Already approaching the celebration of the
Third Millennium of the new era, the Church is intensifying her
preparation for the encounter with her Lord (1), "Behold, the
Bridegroom comes, go out and receive him" (2).
The Holy Father, John Paul II has wished
that we as priests participate in a special way in this preparation,
manifesting our communion with the one Eternal Pastor. This desire
called for certain moments of
encounter, of reflection on the gifts of the priesthood, and of
This is the origin of the International
Encounter of Priests, which the Holy Father wishes to bear a
profound Marian character, clearly showing forth the Catholic
priesthood as inseparable from Mary's maternal action and presence.
Thus, last year, in 1996, we came together
in Fatima (a place representative of Europe), and this year we come
together here in the Ivory Coast (a place representing the African
continent). Next year, 1998, we will come together in Mexico, where
Guadalupe is the symbol of the Marian dimension in the life of the
American peoples. For 1999, as we all know, we will be in Jerusalem
(a place representing all the rest of Christianity), and then we
will finish in the Eternal City, Rome, at the tomb of the Apostles.
I now will begin to present the theme
assigned me for this second International Encounter for Priests: the
presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Priestly life and
II. Universal Call to Holiness
Spirituality is an attitude, it is the way
of conceiving and fulfilling the ideal of the Christian life.
It corresponds to an intellectual conception defining a certain
style of life, and to a practical choice that specifies the means to
attain the one end: union with the Father through Christ, in the
The Holy Spirit, source of all holiness,
inspires in the Church many and various ways of living the Christian
Thus the plurality of spiritualities is
born from the multiplicity of concrete and differentiated
realizations of the one essential holiness. This is the
direction that, before all else, the Council took in chapter 5 of
the Constitution Lumen Gentium on the universal call to
holiness in the Church: "The holiness cultivated by those under the
guidance of the God's Spirit and obedient to the Father's voice is
the same regardless of the multiple ways of life and occupations.
Adoring Christ in spirit and in truth, they follow him, poor,
humble, and bearing the cross, so as to merit being made sharers in
his glory. But each one must walk without vacillation along the path
of the living faith that produces hope and works of charity,
according to the gifts and functions that are his own" (3). After
establishing these principles there follows a list of the different
forms of life in which each one must attain his own holiness.
III. THE CHRISTOLOGICAL AND MARIOLOGICAL
Christ is the one way of the Father (4).
Christ is the supreme model to which the disciple must conform his
own conduct (5), until attaining Christ's sentiments (6), living his
life, and possessing his Spirit (7): this is what the Church has
taught in all times, and nothing in pastoral action must obscure
this doctrine. But the same Church, guided by the Holy Spirit and
taught through her secular experience, also recognizes that piety
towards the Virgin, Mother of the Savior, and a connection with her
has a great pastoral effectiveness and constitutes a force of
renewal in Christian life. The reason for this effectiveness is
easily intuited. In effect, Mary's multifaceted mission for the
people of God is a supernatural reality fruitfully at work in the
ecclesial organism. And it is gladdening to consider the singular
aspects of this mission and to see how they are oriented, each one
with its proper role, towards the same goal: to reproduce in the
sons the spiritual characteristics of the First Born Son. She, free
from every sin, leads her children to this: to conquer sin with
energetic determination. This liberation from sin is the necessary
condition for every renewal of Christian customs. The exemplary
holiness of the Virgin moves the faithful to lift their eyes to
Mary, who shines as the model of virtues. These virtues of the
Mother will adorn the children, who tenaciously contemplate her
example in order to reproduce her virtues in their own lives. And
such progress in virtue will appear as a consequence and mature
fruit of that pastoral force that springs from true devotion to the
Virgin. The Catholic Church, basing itself on its secular
experience, recognizes in devotion to the Virgin a powerful aid for
man in the pursuit of his fulfillment. The Virgin contemplated in
her real condition in the City of
God, offers a serene vision and a calming word: the victory of hope
over anguish, of communion over loneliness, of peace over unrest, of
joy and beauty over tedium and nausea, of eternal perspectives over
temporal ones, of life over death (8).
Following along the lines of
Lumen Gentium and of the documents of the
postconciliar Magisterium we find John Paul II's Encyclical
Redemptoris Mater, which confirms the Christological and
Ecclesiological basis of Mariology. The Holy Father explains the
Virgin's "motherly presence" along the path of faith from two points
of view: one theological, the other pastoral and spiritual (9).
IV. THE CHURCH'S SPIRITUALITY IS MARIAN
The Church too, as a body, has a
spirituality, that is to say, she has taken on attitudes, made
decisions, and adopted a style of life.
The Church's spirituality is a Marian
spirituality because it imitates Mary's attitudes.
The Church strives to form her relationship with God, with the
Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, after the style of the
Blessed Virgin. This is one of the most important conclusions of
Conciliar reflection regarding the place of Mary in relation to the
In the documents where the Church points
out her own intimate nature (Constitution Lumen Gentium) and
her spirituality (Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium) she
insists equally on presenting the Virgin as Typus, exemplar et
imago of the Church herself.
This relationship (Mary as model for the
Church) is a constant encouragement for the Church to reflect on the
Mother of the Savior: to look at her, to contemplate her, to exalt
her, to admire her, and above all to imitate her (10).
This imitation of Mary by the pilgrim
Church which, under the signs of the times moves towards the
Heavenly Jerusalem, constitutes the foundation of the Marian
character of liturgical spirituality. The imitation takes into
account, above all, the exercise of the theological life of the
Church, which reaches its greatest height in liturgical life (11).
The imitation and reproduction of the
sentiments and attitudes of the Virgin are manifest and given life
in the faithful, in seminarians,
and in priests, through participation in the liturgy with a
spirit of faith, hope, and charity, since the liturgy is Christ's
own prayer to the Heavenly Father, exercised in union with his
mystical body, and in a singular way with the Virgin.
In the Eucharist the Virgin Mary's
motherhood in the order of grace has been understood and lived in a
special way by the Christian people. There in the sacred Banquet
Christ, with his true body, born of the Virgin Mary, is made
present. Rightly so, popular Christian piety has always seen a
profound link between devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Eucharistic
worship, since Mary always guides the faithful to the Eucharist
Reference to the person is essential to
motherhood. Motherhood always defines a unique and unrepeatable
relationship between two people: that of the mother with her child
and that of the child with his mother.
One can affirm that motherhood "in the
order of grace" maintains the analogy with "the order of nature" in
its characterization of the mother-child union.
"There exists an essential relationship
between the Mother of Jesus and the priesthood of the ministers of
the Son, which derives from the relationship found between Mary's
divine motherhood and Christ's priesthood. The Marian spirituality
of every priest is rooted in this relationship. Priestly
spirituality cannot be considered complete if it does not take into
serious consideration the testament of Christ crucified, who wanted
to confide his beloved disciple to his Mother and, through him, all
priests, who have been called to carry forward the work of
which is turned into mankind's patrimony, is a
gift: a gift that Christ himself
personally makes to each man.
"Priests, who find themselves among the
most beloved disciples of Jesus crucified and risen, must welcome
Mary into their lives as their mother: she will therefore be the
object of their continual attention and prayer. The ever-Virgin is
for priests the mother who leads them to Christ, at the same time
that she makes them authentically love the Church and guides them to
the Kingdom of Heaven" (14).
V. PRIESTLY LIFE
Where does the Church's spirituality come
from? From the heart of Christ, with which Mary's heart lovingly
beats; in the Heart of Christ, which is the heart of the Church.
The raison d'Ítre of seminaries and
houses of priestly formation consists in conforming the lives of
those aspiring to Holy Orders to the Heart of the Lord, until the
sentiments and attitudes of our Savior Jesus Christ are reproduced
The gesture with which Christ confided his
disciple to his Mother and his Mother to the disciple (16) has
defined an extremely close relationship between Mary and the Church.
It is the will of the Lord that a Marian note mark the physiognomy
of the Church, her road, her pastoral activity; and into the
spiritual life of each disciple a "Marian dimension" is infused
Mary is much more than a model and a figure
of the Church. For, "with love she cooperates in the generation and
education" of the sons and daughters of Mother Church. The Church's
motherhood is carried forth not only according to the model and
figure of the Mother of God, but also with her "cooperation," which
we understand as motherly mediation.
Here we discover the real value of the
words spoken by Jesus to his mother when he was on the cross:
Woman, behold your son, and to the disciple, Behold you
mother. They are words that define Mary's place in the life of
Christ's disciples and express her new motherhood as mother of the
Redeemer: the spiritual motherhood, born from the depths of the
paschal mystery of the world's Redeemer. Giving himself filially
to Mary, the Christian, like the Apostle John, "welcomes as one of
his own" Christ's mother and introduces her into the whole space of
his interior life. That is to say, into his human and Christian "I":
He took her into his home" (18). This is motherhood in the
order of grace, because she implores the gift of the Holy Spirit
which gives rise to the new children of God, redeemed by Christ's
sacrifice: that Spirit who, together with the Church, Mary received
on the day of Pentecost (19).
a) The need for priestly formation
By the coincidence of the data of faith and
the facts of the anthropological sciences - when these have been
applied to Mary of Nazareth - we have better understood that the
Virgin is, at the same time, the highest historical
realization of the gospel, and also the woman who, by her
self-dominion, her sense of responsibility, her openness to others
and spirit of service, her strength, and her love, has fulfilled the
human dimension of life more completely than anyone else (20).
It is necessary to draw the men of our
times near to the figure of the Virgin, putting into high relief her
historical image of the humble Jewish maiden. It is necessary to
show Mary's lasting and universal human qualities, in such a way
that studying Mary sheds light on the study of man (21).
Because of her two-fold condition of
perfect follower of Christ and the woman who has completely
fulfilled herself as a person, she is a perennial source of
fruitful inspirations for life. For the disciples of the Lord,
the Virgin is the great symbol of the human being who fulfills the
deepest longings of her mind, will, and heart, opening herself
through Christ and in the Spirit to God's transcendence in a filial
surrender of love, and fixing herself firmly in history by effective
service to men (22).
Having considered the importance of the
figure of the Virgin in salvation history and in the life of God's
People, and following the indication of Vatican II and the Holy
Fathers, one cannot seriously think of discarding today the teaching
of Mariology: it is important therefore to give this teaching its
proper place in seminaries and in theological faculties (23).
Research and teaching in Mariology and
service in pastoral work tend towards the promotion of an
authentic Marian piety, which must characterize the life of
every Christian and particularly of those who dedicate themselves to
theological studies and are preparing themselves for the priesthood
It is necessary to stir up an authentic
Marian piety among seminarians. The Code of Canon Law, when treating
of the formation of candidates to the priesthood, recommends
devotion to the Blessed Virgin, nourished by those acts of piety
with which the students acquire the spirit of prayer and strengthen
their vocations (25).
In this sense the Congregation for Catholic
Education has insisted on the need to give students in all centers
of ecclesiastical studies and seminarians an integral Mariological
formation that includes study, devotion, and life. They will
have to acquire a complete and exact knowledge of the Church's
doctrine concerning the Virgin Mary, nourishing an authentic love
for this mother, which expresses itself in genuine methods of
veneration and are translated into "imitation of her virtues" (26),
and above all, a determined decision to live according to the
commandments of God and to do his will (27); they will also have to
develop the capacity to communicate that love - by words, writings,
and by their own lives - to the Christian people (28). A few
advantages of an adequate Marian formation follow (29):
a. In the intellectual realm,
because the truth about God and about man, about Christ and about
the Church, are known more deeply and more sublimely through
knowledge of the "truth about Mary."
b. In the spiritual realm, because
that formation helps the Christian to welcome and introduce the
Mother of Jesus "into the whole space of his own interior life."
c. In the pastoral realm, so that
the Mother of the Lord is powerfully felt as a presence of grace for
the Christian people.
The acquisition of a solid Marian
spirituality is an essential aspect of Christian spirituality.
On his road to full maturity in Christ (30), the Lord's disciple,
conscious of the mission that God has entrusted to the Virgin in
salvation history and in the life of the Church, takes her as a
mother and a teacher in the spiritual life (31); with her and like
her, in light of the Incarnation and the Pascal mystery, he stamps
his own existence with a decisive orientation towards God through
Christ in the Holy Spirit, so as to live out in the Church the
radical invitation made by the Good News, and in particular, the
commandment of love (32).
The piety related to Mary of Nazareth must
constitute a permanent task, since the value of the Virgin's
example and her mission are effectively permanent. The mother of the
Lord is a fact of divine revelation and constitutes a motherly
presence always at work in the life of the Church (33).
Marian formation in the priestly life is a
determining factor for the Church's future. The priesthood is
something that develops from the very beginning of one's Christian
life, but it also develops in a very intense way during the seminary
period. "No one gives what he doesn't have," our people say: "operatur
sequitur esse," they used to teach us in philosophy; with this
in mind I want to share with you, brothers in the priesthood, in the
light and the embrace of the our Lady and Mother the Virgin Mary,
some points that the Church has always made in her various
Magisterial documents regarding the formation of her priests, ever
faithful to the designs and sentiments of Christ.
Every priest knows that Mary, because she
is a mother, is the eminent formator of the priesthood, since she is
the one who knows how to shape the priestly heart; the Virgin,
therefore, knows and wants to protect priests from dangers,
exhaustion, and discouragement: with motherly solicitude she watches
over the priest so that he may grow in wisdom, age, and grace before
God and before men (34).
Those who do not know how to imitate the
virtues of their mother are not devoted sons. The priest, therefore,
must look to Mary if he wants to be a humble, obedient, and chaste
minister who can give witness to charity through total donation to
the Lord and to the Church (35).
The masterpiece of Christ's priestly
sacrifice, the Virgin represents the Church in the most pure manner,
"without stain or wrinkle," totally "holy and immaculate" (36). The
contemplation of the Blessed Virgin keeps ever in sight the ideal
that the priest must always pursue in his ministry of caring for his
own flock, so that this flock also may be "the wholly glorious
Church" through the priestly gift of his own life (37).
The spirituality that the Church wants in
her priests is inspired in the spirituality of Mary.
Let us see these aspects and attitudes of the
Virgin, and may she herself take charge of forming in them in the
hearts of her consecrated ones.
b) Mary, the attentive Virgin
The importance given to God's Word
in the Liturgy is well-known. The Sacred Scriptures guarantee
Christ's effective presence in the Liturgy. The Church listens,
welcomes, meditates, and celebrates the word that the Lord continues
speaking in the Liturgical gathering (38). We can say that the
Church does not even know how to gather together in assembly without
giving itself the task of listening to God's word.
The attitude of listening, before the
proclamation of the word, is also typical of the Virgin. The first
time that the gospel speaks about Mary (39) it presents her to us in
the posture of listening to and welcoming the word. And we know how
essential this welcoming of the Divine Word has been for salvation
history (40), seeing as we today, priests from the five continents,
are celebrating 2000 years of the Word Incarnate in Mary's womb.
From the information that the gospel gives
us we can conclude that the "listening-welcoming" of the word
constitutes a characteristic mark of Mary's spirituality.
Welcoming the first word she becomes the
mother of God; welcoming the second and last word, she becomes the
mother of Christians.
This characteristic is inculcated by the
Church in the life of the seminarian and the priest so as to awaken
and love for the Sacred Scriptures and the
c) Mary, the praying Virgin
In addition to the Church that listens to
the word, there is the Church that prays. It goes without saying
that prayer constitutes an essential element of the Church's
Mary consecrated herself totally, as the
handmaid of the Lord, to the work of her Son, diligently serving the
mystery of the redemption with him and under him, with the grace of
almighty God (42).
Full of faith in the promise of her Son
(43), the Virgin constitutes a praying presence in the midst of the
community of disciples: persevering with them in unity and in prayer
(44), imploring "with her prayers the gift of the Spirit, who had
already overshadowed her at the Annunciation" (45).
Mary is the "praying Virgin." Thus she
appears in her visit to the Precursor's mother (46), and thus she
appears in the last biographical sketch we have of her: in prayer
together with the Apostles on Pentecost. And she, having been
assumed into Heaven, has not abandoned her mission of intercession
and salvation. The "praying Virgin" is also the Church, which daily
presents to the Father her children's needs, incessantly praises the
Lord and intercedes for the world's salvation (47).
To pray well, to pray with the Church, to
pray like the Church is the ideal of prayer that everyone currently
agrees must be attained: and this ideal is verified in Liturgical
prayer. Its form is as splendid as it is, for all the rest,
well-known in its highest degree: to the Father through Christ in
the Holy Spirit, expressing itself, in as much as is possible, with
the very words of revelation.
This style of prayer was not created by the
Church, but it was taken from the Virgin of the Magnificat.
She, in this canticle so full of Biblical reminiscences, intoned
under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, having in her womb the
Incarnate Word, directing her words towards glorifying the Father
for the wonders that had taken place in her and putting into relief
some moments of salvation history, allows us to pray as one ought,
with inspired words present in the Holy Scriptures and in the
Tradition of our Church.
Therefore, each day the Ecclesia orans,
in her service of petition during vespers, repeats the Magnificat,
canticle of praise that resounded for the first time in the little
town of Ain-Karim. Mary is the one who prays and her prayer is the
prayer of the whole Church.
The Virgin's prayer is made present in the
prayer of the Church herself: and that presence leads to
imitation: the prayer of the Church is the infinite expansion of
that humble canticle of grace which, one day and for ever, burst
forth from Mary's heart.
The prayer of the priest must not neglect
the lesson in style and attitude that is found with the "praying
Virgin." To want to pray with the Virgin is equivalent to inserting
oneself into the most solemn prayer of the Church.
d) Mary, the Virgin Mother
Listening to God's word tends to engender
life: only the word heard and put
into practice bears fruit. This happened in Mary and is constantly
renewed in the Church and in each one of the faithful.
Mary is the "Virgin-Mother," the one who
through faith and obedience engendered on earth the very Son of the
Father, without contact with man, but by being overshadowed by the
Holy Spirit: prodigious motherhood, constituted by God as the "type"
and "exemplar" of the fecundity of the Virgin-Church, which "is
herself converted into Mother, because with preaching and baptism
she engenders a new and immortal life in her children conceived by
the work of the Holy Spirit and born of God" (48).
Considering that the exercise of
motherhood constitutes a "service" provides a very interesting
perspective. Mary, Mother of the Head and of the members, in
the exercise of her motherhood at the foot of the cross, is placed
by God's will at the "service" of her children - and even more, of
This motherhood, this fecundity, is
participated in by the priest, who, listening to the Word and
welcoming it with faith in his heart, engenders life and places
himself at the service of life. This fecundity is the hidden
aspect, fruit of the "Virgin mother" in the priestly soul.
The celibate's total donation to God
"for the Kingdom of Heaven," that is, virginity consecrated to God
(49), following the example of Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth, is the
source of a special spiritual fecundity: it is the source of
motherhood in the Holy Spirit. It is the mysterious path along which
we are invited to live our priestly being and doing (50).
e) Mary, the offering Virgin
Finally, Mary is the "offering Virgin." The
Church has perceived in the heart of the Virgin who carried the
Child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, a willing oblation
that transcended the ordinary meaning of the rite (51). "You offer
your Son, Holy Virgin, and you present to the Lord the blessed fruit
of your womb. You offer the holy victim, pleasing to God, for the
reconciliation of us all" (St Bernard).
This union of the Mother with the Son in
the work of redemption reaches its culmination at Calvary, where
Christ "offered himself, immaculate, to God" (52) and where Mary was
beside the cross (53) suffering deeply with her Only Son and
associating herself with motherly courage to his sacrifice, adhering
lovingly to the immolation of the Victim engendered by her and
offering herself as well to the Eternal Father. To perpetuate
throughout the centuries the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Savior
instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice, memorial of his death and
resurrection, and he confided it to his Spouse, the Church... who
accomplishes it in union with the Saints in Heaven and, in the first
place, with the blessed Virgin, whose ardent charity and unshakable
faith she imitates (54).
Therefore the Church, with this same
oblationary fervor and spirit lived by Mary, continually exhorts the
priest to prepare himself and celebrate the Eucharist, center and
summit of his interior life and apostolate. May his priestly hands
elevate the consecrated bread and wine, Body and Blood of the Lord,
just as Mary offered him as a child in the Temple, and having
consummated the redemption at the foot of the cross, may he return
it to the Father as an expiatory offering for our sins.
f) Mary, Teacher of the spiritual
Mary is the example of the spiritual
attitude with which the Church celebrates and lives the divine
mysteries. The example of the Blessed Virgin in this field arises
from her being recognized as the extraordinary model of the Church
in the order of faith, of charity, and of perfect union with Christ,
that is, of that interior disposition with which the Church, the
most beloved Spouse, tightly bound to her Lord, invokes him and
through him gives worship to the Eternal Father (55).
In the exercise of divine worship Mary
is also teacher of the spiritual life for every Christian.
Thus have the faithful seen her: they look to Mary to make, like
her, their own lives into worship of God, and to make from this
worship a commitment for life. Mary is above all the model of that
kind of worship that consists in making one's own life into an
offering to God: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to
me according to your word" (56). And Mary's "yes" is for all
Christians a lesson and an example to be converted into obedience to
the Father's will along the way of and amid one's own
sanctification, and in a special way for priests (57).
The many relationships that unite Mary with
every Christian are translated into different and effective cultural
attitudes: profound veneration, ardent love, confident invocation,
loving service, operative imitation of her virtues, moving wonder,
and attentive study. Therefore, in a special way priests must first
learn from Mary, then live her example, and finally teach the
members of the Church to live it (58).
VI. THE PRIESTLY MINISTRY
Priestly formation, finally, has an active
dimension oriented to pastoral action. The figure of Mary, her
operative presence in the life of the Church, is recognized as
the soul of every apostolic or pastoral work. Her spirit of
service inspires the priestly ministry as an expression of love
and as a response to a received gift. The pastoral challenges of our
times demand action inspired by Mary's life.
a) Pastoral value of Mariology
who was actively present in the life of the Church at her beginning,
her foundation, and her manifestation, is an "operative presence"
throughout history; even more, she is found in the "center of
the pilgrim Church," where she performs a multiple function:
cooperating with the birth of the faithful into the life of grace,
giving example in how to follow Christ, and providing "motherly
As do all theological disciplines,
Mariology offers precious aid to pastoral work. In this sense
the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus underlines that
"piety towards the Blessed Virgin, subordinated to and in connection
with piety towards the Divine Savior, has a great pastoral value and
constitutes a renewing force for Christian life" (60). This Marian
piety is also called to make its contribution in the vast field of
Thus it is that the Liturgy, with a rich
doctrinal content, possesses an incomparable pastoral effectiveness:
the General Roman Calendar, with an intense and balanced presence of
celebrations organized around the mysteries of the Lord in the
person of the Virgin; the canons of the Mass, the readings of the
Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours (62).
Devotion to the Virgin has a special
pastoral effectiveness for renewing Christian customs, as the
history of the Church in different times and places shows. The
Church's piety towards the Blessed Virgin is an intrinsic element of
Christian worship. The veneration that the Church has given to the
Mother of the Lord in every time and place constitutes a solid
witness of her "lex orandi" and an invitation to revive in
consciences her "lex credendi" (63).
A fundamental aspect in the life of the
Church is her pastoral dimension, carried out principally through
the priestly ministry of the sacraments. The motherly expression is
lived in the Church, and, therefore, in her priests when the
faithful welcoming of God's word given "through preaching and
baptism engenders into new and immortal life the children who were
conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God" (64). This "motherly"
characteristic of the Church has been expressed in a particularly
vigorous way by the Apostle to the gentiles, when he writes: "My
children, for whom I suffer once more the pangs of giving birth,
until Christ is formed in you" (65). These words of St Paul contain
an interesting indication of the motherly consciousness of the
primitive Church, united to the apostolic service among men.
Mary keeps on repeating to all men, and
with greater tenderness to her priestly sons: "Do whatever he tells
you" (66), which, in fact, summarizes all pastoral action at any
level: docility to the will of the Son, which is the manifestation
of the Father's will.
b) The spirit of service in Mary
A better knowledge of Mary's mission has
been transformed into joyful veneration of her and adoring respect
for the wise plan of God, who has placed in his family - the Church
- as if in a domestic home, the figure of a Woman, who silently and
in the spirit of service watches over it and "lovingly
protects its journey to the homeland, until the glorious day of the
Lord arrives" (67).
The fundamental aspect of Marian
spirituality is service. In this
way one can synthesize the different spiritualities, the different
charisms with which the Holy Spirit adorns his Church. Likewise,
this overcomes the unfortunate situation wherein Marian piety seems
to appear only as a patrimony for women. It is obvious that, in the
light of service, this piety acquires a character in itself
more virile and communal, without running the risk of favoring an
easygoing sentimentalism, as at times happens in Marian spirituality
anchored exclusively in the "filial" aspect, typical of the 19th and
The posture of "service" can be converted
into the spiritual expression that harmonizes well the reverence due
to the Lady with the confidence inspired by the Mother,
since the Virgin is "she who, after Christ, occupies in the holy
Church the highest place, and at the same time the place nearest to
The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on
the formation of priests in current times, Pastores Dabo Vobis,
offers us a key text for understanding service as an expression
of the configuration to Christ the Head and Pastor (69):
Through sacramental consecration,
the priest is configured to Jesus Christ, as head and Pastor
of the Church, and receives as a gift a "spiritual power,"
which is participation in the authority with which Jesus
Christ, through his Spirit, guides his Church.
Thanks to this consecration brought
about by the Holy Spirit in the sacramental effusion of
Orders, the spiritual life of the priest is characterized,
infused, and defined by those attitudes and behaviors which
belong to Jesus Christ, Head and Pastor of the Church, and
which are brought together in his pastoral charity.
Jesus Christ is Head of the Church,
his Body. He is "Head" in the new and original sense of
being "servant," according to his own words: "The Son of man
has not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life
as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). The service of Jesus
reaches its fullness with his death on the cross, that is,
with his total gift of self, in humility and love: "he
emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and becoming
like men... he humiliated himself, obedient unto death, and
death on a cross..." (Phil 2:7-8). The authority of Jesus
Christ the Head coincides therefore with his service, with
his gift, with his total, humble, and loving surrender to
the Church. And this in perfect obedience to the Father:
he is the only and true Suffering Servant of the Lord, both
Priest and Victim.
This concrete type of service, that
is, service to the Church, must animate and enliven the
spiritual existence of every priest, precisely because of
the demands of his configuration with Jesus Christ, Head and
Servant of the Church. St Augustine exhorted a bishop on day
of his ordination along these lines: "He who is head of the
people must, before all else, realize that he is the servant
of many. And he must not disdain being so, I repeat, he must
not disdain being the servant of many, because the Lord of
lords did not disdain making himself our servant."
The spiritual life of the New
Testament's ministers will have to be characterized, then,
by this essential attitude of service to the People of God (cf
Mt 20:24ff; Mk 10:43-44), far from all presumption and
thoughts of "tyrannizing" the entrusted flock (cf 1Pet
5:2-3). A service carried out as God expects and with a good
spirit. In this way all ministers, the "elders" of the
community, that is, the presbyters, will be able to be a
"model" for the Lord's flock, a flock which in turn is
called to take on this priestly attitude of service before
the whole world, leading mankind to fullness of life and to
its integral liberation
Every aspect of priestly formation can be
referred to Mary as to the human being who better than anyone has
corresponded to the vocation of God; who has become the servant and
disciple of the Word up until conceiving in her heart and in her
flesh the Word made man in order to give him to humanity; who has
been called to educate the unique and eternal Priest, docile and
submissive to her motherly authority. With her example and through
her intercession, the Blessed Virgin continues watching over the
development of vocations and of the priestly life of the Church
To her, the Mother of the Eternal High
Priest, we want to entrust our priestly vocation, received with the
imposition of hands on the day of our ordination, with which we are
given the unmerited gift of being
To her, who keeps her priests in her heart
and in the Church, we want to entrust our pastoral work and the
abundant harvest of the Lord.
To her, who welcomed us from the beginning,
who protected us in our formation, we raise our petition, that she
may accompany us in our priestly lives and ministries.
I filially implore the loving protection of
the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, our sweet and holy Mother, to build
up our priestly lives and ministries and grant us all to meet next
year in our Encounter in Mexico, in her little house of Tepeyac.
***References for this talk are not