At the priestly ordination of deacons of the Prelature, Shrine of Torreciudad, Spain (September 10, 2006)

At the priestly ordination of faithful of the Prelature, Shrine of Torreciudad, Spain

My dear sons about to receive priestly ordination:

My dear brothers and sisters:

1. The words of Psalm 23 proclaim a truth which fills Christians with consolation: “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.”[1] In whatever place we find ourselves, our Father God is always close by, watching over us and protecting us. He himself promised this through the Old Testament prophets. Jeremiah, confronting the sad spectacle of the bad shepherds who were leading the people of Israel astray, announced on God’s part: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”[2] And Ezekiel, amid the exile in which the people of Israel found themselves, declares that the moment will come to return to their paternal home: “for thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, 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...I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down,’ says the Lord God.”[3]

These divine promises are completely fulfilled in Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who presents himself as the Shepherd announced by the Old Testament. “I am the good shepherd,”[4] he said, sent by God the Father to save all men. As St. Paul reminds us, he has redeemed us at the price of his blood.[5] What sure hope should be ours, having such a Good Shepherd given to us by our Father God! Trusting in his loving assistance, each of us can make our own that verse from the Psalm: “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.”[6]

Let us savor this truth through words of the founder of Opus Dei: “My God, how easy it is to persevere when we know that you are the Good Shepherd, and that we—you and I—are sheep belonging to your flock!”[7]

2. Jesus is also the entrance gate to the sheepfold: only through him do we gain access to the heavenly Father. “No one comes to the Father, but by me,”[8] he told us. And we find Christ in the Church, his Mystical Body.

In his infinite goodness, before ascending to heaven, the Master selected some men, the apostles, so that—as his vicars on earth—they might lead to pasture, in his name and with his authority, the sheep he redeemed with his blood. For this purpose, on the eve of his passion, at the Last Supper, with the words “do this in remembrance of me,”[9] together with the Sacrament of the Eucharist he also instituted Holy Orders. He conferred priestly power on the apostles, so that they in turn could transmit it to others, by means of the laying on of hands, down through the centuries.

This sacred power that the apostles received continues in the bishops and, in a subordinate degree, in the priests, who participate “in the authority by which Christ himself builds up and sanctifies and rules his body.”[10] They carry out Christ’s role as Shepherd in the midst of his people, representing him visibly. Today we have the joy of once again taking part, in the course of the Church’s almost two thousand years of history, in the transmission of these sacred powers.

I direct myself now to those about to be ordained: my sons, may the light of this new calling always be enkindled in your minds and hearts. You will be visible intermediaries of the Eternal High Priest who guides all of us from heaven. Look to that divine Model. Learn the lessons that he teaches us. In first place, the deep decision—following in Christ’s footsteps—to give your life for the sheep: those who are entrusted to you at each moment of your earthly journey and all humanity, because the ministerial priesthood, although it should be exercised in a special way with the pusillus grex entrusted to each one,[11] is not limited to that small flock but always has a universal dimension.

Our Lord tells us that the good shepherd enters “by the door,” while “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”[12] A few months ago, in a ceremony similar to this one, Benedicts XVI explained this passage as follows: “This word ‘climbs’ 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 exploit 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.”[13]

St. Josemaría, from the moment he first perceived the divine illuminations that led him to the priesthood, understood that our Lord was putting him on the path of a self-sacrificing and joyful dedication to God and souls. He was never tempted—it caused him outright horror—to view the priesthood as a career, as a way of personal profit. He well knew (as he had learned from Jesus’ example) that it meant a demanding and generous service to others, without ever saying “enough.”

You, my deacon sons, have entered by the door. You have responded to the invitation of your legitimate shepherd, after years of intense formation, and you are being ordained to serve souls through the preaching of the word of God, the administration of the sacraments—especially confession and the Eucharist—and spiritual direction. Your only motive is the desire to dedicate all of your energies to God and to souls. This from now on, so to speak, is your new professional work, which will demand your complete dedication. As St. Josemaría said: “They have constantly to study theology; they must give spiritual guidance to very many souls, hear many confessions, preach tirelessly and pray a great deal; their heart must always be focused on the tabernacle, where He who has chosen us to be his own is really present. Their life is a wonderful self-surrender, full of joy, though like everyone they will meet up with difficulties.”[14]

3. Benedict XVI, in the homily I referred to above, said that our Lord teaches 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.”[15]

Giving one’s life for one’s sheep is a program for each day, in the thousand and one small details of priestly work, without waiting for the opportunity to carry out heroic, extraordinary actions. And this also holds true for the rest of the faithful, who in virtue of their priestly soul, the common priesthood they received in Baptism, have to do everything possible to serve the others with love. How many occasions we are all presented with every day, in family life, in our professional work, when resting, in our social relations! Let us examine our daily conduct sincerely, asking ourselves whether at every moment we are doing our best to serve those around us—whether we are giving our lives for them

The good shepherd knows his sheep; he calls them by their own names, and the sheep draw close to him trustingly. We have to be affectionate, putting our heart into our dealings with others, always in the light of faith. St. Josemaría used to say that, in our relations with souls, we have to act “with our heart always, but not only with our heart.” Thus he confronted two possible enemies that can paralyze the apostolic action of the priest and the Christian: the coldness of someone who, since he fails to use his heart, will not attract anyone to our Lord; and the sentimentality of one who lets his heart follow his feelings, without subjecting it to reason illumined by faith.

As the Holy Father said: “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...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.”[16]

Finally, the good shepherd is always at the service of unity, as Jesus himself said at the end of this Gospel passage: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”[17] Unity has to be a passionate concern for everyone, lay people and priests, a noble passion that we have to constantly grow in. If we love the unity of the Church we will pray each day for the Holy Father and for the bishops in communion with the Pope. If we want to bring about as soon as possible the union of Christians under a single Supreme Shepherd, we will ask the Holy Spirit insistently to guide the ecumenical activity of the Church. The faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, if we are truly concerned to foster the unity of this little portion of the Church, will strive to live with “one heart and soul”[18] like the first Christians, realizing that thus we will serve the Church, the Roman Pontiff and all souls in the best possible way.

Let us not forget, however, that “the Cross is the price of unity.”[19] Christ’s open arms on the Cross speak eloquently of the fact that our Lord died “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”[20] Therefore working for unity includes nailing oneself gladly with Christ to the holy Wood, opening one’s arms and heart to all creatures. Every Christian is called to make present Christ’s redemptive love in his own setting; there he should plant the tree of the Cross with his entire life, giving himself joyfully for the salvation of souls.

I congratulate with all my heart the parents, brother and sisters, relatives and friends of the new priests. I remind all of you that we have the duty of praying for the Pope, for the Bishops, for the Ordinary of this beloved diocese of Barbastro, for priests throughout the whole world, so that we be faithful to the vocation we have received. Let us also ask our Father God to send his Church many vocations of holy, joyful and generous priests, who will give themselves unstintingly to souls.

We do so going to the intercession of our Lady, Mother in a special way of priests, who in this Shrine of Torreciudad and under the advocation of Our Lady of the Angels, has always shown herself ready to listen to our prayers. Amen.

[1] Ps 23[22]:1-3.

[2] Jer 3:15.

[3] Ezek 34:11-15.

[4] Jn 10:11.

[5] See 1 Cor 7:23.

[6] Ps 23[22]:3-4

[7] St. Josemaría, The Forge, no. 319.

[8] Jn 14:6

[9] Lk 22:19.

[10] Vatican II, Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 2.

[11] Cf. Lk 12:32.

[12] Jn 10:1.

[13] Benedict XVI, Homily at a priestly ordination, May 7, 2006.

[14] St. Josemaría, Homily “A Priest Forever” (April 13, 1973) in In Love with the Church, no. 36.

[15] Benedict XVI, Homily at a priestly ordination, May 7, 2006.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Jn 10:16.

[18] Acts 4:32.

[19] Benedict XVI, Homily at a priestly ordination, May 7, 2006.

[20] Jn 11:52.

Romana, n. 43, July-December 2006, p. 199-203.

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