At the priestly ordination of three deacons of the Prelature at the Shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad, (September 2, 2001)

Dear brothers and sisters.

My dear deacons.

1. We are moved by the words of the prophet Isaiah when he announces that the Spirit of the Lord will be poured forth on the earth to cure the sick, to console the afflicted, to give freedom to the imprisoned and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[1] History gives witness to the truth of these gifts, which heaven dispenses in all times and places, thanks to the Church’s salvific action. Indeed, by the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments, the Spouse of Christ goes out to meet all men and women, to offer us the salvation won by Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who died, rose and ascended to heaven. Truly, through the Church, God shows constant concern for mankind; he anticipates our desires and guides us by the paths that lead to eternal life. As we prayed in the responsorial psalm: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.[2]

God, in his infinite perfection, could have bestowed salvation on us in some other way. Nevertheless, in his infinite wisdom and condescension, he has wanted to count on the help of human instruments: on us priests. Today we are witnesses to how this divine will continues to be a reality in the Church. When in a few minutes I put my hands over these deacons and invoke upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit in the prayer of consecration, these brothers of ours will become priests of the New Testament. They will receive the power of announcing the Gospel with divine authority; of pardoning sins in the sacrament of Penance; of renewing the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross in an unbloody manner. They will make Christ present on the altar and in the tabernacle, and guide the faithful on the path of holiness. All of this will become a reality thanks to their special sacramental configuration with Christ Jesus, High Priest and Head of the Church, which the Paraclete will confer on them in the sacrament of the Priesthood.

Yes, thanks to the Church’s ordained ministry, each of us can truly say with the psalmist: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.[3]

2. I direct myself now with all my affection to the three men about to be ordained. My sons, keep in mind that our Lord, when he called you to serve him in this new way, addressed to you the same words that he spoke to the first apostles in the cenacle at Jerusalem: No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.[4]

Jesus has called you friends, and this brings great demands with it. “As heralds of Christ,” wrote Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Priests this year, “you are invited above all to live in intimacy with him: we can’t give to others what we don’t have ourselves.”[5] And what do souls expect of priests, other than that they help them to know God, that they bring them closer to God, that they teach them how to love God? This new divine call obliges you to respond to Christ with the gift of a deeper, more generous friendship, with the eagerness to bring many people to him, so that they too can know and love him. It obliges you to continue to strive to attain the plenitude of charity that is sanctity.

While preparing for today’s ceremony, you frequently considered Blessed Josemaria’s teachings on the priesthood. Learn from his life and writings; draw more deeply from his example. Meditate often on the truth that by virtue of its sacred duties, the priesthood requires more than a morally upright life. It demands sanctity in the men who perform those duties. For they have been constituted mediators between God and men.[6]

While never knowing ourselves fully, each of us who are priests have enough self-knowledge to realize that we are not “at the level” our Lord expects of his priests. As John Paul II reminds us: “When contemplating Christ at the Last Supper, when he makes himself into ‘bread that is broken’ for us, when he stoops over the feet of the apostles in humble service, how can we keep from feeling, as Peter did, the same sense of unworthiness before the greatness of the gift we have received? ‘You shall never wash my feet’ (Jn 13:8). Peter was mistaken in rejecting Christ’s gesture. But he was right in seeing himself as unworthy. It is important, on this day of love par excellence, that we see the grace of the priesthood as a superabundance of mercy.”[7]

As the workers are always few, in comparison with the harvest of souls, let us pray to the Lord of the harvest, as Jesus himself invites us,[8] asking that priestly vocations be abundant everywhere. I invite you to unite yourselves to the prayer of a Christian author of the first centuries: “Let us pray to the Lord of the harvest that he send workers into his harvest: workers who will treat the word of truth correctly; faithful workers who are the light of the world; workers who do not seek the food of the present world, which will perish, but the food that lasts unto eternal life; workers like the apostles; workers who imitate the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, solicitous for the health of all men and women.”[9]

3. Any vocation in the Church is a palpable proof of divine mercy. It is something that far surpasses human qualities, educational preparation, or social position, and cannot be measured in purely natural terms. It stems from the generosity of the heavenly Father and each person’s faithful correspondence to grace. To meditate more deeply on this truth, we can draw abundant light from a few sentences of the Founder of Opus Dei that capture the nucleus of the message God entrusted to him to spread to all mankind.

Blessed Josemaria writes: By the demands of their common Christian vocation, as something required by the one baptism they have received, the priest and the lay person should aspire equally to holiness, which is a participation in God’s life. The holiness to which they are called is not greater in the priest than in the lay person, because the lay person is not a second-rate Christian. Holiness, both in the priest and in the lay person, is nothing other than the perfection of Christian life, the fullness of divine filiation. In the eyes of our Father God we are all equally his children, whatever the service or ministry to which each of us is assigned... The important thing, the only thing that matters in God’s eyes, is to show our love by deeds of service.[10]

There is no other solution to humanity’s problems. The remedy for all of the needs of mankind—and let us be very aware of our great daily responsibility—is in the hands of Christians, called to be saints and a leaven of sanctity in the ordinary events of daily life. We all have to strive to put into practice Christ’s words: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.[11]

The Roman Pontiff has proposed an identical program to us for the new period in history that has just begun. The great challenge of the Church in the twenty-first century is the challenge of holiness. Not a holiness based on extraordinary events, but a holiness woven with the fibers of love, built day by day in the ordinariness of our daily activities. “It is a duty,” writes the Pope, “which concerns not only certain Christians: ‘All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.’”[12]

The Holy Father adds that centering the whole Christian response on the goal of holiness has very specific consequences: “it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity...The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.”[13]

We are all committed to this great enterprise, each from his own place in the Church and in the world: some as priests, others as lay people. To hold back in this task or, much worse, to turn one’s back to it, would mean betraying our Redeemer. On the contrary, following the Holy Father’s invitation, we must launch out into the sea, duc in altum,[14] casting Christ’s nets in every corner of the earth, in all the upright professions men and women work in, among all kinds of people.

Before ending, I congratulate with all my heart the relatives and friends of the new priests. Let us all pray for these men, so that they attain the holiness to which God is calling them. Let us pray every day for the Holy Father and for the bishops, today especially for the bishop of this beloved diocese of Barbastro-Monzon, and for the priests and deacons of the whole world. And let us pray with faith: Lord, give us holy priests.

How abundant will be the catch of fish, the divine catch, that we will place at Christ’s feet,[15] if we go to the intercession of our Lady, Star of the new evangelization, in this divine and human adventure that is so rewarding. With the combined efforts of all of us, we will bring the world back to God and place Christ at the very summit of all human activities. Amen.

Romana, n. 33, July-December 2001, p. 173-176.

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