Vatican City, 20 November 2015 (VIS) – The Congregation for the Clergy, whose prefect is Cardinal Beniamino Stella, has organised a congress at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Vatican Council II decrees “Optatum totius” and “Presbyterorum ordinis”, dedicated to the formation of priests. At the closing of the Congress Pope Francis received the participants in audience this morning in the Sala Regia. The following are extensive extracts of his address.
“Given that the vocation to the priesthood is a gift that God gives to some for the good of all, I would like to share with you some thoughts, starting form the relationship between priests and other people, following on from no.3 of 'Presbyterorum ordinis', in which there is a little compendium of the theology of priesthood, from the Letter to the Hebrews: 'Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers' amid brothers. Let us consider these three moments: 'taken from among men', 'ordained for men', and present among other men”.
“The priest is a man who is born in a certain human context: there he learns the primary values, absorbs the spirituality of the people, grows accustomed to relations. Priests also have a history, they are not 'mushrooms' that suddenly appear in the Cathedral on the day of their ordination. It is important for formators and priests themselves to remember this and to know how to take into account this personal history along the path of formation. … A good priest, therefore, is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its riches and its wounds, who has learned to make peace with this, achieving the fundamental serenity proper to one of the Lord's disciples. Human formation is therefore a necessity for priests, so that they learn not to be dominate by their limits, but rather to put their talents to use”.
“We priests are apostles of joy: we announce the Gospel, which is the quintessential 'good news'; we certainly do not give strength to the Gospel – some believe this – but we can favour or hinder the encounter between the Gospel and people. Our humanity is a the clay vase in which we conserve God's treasure, a vase we must take care of, so as to transmit well its valuable contents”.
“A priest cannot lose his roots: he always remains a man of the people and the culture that have produced him; our roots help us to remember who we are and to where Christ has called us. We priests do not fall from above but are instead called by God, who takes us 'from among men', to 'ordain us for men'. This is the second step”.
“Responding to God's call, we become priests to serve our brothers and sisters. The images of Christ we take as a point of reference for our ministry as priests are clear: He is the 'Supreme Priest', at the time close to God and close to man; He is the 'Servant', Who washes the feet and makes Himself close to the weakest; and He is the 'Good Shepherd', Who always cares for His flock”.
“They are the three images we must look to, thinking of the ministry of priests, sent to serve men, to bring God's mercy to them, to announce His Word of life. We are not priests for ourselves, and our own sanctification is closely linked to that of our people, our anointment with theirs. You have been anointed for your people. Knowing and remembering that we are ordained for the people, the holy people of God, helps priests not to think of themselves, to be authoritative and not authoritarian, firm but not hard, joyful but not superficial: in short, pastors, not functionaries. St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, said that where there is mercy, there is the spirit of the Lord; where there is rigidity there are only His ministers. The minister without the Lord becomes rigid, and this is a danger for the people of God”.
“Finally, what is born with the people must stay with the people. The priests is always among other men: he is not a professional of pastoral ministry or evangelisation, who arrives and does what he is supposed to do – perhaps well, but as if it were a profession like any other – before then going away and living a separate life. One becomes a priest in order to stay in the midst of the people. The good that priests can do arises above all from their closeness and their tender love for people. They are not philanthropists or functionaries, but fathers and brothers”.