ROME, JUNE 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Since Christ is at the base of the priesthood, there is no room for mediocrity in a priest's life, says the prefect of the Vatican's congregation for worship and sacraments.
Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera affirmed this Tuesday at a conference called "In the Image of the Good Shepherd," held at the Regina Apostolorum university. The conference was held in the context of the closing of the Year for Priests, which ends Friday.
"The priest must be like Christ. He must be holy. Priestly holiness is not an external imperative, it is the imperative of what we are," the cardinal stated. In fact, without priestly holiness, "everything collapses."
The Spanish cardinal characterized the Year for Priests as "a great gift, a blessing of God."
"In the future we will see the fruits of the hoped-for renewal: the strength of the Holy Spirit, Renewer and Sanctifier, implored with so much prayer and fasting everywhere, will not be in vain if it is seen in a vigorous and joyful priestly testimony, renewed and evangelical, which contributes to the very necessary renewal of humanity of our time," he said.
Although this year was held "in the midst of a world storm, in which the weaknesses of priests have been manifested," this in no way clouds "recognition of the immense gift that priests represent," the cardinal affirmed.
Priests, he said, "are in themselves a gift of God to men" and "they offer Christ in person who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Light that illumines our steps, Love that has no limits and that loves to the end."
He continued: "They proclaim to us and give us his word, which is life, force of salvation for those who believe, good news that fills with hope; they give us on God's behalf forgiveness and the grace of reconciliation.
"In particular, they give us God, without whom we can do nothing and cannot hope for anything. They are a gesture and sign of the irrevocable love of God, who does not abandon men.
"Priests are not just something convenient for the Church to 'function' well; rather, it must be recognized that priests are necessary simply for the Church to exist."
Along the way
The cardinal expressed "admiration, recognition and gratitude to priests," recalling those who helped him "to be what I am and which in no way I deserve to be: a priest, simply and joyfully a priest."
"I give thanks, for example, to that great holy priest of my village, for 45 years, who among the numerous manifestations of his charity as a good pastor was able to leave his house to the plague-ridden," Cardinal Cañizares Llovera recounted, "and carried the dead on his back to give them a dignified burial."
He continued: "I thank the exemplary and apostolic priest who took me to the seminary and guided me on the path that has filled my life with joy.
"I wish to thank the many priests who are dedicating all their life to the missions, to the poorest countries and to the service of the poorest, of those whom no one cares for [...] the numerous priests who work in the anonymity of cities, who must face difficulties generated by a very strong current of secularization, and changes of mentality due to a new culture."
His recognition extended also to priests who "carry out their task and pastoral service in the suburbs and villages, who often have the feeling of being forgotten and isolated, of not knowing what to do, but who always show that God is found in what is small, and in what doesn't count in the eyes of the world."
"Don't hesitate faced with the hard work of the Gospel," Cardinal Cañizares Llovera exhorted. "Our priestly life is worthwhile; we are necessary. Courage! Carry on!
"Love your priesthood! Be faithful to the end! Be able to see in it that evangelical treasure for which it is worth giving one's all. And to all others I ask for recognition, help, understanding, collaboration and prayer for priests."