Sunday, April 29, 2007
Pope Benedict's Homily for World Day of Vocations
Pope Benedict XVI blesses a newly priest during a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 29, 2007. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN)
~from Papa Ratzinger Forum
Venerated brothers in the Episcopate and priesthood,
dear candidates for ordination,
dear brothers and sisters!
Today's Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally called the Sunday of the Good Shepherd, has a particular significance for us who are gathered here today.
It is an absolutely singular day especially for you, dear Deacons, to whom, as Bishop and Pastor of Rome, I am happy to confer Ordination into the priesthood. Thus you will now be part of our 'presbyterium.'
Together with the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops and the priests of the diocese, I thank the Lord for the gift of your priesthood which will enrich our community with 22 new pastors.
The theological density of the brief Gospel passage which was proclaimed just now helps us to better understand the sense and the value of this solemn celebration.
Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd who gives eternal life to His sheep (cfr Jn 10,28). The image of the shepherd is well rooted in the Old Testament and dear to the Christian tradition. The title 'shepherd of Israel' is given by the Prophets to the future descendant of David, and also has an undoubted messianic relevance (cfr Ez 34,23).
Jesus is the true Shepherd of Israel, in that He is the Son of He who wished to share the condition of human beings to give them new life and lead them to salvation.
Significantly, to the term 'shepherd', the evangelist adds the adjective kalos, 'beautiful', which he uses only to refer to Jesus and His mission.
Even in the account of the marriage at Cana, the adjective kalos is used twice to describe the wine offered by Jesus, and it is easy to see in that the symbol of the good wine of messianic times (cfr Jn 2,10).
"I give you [my sheep] eternal life, and you will never perish" (Jn 10,28), Jesus says, having said earlier, "The good shepherd offers his life for his sheep" (cfr Jn 10,11).
John uses the verb tithenai- to offer - which he repeats in the next verses (15,17,18). We find the same verb in the account of the Last Supper, when Jesus 'takes off' His outer garments and later 'puts them back on' (cr Jn 13,4.12)
It is clear that this is meant to affirm that the Redeemer disposes of His life in absolute freedom, to be able to offer it and then take it back again freely.
Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep - us - sacrificing Himself on the Cross. He knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him, as the Father knows Him and he knows the Father (cfr Jn 10,14-15).
This refers not to mere intellectual knowledge but to a profound personal relationship - a knowledge of the heart, that of one who loves and is loved; of one who is faithful and one who knows in turn to have faith; a knowledge of love by virtue of which the Shepherd invites His flock to follow Him, and which is manifested fully in the gift of eternal life that He offers them (cfr Jn 10,27-28).
Dear candidates for ordination, may the certainty that Christ does not abandon us and that no obstacle can block the realization of His universal design for salvation be for you a constant consolation - even in difficult days - and of unshakeable hope.
The goodness of the Lord is always with you and is powerful. The Sacrament of Holy Orders which you are about to receive will make you participants in Christ's own mission. You will be called on to spread the seed of His word - the seed that carries in it the Kingdom of God, to dispense divine mercy and to nourish the faithful with His Body and Blood.
To be his worthy ministers, you should nourish yourselves incessantly with the Eucharist, source and summit of Christian life - coming to the altar, your daily school of sanctity, of communion with Jesus, so you can enter into His feelings.
In coming to the altar to renew the Sacrifice of the Cross, you will discover more and more the richness and tenderness of the love of the divine Master who calls you today to a more intimate friendship with Him.
If you listen to Him obediently, if you follow Him faithfully, you will learn to translate His love and His passion for the salvation of souls, into your life and pastoral ministry. And each of you, dear priests-to-be, will become, with Jesus's help, a good shepherd, ready to give your own life for Him, if necessary.
That is how it was at the beginning of Christianity with the first disciples, while - as we heard in the first Reading - the Gospel was being spread with attendant consolations and difficulties.
It is worthwhile to underline the last words of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles that we heard earlier: "The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit" (13,52).
Despite misunderstandings and opposition, the Apostle of Christ
does not lose hope; rather he is the witness of that joy that comes from being with the Lord, from love for HIm and for our brothers.
On the World Day of Prayer for Vocations today, which this year has for its theme "Vocation in the service of Church communion", let us pray that all who are chosen for such a high mission may be accompanied by the prayerful communion of all the faithful.
Let us pray that in every parish and Christian community, the attention to vocations and to the formation of priests may grow. Such attention begins in the family, continues in the seminary and involves all who have at heart the salvation of souls.
Dear brothers and sisters who are taking part in this evocative celebration - in the first place, the parents, families and friends of these 22 deacons who will shortly be ordained as priests - let us surround them, our brothers in the Lord, with our spiritual solidarity.
Let us pray that they may be faithful to the mission to which the Lord calls them today, and that they may be ready to renew their Yes to God every day, their "Here I am" without reservations.
And let us ask the Master, on this Day for Vocations, to continue to inspire many priests - and good ones - totally dedicated to the service of the Christian people.
On this moment that is so solemn and important in your existence, I address myself to you affectionately, my dear priests-to-be. Jesus repeats to you today: "I no longer call you servants but friends." Welome and cultivate this divine friendship with 'eucharistic love'.
May you be accompanied by Mary, heavenly Mother of priests - she, who at the foot of the Cross, was united to the Sacrfiice of Her Son, and after the Resurrection, welcomed in the Cenacle, along with the Apostles and other disciples, the gift of the Spirit - may she help each of you, dear brothers in the priesthood, to allow yourselves to be transformed interiorly by the grace of God.
Only thus is it possible to become faithful images of the Good Shepherd; only thus can one carry out with joy the mission of knowing, guiding and loving the flock that Jesus gained at the cost of His blood. Amen.