S. John Paul II Homil. 159
1. "Peace be with you !"
These were the first words that Jesus spoke to his Apostles after his Resurrection. With these words the Risen Christ restored peace to their hearts, at a time when they were still in a state of shock after the first terrible experience of Good Friday. Tonight, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of his Spirit, in the midst of a world that is anxious about its own existence, I repeat these words to you, for they are words of life: "Peace be with you !"
Jesus does not merely give us peace. He gives us his Peace accompanied by his Justice. He is Peace and Justice. He becomes our Peace and our Justice.
What does this mean? It means that Jesus Christ—the Son of God made man, the perfect man—perfects, restores and manifests in himself the unsurpassable dignity that God wishes to give to man from the beginning. He is the one who realizes in himself what man has the vocation to be: the one who is fully reconciled with the Father, fully one in himself, fully devoted to others. Jesus Christ is living Peace and living Justice.
Jesus Christ makes us sharers in what he is. Through his Incarnation, the Son of God in a certain manner united himself with every human being. In our inmost being he has recreated us; in our inmost being he has reconciled us with God, reconciled us with ourselves, reconciled us with our brothers and sisters: he is our Peace.
2. What unfathomable riches we bear within us, and in our Christian communities! We are bearers of the Justice and Peace of God! We are not primarily painstaking builders of a justice and peace that are merely human, always wearing out and always fragile. We are primarily the humble beneficiaries of the very life of God, who is Justice and Peace in the bond of Charity. During Mass, when the priest greets us with these words: "the peace of the Lord be with you always", let us think primarily of this Peace which is God's gift : Jesus Christ our Peace. And when, before Communion, the priest invites us to give one another a sign of peace, let us think primarily of the fact that we are invited to exchange with one another the Peace of Christ, who dwells within us, who invites us to share in his Body and Blood, for our joy and for the service of all humanity.
For God's Justice and Peace cry out to bear fruit in human works of justice and peace, in all the spheres of actual life. When we Christians make Jesus Christ the center of our feelings and thoughts, we do not turn away from people and their needs. On the contrary, we are caught up in the eternal movement of God's love that comes to meet us; we are caught up in the movement of the Son, who came among us, who became one of us; we are caught up in the movement of the Holy Spirit, who visits the poor, calms fevered hearts, binds up wounded hearts, warms cold hearts, and gives us the fullness of his gifts. The reason why man is the primary and fundamental way for the Church is that the Church walks in the footsteps of Jesus: it is Jesus who has shown her this road. This road passes in an unchangeable way through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption; it leads from Christ to man. The Church looks at the world through the very eyes of Christ; Jesus is the principle of her solicitude for man (cf. Redemptor Hominis RH 13-18).
161 3. The task is immense. And it is an enthralling one. I have just emphasized various aspects of it before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and I shall touch upon others during my apostolic journey across your country. Today, let me just dwell on the spirit and nature of the Church's contribution to the cause of Justice and Peace, and let me also mention certain urgent priorities which your service to humanity ought to concentrate upon today.
Social thinking and social practice inspired by the Gospel must always be marked by a special sensitivity towards those who are most in distress, those who are extremely poor, those suffering from all the physical, mental and moral ills that afflict humanity, including hunger, neglect, unemployment and despair. There are many poor people of this sort around the world. There are many in your own midst. On many occasions, your nation has gained a well-deserved reputation for generosity, both public and private. Be faithful to that tradition, in keeping with your vast possibilities and present responsibilities. The network of charitable works of each kind that the Church has succeeded in creating here is a valuable means for effectively mobilizing generous undertakings aimed at relieving the situations of distress that continually arise both at home and elsewhere in the world. Make an effort to ensure that this form of aid keeps its irreplaceable character as a fraternal and personal encounter with those who are in distress; is if necessary, re-establish this very character against all the elements that work in the opposite direction. Let this sort of aid be respectful of the freedom and dignity of those being helped, and let it be a means of forming the conscience of the givers.
4. But this is not enough. Within the framework of your national institutions and in cooperation with all your compatriots, you will also want to seek out the structural reasons which foster or cause the different forms of poverty in the world and in your own country, so that of you can apply the proper remedies. You will not allow yourselves to be intimidated or discouraged by oversimplified explanations, which are more ideological than scientific—explanations which try to account for a complex evil by some single cause. But neither will you recoil before the reforms—even profound ones—of attitudes and structures that may prove necessary in order to re-create over and over again the conditions needed by the disadvantaged if they are to have a fresh chance in the hard struggle of life. The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs from the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in is order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table.
5. Catholics of the United States, while developing your own legitimate institutions, you also participate in the nation's affairs within the framework of institutions and organizations springing from the nation's common history and from your common concern. This you do hand in hand with your fellow citizens of every creed and confession. Unity among you in all such endeavors is essential, under the leadership of your Bishops, for deepening, proclaiming and effectively promoting the truth about man, his dignity and his inalienable rights, the truth such as the Church receives it in Revelation and such as she ceaselessly develops it in her social teaching in the light of the Gospel. These shared convictions, however, are not a ready-made model for society (cf. Octogesima Adveniens, 42). It is principally the task of lay people to put them into practice in concrete projects, to define priorities and to develop models that are suitable for promoting man's real good. The Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes tells us that "lay people should seek from priests light and spiritual strength. Let the lay people not imagine that their pastors are always such experts that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission. Rather, enlightened by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching authority of the Church, let the lay people assume their own distinctive role" (Gaudium et Spes GS 43).
6. In order to bring this undertaking to a successful conclusion, fresh spiritual and moral energy drawn from the inexhaustible divine source is needed. This energy does not develop easily. The life style of many of the members of our rich and permissive societies is easy, and so is the life style of increasing groups inside the poorer countries. As I said last year to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace, "Christians will want to be in the vanguard in favoring ways of life that decisively break with a frenzy of consumerism, exhausting and joyless" (November 11, 1978). It is not a question of slowing down progress, for there is no human progress when everything conspires to give free rein to the instincts of self-interest, sex and power. We must find a simple way of living. For it is not right that the standard of living of the rich countries should seek to maintain itself by draining off a great part of the reserves of energy and raw materials that are meant to serve the whole of humanity. For readiness to create a greater and more equitable solidarity between peoples is the first condition for peace. Catholics of the United States, and all you citizens of the United States, you have such a tradition of spiritual generosity, industry, simplicity and sacrifice that you cannot fail to heed this call today for a new enthusiasm and a fresh determination. It is in the joyful simplicity of a life inspired by the Gospel and the Gospel's spirit of fraternal sharing that you will find the best remedy for sour criticism, paralyzing doubt and the temptation to make money the principal means and indeed the very measure of human advancement.
7. On various occasions, I have referred to the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus. "Once there was a rich man who dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day. At his gate lay a beggar named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man's table" (Lc 16,19 ff.). Both the rich man and the beggar died and judgment was rendered on their conduct. And the Scripture tells us that Lazarus found consolation, but that the rich man found torment. Was the rich man condemned because he had riches, because he abounded in earthly possessions, because he "dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day?" No, I would say that it was not for this reason. The rich man was condemned because he did not pay attention to the other man. Because he failed to take notice of Lazarus, the person who sat at his door and who longed to eat the scraps from his table. Nowhere does Christ condemn the mere possession of earthly goods as such. Instead, he pronounces very harsh words against those who use their possessions in a selfish way, without paying attention to the needs of others. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the words : "Blessed are the poor in spirit". And at the end of the account of the Last Judgment as found in Saint Matthew's Gospel, Jesus speaks the words that we all know so well: "I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was away from home and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing. I was ill and in prison and you did not come and comfort me" (Mt 25,42-43).
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need—openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or half-hearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so.
All of humanity must think of the parable of the rich man and the beggar. Humanity must translate it into contemporary terms, in terms of economy and politics, in terms of all human rights, in terms of relations between the "First", "Second" and "Third World". We cannot stand idly by when thousands of human beings are dying of hunger. Nor can we remain indifferent when the rights of the human spirit are trampled upon, when violence is done to the human conscience in matters of truth, religion, and cultural creativity.
We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the twentieth century stands at our doors. In the light of the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. Riches and freedom create a special obligation. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us all together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person: the rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ, at a great price, the price of "the precious blood of Christ" (1P 1,19).
8. Brothers and sisters in Christ, with deep conviction and affection I repeat to you the words that I addressed to the world when I took up my apostolic ministry in the service of all men and women: "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows what is in man. He alone knows it" (October 22, 1978) .
As I said to you at the beginning, Christ is our Justice and our Peace, and all our works of justice and peace draw from this source the irreplaceable energy and light for the great task before us. As we resolutely commit ourselves to the service of all the needs of individuals and of peoples—for Christ urges us to do so—we shall nevertheless remind ourselves that the Church's mission is not limited to this witness to social fruitfulness of the Gospel. Along this road that leads the Church to man, she does not offer, in the matter of justice and peace, only the earthly fruits of the Gospel ; she brings to man—to every human person—their very source; Jesus Christ himself, our Justice and our Peace.
Dear brothers and sisters of the Church in Philadelphia,
1. It is a great joy for me to celebrate the Eucharist with you today. All of us are gathered together as one community, one people in the grace and peace of God our Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ; we are gathered in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We have come together to proclaim the Gospel in all its power, for the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the summit and enactment of our proclamation : Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
From this altar of Sacrifice, there arises a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ. We who belong to Christ are all part of this hymn, this Sacrifice of praise. The Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed on this altar, and it becomes our offering too—an offering for the benefit of the living and the dead, an offering for the universal Church.
Assembled in the charity of Christ, we are all one in his Sacrifice: the Cardinal Archbishop who is called to lead this Church in the path of truth and love; his Auxiliary Bishops and the diocesan and religious clergy, who share with the Bishops in the preaching of the word; men and women religious, who through the consecration of their lives show the world what it means to be faithful to the message of the Beatitudes; fathers and mothers, with their great mission of building up the Church in love; every category of the laity with their particular task in the Church's mission of evangelization and salvation. This Sacrifice offered today in Philadelphia is the expression of our praying community. In union with Jesus Christ we make intercession for the universal Church, for the well-being of all our fellow men and women, and today, in particular, for the preservation of all the human and Christian values that are the heritage of this land, this country and this very city.
2. Philadelphia is the city of the Declaration of Independence, that remark?ble document, containing a solemn attestation of the equality of all human beings, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights : life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, expressing a "firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence". These are the sound moral principles formulated by your Founding Fathers and enshrined forever in your history. In the human and civil values that are contained in the spirit of this Declaration there are easily recognized strong connections with basic religious and Christian values. A sense of religion itself is part of this heritage. The Liberty Bell which I visited on another occasion proudly bears the words of the Bible: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land" (Lv 25,10). This tradition poses for all future generations of America a noble challenge: "One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".
3. As citizens, you must strive to preserve these human values, to understand them better and to define their consequences for the whole community, and as a worthy contribution to the world. As Christians, you must strengthen these human values and complement them by confronting them with the Gospel message, so that you may discover their deeper meaning, and thus assume more fully your duties and obligations toward your fellow human beings, with whom you are bound in a common destiny. In a way, for us, who know Jesus Christ, human and Christian values are but two aspects of the same reality : the reality of man, redeemed by Christ and called to the fullness of eternal life.
In my first Encyclical Letter, I stated this important truth : "Christ, the Redeemer of the world, is the one who penetrated in a unique unrepeatable way into the mystery of man and entered his 'heart'. Rightly therefore does the Second Vatican Council teach: 'The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come (Rm 5,14), Christ the Lord. Christ, the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" (Redemptor Hominis RH 8). It is then in Jesus Christ that every man, woman and child is called to find the answer to the questions regarding the values that will inspire his or her personal and social relations.
4. How then can a Christian, inspired and guided by the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption of Christ, strengthen his or her own values and those that are embodied in the heritage of this nation? The answer to that question, in order to be complete, would have to be long. Let me, however, just touch upon a few important points. These values are strengthened: when power and authority are exercised in full respect for all the fundamental rights of the human person, whose dignity is the dignity of one created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen Gn 1,26) ; when freedom is accepted, not as an absolute end in itself, but as a gift that enables self-giving and service; when the family is protected and strengthened, when its unity is preserved, and when its role as the basic cell of society is recognized and honored. Human-Christian values are fostered when every effort is made so that no child anywhere in the world faces death because of lack of food, or faces a diminished intellectual and physical potential for want of sufficient nourishment, or has to bear all through life the scars of deprivation. Human-Christian values triumph when any system is reformed that authorizes the exploitation of any human being; when upright service and honesty in public servants is promoted; when the dispensing of justice is fair and the same for all; when responsible use is made of the material and energy resources of the world—resources that are meant for the benefit of all ; when the environment is preserved intact for the future generations. Human-Christian values triumph by subjecting political and economic considerations to human dignity, by making them serve the cause of man—every person created by God, every brother and sister redeemed by Christ.
5. I have mentioned the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell, two monuments that exemplify the spirit of freedom on which this country was founded. Your attachment to liberty, to freedom, is part of your heritage. When the Liberty Bell rang for the first time in 1776, it was to announce the freedom of your nation, the beginning of the pursuit of a common destiny independent of any outside coercion. This principle of freedom is paramount in the political and social order, in relationships between the government and the people, and between individual and individual. However, man's life is also lived in another order of reality : in the order of his relationship to what is objectively true and morally good. Freedom thus acquires a deeper meaning when it is referred to the human person. It concerns in the first place the relation of man to himself. Every human person, endowed with reason, is free when he is the master of his own actions, when he is capable of choosing that good which is in conformity with reason, and therefore with his own human dignity.
Freedom can never tolerate an offense against the rights of others, and one of the fundamental rights of man is the right to worship God. In the Declaration on Religious Freedom, the Second Vatican Council stated that the "demand for freedom in human society chiefly regards the quest for the values proper to the human spirit. It regards, in the first place, the free exercise of religion in society ... Religious freedom, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" (Dignitatis Humanae DH 1).
163 6. Christ himself linked freedom with the knowledge of truth : "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8,32). In my first Encyclical I wrote in this regard : "These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning : the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world" (Redemptor Hominis RH 12).
Freedom can therefore never be construed without relation to the truth as revealed by Jesus Christ, and proposed by his Church, nor can it be seen as a pretext for moral anarchy, for every moral order must remain linked to truth. Saint Peter, in his first letter, says : "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom for malice" (1P 2,16). No freedom can exist when it goes against man in what he is, or against man in his relationship to others and to God.
This is especially relevant when one considers the domain of human sexuality. Here, as in any other field, there can be no true freedom without respect for the truth regarding the nature of human sexuality and marriage. In today's society, we see so many disturbing tendencies and so much laxity regarding the Christian view on sexuality that have all one thing in common: recourse to the concept of freedom to justify any behavior that is no longer consonant with the true moral order and the teaching of the Church. Moral norms do not militate against the freedom of the person or the couple; on the contrary they exist precisely for that freedom, since they are given to ensure the right use of freedom. Whoever refuses to accept these norms and to act accordingly, whoever seeks to liberate himself or herself from these norms, is not truly free. Free indeed is the person who models his or her behavior in a responsible way according to the exigencies of the objective good. What I have said here regards the whole of conjugal morality, but it applies as well to the priests with regard to the obligations of celibacy. The cohesion of freedom and ethics has also its consequences for the pursuit of the common good in society and for the national independence which the Liberty Bell announced two centuries ago.
7. Divine law is the sole standard of human liberty and is given to us in the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Redemption. But fidelity to this Gospel of Redemption will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who guards the life-giving message entrusted to the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who ensures the faithful transmission of the Gospel into the lives of all of us. It is by the action of the Holy Spirit that the Church is built up day after day into a kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a universal kingdom of justice, love and peace.
Today, therefore, we come before the Father to offer him the petitions and desires of our hearts, to offer him praise and thanksgiving. We do this from the City of Philadelphia for the universal Church and for the world. We do this as "members of the household of God" (Ep 2,19) in union with the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus, our cornerstone, for the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
Dear Brother Priests,
1. As we celebrate this Mass, which brings together the presidents or chairmen of the Priests' Senates, or Councils, of all the dioceses of the United States, the theme that suggests itself to our reflection is a vital one : the priesthood itself and its central importance to the task of the Church. In the Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis, I described this task in these words : "The Church's fundamental function in every age and particularly in ours is to direct man's gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity towards the mystery of God, to help men to be familiar with the profundity of the Redemption taking place in Christ Jesus" (Redemptor Hominis RH 10).
Priests' Senates are a new structure in the Church, called for by the Second Vatican Council and recent Church legislation. This new structure gives a concrete expression to the unity of Bishop and priests in the service of shepherding the flock of Christ, and it assists the Bishop in his distinctive role of governing the diocese, by guaranteeing for him the counsel of representative advisors from among the presbyterium. Our concelebration of today's Eucharist is intended to be a mark of affirmation for the good that has been achieved by your Priests' Senates during these past years, as well as an encouragement to pursue with enthusiasm and determination this important aim, which is "to bring the life and activity of the People of God into greater conformity with the Gospel" (cf. Ecclesiae Sanctae, 16 :1). Most of all, however, I want this Mass to be the special occasion on which I can speak through you to all my brother priests throughout this nation about our priesthood. With great love I repeat the words that I wrote to you on Holy Thursday : "For you I am a Bishop, with you I am a priest".
Our priestly vocation is given by the Lord Jesus himself. It is a call which is personal and individual: we are called by name as was Jeremiah. It is a call to service: we are sent out to preach the Good News, to "give God's flock a shepherd's care". It is a call to communion of purpose and of action: to be one priesthood with Jesus and with one another, just as Jesus and his Father are one—a unity so beautifully symbolized in this concelebrated Mass.
Priesthood is not merely a task which has been assigned; it is a vocation, a call to be heard again and again. To hear this call and to respond generously to what this call entails is a task for each priest, but it is also a responsibility for the Senates of Priests. This responsibility means deepening our understanding of the priesthood as Christ instituted it, as he wanted it to be and to remain, and as the Church faithfully explains it and transmits it. Fidelity to the call to the priesthood means building up this priesthood with God's people by a life of service according to apostolic priorities: concentration "on prayer and the ministry of the word" (Ac 6,4).
In the Gospel of Saint Mark the priestly call of the Twelve Apostles is like a bud whose flowering displays a whole theology of priesthood. In the midst of Jesus' ministry, we read that "he went up the mountain and summoned the men he himself had decided on, who came and joined him. He named twelve as his companions whom he would send to preach the good news..." The passage then lists the names of the Twelve (Mc 3,13-14) . Here we see three significant aspects of the call given by Jesus: he called his first priests individually and by name; he called them for the service of his word, to preach the Gospel; and he made them his own companions, drawing them into that unity of life and action which he shares with his Father in the very life of the Trinity.
2. Let us explore these three dimensions of our priesthood by reflecting on today's Scripture readings. For it is in the tradition of the prophetic call that the Gospel places the priestly vocation of the Twelve Apostles by Jesus. When the priest reflects on Jeremiah's call to be prophet, he is both reassured and disturbed. "Have no fear ... because I am with you to deliver you", says the Lord to the one whom he calls, "... for look, I place my words in your mouth". Who would not take heart at hearing such divine assurance? Yet when we consider why such reassurance is needed, do we not see in ourselves that same reluctance we find in Jeremiah's reply? Like him, at times, our concept of this ministry is too earth-bound; we lack confidence in him who calls us. We also become too attached to our own vision of ministry, thinking that it depends too much on our own talents and abilities, and at times forgetting that it is God who calls us, as he called Jeremiah from the womb. Nor is it our work or our ability that is primary : we are called to speak the words of God and not our own ; to minister the sacraments he has given to his Church; and to call people to a love which he has first made possible.
Hence the surrender to God's call can be made with utmost confidence and without reservation. Our surrender to God's will must be total—the "yes" given once for all which has as its pattern the " yes" spoken by Jesus himself. As Saint Paul tells us : "As God keeps his word, I declare that my word to you is not 'yes' one minute and 'no' the next. Jesus Christ ... was not alternately 'yes' and 'no'; he was never anything but 'yes"' (2Co 1,18-19).
This call of God is grace : it is a gift, a treasure "possessed in earthen vessels to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us" (2Co 4,7). But this gift is not primarily for the priest himself; it is rather a gift of God for the whole Church and for her mission to the world. Priesthood is an abiding sacramental sign which shows that the love of the Good Shepherd for his flock will never be absent. In my letter to you priests last Holy Thursday, I developed this aspect of the priesthood as God's gift: our priesthood, I said, "constitutes a special ministerium, that is to say 'service', in relation to the community of believers. It does not however take its origin from that community, as through it were the community that 'called' or 'delegated'. The sacramental priesthood is truly a gift for this community and comes from Christ himself, from the fullness of his priesthood" (Letter, 5). In this gift-giving to his people, it is the divine giver who takes the initiative ; it is he who calls the ones "he himself had decided on".
Hence when we reflect on the intimacy between the Lord and his prophet, his priest—an intimacy arising as a result of the call which he has initiated—we can better understand certain characteristics of the priesthood and realize their appropriateness for the Church's mission today as well as in times past:
a) Priesthood is forever—tu es sacerdos in aeternum—we do not return the gift once given. It cannot be that God who gave the impulse to say "yes" now wishes to hear "no".
b) Nor should it surprise the world that the call of God through the Church continues to offer us a celibate ministry of love and service after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. God's call has indeed stirred us to the depths of our being. And after centuries of experience, the Church knows how deeply fitting it is that priests should give this concrete response in their lives to express the totality of the yes they have spoken to the Lord who calls them by name to his service.
c) The fact that there is a personal individual call to the priesthood given by the Lord to "the men he himself had decided on" is in accord with the prophetic tradition. It should help us too to understand that the Church's traditional decision to call men to the priesthood, and not to call women, is not a statement about human rights, nor an exclusion of women from holiness and mission in the Church. Rather this decision expresses the conviction of the Church about this particular dimension of the gift of priesthood by which God has chosen to shepherd his flock.
3. Dear brothers: "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care". How close to the essence of our understanding of priesthood is the role of shepherd; throughout the history of salvation it is a recurring image of God's care for his people. And only in the role of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can our pastoral ministry as priests be understood. Recall how, in the call of the Twelve, Jesus summoned them to be his companions precisely in order to "send them out to preach the good news". Priesthood is mission and service; it is being "sent out" from. Jesus to "give his flock a shepherd's care". This characteristic of the priest—to apply an excellent phrase about Jesus as the "man-for-others"—shows us the true sense of what it means to "give a shepherd's care". It means pointing the awareness of humanity to the mystery of God, to the profundity of Redemption taking place in Christ Jesus. Priestly ministry is missionary in its very core: it means being sent out for others. like Christ sent from his Father, for the sake of the Gospel, sent to evangelize. In the words of Paul VI, "evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity ... and making it new" (Evangelii Nuntiandi EN 18). At the foundation and center of its dynamism, evangelization contains a clear proclamation that salvation is in Jesus Christ the Son of God. It is his name, his teaching, his life, his promises, his kingdom and his mystery that we proclaim to the world. And the effectiveness of our proclamation, and hence the very success of our priesthood, depends on our fidelity to the Magisterium, through which the Church guards "the rich deposit of faith with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us" (2Tm 1,14).
As a pattern for every ministry and apostolate in the Church, priestly ministry is never to be conceived in terms of an acquisition ; in so far as it is a gift, it is a gift to be proclaimed and shared with others. Do we not see this clearly in Jesus' teaching when the mother of James and John asked that her sons sit on his right hand and his left in his kingdom? "You know how those who exercise authority among the Gentiles lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone who aspires to greatness must serve the rest, and whoever wants to rank among you must serve the needs of all. Such is the case with the Son of Man who has come, not to be served by others, but to serve, to give his own life as a ransom for the many" (Mt 20,25-28).
165 Just as Jesus was most perfectly a "man-for-others" in giving himself up totally on the Cross, so the priest is most of all servant and "man-for-others" when he acts in persona Christi in the Eucharist, leading the Church in that celebration in which this Sacrifice of the Cross is renewed. For in the Church's daily Eucharistic worship the "Good News" that the Apostles were sent out to proclaim is preached in its fullness; the work of our Redemption is re-enacted.
How perfectly the Fathers at the Second Vatican Council captured this fundamental truth in their Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry : "The other sacraments, as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked with the holy Eucharist and are directed towards it ... Hence the Eucharist shows itself to be source and the summit of all evangelization" (Presbyterorum Ordinis PO 5). In the celebration of the Eucharist, we priests are at the very heart of our ministry of service, of "giving God's dock a shepherd's care". All our pastoral endeavors are incomplete until our people are led to the full and active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
4. Let us recall how Jesus named twelve as his companions. The call to priestly service includes an invitation to special intimacy with Christ. The lived experience of priests in every generation has led them to discover in their own lives and ministry the absolute centrality of their personal union with Jesus, of being his companions. No one can effectively bring the good news of Jesus to others unless he himself has first been his constant companion through personal prayer, unless he has learned from Jesus the mystery to be proclaimed.
This union with Jesus, modeled on his oneness with his Father, has a further intrinsic dimension, as his own prayer at the Last Supper reveals : "that they may be one, Father, even as we are one" (Jn 17,11). His priesthood is one, and this unity must be actual and effective among his chosen companions. Hence unity among priests, lived out in fraternity and friendship, becomes a demand and an integral part of the life of a priest.
Unity among priests is not a unity or fraternity that is directed towards itself. It is for the sake of the Gospel, to symbolize, in the living out of the priesthood, the essential direction to which the Gospel calls all people : to the union of love with him and one another. And this union alone can guarantee peace and justice and dignity to every human being. Surely this is the underlying sense of the prayer of Jesus when he continues : "I pray also for those who believe in me through their word, that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you" (Jn 17,20-21). Indeed, how will the world come to believe that the Father has sent Jesus unless people can see in visible ways that those who believe in Jesus have heard his commandment to "love one another"? And how will believers receive a witness that such love is a concrete possibility unless they find it in the example of the unity of their priestly ministers, of those whom Jesus himself forms into one priesthood as his own companions?
My brother priests: have we not here touched upon the heart of the matter—our zeal for the service of the people. This concelebrated Mass, which so beautifully symbolizes the unity of our priesthood, gives to the whole world the witness of the unity for which Jesus prayed to his Father on our behalf. But it must not become a merely transient manifestation, which would render fruitless the prayer of Jesus. Every Eucharist renews this prayer for our unity: "Lord, remember your Church throughout the world; make us grow in love, together with John Paul our pope, ... our bishop, and all the clergy".
Your Priests' Senates, as new structures in the Church, provide a wonderful opportunity to give visible witness to the one priesthood you share with your Bishops and with one another, and to demonstrate what must be at the heart of the renewal of every structure in the Church: the unity for which Jesus himself prayed.
At the beginning of this homily, I charged you with the task of taking responsibility for your priesthood, a task for each one of you personally, a charge to be shared with all the priests, and especially to be a concern for your Priests' Councils. The faith of the whole Church needs to have clearly in focus the proper understanding of the priesthood and of its place in the mission of the Church. So the Church depends on you to deepen ever more this understanding, and to put it into practice in your lives and ministry : in other words, to share the gift of your priesthood with the Church by renewing the response you have already made to Christ's invitation—"come, follow me"—by giving yourselves as totally as he did.
At times we hear the words, "Pray for priests". And today I address these words as an appeal, as a plea, to all the faithful of the Church in the United States. Pray for priests, so that each and every one of them will repeatedly say yes to the call he has received, remain constant in preaching the Gospel message, and be faithful forever as the companion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear Brother Priests : as we renew the Paschal Mystery and stand as disciples at the foot of the Cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus, let us entrust ourselves to her. In her love we shall find strength for our weakness and joy for our hearts.
S. John Paul II Homil. 159