Papal Message to Priests on Retreat in Ars

"Your Hands, Your Lips, Become ... the Hands and Lips of God"

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 29, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the text of a videomessage sent by Benedict XVI and transmitted Monday to a group of priests on an international retreat in Ars, France.

The retreat is being preached by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, Austria. The retreat, held in the context of the Year for Priests, began Monday and concludes Oct. 4.

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Dear brothers in the priesthood,

As you can imagine, I would have been enormously happy to be able to be with you on this international priestly retreat on the theme: "The Joy of Being a Priest: Consecrated for the Salvation of the World." You are many who participate and are benefited by the teachings of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. I cordially greet the other preachers and the bishop of Belley-Ars, Guy Marie Bagnard. I have had to be content with addressing this taped message to you, but I want to believe that with these words, I speak to each one of you in the most personal way possible, so that, as St. Paul said, "I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace" (Philippians 1:7).

St. John Mary Vianney emphasized the indispensable role of the priest when he said: "A good pastor, a pastor according to the heart of God, this is the greatest treasure that the good God can give a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy" (The Cure of Ars, Thoughts, Bernard Nodet, Desclee de Brouwer, Foi Vivante, 2000, p. 101). In this Year of the Priest, we are all called to explore and rediscover the grandeur of the sacrament that has configured us forever to Christ the High Priest and has "consecrated" all of us "in truth" (John 17:19).

Chosen among men, the priest continues to be one of them and is called to serve them giving them the life of God. He it is who "continues the work of redemption on earth" (Nodet, p. 98). Our priestly vocation is a treasure that we bear in earthen vessels (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7). St. Paul expressed happily the infinite distance that exists between our vocation and the poverty of the answer we can give to God. Let us keep present in our ears and in the depth of our heart the Apostle's exclamation full of confidence, who said: "for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). Awareness of this weakness opens us to intimacy with God, who gives us strength and joy. The more the priest perseveres in friendship with God, the more he will continue the work of the Redeemer on earth (cf. Nodet, p. 98). The priest is no longer for himself, but for all (cf. Nodet, p. 100).

Precisely therein lies one of the greatest challenges of our time. The priest, man of the divine Word and of sacred things, must be today, more than ever, a man of joy and hope. To men who can no longer conceive that God is pure Love, he will always affirm that life is worth living, and that Christ gives it all its meaning because he loves men, all men. The religion of the Cure d'Ars is a religion of joy, not a morbid seeking of mortification, as sometimes has been believed: "Our happiness is too great, no, no, we will never be able to understand it" (Nodet, p. 110), he said, and also "when we are along the way and we catch sight of a bell tower, this should make our heart beat as the sight of the roof of the dwelling of the beloved makes the bride's heart beat." 

Thus, I would like to greet with particular affection those of you who have the pastoral charge of several churches and who spend yourselves without counting the cost to maintain a sacramental life in your different communities. The recognition of the Church is immense for you all! Do not lose courage, but continue praying so that numerous young men will agree to respond to Christ's call. Christ does not fail to want to increase the number of his apostles to carry out the mission in his fields.

Dear priests, I am also thinking of the enormous diversity of the ministries you exercise at the service of the Church. Think of the great number of Masses you have celebrated or will celebrate, each time making Christ present on the altar. Think of the innumerable absolutions you have given and will give, allowing a sinner to be forgiven. You perceive in this moment the infinite fecundity of the sacrament of [holy] orders. Your hands, your lips, become, in the space of an instant, the hands and lips of God. You bear Christ in yourselves; you have, by grace, entered in the Holy Trinity. As the saintly Cure said: "If one had faith, he would see God hidden in the priest as a light behind a glass, as wine mixed with water" (Nodet, p. 97). This consideration should help to harmonize relations between priests in order to bring about that priestly community to which St. Peter exhorts (cf. 1 Peter 2:9) to form the body of Christ, upbuilt in love (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16).

The priest is the man of the future: he who has taken seriously Paul's words: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above" (Colossians 3:1). What is done on earth is in the order of the means ordered to the last End. The Mass is the only point of union between the means and the End, because it allows us already to contemplate, under the humble appearance of bread and wine, the Body and Blood of him whom we will adore in eternity. The simple but profound phrases of the saintly Cure on the Eucharist help us to perceive better the richness of that unique moment of the day in which we live a vivifying face to face [encounter] for ourselves and for each one of the faithful. "The happiness there is in saying the Mass will be understood only in heaven," he wrote (Nodet, p. 104). Therefore, I encourage you to reinforce your faith and that of the faithful in the sacrament you celebrate which is the source of true joy. The Saint of Ars wrote: "The priest should feel the same joy (of the Apostles) on seeing Our Lord, whom he has between his hands" (Ibid.).

Thanking you for what you are and for what you do, I repeat: "Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests in the life of the Church" (Homily during the Mass of Sept. 13, 2008, on the Esplanade des Invalides, Paris). Living witnesses of the power of God who works in the weakness of men, consecrated for the salvation of the world, you are, my dear brothers, chosen by Christ himself to be, thanks to him, salt of the earth and light of the world. May you be able to experience in a profound way, during this spiritual retreat, the Inexpressible Closeness (St. Augustine, Confessions, III, 6, va 13, p. 383) to be perfectly united to Christ in order to proclaim his love around you and to commit yourselves totally to the service of the sanctification of all the members of the people of God! Entrusting you to the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of priests, I impart to you all my Apostolic Blessing.

[Translation by ZENIT]