Father Cantalamessa: Priests Need a Friend to Succeed

Reflects on Role of Holy Spirit in Ministry

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- For a priest, companionship with the Holy Spirit is like an athlete's being in good shape or a poet's being inspired -- it is a state that brings success in giving of oneself, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa made this comparison today when he preached his second Advent reflection to Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia.

The preacher explained the historical and spiritual significance of the concept of anointing, and then applied it to the life of priests.

"To have the anointing," he said, "[...] means to have the Holy Spirit as 'inseparable companion' in life, to do everything 'in the Spirit,' in his presence, with his guidance."

Father Cantalamessa reflected: "All this is translated, on the outside, now in softness, calm, peace, sweetness, devotion, emotion, now in authority, force, power, authoritativeness, according to the circumstances, the character of each one and also the office held.

"The living example is Jesus who, moved by the Spirit, manifests himself gentle and humble of heart, but also, according to the moment, full of divine authority. It is a condition characterized by a certain interior luminosity which gives facility and mastery in doing things. Somewhat as "form" is for the athlete and inspiration for the poet: a state in which one succeeds in giving the best of oneself."

Good habit

The Capuchin asserted that priests should make it a habit to request the Spirit's anointing before "setting about an important action at the service of the kingdom."

And he offered his own example of the efficacy of such requests: "At times, I have found myself having to speak to a large auditorium, in a foreign language, often just having arrived from a long trip. Total darkness. The language in which I had to speak it seemed to me I had never known, I was unable to concentrate on a scheme, a topic. And the initial hymn was about to end. ... Then I remembered the anointing and in haste I made a brief prayer: 'Father, in the name of Christ, I ask you for the anointing of the Spirit!'"   "At times, the effect is immediate. One feels almost physically the coming on oneself of the anointing. A certain emotion goes through the body, clarity of mind, serenity of soul; exhaustion, nervousness disappear, as do every fear and every timidity; one experiences something of the calm and the authority itself of God."

Father Cantalamessa observed, "It seems that before God we have a sort of right to claim [this anointing]."

And he spoke of how he bargains with the Trinity to get it: "[I]f I must speak of Jesus Christ, I make a secret covenant with God the Father, without letting Jesus know, and I say: 'Father, I must speak of your Son Jesus that you so love: give me the anointing of your Spirit to reach the heart of the people.'

"If I must speak of God the Father, I do the contrary: I make a secret agreement with Jesus ... the doctrine of the Trinity is wonderful also for this."

Perfume of Christ's presence

Father Cantalamessa went on to speak of the fragrance that is the effect of an anointing. He said the priest should be "the good perfume of Christ in the world," though he affirmed with the Apostle, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels."

"In the end," the preacher said, "we know too well, from the recent painful and humiliating experience, what all this means. [...] [T]he anointing, if it loses its odor and is spoiled, transforms itself into its contrary, into stench and, instead of attracting to Christ, it alienates from him."

Citing Benedict XVI's letter in proclaiming the Year for Priests, Father Cantalamessa spoke of the need to renew the awareness of the gift of God in pastors and religious who are "afire with love for God and for souls."

"I have thought of this series of meditations on the priesthood precisely as a small contribution in the sense desired by the Holy Father," the Capuchin said.

He pointed to the examples of St. John Vianney and Padre Pio, who "spread the perfume of Christ."

"So many priests, unknown by the world, are in their environments the good odor of Christ and of the Gospel," Father Cantalamessa affirmed.

And he concluded with a reflection by Father Henri Lacordaire, which he admitted might be "a bit too optimistic and idealized," but which he offered as an aid to "rediscover the ideal and the enthusiasm for the priestly ministry."
 "To live in the midst of the world without any desire for its pleasures; to be a member of every family, without belonging to any of them; to share every suffering, to be made a part of every secret, heal every wound; to go every day from men to God to offer Him their devotion and their prayers, and to turn from God to men to take to them his forgiveness and his hope; to have a heart of steel for chastity and a heart of flesh for charity; to teach and forgive, console and bless and to be blessed forever. O God, what kind of life is ever like this? It is your life, o priest of Jesus Christ!"

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