To Know, To Love, To Lead
The Rite of Priestly Ordination provides an optional homily that is often used, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that Benedict XVI laid it completely aside.
The following is the Whispers translation of what he came up with.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
dear brothers and sisters!
This Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally called "Good Shepherd," recalls for us, gathered here in this Vatican Basilica, a particular significance. It's an absolutely singular day above all for you, dear Deacons, on whom, as Bishop and Pastor of Rome, I am happy to confer priestly Ordination. And so you will become part of our "presbyterium." Together with the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops and the priests of the Diocese, I thank the Lord for the gift of your priesthood, which enriches our Community with 22 new Shepherds.
The theological density of this brief Gospel passage, which was just proclaimed, helps us to better perceive the sense and worth of this solemn Celebration. Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd who gives eternal life to his sheep (cf Jn 10:28). The shepherd is an image well-rooted in the Old Testament and dear to the Christian tradition. The title of "shepherd of Israel" became attributed by the Prophets to the future descendant of David, and so took on an indubitable messianic relevance (cf Ez 34:23). Jesus is the true Shepherd of Israel, in which he is the Son of man who wished to share the condition of human beings to give them new life and lead them to salvation. Significantly, to the word "shepherd" the evangelist joins the adjective kalós -- "good" -- which he uses only in reference to Jesus and to his mission. Also in the account of the wedding of Cana the adjective kalós was called upon twice to connote the wine offered by Jesus and is easy to see in this the symbol of the good wine of the messianic temples (cf Jn 2:10).
"I give them (my sheep) eternal life and they shall never perish" (Jn 10:28). Thus affirms Jesus, who first had said: "The good shepherd offers his life for his sheep" (Jn 10:11). John uses the verb tithénai -- to offer, repeating it in the following verses (15,17,18); this same verb we find in the account of the Last Supper, when Jesus "took off" his garments to then "put them back on" (cf Jn 13:4, 12). It's clear that he wishes in this way to affirm that the Redeemer disposes of his own life with absolute freedom, so to be able to offer it and therefore take it up again freely. Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep -- for us -- pouring himself out on the Cross. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him, as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father (Jn 10:14-15). It isn't spoken of as mere intellectual knowledge, but as a profound personal relationship; a knowledge of heart, that of he who loves and who is loved; of he who is faithful and who knows himself to be able to trust; a knowledge of love in virtue of which the Shepherd invites his own to follow him, and which is manifested fully in the gift of eternal life he makes for them (cf Jn 10:27-28).
Dear Ordinandi, may the certainty that Christ doesn't abandon us and no obstacle can block the realization of his universal plan of salvation be for you an impetus of constant consolation -- even in days of difficulty -- and of steadfast hope. The goodness of the Lord is always with you and is strong. The Sacrament of Orders that you are to receive will make you participants of the same mission of Christ; you are called to scatter the seed of his Word -- the seed that bears in itself the Kingdom of God -- to spread the divine mercy and to nourish the faithful at the table of his Body and Blood. To be his worthy ministers you must feed yourselves incessantly with the Eucharist, source and summit of the Christian life. Drawing near to the altar, your daily school of holiness, of communion with Jesus, the way of entering into His feelings; drawing near to the altar to renew the sacrifice of the Cross, you will always find ever more the richness and tenderness of the love of the divine Teacher, who today calls you to a more intimate friendship with Him. If you listen docilely, if you follow him faithfully, you will learn to translate into your life and pastoral ministry his love and his passion for the salvation of souls. Each one of you, dear Ordinandi, will become with the help of Jesus a good shepherd, prepared to give, if necessary, even your own life for Him.
So it was at the beginning of Christianity with the first disciples, for, as we've heard in the first Reading, the Gospel began to spread amid consolations and difficulties. It's worth underscoring the final words of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles that we've heard: "The disciples were full of joy and of the Holy Spirit" (13:52). Despite incomprehensions and differences, the apostle of Christ did not lose joy, or rather is the witness of that joy that springs from being with the Lord, from love for Him and for his brothers. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which this year takes as its theme "vocation in service of the Church in communion," let us pray that those chosen for this high mission may be accompanied by the communal prayer of all the faithful.
Let us pray that there might grow in each parish and Christian community an attention for vocations and for the formation of priests: this begins in the family, continues in the seminary and involves all those who've taken to heart the salvation of souls. Dear brothers and sisters who participate in this auspicious celebration, and first of all you, parents, relatives and friends of these 22 Deacons who shortly will be ordained priests! Let us surround them, our brothers in the Lord, with our spiritual solidarity. Let us pray that they might be faithful to the mission to which, today, the Lord calls them and that they might be ready to renew each day their "yes" to God, their "here I am" without reserve. And let us ask the Father of the masses, on this Day for Vocations, that he might continue to sustain many and holy priests, totally given to the service of the Christian people.
In this most solemn and important moment of your lives, dear Ordinandi, I address myself with affection to you. To you today Jesus repeats: "I no longer call you servants, but friends." Welcome and cultivate this divine friendship with "eucharistic love"! May Mary, the heavenly Mother of Priests, accompany you; may She, who under the Cross united herself to the Sacrifice of her Son and, after the Resurrection, in the Cenacle together with the Apostles and the other disciples welcomed the spirit, help you and each one of us, dear brothers in the Priesthood, to allow ourselves to transform internally by the grace of God. Only so is it possible to be for us to be faithful images of the Good Shepherd; only so can one develop with joy the mission of knowing, leading and loving the sheep who Jesus won at the cost of his blood. Amen!
PHOTOS: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi