Pope John Paul II
The Holy Father continues his catechesis on consecrated life on Wednesday, February 15, 1995.
1. There are deep affinities between the priesthood and religious life. Actually, down the centuries the number of religious priests has increased. In most cases these are men who, having entered a religious institute, were ordained priests within it. Less frequent, but still numerous, are the cases of priests incardinated in a Diocese who subsequently join a religious institute. Both cases show that in male consecrated life the vocation to a religious institute is very frequently associated with a vocation to the priestly ministry.
2. We can ask ourselves what the religious life contributes to the priestly ministry and why, in God's plan, so many men are called to this ministry within the framework of religious life. Let us answer that, if it is true that priestly ordination itself entails a personal consecration, entering religious life predisposes the subject to accept the grace of priestly ordination better and to live its requirements more completely. The grace of the evangelical counsels and of community life has been shown to foster the acquisition of the "holiness" required by the priesthood because of the priest's function with respect to the Eucharistic and Mystical Body of Christ.
Furthermore, the striving for perfection that marks and characterizes religious life encourages the ascetic effort to make progress in virtue, to grow in faith, hope and especially charity, and to live a life that conforms to the Gospel ideal. To this end, institutes offer formation so that religious may be firmly guided from their youth in a life of holiness and acquire solid convictions and habits of life that are evangelically austere. In these spiritual conditions, they can draw greater benefit from the graces which accompany priestly ordination.
3. Nevertheless, before religious vows become obligations assumed in connection with Holy Orders and the ministry, they have an inherent value as a response of oblative love to the One who with infinite love "offered himself freely" for our sake (cf. Is 53:12- Heb 9:28). Thus the commitment to celibacy is not primarily a requirement for the diaconate or the priesthood, but adherence to an ideal that requires the total gift of self to Christ.
Let us add that with this commitment prior to ordination, religious can help diocesan priests to understand better and further appreciate the value of celibacy. It is to be hoped that, far from casting doubt on the validity of such a decision, they will encourage diocesan priests to be faithful in this area. This is a beautiful and holy ecclesial role carried out by religious institutes outside their confines for the benefit of the entire Christian community.
Belonging to a religious institute enables the priest to live evangelical poverty more radically. Indeed, it is community life that permits the members of an institute to give up their personal belongings, while the diocesan priest normally has to provide for himself. Thus an increasingly visible witness of evangelical poverty is to be hoped for and expected from religious priests, which, in addition to sustaining them on their way to the perfection of love, can encourage diocesan priests to seek practical ways of living a life of greater poverty, especially by pooling some of their resources.
Religious recognize in Pastors expression of divine authority
Lastly, the vow of obedience taken by religious is intended to exercise a beneficial influence on their attitude in the priestly ministry, spurring them to submission towards the superiors of the community helping them, to communion in the spirit of faith with those who represent God's will for them, and to respect for the authority of the Bishops and the Pope in the fulfilment of their sacred ministry. From religious priests, therefore, not only is formal obedience to the Church's hierarchy expected and hoped for, but also a spirit of loyal, friendly and generous co-operation with it. By their formation in evangelical obedience, they can more easily overcome the temptations of rebellion, systematic criticism or distrust, and can recognize in the Pastors the expression of divine authority. This is also a useful aid that, as we read in the Decree Christus Dominus of the Second Vatican Council, religious priests can and must bring the sacred Pastors of the Church, today as in the past and even more in the future "in view of the more pressing needs of souls ... and in view of the growing needs of the apostolate" (Christus Dominus, n. 34).
4. And again: religious priests can show through their community life the charity which must motivate the presbyterate. According to the intention expressed by Christ in the Upper Room, the precept of mutual love is linked to priestly consecration. In relations of communion established in view of the perfection of love, religious can witness to the fraternal charity that binds those who, in Christ's name, exercise the priestly ministry.
Clearly, this fraternal love should also characterize their relations with diocesan priests and with the members of institutes other than their own. This is the source of that "organized co-operation" recommended by the Council (cf. Christus Dominus, n. 35, 5).
Religious must preserve spirit of their institute
5. Again according to the Council, religious are more deeply committed to serving the Church by virtue of their consecration based on the profession of the evangelical counsels (cf. Lumen gentium n. 44). This service consists above all in prayer, in acts of penance and in the example given by their own life, but also in their participation "in the external works of the apostolate, with due consideration for the special character of each religious institute" (Decree Christus Dominus, n. 33). By their participation in the care of souls and the works of the apostolate under the authority of the sacred Pastors, religious priests "thus ... may be said in a certain sense to belong to the diocesan clergy" (Christus Dominus, n. 34), and must therefore "exercise these duties in such a way as to be the auxiliaries of the Bishop" (Christus Dominus, n. 35, 1), while at the same time preserving "the spirit of their own institute" and remaining faithful to the observance of their rule (Christus Dominus, n. 35, 2).
It is to be hoped that through the work of religious priests, the unity and harmony Jesus requested for all those who agree to be like him "consecrated in the truth" (Jn 17:19) will become more and more a reality in Dioceses and in the whole Church, and thus radiate the imago Ecclesiae Caritatis throughout the world!
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I offer cordial greetings to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Sweden and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Lord.
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