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Encyclical on the Catholic Priesthood

from Pope Pius XI 
December 20, 1935 
addressed to Catholic Priests and Seminarians 
Ad Catholici Sacerdotii
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To you dear Children, Priests of the Most High, both secular and regular, the world over, We address Our words. You are "Our glory and joy," you, who with such great generosity bear the "burden of the day and the heat," you, who so powerfully help Us and Our Brethren of the Episcopate in fulfilling the duty of feeding the flock of Christ. To you We send Our Paternal thanks and Our warmest encouragement. We know and fully appreciate your admirable zeal; and to it, in the needs of the present, We make this heartfelt appeal. These needs are becoming daily graver. All the more must your redeeming work grow and intensify; for "you are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world." 

Holiness of Life

If, however, your work is to be blessed by God and produce abundant fruit, it must be rooted in holiness of life. Sanctity, as We said above, is the chief and most important endowment of the Catholic priest. Without it other gifts will not go far; with it, even supposing other gifts be meager, the priest can work marvels. We have the example of St. Joseph of Cupertino, and in times nearer to our own, of that humble Cure' d'Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, of whom We have already spoken; whom we have willed to set up before all parish priests as their model and heavenly Patron. Therefore, with the Apostle of the Gentiles, We say to you: "Behold your vocation"; and beholding it, you cannot fail to value ever more highly the grace given to you in ordination to strive to "walk worthily of the vocation in which you are called." 

Retreats and Days of Recollection

In this striving you will be most wonderfully helped by a practice commended by Our Predecessor of holy memory Pius X. This commendation is contained in that "Exhortation to the Catholic Clergy," which he wrote with such great unction and affection. This We warmly recommend you to read. In it, among all the means to preserve and increase the grace of the priesthood, he placed first the use of the Spiritual Exercises. This means We Ourself have also frequently recommended; and particularly in Our Encyclical Letter Mens Nostra, We have paternally and solemnly urged it upon all Our sons, but more especially upon Our priests. As the year of Our priestly Jubilee drew to a close, We could find no better and more salutary reminder of that happy anniversary, than to give to Our sons an invitation, through the above-mentioned letter, to draw more copiously from the waters of life springing up into life everlasting, this inexhaustible fountain providentially opened by God to His Church. Again now, to you Our dear Brethren, who are all the closer to Us because you work more directly with Us to establish the kingdom of Christ upon earth, We believe We cannot give better proof of Our fatherly affection than by exhorting you most fervently to make use of this means of sanctification to the best of your abilities. Take for your guide those principles and norms laid down by Us in the above-mentioned Encyclical. It is not enough to withdraw to the sacred seclusion of the Spiritual Exercises only at the intervals and in the exact measure prescribed by ecclesiastical law, but you should enter into retreat more often and for longer periods, as far as possible, and you should consecrate, in addition, a day of each month to more fervent prayer and greater recollection, according to the practice of priests of greater zeal. 

In such retreats and recollection even one who may have entered in sortem Domini, not by the straight way of a true vocation, but for earthly or less noble motives, will be able to "stir up the grace of God." For he too is now indissolubly bound to God and the Church, and so nothing remains for him but to follow the advice of St. Bernard: "If sanctity of life did not precede, let it at least follow … for the future make good your ways and ambitions and make holy your ministry." The grace of God, and specifically that grace proper to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, will not fail to lend aid, if he sincerely wishes to correct whatever was originally amiss in his purpose or conduct. However it may have come about that he undertook the obligations of the priesthood, the abiding grace of this divine sacrament will not be wanting in power to enable him to fulfill them. 

Each and all of you, the, from the recollection and prayer of a retreat will come out fortified against the snares of the world, quickened by lively zeal for the salvation of souls, and enkindled with the love of God, as befits priests in times like the present. For, together with so much corruption and diabolical malice, there is everywhere felt a powerful religious and spiritual awakening, a breath of the Holy spirit, sent forth over the world to sanctify it, and to renew with its creative force the face of the earth. Filled with the Holy Ghost you will communicate this love of God like a holy fire to all who approach you, becoming in a true sense bearers of Christ in a disordered society, which can hope for salvation from Jesus Christ alone, since He, and He alone, is ever "the true Savior of the world." 


Before concluding, We turn Our thoughts and Our words with very special tenderness to you who are still in your studies for the priesthood; and urge you from the depth of Our heart to prepare yourselves with all seriousness for the great task to which God calls you. You are the hope of the Church and of the people, who look for so much, or rather everything, to you. For to you they look for that living and life-giving knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, in which is eternal life. In piety, purity, humility, obedience, discipline and study strive, the, to make yourselves priests after the Heart of God; We assure you that in the task of fitting yourselves for the priesthood by solid virtue and learning, no care, no diligence, no energy, can be too great; because upon it so largely depend all your future apostolic labors. See to it that, on the day of your ordination to the priesthood, the Church find you in fact such as she wishes you to be, that is, "replenished with heavenly wisdom, irreproachable in life and established in the ways of grace," so that "the sweet odor of your life may be a delight to the Church of Christ, that both by word and good example you may build the house, that is, the family of God." 

Only thus can you continue the glorious traditions of the Catholic priesthood and hasten that most auspicious hour when it will be given to all humanity to enjoy the fruits of the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ. 

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