VATICAN - AVE MARIA: Mgr Luciano Alimandi -
Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - All over the world thanks to impulse given by the Holy Father Benedict XVI with the indiction of a Year of the Priesthood, diocesan and ecclesial realities are launching initiatives to rediscover and re-valorise the identity of the priest and the consequent mission of the priest in the Church. The mission of Jesus, as we see from the Gospel, is realised in a special way by the apostles and disciples whom Jesus sends out into the world to proclaim the Good News (cfr. Mk 16, 15). Therefore the root of every genuine call to the priesthood, must necessarily be a call from Jesus: "you did not choose me, I chose you!" (Jn 15, 16)
Before “choosing” to become a priest, a man must first of all realize that he has been chosen by Christ. Jesus alone chooses and calls and this he does through the mediation of the Church. A genuine vocation is not simply intuition, it needs to be nourished and grafted onto the centuries old tree of the Church.
Developing awareness that Jesus is calling us, usually demands a period of discernment which can be short or long. It is necessary to become aware of a sublime truth: Jesus is calling me to become, like Him, a priest! Without a suitable journey which usually begins in the family, the domestic Church, how could a man discover this truth which brings about a total change in his life?
The words "follow me" (cfr. Mt 9, 9; Mk 10, 21; Lk 9, 59; Jn 1, 43) which Jesus first said to humble men, some old, some young, who became the Lord's first apostles, brings with it enormous consequences. In fact, a priest is a p
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riest for ever!
The call to the priesthood is so lofty that those called are never the same again. The human, intellectual and spiritual maturity of the call must necessarily grow, from the day of ordination, all through life, otherwise the priest will inevitable regress compromising his vocation to holiness.
Water which does not flow, stagnates, this is why Jesus speaks of "living water", meaning the life of grace, a gift of the Holy Spirit, which believers in Him receive (cfr. Jn 7, 38). This is an inalterable law of the spirit: unless we “rise” we “fall”, unless we progress in virtue (good habits) we regress in vice (bad habits). This explains the importance of “continual formation” for priests which requires no less effort than first formation in view of Holy Orders.
Obviously, due to the intensity of the effort demanded, before and after ordination, a priest may grow weary: praying, keeping watch, loving, trusting, giving of self… but Divine Providence helps us in many different ways. If we are persons of humility we will recognise this help and it will “raise” us above all human concerns, diabolic temptations, selfish individualist logic … To avoid “falling”, as Christians and as priests, we must first of all have a heart which is free, free of the burden of worldliness, a heart ever lighter, and which ascends ever higher”.
Only God's love can uplift, broaden horizons, purify mind and heart from all that darkens and corrupts; God's love is also “fire”. As Jesus said: "I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already burning!" (Lk 12, 49). If we are to become children of the light (cfr. Gv 12, 36) we need the “fire” of the Spirit and fire, obviously, burns since it must purify and heal all that is sinful in us. This process is not always completed here on earth, but for those who will be saved, it will continue in Purgatory the place of burning fire, a fire of love because Purgatory is the Place of Love which purifies, as it was wonderfully understood by Saint Catherine of Genoa.
If we wish to experience divine love which transforms, we should imitate the Saints, first of all the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the Apostles. What did they do which was so extraordinary? They took the Gospel seriously and, like St. Francis, lived it “sine glossa”, unconditionally!
Unless we take the Gospel seriously we cannot take Jesus seriously. Jesus left one Gospel and one Church as the faithful custodian of the Truth, following the one living Tradition, which offers us the one and the same message: salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, and Jesus cannot be halved, reduced, diluted or relativised … we either take Him as he is, or we lose Him!
Genuine priestly holiness consists, therefore, in imitating Christ, desiring to be transformed in Him: humanly impossible, but do we not believe in God who works miracles?
The Holy Father in the Year of the Priesthood has raised up as a model for all priests, St Jean Marie Vienney, a living example of Christ. After venerating the relic of the Saint's heart in St Peter's Basilica on 19 June, the Holy Father
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told priests: "A few moments ago, in the Choir Chapel, I was able to venerate the relic of the saintly Curé of Ars: his heart. A heart that blazed with divine love, experienced amazement at the thought of the dignity of the priest, and spoke to the faithful in touching and sublime tones, telling them that “after God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is” (cf. Letter for the Year for Priests, p. 3). Dear brothers, let us cultivate this same amazement…The Church needs holy priests…let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest afire with that “pastoral charity” which can make him one in heart and mind with Jesus the High Priest, and thus to imitate Jesus in complete self-giving. May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Heart we shall contemplate with lively faith tomorrow, obtain this grace for us. The Curé of Ars had a filial devotion to Mary, a devotion so profound that in 1836, in anticipation of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he dedicated his parish to Mary “conceived without sin”. He frequently renewed this offering of the parish to the Blessed Virgin, teaching his parishioners that “to be heard it is enough to speak to her”, for the simple reason that she “desires above all else to see us happy” (Benedict XVI, homily 19 June 2009).
(Agenzia Fides 17/7/2009; righe 73, parole 1,034)