Czestochowa - Jasna Gora Basilica

Wednesday April 17, 2013

Meeting with the Diocesan Seminarians and Novice religious of Poland

Holy Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Highest and Eternal Priest


Homily by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy

[Acts 2:42-47; Ps 23; 1Cor 10:16-17; Lk 24,13-35]




   “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).  The disciples of Emmaus, who recognise the Risen Christ upon his breaking of the bread, are shaken into realising that something has changed!  Their foolishness, their slowness to believe all that the prophets have said (cfr. Lk 24:25) is suddenly overturned upon their encounter with Christ, who makes everything new, beginning with our very existence.  And our slow “heart”, weary and shrivelled, devoid of hope, closed off in the worldly context of a futureless present, suddenly begins to “burn” within us, in that unexpected correspondence bestowed upon us by the encounter with Christ, which is the authentic motor of any and every vocation.

   Finding themselves in the presence of the Risen Christ changes the very definition of the existence of the disciples of Emmaus who, having left Jerusalem in mournful nostalgia for a liberation that never came, now retrace their steps with the joyous announcement of their recent encounter.  They are entirely transformed; their identity - and therefore the very direction of their journey - has changed in relation to Christ.

   So my dear Seminarians and Novices, the priestly identity that you are preparing to receive from the Holy Spirit, through the indispensable agency of the Church, holds the secret of your future, of your every happiness.  At one and the same time it is both institutional and charismatic.  I say institutional because in fact it passes through the laying on of hands of the Bishop, in the uninterrupted Apostolic Succession, which permits us to trace our heritage back to The Twelve.  And it is charismatic because it is the fruit of the everlasting working of the Spirit, which, from the Pentecost until the end of time, shapes the face of the Church as communion for the mission.

   The priestly identity is not formed - nor is it possible to form it - by the hands of man.  It is bestowed, and must be willingly accepted.  The secret of an authentic vocational fulfilment, therefore, lies in the radical fidelity to the identity that Christ bestows upon us and that expresses itself - today, as at Emmaus two thousand years ago - as an intense “burning of the heart within us”.  A burning which comes from our awareness of having been undeservingly chosen, formally established in the priesthood and therefore sent out in the service of mankind; of all people, especially of those who suffer all the different types of poverty, and of those who have not yet felt the joy of knowing the Lord.

   Your willing acceptance, my dear friends, cannot be a merely intellectual exercise.  It demands the involvement of your entire existence, in that willingness to bestow life that is the fundamental identity of the Good Shepherd; for you will be neither happy nor fruitful if you do not live in authenticity!  One who is not willing to offer up his own life for Christ should have the courage to stop, and to turn back, because the measure of the Vocation is never a question of “how much” to give; it is simply to give “everything” because we have received “everything”.

   That total giving of oneself, which is modeled on the offering up of his life, which our Lord gave - and always gives anew - upon the Cross.

   One who feels called to the Priesthood must know that this is a call to climb Calvary, to be stripped naked, to be flagellated for the sins of mankind, to receive a crown which is not the crown of ephemeral earthly glories, but a crown of thorns.  One who is called to the Priesthood must know what awaits him: nails, spikes to pierce his hands and feet: his pierced hands will consecrate the Body of Christ and absolve sins, and his feet will grow weary from his endless journey, announcing the Gospel to all men.

   The naked Christ upon the Cross, therefore, is the fundamental and inexorable model for out priesthood.  He is the Highest and Eternal Priest, precisely because he has passed through the mystery naked:  in the most sublime manner divested of everything as a man, and of the glory, as God. We seek to imitate Christ the Highest and Eternal Priest through the virtue of poverty: through the free separation from our personal will, which is that poverty which we call obedience; through the free separation from natural affections, which is that poverty which we call chastity; and through the free separation from all ties to earthly goods, that material dimension of poverty which must always and ever typify our existence.  In order to move like the Apostles we must be free!

   Who is poorer than the Crucified Christ?  Who is poorer than Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, when he says to his Father: “Non mea, sed Tua fiat” (Lk 22:42)?

   In imitation of Christ the Highest and Eternal Priest we are called to belong to God and to live in humble obedience to our respective identities: yours being that of baptised people who have felt the radical vocation to follow Christ and, in time, the priestly identity which is, for us, now our definitive identity.

   The exhortation of Saint Benedict to “put nothing before the love of Christ” is particularly appropriate to the period of formation; educating the conscience - today the conscience of the Seminarian and the Novice, tomorrow that of the priest - always to place Christ first and foremost, in thought and in deed; to recognise him as the Lord of our very existence, recognising him in the Body of the Church, essentially in the Most Holy Eucharist, recognising him in our brothers, especially in those most in poverty and suffering.

   Last January the Holy Father conferred upon the Congregation for the Clergy a further responsibility: that of the Seminarians as well.  We will pay particular attention to the spiritual and pastoral formation of the candidates for the Priesthood, as the times require, the growing secularisation of todayʼs world makes necessary, and the consequent need for ecclesial renewal strongly suggests.  Unless a priest lives the radical primacy of his own spiritual dimension - in imitation of Christ and in service to the holy People of God - he cannot see enough reason to persevere in his Calling and risks falling into that “bitter heart” of which Pope Francis spoke so effectively to us in his homily on the Holy Chrism Mass.  He said, “The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious.”

   Dear Seminarians and Novices, but also my dear brothers in the Priesthood, Bishops and Cardinals, let us pray that our hearts never fall into bitterness!  Let us pray that our hearts always “burn within us” as they did for the disciples at Emmaus; and that they burn not out of their own virtue, but by the strength of the encounter with Christ, of the power of the Spirit and the eternal custody of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the priests and Protectress of every Vocation to virginity for the Kingdom of Heaven. May the Mother of God, who in his place is particularly venerated by the authentic and profound faith of the entire Polish nation, keep you, protect you, and accompany you upon your way.

   And you may be sure that on the day when, God willing, you celebrate your first Holy Mass, She will be standing at your side: She will be rejoicing as, through your hands, her beloved Son will, yet once again and forever, give himself to mankind. Her Son the Highest and Eternal Priest, because he offered himself entirely - as Sacrifice, as Victim, as Altar. With all my heart I say to you: give yourselves entirely!  Submerge yourselves in the affirmation of Mary for your entire lives and you will be happy!