THE CHRISTOCENTRIC HOLINESS OF PRIESTS
Mons. Juan Esquerda Bifet
20th october 2004
Table of Contents:
Presentation: the Christocentric dimension of priests'
holiness, requirements, possibilities and ministry.
Called to be transparency of life and of the ways we live out
the example of Christ the Good Shepherd
Called to be educators and makers of saints, in love with
Some remarks on priestly holiness at the beginning of the third
* * * *
Presentation: the Christocentric dimension of priests'
holiness, requirements, possibilities and ministry.
The title of our meditation (the Christological
holiness of priests) places us in a relational attitude with
the Risen Christ, who is always present in our historical and
ecclesial development. When we use the term "holiness" we
refer to Christ's deep desire to see his expression in us, his
personal mark, his transparency: "I have been glorified in them
_ Consecrate them in truth: your Word is truth _ And I
consecrate myself for them, so that they may be also
consecrated in truth." (Jn 17:10, 17, 19). The Christocentric
or Christological dimension is connatural to Christian and
Being priests and, at the same time, not being or
not wishing to be holy, would be a theological contradiction,
since priestly life and actions, as a participation and
extension of Christ's living example, entail the transposition
of who we are and what we do into our lives. This priestly
holiness is possible.
"Holiness" refers to the divine status, because
only God is "threefold Holy" (Is 6:3), the Transcendent, God
Love. Jesus is the personal expression of the Father (cf. Jn
14:9). We, as Christians, are called upon to be the
"expression" of Christ, "sons in the Son" (Eph 1:5; cf. GS 22).
We as priests, as ordained ministers, are the
expression - or the personal and sacramental sign - of Jesus
the Priest and Good Shepherd. Holiness has a "relational"
meaning, that of affectively and effectively belonging to Him
who is the pinnacle of Holiness. We are "servants of Christ and
stewards of the mysteries of God" (1Cor 4:1). The minister
priest is a "man of God" (1Tim 6:11).
Therefore, priestly "holiness" is endowed with a
Christocentric or Christological dimension which specifically
determines its Trinitarian, pneumatological, ecclesiological
and anthropological character. Hence, the Christological
dimension of priestly holiness is also Marian, contemplative
and missionary. It is an inclusive - and not exclusive -
Christocentrism, since it remains open to all theological,
pastoral and spiritual dimensions. Through the Holy Spirit's
permanent "character" or grace, which we received in the
sacrament of the Order, we partake of Christ's priestly
anointing (who was sent by the Father and the Spirit), we
extend his same mission in the Church and the world and, hence,
are called upon to live in tune with Christ's own actions.
Therefore, in this Christological framework, to
speak about holiness does not mean to speak about a burden but,
rather, of a declaration of love, which is emotionally and
responsibly experienced and accepted. We must and can be holy
and help others to be holy, because of what we are and what we
do, that is to say, through our participation in Christ's
consecration and his mission's extension. Christ has chosen us
upon his own initiative of love (cf. Jn 15, 16) and, therefore,
he made us able to answer to that same love in a consistent
way. Our lives are called to holiness and, at the same time, to
the ministry of holiness. We are makers of saints.
Making the decision to be "holy" is nothing more
than committing ourselves to abide by the need of a personal
relationship with Christ, which includes sharing and imitating
his life, becoming like him, making other people know and love
him. This means "to keep our gaze fixed on Christ" (Letter to
Priest for Holy Thursday 2004, n. 5) in order to think, feel,
love and act like him. "Reference to Christ is thus the
absolutely necessary key for understanding the reality of
priesthood." (PDV 12). This holiness is possible.
1. Called to be Transparency of Life and of the Ways in which
we live out the Example of Christ the Good Shepherd
The Christocentric dimension of priestly holiness is found in a
deep relationship of friendship with Christ. We were called
upon his initiative (cf. Jn 15:16). He has called us one by
one, he has called us by "name", in order to paricipate in his
being Priest-Victim, Pastor, Spouse, Head and Servant.
This Christocentric dimension helps us to delve into the inner
dynamic of our own identitiy: we are summoned to an encounter
which turns into a deep relationship, which develops into a
sequela to share his way of life, which is experienced in
fraternity (communion) with the other called, and guides our
entire existence towards the mission. For this reason, in this
holiness we must include all the aspects of vocation:
encounter, sequela, fraternity and evangelizing mission.
This relational dynamic is based on an ontological
reality: we partake of his being (consecration), extend his
actions (mission) and live in tune with his own feelings and
attitudes, according to the Pauline expression: "Have among
yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Jesus
Christ." (Phil 2:5).
Without the wish to correspond with our lives to
this relationship with Christ, we would not be able to grasp
the apostolic and priestly dynamic which includes the
"encounter" and the "mission". He has called us to "be with
him" and send us forth to "preach." (Mk 3:14-15).
If we want to talk about our "identity" or our
raison d'être, we must find a meaning for our vocational
existence. It is relatively easy to embark upon fancy
lucubrations on identity. In the light of the Gospel, however,
it seems clear that it is about transposing what we are and do
into our lives: "And you also testify, because you have been
with me from the beginning" (Jn 15:27). When John the Baptist
was asked about his "identity", he did not fall into the trap
of answering with lucubrations and theories, but pointed to a
person who gave meaning to his life and actions: "I am the
voice_ But there is one among you whom you do not recognize"
(Jn 1:23, 26).
Many Christian issues, which seem difficult to
solve, are not so anymore if they are tackled starting from "a
lived knowledge of Christ." (VS 88). To talk about priestly
holiness, without starting from our own experience of encounter
and sequela Christi, means being bound to failure or being
engaged in fruitless discussions. Priestly holiness can only be
grasped by deeply loving and experiencing Christ's person:
"Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love
him and reveal myself to him." (Jn 14:21).
From this standpoint of lived life, which does not
exclude but, rather, requires the support of systematic
theological reflection, the word "holiness" becomes a reality
of grace which is part of the process of configuration with
Christ. When a person knows he is loved by Christ, he wants to
love him and make other people love him. That is to say, he
wants to surrender totally to the path of holiness and
The decision to be "holy" is the reply to Christ's
declaration of love: "As the Father loves me, so I also love
you. Remain in my love." (Jn 15:9). In order to discern whether
we make consistent progress along this path of holiness, we can
check on three important conditions: never feeling alone (cf.
Mt 28:20), never doubt his love (Jn 15:9), never place anything
The characterstics of our holiness, in its
Christocentric or Christological dimension, tell us about the
relationship with each of Christ's biblical titles (which we
have recalled shortly before) and, hence, prompt priests to
transpose their ministries into their lives as an expression of
their "pastoral charity", by putting into practice the Good
Shepherd's same charity. In this respect, Vatican II sums up
priestly holinesses along the following lines: "Priests who
perform their duties sincerely and indefatigably in the Spirit
of Christ arrive at holiness by this very fact." (PO 13).
This means, letting Christ show through when it is
time to proclaim and celebrate him; it means becoming an
extension of Christ. Our entire pastoral action is eminently
Christological and is also an urgent need and a possibility to
be holy. We proclaim Christ, we make him present and we
communicate him to others, living according to what we are and
do. Therefore, the Christological dimension of priestly
holiness follows the prophetical (proclaiming Christ),
liturgical (making Christ present) and diaconal lines (serving
Christ in our brethren).
The Apostolic model of the Twelve is the mandatory
reference point for priestly holiness, as something very
specific. It is "Apostolic Life", which means the radical
sequela of Christ Good Shepherd, following in the Apostles'
footsteps. As their successors (although to a different
degree), we are called upon to live according to this
"Apostolic Life" ("Apostolica Vivendi Forma"),
which sums up the Apostles' lifestyle, acquires concrete form
in the evangelical sequela (cf. Mt 19, 27), in fraternity or
communal life (cf. Lk 10:2) and in the mission (cf. Jn 20:21;
The path of priestly holiness is embarked upon by
allowing ourselves to surrender to Christ's love, following
Saint Paul's example: "I live no longer, but Christ lives in me
(_) I live by the faith in the Son of God who has loved me and
has given himself up for me" (Gal 2:20). And it is this same
love which leads to the mission: "For the love of Christ impels
us." (2 Cor 5:14).
Saint Paul's Christocentrism stems from faith
experienced as an encounter with Christ, "the Son of God" (Acts
9:20), "the Savior" (Tt 1:3), who "was handed over for our
transgressions and was raised for our justification" (Rm 4:25).
Christ "lives" (Acts 25:19) and dwells in the believers (cf.
Phil 1:31), giving them the power of the Spirit by which they
become children of God (cf. Gal 4:4-7; Rm 8:14-17). Through
baptism, Christians are configured with Christ (cf. Rm 6:1-5).
Paul thrives on this faith. Ever since his initial encounter
with the Lord, Paul has learned that Christ lives in the
entire human person and, particularly, in his ecclesial
community, which he describes as Christ's "body" or expression
(cf. 1Cor 12:26-27), "bride" or spouse (cf. Eph 5:25-27; 2Cor
11:2) and fruitful "mother" of Christ (cf. Gal 4:19, 26).
Priests' renunciations are summarized by Saint
Peter's statement: "We have given up everything and followed
you." (Mt 19:27). Total renunciation would not be possibile,
nor would it have any meaning, without experiencing the
"sequela" as encounter and friendship. For the minister priest,
the "solitude filled with God" (mentioned by Paul VI in the
encyclical letter Sacerdotalis Coelibatus) is the rediscovery
of a presence and a more beautiful and profound love: "Do not
be afraid _ for I am with you" (Acts 18:9-10).
Christ has carried us in his heart ever since he
became flesh. If the mystery of man can be decyphered only in
the mystery which is Christ, every human being carries traces
of his love in his own life: "The truth is that only in the
mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on
light... For by His incarnation the Son of God has united
Himself in some fashion with every man." (GS 22). In this
anthropological-Christian framework, in the light of the
Incarnation, the minister-priest feels compelled by the
gestures of Christ's life, who loved "his own" (Jn 13:1) and
presented them before the Father with great affection: "You
gave them to me" (Jn 17:2), "and you loved them even as you
loved me." (Jn 17:23).
The Apostolic calling ("come", "follow me") entails
this kind of relationship, imitation of and configuration with
Christ. Anyone who wants to abide by this committed relational
attitude that we call "holiness" in all the circumstances of
his life - as an imitation of the Good Shepherd's charity and,
as such, a reflection of God Love - will find traces of a
presence which goes beyond the feeling of absence: "I am with
you always." (Mt 28:20). The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis
refers to this presence, which is the source of holiness and
paschal joy: "Priests should remember that in performing their
office they are never alone." (PO 22).
Therefore, because of this very circumstance, the
Christological dimension is also Eucharistic. "We were born
from the Eucharist_ the ministerial priesthood is born, lives,
works and bears fruit `de Eucharistia' _ There can be no
Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no
priesthood without the Eucharist" (Letter to Priests for Holy
Thursday 2004, n. 2).
In order to guarantee the Christological dimension
of priestly holiness, it must be related to the Marian
dimension. Christ the Priest and Good Shepherd is not an
abstraction, but was born from the Virgin Mary and has
associated His Mother to His redeeming work. Mary, Mother of
Christ the Priest and our Mother, sees each of us as a "living
Jesus" (according to St. John Eudes's expression), that is to
say, using the Council's words, as "living instruments of
Christ the Eternal Priest" (PO 12) who want to live "in a
communion of life" with her, like the beloved disciple (cf. RMa
45, note 130). We need to live our Christological priestly
dimension "at the school of Mary Most Holy" (Letter to Priests
for Holy Thursday 2004, n. 7).
The Christological dimension of priestly holiness
includes loyal, true and unconditional love of the Church.
Therefore, it is also ecclesiological. The Apostle Paul, in
inviting us to configure ourselves with Christ, urges us to
live according to His same feelings (cf. Phil 2:5) and
expressions of love: "Christ loved the Church and handed
himself over for her." (Eph 5:25). "For every missionary,
fidelity to Christ cannot be separated from fidelity to the
Church." (RMi 89).
2. Called to be Educators and Makers of Saints, in Love with
Our calling to holiness includes the ministerial
commitment to help the faithful to follow the same path of
sanctification. It is the "ministry and function of teaching,
sanctifying and nourishing the People of God" (PO 7), as
bishops' helpers. For this reason, "all pastoral initiatives
must be set in relation to holiness." (NMi 30). Therefore, the
Christocentric dimension of holiness necessarily becomes
Actually, the holiness, renewal and missionary
character of the entire ecclesial community depends upon the
holiness of priests. This is what the II Vatican Council has to
say on this topic: "Hence, this holy council, to fulfill its
pastoral desires of an internal renewal of the Church, of the
spread of the Gospel in every land and of a dialogue with the
world of today, strongly urges all priests that they strive
always for that growth in holiness by which they will become
consistently better instruments in the service of the whole
People of God." (PO 12).
Our entire pastoral action strives to build the
ecclesial community as a reflection of the Trinity through a
process of unification of the heart based on love, by which it
becomes possible to be "of one heart and mind" (Acts 4, 32). In
this way, the Church is built as "mystery", that is to say, as
"a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and
the Holy Spirit." (LG 4). It is a mystery of missionary
communion: "Holiness has emerged more clearly as the dimension
which expresses best the mystery of the Church. a message that
convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection
of the face of Christ." (NMi 7).
Prophetic, liturgical and diaconal ministerial
action - in addition to being the privileged arena of our own
sanctification - are also a training ground to guide the entire
ecclesial community towards the path of holiness. Ministries
are services which build a school of holiness and ecclesial
community. We are called upon to be makers of saints.
Our priestly life can be summarized in Eucharistic
ministerial action: "This is my body (_) This is my blood." (Mt
26, 26, 28). At that moment in time, we act on behalf of Christ
and we become Him. However, that Eucharistic ministerial action
includes proclamation (prophetism) and communion (diacony).
Furthermore, the effect of the Lord's words not only reaches
our innermost being, changing it, but also spreads to the whole
Church and humankind.
In the light of this ministerial service (in
relation to the Eucharistic and mystical bodies of Christ),
everything boils down to the urgency of being holy and making
other people holy, as a consequence of the Eucharistic mandate:
"Do this in memory of me" (Lk 22:19; 1Cor 11:24). The task is
to proclaim, celebrate and communicate Christ. The Eucharistic
transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of
Christ permeates our priestly beings and actions, and this must
have an impact on the Church and the entire community. The task
which Jesus entrusts to priests puts "the Eucharistic seal on
their mission." (Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2004, n.
3). Through the Eucharist, we become makers of saints.
Paul's Apostolic dedication is characterized by
this wish to "complete" Christ for the sake of His Church (cf.
Col 1:24) and by his anxiety "for all the Churches" (2Cor
11:28). In Pauline doctrine, Christian vocation is election in
Christ (cf. Eph 1:3) in order to become His "glory" or
expression through a holy life (Eph 1:4-9), being engaged in
the mission to "sum up all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10) and
marked with the "seal of the Spirit" (Eph 1:13). It is a life
which is tied together with Christ's oblation (cf. Phil 2:5-
11), to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice which makes
the Lord's offering present "until he comes" (cf. 1Cor 11:23-
26). Paul is a maker of saints (cf. Gal 4:19).
Our ministry's spousal character aims at building a
holy Church, as Christ's bride, sanctified by His spousal love:
"Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to
sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the Church in splendor without
spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and
without blemish." (Eph 5:25-27).
Sanctifying the ecclesial community means making it
missionary and "mother", that is to say, an instrument of life
in Christ for others. Therefore, the Church "by prayer,
example, and works of penance, exercises a true motherhood
toward souls who are to be led to Christ." (PO 6).
By proclaiming the Word, we urge believers to
listen, convert, and respond generously. The preaching of the
Word brings the people of God together to build it up in
charity. The purpose of our preaching is "to exhort all men to
conversion and holiness." (PO 4).
The celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments
in general, during the liturgical year, is a call to all
faithful to turn their life into an oblation together with
Christ: "Thus men are invited and encouraged to offer
themselves, their labors and all created things, together with
him" (PO 5).
Ministerial action, which is about orienting,
animating and supporting the community, always in a spirit of
service, "must see to it that the faithful are led individually
in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation
according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity,
and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free." (PO
In the three ministries, our aim is to form Christ
in the believers through a sanctification process - which is
achieved through a transformation of criteria, scale of values
and attitudes - in order to relate to, imitate and become
Christ. This is how Saint Paul sums up its sanctifying action:
"My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be
formed in you!" (Gal 4:19) "For I am jealous of you with the
jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to
present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2Cor 11:2).
Our ministry means being "living instruments of
Christ the Eternal Priest." (PO 12). For this reason, we are
servants of a Church called to holiness. The Fifth Chapter of
Lumen Gentium is a furrow which was traced along the path of
sanctification: there is a universal calling to holiness for
the Church (LG 39-42) which is equivalent to "perfection of
charity" and is achieved in our daily lives according to our
individual circumstances, by using the appropriate tools for
this purpose (LG cap. VI, nn. 39-42). Hence, "all the faithful
of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the
fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of
charity." (LG 40).
Baptism, by its very nature, is a calling and an
opportunity of holiness: to think, feel, love and act like
Christ. "Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God
through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his
Spirit" (NMi 31). The fundamental commitment of those who are
baptized is the decision of becoming holy by following the way
which was indicated in the Sermon on the Mount: "So be perfect,
just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).
The experience of our personal encounter with
Christ and the evangelical sequela, according to the path of
the beatitudes, is the best kind of training in order to take
other people along the same road of sanctification which, as we
have seen, is a road of relationship with Christ, of imitation
and transformation in Him. Priests are examples of
contemplation, perfection, communion and mission.
The theme of priestly holiness in its
Christocentric dimension is found in all priestly figures of
history. Those holy priests were examples and models of
priestly and Christian holiness. Some holy priests have left
writings on the life and ministry of priests. In his first
letter to priests for Holy Thursday (1979), John Paul II
invites us to draw inspiration from the priestly figures of
history: "I say to you therefore, quoting these words of his:
strive to be "artists" of pastoral work. There have been many
such in the history of the Church. There speak to each of us,
for example, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint John of Avila, the
holy Curé d'Ars, Saint John Bosco, Blessed Maximilian Kolbe,
and many, many others. Each of them was different from the
others, was himself, was the son of his own time and was "up to
date" with respect to his own time. But this "bringing up to
date" of each of them was an original response to the Gospel, a
response needed precisely for those times; it was the response
of holiness and zeal."
3. Some Remarks on Priestly Holiness at the Beginning of the
Holiness is the "foundation of pastoral planning in which we
are involved at the start of the new millennium" (NMi 31). This
statement by John Paul II becomes a challenge for our priestly
life and ministry. We are summoned to be holy and build
communities which are schools of holiness and communion.
In an "iconic" society which asks for signs, we
must build a Church which allows the beatitudes to show through
as a "self-portrait of Christ" (VS 16). As a matter of fact,
"people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers...
The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable
form of mission" (RMi 42). Those who, today, feel they are
called to the Christian faith express "a desire to see the
Gospel lived out in the Church." (RMi 47).
Therefore, we must present the figure of the priest
as an expression of the Good Shepherd's life. Saint Paul viewed
himself as "aroma of Christ" (2Cor 2:15). The Lord describes us
as His "expression" or "glory": "I have been glorified in them"
(Jn 17:10). Our priestly identity is found in being "a visible
continuation and sacramental sign of Christ" (PDV 16).
It is not just an external sign, but an
ontological reality (transformation in Christ) which must
necessarily be expressed as a testimony. At the same time, this
reality is to be lived out in our personal and communal life so
that we might say, like Saint Peter at Pentecost, with words he
then repeated on other occasions: "We are all witnesses" (Acts
2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39). Therefore, relation with, imitation
of and transformation in Christ are achieved by letting Him
show through us.
Today's world is asking for witnesses of God's
experience (cf. EN 76; RMi 91). Each Apostle, and priests
especially, must be able to say like Saint John: "What we have
seen and heard we proclaim now to you" (1Jn 1:3). The Holy
Spirit, which we received in a particular way on the day we
were ordained, allows us to transmit our own experience of
Jesus to other people.
The start of the third millennium is a powerful
urging for us to be effective and transparent signs of the Good
Shepherd. The Word, the Eucharist, the sacraments and our
pastoral action form us as an expression of Christ and
Based on my experience of priestly gatherings in
different latitudes and cultures I came to the conclusion that,
during these first few years of the third millennium, a
priestly resurgence might take place, if we rediscover the
enormous doctrinal treasures contained in council and post-
council documents (which, in turn, cover a history of grace
spanning back a thousand years). The day when every newly-
ordained minister has read these documents and has been formed
through them, there will certainly be a great renewal of
priestly life and vocations, due to the fact of having
rediscovered a "hidden treasure", and that is the "mystics" of
our specific priestly spirituality.
John Paul II asks us to develop a project of
priestly life in the Presbyterate which encompasses all of
these aspects (cf. PDV 79). Only by being faithful to the
process of holiness shall we succeed in becoming priests for a
new evangelization (cf. PDV 2, 9-10, 17, 47, 51, 82. Directory
When the Pope reminds us priests of the guidelines
of our holiness, he indicates the relationship between
consecration and mission as an inseparable binomial:
"Consecration is for mission" (PDV 24).
We might talk about John Paul II's Apostolic and
priestly "charism", which is expressed in evangelical dynamics:
from the encounter to the mission. I think this is the key to
understand his documents, starting from the very beginning of
his pontificate when he said: "Open wide the doors to Christ".
His encyclical letters, apostolic exhortations, letters for
Holy Thursday and messages show the harmony between
consecration (seen as totalizing surrender to God's plans) and
mission (as closeness to mankind and real life). These
dynamics, however, have a relational character: from the
encounter with Christ we move on to His sequela and then to His
The letters to priests for Holy Thursday (written
between 1979 and 2004) are an Apostolic legacy, a kind of
priestly testament by John Paul II, which might be summed up in
the litany addressed to Christ Priest where we ask for "Pastors
according to His Heart" (Litany quoted in the Letter to Priests
for Holy Thursday 2004, n. 7).
The five continental post-synodal Apostolic
Exhortations are a call to holiness which is fulfilled in a
pastoral process which is "encultured" in the various
historical and geographical circumstances. We, as priests, are
particularly involved in this task of sanctification. Never
before in history has the contribution of all the Churches been
brought together in such a concrete way as in the celebration
of (continental) Episcopal Synods, and the related post-synodal
In these continental Exhortations, we see how
urgent the call to holiness addressed to priests and
consecrated people is: "Through the Sacrament of Orders which
configures them to Christ the Head and Shepherd, Bishops and
priests must conform their whole life and all their activity to
Jesus" (Ecclesia in Europa 34). "Europe will always need
the holiness, prophetic witness, evangelizing activity and
service of consecrated persons" (ibid. 37).
We will be able to understand and assimilate our
priestly identity only if we experience it as a personal and
sacramental sign of the Good Shepherd, realizing that we are
endowed with an exciting and specific priestly spirituality. It
is the joy of being and feeling as Christ's sign, here and now,
with our own Bishop, with our own particular Church, in our own
Presbyterate, at the service of the local and universal
Churches, drawing inspiration from the priestly figures of
history and, when someone feels the calling, referring to the
most concrete particular charisms of religious or community
The diocesan character of the Church embraces all
this history of grace, which is an Apostolic heritage. Without
the personal and communal relationship with Christ Priest and
Good Shepherd, the diocesan spirituality of priests would never
find its destination. You are priests, signs of the Good
Shepherd, in the "here and now" of your particular Church,
always guided by a successor of the Apostles (in communion with
the Supreme Pontiff and the College of Bishops) who defines
the evangelical lines of the sequela Christi for his
A specific feature of Christian and priestly
spirituality at the start of the new millennium is hope, which
implies faith and must be implemented in charity. Nowadays it
is possible to be saints and apostles. It is possible to
evangelize in new situations, because we are endowed with new
graces. However, we do need renewed apostles.
In priestly spirituality and holiness, this tone of
hope is translated into "paschal joy" (PO 11). The apostle's
life is a reflection of paschal joy, even in difficult times,
bearing witness to Christian hope: "The missionary is a person
of the Beatitudes... By living the Beatitudes, the missionary
experiences and shows concretely that the kingdom of God has
already come, and that he has accepted it. The characteristic
of every authentic missionary life is the inner joy that comes
from faith" (RMi 91). It is the joy of transforming suffering
into love of donation, or letting it "pass", as a legacy which
Jesus bequeathed to us in the Last Supper (cf. Jn 15:11;
Priestly holiness is essentially Christological so,
for this reason, is opened to the Trinitarian, pneumatological,
ecclesiological and anthropological dimensions as well. More
specifically, pastoral charity - as imitation of the Good
Shepherd's life - expresses this kind of attitude towards the
Father's plans (cf. Jn 10:18) and follows the example of the
Holy Spirit's action (cf. Lk 10:1, 14, 18). "God anointed Jesus
of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing
good." (Acts 10:38).
The priestly consecration of ordained ministers,
being a participation in Christ's priestly consecration to
extend His same mission, is rooted in the mystery of the
incarnate Word: "Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does
the mystery of man take on light... By His incarnation the Son
of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man" (GS
Being a personal and communal sign of Christ Priest
and Good Shepherd, we as priests are an expression of His love
for everyone and all the redeemed. Every contact between
priests and any human being must proclaim and bear witness to
this love, so that everyone shall feel they are loved by Christ
and are made capable of loving Him and, with Him, all their
brethren. Priestly life is a missionary invitation and is based
on life as a testimonial example of that proclamation: God
loves you, Christ has come for you.
The Christological dimension of priestly holiness
reminds us of the reality of "martyrdom" as an integral part of
the "kerigma" or first proclamation. We were chosen to be
"witnesses" ("martyrs") of Him who was crucified and has risen:
"We are all witnesses" (Acts 2:32), "as is the Holy Spirit that
God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). The memory of
the priestly figure of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, martyr, shows
this aspect of oblative pastoral charity.
"Paschal joy" (PO 11) effectively sums up all the
contents of the Christocentric dimension of priestly holiness.
As a matter of fact, it is the joy of the "beatitudes" and the
"Magnificat", because we know we are loved by Christ, and have
been made able to love Him and make others love Him. It is
participation in Christ's same joy (cf. Lk 10:21). It is the
joy the Lord bequeathed to us as inheritance (Jn 15:11; 16:22,
24; 17:13). It is the joy which stems from the permanent
encounter with Him. When, in the Upper Room, the Apostles chose
Matthias, they condensed a path of priestly and Apostolic life:
a man who would be together with the Lord, to be a joyful
witness of His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:22). It is Paul's joy:
"I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy all
the more because of all our affliction" (2Cor 7:4).
The Christocentric or Christological dimension of priestly
holiness translates into the following:
- Mutual declaration of love, as a choice and calling:
"As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain
in my love" (Jn 15:9); "it was I who chose you" (Jn 15:16); "I
live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given
himself up for me" (Gal 2:20).
- A relationship of encounter, friendship, intimacy,
"And they stayed with him" (Jn 1:39); "he appointed
twelve that they might be with him and he might send them forth
to preach" (Mk 3:14-15); "you are my friends" (Jn 15:14); "I am
with you always" (Mt 28:20); "for to me life is Christ" (Phil
- A relationship of belonging:
"He loved his own in the world and he loved them to
the end" (Jn 13:1); "Father... the ones you have given me, they
are yours"... (Jn 17:9); "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives
in me" (Gal 2:20).
- A relationship of transparency and mission:
"And you also testify, because you have been with
me from the beginning" (Jn 15:27); "He (the Spirit) will
glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare
it to you" (Jn 16:14); "Father... I have been glorified in
them" (Jn 17:10); "As the Father has sent me, so I send you"
(Jn 20:21)...; "the love of Christ impels us" (2Cor 5:14).
In the light of the presence of the Risen Christ, who is always
by the side of "his own" (Jn 13:1), we behave in ways which are
characterized by wisdom and Christian and priestly common
sense, and are the signal for us to determine whether we are
seriously following the path of holiness in its Christological
dimension. Living out our participation in Christ's being and
the extension of His mission might be expressed in concrete
terms as follows:
- Never doubt Christ's love:
Mons. Francesco Saverio Nguyen van Thuan, Archbishop of Saigon,
spent thirteen years in that city's jail. In the first days of
his harsh confinement, feeling discouraged due to his apparent
uselessness, he was able to discern the Lord's voice in his
heart: "I want you, not your things".
- Never feel lonely:
Mons. Tang, Bishop of Canton, spent 22 years in jail. When he
arrived in Rome, he was asked to talk about the suffering he
went through during that time of isolation. When someone asked
him what gave him the strength to go on, he replied: "Christ
never abandons you".
- Never think you can make it without Him:
Paul, about his imprisonment in Rome: "At my first defense no
one appeared on my behalf; everyone deserted me (...) But the
Lord stood by me and gave me strength" (2Tm 4:16-17).
- Never place anything before Him:
"For with lovers the wound of one is the wound of the other,
and they have the same feelings in common." (Saint John of the
Cross, Spiritual Canticle, Stanza XIII, n. 11).
Our way of praying can be fulfilled only if we
"keep our gaze fixed on Christ" (Letter to Priests for Holy
Thursday 2004, n.5). This daily encounter in real life with
Christ, in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures and in our brethren
gives priestly life meaning; however, it must be an encounter
of passionate love which must turn into a passionate
declaration. Our identity is proved in living the presence of
the Risen Christ in the Church and in the world, and making
others experience all this. It is a "Eucharistic amazement"
which inspires priestly vocations (cf. Letter to Priests for
Holy Thursday 2004, n. 5), because young people will sense in
us "the summons of a greater love" (ibidem, n. 6).
Our personal relationship with Christ, which is the
source of the mission, is forged "in a communion of life" with
Mary (cf. RMa 45, note 130). It is "living communion with
Jesus through the heart of his Mother" (Rosarium Virginis
Mariae 2). In the heart of Mary, Mother of Christ Priest and
our Mother, we can hear the echo of the entire Gospel (cf. Lk
Mary is always by our side in all our Eucharistic
celebrations and throughout our ministry. She continues to be
Christ's gift to all His faithful and, in particular, to His
ministers. "Experiencing the memorial of Christ's death in the
Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means
accepting - like John - the one who is given to us anew as our
Mother" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 57). We can participate in
"Mary's feelings" when she hears the words of the consecration
("my body_my blood") from our lips (cf. ibid. n. 56).
 "Imitamini quod tractatis" (imitate what you do) is the
expression which is now found in the text of the allocution
which is read during presbyterial ordinations, when bishops
explain "the task of sanctifying in Christ's name". According
to Thomas Aquinas, "the Sacred Order implies holiness" (cf. II-
II, q.189, a.1, ad 3), in order to appropriately serve the
Eucharistic and mystical body of Christ (cf. Suppl. q.36, a.2,
ad 1) and to guide other people along the path of holiness.
 The priestly "character" of the sacrament of the order
requires holiness, in order to be able to act in the name of
Christ; sacramental grace communicates the possibility to be
holy, that is to say, to be consistent with what we are and do.
 We suggest some studies on priestly holiness and
spirituality: VV. AA., Espiritualidad sacerdotal, Congreso
(Madrid, EDICE, 1989); C. BRUMEAU, Les éléments spécifiques de
la vie spirituelle des prêtres d'après Vatican II: Le prêtre,
hier, aujourd'hui, démain (Paris, Cerf, 1970) 196-205; J.
CAPMANY, Apóstol y testigos, reflexiones sobre la
espiritualidad y la misión sacerdotales (Barcelona, Santandreu,
1992); M. CAPRIOLI, Il sacerdozio. Teologia e spiritualità
(Roma, Teresianum, 1992); J. ESQUERDA BIFET, Teología de la
espiritualidad sacerdotal (Madrid, BAC, 1991); Idem, Signos del
Buen Pastor, Espiritualidad y misión sacerdotal (Bogotá, CELAM,
2002); A. FAVALE, El ministerio presbiteral, aspectos
doctrinales, pastorales y espirituales (Madrid, Soc. Educ.
Atenas, 1989); G. GRESHAKE, Essere preti, Teologia e
spiritualitá del ministero sacerdotale (Brescia, Queriniana,
1995); J.L. ILLANES, Espiritualidad y sacerdocio (Madrid,
Rialp, 1999); D. TETTAMANZI, La vita spirituale del prete
(Casale Monferrato, PIEMME, 2002); R. SPIAZZI, Sacerdozio e
santità. Fondamenti teologici della spiritualità sacerdotale
(Roma 1963); K. WOJTYLA, La sainteté sacerdotale comme carte
d'identité: Seminarium (1978) 167-181; P. XARDEL, La flamme qui
dévore le berger (Paris, Cerf, 1969).
 These are the biblical titles which are used and explained
in PO nn.1-3 and PDV chap.II (cf. nn.20-22).
 VV. AA., Identità e missione del sacerdote (Roma, Città
Nuova, 1994); F. ARIZMENDI, Vale la pena ser hoy sacerdote?
(México, Lib. Parroquial, 1988); M. THURIAN, L'identità del
sacerdote (Casale Monferrato, PIEMME, 1993). Cf. other essays
quoted in note 4.
 A converted Brahmin (who later became priest and
missionary) described his conversion to me recalling his
experience of encounter with Christ. While he was visiting the
chapel of the Hospital he was in charge of, his gaze lingered
on the crucifix's image and he heard these words within
himself: "He loved me". He immediately drew the following
conclusion: "If he loves me, I want to love him and make other
people love him"_
 Cf. St. Benedict, Rule, 4, 31; 72, 11.
 Pastores Dabo Vobis indicates "Apostolic life" as a
reference point of priestly holiness, always as imitation of
the Good Shepherd's life and according to the Apostles' style.
(cf. PDV 15-16, 42, 60, etc.). I explain these contents and
suggest a bibliography in: Spiritualità sacerdotale per una
Chiesa missionaria (Roma, Urbaniana University Press, 1998)
chap.V (Essere segno trasparente del Buon Pastore). English
transl.: Priestly Spirituality and Mission (Roma, Pont. Univ.
 The lines of this - eminently evangelical - Apostolic life
might be summed up as follows: 1: Choice, vocation, upon
Christ's initiative (cf. Mt 10:1; Lk 6:12; Mk 3:13; Jn 13:18;
15:14). 2: "Sequela Christi" or evanglical sequela (cf. Mt
4:19; 19:21-27; Mk 10:35); 3: Charity of the Good Shepherd
(cf. Jn 10; Acts 20:17; 1Pe 5:1), 4: Totalizing and universal
mission (cf. Mt 28:18; Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8; Jn 20:21; PO 10). 5:
Brotherly communion (cf. Lk 10:1; Jn 13:34,35; 17:21-23). 6:
The Eucharist, center and source of evangelization (cf. Lk
22:19-20; 1Cor 11:23; Jn 6:35). 7: Being in tune with Christ's
priestly prayer (cf. Jn 17; Mt 11:25; Lk 10,:21). 8: At the
service of the bride Church (cf. 2Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-27; Jn
17:23; 1Tim 4:14: "permanent grace"). 9: With Mary, "the Mother
of Jesus" (cf. Jn 19:25-27; Acts 1:14; Gal 4:4-19).
 It would be worth pondering the reality of Mary and
Joseph's virginity, which allowed them to discover in Christ a
unique predilection for them, always open to humankind as a
whole and to each human being in particular, in an unrepeatable
way. Priestly life centered on Christ is summarized in
imitating his gaze towards the brothers, discovering in them a
history of eternal spousal love. Everybody holds a special
place in the Heart of Christ.
 The following statement from John Paul II's missionary
encyclical letter might apply to every apostle: "It is
precisely because he is "sent" that the missionary experiences
the consoling presence of Christ, who is with him at every
moment of life - "Do not be afraid_for I am with you" (Acts
18:9-10) - and who awaits him in the heart of every person.
 The Eucharistic dimension of priestly holiness is the
subject of another lecture during this International Congress
 The Marian dimension too will be the subject of another
lecture during this International Congress. As for Marian
priestly spirituality, I have summarized relevant contents and
bibliography in: (Sacerdoti) Maria nella spiritualità
sacerdotale: Nuovo Dizionario di Mariologia (Paoline 1985),
 "In persona Christi means more than just «in the name of»,
or «on behalf of» Christ. In person: that is to say, in a
specific, sacramental identification with the Eternal
Highpriest" (enc. Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.29).
 Cf. F. PASTOR RAMOS, Pablo, un seducido por Cristo
(Estella, Verbo Divino, 1993). The Pauline theme has been
discussed in another lecture during this priestly conference.
 John Paul II, Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 1979, n.
6. It would be necessary to be steeped into all priestly
writings in history, especially those dating back to the
patristic age: St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letters), St. John
Chrysostom (Treatise on the Priesthood), St. Ambrose (De
Officiis Ministrorum), St. Gregory the Great (Regula
Pastoralis), St. Isidore of Seville (De Ecclesiasticis
Officiis); at the time of Trent: St. John of Avila (Priestly
Practices; Treatise on the Priesthood), St. Charles Borromeo,
St. John of Ribera, etc. Cf. figures and writers of every age
and time: Teologia della Spiritualità Sacerdotale, o.c., chap.
IX (historical overview); Segni del Buon Pastore, chap. X
(historical overview and development) (original version
Spanish, translated into Italian and English).
 The term "sign" is often repeated in PDV (cf. nn. 12,15-
16,22,42-43,49). It is quintessentially "sacramental" in the
context of the Church. "Sacrament": transparent and
instrumental sign. It indicates the transparency which is
reflected in our way of being and lifestyle and which is turned
into and effective instrument of sanctification and
 "The mission of the Church, like that of Jesus, is God's
work or, as Luke often puts it, the work of the Spirit. After
the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the apostles have a
powerful experience which completely transforms them: the
experience of Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit makes
them witnesses and prophets (cf. Acts 1:8; 2:17-18). It fills
them with a serene courage which impels them to pass on to
others their experience of Jesus and the hope which motivates
them" (RMi 24).
 Those who are ordained priests after having studied (or
read) these documents are still very few. We should go through
a comparative re-reading of Presbyterorum Ordinis in relation
to Pastores Dabo Vobis and other documents (the Letters to
Priests for Holy Thursday, the Directory, etc.). Then we can
discover our own being as a participation to Christ's own being
and consecration (PO 1-3; PDV chap. II; Directory chap. I), in
order to extend His same mission (PO 4-6; PDV chap. II,
Directory chap. II), in the ecclesial community which takes
place also in our own Presbyterate (PO 7-9; PDV 31, 74;
Directory 25-28), which requires priestly holiness as "pastoral
charity" and makes it possible (PO 12-14; PDV chap. III;
Directory 43-56), and translates it into the Good Shepherd's
virtues (PO 15-17; PDV 27-30; Directory 57-67),without
forgetting about concrete instruments and life-long training
(PO 18-21; PDV chap. VI; Directory chap. III). We should also
add the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis (2003), as well
as the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops (2004).
 I introduce and explain the motivations and possibilities
of this project in: Ideario, objetivos y medios para un
proyecto de vida sacerdotal en el Presbiterio: Sacrum
Ministerium 1(1995) 175-186. Cf. also: J.T. SANCHEZ, Los
sacerdotes protagonistas de la Evangelización, in: (Pontificia
Comisión para América Latina), Evangelizadores, Obispos,
sacerdotes y diáconos, religiosos y religiosas, laicos (Lib.
Edit. Vaticana 1996) 101-110. A good foundation for a project
of life in the Presbyterate: Proposta di vita spirituale per i
presbiteri diocesani (Bologna, EDB, 2003).
 I have studied and summarized the Pope's document, as seen
from this standpoint, in: El carisma misionero de Juan Pablo
II: De la experiencia de encuentro con Cristo a la misión:
Osservatore Romano (ed. sp.), 17.7.2001, pp.8-11; Juan Pablo
II, el carisma del encuentro con Cristo para la Misión: Omnis
Terra n.321 (2002) 234-248; Jean Paul II: le charisme de la
rencontre avec le Christ pour la mission: Omnis Terra (fr.)
n.383 (2002)234-248; Jn Paul II, the Charisma of the encounter
with Christ for Mission: Omnis Terra (Ing.) n.328 (2002) 233-
 "The presence and the signs of holiness are thus decisive:
holiness is the essential prerequisite for an authentic
evangelization which is capable of reviving hope. What is
needed are forceful, personal and communal testimonies of new
life in Christ. It is not enough that truth and grace are
offered through the proclamation of the word and the
celebration of the sacraments; they need to be accepted and
experienced in every practical situation, in the way Christians
and ecclesial communities lead their lives. This is one of the
greatest challenges set before the Church in Europe at the
beginning of the new millennium" (Ecclesia in Europa 49). "One
fruit of the conversion brought about by the Gospel is the
holiness of so many men and women in our time: not only those
whom the Church has officially proclaimed saints, but all those
who with simplicity and amid the circumstances of their daily
lives testified to their fidelity to Christ" (ibidem, 14). Cf.
similar quotations in: Ecclesia in America 30-31 (universal
call to holiness, Jesus, the one way to holiness); Ecclesia in
Africa 136; Ecclesia in Oceania 30.
 Cf. also: Ecclesia in America 39; Ecclesia in Africa 97-
98; Ecclesia in Asia 43; Ecclesia in Oceania 49.
 Cf. also: Ecclesia in America 43; Ecclesia in Africa 94;
Ecclesia in Asia 44; Ecclesia in Oceania 51-52.
 In the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, the need for
bishops to take on their responsibilities to promote the
spirituality of their priests is emphasized; cf. in particular
nn. 47 e 48. The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops
lays down the same principles: nn. 75-83.
 The last documents issued by John Paul II decisively point
towards this line of hope. The Apostles are encouraged by hope
(cf. Nmi 24). Suffices to read the post-synodal Apostolic
Exhortations, which encourage us to deal with new situations by
following the positive signs of God's providential actions. In
Novo Millennio ineunte as well, where the aim was to delve
deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation as a "sign of true
hope" (NMi 4). The story of every believer is "the story of a
life, made up of joys, worries, sufferings; the story of
someone whom Christ had met and who, in dialogue with him, was
setting out again on a journey of hope" (NMi 8). "We are
encouraged by the hope that comes from being led by the
presence of the Risen One and the inexhaustible power of his
Spirit, always capable of new surprises" (NMi 12). "Duc in
altum! Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is opening
before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall
venture, relying on the help of Christ" (NMi 58).
 A priest of my diocese, Lleida, who became a martyr during
the 1936 persecution in Spain, after having been shot by the
firing squad was still alive and was reciting the Creed; when
his torturer approached him to finish him, he asked if he could
wait unitl he had completed his profession of faith_
 Cf. some of the testimonies about the time he spent in
jail in: Testimoni della speranza (Roma, Città Nuova, 2000). It
is the Pauline lifestyle: "What will separate us from the love
of Christ?" (Rm 8,35).
 Saint Theresa urges us to "always carry him with you",
because "with such a good friend by your side, you can endure
anything" (Life, 22,6).
 Jesus' priestly prayer during the Last Supper can easily
be associated to Mary's Heart or innermost soul, especially at
the moment when she received the task of being our Mother (cf.
Jn 19, 25-27: "behold your son"): "I have been glorified in
them... you loved them even as you loved me... I am in them"
 As time goes by during our priesthood, sometimes we might
have the feeling of being "empty handed"; however, the example
of St. Theresa of Lisieux is exciting when she tells the Lord:
"Place your hands in mine and they will not be empty anymore".
As far as I am concerned, I must say that during my 50 years of
priesthood (1954-2004) I have never regretted my first
encounter with Christ, when I started feeling the calling to
become a priest. Priestly life is always a story of grace and
mercy. It is a life which strives to be spent with joy, to love
Christ and make people love Him. Every now and then, I had the
feeling of being a useless "rag". But the personal encounter
with Christ, renewed daily in the Eucharist and in His Gospel,
has made me feel encouraging words in my heart: "This rag is
mine", washed in my redeeming blood (cf. Rv 7, 14).