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The priest must serve Christ's flock

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 22 September 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. The "priestly community," of which we have spoken several times in previous catecheses, is not isolated from the ecclesial community. It belongs to its very essence and is its very heart, in a constant interchange with all the other members of Christ's body. Presbyters serve this vital communion as pastors in virtue of sacramental Orders and the mandate that the Church confers on them.

At the Second Vatican Council the Church sought to reawaken in priests this awareness of belonging and sharing. It did this so that each of them would keep in mind that, although he is a pastor, he continues to be a Christian who must conform himself to all the demands of his Baptism and live as a brother with all the baptized, in service to "the same body of Christ which all are required to build up" (PO 9). It is significant that, on the basis of the ecclesiology of the body of Christ, the Council stressed the fraternal nature of the priest's relations with the other faithful, as it had already underscored the fraternal nature of the bishop's relations with his presbyters. In the Christian community, relationships are essentially fraternal, as Jesus requested in "his" commandment, recalled with such insistence by the Apostle St. John in his Gospel and Letters (cf. Jn 13:14; 15:12, 17; 1 Jn 4:11, 21). Jesus himself said to his disciples: "You are all brothers" (Mt 23:8).

2. According to Jesus' teaching, presiding over the community means serving it, not domineering over it. He himself gave us the example of a shepherd who cares for and serves his flock, and he proclaimed that he came not to be served but to serve (cf. Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28). In the light of Jesus, the good shepherd and the one Teacher and Lord (cf. Mt 23:8), the priest understands that he cannot seek his own honor nor his own interests. He must seek only what Jesus Christ wanted, putting himself at the service of his kingdom in the world. Thus, he knows--and the Council reminds him--that he must act as the servant of all, with sincere and generous self-giving, accepting all the sacrifices required by this service. He must always remember that Jesus Christ, the one Teacher and Lord, came to serve and did so to the point of giving "his own life as a ransom for the many" (Mt 20:28).

3. The problem of the presbyter's relationship with the other faithful in the Christian community is especially significant with regard to the so-called lay apostolate. This has taken on special importance in our day because of the new awareness of the essential role which the lay faithful exercise in the Church.

Everyone knows that the same historical circumstances have fostered the cultural and organizational rebirth of the lay apostolate, especially in the 19th century. A theology of the lay apostolate developed in the Church between the two world wars. This led to the special conciliar Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, and even more fundamentally, to the vision of the Church as community, which we find in Lumen Gentium, and the place for the lay apostolate it recognizes.

The Council considers priests' relationship with the laity in the light of the living, active and organic community which the priest is called to form and lead. To this end, the Council recommends that presbyters recognize and sincerely promote the dignity of the laity: their dignity as human persons raised by Baptism to divine adoption and endowed with their own gifts of grace. For each of them, the divine gift entails a special role in the Church's mission of salvation, also in places where presbyters ordinarily cannot exercise the laity's specific roles, such as the family, civil society, professional life, culture, etc. (cf. PO 9). Both the laity and priests must acquire an ever greater awareness of these specific roles, one based on a more complete sense of belonging to and participating in the Church.

4. The Council also says that presbyters should respect the just freedom of the laity, inasmuch as they are children of God enlivened by the Holy Spirit. In this atmosphere of respect for dignity and freedom, the Council's exhortation to priests is understandable: "They must willingly listen to the laity," taking into account their aspirations and utilizing their experience and competence in human activity, in order to recognize "the signs of the times." Presbyters will also seek to discern, with the Lord's help, the laity's charisms, "whether humble or exalted," and will want to "acknowledge them with joy and foster them with diligence" (PO 9).

What the Council notes and recommends is interesting and important: "Among the other gifts of God, which are found in abundance among the laity, those are worthy of special mention by which not a few of the laity are attracted to a higher spiritual life" (PO 9). Thanks be to God, we know that many faithful--in the Church today and often outside of her visible organizations--are devoted or want to devote themselves to prayer, meditation, penance (at least that of tiring, everyday work, done with diligence and patience, and that of difficult living situations), with or without direct involvement in an active apostolate. They often feel the need for a priest counselor or even a spiritual director, who welcomes them, listens to them and treats them with Christian friendship, humility and charity.

One could say that the moral and social crisis of our time, with the problems it brings to both individuals and families, makes this need for priestly help in the spiritual life more keenly felt. A new recognition of and a new dedication to the ministry of the confessional and of spiritual direction are to be strongly recommended to priests, also because of the new requests of lay people who more greatly desire to follow the way of Christian perfection set forth by the Gospel.

5. The Council recommends priests to recognize, promote and foster the cooperation of the laity in the apostolate and in the same pastoral ministry within the Christian community. They should not hesitate to "entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church" and to give them "freedom and room for action; in fact, they should invite them on suitable occasions to undertake works on their own initiative" (PO 9). This is consistent with respect for the dignity and freedom of the children of God, but also with Gospel service: "service to the Church," the Council says. It bears repeating that all this presupposes a deep sense of belonging to the community and of actively participating in its life. Even more deeply, it presumes faith and confidence in the grace at work in the community and in its members.

What the Council says could serve as a key to pastoral practice in this area, namely, that presbyters "have been placed in the midst of the laity to lead them to the unity of charity" (PO 9). Everything revolves around this central truth, in particular, openness and acceptance of everyone, the constant effort to maintain or restore harmony in order to encourage reconciliation, foster mutual understanding and create an atmosphere of peace. Yes, priests must always and everywhere be men of peace.

6. The Council entrusts this mission of community peace to priests: peace in truth and charity. "It is their task, therefore, to reconcile differences of mentality in such a way that no one need feel himself a stranger in the community of the faithful. They are defenders of the common good, with which they are charged in the name of the bishop. At the same time, they are strenuous assertors of the truth, lest the faithful be carried about by 'every wind of doctrine' (Eph 4:14). They are united by a special solicitude with those who have fallen away from the use of the sacraments, or perhaps even from the faith. Indeed, as good shepherds, they should not cease from going out to them" (PO 9).

Thus, they are concerned for everyone in and outside the flock, in accordance with the demands of the missionary dimension that pastoral work must have today. Against this background every presbyter will view the question of contact with non-believers, the non-religious and even those who call themselves atheists. He will feel spurred by charity toward all; he will strive to open the doors of the community to everyone. On this point the Council calls priests' attention to those fellow Christians "who do not enjoy full ecclesiastical union with us." This is the ecumenical horizon. Finally, the Council invites them to see that "They have entrusted to them all those who do not recognize Christ as their Savior" (PO 9). To make Christ known, to open the doors of minds and hearts to him, to cooperate with his ever new coming into the world: this is the essential reason of the pastoral ministry.

7. Through the Church priests have received a difficult charge from Christ. It is quite understandable that the Council asks all the faithful to cooperate as far as they can, to help them in their work and their problems, first of all with understanding and love. The faithful are the other element in the relationship of love linking priests to the whole community. The Church urges priests to care for and to look after the community, and calls the faithful in turn to solidarity toward their pastors: "The Christian faithful, for their part, should realize their obligations to their priests, and with filial love they should follow them as their pastors and fathers. In like manner, sharing their cares, they should help their priests by prayer and work" (PO 9).

The Pope says this again, addressing to all the lay faithful an urgent request in the name of Jesus, our one Teacher and Lord: help your pastors by prayer and active work; love and support them in the daily exercise of their ministry."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione linguistica tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle Pilger und Besucher. Mein besonders herzlicher Willkommensgrub gilt der groben Zahl von Schülerinnen und Schülern aus Deutschland. Für das begonnene Schuljahr erbitte ich Euch Gottes Segen und wünsche Euch viel Erfolg. Ferner grübe ich die Polizeibeamten aus Nordrhein–Westfalen; ich danke Euch für Euren treuen Dienst am Mitmenschen. Auberdem heibe ich den Kirchenchor der Pfarrei Eversberg sowie die Professoren, Studentinnen und Studenten der Theologie der Philipps–Universität Marburg herzlich willkommen.

Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement tous les pèlerins de langue française qui prennent part à cette Audience. J’offre en particulier mes souhaits chaleureux au groupe d’Aumôniers militaires de la région Méditerranée.

À chacun d’entre vous, chers Frères et Sœurs venus de différents diocèses de France, de Suisse, de Belgique et du Canada, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to the new students of the Pontifical Beda College. As you begin your studies for the priesthood in Rome, I urge you to conform your lives ever more fully to the Lord Jesus, imitating his obedience to the will of the Father and his self–sacrificing love for his Body, the Church. My greeting also goes to the pilgrimage groups from the Dioceses of Providence and Burlington accompanying their Bishops on their "ad Limina" visits. Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, the Philippines, China and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Ai fedeli giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi membri del gruppo dell’harp giapponese di Hiroshima, Nagasaki Junshin College, Rissho–Koseikai (una setta buddista) e Asahi Cultur Center.

A ciascun vostro gruppo rivolgo il mio caloroso augurio che, pur operando in campi diversi, lo scopo della vostra azione non sia rivolto ad una forma di autosoddisfazione o di ricerca del semplice profitto, ma che sia orientato al consolidamento della pace nel mondo.

Con questo desiderio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora con todo afecto a los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. De modo especial, a las comunidades del Pontificio Colegio Mexicano y del Colegio de los Legionarios de Cristo, en Roma. Que vuestra estancia en la Ciudad Eterna robustezca vuestro amor a la Iglesia y la dimensión universal de vuestra formación sacerdotal. Mi cordial bienvenida a Monseñor Adolfo Suárez Rivera, Arzobispo de Monterrey, Presidente de la Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano.

Saludo igualmente a los Religiosos Capuchinos y Terciarios Capu– chinos, así como a las peregrinaciones procedentes de España, Argentina, Bolivia y Panamá.

A todos bendigo de corazón.

A pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Minhas cordiais boas–vindas aos peregrinos de língua portuguesa que aqui vieram! Saúdo os portugueses da Diocese de Faro, uma peregrinação franciscana e os frades capuchinhos que se encontram em Roma para um Curso de Formação permanente. Saúdo, também, os numerosos brasileiros provenientes de diversos Estados do Brasil. Cristo Redentor, que é a Verdade, esteja em vossos corações, e, através da palavra do sacerdote, seja estímulo para perseverardes na fé. A todos vos abençoo e vos desejo muita paz e felicidades nos vossos lares e nas vossas Comunidades.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana 

Accolgo con gioia e gratitudine i pellegrini italiani. In particolare, saluto i giovani delle comunità dipendenti dall’Antoniano di Bologna ed auguro loro che la visita a Roma rafforzi in ciascuno la scelta per Cristo e l’impegno di lasciarsi modellare sul suo esempio da Dio, come argilla nelle mani di un sapiente artigiano. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Rivolgo poi il mio saluto affettuoso a voi, giovani, che vi preparate ad affrontare le sfide dell’esistenza; a voi, malati, che sperimentate sul vostro corpo le sofferenze del dolore; a voi, sposi novelli, che, nel nome del Signore, vi siete da poco scambiati il sì dell’amore. Vi invito a seguire con generosità la Persona e gli insegnamenti di Colui che è la Vita e la Verità, come fece San Matteo, di cui ieri abbiamo celebrato la festa liturgica. Cristo, Maestro buono, è la vera Via, che conduce all’autentica felicità. Vi accompagni la mia benedizione.

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