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Jesus Christ himself is the living, supreme, and definitive fulfillment of God’s promise: “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11). After his own example, he has entrusted to the apostles and their successors (the college of bishops) the ministry of shepherding God’s flock (cf. Jn. 21:15ff.; 1 Pt. 5:2). In union with their bishops, to whom they promise respect and obedience, priests share in their ministry, and in their role of teaching, sanctifying, and nourishing the People of God.
The priest’s identity, like every Christian identity, has its source in the Blessed Trinity, and is revealed within the Church’s mystery. The priest, by virtue of the consecration which he receives in the sacrament of Holy Orders, is sent forth by the Father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom his is configured in a special way as head and shepherd of his people, in order to live and work by the power of the Holy Spirit, in service of the Church and for the salvation of the world.
The nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood cannot be defined except through this multiple and rich interconnection of relationships. Truly, the priest’s identity is fundamentally “relational”.
Bishop Larry Silva, Father Rheo Ofalsa, and Honolulu Seminarians at annual Kalaupapa, Moloka'i trip
Jesus Christ established a close relationship between the ministry entrusted to the apostles and his own mission: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me” (Mt. 10:40); “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16).
Indeed, in the light of the paschal event of the death and resurrection of Christ, the fourth Gospel affirms this with great force and clarity: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn. 20:21; cf. 13:20; 17:18). Just as Jesus has a mission which comes to him directly from God and makes present the very authority of God (cf. Mt. 7:29; 21:23; Mk. 1:27; 11:28; Lk.20:2; 24:19), so too the apostles have a mission which comes to them from Jesus. And just as “the Son can do nothing of his own accord” (Jn. 5:19) such that his teaching is not his own but the teaching of the One who sent him (cf. Jn. 7:16), so Jesus says to the apostles: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Their mission is not theirs but is the same mission of Jesus.
All this is possible not as a result of human abilities, but only with the “gift” of Christ and his Spirit, with the “sacrament”: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:22-23). And so the apostles, not by any special merit of their own, but only through a gratuitous participation in the grace of Christ, prolong throughout history to the end of time the same mission of Jesus on behalf of humanity.
In their turn, the apostles, appointed by the Lord, progressively carried out their mission by calling—in various but complementary ways—other men as bishops, as priests, and as deacons, in order to fulfill the command of Jesus who sent them forth to all people in every age.
In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ—the head and shepherd—authoritatively proclaiming his word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation—particularly in baptism, penance, and the Eucharist; showing his loving concern to the point of total gift of self for the flock, which they gather in unity and lead to the Father through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the head and shepherd.
However, the role and task of the priest is not to replace but rather to promote the baptismal priesthood of the entire People of God, leading it to its full ecclesial realization. Priests are there to serve the faith, hope, and charity of the laity. They recognize and uphold, as brothers and friends, the dignity of the laity as children of God and help them to exercise fully their specific role in the overall context of the Church’s mission.
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