The following is the unofficial translation of Pope Benedict XVI's talk to the men and women religious of the Archdiocese of Milan during his visit to the city for the VII World Meeting of Families.
We have gathered in prayer, answering the invitation of the Ambrosian hymn for the Third Hour: “It is the third hour. The Lord Jesus is on the cross” It is a clear reference to Jesus’ loving obedience to the Father’s will. The paschal mystery has given start to a new time: the death adn resurrection of Christ creates anew the innocence in humanity and casues great joy. Indeed, the hymn continues “from here begins the era of the salvation of Christ - - Hinc iam beata tempora coepere Christi gratia.” We are gathered in the Basilica Cathedral, in this Duomo which is truly the heart of Milan. From here our thoughts go out through the entire ambrosian Archdiocese, which throughout the centuries and in recent times, has given the church men distinguished as saints in their life and ministry, like Saint Ambrose and and Saint Charles and some popes of uncommon stature like Pius XI and Servant of God Paul VI, Blessed Cardinals Andrea Carlo Ferrari and Alfredo Ildefonoso Schuster.
I am very please to be here with you for a little while! I send my warmest thoughts and greeting to each and everyone of you, and in a special way to those who are ill and elderly. I great with warm cordiality, your Archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola and I thank him for his kind words; with affection I great your emeritus pastors, Cardinals Carlo Maria Martini and Dionigi Tettamanzi with the other Cardinals and Bishops present.
At this moment we are living the mystery of the church in it’s greatest expression: that of liturgical prayer. In this eccesiastical prayer our lips, our hearts, and our minds interpret the longings of all of humanity. With the words of Psalm 118 we beg the Lord in the name of all humanity: “bend my heard towards your teachings, may your grace come upon me Lord.” The Church. Even in this Divine Office which extends the Eucharistic mystery throughout the entire day, the presbyters are united in a special way with our Lord Jesus, alive and working in our times. The priesthood: what a precious gift! You dear seminarians who are preparing to receive it, learn to appreciate it beginning now, and live you time in the seminary with commitment. During the ordinations of 1958 Archbishop Montini said this right here in this Duomo: “the priestly life begins: a poem, a drama, a new mystery...source of perpetual meditation...an object of continual discovery and wonder; (the priesthood) is always new and beautiful for those who dedicate to is loving thought...it is an acknowledgement of the work of God in us”
If Christ, in order to build up his Church, puts himself in the hands of the priest, then [the priest] must entrust himself to Him without reservations: love for Christ is the the soul and reason of the priestly ministry, as was the reason for him to entrust to Peter the mission of shepherding his own flock: “Simon...do you love more than them?...lead my sheep” The Second Vatican Council reminded that Christ “remains the origin and the source of unity of life for presbyters. To achieve this they must therefore unite with Him in the discovery of the will of the Father and in the giving of oneself for the sake of those entrusted to them. Representing the Good Shepherd in the exercise of pastoral care they will find the binds of priestly perfection which will unite their life and their mission.” There is no contradiction between the good of the person who is a priest and their mission; in fact pastoral charity is an element that causes unity of life and it comes about through a relationship with Christ that is made more intimate through prayer to be able to live out the total gift of self for the sake of the flock, so that the people of God may grow in communion with God and may be a sign of communion of Holy Trinity. In fact the goal of every one of our actions is to direct the faithful towards union with the Lord and to help ecclesial communion grow for the salvation of the world.
Priestly celibacy and consecrated virginity are luminous signs of this pastoral charity and of an undivided heart. In the ambrosian hymn we sang “if the son of god is born within you, preserve innocent life.” “Welcome Christ –Christum suscipere” This is a theme that comes up often in the preaching of the Saintly Bishop of Milan, “whomever welcomes Christ in the intimacy of his home – he says- is satisfied with the greatest of joy” The Lord Jesus was the thing that attracted him the most, the main theme of his reflection and preaching, and above all the source of a love that was alive and confident. Without doubt, love for Jesus belong to all Christians, but takes on a new significance for celibate priests and for those who have answered the call of their vocation with a consecrated life: only and always in Christ do they find the source and the model by which to repeat on a daily basis their “yes” to God’s will. “With what ties is Christ bound?” Saint Ambrose used to ask himself, with a surprising intensity he preached and nurtured virginity in the church, even promoting the dignity of women. He would reply “not with knotted cords, but with the binds of love and affection of the soul” In one celebrated sermon on virginity he said “Christ is everything for us” if you wish to heal your wounds, he is a doctor; if you are anguished by fever, he is the source; if you are oppressed by guilt, he is justice; if you need help, he is power; if you are afraid of death, he is life; if you desire paradise, he is the way; if you are in the shadows, he is light; if you are searching for food, he is nourishment”
Photo courtesy of VII World Meeting of Families Milano