Monday, April 28, 2008

Homily at Ordinations at St. Peter's Basilica

~translation via Papa Ratzinger Forum
Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, in a very special way, the words "You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing" (Is 9,2) are realized for us. Indeed, to the joy of celebrating the Eucharist on the Lord's day, is also added the spiritual exultation of Eastertide which has now reached the sixth Sunday, and above all, the feast of ordaining new priests.

Together with you, I greet affectionately the 29 deacons who will be ordained priests shortly. I express my great acknowledgment to those who led them along their path of discernment and preparation, and I invite you all to give thanks to God for the gift to the Church of these new priests.

Let us support them with intense prayer during this celebration, in a spirit of fervent praise to the Father who called them, to the Son who drew them to him, to the Spirit which formed them.

Usually, the ordination of new priests takes place on the fourth Sunday of Easter, called the Sunday of the Good Shepherd, which is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, but this year, it was not possible because I was setting off for my pastoral visit to the United States of America.

The icon of the Good Shepherd seems to be that which more than any other brings to light the role and the ministry of the priesthood in the Christian community.

But even the Biblical passages which today's liturgy offers for our meditation, illumine, from a different angle, the mission of the priest.

The first Reading, taken from chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, narrates the mission of the deacon Phillip to Samaria. I wish to call attention right away to the sentence that closes the first part of the text: "And there was great joy in that city" (Acts 8,8).

This expression does not communicate an idea, a theological concept, but refers to an event in detail, something that changed the life of people: in a certain city of Samaria, in the time that followed the first violent persecution against the Church of Jerusalem (cfr Acts 8,1), something happened which brought 'great joy'.

What had happened? The sacred author narrates that, in order to escape the persecution that had broken out in Jerusalem against those who had converted to Christianity, all the disciples, including the Apostles, abandoned the Holy City and dispersed throughout the surrounding countryside.

But this sad event led, in a mysterious and providential manner, to a renewed impulse to spread the Gospel. Among those who were dispersed was Phillip, one of the seven deacons of the Community, a deacon like you, dear ordinands, even if in a very different manner, because in that irrepeatable season of the early Church, the Apostles and the deacons were endowed by the Holy Spirit with an extraordinary power for preaching as well as for thaumaturgical action.

It so happens that the inhabitants of that Samaritan locality, which is spoken of in this chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, unanimously welcomed the preaching of Phillip, and thanks to their adhesion to the Gospel, he was able to heal many sick persons.

In that city of Samaria, among a people who were traditionally despised and almost excommunicated by the Judeans, the proclamation of Christ resounded and opened to joy the hearts of all those who received him with trust. That is why, St. Luke underscores, in that city "there was great joy."

Dear friends, this is also your mission: to bring the Gospel to everyone, so that everyone may experience the joy of Christ and there may be joy in every city. What can be more beautiful than this? What can be greater, more worthy of enthusiasm, than to cooperate in spreading throughout the world the Word of life, than to communicate the living water of the Holy Spirit?

To announce and testify to joy: this is the central nucleus of your mission, dear deacons who, in a short while, will be priests.

The Apostle Paul calls the ministers of the Gospel 'servants of joy'. To the Christians of Corinth, in his Second Letter, he writes: "Not that we lord it over your faith; rather, we work together for your joy, for you stand firm in the faith" (2 Cor 1,24). These are programmatic words for every priest.

To be collaborators in the joy of others, in a world that is often sad and negative, the fire of the Gospel must burn within you, the joy of the Lord must dwell within you. Then and only then can you be messengers and multipliers of this joy, bringing it to everyone, especially those who are sad and have lost truth.

Let us return to the first Reading which offers us another element for meditation. It talks of a prayer meeting which takes place in that same Samaritan city that had been evangelized by the deacon Phillip. Presiding over it were the apostles Peter and John, two 'pillars' of the Church, who came from Jerusalem to visit this new community and confirm it in the faith.

Thanks to their laying of hands, the Holy Spirit descended on those who had been baptized. We can see in this episode a first attestation of the rite of Confirmation, the second sacrament in Christian initiation.

Even for us who are gathered here, the reference to the ritual gesture of the laying of hands is very significant. It is, in fact, also the central gesture of the rite of Ordination, through which shortly I will confer on the candidates the dignity of priesthood.

It is a sign that is inseparable from prayer, of which it is a silent prolongation. Without saying a word, the consecrating Bishop and after him, other priests, lay their hands on the heads of the ordinands, expressing thereby an invocation to God that he may instill his Spirit in them and transform them by making them take part in the Priesthood of Christ. It only takes a few seconds, a very brief time, but it is charged with extraordinary spiritual density.

Dear Ordinands, in the future you will always return to this moment, to this gesture which has nothing of magic in it, and yet it is very rich in mystery, because this is the start of your new mission.

In that silent prayer, an encounter between two freedoms takes place: the freedom of God, working through the Holy Spirit, and the freedom of man.

The laying of hands expresses graphically the specific modality of this encounter: the Church, represented by the Bishop on his feet with his hands extended, prays to the Holy Spirit to consecrate the candidate; the deacon, on his knees, receives the imposition of hands and entrusts himself to such mediation.

The ensemble of the gestures is significant, but infinitely more important is the spiritual movement, unseen, that it expresses: a movement well evoked in sacred silence which envelops everything outside as well as inside.

We find this mysterious trinitarian movement, which leads the Holy Spirit and the Son to dwell in the disciples, even in the evangelical pericope (passage cited in the Mass). Here it is Jesus himself who promises that he will pray to the Father so that he will send his Spirit, defined as 'another Paraclete" (Jn 14,16), a Greek term which is equivalent to the Latin'ad-vocatus', advocate and defender.

The first Paraclete is the Incarnate Son, who came to defend man from Satan, the accuser by definition. From the moment Christ, having completed his mission, returns to the Father, the latter sends the Spirit as Defender and Comforter, so that he may stay for always with believers, dwelling within them.

Thus, between God the Father and the disciples, thanks to the mediation of the Son and the Holy Spirit, an intimate relationship of reciprocity is established: "I am in the Father, you are in me, and I in you", says Jesus (Jn 14,20).

But all this depends on a condition that Christ sets clearly at the start: "If you love me" (Jn 14,15), and which he repeats at the end: "Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him" (Jn 14,21).

Without love for Jesus, which is shown by observing his commandments, a person excludes himself from the trinitarian communion and starts to fold back into himself, losing the capacity to receive and communicate God.

"If you love me". Dear friends, Jesus said these words at the Last Supper at the moment when, contextually, he instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Although addressed to the Apostles, in a certain sense, the words are addressed to all their successors and to the priests, who are the closest collaborators of the successors to the Apostles.

We listen to it again today as an invitation to live ever more consistently our vocation in the Church: you, dear Ordinands, hear it with particular emotion, because it is today that Christ makes you participants in his Priesthood. Receive it with faith and with love!

Let it be impressed in your heart. Let it accompany you along the course of your entire existence. Do not forget it. Do not lose your way. Reread it, meditate on it often, and above all, pray with those words in mind. In that way, you will remain faithful to the love of Christ and you will always be aware - with a joy that is ever new - how this divine Word 'walks' with you and 'grows' in you.

One more observation about the second Reading: it is taken from the First Letter of Peter, near whose tomb we find ourselves and to whose intercession I wish to entrust you most specially. I will make his words mine and pass them on to you with affection: "Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3,15).

Adore Christ the Lord in your hearts; that means, cultivate a personal relationship of love with him, the first and greatest love, unique and totalizing, within which to love, purify, illumine and sanctify all your other relationships.

'The hope that is in you' is bound to this adoration, to this love of Christ, who through the Spirit, as we say, dwells in us. Our hope, your hope, is God, in Jesus and in the Spirit. A hope which from today becomes 'priestly hope' in you, that of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who dwells in you and gives form to your desires according to the divine heart: hope of life and of forgiveness for the persons who will be entrusted to your pastoral care; hope of holiness and of apostolic fruitfulness for you and for all the Church; hope of an opening to faith and to an encounter with God for all those who come to you in their search for truth; hope of peace and comfort for the suffering and those who are injured by life.

Dearest ones, this is my wish for you on this day that is so significant to you: that hope rooted in faith may always be yours! And may you always be witnesses and givers, wise and generous, kind and strong, respectful and convincing.

On this mission, may you be accompanied always and protected by the Virgin Mary, whom I exhort you to welcome anew, as did the apostle John at the foot of the Cross, as Mother and Star of your life and your priesthood. Amen.

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