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Priests must be devoted to prayer

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 2 June 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. Today we return to some ideas already mentioned in the preceding catechesis in order to underscore further the demands and repercussions stemming from the reality of being a man consecrated to God. In a word we can say that, consecrated in the image of Christ, the priest must be a man of prayer like Christ himself. This concise definition embraces the whole spiritual life that gives the presbyter a true Christian identity, defines him as a priest and is the motivating principle of his apostolate.

The Gospel shows Jesus in prayer at every important moment of his mission. His public life, inaugurated at his baptism, began with prayer (Lk 3:21). Even in the more intense periods of teaching the crowds, he reserved long intervals for prayer (cf. Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16). Before choosing the Twelve he spent a night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12), and he prayed before asking his apostles for a profession of faith (cf. Lk 9:18). He prayed alone on the mountain after the miracle of the loaves (cf. Mt 14:23; Mk 6:46); he prayed before teaching his disciples to pray (cf. Lk 11:1); he prayed before the extraordinary revelation of the transfiguration, having ascended the mountain precisely to pray (cf. Lk 9:28); he prayed before performing some miracles (cf. Jn 11:41-42); he prayed at the Last Supper to entrust his future and that of his Church to the Father (cf. Jn 17). In Gethsemane he offered the Father the sorrowful prayer of his afflicted and almost horrified soul (cf. Mk 15:35-39 and parallel passages), and on the cross he made his last invocations, full of anguish (cf. Mt 27:46), but also of trustful abandon (cf. Lk 23:46). It could be said that Christ's whole mission was animated with prayer, from the beginning of his messianic ministry to the supreme priestly act: the sacrifice of the cross, which was made in prayer.

2. Those called to share Christ's mission and sacrifice find in his example the incentive to give prayer its rightful place in their lives, as the foundation, root and guarantee of holiness in action. Indeed, we learn from Jesus that a fruitful exercise of the priesthood is impossible without prayer, which protects the presbyter from the danger of neglecting the interior life for the sake of action and from the temptation of so throwing himself into work as to be lost in it.

After stating that "the norm of priestly life" is found in Christ's consecration, the source of his apostles' consecration, the 1971 Synod of Bishops also applied the norm to prayer in these words: "Following the example of Christ who was continually in prayer, and led by the Holy Spirit in whom we cry, 'Abba, Father,' priests should give themselves to the contemplation of the Word of God and daily take the opportunity to examine the events of life in the light of the Gospel, so that having become faithful and attentive hearers of the word they may become true ministers of the word. Let them be assiduous in personal prayer, in the Liturgy of the Hours, in frequent reception of the sacrament of Penance and especially in devotion to the mystery of the Eucharist" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1201).

3. For its part, the Second Vatican Council did not fail to remind priests of the need to be habitually united to Christ, and to this end it recommended diligence in prayer: "In many ways, but especially through mental prayer and the vocal prayers which they freely choose, priests seek and fervently pray that God will grant them the spirit of true adoration whereby they themselves, along with the people committed to them, may intimately unite themselves with Christ the Mediator of the New Testament" (PO 18). As we see, among the possible forms of prayer the Council calls attention to mental prayer, which is a way to pray that is free from rigid formulas, does not require the recitation of words and responds to the Holy Spirit's lead in contemplating the divine mystery.

4. The 1971 Synod of Bishops insisted especially on "contemplation of the Word of God" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1201). One should not be frightened by the word "contemplation" and the spiritual commitment it entails. It could be said that, independently of forms and lifestyles, among which the contemplative life remains the most splendid jewel of Christ's bride, the Church, the call to hear and meditate on the Word of God in a contemplative spirit is valid for everyone, so that hearts and minds may be nourished on it. This helps the priest to develop a way of thinking and of looking at the world with wisdom, in the perspective of its supreme purpose--God and his plan of salvation. The Synod says: "To examine the events of life in the light of the Gospel" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1201). Herein lies supernatural wisdom, above all as a gift of the Holy Spirit, who makes it possible to exercise good judgment in the light of the "ultimate reasons," the "eternal things." Wisdom thus becomes the principal factor in identifying with Christ in thought, judgment, the evaluation of any matter however large or small, so that the priest (like every Christian, only more so) reflects the light, practical zeal, obedience to the Father, rhythm of prayer and action and, one could almost say, the spiritual breath of Christ. This goal can be reached by allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit in meditating on the Gospel, which fosters a deeper union with Christ, helps one to enter ever further into the Master's thought and strengthens the personal attachment to him. If the priest is diligent in this he remains more easily in a state of conscious joy arising from his perception of the intimate, personal fulfillment of the Word of God, which he must teach others. In fact, the Council says of presbyters, "As they seek how they may better teach others what they have learned, they will better understand 'the unfathomable riches of Christ' (Eph 3:8) and the manifold wisdom of God" (PO 13). Let us pray the Lord to grant us a great number of priests who in their prayer life discover, assimilate and taste the wisdom of God, and like the Apostle Paul, sense the supernatural inclination to proclaim and bestow it as the true reason for their apostolate (cf. PDV n. 47).

5. In speaking of the priest's prayer, the Council also mentions and recommends the Liturgy of the Hours, which joins the priest's personal prayer to that of the Church. "In the recitation of the Divine Office, they offer the voice of the Church which perseveres in prayer in the name of the whole human race, together with Christ who 'lives on still to make intercession on our behalf' (Heb 7:25)" (PO 13).

By virtue of the mission of representation and intercession entrusted to him, the presbyter is formally obliged to this form of "official" prayer, delegated by the Church and made in the name not only of believers but of all mankind and, one could say, of the whole universe [1] . Sharing in Christ's priesthood, he intercedes for the needs of the Church, the world and every human being, knowing that he represents and expresses the universal voice that sings the glory of God and seeks the salvation of mankind.

6. It is good to recall that, in order to give greater assurance to their prayer life and to strengthen and renew it by drawing on its sources, the Council asks priests to devote (in addition to time for the daily practice of prayer) longer periods to intimacy with Christ: "Spiritual retreats and spiritual direction are of great worth" (PO 18). This direction will serve as a friendly and fatherly hand to help them on the way. As they experience the benefits of this guidance, they will be all the more ready to offer this help, in turn, to those who are entrusted to their pastoral ministry. This will be a great resource for many people today, especially young people, and will play a decisive role in solving the problem of vocations, as the experience of so many generations of priests and religious show.

In the preceding catechesis we already mentioned the importance of the sacrament of Penance. The Council urges the presbyter to make "frequent use" of it. Obviously whoever exercises the ministry of reconciling Christians with the Lord through the sacrament of forgiveness must himself have recourse to this sacrament. He will be the first to acknowledge that he is a sinner and to believe in the divine pardon expressed by sacramental absolution. In administering the sacrament of forgiveness, this awareness of being a sinner will help him better to understand sinners. Does not the Letter to the Hebrews say of the priest, taken from among men: "He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness" (Heb 5:2)? In addition, the personal use of the sacrament of Penance motivates the priest to make himself more available to administering this sacrament to the faithful who request it.

This too is an urgent pastoral need in our day.

However, the presbyter's prayer reaches its apex in the Eucharistic celebration, his "greatest task" (PO 13). This is such an important point for the priest's prayer life that I want to devote the next catechesis to it.

[1]   cf. CIC, can. 1174, §1"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich Euch alle sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Pilgern aus zahlreichen Pfarreien, die unter der Leitung ihrer Seelsorger gekommen sind, sowie den anwesenden Ministranten und der Gruppe der Katholischen Arbeitnehmerbewegung Waldbrunn, die in diesem Jahr ihr hundertjähriges Bestehen feiert.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich gern meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir les francophones présents, jeunes et aînés. Je souhaite la bienvenue aux professeurs de l’Ecole Saint–Benoît des Pères Lazaristes à Istanbul, et je les assure de mes souhaits fervents pour leur mission éducative et leur témoignage spirituel.

Un salut cordial aussi aux cyclistes qui rejoignent les Jeux Méditerranéens dans un esprit de solidarité entre les peuples.

A tous, je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to Bishop Bregan and the members of the Lutheran Diocese of Agder in Norway. I pray that your visit will confirm the good ecumenical relations between us, as we make ever greater efforts to reach the unity of all Christ’s followers.

Gud velsigne dere och deres fedreland.

Upon all the English–speaking visitors and pilgrims from Great Britain, Ireland, India, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Canada and the United States, I invoke abundant divine blessings.

A suore del Giappone 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Carissime Suore, componenti il Definitorio dell’Istituto “Miyazaki Charitas”, è iniziato il mese dedicato al Sacro Cuore di Gesù che ci fa ricordare il suo sconfinato amore verso di noi. Poiché voi portate proprio il nome “ Charitas ”, sentitevi maggiormente stimolate ad effondere l’amore di Gesù tra la gente, sotto la guida della Madre di Gesù.

Mentre desidero ardentemente che ciò si avveri, vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a los integrantes del coro “ Ars Nova ”, de Salta (Argentina), a la peregrinación procedente de México y al “Círculo Católico” de Burgos, España.

A todos imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saúdo cordialmente os que me ouvem, em especial os brasileiros vindos de São Paulo, Curitiba, Porto Alegre e Salvador, mais o grupo da Embaixada do Brasil na Alemanha. Desejo lembrar, mais uma vez, a importância, inclusive para os sacerdotes, do uso frequente do sacramento da Penitência, e formulo para todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, assim como para as suas famílias, os meus votos de saúde, paz e graça, em Jesus Cristo.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana 

Mi è gradito salutare ora i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Rivolgo il mio pensiero alle Suore Collegine della Sacra Famiglia che, unitamente al Movimento Giovanile della Congregazione, sono venute a Roma in occasione dell’anniversario della nascita del loro Fondatore, il Servo di Dio Cardinale Pietro Marcellino Corradini. Sono lieto di benedire la vostra Famiglia Religiosa, impegnata nel delicato ed urgente compito della formazione dei giovani, mediante l’attività scolastica e catechetica.

Saluto con affetto i calciatori, i dirigenti e i tecnici della Società Chievo-Verona che, insieme ai dirigenti della Ditta Paluani, hanno voluto cortesemente farmi visita. Vi auguro che il vostro impegno sportivo serva anche a favorire un autentico spirito di pace e di solidarietà tra i vostri ammiratori, evitando qualunque forma di violenza che disonora l’uomo.

Infine desidero salutare con vera gioia il folto gruppo di Allievi Ufficiali di Complemento del Genio e gli Agenti Ausiliari della Polizia di Stato di Campobasso con i loro rispettivi Superiori. Carissimi, auspico per voi che il periodo di servizio militare sia un momento favorevole per una più profonda maturazione umana, sociale e cristiana, in spirito di sincera dedizione al bene comune. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli. Abbiamo celebrato domenica scorsa nella Pentecoste, l’effusione dello Spirito Santo. Lo Spirito di Cristo sia per voi, giovani, come “vento e fuoco” che vi preserva dal torpore, spingendovi all’amore dei grandi ideali e all’impegno per la Chiesa e la società. Sia per voi, ammalati, il “Consolatore”, che vi accompagna nella fatica quotidiana, dandovi la certezza dell’amore di Dio. Sia per voi, sposi novelli, fonte di “comunione” che vi faccia crescere costantemente nell’amore reciproco. A tutti di cuore imparto la mia benedizione.

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