The Nature of the Priesthood

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

By: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The priest should be a person who knows Jesus intimately, has met Him and learned to love Him. The priest should therefore be a man of prayer, a truly "spiritual" man. Without strong spiritual substance he cannot last in his ministry. From the mystery of Christ he should also learn in his life not to seek himself nor his own promotion. He should learn to spend his life for Christ and for his flock.

Such a way of living is opposed to our natural inclination, but little by little it becomes clear that only he who is capable of forgetting himself is truly free. One who works for Christ learns by experience that one sows and another reaps (cf. Jn 4:56). He has no need to look for success and thus have to rely on himself. Since he is working for the Lord, he leaves the outcome to the Lord and in joyfulness of spirit he places his concerns in the hands of the Lord. When we seek our own success, the priesthood begins to appear as a burden which surpasses our strength, and burdens too heavy for our shoulders to bear are the inevitable result. But Christ carries us in faith, and from our union with Christ an invincible joy arises which proceeds from the victory of Christ, who conquers the world (Jn 16:55) and is with us to the very end of time (Mt 28:20). From an intimate union with Christ there automatically arises also a participation in His love for human beings, in His will to save them and to bring them help. He who knows Christ from within wishes to communicate to others the joy of the redemption which has opened up for him in the Lord: pastoral labour flows from this communion of love and even in difficult situations is always nourished by this motivation and becomes life-fulfilling.

He who loves wishes to know. A true love of Christ, therefore, expresses itself also in the will to know Him and everything that pertains to Him. Since the love of Christ necessarily becomes love of human beings, education to the ministry of Christ includes also education to the natural human virtues. Since to love Him means to know Him, it follows that a will that is eager to study carefully and diligently is a sign of a solid vocation. Because Christ is never alone, but comes to gather human beings into His body, a love for the Church must necessarily accompany a love for Christ. Christ has willed to come to us in the community of His Church. In a person's zealous love for the Church, his relationship with the Lord Himself is revealed as intimate and strong.

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