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Pope's Homily During Mass to Ordain 15 Priests

5/23/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Go Out Ever Anew 'to the Highways and Hedges'"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 23, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the homily delivered by Benedict XVI during the Mass for the priestly ordination of 15 deacons of the Diocese of Rome in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, May 7, 2006.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Ordinandi,

At this hour, dear friends, when you are being introduced as shepherds in the service of the great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the sacrament of orders, it is the Lord himself who, in the Gospel, speaks of serving God's flock.

The image of the shepherd comes from remote times. In the Orient of antiquity, kings would designate themselves as the shepherds of their peoples. Moses and David in the Old Testament, before being called to become the leaders and pastors of the people of God, were in fact shepherds with flocks.

In the anguish of the period of the exile, confronted by the failure of Israel's shepherds, that is, of its political and religious leaders, Ezekiel sketched the image of God himself as the shepherd of his people. Through the prophet God says: "As a shepherd seeks out his flock ... so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Ezekiel 34: 12).

Jesus now proclaims that this time has come: He himself is the good shepherd through whom God himself cares for his creature, man, gathering human beings and leading them to the true pasture.

St. Peter, whom the risen Lord charged to tend his sheep, to become a shepherd with him and for him, described Jesus as the "archipoimen" -- "chief shepherd" (cf. I Peter 5:4), and by this he meant that it is only possible to be a shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ through him and in very close communion with him.

The sacrament of ordination expresses this very point: Through the sacrament the priest is totally inserted into Christ, so that by starting from him and acting in his sight he may carry out in communion with him the service of Jesus, the one shepherd, in whom God, as man, wants to be our shepherd.

The Gospel we have heard this Sunday is only a part of Jesus' great discourse on shepherds. In this passage, the Lord tells us three things about the true shepherd: He gives his own life for his sheep; he knows them and they know him; he is at the service of unity.

Before reflecting on these three characteristics essential to shepherds, it might be useful to recall briefly the previous part of the discourse on shepherds in which Jesus, before designating himself as the shepherd, says, to our surprise: "I am the door" (John 10:7).

It is through him that one must enter the service of shepherd. Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying: "He who ... climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1).

This word "climbs" -- anabainei in Greek -- conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere out of bounds to him.

"To climb" -- here too we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to "get ahead," to gain a position through the Church: to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ.

But the only legitimate ascent toward the shepherd's ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door. It is not the desire to become "someone" for oneself, but rather to exist for others, for Christ, and thus through him and with him to be there for the people he seeks, whom he wants to lead on the path of life.

One enters the priesthood through the sacrament, and this means precisely through the gift of oneself to Christ, so that he can make use of me; so that I may serve him and follow his call, even if it proves contrary to my desire for self-fulfillment and esteem.

Entering by the door which is Christ means knowing and loving him more and more, so that our will may be united with his will, our action become one with his action.

Dear friends, let us pray ever anew for this intention, let us strive precisely for this: In other words, for Christ to grow within us and for our union with him to become ever deeper, so that through us it is Christ himself who tends the flock.

Let us now take a closer look at the three fundamental affirmations of Jesus on the good shepherd. The first one, which very forcefully pervades the whole discourse on shepherds, says: The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The mystery of the cross is at the center of Jesus' service as a shepherd: It is the great service that he renders to all of us.

He gives ...

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