Father Cantalamessa Calls Priests to Be Servants

Says Their Vocation Is About Being, Not Doing

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 4, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Priests must be servants of Christ, not in the sense that they do acts of service, but that their identity is that of a servant, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.



Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said this today during his first Advent reflection for Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia.

The Capuchin said that in this Year for Priests, he would dedicate both his Advent and Lent reflections to the topic of the priesthood, trying "if possible, to make our priestly heart vibrate on contact with some Word of God."

The preacher reflected on the priestly calling: "'Servants of Christ!' -- with the exclamation mark to indicate the greatness, dignity and beauty of this title. [...] We are not speaking here of practical and ministerial services, how to administer the word and the sacraments [...] in other words, we are not speaking of the service as act, but of service as state, as essential vocation and as identity of the priest and we speak of it in the same sense and with the same spirit of Paul who at the beginning of his letters always introduces himself thus: 'Paul, servant of Christ Jesus, apostle by vocation.'
 
"On the invisible passport of the priest, the one with which he presents himself every day in the presence of God and of his people, to the call 'profession,' one should be able to read: 'Servant of Jesus Christ.' All Christians of course are servants of Christ [...] but the ordained minister is so in a title and sense that is different and higher."

Also a friend

But, as Christ says, the priest is not only a servant, but also a friend, Father Cantalamessa said.

"Alongside [the title of servant] must always be at least, in the depth of one's heart, another title: that of friends," he affirmed.

The priest is called to be with Jesus, though this "does not mean obviously only a physical closeness. [...] It means to share everything of Jesus: his itinerant life, certainly, but also his thoughts, purposes, spirit. The word companion comes from the Medieval Latin and means he who has in common (with-) the bread (panis), who eats the same bread," Father Cantalamessa explained.

Jesus goes even farther, the Capuchin affirmed, "completing the title of companions with that of friends. [...] A personal relationship, full of trust and friendship with the person of Jesus is the soul of every priesthood."

"The first step, to make Jesus the soul of one's priesthood, is to go from the Jesus personage to the Jesus person," he proposed. "A personage is one of whom one can speak as much as one pleases, but to whom and with whom no one dreams to speak. [...] The person, on the contrary, is one with whom and to whom one can speak. As long as Jesus remains an ensemble of news, of dogmas or of heresies, someone who is placed instinctively in the past, a memory, not a presence, he is a personage. It is necessary to convince oneself that he is alive and present, and more important than speaking about him is to speak with him."

"Full" agendas

Father Cantalamessa acknowledged that often priests face the temptation of putting their friendship with Christ on the back burner, faced with more "urgent" tasks.

He offered an illustration to show the error in this practice: "One day, an old professor was called as expert to speak on the more efficient planning of [time.] [...]

"Standing up, he took from under the table a large empty glass. At the same time he also took a dozen large stones like tennis balls that he deposited delicately one by one in the glass until it was full. When no more stones could be added, he asked his pupils: 'Do you think the glass is full?' and they all answered 'Yes!'
 
"He bent down again and took out from under the table a box full of crushed stones which he poured over the large stones, moving the glass so that the crushed stones could infiltrate between the large stones to the bottom. 'Is the glass full this time?' he asked. Becoming more prudent, the pupils began to understand and answered: 'Perhaps not yet.'"

And thus the professor continued with sand, and finally water, each time able to put more into the glass.

Father Cantalamessa continued: "At this point [the professor] asked: 'What great truth does this experiment show us?' The most audacious replied: 'This demonstrates that even when our agenda is completely full, with a bit of good will, we can always add some new endeavor, something else to do.'

"'No,' answered the professor. 'What the experiment demonstrates is that if one does not put the large stones first in the glass, one will never succeed in making them go in afterward.'"

The Pontifical Household preacher said that St. Peter already indicated what should be the "large stones" in a priest's life: "'But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'"

"We priests, more than anyone else, are exposed to the danger of sacrificing what is important for the urgent," Father Cantalamessa cautioned. "Prayer, the preparation of the homily or for Mass, study and formation, are all important things, but not urgent; if they are postponed, apparently, the world does not collapse, while there are so many little things -- a meeting, a phone call, a material task -- which are urgent. Thus one ends up by postponing systematically the important things to a 'later' that never arrives."
 
"For a priest," he affirmed, "to put the large stones first in the glass, can mean very concretely, to begin the day with time for prayer and dialogue with God, so that the activities and different commitments do not end up by taking up all the space."