VATICAN CITY (CNS): Priests can preach the Gospel effectively only if they give their lives totally to Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said.
At his weekly general audience June 24, the pope said the fact that the new Year for Priests overlapped for 10 days with the concluding year of St Paul is a useful reminder that priests must be missionaries as well as celebrants of the sacraments.
“Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of men and women,” he told an estimated 11,000 people gathered for the audience in St. Peter’s Square.
“He is the minister of their salvation, their happiness, their authentic liberation.”
Pope Benedict said he hoped the Year for Priests, which began June 19, would help priests “grow toward the spiritual perfection” they need to be effective ministers and would help the faithful “appreciate more fully the great gift of grace which the priesthood is.”
The pope said, “An authentic service of the Word requires that the priest tends toward a denial of self,” so that with St Paul he can say, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
A priest is called not simply to function as the minister of Christ’s grace, but to truly embody Christ’s grace, which “requires that the priest progressively lose himself in Christ, participating in the mystery of his death and resurrection with his entire being — intelligence, liberty, will and the offering of his own body,” the pope said.
“Only participation in Christ’s sacrifice, his ‘kenosis’ (self-emptying), makes proclamation authentic,” he said.
The pope prayed that the world’s priests always would be aware of “the responsibility of their mission, which is to be the sign and the presence of the infinite mercy of God” in the world.