Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bishop Finn's Column on Year for Priests

Following is Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn's column from the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:
Year of the Priest has Begun: Pray for Our Priests

With the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, the Year of St. Paul was concluded. It has been a time of spiritual reflection on the power of the proclaimed Word of God, the apostolic and missionary work of the Church, and the necessity of personal conversion after the example of this great apostle Paul.

Pope Benedict XVI has called us to observe with intense prayer the Year of the Priest. He has begun this observance by welcoming the reliquary of St. Jean Marie Vianney to the Vatican Basilica, on the 150th anniversary of the saint’s death. How fitting that the Church begins this Year by honoring the patron of all parish priests: The Cure’ of Ars, a man who spent hour upon hour in the Confessional, and doing so much good for souls, both in France and throughout Europe; a man who preached the Gospel courageously from the pulpit, changing many lives as a result. People would come back to the Church after many years when they merely watched him celebrate Mass and witnessed the love and piety with which he gave himself to this highest priestly act. The mystery that the priest offers the living sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of the people was clear in this holy man of God.

St. Paul, himself a priest and bishop, is a patron and guide for this Year. In revealing his interior life, he teaches us also about the nature of the priesthood: “It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20). This is exactly what a good priest is – another Christ. When he is ordained, a substantial change takes place in his soul. He receives an indelible character that configures him to Jesus the High Priest, so that he can celebrate the sacraments in His name, and with His power: in persona Christi capitis – in the person of Christ the head. And he announces the Word of God, in union with the bishop and in fidelity to the magisterium, with a particular grace of Holy Orders.

In the announcement of this special observance the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy has urged that it be a “period of intense appreciation of the priestly identity, of the theology of Catholic priesthood, and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of priests within the Church and society.”

In addressing the Congregation that oversees programs of ongoing formation for priests, Pope Benedict emphasized that “the priest’s mission must always be carried out in faithful communion with the hierarchical and doctrinal disciplines of the Church.” The correct appreciation of the ministerial priesthood, focused on the mystery of the Incarnate Christ at the center of His people, reminds us that without this ordained priesthood, “there would be neither the Eucharist, nor even the mission, nor the Church herself.”

This realization, the Pope insists, “impels priests to be present, identifiable and recognizable for their judgment of faith, for their personal virtues, and even in their priestly garb.” (Speech to the Plenary Gathering of the Congregation for the Clergy, March 16, 2009) Our priestly identity must be both internal and external!

The Pope also acknowledged some of the problems the Church has experienced through a misapplication of the Second Vatican Council concerning priestly ministry and the role of the laity, whose work in the Church is intended to be complementary, and not the same. He emphasized how necessary it is that we “ensure that ‘new structures’ or pastoral organizations are not planned for a time in which it will be possible to ‘do without’ ordained ministry, on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the promotion of the laity, because this would lay the foundations for a further dilution in priestly ministry. Such supposed ‘solutions’ would, in fact, dramatically coincide with the real causes of the problems currently affecting the ministry.” (March 16 Address of Pope Benedict XVI)

In this Year of the Priest let us particularly remember these men of God, our priests, who have dedicated their lives to serve us: that there be more of them, and that they be holy. Let us pray that they value and live faithfully their commitment to celibacy for the sake of God’s Kingdom, thus following the path of Christ the High Priest himself and his apostles. Never stop praying for our priests. In an age of hedonism and materialism, the witness of their life is crucial, not only for the Catholic Church, but for the entire world.