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The priest is called to be a man of charity

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 7 July 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the preceding catecheses devoted to presbyters, we have already mentioned several times the importance of fraternal charity in their lives. Now we want to discuss this more explicitly, beginning with the very root of this charity in the priest's life. This root is found in his identity as a "man of God." The First Letter of John teaches us that "God is love" (4:8). Since the priest is a "man of God" he must be a man of charity. He would have no true love for God (nor even true piety or true apostolic zeal) without love for his neighbor.

Jesus himself showed the connection between love for God and love for neighbor, since "loving the Lord, your God, with all your heart" cannot be separated from "loving your neighbor" (cf. Mt 22:36-40). Consistently, therefore, the author of the Letter cited above reasons: "This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 Jn 4:21).

2. Speaking of himself, Jesus described this love as that of a "good shepherd" who does not seek his own interest or his own advantage, like a hired hand. He noted that the good shepherd loves his sheep to the point of giving his own life (cf. Jn 10:11, 15). Thus it is a love to the point of heroism.

We know to what extent this was realized in the life and death of Jesus. Those who, in virtue of priestly ordination, receive the mission of shepherds are called to present anew in their lives and witness to with their actions the heroic love of the good shepherd.

3. In Jesus' life one can clearly see the essential features of the "pastoral charity" that he had for his brothers and sisters, and that he asks his brother "shepherds" to imitate. Above all, his love was humble: "I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29). Significantly, he urged his apostles to renounce their personal ambitions and any spirit of domination so as to imitate the example of the "Son of Man" who "did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28; cf. PDV 21-22).

As a result the mission of shepherd cannot be carried out with a superior or authoritarian attitude (cf. 1 Pet 5:3), which would irritate the faithful and perhaps drive them from the fold. In the footsteps of Christ the good shepherd, we must be formed in a spirit of humble service (cf. CCC 876).

Jesus also gave the example of a love filled with compassion--a sincere, active sharing in the sufferings and problems of the faithful. He felt compassion for the crowd without a shepherd (cf. Mt 9:36). For this reason he was concerned to guide them by his words of life and began to "teach them many things" (Mk 6:34). With this same compassion he healed many of the sick (Mt 14:14), as a sign of his intention to give spiritual healing. He multiplied the loaves for the hungry (Mt 15:32; Mk 8:2), which was an eloquent symbol of the Eucharist. He was moved by the sight of human misery (Mt 20:34; Mk 1:41), and wanted to bring healing; he shared the pain of those who mourned the loss of a dear relative (Lk 7:13; Jn 11:33-35). He showed mercy even to sinners (cf. Lk 15:1-2), in union with the Father who is full of compassion for the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:20) and prefers mercy to ritual sacrifice (cf. Mt 9:10-13). In some cases Jesus rebuked his adversaries for not understanding his mercy (Mt 12:7).

4. In this regard it is significant that the Letter to the Hebrews, in the light of Jesus' life and death, again sees an essential feature of the authentic priesthood in solidarity and compassion. Indeed, it reaffirms that the High Priest, "taken from among men and made their representative before able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring" (Heb 5:1-2). Therefore, the eternal Son of God too "had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17). As a result our great consolation as Christians is knowing that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15).

The presbyter thus finds in Christ the model of a true love for the suffering, the poor, the afflicted and especially for sinners, because Jesus is close to human beings having lived a life like our own. He endured trials and tribulations like our own; therefore he is full of compassion for us and "is able to deal patiently with erring sinners" (Heb 5:2). Finally, he is able effectively to help those sorely tried: "Since he was himself tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are tempted" (Heb 2:18).

5. Continuing in this light of divine love, the Second Vatican Council presents priestly consecration as a source of pastoral charity: "Priests of the New Testament, by their vocation and ordination, are in a certain sense set apart in the bosom of the People of God. However, they are not to be separated from the People of God or from any person, but they are to be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them. They cannot be ministers of Christ unless they be witnesses and dispensers of a life other than earthly life. But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of men" (PO 3). At issue are two demands on which the two aspects of priestly behavior are based: for presbyters, "Their ministry itself, by a special title, forbids that they be conformed to this world, yet at the same time it requires that they live in this world among men. They are to live as good shepherds that know their sheep, and they are to seek to lead those who are not of this sheepfold that they, too, may hear the voice of Christ, so that there might be one fold and one shepherd" (PO 3). This explains Paul's intense activity in collecting aid for the poorest communities (cf. 1 Cor 16:1-4), and the recommendation made by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews to share possessions in supporting one another as true followers of Christ (cf. Heb 13:16).

6. According to the Council, the presbyter who wants to be conformed to the good shepherd and reproduce in himself his charity for his brothers and sisters will have to be committed to some very important tasks today, even more so than in other times. He must know his own sheep (cf. PO 3), especially by contact, visits, relations of friendship, planned or occasional meetings, etc., always for a reason and with the spirit of a good shepherd. As Jesus did, he must welcome the people who come to him, remaining ready and able to listen, wanting to understand, being open and genuinely kind, engaging in deed and activities to aid the poor and unfortunate. He must cultivate and practice those "virtues which in human affairs are deservedly esteemed [and] contribute a great deal: such as goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, zealous pursuit of justice, affability, and others" (PO 3), as well as patience, readiness to forgive quickly and generously, kindness, affability, the capacity to be obliging and helpful without playing the benefactor. There are a myriad of human and pastoral virtues which the fragrance of Christ's charity can and must determine in the priest's conduct (cf. PDV 23).

7. Sustained by charity, the presbyter can, in the exercise of his ministry, follow the example of Christ, whose food was to do his Father's will. In loving submission to this will the priest will find the principle and source of unity in his life. The Council states that priests can achieve this unity "by joining themselves with Christ in the recognition of the Father's will.... In this way, by adopting the role of the good shepherd they will find in the practice of pastoral charity itself the bond of priestly perfection which will achieve unity in their life and activity" (PO 14). The source on which to draw this charity is always the Eucharist, which is "the center and root of the priest's whole life." His soul must strive to make his own what takes place on the altar of sacrifice (cf. PO 14).

The grace and charity of the altar are thus spread to the pulpit, the confessional, the parish office, the school, recreational activities, homes and streets, hospitals, public transportation and the communications media, wherever the priest has the opportunity to carry out his task as a shepherd. In every case it is his Mass which is spread. His spiritual union with Christ the Priest and Victim leads him to be, as St. Ignatius of Antioch said, "God's wheat in order to become pure bread" for the good of his brothers and sisters (cf. Epist. ad Romanos, IV, 1)."

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

Ai gruppi di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir les pèlerins de langue française venus ici ce matin. Je vous souhaite à tous, chers amis, un été qui soit un temps de repos bienfaisant et aussi de reprise spirituelle. Jeunes et aînés, que le Seigneur vous bénisse! 

Ai visitatori di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to the athletes who have come to Rome for the European Cup for Visually Impaired Swimmers. I likewise extend a cordial greeting to those participating in the American Summer Institute at the Waldensian Faculty, as well as to the pilgrim groups from Indonesia and Korea. Upon all the Englishspeaking visitors and pilgrims I invoke God’s gifts of joy and peace. May the All–Gracious Lord watch over you in your travels, and may he always guide and protect you and your loved ones.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern, sehr herzlich. Ich wünsche Euch erholsame Ferien, in denen Ihr auch Zeit findet möget, Euren Glauben neu zu beleben und zu festigen. Dazu erteile ich Euch und Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai visitatori di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Ahora deseo saludar cordialmente a todos los visitantes de lengua española.

En primer lugar, al Señor Cardenal Luis Aponte Martínez y a la peregrinación de San Juan de Puerto Rico. Saludo también al grupo mexicano de la Obra de la Cruz. De España, doy mi bienvenida a los numerosos peregrinos de las diócesis de Plasencia y Astorga, así como a los miembros de las Hermandades de Calahorra y Baza. Que vuestra estancia en Roma sea una ocasión propicia para reavivar vuestra fe y vuestro compromiso eclesial. A todos os imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Queridos peregrinos brasileiros, vindos de Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, São Paulo e o grupo de fiéis da diocese de Botucatu com o seu Bispo: é com muito gosto que o Papa vos saúda e oferece estas breves considerações, grato pelo vosso meritório empenho na causa da formação dos sacerdotes e na difusão ao perto e ao longe da Palavra de Vida, que lhes foi confiado anunciar até aos confins da terra. Nossa Senhora Aparecida seja sempre modelo e inspiradora da vossa solicitude eclesial. Para todos vós e para os vossos caros, vai a minha afectuosa Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini italiani 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Saluto in particolare il gruppo dei Missionari Monfortani, che stanno celebrando il loro Capitolo Generale. Auspico, carissimi, che questo importante momento di verifica e di programmazione contribuisca all’approfondimento della missione tipica del vostro Istituto per il bene di tutta la Chiesa. Vi sostenga la potente intercessione di Maria, Stella dell’Evangelizzazione, e vi accompagni il mio incoraggiamento, che volentieri indirizzo a voi qui presenti ed ai vostri Confratelli, che operano nei diversi Continenti, per una rinnovata testimonianza, anche nella società attuale, della ricca spiritualità di San Luigi Maria Grignion de Montfort. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Mi rivolgo, infine, cordialmente ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli, presenti all’odierna udienza.

Cari giovani, il periodo estivo è tempo di viaggi, di pellegrinaggi e, spesso, di campi-scuola. Si tratta, soprattutto per voi giovani, di momenti preziosi per conoscere e comunicare idee ed esperienze, e per testimoniare la vostra fede in un dialogo aperto, cordiale ed ispirato a carità.

Auguro a voi, malati, che il tempo dell’estate vi porti conforto e sollievo, mentre invito ciascuno ad essere sempre consapevole del valore salvifico della sofferenza.

Agli sposi esprimo l’auspicio che sappiano annunciare con gioia e convinzione la “Buona Novella” della famiglia cristiana, testimoniando l’importanza della sua missione nella Chiesa e nella società.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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