In other words, through presiding over the Eucharist, priests help Christians to “live their social commitment” as a fruit of their worship (Compendium, no. 539).
Builders of Community
Ordained ministry is a reminder of our “communitarian” nature, because it can only be carried out in communion with others. For example, priests minister in communion with their bishop, with other priests, and with the lay faithful. An important role of the priest is to bring together the entire community both in worship and in building the Church in the world. Being “a man of communion” means that a priest must be “a man of mission and dialogue,” working for unity, justice, and peace with other faiths, people of good will, and with those who are poor and vulnerable (Pastores Dabo Vobis, nos. 17, 18).
Pope John Paul II notes, “All priests must have the mind and the heart of missionaries,” whether they serve near their home or across the world (Redemptoris Missio [On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate], no. 67). Priests can have missionary hearts through their attentiveness to the struggles of their brothers and sisters across the world and by remembering “the whole Church for all of humanity” in their prayers and in the Eucharistic sacrifice (ibid.). This global perspective must be contagious; priests must work to “form the community entrusted to them as a truly missionary community” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 32). Deacons, too, have been sent by Christ and play an important role in bringing him to the heart of the parish community and beyond.
St. John Vianney wrote, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” Likewise, St. Augustine noted that the priesthood is the office of the good shepherd who offers his life for his sheep. In sum, “the priest is above all a servant of others” (Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 23). As Christ “emptied himself” (Phil 2:7) to become the suffering servant, so too, priests give themselves in service for the Church and the world. The celibate lifestyle, which encourages an undivided heart in those committed to it, fosters such self-emptying service. Deacons also exemplify service as they assist the bishop and priests in their ministries and dedicate themselves to ministries of charity (CCC, no. 1571).
Advocates for the Poor
Ordained ministers are guided by the Holy Spirit to have “a preferential love for the poor, the sick, and the needy” and to identify with Christ the priest and victim (CCC, no. 1586). This special obligation to the poor and weak is in imitation of Jesus’ own love for the poor and ministry to the sick and dying (Presbyterorum Ordinis [Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests], no. 6).
The ordained are to live in the world while also being witnesses representing virtues that lead the sheep to the one true sheepfold. These virtues include love, goodness, and “careful attention to justice” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 3).
Sharers of Catholic Social Teaching
Because the Church’s social doctrine is an “essential component” of the “new evangelization” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 54), those preparing for the ordained ministry should develop a “thorough knowledge” of Catholic social teaching and “a keen interest in the social issues of their day” (Compendium, no. 533).
Evangelizers of Social Realities
Bishops, assisted by priests, deacons, and religious, must “evangelize social realities” (Compendium, no. 539) by being “articulate spokesmen for and interpreters of Catholic social teaching in today’s circumstances” (USCCB, Program of Priestly Formation, no. 345).
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