What is a Priest? Pope Benedict’s Final Exhortation

Solemn Latin High Mass, courtesy of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP)

An excerpt to ponder, from Pope Benedict XVI’s last Chrism Mass address to his fellow priests, back in 2012, less than a year before his resignation in February of the following year, just as Lent began – an act still shrouded in some mystery. Here is his final paragraph, worth pondering in these days, as so many priests lose their identity, their mission, their purpose, without which the world cannot continue. As Padre Pio, the earth could more easily with the Sun than the Holy Mass and, of course, the priesthood. 

The last keyword that I should like to consider is “zeal for souls”: animarum zelus. It is an old-fashioned expression, not much used these days. In some circles, the word “soul” is virtually banned because – ostensibly – it expresses a body-soul dualism that wrongly compartmentalizes the human being. Of course the human person is a unity, destined for eternity as body and soul. And yet that cannot mean that we no longer have a soul, a constituent principle guaranteeing our unity in this life and beyond earthly death. And as priests, of course, we are concerned for the whole person, including his or her physical needs – we care for the hungry, the sick, the homeless. And yet we are concerned not only with the body, but also with the needs of the soul: with those who suffer from the violation of their rights or from destroyed love, with those unable to perceive the truth, those who suffer for lack of truth and love. We are concerned with the salvation of men and women in body and soul. And as priests of Jesus Christ we carry out our task with enthusiasm. No one should ever have the impression that we work conscientiously when on duty, but before and after hours we belong only to ourselves. A priest never belongs to himself. People must sense our zeal, through which we bear credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us ask the Lord to fill us with joy in his message, so that we may serve his truth and his love with joyful zeal. Amen.

(To read the whole homily, please see here).