In carrying out his pastoral ministry, the priest must strive to promote the spiritual and ecclesial maturity of the community entrusted to him
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 19 May, the Holy Father continued his catechesis on the ministry of the priest, discussing the presbyter's role in gathering the family of God into a fellowship of living unity. The Pope's Italian-language address was the 59th in the series on the mystery of the Church.
1. In the previous catecheses we explained the presbyters' task as coworkers of the Bishops in the area of teaching authority (instructing) and sacramental ministry (sanctifying). Today we will speak of their cooperation in the pastoral governance of the community. For priests as well as for Bishops it is a sharing in the third aspect of Christ's threefold munus (prophetic, priestly, royal): a reflection of the high priesthood of Christ, the one Mediator between God and men, the one Teacher, the one Shepherd. In an ecclesial perspective pastoral work consists principally in the service of unity, that is, in ensuring the union of all in the Body of Christ which is the Church (Pastores dabo vobis, n. 16).
2. In this perspective the Council says: "Priests exercise the function of Christ as Pastor and Head in proportion to their share of authority. In the name of the Bishop they gather the family of God as a brotherhood endowed with the spirit of unity and lead it in Christ through the Spirit to God the Father" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6). This is the essential purpose of their activity as pastors and of the authority conferred on them so that they may exercise it at their level of responsibility: leading the community entrusted to them to the full development of its spiritual and ecclesial life. The presbyter-pastor [i.e., shepherd] must exercise this authority by modelling himself on Christ the Good Shepherd, who did not impose it with external coercion but by forming the community through the interior action of his Spirit. He wanted to share his burning love with the group of disciples and with all those who accepted his message, in order to give life to a "community of love", which at the right moment he also established visibly as the Church. As coworkers of the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, presbyters too fulfil their mission in the visible community by enlivening it with charity so that it may live in the Spirit of Christ.
Priests promote union with Bishop and Pope
3. It is a demand intrinsic to the pastoral mission, whose inspiration is not governed by the priest's desires and personal opinions, but by the teaching of the Gospel, as the Council says: "They should act towards people not according to what may please men, but according to the demands of Christian doctrine and life" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6).
The presbyter is responsible for the organic functioning of the community. To fulfil this task the Bishop gives him a necessary share in his authority. It is his responsibility to ensure that the various services, indispensable for the good of all, are carried out harmoniously; to find appropriate assistance for the liturgy, catechesis and the spiritual support of married couples; to foster the development of various spiritual and apostolic associations or "movements" in harmony and cooperation; to organize charitable aid for the needy, the sick and immigrants. At the same time he must ensure and promote the community's union with the Bishop and the Pope.
4. The community dimension of pastoral care, however, cannot overlook the needs of the individual faithful. As we read in the Council: "It is the priests' part as instructors in the faith to see to it either personally or through others that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with the Gospel teaching, to sincere and active charity and to the liberty with which Christ has set us free" (Presbyterorumordinis, n. 6). The Council stresses the need to help each member of the faithful to discover his specific vocation, as a proper, characteristic task of the pastor who wants to respect and promote each one's personality. One could say that by his own example Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd who "calls his own sheep by name" (cf. Jn 10:3-4), has set the standard of individual pastoral care: knowledge and a relationship of friendship with individual persons. It is the presbyter's task to help each one to utilize well his own gift, and rightly to exercise the freedom that comes from Christ's salvation, as St Paul urges (cf. Gal 4:3; 5:1,13; cf. also Jn 8:36).
Everything must be directed towards practising "a sincere and active charity". This means that "Christians must also be trained so as not to live only for themselves. Rather, according to the demands of the new law of charity, everyone as he has received grace ought to minister it one to another, and in this way all should carry out their duties in a Christian way in the human community" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6). Therefore, the priest's mission includes calling to mind the obligations of charity; showing the applications of charity in social life; fostering an atmosphere of unity with respect for differences; encouraging programmes and works of charity, by which great opportunities become available to the faithful, especially through the new emphasis on volunteer work, consciously provided as a good use of free time, and in many cases, as a choice of life.
Special concern to be shown for the poor, sick and young
5. The presbyter is also called to be involved personally in works of charity, sometimes even in extraordinary forms, as has happened in the past and does so today as well. Here I especially want to underscore that simple, habitual, almost unassuming but constant and generous charity, which is manifested not so much in huge projectsófor which many do not have the talent and vocationóbut in the daily practice of goodness, which helps, supports and comforts according to each one's capacity. Clearly the principal concern, and one could say the preference, must be for "the poor and weaker ones, to whom the preaching of the Gospel is given as a sign of messianic mission" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6); for "the sick and dying", to whom the priest should be especially devoted, "visiting them and comforting them in the Lord" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6); for "young people, who must be looked after with special diligence"; as well as for "married couples and parents" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6). In particular, the priest must devote his time, energy and talents to young people, who are the hope of the community, in order to foster their Christian education and their growth in living according to the Gospel. The Council also commends to the presbyter's care "catechumens and neophytes, who must be gradually educated in knowing and living the Christian life" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6).
6. Lastly, attention must be paid to the need to overcome a too limited vision of the local community and every particularist and, as is usually said, "parochial" attitude to foster instead the community spirit that is open to the horizons of the universal Church. Even when the presbyter must devote his time and concern to the local community entrusted to him, as is the case especially for parish priests and their closest coworkers, his heart must remain open to the "fields ripe for the harvest" beyond all borders, both as the universal dimension of the spirit and as the personal participation in the Church's missionary tasks, and as zeal in promoting the cooperation of his own community with the necessary spiritual and material aid (cf. Redemptoris missio, n. 67; Pastores dabo vobis, n. 32).
"In virtue of the sacrament of Orders", the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "priests share in the universal dimension of the mission entrusted by Christ to the Apostles. 'The spiritual gift which priests have received in ordination does not prepare them merely for a limited and circumscribed mission, but for the fullest, in fact, the universal mission of salvation to the end of the earth' (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 10), 'being prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere' (Optatam totius, n. 20)" (CCC, n. 1565).
Eucharist remains vital principle of community's life
7. In any case, everything depends on the Eucharist, which contains the vital principle of pastoral leadership. As the Council says: "No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. From this all education for community spirit must begin" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 6). The Eucharist is the source of unity and the most perfect expression of the union of all the Christian community's members. It is the presbyters' task to ensure that this is really so. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that Eucharistic celebrations are not expressions of unity. Each person attends individually, ignoring the others. With great pastoral charity, priests will remind everyone of St Paul's teaching: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf", which is "a participation in the body of Christ" (1 Cor 10:16-17). Awareness of this union in the body of Christ will encourage a life of charity and effective solidarity. The Eucharist, therefore, is the vital principle of the Church as the community of Christ's members: here pastoral leadership finds its inspiration, strength and extent.
L'Osservatore Romano May 26, 1993