We have already pointed out that the three Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist constitute together the mystery of “Christian initiation,” a unique great event of grace that regenerates us in Christ. This is the fundamental vocation that unites all in the Church as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Then there are two Sacraments which correspond to two specific vocations: Holy Orders and Matrimony. They constitute two great ways through which a Christian can make of his life a gift of love, in imitation and in the name of Christ, and thus cooperate in the building of the Church.
Holy Orders, articulated in the three ranks of episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate, is the Sacrament which enables the exercise of the ministry, entrusted by the Lord Jesus to the Apostles, to feed his flock, in the power of his Spirit and according to his heart. To feed Jesus’ flock not with the power of human strength or with one’s own strength, but with that of the Spirit and according to his heart, that heart of Jesus which is a heart of love. The priest, the Bishop, the deacon must feed the Lord’s flock with love. If he does not do it with love, it is useless. And in this sense, the ministers that are chosen and consecrated for this service prolong Jesus’ presence in time, if they do so with the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of God and with love.
A first characteristic to consider: those who are ordained are placed at the head of the community. They are “at the head” yes, but for Jesus this means to put one’s authority “at the service of”, as He himself showed and taught the disciples with these words: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45). A Bishop who is not at the service of the community does no good, just as a priest who is not at the service of the community does no good.
Another characteristic that always derives from this sacramental union with Christ is “passionate love for the Church”. We think of that passage in the Letter to the Ephesians in which Saint Paul says that Christ “loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (5:25-27). In the Sacrament of Holy Orders the minister dedicates his whole self to his community and loves it with all his heart: it is his family. The Bishop and the priest love the Church in their community, they love her intensely. How? As Christ loves the Church. Saint Paul says the same about matrimony: the husband loves his wife as Christ loves the Church. It is a great mystery of love: this priestly ministry and that of matrimony, two Sacraments that are the way by which persons usually go to the Lord.
One final characteristic: the Apostle Paul recommends to his disciple Timothy not to neglect, but rather to renew always the gift that is in him – the gift that was given to him through the laying on of hands (cf. 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). When the ministry is not nourished – the ministry of the Bishop, the ministry of the priest – with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, and with the daily celebration of the Eucharist and also with the frequentation of the Sacrament of Penance, one ends inevitably by losing sight of the authentic meaning of one’s service and the joy that stems from profound communion with Jesus.
The Bishop who does not pray, the Bishop who does not listen to the Word of God, who does not celebrate Mass every day, who does not go regularly to Confession, and the same for a priest who does not do these things – in the long run they lose their union with Jesus and become a mediocrity which does no good to the Church. Therefore, we must help Bishops and priests to pray; to listen to the Word of God, which is the daily meal; to celebrate the Eucharist every day and to go to Confession regularly. This is so important because it concerns the sanctification of the Bishops and priests.
Excerpts from the general audience of Pope Francis March 2014