VATICAN CITY, 24 JUN 2009 (VIS) - During today's general audience, held in St. Peter's Square, the Pope focused his remarks on the Year for Priests which he inaugurated last Friday, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and day of prayer for the sanctification of the clergy, and which is intended to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney.
"Why a Year for Priests?" the Pope asked. "And why should it recall the holy 'Cure of Ars' who apparently did nothing out of the ordinary?"
The Holy Father went on to explain how "Divine Providence ordained that the figure [of St. John May Vianney] should be associated with that of St. Paul" because, "although the two saints followed very different life paths, ... these exists nonetheless a fundamental factor that unites them: their total identification with their ministry, their communion with Christ".
"The aim of this Year for Priests", he went on, "is to support each priest's struggle towards spiritual perfection, 'upon which the effectiveness of his ministry particularly depends', and to help priests, and with them the entire People of God, to rediscover and revive an awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of Grace which the ordained ministry represents, for the person who receives it, for the entire Church, and for the world which would be lost without the real presence of Christ".
"Although the historical and social conditions in which the 'Cure of Ars' worked have changed, it is right to ask how priests can imitate him by identifying themselves with their ministry in modern globalised societies", said the Pope.
"In a world in which the common view of life leaves ever less space for the sacred, in place of which 'functionality' becomes the only decisive category, the Catholic concept of priesthood could risk losing its due regard, sometimes even in the ecclesial conscience".
The Holy Father identified two conceptions of the priesthood, "which do not in fact contradict one another". On the one hand "a social-functional conception which identifies the essence of priesthood with the concept of 'service'. ... On the other hand there is a sacramental-ontological conception" which sees priestly ministry "as determined by a gift called Sacrament, granted by the Lord through the mediation of the Church".
"What", the Pope asked, "does it mean for priests to evangelise? In what does the primacy of announcement exist? ... Announcement coincides with the person of Christ", he said, "a priest cannot consider himself as 'master' of the Word, but as its servant".
"Only participation in Christ's sacrifice, in His 'chenosi', ... and docile obedience to the Church ... makes announcement authentic. ... Priests are Christ's servants, in the sense that their existence, ontologically configured to Him, have an essentially relational character. The priest is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ at the service of humankind. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of man".
Benedict XVI concluded by expressing the hope that "the Year for Priests may lead all the clergy to identify themselves completely with Christ Who died and rose again, so that, imitating St. John the Baptist, they may be ready 'to diminish' that He may grow; and that, following the example of the 'Cure of Ars', they may be constantly and profoundly aware of their mission, which is both sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God".
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