Entry 0274: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Easter by Pope Benedict XVI
On seven occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, on 7 May 2006, 29 April 2007, 13 April 2008, 3 May 2009, 25 April 2010, 15 May 2011, and 29 April 2012. Here are the texts of the seven brief reflections before the recitation of the Regina Caeli and four homilies delivered on these occasions.
Vatican Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 7
St Augustine’s words are
an example of this. Addressing God, he says in his Confessions: “Too
late I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you!
And behold, you were within and I abroad.... You were with me, but I was not
with you... But you called and shouted and burst through my deafness”
Dear Ordinands, may this word of God illuminate your entire life. And when the burden of the cross becomes heavier, know that this is the most precious time, for you and for the people entrusted to you: by renewing your “I am, with the help of God”, you will be cooperating with Christ, the High Priest and Good Shepherd, in tending his sheep — even only one stray sheep, but for which there are great festivities in heaven! May the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani, always watch over each one of you and over your journey. Amen.
Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 7 May 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, “Good Shepherd” Sunday, on which the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated, I had the joy of ordaining in St Peter’s Basilica 15 new priests for the Diocese of Rome. We are grateful to the Lord! With them, I am thinking of all those in every part of the world who are receiving priestly ordination in this period.
As we thank the Lord for the gift of these new priests at the service of the Church, let us entrust them all to Mary, at the same time invoking her intercession so that the number of those who accept Christ’s invitation to follow him on the way of the priesthood and the consecrated life will increase.
This year the theme of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is: Vocation in the mystery of the Church. In the Message that I addressed to the entire Ecclesial Community for this event, I recalled the experience of the first disciples of Jesus, who, after meeting him by the lake and in the villages of
Galilee, were won over by his
appeal and his love.
The Christian vocation is always a renewal of this personal friendship with Jesus Christ, which gives full meaning to our lives and makes us open to the
. Kingdom of God
God continues to call priests
The Church lives on this friendship, nourished by the Word and by the Sacraments, holy realities entrusted especially to the ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, consecrated by the Sacrament of Orders.
For this reason - as I stressed in the same Message - the priest’s mission is irreplaceable, and even if in some regions a scarcity of clergy is being recorded, we must never doubt that God continues to call boys, young men and adults to leave everything to dedicate themselves totally to preaching the Gospel and to the pastoral ministry (see Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2006, L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 5).
Another special form of the following of Christ is the vocation to the consecrated life, which is expressed in living a poor, chaste and obedient existence totally dedicated to God in contemplation and in prayer and at the service of others, especially the lowly and poor.
Moreover, let us not forget that Christian marriage is in all respects a vocation to holiness, and that the example of holy parents is the first favourable condition for the flourishing of priestly and religious vocations.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, for priests and men and women Religious; let us pray too that the seeds of a vocation that God sows in the hearts of the faithful may reach full maturity and bear fruits of holiness in the Church and in the world.
HOLY MASS FOR THE ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD OF
15 DEACONS OF THE DIOCESE OF
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At this hour, dear friends, when you are being introduced as shepherds in the service of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the Sacrament of Orders, it is the Lord himself who, in the Gospel, speaks of serving God’s flock.
The image of the shepherd comes from remote times. In the Orient of antiquity, kings would designate themselves as the shepherds of their peoples. Moses and David in the Old Testament, before being called to become the leaders and pastors of the People of God, were in fact shepherds with flocks.
In the anguish of the period of the Exile, confronted by the failure of
shepherds, that is, of its political and religious leaders, Ezekiel sketched
the image of God himself as the Shepherd of his people. Through the prophet God
says: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock... so will I seek out my sheep; and I
will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of
clouds and thick darkness” (Ez 34: 12).
Jesus now proclaims that this time has come: he himself is the Good Shepherd through whom God himself cares for his creature, man, gathering human beings and leading them to the true pasture.
St Peter, whom the Risen Lord charged to tend his sheep, to become a shepherd with him and for him, described Jesus as the “archipoimen” - “Chief Shepherd” (see I Pt 5: 4), and by this he meant that it is only possible to be a shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ through him and in very close communion with him.
The Sacrament of Ordination expresses this very point: through the Sacrament the priest is totally inserted into Christ, so that by starting from him and acting in his sight he may carry out in communion with him the service of Jesus, the one Shepherd, in whom God, as man, wants to be our Shepherd.
The Gospel we have heard this Sunday is only a part of Jesus’ great discourse on shepherds. In this passage, the Lord tells us three things about the true shepherd: he gives his own life for his sheep; he knows them and they know him; he is at the service of unity.
Before reflecting on these three characteristics essential to shepherds, it might be useful to recall briefly the previous part of the discourse on shepherds in which Jesus, before designating himself as the Shepherd, says, to our surprise: “I am the door” (Jn 10: 7).
It is through him that one must enter the service of shepherd. Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying: “he who... climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (Jn 10: 1). This word “climbs” - anabainei in Greek - conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere out of bounds to him.
“To climb” - here too we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to “get ahead”, to gain a position through the Church: to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ.
But the only legitimate ascent towards the shepherd’s ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door. It is not the desire to become “someone” for oneself, but rather to exist for others, for Christ, and thus through him and with him to be there for the people he seeks, whom he wants to lead on the path of life.
One enters the priesthood through the Sacrament, and this means precisely: through the gift of oneself to Christ, so that he can make use of me; so that I may serve him and follow his call, even if it proves contrary to my desire for self-fulfilment and esteem.
Entering by the door which is Christ means knowing and loving him more and more, so that our will may be united with his will, our action become one with his action.
Dear friends, let us pray ever anew for this intention, let us strive precisely for this: in other words, for Christ to grow within us and for our union with him to become ever deeper, so that through us it is Christ himself who tends the flock.
Let us now take a closer look at the three fundamental affirmations of Jesus on the good shepherd. The first one, which very forcefully pervades the whole discourse on shepherds, says: the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The mystery of the Cross is at the centre of Jesus’ service as a shepherd: it is the great service that he renders to all of us.
He gives himself and not only in a distant past. In the Holy Eucharist he does so every day, he gives himself through our hands, he gives himself to us. For this good reason the Holy Eucharist, in which the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross remains continually present, truly present among us, is rightly at the centre of priestly life.
And with this as our starting point, we also learn what celebrating the Eucharist properly means: it is an encounter with the Lord, who strips himself of his divine glory for our sake, allows himself be humiliated to the point of death on the Cross and thus gives himself to each one of us.
The daily Eucharist is very important for the priest. In it he exposes himself ever anew to this mystery; ever anew he puts himself in God’s hands, experiencing at the same time the joy of knowing that He is present, receives me, ever anew raises and supports me, gives me his hand, himself. The Eucharist must become for us a school of life in which we learn to give our lives.
Free for God
Life is not only given at the moment of death and not only in the manner of martyrdom. We must give it day by day. Day after day it is necessary to learn that I do not possess my life for myself. Day by day I must learn to abandon myself; to keep myself available for whatever he, the Lord, needs of me at a given moment, even if other things seem more appealing and more important to me: it means giving life, not taking it.
It is in this very way that we experience freedom: freedom from ourselves, the vastness of being. In this very way, by being useful, in being a person whom the world needs, our life becomes important and beautiful. Only those who give up their own life find it.
Secondly the Lord tells us: “I know my own [sheep] and my own [sheep] know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (Jn 10: 14-15).
Here, two apparently quite different relationships are interwoven in this phrase: the relationship between Jesus and the Father and the relationship between Jesus and the people entrusted to him. Yet both these relationships go together, for in the end people belong to the Father and are in search of the Creator, of God.
When they realize that someone is speaking only in his own name and drawing from himself alone, they guess that he is too small and cannot be what they are seeking; but wherever another’s voice re-echoes in a person, the voice of the Creator, of the Father, the door opens to the relationship for which the person is longing.
Consequently, this is how it must be in our case. First of all, in our hearts we must live the relationship with Christ and, through him, with the Father; only then can we truly understand people, only in the light of God can the depths of man be understood. Then those who are listening to us realize that we are not speaking of ourselves or of some thing, but of the true Shepherd.
Obviously, Jesus’ words also contain the entire practical pastoral task, caring for men and women, going to seek them out, being open to their needs and questions.
Obviously, practical, concrete knowledge of the people entrusted to me is fundamental, and obviously, it is important to understand this way of “knowing” others in the biblical sense: there is no true knowledge without love, without an inner relationship and deep acceptance of the other.
The shepherd cannot be satisfied with knowing names and dates. His way of knowing his sheep must always also be knowing with the heart.
However, it is only possible to do this properly if the Lord has opened our hearts; if our knowing does not bind people to our own small, private self, to our own small heart, but rather makes them aware of the Heart of Jesus, the Heart of the Lord. It must be knowing with the Heart of Jesus, oriented to him, a way of knowing that does not bind the person to me but guides him or her to Jesus, thereby making one free and open. And in this way we too will become close to men and women.
Let us always pray to the Lord anew that we may be granted this way of knowing with the Heart of Jesus, of not binding to me but of binding to the Heart of Jesus and thereby creating a true community.
Lastly, the Lord speaks to us of the service of unity that is entrusted to the shepherd: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10: 16).
John repeated the same thing after the Sanhedrin had decided to kill Jesus, when Caiaphas said that it would be better for the people that one man die for them rather than the entire nation perish. John recognized these words of Caiaphas as prophetic, adding: “Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (11: 52).
The relationship between the Cross and unity is revealed: the Cross is the price of unity. Above all, however, it is the universal horizon of Jesus’ action that emerges.
If, in his prophecy about the shepherd, Ezekiel was aiming to restore unity among the dispersed tribes of
Ez 34: 22-24), here it is a question not only of the unification of a dispersed
Israel but of the
unification of all the children of God, of humanity - of the
and of pagans. Church of Jews
Jesus’ mission concerns all humanity. Therefore, the Church is given responsibility for all humanity, so that it may recognize God, the God who for all of us was made man in Jesus Christ, suffered, died and was raised.
The Church must never be satisfied with the ranks of those whom she has reached at a certain point or say that others are fine as they are: Muslims, Hindus and so forth. The Church can never retreat comfortably to within the limits of her own environment. She is charged with universal solicitude; she must be concerned with and for one and all.
We generally have to “translate” this great task in our respective missions. Obviously, a priest, a pastor of souls, must first and foremost be concerned with those who believe and live with the Church, who seek in her their way of life and on their part, like living stones, build the Church, hence, also build and support the priest.
However, we must also - as the Lord says - go out ever anew “to the highways and hedges” (Lk 14: 23), to deliver God’s invitation to his banquet also to those who have so far heard nothing or have not been stirred within.
This universal service has many forms. One of them is also the commitment to the inner unity of the Church, so that over and above differences and limitations she may be a sign of God’s presence in the world, which alone can create this unity.
Among the sculptures of her time, the ancient Church discovered the figure of a shepherd carrying a sheep across his shoulders. Such images may perhaps be part of the idyllic dream of rural life that fascinated the society of that epoch.
For Christians, however, this figure with all its naturalness became the image of the One who set out to seek his lost sheep: humanity; the image of the One who follows us even into our deserts and confusion; the image of the One who took upon his shoulders the lost sheep, which is humanity, and carried it home.
It has become the image of the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Let us entrust ourselves to him. We entrust you to him, dear brothers, especially at this moment, so that he may lead you and carry you all the days of your life; so that he may help you to become, through him and with him, good shepherds of his flock. Amen!
Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter and “Good Shepherd Sunday”, is the [44th] World Day of Prayer for Vocations. All the faithful are exhorted to pray especially for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This morning in St Peter’s Basilica I had the joy of ordaining 22 new priests.
As I greet these new priests with affection together with their relatives, I ask you to remember all those whom the Lord continues to call by name, just as he once called the Apostles on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to become “fishers of men”, that is, his closest collaborators in the proclamation of the Gospel and the service of the Kingdom of God in our time.
Let us ask for the gift of perseverance for all priests: may they stay faithful to prayer, celebrate Holy Mass with ever renewed devotion, live listening to the Word of God and day after day assimilate the same sentiments and attitudes as those of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Let us then pray for those who are preparing to take on the priestly ministry and for the teachers who form them in the seminaries of
and the whole world. Let us pray for families, so that the “seed” of the call
to the presbyteral ministry may continue to mature and flower. Rome, Italy
This year, the theme of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is: “The vocation to the service of the Church as communion”. In presenting the mystery of the Church in our time, the Second Vatican Council gave priority to the category of “communion”. In this perspective, the rich variety of gifts and ministries acquires great importance for the People of God.
All the baptized are called to contribute to the work of salvation. In the Church, however, there are some vocations which are dedicated especially to the service of communion.
The person primarily responsible for Catholic communion is the Pope, Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome; with him, the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, are custodians and teachers of unity, assisted by the priests. But consecrated persons and all the faithful are also at the service of communion.
At the heart of Church communion is the Eucharist: the different vocations draw from this supreme Sacrament the spiritual power to build constantly, in charity, the one ecclesial Body.
Let us now turn to Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd. May she who responded promptly to God’s call, saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1: 38), help all of us to accept with joy and willingness Christ’s invitation to be his disciples, always motivated to be “of one heart and soul” (see Acts 4: 32).
ORDINATION OF NEW PRIESTS FOR THE DIOCESE OF
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St Peter’s Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2007
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Presbyterate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, has a special significance for us who are gathered in this Vatican Basilica. It is an absolutely unique day especially for you, dear deacons, upon whom, as Bishop and Pastor of Rome, I am pleased to confer priestly Ordination. In this way you join 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 enriches our Community with 22 new Pastors.
The theological density of the brief Gospel passage which has just been proclaimed helps us to perceive better the meaning and value of this solemn Celebration.
Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd who gives eternal life to his sheep (see Jn 10: 28). This image of the shepherd is deeply rooted in the Old Testament and dear to Christian tradition. The Prophets attributed to David the title: “Shepherd of Israel”, which hence possesses an indisputable messianic importance (see Ex 34: 23).
Jesus is the true Shepherd of Israel, since he is the Son of Man who desired to share the condition of human beings to give them new life and lead them to salvation.
Significantly, the Evangelist adds to the term “shepherd” the adjective kalós, good, which he only uses with reference to Jesus and his mission. In the account of the Wedding at
Cana, the adjective kalós is
also used twice to signify the wine offered by Jesus, and it is easy to see it
as a symbol of the good wine of messianic times (see 2: 10).
“I give them (that is, to my sheep) eternal life and they shall never perish” (Jn 10: 28). These are the words of Jesus, who had said a little earlier, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (see Jn 10: 11).
John uses the verb tithénai - to offer, which he repeats in the following verses (see 15, 17, 18). We find the same verb in the Last Supper narrative when Jesus “laid aside his garments” in order to “take” them back later (see Jn 13: 4, 12).
Thus, it is clear that the intention is to affirm that the Redeemer has absolute freedom to do with his life as he chooses and thereby give it up or take it back freely.
Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep, for us, sacrificing himself on the Cross. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father (see Jn 10: 14-15).
This is not a matter of mere intellectual knowledge but of a profound, personal relationship: a knowledge of the heart, of one who loves and one who is loved; of one who is faithful and one who knows how to be trustworthy.
It is a knowledge of love, by virtue of which the Pastor invites his sheep to follow him and which is fully manifest in the gift of eternal life that he offers to them (see Jn 10: 27-28).
Dear Ordinandi, may the certainty that Christ does not abandon us and that no obstacle can prevent the accomplishment of his universal plan of salvation be a cause of constant consolation - also in difficulties - and steadfast hope for you. The Lord’s goodness is always with you, and it is powerful.
The Sacrament of Orders, which you are about to receive, will make you sharers in the very mission of Christ; you will be called to scatter the seed of his Word, the seed that carries in itself the Kingdom of God; to dispense divine mercy and to nourish the faithful at the table of his Body and Blood.
To be his worthy ministers, you must ceaselessly nourish yourselves with the Eucharist, source and summit of Christian life.
In approaching the altar, your daily school of holiness, of communion with Jesus, of the way of entering into his sentiments in order to renew the sacrifice of the Cross, you will increasingly discover the richness and tenderness of the love of the divine Teacher, who today is calling you to a closer friendship with him.
If you listen docilely to him, if you follow him faithfully, you will learn to express in your life and in your pastoral ministry his love and his passion for the salvation of souls.
With Jesus’ help, dear Ordinandi, each one of you will become a Good Shepherd, ready, if necessary, to lay down your life for him.
Thus it was at the beginning of Christianity with the first disciples, while as we heard in the First Reading the Gospel continued to be disseminated amid consolations and difficulties.
It is worth stressing the last words in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which we have heard: “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (13: 52).
Despite the misunderstandings and disagreements, about which we have heard, the apostle of Christ does not lose joy; indeed, he is a witness of that joy which flows from being with the Lord and from love for him and for the brothers and sisters.
On today’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations, whose theme this year is: “The vocation to the service of the Church as communion”, let us pray that all who are chosen to such a lofty mission may be accompanied by the prayerful communion of all the faithful
Let us pray that in every parish and Christian community attention to vocations and to the formation of priests will increase: it begins in the family, continues at 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, and in the first place you, relatives, family members and friends of these 22 deacons who will shortly be ordained priests!
Let us surround these brothers of ours in the Lord with our spiritual solidarity. Let us pray that they may be faithful to the mission to which the Lord is calling them today and ready to renew their “yes” to God, their “here I am”, every day without reserve.
And let us ask the Lord of the harvest on this Day for Vocations to continue to bring forth many holy priests who are totally dedicated to the service of the Christian people.
At this most solemn and important moment of your life, dear Ordinandi, I once again address you with affection. On this day Jesus repeats to you: “I no longer call you servants, but friends”. Welcome and nurture this divine friendship with “Eucharistic love”!
May Mary, the heavenly Mother of priests, accompany you. May she who beneath the Cross united herself with the Sacrifice of her Son and after the Resurrection accepted together with the other disciples the gift of the Spirit, help you and each one of us, dear brothers in the priesthood, to allow ourselves to be inwardly transformed by God’s grace.
Only in this way is it possible to be faithful images of the Good Shepherd; only in this way can we carry out joyfully the mission of knowing, guiding and loving the flock which Jesus acquired at the price of his blood. Amen.
St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 13 April 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, on which the Liturgy presents to us Jesus as the Good Shepherd. On every continent Ecclesial Communities with one voice seek from the Lord numerous holy vocations to the priesthood, to the consecrated and missionary life and to Christian marriage as they meditate on the theme: “Vocations at the service of the Church-mission”. This year the World Day of Prayer for Vocations fits into the setting of the Pauline Year which will begin this 28 June to celebrate the bimillennium of the birth of the Apostle Paul, the missionary par excellence.
In the experience of the Apostle to the Gentiles, whom the Lord called to be a “minister of the Gospel”, vocation and mission are inseparable. He therefore represents a model for every Christian, particularly for missionaries ad vitam, in other words, those men and women who dedicate themselves totally to proclaiming Christ to those who still do not know him, a vocation which has retained its full value. This missionary service is carried out in the first place by priests who dispense the Word of God and the sacraments and who manifest the healing presence of Jesus Christ to all, especially the sick, the lowly and the poor through their charitable Apostolate. Let us thank God for these brothers of ours who spend themselves unreservedly in the pastoral ministry, sometimes sealing their fidelity to Christ with the sacrifice of their lives, as happened yesterday to two Religious killed respectively in
Our grateful admiration and prayers of suffrage go to them. Let us pray that
the ranks of those who decide to live the Gospel radically with the vows of
chastity, poverty and obedience may be ever more numerous. They are men and
women who have a primary role in evangelization. Some of them are dedicated to
contemplation and prayer, others to a multi-faceted educational and charitable
action, but they all have the same goal in common: to witness to God’s primacy
over everything and to spread his Kingdom in every social milieu. Many of them,
the Servant of God Paul VI wrote, “are enterprising and their apostolate is
often marked by an originality, by a genius that demands admiration. They are
generous: often they are found at the outposts of the mission, and they take
the greatest of risks for their health and their very lives” (Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 69). Finally, it
should not be forgotten that the vocation to Christian marriage is a missionary
vocation: indeed, the spouses are called to live the Gospel in families, in
work contexts, in parish and in civil communities. In some cases they also
offer their valuable collaboration to the mission ad gentes.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke Mary’s motherly protection upon the multiple vocations that exist in the Church so that they may develop a strong missionary stamp. I also entrust to her, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, the special missionary experience which I shall be living in the next few days with my Apostolic Visit to the United States of America and my Visit to the United Nations Organization, while I ask you all to accompany me with your prayers.
St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 3 May 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am late, because the Eucharistic Celebration during which I consecrated 19 new Priests for the Diocese of Rome has just ended in the Basilica of St Peter, for which we are very happy. Once again I chose this Sunday, the Fourth of Easter, for this joyful event, because it is characterized by the Gospel of the Good Shepherd (see Jn 10: 1-18) and therefore offers a particularly apt context. For the same reason, we are also celebrating the World Day of Prayer for Vocations today. In my yearly message for this circumstance, I asked for reflection on the theme: Faith in Divine Initiative and the Human Response. In fact, the Lord’s faith, which continuously calls all to sanctity and some in particular to special consecration, expresses itself in prayer. In private as well as in community, we must pray very much for vocations, so that the greatness and the beauty of the love of God may attract many to follow Christ on the path of priesthood and in consecrated life. Equally, we must also pray so that there may be saintly spouses, able to show their children, especially through their example, the lofty horizons to strive for with their freedom. The saints, men and women, that the Church proposes for veneration by all the faithful, testify to the ripened fruit of this interweaving between the Divine calling and the human response. Let us entrust our prayer for vocations to their heavenly intercession.
There is another intention I invite you to pray for today: the journey to the
Holy Land that I will undertake, God willing, from next
Friday 8 May to Friday the 15th. In the footsteps of my venerable Predecessors Paul VI
and John Paul II, I will make a pilgrimage to the main holy places of our
faith. With my visit I hope to confirm and encourage the Christians of the Holy Land, who are faced daily with many difficulties. As
the Successor of the Apostle Peter, I will make them feel the closeness and the
support of the whole Body of the Church. Moreover, I will be a pilgrim of
peace, in the name of the one God who is the Father of all. I will bear witness
to the commitment of the Catholic Church in favour of those who practice
dialogue and reconciliation, to reach a stable and lasting peace in mutual
justice and respect. And finally, this journey will have a noteworthy
ecumenical and interreligious importance. Jerusalem
is, from this point of view, the city-symbol par excellence: there Christ died
to reunite all of God’s scattered children (see Jn 11: 52).
Now, turning to the Virgin Mary, we call upon her, as the Mother of the Good Shepherd, to watch over the new Presbyters of the Diocese of Rome, and so that numerous and saintly vocations of special consecration to the Kingdom of God may blossom in the whole world.
HOLY MASS FOR THE ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
OF 19 DEACONS OF THE DIOCESE OF
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St Peter’s Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 3 May 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
According to a beautiful tradition, the Sunday of “the Good Shepherd” is when the Bishop of Rome meets with his clergy for the Ordination of new priests for the Diocese. This is a great gift from God every time; it is his grace! Therefore let a deep feeling of faith and gratitude in living today’s celebration arise in us. With this sentiment I am pleased to greet the Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini, the Auxiliary Bishops, the other Brothers in the episcopacy and in the priesthood, and with special affection you, dear Deacon candidates to the priesthood, with your families and friends. The word of God that we have listened to offers many points for meditation: I will choose a few to shed an indelible light on the path of your life and your ministry.
“This [Jesus] is the stone... there is no other name... given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 11-12). In the passage of the Acts of the Apostles the first reading the singular “homonymy” between Peter and Jesus strikes us and makes us reflect: Peter, who received his name from Jesus himself, here asserts that he, Jesus, is “the stone”. In fact, the only true rock is Jesus. The only name that saves is his. The apostle, and therefore the priest, receives his “name”, his very identity, from Christ. Everything he does is done in his name. His “I” becomes totally relative to the “I” of Jesus. In the name of Christ, and most certainly not in his own, the apostle may perform acts of healing for the brethren, may help the “crippled” to rise again and take their path (see Acts 4: 9-10). In Peter’s case, the miracle that had just occurred makes this especially evident. And even the reference to what was said in the Psalm is essential: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone” (Ps 118: 22). Jesus was “rejected”, but the Father favoured him and put him as the foundation of the
of the New Covenant. Thus the apostle, like the priest, experiences in turn the
Cross, and only through this can he become truly useful to the building of the
Church. God loves to build his Church with people who, following Jesus, place
their entire trust in God, as the Psalm itself mentions: “It is better to take
refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge
in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (v. 8-9).
The disciple shares the same destiny as the Teacher, which ultimately is the destiny expressed in God the Father’s own will! Jesus confessed at the end of his life, in the great prayer called “priestly”: “O righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you” (Jn 17: 25). Even before he had asserted: “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11: 27). Jesus himself experienced the rejection of God by the world, the misunderstanding, the indifference, the disfiguration of the Face of God. And Jesus passed the “witness” on to the disciples: “I made known to them your name”, he further confides in the prayer to the Father, “and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17: 26). Therefore the disciple and especially the apostle experiences the same joy that Jesus did, in knowing the name and the Face of the Father; and also shares his suffering, seeing that God is not recognized, that his love is not returned. On one hand we joyfully exclaim, like John did with joy in his first Letter: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!”; and on the other with bitterness we observe: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 Jn 3: 1). It is true, and we priests experience this: the “world” in an acceptance of the Johannine definition of the term does not understand the Christian, does not understand the ministers of the Gospel. Somewhat because it does not know God, and somewhat because it does not want to know him. The world does not want to know God so as not to be disturbed by his will, and therefore it does not want to listen to his ministers; this could cause a crisis.
Here we must pay attention to a de facto reality: that this “world”, interpreted in the evangelical sense, also lures the Church, infecting her members and even ordained ministers. With the word “world”,
St John indicates and seeks to define a
mentality, a way of thinking and living that can pollute even the Church, that
in fact does pollute her, thereby requiring constant vigilance and
purification. Until God is fully manifest, even his sons are not yet fully “like
Him” (1 Jn 3: 2). We are “in” the world, and we risk being also “of” the world,
the world in the sense of this mentality. And in fact at times we are. Because
of this, Jesus at the end did not pray for the world in this same sense but for
his disciples, so that the Father may keep them from evil that they may be free
and different from the world, while living in the world (see Jn 17: 9,15). At
that moment, at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus raised to the Father the
prayer of consecration for the apostles and for all the priests of all times,
when he said: “Sanctify them in the truth” (Jn 17: 17). And he added: “And for
their sake I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated in truth” (Jn
17: 19). I emphasized these words of Jesus in the Homily of the Chrism Mass,
last Holy Thursday. Today I take up this reflection referring to the Gospel of
the Good Shepherd, when Jesus declared: “I give my life for the sheep” (see Jn
To become priests in the Church means to enter into this self-donation of Christ through the Sacrament of Orders and to enter with all of one’s being. Jesus gave his life for all, but in a special way he consecrated himself for those the Father had given to him, that they may be consecrated in truth, that is in him, and could speak and act in his name, represent him, continue his saving actions: breaking the Bread of life and remitting sins. Thus, the Good Shepherd offered his life for all the sheep, but he gave it and gave it in a special way for those that he himself, “with a feeling of favour”, called and calls to follow him on the path of pastoral service. Then, in a singular way, Jesus prayed for Simon Peter, and sacrificed himself for him, because he would say to him one day, on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21: 16-17). In the same way, every priest is the recipient of Christ’s personal prayer, and only because of this he is able to collaborate with him in feeding the flock, which is completely and only the Lord’s.
Here I would like to touch upon a point that is particularly dear to me: the prayer and its ties with service. We have seen that to be ordained priests means to enter in a sacramental and existential way into Christ’s prayer for “his own”. From this we priests derive a particular vocation to pray in a strongly Christocentric sense: we are called, that is, to “remain” in Christ as the evangelist John likes to repeat (see Jn 1: 35-39; 15: 4-10) and this abiding in Christ is achieved especially through prayer. Our ministry is totally tied to this “abiding” which is equivalent to prayer, and draws from this its efficacy. In this perspective, we must think of the different forms of prayer of a priest, first of all daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive “nourishment”: the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation. All these expressions of prayer, which have their centre in the Eucharist, fulfil the words of Jesus in the priest’s day and in all his life: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 14-15). In fact, this “knowing” and “being known” in Christ and, through him, in the Most Holy Trinity, is none other than the most true and deep reality of prayer. The priest who prays a lot, and who prays well, is progressively drawn out of himself and evermore united to Jesus the Good Shepherd and the Servant of the Brethren. In conforming to him, even the priest “gives his life” for the sheep entrusted to him. No one takes it from him: he offers it himself, in unity with Christ the Lord, who has the power to give his life and the power to take it back not only for himself, but also for his friends, bound to him in the Sacrament of Orders. Thus the life of Christ, Lamb and Shepherd, is communicated to the whole flock, through the consecrated ministers.
Dear Deacons, may the Holy Spirit impress this divine word which I have briefly commented upon in your hearts, so that it may bear abundant and lasting fruit. We ask this through the intercession of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, to whose protection I have dedicated the next Presbyteral Year. And through the Mother of the Good Shepherd, Mary Most Holy. In every circumstance of your life, look to her, the star of your priesthood. As she said to the servants at the wedding in
Mary repeats to you too: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2: 5). At the school of
the Virgin, always be men of prayer and service, to become, in the faithful
practice of your ministry, holy priests after God’s heart.
St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated. This year its theme, “Witness Awakens Vocations”, is “closely linked to the life and mission of priests and of consecrated persons” (Message for the 47th World Day of Vocations, 13 November 2009). The first form of witness that awakens vocation is prayer (see ibid.,), as the example of St Monica shows. By humbly and insistently imploring God she obtained the grace of seeing her son Augustine become a Christian. He wrote: “Without uncertainty, I believe and affirm that through her prayers God granted me the intention of not putting first, not desiring, not thinking and not loving, anything other than the achievement of truth” (De Ordine, II, 20, 52, CCL 29, 136). I therefore invite parents to pray, that the hearts of their children may be open to listening to the Good Shepherd, and that “each tiny seed of a vocation... may... grow into a mature tree, bearing much good fruit for the Church and for all humanity” (Message, cit.). How can we listen to the voice of the Lord and recognize it? In the preaching of the Apostles and of their successors in which Christ’s voice rings out, calling us to communion with God and to the fullness of life. As we read today in the Gospel of St John: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (Jn 10: 27-28). The Good Shepherd alone tends his flock with deep tenderness and protects it from evil, and in him alone can the faithful put absolute trust.
On this day of special prayers for vocations, I encourage the ordained ministries in particular, encouraged by the Year for Priests, to feel committed to bearing “a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world” (The Holy Father’s Letter to priests for the inauguration of the Year for Priests, 16 June 2009). May they remember that the priest “continues the work of redemption on earth”; may they gladly pause “before the tabernacle”; may they seek to remain “completely faithful to [their] own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism”; may they make themselves available to listening and to forgiving; may they impart a Christian formation to the people entrusted to them; may they take pains to foster a “priestly fraternity” (see ibid.). May they follow the example of wise and zealous Pastors, as did St Gregory of Nazianzus, who wrote to his fraternal friend and Bishop, St Basil: “Teach us your love for the sheep, your solicitude and your capacity for understanding, your watchfulness... severity in gentleness, serenity and meekness in activity... combats in defence of the flock, victories... won in Christ” (Oratio IX, 5, PG 35, 825 ab).
I thank everyone present and all those who sustain my ministry as a Successor of Peter with prayer and affection, and upon each one I invoke the heavenly protection of the Virgin Mary, to whom we now turn in prayer.
Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Liturgy of the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents to us one of the most beautiful images that has portrayed the Lord Jesus since the earliest centuries of the Church: the Good Shepherd. The Gospel of St John, in chapter 10, describes the special features of the relationship between Christ the Good Shepherd and his flock, a relationship so close that no one will ever be able to snatch sheep from his hand. Indeed, the sheep are united to him by a bond of love and of reciprocal knowledge, which guarantees to them the immeasurable gift of eternal life.
At the same time, the flock’s attitude to the Good Shepherd, Christ, is presented by the Evangelist with two specific verbs: “to listen” and “to follow”. These terms suggest the fundamental characteristics of those who live out the following of the Lord.
First of all by listening to his word, from which faith is born and by which it is nurtured. Only those who are attentive to the Lord’s voice can assess in their own conscience the right decisions for acting in accordance with God. Thus the following of Jesus derives from listening: we act as disciples only after hearing and inwardly accepting the Master’s teachings in order to put them into practice every day.
On this Sunday, therefore, it comes naturally to remember to God the pastors of the Church and those who are training to become pastors. I therefore invite you to say a special prayer for the bishops – including the Bishop of Rome! – for the parish priests, for all those who have responsibilities in the guidance of Christ’s flock, so that they may be faithful and wise in carrying out their ministry. In particular, let us pray for vocations to the priesthood on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, so that effective workers in the Lord’s harvest may never be lacking.
Seventy years ago, Venerable Pius XII established the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations. My Predecessor’s felicitous insight was based on the conviction that vocations grow and mature in the particular Churches, facilitated by a healthy family background and fortified by a spirit of faith, charity and devotion.
In the Message I sent for this World Day, I stressed that a vocation is fulfilled when they “leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfilment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it” (dated 15 November 2010).
In these times too, in which the Lord’s voice risks being drowned by so many other voices, every ecclesial community is called to promote and to care for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. Men and women in fact always need God, also in our technological world, and there will always be a need for Pastors who proclaim his Word and bring them to encounter the Lord in the sacraments.
Dear brothers and sisters, strengthened by the joy of Easter and of faith in the Risen One, let us entrust our resolutions and intentions to the Virgin Mary, Mother of every vocation, so that with her intercession she may bring forth and sustain many holy vocations for the service of the Church and of the world
Sunday, 29 April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Eucharistic celebration during which I ordained nine new priests of the Diocese of Rome has just ended. Let us thank God for this gift, a sign of his faithful and provident love for the Church! Let us gather round these new priests in spirit and pray that they may fully receive the grace of the Sacrament which has conformed them to Jesus Christ, Priest and Shepherd. And let us pray that all young people may listen to the voice of God who speaks in the depths of their hearts and calls them to leave everything to serve him.
This is the purpose of today’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In fact, the Lord is always calling but all too often we do not listen. We are distracted by many things, by other, more superficial voices; and then we are afraid to listen to the Lord’s voice because we think he might take away our freedom.
In fact, each one of us is the fruit of love: of our parents’ love of course, but more profoundly, of God’s love. The Bible says: even if your own mother does not want you, I want you because I know and love you (see Is 49:15). The moment I realize this my life changes. It becomes a response to this love, greater than any other, and in this way my freedom is completely fulfilled.
The young men whom I ordained priests today are no different from other young men, except that they were deeply moved by the beauty of God’s love and could not but respond with their whole life. How did they find God’s love? They found it in Jesus Christ: in his Gospel, in the Eucharist and in the community of the Church. In the Church we discover that every person’s life is a love story. Sacred Scripture clearly shows us this and the witness borne by the saints confirms it to us.
Dear friends, let us pray for the Church, for every local community, that it may be like a watered garden in which all the seeds of vocation that God scatters in abundance sprout and ripen. Let us pray that this garden may be cultivated everywhere, with the joy of feeling that we are all called, in the variety of our gifts.
May families in particular be the first environment in which we “breathe” the love of God that provides us with inner strength in the midst of the difficulties and trials of life. Those who experience God’s love in the family receive a priceless gift which, with time, bears fruit. May the Blessed Virgin Mary — a model of free and obedient acceptance of the divine call and Mother of every vocation in the Church — obtain all this for us.
HOLY MASS ON THE OCCASION OF PRIESTLY ORDINATIONS
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St. Peter’s Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Roman tradition of celebrating priestly ordinations on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, contains a great wealth of meaning linked to the convergence of the Word of God, the liturgical Rite and the Easter Season in which it is placed. The figure of the shepherd in particular, so important in Sacred Scripture and naturally very relevant to the definition of the priest, acquires its full truth and clarity on the face of Christ, in the light of the Mystery of his death and Resurrection. Dear Ordinands, you too will always be able to draw from these riches every day of your life, and your priesthood will thus be continuously renewed. This year the Gospel passage is the central one from Chapter 10 of John and begins precisely with Jesus’ affirmation: “I am the Good Shepherd”.
This is immediately followed by the first fundamental characteristic: “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). So, we are led straight to the centre, to the summit of the revelation of God as the Shepherd of his people; this centre and summit is Jesus, Jesus himself who dies on the cross and rises from the tomb on the third day, rises with all his humanity and thereby involves us, every man and woman, in his passage from death to life. This event — the Pasch of Christ — in which he completely and definitively fulfills the pastoral work of God, is a sacrificial event. The Good Shepherd and the High Priest therefore coincide in the person of Jesus who laid down his life for us.
But let us also briefly note the first two
and the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118 ). The passage from the Acts of the Apostles
(4:8-12) presents to us St Peter’s testimony before the rulers of the people
and the elders of Jerusalem
after the miraculous healing of the cripple. Peter says with great candour:
Jesus “is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become
the head of the corner”; and he added, “there is salvation in no one else, for
there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”
(vv. 11-12). Then in the light of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, the Apostle
interprets Psalm 118, in which the person praying gives thanks to God who
has answered his cry for help and has saved him. This Psalm says: “the stone
which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s
doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps 118:22-23). Jesus lived this very
experience: being rejected by the leaders of his people and rehabilitated by
God, placed as the foundational stone of a new temple, of a new people that was
to praise the Lord with the fruits of justice (see Mt 21:42-43) Therefore the
First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm, which is the same Psalm 118,
vividly evoke the paschal context and, with this image of the stone rejected
and re-habilitated, draw our gaze to Jesus dead and Risen.
The Second Reading, from the First Letter of John (3:1-2), speaks to us instead of the fruit of Christ’s Pasch: our having become children of God. In John’s words you can still hear his great wonder at this gift; not only are we called children of God but “so we are” (v. 1). Indeed, man’s filial condition is the fruit of the saving work of Jesus. With his Incarnation, with his death and Resurrection and with the gift of the Holy Spirit he has inserted the human being into a new relationship with God, his own relationship with the Father. For this reason the Risen Jesus says: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). It is a relationship that is already totally real but not yet totally revealed: it will be in the end when — if God pleases — we shall see his face without a veil (see v. 7).
Dear Ordinands, this is where the Good Shepherd wishes to lead us! It is here that the priest is called to lead the faithful entrusted to his care: to true life, to life in abundance (see Jn 10:10). Let us therefore return to the Gospel and to the Parable of the Good Shepherd. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). Jesus insists on this essential trait of the Good Shepherd who is he himself: that of “laying down his life”. He repeats it three times and at the end concludes with the words: “for this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18).
This is clearly the qualifying feature of the shepherd, just as Jesus interprets it in the first person, in accordance with the will of the Father who sent him. The biblical figure of shepherd-king mainly involves the task of governing, keeping united and guiding the People of God. The whole of this regal role is totally fulfilled in Jesus Christ in the sacrificial dimension, in the offering of life. In a word, it is brought about in the mystery of the Cross, that is, in the supreme act of humility and oblative love. Abbot Theodore the Studite, said: “By the Cross we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfolds of heaven” (Discourse on the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ, PG 99, 699).
The formulas of the Rite for the Ordination of Priests that we are celebrating give us this orientation. For example, among the questions that concern the “commitments of the chosen ones”, the later, with a culminating and in a certain way concise character, says : “Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?”. The priest is in fact the one who is uniquely inserted into the mystery of Christ’s Sacrifice through a personal union with him, in order to extend his saving mission. This union, which happens in the Sacrament of Orders, seeks to become closer every day through the generous response of the priest himself. This is why, dear Ordinands, in a little while you will answer this question, saying: “I am, with the help of God”.
The celebrant then says in the explanatory Rites, at the moment of the anointing with chrism: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God”. And then in the presentation of the bread and the wine he says: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross”. It is very obvious that for the priest celebrating Holy Mass every day does not mean carrying out a ritual function but rather fulfilling a mission that involves his life entirely and profoundly in communion with the Risen Christ who continues to realize the redeeming sacrifice in his Church.
This Eucharistic and sacrificial dimension is inseparable from the pastoral dimension and constitutes the nucleus of truth and of the saving power on which the effectiveness of every activity depends. Of course, we are not speaking of effectiveness solely at the psychological or social level, but rather of the vital fruitfulness of God’s presence at the profound human level. Preaching itself, good works and the actions of various kinds that the Church carries out with her multiple initiatives would lose their salvific fruitfulness were the celebration of Christ’s Sacrifice to be lacking. And this is entrusted to ordained priests. Indeed, the priest is called to live in himself what Jesus experienced personally, that is, to give himself without reserve to preaching and to healing man of every evil of body and of spirit, and then, lastly, to sum up everything in the supreme gesture of “laying down his life”, for human beings, which finds its sacramental expression in the Eucharist, the perpetual memorial of Jesus’ Passover. It is only through this “door” of the Paschal Sacrifice that the men and women of all time can enter eternal life; it is through this “holy way” that they can undertake the exodus that leads them to the “promised land” of true freedom, to the “green pastures” of never ending peace and joy (see Jn 10:7,9; Ps 77:14, 20-21; Ps 23:2).
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