Friday, January 23, 2009

Never Cease Praying for New Vocations

Benedict XVI's Address to Bishops

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 23, 2007, ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today when receiving in audience Saturday morning participants in the meeting of recently ordained bishops. The audience took place at Castel Gandolfo.

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Dearest brothers in the episcopate,

It has become a custom in the last few years for recently nominated bishops to come together to Rome for a meeting that is, in essence, a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter. I welcome you with special affection. This experience, besides inspiring you to reflect on the responsibilities and tasks of a bishop, enables you to revive in your souls the awareness that you are not alone in holding up God's Church, but that you have, together with the help of grace, the Pope's support and that of your brethren.

Being at the center of Catholicism, in this Church of Rome, opens your souls to a more vivid perception of the universality of God's people and develops in you a concern for the entire Church. I thank Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re for his greeting and I greet Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches, while I greet each one of you and hold each one of your dioceses in my thoughts.

On the day of episcopal ordination, before the laying on of hands, the Church asks the candidate to assume certain tasks including, besides faithfully proclaiming the Gospel and safeguarding the faith, that of "preserving in prayer to the omnipotent God for the good of his holy people." I would like to focus with you in a special way on the apostolic and pastoral character of the "Bishop's Prayer."

Luke, the Evangelist, writes that Jesus Christ chose the Twelve Apostles after praying all night on the mountain (Luke 6:12); and Mark, the evangelist, specifies that the Twelve were chosen "so that they would be with him and that he could send them out to preach" (Mark 3:14). We too, like the Apostles, dearest brethren, as their successors, we were called above all to stay with Christ, to know him more deeply and to take part in his ministry of love and his relationship of full confidence in the Father. In the personal and intimate prayer of the bishop, like the faithful yet more so, is called to grow in a filial spirit toward God, learning from Jesus himself confidence, trust and faithfulness, Christ's own attributes in his relationship with the Father.

And the Apostles understood well that listening in prayer and then proclaiming what they heard must have first place among their many tasks, because, as they decided: "We dedicate ourselves to prayer and ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:4). This apostolic program is still relevant today. Today, in the ministry of a bishop, the organizational aspects are absorbing, the commitments are numerous, the needs are many, but the first place in the life of a successor of the Apostles must be reserved for God. In this way, especially, we help our faithful. St. Gregory the Great in the "Pastoral Rule" said that the pastor "in a special way must be able to elevate himself above everyone in prayer and contemplation (II, 5). This is what tradition formulated into the famous expression "Contemplata aliis tradere" (cf. St. Thomas, "Summa Theologiae." IIa-IIae, q. 188, art. 6).

In the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," referring to the narration of the biblical story of Jacob's ladder, I wanted to show how through prayer the pastor becomes sensitive to the needs of others and merciful toward all (cf. No. 7). And I recalled the thought of St. Gregory the Great, who said the pastor rooted in contemplation knows how to welcome the needs of others, which become his own through prayer: "per piertatis viscera in se infirmitatem caeterorum transferat" ("Pastoral Rule," ibid.).

Prayer educates us to love and opens our hearts to pastoral charity to welcome all those who look to the bishop. Formed interiorly by the Holy Spirit, he consoles with the balm of divine grace, illuminates with the light of the word, reconciles and edifies in fraternal communion. In your prayer, dear brethren, your priests must occupy a special place so that they will persevere in their vocation and remain faithful to the priestly mission entrusted to them. It is greatly edifying for each priest to know that the bishop, from whom he received the gift of priesthood or who is at any rate his father and friend, is near to him in prayer, in affection and is always ready to welcome him, listen to him, support him and encourage him. In the same way the bishop must never cease praying for new vocations. These supplications must be offered up with persistence to God, until he calls "those that he wants" for the sacred ministry.

The "munus santificandi" that you received commits you to be promoters of prayer in society. In the cities in which you live and operate, often frenetic and noisy, where man runs and loses himself, where one lives as if God does not exist, may you be able to create places and occasions of prayer, where in silence, in listening to God through "lectio divina," in personal and communal prayer, man can meet God and have a living experience of Jesus Christ who reveals the true face of the Father.

Never tire of making sure that parishes and shrines, places of education and places of suffering, and also families become places of communion with the Lord. In a special way I exhort you to make the cathedral an exemplary house of prayer, above all of liturgical prayer, where the diocesan community gathered together with their bishop can praise and thank God for the work of salvation and intercede for all men. 

St. Ignatius of Antioch reminds us of the strength of community prayer: "If the prayer of one or two has great strength, how much more that of the bishop and of the entire Church!" ("Letter to the Ephesians," No. 5).

In brief, dearest bishops, be men of prayer! The "spiritual fecundity of the ministry of the bishop depends on the intensity of his union with the Lord. It is from prayer that a bishop must draw light, strength, and comfort in his pastoral activity," as is written in the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops ("Apostolorum Succesores," No. 36).

Turn to God for yourselves and for your faithful with the trust of children, the audaciousness of a friend, the perseverance of Abraham, who was untiring in his prayer. Like Moses may you have your hands raised toward heaven, while your faithful fight the good fight of faith. Like Mary may you know how to praise God for the salvation he is carrying out in the Church and in the world, convinced that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

With these sentiments and Impart to each one of you, and to your priests, to the men and women religious, the seminarians and the faithful of your dioceses a special apostolic blessing.

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