POPE Benedict XVI is encouraging priests to live the evangelical counsels following St John Mary Vianney’s example, and is urging them to help lay people live these virtues as well.
The Pope affirmed this in a letter to the priests of the world for the Year for Priests, which began on June 19 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Mary Vianney.
The Holy Father called for a “joyful and renewed realisation of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides”.
In today’s world, the Pontiff affirmed, “the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a forceful witness to the Gospel”.
“Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: ‘Are we truly pervaded by the Word of God? Is that Word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that Word? Do we love it?'”
The Holy Father encouraged priests to assimilate the “new style of life” that was “inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles”.
He pointed to the example of St John Mary Vianney, and living of the evangelical counsels “in a way suited to his priestly state”.
Pope Benedict explained that “his poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk, but that proper to a priest: While managing much money – since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works – he realised that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his ‘Providence’, his families of modest means.”
Thus, the Pope said, the saint would give to others, explaining, “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back.”
His chastity, the Pontiff affirmed, “was a chastity suited to one who must daily touch the Eucharist, who contemplates it blissfully and with that same bliss offers it to his flock”.
The saint’s obedience “found full embodiment in his conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of his ministry”, the Holy Father said.
He said the priest “considered this the golden rule for a life of obedience: ‘Do only what can be offered to the good Lord’.”
“In this context of a spirituality nourished by the practice of the evangelical counsels, I would like to invite all priests, during this year dedicated to them, to welcome the new springtime which the Spirit is now bringing about in the Church, not least through the ecclesial movements and the new communities,” Pope Benedict said.
“These gifts, which awaken in many people the desire for a deeper spiritual life, can benefit not only the lay faithful but the clergy as well.”
The Pope noted that “the communion between ordained and charismatic ministries can provide a helpful impulse to a renewed commitment by the Church in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world”.
The Pontiff emphasised the “communitarian form” of the ordained ministry, stating that the “communion between priests and their bishop, grounded in the sacrament of Holy Orders and made manifest in Eucharistic concelebration, needs to be translated into various concrete expressions of an effective and affective priestly fraternity”.
“Only thus will priests be able to live fully the gift of celibacy and build thriving Christian communities in which the miracles that accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel can be repeated.”