Encouraging spiritual perfection
The Year of the Priest begins
The Year of the Priest begins
The Cure D’Ars, a saintly priest in Ars, France, in the 1800s several times ran away from his parish. On any given day, any priest may jokingly say that he is quitting. Yet, that saint always returned, or at least was returned, to his ministry in his parish. Pope Benedict has designated the year from June 19, 2009, to June 19, 2010, as the Year of the Priest, “in order to encourage the striving for spiritual perfection of priests, on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends.”
Notice, this special year is not primarily about celebrating our priests or honoring them or loving them more, but rather encouraging their spiritual perfection. How do we go about this?
First of all, we need to reflect upon the priesthood as an awesome gift given to the church by Jesus at the Last Supper in order to continue the Eucharist for all ages. Caught up, as we often are, in the all-too-human frailties of the bishop and the priest, we can lose sight of the treasure hidden in these clay vessels. And since this is a treasure not of their own making, but rather of the Lord’s making for the sake of his bride the church, we need to affirm that inner, deeper reality. We all need to celebrate priesthood itself.
Second, the priest stands in the place of Jesus Christ. He has been called an alter Christus (another Christ). This is one of the most significant ways Jesus chose to remain in our midst, particularly during the Eucharist and the celebration of the other sacraments. It is Jesus who renews the sacrifice of his own body and blood on the altar at every Mass; it is Jesus who forgives our sins in confession; it is Jesus who gives us healing and encouragement during the anointing of the sick; it is Jesus who baptizes us and confirms us and marries us and ordains us. Again, this happens in and through us sinful priests. We need to practice seeing Christ as celebrant during these events.
Third, Jesus chose men and the church continued this choice for those to be ordained his priests. As Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have made clear, we are not free to make a change in this choice of the Lord’s. This has nothing to do with the worthiness of those ordained. After all, Mary was far worthier than any of the apostles, yet our Lord did not choose her for this role. The wonderful role of women in the church needs to be more appreciated, especially since so many great and holy women are the first and best collaborators in the mission of Holy Mother Church today.
Fourth, we all need to promote vocations, first of all to holiness, but also to holy marriage and to the priesthood and the consecrated life. We all too rarely see our lives being played out as a response to God’s call to us to become holy, to become saints – and thus to help others to achieve this same goal. To help us do that we need the witness of holy married couples and of priests and consecrated men and women. Talk about these things in our homes and at our parishes. And especially pray, pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more harvesters into his fields.
Finally, additional prayers should be offered for your own priests, for their holiness, for an inner renewal and re-discovery of their own proper identity, for a strengthening of their fraternity among themselves, for their growth in zeal for the mission of the church, and for me to be an effective father and brother to the priests of our diocese. And in addition to all this, if you wish to honor your parish priests, it seems to me that such a noble desire would not be out of place in this year of the priest.
It is also noteworthy that this year we ordain Father Mark Rutherford on June 13. He is the first priest I have the honor to ordain, my proto-priest as it were.
We have some fine seminarians in the wings. They are currently studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Boston, the North American College in Rome and St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Many of them are home for the summer. Give them your encouragement.
This issue features one of our Consecrated Virgins. This group of dedicated laywomen continue their professional careers in the world and at the same time give their sexuality as a gift back to God in love of Jesus Christ. They remind all of us that God must be our first love. We are very blessed in this diocese to have some wonderful consecrated virgins. Pray too for them and for their vocations.