment in the journey of Jesus in which he asks his disciples what people think of him and how they judge him themselves. Peter replies on behalf of the Twelve with a confession of faith, which differs substantially from the view that people have of Jesus, for he says: You are the Christ of God (cf. 9.20). Where does this act of faith come from? If we go back to the beginning of the Gospel passage, we note that Peter’s confession is tied to a moment of prayer: ” when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him,”(9:18). That is, the disciples are involved in Jesus’ unique being and talking with the Father. And so they are allowed to see the Master in the depths of his condition as Son, they are allowed to see what others can not, by ‘being with Him, “by” being with Him in prayer, comes a knowledge that goes beyond the opinions of people to reach the profound identity of Jesus, to reach the truth. Here we are given an indication for the life and mission of the priest: in prayer he is called to rediscover the new face of the Lord and always the most authentic contents of his mission. Only those who have an intimate relationship with the Lord are grasped by him, may bring him to others, can be sent out. This is the “being with him” that must always accompany the exercise of priestly ministry; it must be the central part of it, above all in difficult times when it seems that the “things to be done” should take priority.
Being on the Way of the Cross with Jesus
I wish to highlight a second element in today’s Gospel. Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus proclaims his passion and resurrection, and he follows this announcement with a lesson on the path his disciples must take, which is to follow Him, the Crucified, follow the road of the Cross. And he adds – with a paradoxical expression – that being a disciple means “losing oneself”, but only in order to fully rediscover oneself (cf. Lk 9.22 to 24). What does this mean for every Christian, but especially what does it mean for a priest? Discipleship, but we can safely say: the priesthood can never be a way to achieve security in life or to gain a position in society. The man who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his personal prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning at the root of this ministry. The man who wants above all to achieve a personal ambition, achieve personal success, will always be a slave to himself and public opinion. In order to be considered, he will have to flatter; to say what people want to hear, he will have to adjust to changing fashions and opinions and thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with the truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he would praise today. A man who plans his life like this, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, only himself and, paradoxically, ends up losing himself. The priesthood – let us always remember – rests on the courage to say yes to another will, in the awareness, to be nurtured everyday, that our compliance with the will of God, our “immersion” in this will, does not cancel our originality, rather on the contrary, it helps us enter deeper into the truth of our being and our ministry.
Being at the Altar with Jesus
Dear ordinands, I would like propose a third thought for your consideration, closely related to the one just mentioned: the call of Jesus to “lose oneself” to take the cross, recalls the mystery we celebrate: the Eucharist. With the sacrament of Holy Orders you today are gifted to preside at the Eucharist! You are entrusted the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, you are entrusted with his Body, given his outpoured Blood. Of course, Jesus offers his sacrifice, his gift of love full and humble, to the Church his Bride, on the Cross. It was on that wood, that the Father dropped a grain of wheat on the field of the world so that in dying it would become mature fruit, the giver of life. But in God’s plan, this gift of Christ is made present in the Eucharist through the sacred potestas that the Sacrament of Holy Orders bestows on you Priests. When we celebrate Holy Mass we hold in our hands the bread of Heaven, the bread of God which is Christ, the grain broken to multiply and become the true food of life for the world. It is something that can not fail to fill you with intimate wonder, vibrant joy and immense gratitude: now the love and gift of Christ crucified and glorious, pass through your hands, your voice, your heart!