It is with such a great joy and gratitude
to the Lord that I take this opportunity to speak to you seminarians of
St. John Marie Vianney. It is such a gift to see the faces of those for
whom I pray and for whom all the sisters pray every day. Recently I had
the grace to be before the remains of St. John Vianney in the Basilica
at Ars. There, I prayed for each one of you and for all of you. I also
did, in your name, (and I am sorry for not having asked you before, but
love has no limits in prayer) the act of love written by this Saint. I
brought with me some cards with this prayer for you to have.
When Fr. Rios called last week to invite
me to come, he told me, “Share with them, Mother, whatever the Holy
Spirit puts in your heart.” While praying, the Lord reminded me that in
all my dealings and relationships with seminarians, many times I have
found a common denominator: fear. I do not know if this is also your
reality, but in case it is, I would like to tell you, “Be not afraid.”
Fear is caused, many times, by understanding the measure, the height,
and the depth of the vocation and gift you have received and also
understanding the measure of the response the gift demands. I do not
intend to give you a conference but rather to speak from my heart and
invite you not to be afraid.
Do Not be Afraid…
…to leave everything for Christ
and to generously embrace the vocation you have received.
A vocation is a mystery of divine
election, of God’s call to your heart – to you personally. He has
called you by name, He chose you from among many. “It was not you who
chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16).
This election needs to be pondered in
your hearts. You have been chosen by God to a personal, intimate
relationship with Him and to a participation in His priestly heart, life
and mission. Your vocation is not an accident, something that you can
take lightly or superficially, because as the Lord says in Jeremiah,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I
consecrated you” (1:5).
Why have you been chosen? I do not know…and
you do not either. It is part of the mystery of love. “Love,” as Pope
Benedict said to the seminarians in Cologne, “knows no ‘why’; it is a
free gift to which one responds with the gift of self” (Aug. 19, 2005).
You have been given a gift of love, to which you can only respond with
the totality of your love.
Jesus has invited you to leave everything
in order to follow Him more closely. One day you heard the voice of
Christ in your heart telling you, “Follow me and leave everything for
me.” It is a call to renounce other options in life and to choose this
path of closeness and intimacy with Him, but it is not an empty
renunciation. It is a call to leave something good for something greater,
for a life in which you will find complete personal fulfillment, a life
in which your human and spiritual potential will be expanded for the
service of the kingdom of God and for the good of humanity.
John Paul II asked seminarians and
priests in his book Gift and Mystery, “Could there be any greater
fulfillment than to one day be able to re-present everyday in persona
Christi the redemptive sacrifice of the Cross?” (cf. p.73). Could
there be any greater human accomplishment than to become fully
identified with Christ, the God-made-man, and to become ministers of the
priesthood of Christ? What a great calling you have received!
Yes, you are called to leave everything
but to gain it all…to lose your life so as to find it…to give it all to
receive the All. You have to responsibly and maturely know what
you are renouncing; then you can truly embrace a life style that clearly
represents what you have left behind. But at the same time you must
maturely and visibly represent the life that you have found.
Your eyes are not to be fixed on what you
left, but on what you have been given and on the treasure you will find.
As St. Paul told the Philippians, “Indeed, I count everything as loss
because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his
sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse,
in order that I may gain Christ” (3:8).
…of your inadequacy for such a
Every vocation to the priesthood is a
great mystery! It is a mystery of the love of God for man, and as I
said before, a mystery of divine election. It is a mystery to be
pondered, lived and treasured throughout your entire lives. How do you
live with a mystery? You live as St. Joseph lived: with a heart of
prayer, recollection, silence and total availability to God’s will. Just
before Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI directed our gaze to the figure of
St. Joseph. It seems to me that his words will be an inspiration to you
as you learn to live with the mystery of your own vocation.
“It is therefore particularly appropriate…to
establish a sort of spiritual conversation with St Joseph, so that he
may help us live to the full this great mystery of faith… St Joseph’s
silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the
fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every
thought and action… It is a silence thanks to which Joseph…watches over
the Word of God…a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing
of the Lord, of the adoration of his holy will and of unreserved
entrustment to his providence” (Angelus message, Dec. 18, 2005).
To live with the mystery of your vocation,
you must develop a life of prayer, of pondering God’s Word, of
Eucharistic adoration, of contemplation of His works, and of total trust
in Him, His grace, His providence and His power. Jesus, I trust in you!!!
You are to become like St. Joseph –
guardians of the great treasures of the Church. And the priesthood is
one of its very important treasures. Without priests there is no
Eucharist; without priests we cannot experience the healing of
reconciliation; without priests, the Priesthood of Christ can not be
extended through history. As John Paul II said in Pastores Dabo Vobis
(PDV), “Priests are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the
one high priest, embodying his way of life and making him visible in the
midst of the flock entrusted to their care” (no.15).
Priesthood is a gift which infinitely
transcends the individual. It is a gift that transcends you, a gift that
is in you but is greater than you. This reality will be experienced
throughout the course of your lives: facing the greatness of the gift
with a sense of your own inadequacy, of your own incapacities and
limitations. But always remember that His grace is sufficient for you
and that His power is revealed in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Recognizing the
greatness of the priestly vocation and your littleness will move you to
live in humility. John Paul II said in Gift and Mystery (p. 3-4)
that when he spoke of his priesthood and gave witness to it, he was
always moved to do it with great humility, knowing that he had received
a gift beyond himself. He said that those called to the priesthood must
remember the words of St. Paul: “God has called us with a holy calling,
not in virtue of our works but in virtue on his own purpose and the
grace which he gave us” (cf. 2 Tim 1:9).
To help you live with this humble but
total confidence in the grace of God, you have a great model before your
eyes – the patron saint of this seminary. He is a witness to this
reality. In him we can see the power of grace working through human
limitations. This simple, humble and powerful Saint is considered to
have caused a spiritual revolution in a difficult moment for the Church
in France. He made himself “a prisoner of the confessional.” He spent
many hours confessing, many hours in adoration before the Eucharist, and
many hours dedicated to teaching catechism and directing those who
sought his guidance. From a very small church in the middle of France,
grace was flowing for the whole Church. All it takes, dear seminarians,
is generosity and dedication to fulfill the mission to which the Lord
has entrusted you!
…to be formed and transformed to
become another Christ.
John Paul II said about the priesthood,
“The priestly vocation is a…wondrous exchange…between God and man. A man
offers his humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use him as an
instrument of salvation, making him as it were into another Christ” (Gift
and Mystery, p.72).
Each one of you offers his humanity to
Christ for him to transform you into his priestly image. St. Paul says
in his Second Letter to the Corinthians that “we carry this treasure in
earthen vessels” (4:7). You are to recognize – with humility, honesty
and also hope – that the treasure of your vocation is deposited in an
earthen vessel – in a fragile, weak and imperfect vessel, but at the
same time, a vessel that has received the grace to become another Christ.
By the power of the Holy Spirit and by a strong human, spiritual,
intellectual and ascetic formation, your earthen vessel can be
transformed into the image of Christ, even to the point of being able to
say with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in
me” (Gal 2:20).
Therefore, formation has the purpose of
transformation. To be formed is not simply to be “informed” with new
ideas. It is rather to acquire a “new form” – a new life “until Christ
is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). It means a transformation of the entire
person: your way of thinking, feeling, loving, reacting, acting, serving
and relating to others. This formation is not only provided by your
formators; it must be a personal decision of each one called to the
priestly vocation. It must begin by your personal and clear
understanding of your identity and the values of the priesthood: “This
is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the
mysteries of God. Now it is required of stewards that they be found
trustworthy” (1 Cor 4:1-2). You are servants of the gift received and
stewards of the graces of salvation for others.
The priestly vocation commits men to a
way of life inspired by the Gospel and the life of Christ. It is
inspired by the sentiments of His heart: His sacrificial love, His
poverty, His purity, His obedience, His holiness and missionary zeal. “I
will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15). To become one
with Christ, ‘after his own heart,’ you must first know Him, contemplate
Him, and enter into the depth of His Heart.
This identification with the Heart and
life of Christ, can only be acquired in prayer. John Paul II said,
“Prayer makes the priest and through prayer the priest becomes what he
is” (Gift and Mystery, p.88). A man called to the priesthood must
first of all be a man of prayer, of communion with God, a man convinced
that the time spent with the Lord is always spent in the best way
possible. The Second Vatican Council speaks of the universal call to
holiness; in the case of those called to the priesthood, it speaks of
special call to holiness. You are to form yourselves and allow your
formators to guide you into this path of holiness; the Church and the
world need holy priests. You can one day become guides and teachers only
to the extent that you become authentic witnesses.
…to know and live by the Truth.
Truth is not an imposition. Like love, it
is a gift freely given to be freely accepted. Truth is an act of love
because is the communication of light. It is an act of love because it
is the act of a loving Father who wants to communicate it to His
children. Truth being an act of love is, in essence, an invitation to
freedom because Jesus said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth
shall make you free” (Jn 8:32).
Truth makes us free – not sad, not
overburdened, but joyful. Truth brings joy to our hearts and to our
lives because it brings salvation, restoration, healing and guidance. As
the angel told the shepherds in Bethlehem, “Do not be afraid; for behold,
I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”
(Luke 2:10). Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I am the Way, the Truth
and the Life” (14:6). I am the Map with clear directions to find
abundant life. Therefore, His truth is the way to have abundant life –
not a mediocre life, not a half-dead life, not a sterile life, but an
abundant, intensively lived, very fruitful life.
Truth is light. It illumines our darkness
– the areas of our hearts, minds, personalities and behaviors that are
not fully reflections of His love. Truth is the Light that illumines our
errors. We are not to be afraid of Truth but rather of error. Would you
like to drive a car with no brakes, with an error in its mileage counter
or gas gauge? Would you like to have a checking account with an
erroneous amount? Would you like to take a wrong map to initiate your
travel to an unknown city or take the wrong plane to go to your desired
Do not be afraid to be illumined,
directed, confronted and even corrected by the truth of Christ
manifested to us in Sacred Scriptures, Tradition and the Magisterium of
the Church. Do not be afraid to open your hearts and minds to the Truth,
for it shall make you free and lead you to an abundant life.
Love is the definite force and the reason
of for the institution of the priesthood and for you having been called.
Therefore, it must be the force and the reason for you to embrace it.
You were called out of love, to a vocation of love, and to find the
fullness of love in this vocation. The priestly vocation is rooted in
Love Christ with all your heart. He
called you to an intimate communion with His Heart and His love. To you
He repeats the invitation He made to the first priests at the Last
Supper: “Remain in my love” (Jn 15:9). He wants your heart; He wants
your love and the total dedication of your being to Him, to His life, to
His Church and to the extension of his Kingdom on earth. He wants your
love, the potentials of your heart; He wants your whole being to be
invested in “higher” things.... in His things. “Give him the gold of
your freedom, the incense of your ardent prayer, the myrrh of your most
profound affection” (cf. John Paul II, Message for World Youth Day 2005,
A priestly vocation is born as an
invitation to love Christ and, in His love, to love others. You need to
find the beginning of your own calling in the dialogue between Jesus and
Peter. “Do you love me?”…“Lord, you know that I love you”…“Feed my lambs…Feed
my sheep” (Jn 21:15-17). If you love Him, you will follow Him wherever
He leads you, and your heart will be expanded to love generously and
sacrificially those He will entrust to your care
Without love, no sacrifice is possible,
at least not a lasting one. No one can give the totality of his life
without love. Only love is eternal, so only love can sustain your
faithfulness and give you the strength to do things, to offer your life
to a degree that maybe you never imagined, as St. Maximilian Kolbe did
in the concentration camp. Why did he give his life in place of another?
For the simple reason that he gave when asked by the Nazi commander: “I
am a Catholic priest.” A priest is called to give his life, to love to
the extreme as Jesus did. To love and give his life so that others may
Love conquers fear! “There is no fear in
love, but perfect love casts out fear,” says St. John in his First
Letter (4:18). Let the love of Christ conquer in your heart. Nothing can
separate you from His love – nothing or no one. No situation, even the
most difficult one: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will
anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril,
or the sword?...No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:35-37).
In times of fear and in fearful
situations, choose always love; choose the most loving thing to do. Let
love conquer in your heart. Conquering fear is the first and
indispensable step in your lives if you are to open wide the doors to
Christ – first, the doors of your own hearts, then of the hearts of the
people you will serve.
Someone to Teach You the Path to not
be Afraid: The Blessed Mother
“Here is the secret of your vocation and
your mission,” said Pope Benedict to the seminarians in Cologne, “it is
kept in the Immaculate Heart of Mary who watches over each one of you
with a mother’s love” (Aug. 19, 2005).
Why is the secret of your vocation in the
Maternal Heart of Mary? We may find the answer in PDV: “The
creature who more than any other has lived the full truth of vocation is
Mary the virgin mother, and She did so in intimate communion with Christ:
No one has responded with a love greater than hers to the immense love
of God” (no. 36). She knows what it means to love God with the totality
of Her being, to offer Her life for God to accomplish in Her and through
Her His designs of salvation.
Your vocation is a seed planted in your
heart, but this seed must grow, mature and develop. In the process you
need to know that you have a Mother, a motherly heart, a mother’s
presence, to whom your vocation has been entrusted. Your vocation has
been placed by Christ on the Cross under Her maternal care: “Woman,
behold your Son…Son, behold your Mother” (Jn 19:26-27). When He offered
His own life as a High Priest on the Cross, He entrusted St. John – and
in him all those who are called to the priesthood – to the maternal care,
guidance, protection and formation of the Blessed Mother
Mary is the Mother and Teacher of your
priestly vocation. Therefore, it is important for you to have a Marian
dimension in your spirituality. You are to take Her, as St. John did,
into your home, into your hearts, into your vocation. John Paul II told
us in Redemptoris Mater that the words behold your son,
“fully show the reason for the Marian dimension of the life of Christ’s
disciples…This Marian dimension of a disciple of Christ is expressed in
a special way precisely through this filial entrusting to the Mother of
Christ, which began with the testament of the Redeemer on Golgotha.
Entrusting himself to Mary in a filial manner, the
Christian, like the Apostle John, ‘welcomes’ the Mother of Christ ‘into
his own home’ and brings her into everything that makes up his inner
life, that is to say into his human and Christian ‘I’” (no. 45).
Entrust yourselves to the maternal care
of Mary so She can be your Mother and also your teacher. As John Paul
said in PDV, “Mary was called to educate the one eternal priest,
who became docile and subject to her motherly authority. With her
example and through her intercession the Blessed Virgin keeps vigilant,
watching over the growth of vocations and priestly life in the Church”
With Her maternal guidance and with the
power of the Holy Spirit, She can form you in the image of Jesus. Who
better than Her knows the resemblance of Her Son? Who better than Her
contemplated the priestly heart of Christ and His self-offering for the
salvation of the world? In the School of Her Heart, learn to contemplate
the mysteries of the priestly Heart of Her Son. What heart has more
fully participated in the mysteries of Christ?
John Paul II told us in his apostolic
letter on the Rosary, “Christians sit at the school of Mary and are led
to contemplate the beauty of the face of Christ and to experience the
depths of his love” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1).
How many wonderful things happen in the
hearts of seminarians when they entrust themselves to the maternal love
and guidance of the Blessed Mother. I have seen many great things! The
seminary is not so much a place, said Pope Benedict, but a
significant time in the life of the follower of Jesus (Cologne,
Aug. 19, 2005). The seminary is a time of formation, of communion, of
intimate dialogue with Christ, of preparation for the mission. It seems
to me that we could call the seminary the “time of Nazareth.” And if it
is, what better way to spend it than the same way Jesus did: under the
maternal care of Mary.
Ending prayer from the Apostolic
Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis:
O Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ and Mother
of priests, accept this title which we bestow on you to celebrate your
motherhood and to contemplate with you the priesthood of your Son and of
your sons called to share in his priesthood.
Accept from the beginning those who have
been called, protect their growth, and through their lives accompany
your sons, O Mother of Priests. Amen.
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