07/01/2009, 00.00
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The Gospel and the Sacraments are a priest’s true mission, Pope says

In today’s general audience Benedict XVI talked about the Year for Priests to stress the need for priests to be fully aware of the gift they received. The low number of ordinations in some parts of the world should not discourage but instead stimulate us to pray.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Year for Priests was again the theme of the Holy Father's address in today’s general audience, held this morning in St Peter's Square before some 20,000 faithful. In it the Holy Father stressed that the mission to carry the Gospel until “ends of the Earth” and to administer the Sacraments are the fundamental “pillars”, the “two essential elements of priestly ministry” whose main aspect is essentially missionary and dynamic.

“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.” Indeed the “mission of each individual priest depends [. . .] also and above all on an awareness of the sacramental reality of his ‘new existence’,” the Pope said.

This, he explained, leads to conversion, a notion Saint Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, the holy Curé d’Ars, knew very well, so much so that he will be proposed as model for the Year for Priests. In fact, in the letter Benedict XVI wrote to all priests for this year he said that he wanted “to highlight what shone the most in him”, namely the “total identification with his ministry” and the awareness of the “greatness of the gift”.

And it is on the basis of this awareness that today’s “low numbers of priestly ordinations in some countries not only must not discourage us,” but should instead “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.”

After the Second Vatican Council, he added, an “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” instead of announcing the Word and administering the Sacraments. In reality, the Gospel says that Jesus gave the apostles the task to announce the Word and “drive out demons."

“Word and Sacrament” are indeed the “pillars of priestly service, over and above the many forms it can take. [. . . ] When the 'diptych' consecration-mission is not taken into due account, it becomes truly difficulty to understand the identity of priests and of their ministry in the Church.”

Thus it is “by considering identity and mission together that each priest becomes conscious of the need to progressively self-identify with Christ” because “at the beginning of Christianity there was no decision but an encounter with a person, who gave life a new horizon,” that is “a decisive direction” to each priest who “belongs entirely to God” and is “chosen and must serve all the people.”

“What is a priest if not a man, converted and renewed in Spirit, who lives a personal relationship with Christ by constantly applying evangelical standards,” Benedict XVI said.

“What is a priest if not a man of unity and truth, aware of his limits but also of the extraordinary greatness of the vocation bestowed upon him, which is to contribute to expand the Kingdom of God until the ends of the Earth?”

“Yes! Each priest belongs entirely to the Lord” and for this reason he “is entirely of mankind, for mankind.”

Lastly, the Holy Father said: “May prayer initiatives multiply, especially the Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests and their vocations.”

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