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"Follow me!" | Francis Cardinal Arinze | The Introduction to Meeting Jesus and Following Him: A Retreat Given to Pope Benedict XVI and the Papal Household | Ignatius Insight

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"Follow me" (Mt 4:19; Mk 1:17; Lk 5:27; Jn 1:43). These are engaging and essential words that our beloved Lord Jesus Christ addressed to some of his first disciples. And "they stayed with him that day" (Jn 1 :39). This program will guide our meditations during these six days.

As you might guess, it was not without surprise and even fear that I received from the Holy Father the assignment to propose to you these meditations. My first temptation was to react like the prophet Jeremiah at the beginning of his call: "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." The prophet continues: "But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, "I am only a youth"; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak'" (Jer 1:6-7).

But the following considerations came to my mind. This choice, this decision, comes from the Vicar of Christ. What other sign do you want to know the will of God? Moreover, the person who proposes the meditations for such spiritual exercises should strive to propose, not his own ideas or opinions, but what he believes to be the will of God, the word of the Lord. It is the Holy Spirit that animates retreats and illumines hearts, while the preacher is only an instrument. I am reassured also by the thought that you have come, not to listen to a learned professor who lectures, but to share some experiences and convictions of one who has tried to serve the Lord in the priesthood for half a century, the first half as a diocesan priest and bishop, and the other half in the Roman Curia. I shall therefore try to forget myself and concentrate on these experiences and convictions.

I. The Priest

The red thread that will run through all of these meditations is the image of the priest, who, called by Jesus, meets him, follows him, and seeks each day to become a better disciple. " 'What do you seek?' And they said to him, 'Rabbi, where are you staying?' He said to them, 'Come and see.' They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day" (Jn 1:38-39). These first disciples, who later became the first Apostles and the first priests, stayed with Jesus not only that day but right up to the day of the Ascension of Christ into heaven, that is, throughout his public life.

In these meditations, the word priest will be used. It will generally include all those who have received the ministerial priesthood in the Church, from the young presbyter just ordained to older priests, to bishops and also cardinals, and to the Holy Father. The context will indicate the distinction that is to be made.

The priesthood of Jesus Christ is one. It is manifested in a visibly moving way on Holy Thursday in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter when the Holy Father concelebrates with a very large number of his priests of the Roman clergy and with cardinals, bishops, and other priests of the Roman Curia.

In that solemn Chrism Mass all these priests of Christ renew their priestly promises. Every diocesan bishop concelebrates with his clergy in his cathedral church, and at the end of the rite he turns to the people and asks for their prayers so that he may become every day an image ever more perfect of Christ the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher and the Servant of all. [1] When, therefore, the word priest is mentioned in the following meditations, there is no intention of ignoring the hierarchical order in the participation in the one priesthood of Christ.

Here is a simple illustration. As I stepped out of the Vatican basilica after solemn Vespers on December 31 last year [2008], a young priest saw the cardinal red and, with joy on his face, greeted me, saying: "Best wishes for the new year, Your Eminence; I am a priest." My reply was not long in coming: "I also atn a priest. Best wishes for the new year about to begin." And we exchanged smiles of peace and joy in the priesthood of Christ!

2. The Priest, Alter Christus

These meditations will consider the priest as a disciple of Christ. It is Jesus who takes the initiative and calls him. It is Jesus who gives him the correct direction for his life. It is Jesus whom he should follow and imitate.

But there is also the dimension of the priest being a minister. Through presbyteral ordination, the Holy Spirit renders the priest capable of acting in the Person of Christ the Head for the service of all the members of the Church. [2] "In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. That is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis." [3]

The priest is alter Christus; he takes the place of Christ. As a consequence of this sacramental reality, to follow Jesus and to be his disciple becoilles more urgent. Because of this, the priest has the obligation to follow Jesus even more closely than the other baptized.

3. Overview of These Meditations

For every human being, for every Christian, and even more for every priest, Jesus Christ gives meaning to life. He gives a sense of unity to all the things in which we are engaged. Jesus indicates the correct direction for our life because he is the way, the truth, and the life (cf. Jn 14:6). In these meditations, we shall have in front of us the priest who meets Jesus and follows him.

On the first day, tomorrow [chapters 2-4], we shall meditate on how the priest learns from Jesus to put God in first place. Therefore the priest seeks, with the grace of God, not to permit sin to enter into his life, and to do penance because of his weaknesses.

On Tuesday [chapters 5-7] we will fix attention on the priest who meditates on the mystery of the Incarnate Word and of Christ, the one and only Savior of all. He thanks Jesus, whom he meets in Holy Scripture.

On Wednesday [chapters 8-10] we will concentrate on the gift of Christ that is the Church, his Mystical Body, which the priest has the joy to love and serve and in which he has the vocation to evangelize in a dynamic way.

On Thursday [chapters 11-13] we will see the priest at prayer, at the celebration of the sacred liturgy and especially of the Most Holy Eucharist, in the Liturgy of the Hours, and while blessing or using sacramentals, all the time acting as an instrument of Christ and a minister of the Church.

On Friday [chapters 14-16] we will turn the reflections to some instances ofjustice, peace, and solidarity—or the lack thereof—together with what is expected of the voice of the Church. All will be entrusted to the hands of the Mother of Christ, the eternal High Priest, because she tells us: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

We shall conclude on Saturday rnorning [chapter 17] by considering that there is "a time to be born, and a time to die" (Eccles 3:2).

4. Retreat Discipline

As we all know, spiritual exercises do demand from us considerable discipline. Saint Paul, in the short Scripture Reading of Vespers this evening, speaks to us about athletes in sport competitions: "In a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (I Cor 9:24-25).

During the retreat, we can and should all run, with this difference, that all of us can win the prize. No doubt, we can do it only with the grace of God; as Saint Augustine says, since it is grace that effects in us all our good and meritable works, when God crowns our merits he is only crowning his gifts. [4] The Roman Missal, in the first Preface for Saints, sings: "Your glory shines forth in the festive assembly of the Saints, and their triumph celebrates the gifts of your mercy." [5] Saint Paul insists to the Philippians: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). [6] The Council of Trent teaches that the merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. [7] We should therefore place our hope and trust in God's grace. We entrust these spiritual exercises to the maternal intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. From her we shall learn how to meet and follow Christ, whom we now adore in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.


[1] Cf. Roman Missal, Chrism Mass, 9.

[2] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church , 2nd ed. (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997) , 1442 (hereafter cited as CCC).

[3] CCC, 1548.

[4] Cf. De gratia et predestinatione, ep. 154, 5-16; also Enarrationes in Psalmos, Ps 102:7.

[5] Cf. also CCC 2006-11.

[6] Cf. short reading at Vespers on Wednesday of the First Week of Lent (Phil 2:12-15).

[7] Cf. Heinrich Denzingcr and Adolf Schönmetzer, eds., Enchiridion symbolarum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, 1548 (hereafter cited as DS); CCC 2010.

Meeting Jesus and Following Him: A Retreat Given to Pope Benedict XVI and the Papal Household

By Francis Cardinal Arinze

Also available as an (E-Book) - Downloadable eBook

Drawn from his talks given to Pope Benedict and his associates at the Curia's Lenten Retreat, Cardinal Arinze's book offers spiritual exercises focusing on the meaning of the priestly life. "The red thread which will run through all these meditations," writes Cardinal Arinze, "is the image of the priest who, called by Jesus, meets him, follows him and seeks each day to become a better disciple."

Although Cardinal Arinze refers to "priests", he insists that much of what he says applies to anyone in ordained ministry ... deacons, priests and bishops. In fact, even lay people and religious can benefit from prayerfully reading his reflections on being a disciple of the Lord.

"For every human being, for every Christian, and even more for every priest, Jesus Christ gives meaning to life", writes Cardinal Arinze. "He gives a sense of unity to all the things in which we are engaged. Jesus indicates the correct direction for our life because he is the way, the truth and the life (cf Jn 14:6). In these meditations we shall have in front of us the priest who meets Jesus and follows him."

Cardinal Arinze considers how the priest learns from Jesus to put God in first place. The author then reflects on the priesthood in light of the great mystery of the Incarnation, before turning to consider the gift of Christ which is his Mystical Body, the Church, and the great need for evangelization, to which the priest has a special call. Next, the cardinal takes up the theme of the Holy Eucharist and the celebration of the sacred liturgy, as well as the Liturgy of the Hours and the Sacraments, as instruments of Christ and his ministers for the holiness of all. The themes of social justice, peace, and solidarity are then examined, as is the role of the Mother of Christ as she declares, "Do whatever he tells you". Finally, Cardinal Arinze considers the text from Ecclesiastes 3:2, which speaks of "a time to be born, and a time to die". He discusses the Christian's preparation for death and what this means for a priest.

"Commenting on the Biblical texts, venerable Brother, you have communicated to us, with the gracefulness and the depth that we associate with you, the fruit of your personal experience of life and of your priestly ministry, of which you recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary. In this way, with the authority that comes from personal experience, you have helped us to rediscover and deepen the primacy of the presence of Christ in our lives: Christ met, Christ followed and always again to be followed, inexhaustible source of joy and peace." - Pope Benedict XVI

"Cardinal Arinze invites us all to discipleship of Jesus Christ and thus challenges us back to basics--he reminds priests and all people that we need to repent and believe to enter into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ, and he shows us what all this entails. Do not read this book if you are not interested in changing, but do not miss reading this book if you want to grow in holiness!" - Fr. Larry Richards, Author, Be a Man!

Related Ignatius Insight Book Excerpts and Articles:

• Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI Proclaiming a Year for Priests on the 150th Anniversary of the "Dies Natalis" of the Cure of Ars
• Becoming a Man of God | interview with Fr. Larry Richards
• Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love? Why This Gen-Xer Is a Priest | Fr. John Cihak, S.T.D.
• Saint John Vianney: A Celibate Man with Scores of Children | Fr. Frederick L. Miller
• The Seminary as Nazareth: Formation in a School of Prayer | Dn. James Keating
• St. John Vianney's Pastoral Plan | Fr. John Cihak
• "We can always follow Peter" | Dom Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori
• The Blessed Virgin Mary's Role in the Celibate Priest's Spousal and Paternal Love | Fr. John Cihak
• Surrendering to the Healing Power of Christ's Own Chastity | Dn. James Keating, Ph.D.
• Liturgical Roles In the Eucharistic Celebration | Francis Cardinal Arinze
• The Ingredient for Priestly Vocations | Rev. Jacek Stefanski
• The Year for Priests and Its Patron | Sandra Miesel
• Holy Christians Guarantee Holy Priests | Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
• Priest as Pastor, Servant and Shepherd | Fr. James McCarthy

Francis Cardinal Arinze grew up in Nigeria, became the youngest Bishop in the world, and the first African Cardinal to head a Vatican office. He was the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. His biography, God's Invisible Hand (read excerpt here), was published by Ignatius Press as well as Celebrating the Holy Eucharist (read excerpt here).

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