Rome (September 12, 1999)

At the priestly ordination of deacons of the Prelature, in the Basilica of St. Eugene, in Rome, Italy.

Dear brothers and sisters!

1. The Lord has anointed me, on me his spirit has fallen; he has sent me to bring good news to men that are humbled, to heal broken hearts, promising the release of captives, the opening of prison doors... Comfort for every mourner; Sion’s mourners, what decree should I make for them, what gift offer them? Heads shall be garlanded, that once were strewn with ashes; bright with oil, the faces that were marred with grief; gaily they shall be clad that went sorrowing.[1]

Jesus Christ, sent by the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit, has come to renew the earth. The Fathers of the Church affirm that the Redemption carried out by Christ may be in some way compared to a new divine intervention of creation; even more, it surpasses it abundantly. Indeed, through the gift of divine filiation, man has been called to the greatest intimacy with God, made partaker of the very Life of the Blessed Trinity. The Lord, who won us this dignity on the Cross, has confided to His Church the task of carrying out His saving mission, and for this He conferred principally on priests the power of irrigating souls with His grace, through the word and the sacraments.

To renew the earth with the merciful power of the saving love of Christ: this is the task which is given today with Holy Orders to these faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, candidates for the priesthood. They will have to bring with them the hope of a holy life, the gift of peace to hearts, freedom from the bonds of sin, the certainty of the prize which gives relief in times of trial. God wishes that from people’s hearts may be raised up, not the lament of sadness, bur rather a perennial song of praise. This is a marvellous and immense task, a task which it is impossible to limit. This is so not only because the work of Redemption recommences in each man and woman who comes to life and asks the Church for the means to meet Christ and to live from Him, but also because there are many places —entire countries— which the Gospel still has to reach, as Jesus Christ Himself proclaims: I have other sheep too, which do not belong to this fold; I must bring them in too; they will listen to my voice; so there will be one fold, and one shepherd.[2]

2. I direct myself to you now, dear deacons. On receiving priestly ordination today, you manifest your clear will to dedicate your entire life —freely and joyfully, without holding anything back — to the service of souls, to lead them to meet Christ, so that they are reborn in Him and live through Him. You will be living instruments of Jesus Christ, Who through you will draw hearts to Himself with the same force that is seen in the miracles in the Gospels. As Blessed Josemaría said on one occasion, the Lord will restore sight to “blind men, who had lost the ability to look up to heaven and contemplate the wonderful works of God;”[3] he will give back hearing to the deaf, to many “who did not want to know God.”[4] When you administer the Sacrament of Penance, you will see how the lame “who were bound by their passions”[5] suddenly recuperate the capacity to walk joyfully towards Heaven; the dumb will regain the power of speech and will announce the marvels of God; the dead, “in whom sin had destroyed life”[6] will return to being living and fruitful members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

The efficacy of the priestly ministry reaches infinitely beyond human capacities. Each day the priest witnesses, in real life, authentic miracles of grace. He is a witness of the love of the Saviour for all creatures. And this reality obliges him, in turn, to be a bearer of the charity of Christ. The priest acts in the person and in the name of Christ, in a special way in administering the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation; but it is necessary that he let his entire being be imbued by the Lord, to the extent of converting himself into a living image of the love of Jesus Christ for souls.

Let us read a paragraph of a homily of the Founder of Opus Dei: “Jesus’ heart, filled with a desire to redeem, does not want anyone to be able to say that he has not been called. He goes out to meet those who do not seek Him. That is love! There is no other explanation for it. When it comes to speaking of Christ’s Love, we are lost for words. He has so abased Himself that He accepts everything; He exposes Himself to everything —to sacrilege, to blasphemy and to the cold indifference of so many people — in order to offer even one man the chance of hearing the beating of his Heart in his wounded side.”[7]

Even though it be one single person!: every soul is worth all the Blood of Christ. And, like Jesus, the priest is called to give himself for each person. The Holy Father has written: “In virtue of their consecration, priests are configured to Jesus the Good Shepherd and are called to imitate and live His same pastoral charity.”[8] This is a “free gift of the Holy Spirit and, at the same time, a duty and call for the free and responsible response of the priest”[9]. Pastoral charity constitutes an essential dimension of the priest’s spiritual life and ministry. It is, certainly, a gift of God, but it is also a daily commitment to let the Holy Spirit fill him with zeal for the salvation of souls. The Pope defines it thus: “The essential content of pastoral charity is the giving of self, the total giving of self to the Church, sharing the gift of Christ, and sharing it in His image.”[10] Only by making of your lives, day after day, a complete giving of yourselves; only by letting the love of souls always determine your way of thinking and acting, your way of relating with others in all circumstances;[11] only thus will you convert yourselves into living images of Jesus Christ.

The priestly service requires then, a total dedication, which is only possible for one who lives from love. We have listened to what Jesus says of Himself: for these sheep I am laying down my life.[12] Later on, in the same Gospel of St. John, the Lord comments: This is the greatest love a man can show, that he should lay down his life for his friends.[13] The Lord showed love to the Church when He gave Himself up on its behalf.[14] The priesthood is a free choice of love; in it, souls constitute the principal interest and one comes to love the universal Church, and the portion of the Church one has in one’s care, with all the intensity of which one is capable. You are receiving priestly ordination to serve, in the first place, the faithful of the Prelature and to help them in their apostolates. In this way, united to the Prelate and —through him — to the Pope and to all the Pastors of the Church, you will serve the entire Church. Your self-giving for love will obtain for you the grace to live its dynamism even in its most radical demands.

3. I wish to refer to just one of these demands: humility. The call to be an epiphany of the love of God for men requires from the priest the profound determination to forget himself. All his personal interests —plans, legitimate ambitions, even his rights — have to remain subject to the demands of the ministry. The priest is of Christ — moreover, he is Christ — and he must announce Christ, faithfully presenting the doctrine of the Church, and not his personal opinions. On the other hand, the priest belongs to souls, and to all souls: he has to understand the demands of each one and adapt himself to the ways of being and sensibility of each one; he must proclaim in an integral way the truths of faith and morals, heal error, denounce sin, but always with an enormous respect for persons. He will only manage to do this if he is capable of renouncing the agreement of others and his own possibility to shine, if he seeks as the only end of his life, to make others happy. I am referring, as is obvious, to true happiness, to that spiritual peace which is only experienced in union with Christ. He will achieve it only if he doesn’t forget, even for an instant, that souls are thirsty for Christ, not for more or less convincing communicators; and that only in the Gospel —announced with the authority of the Church— is the saving truth to be found.

Only the humble person knows how to serve and to accept his own limitations; only he is capable of persevering in the effort and being docile to grace, without becoming proud in successes or discouraged in failures. Only the humble person is fruitful. Blessed Josemaría wrote: “Dear Jesus: if I have to be an apostle, you need to make me very humble. Everything the sun touches is bathed in light. Lord, fill me with your clarity, make me share in your divinity so that I may identify my will with your adorable Will and become the instrument you wish me to be. Give me the madness of the humiliation you underwent, which led you to be born poor, to work in obscurity, to the shame of dying sewn with nails to a piece of wood, to your self-effacement in the Blessed Sacrament. May I know myself: may I know myself and know you. I will then never lose sight of my nothingness.”[15]

Dearest candidates for the priesthood: I wish to remind your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, that your call is a gift also to them. The Lord shows Himself to be closer to you today than ever, as He gathers the fruits of what you have sown over such a long time in the hearts of the new priests. Give thanks to Him and listen to what He is asking each one of you through this priestly ordination: He appeals to you to support, by your fidelity to your Christian vocation, the path of your son, of your brother, of your friend, in the service of the Church.

Let us pray for the Church, for the Pope, for the Cardinal-Vicar of the diocese of Rome, for all the Bishops and priests of the world. We pray in a special way for you, who are about to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Let us implore the Lord of the harvest — in a more intense way today — to send many priestly vocations to His Church.

As we beg the Lord to fill you with love and humility, we go to the intercession of Blessed Josemaría, so that he may entrust our prayers to the most Blessed Virgin, Mother of all priests. So be it.

[1] First reading (Is 61:1-3).

[2] Gospel (Jn 10:16).

[3] Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By, no. 131.

[4] Ibid.

[5] bid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, A Priest Forever, April 13,1973.

[8] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, March25,1992, no. 22.

[9] Ibid., no. 23.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Cfr. John Paul II, Homily, October 7, 1997.

[12] Gospel (Jn 10:15).

[13] Jn 15:13.

[14] Eph 5:25

[15] Blessed Josemaría Escrivá, Furrow, no. 273.

Romana, n. 29, July-December 1999, p. 237-240.

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