“Priestly Identity, Priestly Piety,” an address to the clergy of Valencia,Spain (February 5, 2010)

With the joyful desire to learn from everyone here, I have accepted Archbishop Carlos Osoro’s invitation to address a few words to the priests of this Archdiocese on the occasion of the Year for Priests. While it is always a joy for me to meet with my brothers in the priesthood, this feeling is strengthened by finding myself here in Valencia, a city that held a special place in St. Josemaría Escrivá’s heart.

There are many reasons for St. Josemaría’s special affection for Valencia. It was here that the first expansion of Opus Dei took place outside Madrid, where it had been born on October 2, 1928. The Founder of the Work frequently traveled to this city, both before and after the conflict that afflicted Spain, to lay the foundations of the apostolic work. It was from here that some of the first men and women called to Opus Dei came. Here he preached various retreats, including some to seminarians and priests, as early as 1939, and he maintained a fraternal friendship with exemplary priests here.

Without going into an exhaustive list, I would like to recall a few of those great servants of the Church. In first place, Archbishop Prudencio Melo y Alcalde, who frequently urged him to begin the stable work of Opus Dei in this archdiocese; then Fr. Antonio Rodilla, Vicar General and later rector of the seminary, who asked him to give retreats to priests, seminarians and university students; also the Servant of God Fr. Eladio España, a priest with great fame as a confessor, who sent to St. Josemaría the young people who wanted to receive a deeper formation in the faith and Christian life. There was also Fr. Joaquín Mestre, secretary to Archbishop Marcelino Olaechea, a witness to the reputation for sanctity that the Founder of the Work enjoyed during his lifetime: “If I die before Fr. Josemaría, tell people that I always considered him a saintly priest.” He also dealt with Fr. José María Garcia Lahiguera and the beloved Fr. Miguel Roca. He was especially grateful to Fr. José María for receiving him fraternally when he was the target of misunderstanding on the part of “good people.” While he treated Fr. Miguel, in turn, with fatherly affection and steered him towards the priesthood.

These brief recollections help provide the framework for the aim of my considerations: to show that priestly piety, which comes from knowing ourselves to be alter Christus, ipse Christus, is a necessary condition for the effectiveness of our ministry in the service of souls. We can well make our own some words of St. Josemaría in one of his books: “My God, I see I shall never accept you as my Saviour unless I acknowledge you as my Model at the same time.”[1]

1. Christ’s priesthood, the only priesthood in the New Covenant

From its first lines, the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis of the Second Vatican Council stresses that “the Lord Jesus, ‘whom the Father has sent into the world’ (Jn 10:36), has made his whole Mystical Body a sharer in the anointing of the Spirit with which he himself is anointed” (see Mt 3:16; Lk 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38).[2] This truth is the foundation of an important teaching on the nature of the Church: the participation by all Christians in Christ’s anointing and salvific work, that is, in his High Priesthood. Commenting on some words from the first Epistle of St. Peter, the Council continues: “In that Body all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood; they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ, and they proclaim the perfections of him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light (see 1 Pet 2:5,9). Therefore, there is no member who does not have a part in the mission of the whole Body; but each one ought to reverence Jesus in his heart (see 1 Pet 3:15), and in the spirit of prophecy bear witness to Jesus (see Rev19:10).”[3]

I vividly recall the joy with which St. Josemaría welcomed this Conciliar teaching, since, in his priestly ministry, he had been proclaiming this splendid reality for more than three and a half decades. Therefore I fully agree with those who consider this holy priest to be a precursor of the Council in this teaching, which is so central for lay spirituality in the Church, and in other aspects of Christian doctrine contained in the Council’s documents, such as the universal call to holiness.[4]

The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis adds immediately that Christ also “established ministers among his faithful to unite them together in one body in which... these ministers in the society of the faithful are able by the sacred power of orders to offer sacrifice and to forgive sins (see Council of Trent, sess. 23, ch 1 and can. 1: Denz. 1764 and ff.), and they perform their priestly office publicly for men in the name of Christ.”[5] I would like to emphasize now some consequences of this reality for our life and our priestly mission.

Let us begin by recalling that all priesthood in the Church is a participation in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, as is shown admirably in the Letter to the Hebrews. God, when “the fullness of times” had arrived, wanted to bring forth a new priesthood to replace the Levitical priesthood. That older priesthood had been good and proper for the time in which it was established, but it was destined to disappear when it had completed its mission of preparing for the eternal and unchanging priesthood of Christ, a new priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek” (see Heb 5:6-10; 6:20; 7:1-3, 11-17).

The author of the Letter explains the reasons why, already in the Old Law, the priesthood of Melchizedek showed itself to be superior to the Levitical priesthood; and also the intrinsic reasons for the superiority of Christ’s priesthood—perfect, indefectible and eternal—sealed by God with an oath. It concludes by emphasizing that only Christ could incarnate such a priesthood: For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself (Heb 7:26-27).

Christ is fittingly the High Priest because he was—and he is in aeternum, as the Son of God—holy and immaculate. If the Letter adds the phrase separated from sinners, this is not because he had separated himself from us, from mankind, his brothers and sisters (for he came to seek out what had been lost (see Lk 15:1ff)), but because he lacked any stain of sin (see Heb 4:15). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews insists that Christ by a single offering has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb 10:14), alluding to the unique truly redemptive sacrifice, that of the Cross.[6]

The expression “has perfected” contains a deep theological content, for it entails the notions of “perfection,” “plenitude,” consecration,” and “sanctification.” The corresponding Hebrew expression was used for the anointing of the priests of the Old Testament, and for the consecration of the Temple. It is also the “last word” that Jesus pronounced from the Cross: It is consummated (Jn 19:30).

In short, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wants to tell us that Christ carried out a sacrifice of such efficacy—an infinite one—that those who take part with sincerity of heart when he is made present at the altar, can attain perfection, sanctity of life, the pardon of their sins, purity of conscience, and access to God’s intimate life. Thanks to the offering made by Christ, the Eternal High Priest, as St. Josemaría said in a homily given on Good Friday, “The abyss of malice which sin opens wide has been bridged by his infinite charity. God did not abandon men... To help us grasp in some measure this unfathomable mystery, we might imagine the Blessed Trinity taking counsel together in its uninterrupted intimate relationship of infinite love. As a result of its eternal decision, the only-begotten Son of God the Father takes on our human condition and bears the burden of our wretchedness and sorrows, to end up sewn with nails to a piece of wood.”[7] But Christ conquered by his resurrection, as the hope-filled words at the end of the homily affirm: “thus will we earn the name of conquerors: for the risen Christ will conquer in us, and death will be changed into life.”[8]

2. Coordinates of the priestly ministry

The priesthood is marked by a profoundly Christological dimension, which is why the whole priestly life has to be a reflection of the holiness, authority and self-surrender without limits of Christ. United to this, inseparably, is the ecclesiological dimension, by which all priestly activity should be oriented to the service of the people of God, to the sanctification of mankind. Therefore, with deep faith, St. Josemaría insists that the only answer to the question, what is the identity of the priest?, is the following: That of Christ, who wants to perpetuate his priesthood—the only priesthood—through his ministers.[9]

a) Christological perspective of the priestly ministry

Since our priesthood derives directly from the priesthood of Christ, all priestly ministry in the Church should be in intimate and immediate relationship with that priesthood: We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us, writes St. Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:20). The Conciliar decree emphasizes this with the following words: “Through the sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops, priests are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest, and King. They share in his ministry.”[10] Our Lord makes use of priests to maintain his vital presence in the Church, according to his promise: Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20).

In this sense, it is very significant that, in his first meeting with the clergy of Rome, on May 13, 2005, Benedict XVI insisted: “It is indispensable, therefore, to return ever anew to the solid root of our priesthood. This root, as we well know, is one: Jesus Christ our Lord.” And the Roman Pontiff added: “This Jesus, however, possesses nothing of his own; everything he has is from the Father and for the Father... this is also the true nature of our priesthood. In fact, all that constitutes our priestly ministry cannot be the product of our personal abilities.” The Holy Father continued: “we are not sent to proclaim ourselves or our personal opinions, but the mystery of Christ... We are not charged to utter many words, but to echo and bear the message of a single ‘Word,’ the Word of God made flesh for our salvation.”[11]

Thus to fulfill oneself as a priest means to be fully united to Christ, to identify oneself with him in the priestly ministry and in all of one’s conduct. It is a matter of being transparent, so that the faithful can see the Master, the Redeemer, without feeling drawn to fix their gaze on the person of the priest. In this regard, an event that took place here in Valencia seems highly significant to me. It is narrated by one of the first women of Opus Dei, Encarnación Ortega, whose process of beatification is now underway. She was taking part in a retreat for university women preached by St. Josemaría in Alacuás, where the religious congregation known as the Operarias Doctrineras had a retreat house.

Encarnita, then a young woman of 21, had gone to the retreat moved by the desire—perhaps the curiosity—to meet the author of The Way, a book that had caused a deep impact on her. After the death of St. Josemaría she wrote a testimony in which she stated how impressed she was by this priest’s bearing, even before hearing him preach. She wrote: “His recollection, totally natural, his genuflection before the tabernacle, the way he put his whole self into the preparatory prayer before the meditation, encouraging us to be aware that our Lord was there and was looking at us and listening to us, made me quickly forget my desire to hear a great speaker. Instead I understood that I needed to listen to God and be generous with him.”[12]

Fully consistent with that behavior are these words of St. Josemaría: “I feel we priests are being asked to have the humility of learning not to be fashionable; of being, in fact, servants of the servants of God and making our own the cry of the Baptist: ‘He must increase, I must decrease’ (Jn 3:30), so as to enable ordinary Christians, the laity, to make Christ present in all sectors of society.”[13]

b) Ecclesiological perspective

Let us return to the Letter to the Hebrews, to chapter 5. In the first place, it speaks about the Levitical priesthood, but some of the features depicted there are perennial: “Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee’; as he says also in another place, ‘Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek’” (Heb 5:1-6).

These words describe the priest’s mission in the Church, in accord with his being and living in Christ. The priestly ministry is profoundly ecclesial. The priest, chosen from among men by a divine vocation that is made actual in the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, is appointed to act on behalf of men: for the good of all humanity. Not for an earthly good, although he is not unconcerned about temporal happiness. However, this is not what defines a priest’s mission, but rather what is in relation to God. As St. Paul will tell Timothy, the priest is a man of God (1 Tim 6:11). And, as St. Josemaría repeated throughout his life, paraphrasing St. Paul: we have to preach Christ, Christ crucified, who shows us God’s Love for every person.

In the above-cited meeting with the Roman clergy, Benedict XVI emphasized: “Since the priesthood is rooted in Christ, it is by its nature in the Church and for the Church... [It] has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ, in its dual and inseparable dimensions as Eucharist and as Church, as Eucharistic body and Ecclesial body. Therefore, our ministry is amoris officium [an office of love] (St Augustine, In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus 123, 5); it is the office of the good shepherd who offers his life for his sheep (see Jn 10:14-15);”[14] and he fulfills it joyfully, aware of that marvelous reality, since each one is sacerdos in aeternum: today, now, and forever.

The Pope insists on this duty to be “a good shepherd” following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, in a homily given during an ordination Mass in 2006. He highlights the “three key statements by Jesus about the good shepherd.” The first is that the shepherd gives his life for his sheep. “We must give it day by day,” says the Holy Father. “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.”

The second is that the good shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him (see Jn 10:14-15). “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 men be understood... going to seek them out, being open to their needs and questions... 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.”

The third is: 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 (Jn 10:16). And the Pope concludes: “Obviously, a priest, a pastor of souls, must first and foremost be concerned with those who believe and live with the Church... 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.”[15]

In this context, some words of St. Josemaría seem very significant to me, which point to the error of those who “think that Christians want to see the priest as just another man. That is not so. They want to find in the priest those virtues proper to every Christian and, indeed, every honorable man: understanding, justice, a life of work—priestly work, in this instance—and good manners. But the faithful also want to be able to recognize clearly the priestly character.”[16]

And he went on to specify what is implicit in these words: “they expect the priest to pray, not to refuse to administer the sacraments; they expect him to be open to everyone and not set himself up to take charge of people or become an aggressive leader of human factions, of whatever shade (see Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 6). They expect him to bring love and devotion to the celebration of the Holy Mass, to sit in the confessional, to console the sick and the troubled; to teach sound doctrine to children and adults, to preach the Word of God and no mere human science which—no matter how well he may know it—is not the knowledge that saves and brings eternal life; they expect him to give counsel and be charitable to those in need.”[17]

These considerations lead us to the third part of our exposition.

3. Key points of priestly ministry

In speaking of the ministry of priests, the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis highlights, in relation to the tria munera Christi, the ministry of the word, that of the sacraments, and that of governing the People of God.

a) Ministry of the word

The Christian community, as the Conciliar decree explains, is “joined together primarily by the word of the living God. And rightfully they expect this from their priests. Since no one can be saved who does not first believe, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.”[18] Priests, therefore, have the essential duty of transmitting the “word of God,” so that the faith can reach all men and women of every race and condition. This duty is founded on Christ’s command to his apostles and to those who have to continue their mission in time, to proclaim the “Gospel,” the “Good News” of the Kingdom established with his coming. The Apostle to the Gentiles understood this very clearly, when he says: If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor 9:16).

This is not the moment to consider carefully the way of carrying out the ministry of the word, a task that—depending on the circumstances of persons, places and times—can take quite varied forms, among which the homily has a principal role. But I think it is very important to stress that the priest, as sent by Jesus to announce the Gospel message, needs to foster a “holy restlessness”[19] to bring to all souls the faith and love of God, including whatever gives meaning and direction to human life, in view of eternal happiness, always doing so with attractive language imbued with abundant truth.

I referred earlier to the reputation St. Josemaría had as a good preacher already back in the 1940’s, reflected in the fact that many bishops called on him to preach retreats to the priests in their dioceses.[20] In this regard, Bishop Álvaro del Portillo recalled a comment by Fr. Luciano Pérez Platero who would in time become Archbishop of Burgos. When he was Bishop of Segovia, he attended a retreat for the clergy, and at the end he felt obliged to say a few words of gratitude to the preacher. Among other things he said: “Fr. Josemaría’s words always leave a wound: sometimes with a Toledo sword, other times with a hand grenade.”

It seems to me that this comment illustrates very well the “holy restlessness” that every priest should stir up in the souls of the faithful by his preaching. It is not a question of eloquence or human wisdom—although one should try to cultivate these—but rather a work of the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete makes use of the interior life and preparation of the priests to produce these good reactions in souls.

Let me return to that retreat in Alacuás to which I referred above. The protagonist of the story tells us that, upon hearing the words of the Founder of Opus Dei, she experienced a deep supernatural uneasiness. She realized that our Lord was inviting her to give her whole life in the middle of the world; but her first reaction was one of self-defense, of wanting to stifle the voice that was reaching her heart through the priest’s words. When the moment came for preaching on the Passion of our Lord, St. Josemaría invited those attending to consider the scenes as though present there personally: “I suffered all of this for you. You, since you don’t want to do what he is asking you, should at least have the courage to look at the tabernacle and tell him: ‘That—what you’re asking of me—I don’t feel like doing.’”[21]

The outcome of that interior battle was clear. That woman decided she too wanted to do Opus Dei and, together with some other young women, formed the first stable nucleus of women of the Work. On February 14 this year, it will be exactly eighty years since the day on which our Lord put that task into St. Josemaría’s soul, and therefore I venture to ask you for your prayers that this ferment of sanctity continue being very effective in the lives of Christians.

We can draw a lesson from these episodes. For the voice of Christ, who speaks in his Church, to resound faithfully in oneself and in others, the priest has to strive to grow constantly in intimacy with God. Therefore, he has to dedicate the time needed to meditating on the word of God and preparing with great care his preaching in its various forms. The transmission of the word of God demands, as St. Josemaría insisted, “interior life: we have to speak to others about holy things; ex abundantia enim cordis, os loquitur (Mt12:34); out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. And together with interior life, study... Study, doctrine that we incorporate into our own life, and that only thus we will know how to give to others in the most suitable way, accommodating ourselves to their needs and circumstances with the gift of tongues.”[22]

b) Ministry of the sacraments

Let us recall how the Second Vatican Council describes the institution of the ministerial priesthood: the Lord appointed “ministers who, within the society of the faithful are able by the sacred power of orders to offer sacrifice and to forgive sins.”[23]

The sanctifying mission of priests is shown principally in the celebration of two sacraments: the Eucharist and Penance. On the altar the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary, source of the Church’s life, is made present, and in sacramental Confession, auricular and secret, there takes place that great encounter of Christ with each soul, for the forgiveness of sins. The celebration of these two sacraments, explained St. Josemaría, “has so important a part in the priest’s mission that everything should hinge on it. Other priestly tasks, such as preaching and giving instruction in the faith, would lack solid foundation if they were not aimed at teaching people to relate to Christ, to meet him in the loving tribunal of penance and in the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, the Mass.”[24]

This is why many holy priests in the Church—and today they exist too—have made the Holy Sacrifice present every day and have tried to dedicate all the hours possible in their day to the celebration of the sacrament of Penance, as is seen clearly in the life of the Curé of Ars. We should never lose sight of the fact that this holy patron of confessors, although the revolutionary storm of his time tried to eliminate any vestige of religious practice, “sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence.”[25]

As far as the Eucharistic Sacrifice is concerned, it seems to me very opportune in this context to reread these other words from Benedict XVI: “In the Eucharistic mystery, Christ gives himself ever anew, and it is precisely in the Eucharist that we learn the love of Christ, and hence love for the Church. I therefore repeat with you, dear brothers in the priesthood, the unforgettable words of John Paul II: ‘Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of every day of my life.’ And each one of us should be able to say these words as if they were his own: ‘Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of my every day’.”[26]

Yes, the Mass has to be for all of us “the center and root of our interior life,” as St. Josemaría used to tell all the faithful.[27] But we have to carry out an intense work of catechesis, of formation and orientation in what refers to sacramental life, with our example and our words. Together with this, he would add, we have to take great care of the house of God and the liturgical art that enriches it, so that everything is done with the greatest dignity and one carries out a worship worthy of God: His “house,” Scripture tells us, has to be a house of prayer for all nations (Mk 11:17).

We priests also have to put great care into Eucharistic worship outside of Mass, in our relations with Jesus in the tabernacle. There comes to my mind another event in the life of the Founder of Opus Dei, which throws a lot of light on this point. It happened in the year 1974, towards the end of his life on this earth, during a long pastoral visit to various countries in South America. One day St. Josemaría was shown some slides of Peru; among others, there was one that showed the effects of an avalanche, a collapse of earth typical in the Andean countries, which had buried a village. One could only see the upper part of the bell tower of the church. When he was told that the Eucharist was reserved in that small church, since it had not been possible to remove it before the avalanche, St. Josemaría was deeply moved. The thought of that tabernacle buried beneath many feet of mud, in which our Lord was all alone, prevented him from sleeping that night. He spent the night in vigil, accompanying the Most Blessed Sacrament in his heart, making many acts of love and spiritual communions.

c) Governing the people of God

Priests have also received the ministry of governing the people of God, participating in the authority of Christ the Head and Shepherd. This spiritual power is granted for the good of souls (see 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10). In this task—as the Second Vatican Council reminds us—“priests must treat all with exceptional kindness in imitation of the Lord. They should act toward men, not as seeking to please them, but in accord with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. They should teach them and admonish them as beloved sons (see 1 Cor 4:14), according to the words of the Apostle: ‘Be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine’ (2 Tim 4:2).”[28]

This charitable behavior should be shown in many different aspects of a priest’s life. I will recall only a few here: not being concerned about one’s own interests, but those of Jesus Christ (see Phil 2:21); imitating Christ who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28); recognizing and sincerely fostering the role that corresponds to every Christian in the Church’s mission; fully respecting the rightful freedom that all men and women have in human society; discerning with the help of grace the various charisms, accepting them with joy when they come from God and fostering them diligently, especially those that lead to a deeper spiritual life. In short, in words from Presbyterorum Ordinis: “Priests have been placed in the midst of the laity to lead them to the unity of charity, ‘loving one another with fraternal love, eager to give one another precedence’ (Rom 12:10)... They are united by a special solicitude with those who have fallen away from the use of the sacraments, or perhaps even from the faith. Indeed, as good shepherds, they should not cease from going out to them.”[29]

4. Primacy of grace in priestly life

As I begin the last part of this presentation, I would like to read some words of the Pope from another gathering with priests, this time in the diocese of Albano.

“The time we set aside for prayer is not time taken from our pastoral responsibility but is precisely pastoral “work”; it is also praying for others. In the “Common of Pastors,”one reads as a typical feature of the good pastor that “multum oravit pro fratribus.” This is proper to the pastor, that he should be a man of prayer, that he should come before the Lord praying for others, even replacing others who perhaps do not know how to pray, do not want to pray or do not make the time to pray. Thus, it is obvious that this dialogue with God is pastoral work!”[30]

And referring to the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Altar and the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, he added: “The Church gives us, imposes upon us—but always like a good Mother—the obligation to make free time for God with the two practices that constitute a part of our duties: the celebration of Holy Mass and the recitation of the Breviary. However, rather than reciting it, this means putting it into practice by listening to the word which the Lord offers us in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is essential to interiorize this word, to be attentive to what the Lord is saying to me with this word, to listen, then, to the comments of the Fathers of the Church or also of the Council in the Second Reading of the Office of Readings, and to pray with this great invocation, the Psalms, by which we are inserted into the prayer of all the ages... I would say that this time dedicated to the Liturgy of the Hours is precious time.”[31]

Priestly piety entails a deep conversation with God the Father through Jesus Christ in union with the Holy Spirit, nourished at the founts of the word of God and the Holy Eucharist, and imbued with a tender devotion to our Lady, Mother of the High Priest and Queen of apostles. St. Paul understood this very well when, in his letter to Timothy he wrote: Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe (1 Tim 4:7-10).

Certainly, for this spirit of piety to take root interior peace is needed: For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor 14:33). The grace of the sacrament of Penance is a marvelous source of this peace, which stems from the holy struggle to avoid what St. Paul calls the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19), and from striving to cultivate the fruits that, as St. Paul also says, the Holy Spirit brings to birth us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

Priestly piety, in short, requires strengthening our faith, hope and love, placing all our trust in God, with true filial devotion, for we are really his sons in Jesus Christ. This is a joyful truth that has to guide us continually. Every event in our life comes from God’s goodness; and even when we confront what is humanly painful, when we can’t understand it, we know that God permits it out of his goodness, to bring forth a greater good.

The Second Vatican Council asks us priests to “holily and eagerly, humbly and courageously carry out [our] ministry, in imitation of the eternal High Priest, the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.”[32] For this we need a strong unity of life, an expression St. Josemaría frequently used. As he liked to repeat, in one way or another: “There is only one life, made of flesh and spirit. And it is that life which has to become, in both body and soul, holy and filled with God.”[33] Applying these words to our priestly life, I would say that it is a matter of seeking to grow in love for God and neighbor through the daily exercise of our ministry, at times in humble and hidden tasks, which are always transformed by grace into a joyful path of holiness and service to others.

I want to conclude with some other words of the Founder of Opus Dei, who so loyally incarnated the figure of the Eternal High Priest: “The priest, if he has a true priestly spirit, if he is a man of interior life, can never feel alone. No one can have a heart so much in love as his! He is the “man of Love,” the representative among mankind of Love made man. He lives through Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ. I am deeply moved by this divine reality when, each day, holding in my hands and raising the Chalice and the Sacred Host, I repeat slowly, savoring them, these words from the canon: Per Ipsum, et cum Ipso et in Ipso… Through Him, with Him, in Him, for Him and for souls I live. I am living from his Love and for his Love, in spite of my personal miseries. And in spite of these miseries, perhaps because of them, my Love is a love that is renewed every day.”[34]

Let us ask Mary Most Holy, Mother of Fairest Love, Mother of Priests, to obtain these sentiments for us from the Blessed Trinity.

[1] St. Josemaría, The Forge, no. 46.

[2] Vatican II, decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 2.

[3] Ibid., See Dogmatic Const. Lumen Gentium, no. 35.

[4] Among other testimonies, it is especially gratifying to me to recall some words that the Servant of God John Paul II pronounced during a homily, in the first months after his election to the chair of St. Peter. The Holy Father told a group of faithful of Opus Dei: “Your institution has as its goal the sanctification of life while remaining in the world, in your own work and profession: to live the Gospel in the world, immersed in the world, in order to transform it and redeem it with the love of Christ. This ideal of yours is truly a great one, which from its beginning anticipated the theology of the laity that later characterized the Church of the Council and the post-Council” (John Paul II, Homily, August 19, 1979, in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, II/2 [1979] 142-147). Many other figures in the Church have expressed similar sentiments, including Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio (in Avvenire, Milan July 26, 1975); Cardinal Josef Frings (Für die Menschen bestellt: Erinnerungen des Alterzbischofs von Köln, Cologne, 1973, pp. 149-150); Cardinal Franz König (Corriere Della Sera, Milan, September 9, 1975); Cardinal Marcelo González Martín (Los Domingos de ABC, Madrid, August 14, 1975); Cardinal Narcís Jubany (ABC, Madrid, April 8, 1979); Cardinal Joseph Höffner (Mundo Cristiano, no. 201 (October 1979), etc. Also see Amadeo de Fuenmayor, Valentin Gómez-Iglesias, Jose Luis Illanes, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei, Scepter-MTF, Princeton - Chicago 1989, pp. 347-348.

[5] Vatican II, decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 2b.

[6] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1545.

[7] St. Josemaría, Christ Is Passing By, no. 95.

[8] Ibid., no. 101.

[9] See St. Josemaría, Homily “A Priest Forever,” April 13, 1973.

[10] Decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 1.

[11] Benedict XVI, Address to the clergy of Rome, May 13, 2005.

[12] Cited in Andrés Vázquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei, Scepter, New York, 2003, vol. 2, pp. 394-395. This episode was cited by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in an address on the 30th anniversary of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, to point out how the personal piety of a priest is very important for bringing souls to God (cf. Joseph Ratzinger, Il ministero e la vita dei presbiteri, October 27, 1995 (Studi Cattolici 423 [May 1996]). [pp. 324-332]).

[13] St. Josemaría, Conversations, no. 59.

[14] Benedict XVI, Address to the clergy of Rome, May 13, 2005.

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

[16] St. Josemaría, Homily “A Priest Forever,” April 13, 1973 (in In Love with the Church, no. 42).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 4a

[19] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily during the Mass pro eligendo Pontifice, April 18, 2005.

[20] His biographers relate that there were years in which more than a thousand priests passed through his hands in various retreats. See the partial enumeration of the preaching of St. Josemaría between 1938 and 1946, the date of his move to Rome, in Andrés Vázquez de Prada, cit., pp. 508-513.

[21] See Vázquez de Prada, op. cit., p. 395.

[22] St. Josemaría, Letter of August 8, 1956, no. 25.

[23] Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 2b.

[24] St. Josemaría, Homily “A Priest Forever,” April 13, 1973. In In Love with the Church, no. 43.

[25] Benedict XVI, Letter convoking a Year for Priests, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the dies natalis of the Holy Curé of Ars. June 16, 2009.

[26] Benedict XVI, Address to the clergy of Rome, May 13, 2005. See John Paul II, Address on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, October 27, 1995.

[27] See among other places Christ Is Passing By, nos. 87 and 102; The Forge, no. 69; the homily “A Priest Forever,” April 13, 1973.

[28] Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 6.

[29] Ibid., no. 9.

[30] Benedict XVI, Meeting with priests of the Diocese of Albano, August 31, 2006.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Vatican II, Dogmatic Const. Lumen Gentium, no. 41.

[33] St. Josemaría, Conversations, no. 114.

[34] St. Josemaría, Notes taken at a family gathering, April 10, 1969 (AGP. P01, 1969, p. 502. Cit. in Javier Echevarría, Para servir a la Iglesia. Homilias sobre el sacerdocio, Rialp 2001, p. 243.

Romana, n. 50, January-June 2010, p. 96-108.

Send to friend