I Thank God for My Priesthood and Pray That He Will Send More Labourers into His Harvest

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Homily for Mass Commemorating his 50th Jubilee November 1, 1996

1."Ecce Sacerdos magnus...".

"Behold the great High Priest who in his days pleased God and was found just, and in the day of wrath was the instrument of reconciliation.... To him he gave the blessing of all nations and confirmed his covenant upon his head" (cf. Sir 44:16ff., 45:3ff).

These words, taken from the Mass of the Common for a Confessor Bishop, according to the old liturgy, often come back to mind. They take me back to the time of my priestly ordination, which took place 50 years ago, precisely on the day when the Church celebrates all the saints.

Today, the mystery of Christ the Priest is part of the liturgy for the Solemnity of All Saints. On this day the Church proclaims that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein; for he has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers" (Ps 24 [23]: 1-2). Against the background of all the richness of creation, the psalmist contemplates the one who is worthy to climb the mountain of God and to stand in his holy place (cf. Ps 24 [23]:3). He, that is, who "has clean hands and a pure heart" (Ps 24 [23]:4); he who has received a "blessing from the Lord", in order to present himself to the Lord on behalf of all the generations who desire to see the face of the God of Jacob.

Thus today's liturgy invites us to turn our thoughts and hearts to Christ, the Eternal High Priest.

We give thanks today to Christ the High Priest

2. "Ecce Sacerdos magnus....": Christ, Redeemer of the world, is this "great High Priest". On his head "the Covenant" of God with his people is "confirmed". He is the Lawgiver and Witness of that new and eternal Covenant which has its "magna charta" in the eight Beatitudes recalled in today's Gospel. This Covenant with God, sealed by Christ's Cross and Resurrection, continues unchanging down the centuries. Through this Covenant what is spoken of in the passage from the Book of Revelation just proclaimed is fulfilled. "Behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne [of God] and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes ... and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God'.... Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever!" (Rv 7:9-12).

Who are these clothed in white robes who testify to the eternal salvation which comes from God and from Christ? They are those who "have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rv 7:14).

3. Jesus is the High Priest who alone can speak to God in the ineffable language of his own sacrifice. It is to him that we are offering honour and thanks today. I would like to do this together with the whole Christian community of Rome, recalling my priestly jubilee.

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your presence on such a significant occasion in my life. First I affectionately greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops and all of you, dear brothers in the priesthood, who have wished to join with me in thanking the Lord for the priceless gift of the ministerial priesthood. I also greet the President of the Italian Republic, the Mayor of the city of Rome, the Presidents of the Province and of the Lazio Region, as well as the other authorities present, and I thank them for their welcome participation.

On this occasion I naturally think with special affection and gratitude of all the priests who work and live here in Rome. I remember the elderly and the sick in particular, and I assure them of my daily "memento" in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. My thoughts also turn to the young priests, who are engaged in their first experiences of the ministry, with the respective joys and sorrows, disappointments and hopes. May the Lord never let their lamps lack the oil of faith, which can shed light on human affairs and give meaning to every suffering.

Throughout these 18 years of pastoral service as Bishop of Rome, I have had the Joy of ordaining almost 2,000 priests, many of whom directly serve our diocesan community. How could I not offer a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for all this? I thank God for my priesthood and for yours and I do so together with you and all the faithful of the Diocese of Rome spiritually joined in this jubilee celebration. I invite everyone to pray to the "Master of the harvest" with me, so that he will increase the labourers which his harvest needs.

See what love the Father has given us!

4. Today how eloquently ring the words of the Apostle St John: "See what love the Father has given us" (1 Jn 3:1) not only has he called us "children of God, and so we are" (ibid.), but he has made us share in Christ's priesthood. Through the sacrament of Orders, we priests can offer "in persona Christi" the one and eternal Sacrifice of the New Covenant. For this reason I give thanks to God because he has allowed me to celebrate Mass every day for the last 50 years, starting with 1 November 1946.

I see passing before me at this moment the images of that now distant day when early in the morning I presented myself at the Archbishop of Krakow's residence in Franciszkanka Street to receive priestly ordination, accompanied by a small group of relatives and friends. With deep feeling, I see myself prostrate on the floor of the Metropolitan Prince's private chapel, I hear the singing of the "Veni Creator" and the Litany of the Saints; I wait for the imposition of hands, I accept the invitation to proclaim the Good News, to lead the People of God, to celebrate the divine mysteries. These are indelible memories which I am reliving today with unspeakable gratitude to the Lord.

5. "See what love the Father has given us", a love that transforms us and spurs us to holiness! Holiness is the universal vocation given to all the baptized as today's Solemnity of All Saints clearly emphasizes. The priest exists to offer the faithful the means instituted by Christ for this journey of progressive sanctification. First and foremost among the means of holiness is the Eucharist, the memorial of the Saviour's Passion, Death and Resurrection. Through the priest, the Church makes the Eucharist, and it is this same Eucharist which in turn makes the Church. Thus the priest becomes the servant of the holiness and communion of the baptized.

It is in this spirit that I think back over the years of my priesthood. Beyond the memory of events and persons, I look deeply, as if to discern the mystery which has accompanied and surrounded me throughout these decades. As a priest, God has called me to be a man of the Word, a man of the Sacrament, a man of the "mystery of faith". Despite the time that has passed the words of the psalmist continue to well up in my heart: "Misercordias Domini in aeternum cantabo; in generationem, et generationem adnuntiabo veritatem tuam in ore meo" (Ps 88:2).

6. I will proclaim your truth, Lord, I will proclaim your love: eternal love, which encourages us to look trustingly to the future. St John writes: "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2). We await this moment, we await it with trepidation; we prepare ourselves for it every day. The love of God enables us each day to cross this threshold of eschatological hope. "We will see him as he is". We will see him face to face.

We will see him together with all those who have accompanied us on our earthly pilgrimage; we will meet him with those who are in the glory of heaven, first of all with Mary, whom we contemplate today as Queen of All Saints. It will be full joy in the light of the Most Holy Trinity.

Glory be to God to the Most Holy Trinity, for ever and ever. Amen.

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