Posted February 23, 2010 in The Pope's Corner:
How Can I Not Pay Tribute?

by Pope Benedict XVI.

"The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus," the saintly Curé of Ars would often say.

Let us reflect with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself.

I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life.

How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labors, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as "friends of Christ," whom he has called by name, chosen, and sent?

I still treasure the memory of the first parish priest at whose service I exercised my ministry as a young priest. He left me an example of unreserved devotion to his pastoral duties….

I also recall countless confreres whom I met and continue to meet, not least of all in my pastoral visits to different countries: men generously dedicated to the daily exercise of their priestly ministry.

The expression of St. John Vianney also makes me think of Christ’s pierced heart and the crown of thorns which surrounds it.

I am also led to think, therefore, of the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister.

How can we not also think of all those priests who are offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission, and persecuted, even at times, to offering the supreme testimony of their own blood?

There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored, where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is that the world finds grounds for scandal and rejection.

What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgement of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love of God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides.

Here the teaching of St. John Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Curé of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people:

"A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy."

He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task: "O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die … God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…"

Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say, "Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest.

"Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest…

"After God, the priest is everything!… Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is."…

To the most Holy Virgin I entrust the Year for Priests. I ask her to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Curé of Ars….

Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to his Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: In the world you have tribulation; but take courage. I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33).

Our faith in the Divine Master gives us strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you…. Let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way, you too will be for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation, and peace.

Excerpted from the Holy Father’s Letter to Priests for the inauguration of the Year for Priests, June 19, 2009.


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