The Gospel of Hope

Monday, September 10, 2007

(By Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Europa)

In a special way priests are called by virtue of their ministry to celebrate, teach and serve the Gospel of hope. Through the Sacrament of Orders which configures them to Christ the Head and Shepherd, Bishops and priests must conform their whole life and all their activity to Jesus. By the preaching of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and their leadership of the Christian community, they make present the mystery of Christ, and in the exercise of their ministry they are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the One High Priest, embodying his way of life and making him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care.

As men who are in the world yet not of the world (cf. Jn 17:15-16), priests are called in Europe's present cultural and spiritual situation to be a sign of contradiction and of hope for a society suffering from horizontalism and in need of openness to the Transcendent.

In this context priestly celibacy also stands out as the sign of hope put totally in the Lord. Celibacy is not merely an ecclesiastical discipline imposed by authority; rather it is first and foremost a grace, a priceless gift of God for his Church, a prophetic value for the contemporary world, a source of intense spiritual life and pastoral fruitfulness, a witness to the eschatological Kingdom, a sign of God's love for this world, as well as a sign of the priest's undivided love for God and for his people. Lived in response to God's gift and as a mastery of the temptations of a hedonistic society, it not only leads to the human fulfilment of those who are called to embrace it, but proves to be a source of growth for others as well.

Celibacy is esteemed in the whole Church as fitting for the priesthood, obligatory in the Latin Church and deeply respected by the Eastern Churches. In the present cultural context, it stands out as an eloquent sign which needs to be cherished as a precious good for the Church. A revision of the present discipline in this regard would not help to resolve the crisis of vocations to the priesthood being felt in many parts of Europe. A commitment to the service of the Gospel of hope also demands that the Church make every effort to propose celibacy in its full biblical, theological and spiritual richness.

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