At the Priestly Ordination of Deacons of the Prelature, St. Eugene’s Basilica, Rome, May 14, 2011

My dear brothers and sisters. Dear ordinands:

I think that the hearts of all of us are filled with joy at the priestly ordination that these brothers of ours are about to receive. While they were being called by name and answered with the adsum!—here I am!— there came to my mind the moment when Jesus told his apostles: follow me! (He said the same thing to that young man who did not know how to be generous.) Christ’s face was joyful, filled with happiness, when someone truly decided to follow him. Let us pray for these brothers of ours, so that they be very faithful and respond “here I am!” to all the calls that our Lord will direct to them in their priestly ministry. They will certainly be good shepherds because God’s grace will not fail them.

The image of the shepherd is an important part of biblical and Christian tradition. Already in the Old Testament, the kings, those who protected the people, were called shepherds, following an ancient custom in the Middle East. Moses too, whom God put at the head of his people to free them from slavery in Egypt, had worked as a shepherd, and the same is true of David, whom God himself chose with the promise that from his descendants would come the Messiah. And in the times of the Babylonian exile, the prophets announced that the Lord himself, in his great love, would be the one who would guide the people with knowledge and understanding (see Jer 3:15), through the shepherds he would give them.

These were all allusions, more or less clear, to Christ, our Shepherd, who ascended the cross to give his life for us. St. Peter, as we heard in the second reading, said: “He committed no sin, no guile was found on his lips... He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:22-24).

During Easter time we commemorate Christ’s victory. Today, I repeat, we thank him with all our heart, because—besides redeeming us—he wanted his Church to have, by means of a specific sacrament, good shepherds who would administer the sacraments to us on the path of our life. Jesus himself, through the bishops and priests, continues now on earth his saving mission, dispensing the grace that he merited for us on the Cross. “By his wounds,” St. Peter concludes in the second reading of the Mass, “you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Pet 2:24-25).

How efficacious the Cross of our Lord is! Looking now at the Crucifix, we renew our promise of fidelity, thanking him and telling him that we do not want to leave him alone. As St. Josemaría so often told us: “To be a Christian, and in particular to be a priest—bearing in mind, too, that all of us who are baptized share in Christ’s priesthood—is to be at all times on the Cross.”[1] This is not a tragedy, because it is the path he chose to restore to us the happiness we had lost through sin.

2. A few years ago, when administering the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Benedict XVI highlighted this marvelous passage of the Gospel of the Good Shepherd that we have just heard. Let us pray for him every day; let us pray right now for the Pope, so that our Lord will assist him in governing the whole Church, striving to help all humanity. The Holy Father on that occasion said: “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.”[2] I ask you once more for prayers for these priests who will be ordained in a few moments; and let us also pray for all the priests of the world. May not a single one be without the help of our prayers, of our remembrance, of our assistance.

In the first place, the Gospel tells us that the Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. This means that “the mystery of the Cross,” as the Pope says, “is at the center 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.”[3] Where? In the Holy Mass. For what is the Holy Mass but the presence of the Sacrifice of Calvary, which is renewed sacramentally on our altars through the mediation of priests? Therefore, my deacon sons, from this moment on, renew the resolution (which you have already made as Christians) to follow closely, very closely the example of our Lord. From today on, the daily celebration of the Eucharist has to be in a special way for you the central moment of each day, the center and root of your life, of every day of your earthly path. May your life be founded on the Eucharistic Jesus.

There come to mind (I have them written down here) some words of St. Josemaría, who passionately loved the priesthood and his brothers in the priesthood: “A priest who says the Mass in this way — adoring, atoning, pleading, giving thanks, identifying himself with Christ and who teaches others to make the Sacrifice of the altar the center and root of the Christian life really will show the incomparable value of his vocation, the value of that character with which he has been stamped and which he will never lose.”[4]

The Good Shepherd—the Pope added, following the Gospel—knows his sheep and they know him. This is the second characteristic stressed by Jesus. The Church, my sons, confers on you the mission of serving all souls, and specifically, in a special way, the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, for whose service you are today receiving priestly ordination. You have entered the sheepfold by “the gate,” which is Jesus Christ himself, through the special identification with him conferred in the Sacrament of priestly orders. And this places upon you the duty of being concerned about the souls entrusted to you, one by one.

Recall the advice given by our Father, who prayed so much for you, for his priest sons: “We have to be the canvas, which isn’t seen, so that the others can stand out with the fine gold embroidery of their virtues; you have to know how to place yourselves in the corner, so that your brothers can shine with their sanctified professional work in the world, and you can say: pro eis sanctifico meipsum, ut sint et ipsi sanctificati in veritate (Jn 17:19); out of love for them I sanctify myself, so that they may be sanctified in truth.”[5]

3. A holy concern for the pusillus grex, for the little flock that the Church is entrusting to you, leads to the third characteristic highlighted by the Pope: love for unity. St. Josemaría insisted a great deal that priests have to be instruments of unity. Exercise your ministry with this characteristic so fitting for a good shepherd, that you are vigilant for everyone, without distinctions. And also be closely united to the Roman Pontiff and to the pastors of the diocese where you carry out your ministry. Here in Rome, we also pray for the Cardinal Vicar.

Like the other priests of Opus Dei, don’t limit yourself to taking care of the spiritual needs of your sisters and brothers, and of the souls who come to you. Your heart, united to the Heart of Jesus, should urge you to go further, to be available for everyone, going to seek them out.

As St. Josemaría said so clearly: “Thus you will always be instruments of unity and cohesion: with you supernatural outlook on life, with your prayer, with the constant example of your diligent priestly work, with your kind charity, with your mortification, with your devotion to our Lady, with your joy and peace.”[6]

I congratulate with my whole heart the parents, brothers, sisters and relatives of the new priests: you will now have a specially qualified intercessor with our Lord. At the same time, we all have to pray for them more than before, because the responsibility they have taken on is great. I asked you before not to leave Jesus on his own. I also ask you that you don’t leave these brothers of ours on their own, now that they have begun this path of being Christ on earth, through the priestly ministry.

Let us pray that God send abundant priestly vocations, also to the Roman Seminary. Let us ask this of the Blessed Trinity today and every day, through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Father recommended, and I will end with this: “Pray that they may be cheerful, hard working, effective; that they may be well trained: and that they may sacrifice themselves joyfully for their brothers, without feeling that they are victims.”[7]

We are now in the month of May. How many things have we told our Lady! How often we have asked her to help us, as the Mother of God and our Mother! Let us entrust to Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, the fidelity and holiness of these sons of hers. May she protect them and accompany them always. May Jesus Christ be praised.

[1] St. Josemaría, The Forge, no. 882.

[2] Benedict XVI, Homily, May 7, 2006.

[3] Ibid.

[4] St. Josemaría, homily “A Priest Forever,” in In Love with the Church,” no. 49.

[5] St. Josemaría, Letter August 8, 1956, no. 8.

[6] Ibid.

[7] St. Josemaría, The Forge, no. 910.

Romana, n. 52, January-June 2011, p. 67-70.

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