A time destined to “this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the ‘enemy’,” Benedict XVI said. 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. 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, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers. Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. 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.”
God uses these “earthen vessels”, these “poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf.” Hence, “The priesthood, then, is not simply ‘office" but sacrament”. A “priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power”. His is a task that involves taking care of the flock assigned to him, as shepherd, including the use of the “rod” against “heresy” to prevent faith from being “twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented.”
“The world’s religions, as far as we can see, have always known that in the end there is only one God. But this God was distant. Evidently, he had abandoned the world to other powers and forces, to other divinities. It was with these that one had to deal. The one God was good, yet aloof. He was not dangerous, nor was he very helpful. Consequently, one didn’t need to worry about him. He did not lord it over us. Oddly, this kind of thinking re-emerged during the Enlightenment. There was still recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way.”
“But wherever God’s loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry. It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me. ‘I know my own and my own know me’ (Jn, 10:14), the Church says before the Gospel with the Lord’s words. God knows me, he is concerned about me. This thought should make us truly joyful. Let us allow it to penetrate the depths of our being. Then let us also realize what it means: 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. Whatever the field of activity entrusted to him, the priest, with the Lord, ought to be able to say: ‘I know my sheep and mine know me’. ‘To know’, in the idiom of sacred Scripture, never refers to merely exterior knowledge, like the knowledge of someone’s telephone number. ‘Knowing’ means being inwardly close to another person. It means loving him or her. We should strive to "know" men and women as God does and for God’s sake; we should strive to walk with them along the path of friendship with God.”
“Our path as individuals will one day lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where no one can accompany us. Yet he will be there. Christ himself descended into the dark night of death. Even there he will not abandon us. [. . .] When speaking of the darkest valley, we can also think of the dark valleys of temptation, discouragement and trial through which everyone has to pass. Even in these dark valleys of life, he is there. Lord, in the darkness of temptation, at the hour of dusk when all light seems to have died away, show me that you are there. Help us priests, so that we can remain beside the persons entrusted to us in these dark nights. So that we can show them your own light.”
Ultimately, this is a prayer Benedict XVI raises for the world’s priests. Before him, sprinkled with holy water, the 15,000 priests present in Saint Peter’s renewed the priestly pledges.
Again, the Pope placed the priests in Our Lady’s care, something he did last month in Fatima, concluding his address by urging those present in seven languages “to continue with renewed impetus on the path of sanctification in the sacred ministry that the Lord entrusted you.”