ON SATURDAY, POPE BENEDICT SPOKE OF THE TRANSITION FROM THE YEAR OF ST. PAUL, THE PRIEST, TO THE YEAR OF THE PRIESTHOOD, HIGHLIGHTING ST. JEAN MARIE VIANNEY
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
With the celebration of First Vespers for the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, over which I will preside this evening at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Pauline Year -- proclaimed for the bimillennium of the Apostle of the Gentiles' birth -- comes to a close. It has truly been a time of grace in which, through many pilgrimages, catecheses, numerous publications and other initiatives, the figure of St. Paul was put forward again in the whole Church, and his vibrant message has revived everywhere, in Christian communities, a passion for Christ and the Gospel. For this we give thanks to God for the Pauline Year and for all the spiritual gifts that it has brought to us.
Divine Providence has arranged that a few days ago another special year -- the Year for Priests -- was inaugurated on June 19, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, marking the 150th anniversary of the death -- "dies natalis" [heavenly day of birth] -- of John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars. It is a further spiritual and pastoral impulse that -- I am certain -- will not fail to bring many benefits to the Christian people, and especially to the clergy.
What is the purpose of The Year of Priests? As I wrote in the related letter that I sent to priests, it is meant to contribute to the promotion of an interior commitment on the part of all priests to a more powerful and incisive evangelical witness in the world today. In this regard, the Apostle Paul constitutes a splendid model to imitate, not so much in the specifics of his life -- his life was, in fact, truly unique -- but in his love of Christ, in his zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel, in his dedication to the communities, in his elaboration of an effective synthesis of pastoral theology.
St. Paul is an example of a priest who was completely identified with his ministry -- just as the holy Curé d'Ars would also be -- conscious of possessing a priceless treasure, that is, the message of salvation, but in an "earthen vessel" (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7); thus he is at the same time strong and humble, intimately persuaded that everything is God’s doing, everything is grace.
"The love of Christ possesses us," the Apostle writes. This could well be the motto of every priest -- that the Spirit compels (cf. Acts 20:22) him to be a faithful steward of the mysteries of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2). The priest must belong totally to Christ and totally to the Church; to the latter he is called to dedicate himself with an undivided love, like a faithful husband to his bride.
Dear friends, together with that of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, we call upon the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that she obtain from the Lord abundant blessings for priests during this Year for Priests, which has just begun.
May the Madonna, whom St. John Mary Vianney loved and made his parishioners love, help every priest to revive the gift of God that is in him by virtue of his holy Ordination, so that he grow in sanctity and be ready to bear witness, even to the point of martyrdom, to the beauty of his total and definitive consecration to Christ and the Church.