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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI - Homily at Ordination Mass for 29 Priests at St. Peter's

From Vatican Radio

(27 Apr 08 - RV) On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI presided over the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Orders for 29 young men. Below we publsh a provisional Vatican Radio translation of the Homily, delivered by the Holy Father:

Brothers and sisters,

Today in a very special way the words in Isaiah chapter 9 “You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing” are realised for us. In fact, the joy of celebrating the Eucharist on the Lord ’s Day, is united with the exultance of Easter time on this the sixth Sunday of Easter, and above all by the feast of celebrating the ordination of these news priests. Together with you I wish to warmly greet these 29 deacons who will shortly be ordained presbyteries. I express my gratitude to all who have contributed to their journey of preparation and I invite you all to give thanks to the Lord for this gift of these new pastors to the Church. Let us give them our support through our intense prayer during this celebration, in a spirit of fervent praise of the Father who has called them, the Son who has drawn them to Him, and the Spirit who has formed them. Usually the ordination of new priests takes place on the fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, which is also world day of prayer for vocations, but this year it was not possible because I was preparing for my journey to the United States of America. The icon of the Good Shepherd, more than ever, is one which highlights the role of ministers to the priesthood within the Christian community. But even the Bible passages which are offered to us for reflection by the Liturgy today illuminate the mission of the priest.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles narrates the mission of Philipp of Samaria. I wish to draw our attention to the phrase which closes the first part of the text: “There was great joy in that city”. This expression does not communicate a theological concept, or idea, but refers to an event; something has changed in the life of these people: in that city of Samaria, during the period of persecution of the Church of Jerusalem, something has taken place that has caused “great joy”. So what has happened? The sacred author narrates that, in order to flee the persecution that had broken out against all those who had converted to Christianity, all of the disciples, with the exception of the Apostles, abandon the holy city and fled into the surrounding areas. From this painful event, a new impulse to spread the Gospel is mysteriously and providentially born. Among those who had fled, was also Philipp, one of the seven deacons of the community, a deacon like you, my dear ordinates, even if in a different way, because during the unrepeatable season of the birth of the Church, the Apostles and deacons were gifted with an extraordinary power by the Holy Spirit both in preaching and in action. Now it is that the people of the city of Samaria, welcome the unanimously Philipp’s’ call and thanks to their adhesion to the Gospel, he was able to heal many sick. In that city of Samaria, traditionally despised and almost excommunicated by the Jews, the call of Christ’s Gospel resounds, opening the hearts of all those who listen to a great joy. That is why – ask St Luke writes – there was great joy in that city.

My dear friends, this is also your mission: bring the Gospel to all; so that all may experience the joy of Christ and that there may be great Joy in every city. What could be more beautiful than this? What could be greater, what could create greater enthusiasm, than cooperating to spread the Word of Life, to communicate the living water of the Holy Spirit? Announce and witness this joy: this is the very heart of your mission, my dear deacons who will soon be priests. The apostle Paul calls the ministers of the Gospel “servants of joy”. In his second letter he writes to the Christians of Corinth: “Not that we lord it over your faith; rather, we work together for your joy, for you stand firm in the faith”. These are words destined for every priest. In order to be collaborators in the joy of others, in a world that is often sad and negative, the fire of the Gospel must burn brightly within each of you, the joy of the Lord must live in you. Only then will you be messengers of this joy, only then will you bring it to all, especially those who are sad and disillusioned.

Let us return to the first reading, which offers us another element for meditation. It speaks of a prayer gathering which takes place in the Samarian city evangelised by the deacon Philipp. The Apostles Peter and John, two pillars of the Church who had come from Jerusalem to visit the new community and confirm it in its faith, preside over the meeting. Thanks to the imposition of their hands, the Holy Spirit came down on all those baptised. In this episode we see an early reference to the rite of “Confirmation”, the second sacrament of Christian initiation. For us too, gathered here today, the reference to the imposition of the hands is of great significance. It is in fact the central gesture of the rite of Holy Orders, through which I will confer upon you priestly dignity. This sign is inseparable form prayer, which is constituted by a prolonged silence. Without saying a word the consecrating Bishop, followed by the other priests who are present, poses his hands on the heads of the ordinantes, thus expressing our invocation that God infuse them with the Holy Spirit, making them participants in Christ’s priestly ministry. It is a matter of seconds, the shortest of times, but filled with an extraordinarily intense spirituality.

My dear Ordinants, in the future, you must frequently return to this moment, to this gesture which while not magic is rich in mystery, because this is the origin of your new mission. In that silent prayer two freedoms meet: the freedom of God, through the Holy Spirit and the freedom of man. The imposition of the hands expresses the specific nature of this meeting: the Church, represented by the Bishop who stands tall with his hands outstretched, who prays that the Holy Spirit consecrate the candidate; the deacon, who kneels, receiving the imposition of the hands and who entrusts himself to the mediation. The union of these gestures is important, but the invisible movement of the Spirit which it expresses is infinitely more important; a movement that is perfectly evoked by sacred silence, which embraces all, internally and externally.

We find this mysterious Trinitarian movement, which guides the Holy Sprit and the Son to dwell in the disciples, in today’s Gospel passage. Here it is Christ himself who promises to pray to the Father to send the Spirit, described here as ‘another Advocate’ down upon his followers. The first Advocate is in fact the Son made flesh, who came to defend man from the antonomastical accuser, who is Satan. In the moment in which Christ, his mission fulfilled, returns to the Lord, they send the Spirit, as Defender and consolator, so that he may always remain with the faithful, living within them. Thus, through the workings of the Son and the Holy Spirit, an intimate relationship of reciprocity is created between the Father and his disciples: Christ says “that I am in my Father, and you are in me and I in you”. All of this depends however on one condition that Christ makes at the very beginning: “If you love me”. Without love for Christ, which lies in the observance of his commandments, the faithful excludes himself from the Trinitarian movement and begins to fall back on himself, losing all capacity to receive or communicate God.

“If You Love me”. My dear friends these words were pronounced by Christ during the last supper at the moment when he instituted both the Eucharist and Priesthood. While addressed to the Apostles, in a certain way they are also addressed to all their successors and to priests, who are the closest collaborators of the Apostles successors. We hear them again today as an invitation to live our vocation to the Church more coherently: You, my dear ordinantes, hear them with particular emotion, because today Christ makes you participants in his priesthood. Gather them to you with faith and love! Allow them to press upon your heart, to accompany you along your lifelong journey. Do not forget them; do not loose them along the way! Read them over and over, mediate on them often and above all pray over them. This is how you will remain faithful to Christ’s Love and you will become aware with renewed joy how His Divine Words “will walk beside you and grow within you”.

"Dearest, here is my wish in this day so important for you. May the hope rooted in faith always and increasingly be yours! May you bear witness and be wise and generous givers, sweet and strong, respectful and confident.”

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