The subject of priestly identity is, according to the Holy Father, determinant for the exercise of the ministerial priesthood in the present and in the future. It is undeniable, is it not, that the identity of the priesthood has gone and is going through something of a crisis because of erroneous models of priesthood as "social agents", and not least because of the seemingly never-ending allegations of improper behaviour of priests.
What makes the priest different, or even "strange" to today's world?
The priest often seems "strange" to common opinion precisely because of the more fundamental aspects of his ministry such as being a man of the sacred, removed from the world to intercede in favour of the world, constituted in that mission by God and not by men.I remember towards the beginning of my ministry in this parish, when introducing changes that I felt were necessary to bring the celebration of the Liturgy more in line with the mind of the Church (such as the use of incense, some Latin chant, etc.) someone asked me: do you feel like one of us? I had to reply that I am not one of you. I have been sent to you.
Just as the hermeneutic of continuity is increasingly revealed as urgent to understand in an appropriate way the texts of the Second Vatican Council, similarly a hermeneutic seems necessary that we could desribe "of priestly continuity" which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and going through the 2000 years of the history of grandeur and holiness, of culture and piety, which the priesthood has written in the world, arrives at our days.Could this be a suggestion that the manifestation of priestly ministry in the liturgy should return to a more majestic form in terms of chant, vestments, i.e. a celebration of the liturgy more rooted in tradition? Could it also imply the need for priests to be more aware, in all humility, of their vocation to teach magisterially and with authority? Not their own authority but that received from Jesus Christ?
On that charism of teaching:
At this time in which we live it is especially important that the call to participate in the one priesthood of Christ in the ordained ministry flower in the "charism of prophecy": There is a great need of priests that speak of God to the world and that present God to the world; men not subject to ephemeral cultural ways, but capable of living in an authentic way that liberty that only the certainty of belonging to God is in conditions to give... Today the most necessary prophecy is that of fidelity, which, starting from the fidelity of Christ to humanity, will lead through the Church and the ministerial priesthood to live one's priesthood in total adherence to Christ and to the Church. In fact, the priest no longer belongs to himself but, because of the sacramental seal received is "property" of God. This "being of Another" must be made recognizable by all, through a clear witness.The priest's whole life must be consumed by or subsumed into his priestly identity:
In the way of thinking, of speaking, of judging the events of the world, of serving and loving, in relating to persons, also in the habit [clerical attire], the priest must draw prophetic strength from his sacramental belonging, from his profound being. Consequently, he must have every care to subtract himself from the prevailing mentality, which tends to associate the value of the minister not to his being, but only to his function, thus not appreciating the work of God, who influences the profound identity of the person of the priest, configuring him to himself in a definitive way.I can only presume that the Holy Father is acknowledging that this prevailing mentality is prevalent within the Church. Confer his comments to the Bishops of England and Wales concering dissent.
The great charism of celibacy:
The horizon of the ontological belonging to God constitutes, moreover, the appropriate framework to understand and reaffirm, also in our days, the value of sacred celibacy, which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Holy Orders and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches. That is authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, sign of consecration to the Lord and to the "things of the Lord" with an undivided heart, expression of the gift of self to God and to others.
Pope Benedict reminds priests that their vocation is sublime and that the laity seek three things in/from a priest:
- that the Word of God be always on his lips;
- the mercy of the Father which is lavished abundantly and free in the sacrament of Reconciliation;
- the Bread of New Life, "true nourishment given to men."
Let us pray to God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint John Mary Vianney, to be able to thank him every day for the great gift of the vocation and to live our priesthood with full and joyful fidelity.