Priesthood: May 2009 Archives

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the letter Cláudio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, wrote in preparation for The Year of the Priest, which will begin on June 19th.

Dear Priests,

That Priests May Be Happy and Holy

The Year for Priests, announced by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly Curé of Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, is drawing near. It will be inaugurated by the Holy Father on the 19th June, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. The announcement of the Year for Priests has been very warmly received, especially amongst priests themselves. Everyone wants to commit themselves with determination, sincerity and fervor so that it may be a year amply celebrated in the whole world -- in the Dioceses, parishes and in every local community -- with the warm participation of our Catholic people who undoubtedly love their priests and want to see them happy, holy and joyous in their daily apostolic labors.

The Church Is Proud of Her Priests

It must be a year that is both positive and forward looking in which the Church says to her priests above all, but also to all the Faithful and to wider society by means of the mass media, that she is proud of her priests, loves them, honors them, admires them and that she recognizes with gratitude their pastoral work and the witness of the their life. Truthfully priests are important not only for what they do but also for who they are. Sadly, it is true that at the present time some priest have been shown to have been involved in gravely problematic and unfortunate situations. It is necessary to investigate these matters, pursue judicial processes and impose penalties accordingly. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these pertain to a very small portion of the clergy. The overwhelming majority of priests are people of great personal integrity, dedicated to the sacred ministry; men of prayer and of pastoral charity, who invest their entire existence in the fulfillment of their vocation and mission, often through great personal sacrifice, but always with an authentic love towards Jesus Christ, the Church and the people, in solidarity with the poor and the suffering. It is for this reason that the Church is proud of her priests wherever they may be found.

Days of Recollection and Spiritual Exercises

May this year be an occasion for a period of intense appreciation of the priestly identity, of the theology of the Catholic priesthood, and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of priests within the Church and in society. This will require opportunities for study, days of recollection, spiritual exercises reflecting on the Priesthood, conferences and theological seminars in our ecclesiastical faculties, scientific research and respective publications.

The Eucharist: Heart of Priestly Spirituality

The Holy Father, in announcing the Year in his allocution on the 16th March last to the Congregation for the Clergy during its Plenary Assembly, said that with this special year it is intended "to encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends". For this reason it must be, in a very special way, a year of prayer by priests, with priests and for priests, a year for the renewal of the spirituality of the presbyterate and of each priest. The Eucharist is, in this perspective, at the heart of priestly spirituality. Thus Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests and the spiritual motherhood of religious women, consecrated and lay women towards priests, as previously proposed some time ago by the Congregation for the Clergy, could be further developed and would certainly bear the fruit of sanctification.

Priests in Poverty and Hardship

May it also be a year in which the concrete circumstances and the material sustenance of the clergy will be considered, since they live, at times, in situations of great poverty and hardship in many parts of the world.

Priestly Communion and Friendship

May it be a year as well of religious and of public celebration which will bring the people -- the local Catholic community -- to pray, to reflect, to celebrate, and justly to give honor to their priests. In the ecclesial community a celebration is a very cordial event which expresses and nourishes Christian joy, a joy which springs from the certainty that God loves us and celebrates with us. May it therefore be an opportunity to develop the communion and friendship between priests and the communities entrusted to their care.

Local Churches

Many other aspects and initiatives could be mentioned that could enrich the Year for Priests, but here the faithful ingenuity of the local churches is called for. Thus, it would be good for every Dioceses and each parish and local community to establish, at the earliest opportunity, an effective program for this special year. Clearly it would be important to begin the Year with some notable event. The local Churches are invited on the 19th June next, the same day on which the Holy Father will inaugurate the Year for Priests in Rome, to participate in the opening of the Year, ideally by some particular liturgical act and festivity. Let those who are able most surely come to Rome for the inauguration, to manifest their own participation in this happy initiative of the Pope.

God will undoubtedly bless with great love this undertaking; and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Clergy, will pray for each of you, dear priests.

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes
Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo
Prefect, Congregation for the Clergy

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A Missionary-Monk

The Year of the Priest will begin on Friday, June 19th, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It may well spark a greater interest in models of priestly holiness. Today, for example, is the dies natalis of Father Leopoldo Pastori (1939-1996), an Italian missionary monk in Guinea-Bissau.

The Will of the Father

Born in Lodi, Italy on February 9, 1939, Leopoldo entered the PIME Fathers (Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions) in September 1957. On May 1, 1961, he received the clerical habit. In his photo album of pictures taken that day, Leopoldo wrote:

Come Gesù giovinetto, mi porto all' altare del Padre e con Gesù offro la mia giovinezza per fare la volontà del Padre. Non c'è cosa più bella al mondo che fare sempre e ovunque la volontà di Dio: fonte di pace e di consolazione.

"Like the young lad Jesus, I bring myself to the altar of the Father and with Jesus I offer my youth to do the will of the Father. There is nothing more beautiful in the world than always and everywhere to do the will of God: the wellspring of peace and of consolation."

To Love the Madonna and Make Her Loved

Maria! Ecco un tesoro che vengo a scoprire continuamente. La mia vestizione è stata tanto bella e felice perché mi ero preparato con la Madonna. Maria ! Se ho un desiderio forte, è quello di amare tanto e di far amare la Madonna.

"Mary! Behold a treasure that I am coming to discover continually. My vestition was so beautiful and happy because I prepared myself with the Madonna. Mary! If I have one strong desire it is this one: to love the Madonna so much, and to make her loved."

Changing Times

Leopoldo was ordained a priest on June 29, 1969. Instead of being sent straightaway to the foreign missions, he was assigned to the PIME Minor Seminary built by Blessed John XXIII in Sotto Il Monte. The ideological climate was marked by May 1968. A popular slogan among confused young clerics was, "Obedience is no longer a virtue." Leopoldo remained constant, faithful to his life of prayer and to the ascetical disciplines he had chosen for himself.

To the Missions

In 1972, Father Leopoldo went for the first time to visit the PIME missions in Guinea-Bissau. In 1974, at thirty-five years of age, he was assigned to those same missions. To his friends he wrote, "I am leaving in the name of Jesus and for love of Him; only in this why can I feel that my life is right." He devotes himself to the poor, visits the sick, and forms a local orchestra for young people. His afternoons are given to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and to reading. Father Leopoldo wrote:

Il lavoro è importantissimo, l'impegno e le attività importantissimi, necessari, ma se non c'è un'unione insistente, profonda e frequente con Gesù, soprattutto nell'Eucarestia, tutto il resto non serve a niente, finisce solo in una delusione, in mani vuote, nel cercare continuamente di seminare ma seminare a vuoto.

"Work is most important, duties and activity are most important and necessary, but if there is not an insistant, profound, and frequent union with Jesus, above all in the Eucharist, all the rest is worth nothing, it ends only in a delusion, in empty hands, trying continually to sow the seed, but sowing in a void."

Illness

In July 1977 Father Leopoldo is found to be suffering from hepatitis. He is hospitalized in the international clinic in Dakar. He accepts the solitude of his hospitalization, prays constantly, and seeks union with Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. He goes to the Benedictines in Cap-des-Biches for a month of convalescence. In March 1978 he returns to Italy to serve as rector of the seminary at Sotto Il Monte. He remains there until 1996.

Prego sempre che il Signore, dopo questo forzato "esilio", mi dia la grazia di ritornare ancora in Guinea. Il vescovo mi aspetta.

"I am always praying that the Lord, after this forced exile, will give me the grace to return again to Guinea. The bishop is waiting for me."

Silence

On September 23, 1990, Father Leopoldo receives his missionary crucifix for the second time. He returns to Guinea on December 16, 1990. He will remain there for five and a half years: the most fruitful years of his life.

Sto acclimatandomi bene in questa nuova casa, con una bellissima chiesa. Mi trovo bene. Per ora faccio la vita del missionario-monaco, attorniato da un silenzio profondo, cadenzato dal richiamo di tanti uccelli, cicale, grilli, e dai canti notturni dei villaggi vicini. . . . A poco a poco mi inserisco nel lavoro, che è soprattutto di animazione spirituale, approfondimento dei contenuti missionari alla gente.

"I am acclimatizing myself well in this new house with a most beautiful church. I am well here. For the moment I am leading the life of a missionary-monk, surrounded by a profound silence, marked by the calls of so many birds, cicadas, crickets, and by the nocturnal songs of the villages . . . . Little by little I insert myself into the work: mostly spiritual direction, the deepening of the missionary message to the people."

Father Leopoldo has deep spiritual affinities with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, and with Blessed Charles de Jésus (de Foucauld), whom he calls, quoting Pope Paul VI, "one of the greatest missionaries of the century."

Five Hours of Prayer Daily

Prayer holds the first place in Father Leopoldo's missionary life:

Sto cercando di vivere il mio ideale: essere missionario-contemplativo per annunziare Cristo in modo credibile ("Redemptoris Missio", n. 91). Do molto tempo alla preghiera davanti all'Eucarestia, almeno cinque ore al giorno, come facevano i primi missionari del Pime. E sto provando, dato che Gesù vuole crescere e io diminuire, che la preghiera sta diventando continua, di giorno e, quando mi sveglio, di notte!

"I am seeking to live my ideal: to be a missionary-contemplative so as to announce Christ in a credible manner ("Redemptoris Missio," n. 91). I give much time to prayer before the Eucharist, at least five hours a day, as did the first PIME missionaries. And I am experiencing, given that Jesus wants to increase and wants me to decrease, that prayer is becoming continual, by day, and when I wake up, by night."

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And, for Mother's Day, another touching excerpt from E. Boyd Barrett's autobiographical A Shepherd Without Sheep:

In spite of his rebellion, his confusion of mind, his human faults, he [the renegade priest] clings to his faith and his hope in Mary. He trusts that she will somehow save him. And when moments of sorrow strike, and he sheds bitter tears over his fate, it is at the feet of his little Mother that he sheds those tears.
For seventy years I have known and loved Mary, though there was a long dark period, a score of years, when my love was weak and no spark at all in it. Many a million times I've asked Mary to help me in my last hour, and it is no small comfort to me to know, for certain, that she will do just that.
Back where memory begins, I see myself lighting an old-fashioned oil lamp before her statue in my little bedroom. It was a sweet statue of her and I knelt there as often as the thrush sings. And sometimes I had flowers for her, that my mother gave me from her garden; heliotrope, or geraniums, or red passionflower, or maybe a bright yellow rose.
Now, at the end of the day, I have another little statue in my room, the Immaculate of Lourdes. There are roses before it, almost all the year round, the loveliest roses, fresh and fair, for they never fail me on this hill. Now, with a kind of trusting pride, I can say to my little Mother: "Listen, Lady! I'm the old man who gives you flowers!"

Has No One Condemned You?

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In A Shepherd Without Sheep (Bruce Publishing, 1956), E. Boyd Barrett, who left the priesthood in stormy circumstances and, after twenty years, was reconciled, and so finished out his life in repentance and peace, writes:

I have no chapel; no altar at which to offer the holiest sacrifice; no pulpit from which to preach. There is no confessional where penitents await counsel and absolution from my lips; no baptismal font where, by the sacrament of regeneration, I may give to the Eternal Father another child. I am a priest, Christ's shepherd, but I have no sheep.
But though I have no sheep, the Prince of Shepherds is my Friend. He needs me; He is my Divine Companion. It is His will that I should be as I am. "Christ is in me," and for me that is enough.
There are others like me, in every country throughout the world, "silenced priests" living hidden lives; hidden from the world; hidden, as far as may be, in Christ. Some are my good friends. . . .
Prayers going up to heaven, in every increasing volume for faithless priests are wondrously fruitful. Many "stray shepherds" heed the call of Christ, who searches for them in the mist. When they see Him again their hearts are moved and they come back. Then there occurs what Luke (2:20) mystically foretold: "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God."

The Appropriate Response

What is the appropriate response to the media's sensationalization and amplification of the weaknesses of certain priests? In our response there should be nothing harsh, nothing that condemns, nothing swollen with the self-righteousness indignation that was "the leaven of the Pharisees" (Mt 16:6). "Let him who is without sin," says the Lord Jesus, "be the first to cast a stone at him" (Jn 8:7). Read all of John 8: 1-11, and in place of the woman caught in adultery, put the priest caught in sin.

A Resolution

If every time one heard of the moral failing of a priest, one resolved on the spot to pray and fast for him, what miracles of grace might occur? "And when He entered the house, His disciples asked Him privately, 'Why could we not cast it [the unclean spirit] out?' And He said to them, 'This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting'" (Mk 9:28-29).

If every time one heard of the moral failing of a priest, one offered a Rosary for him, or spent an hour before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, or fasted, or gave alms, or even "adopted" him spiritually by offering for him one's weaknesses, sufferings, and losses,
what graces might touch his heart?

Lord, Thou Knowest All Things

The Heart of Jesus is full of tender compassion for sinners; for His priests, His chosen and privileged friends, there is nothing He will not do to lift them when they fall, to bind up their wounds, and to restore them to wholeness. He waits for them to say but one thing, the very thing that Peter said, making reparation for his triple denial: "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee."

Where the world sees scandal, the friend of the Lamb sees an opportunity for reparation, a call to love, a summons to intercession through the Most Pure Heart of Mary. The Heart of Jesus will do the rest.

I will cure their wounds

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I am reading the Italian translation of Sacerdotes di Cristo, texts of Conchita Cabrera de Armida, selected and presented with a theological introduction by Juan Gutiérrez González, MSpS, Citta Nuova, 2008. The English translation is my own.

In fact, in my priests the Father sees Me, the only Priest worthy of offering Himself in purity, of immolating Himself efficaciously, of glorifying God as God.
Is not then this predilection of love a most tender act of the will of the Father for the good of the priests who will have represented Me and who will represent Me until the end of the ages?
What esteem do they show for their own vocation, those priests who are shallow, worldly, lukewarm and sinful in spite of their holy, admirable, and incomparable priestly vocation?
All the same there is yet time so that many of them, who until now have remained deaf to the voice of grace, might turn back on their steps, drawn by my incomparable tenderness and by my Heart, which is that of a Saviour, and come to Me. I, with my affection, will cure their wounds; with my power I will free them from the enemy, and give them relief in all their sufferings.

Our Lord to Conchita Cabrera de Armida

When a Priest Goes Astray

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Shepherds in the Mist

Not very long ago I finished reading a soul-stirring book: Shepherds in the Mist, by E. Boyd Barrett. Barrett, a Jesuit priest who went astray and then found his way back to the Church, published the odyssey of his own conversion in 1949. In telling the story of his own struggle, Father Barrett, had but one purpose: to move souls to pray for priests, especially for fallen priests, for priests wounded in spiritual combat, and for priests momentarily blinded by passion. In the Preface to his book, Father Barrett writes:

I know that you, fellow Catholics, have charity in your hearts for priests in trouble. I know that you pray for them. But you will want to know, among other things, if there is any way in which you can help them, over and above praying for them. And you will want to be encouraged to pray even more than you are praying and to sacrifice yourselves even more than you are doing for their sakes.
But, besides thinking of you, fellow Catholics of good standing, I am also thinking of our Shepherds in the mist. Some of them will read this book. There are things I want to tell them. Above all, I want to disabuse them of their fear that you have feelings of dislike and resentment against them. I want to tell them that the one burning thought in your minds is how to induce them to come home. I want to reassure them of the fact that it is not hard to come home -- to reassure them that, however rugged his exterior may seem, Peter is kind and gentle with the kindliness and gentleness of Christ.
When a son runs away from home, his mother's one thought is how to get him back again. She worries over his loneliness and sufferings. It is of the dangers that he is in that she thinks, and of the hardships he is undergoing -- not of the faults he has committed. She does not remember the wrong her son has done her by running away; but she dreams of the joy it will be for her when he returns.

Peace and Rest on the Heart of Christ

In 1948 when Father Barrett wrote his book, he was particularly concerned with the plight of priests who, like himself, left the Church and went into the night searching for happiness, wholeness, and love. After an initial period of euphoric relief, most found a gnawing discontent instead of happiness. Further fragmentation instead of wholeness. Loneliness instead of love. The world proved deceiving and its promises empty. Some, like Father Barrett, returned to full sacramental life in the Church, and found peace of heart and rest on the Heart of Christ.

In the Shadows

The past forty years have seen another kind of clerical misery: that of the priest who, while remaining in the Church and keeping up a modicum of outward conformity to what is expected of him, withdraws into a parallel universe of shadows and secrecy. Addictions and vices of all sorts flourish under cover of darkness. The heart of such a priest is painfully divided; the fissure opened by the metastatizing roots of vice exposes the heart to every kind of spiritual infection.

The Drama of Father X

The experience of Father X may help readers to understand how a priest, in spite of all the graces freely offered him, can lose his way.

Off to a Bad Start

Father X was ordained less than ten years at the time of his fall from grace. Intelligent, winning, handsome, and sincere in his youthful desire for holiness, he was "cultivated" by the superior of the religious community who recognized his gifts. He joined the community and, being the superior's protégé, enjoyed a continuous stream of privileges, gifts, opportunities, and promotions.

Late Glittering Nights

A popular guest at ecclesiastical dinner parties and worldly social engagements, Father X enjoyed the compliments and flattery lavished on him wherever he went. Late glittering nights, fine eating and drinking, and stimulating but superficial conversation began to take their toll on his relationship with God. He became addicted to compliments and flattery, and lost his need for silent adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. He began excusing himself from community prayer, from community meals, and community recreation.

Satiety and Emptiness

Admirers showered him with gifts of all sorts. His room became elegantly comfortable; he acquired a taste for the costly and the chic. His magnetism, popularity, and good looks attracted to his religious community the interest of the powerful and the contributions of the wealthy. While his superior looked on approvingly, Father's life became a whirlwind as he rushed from one social or cultural event to another. Increasingly, between events, he began to experience moments of emptiness and solitude. When an illicit relationship presented itself, offering a new and higher dose of flattery, and a certain measure of relief from loneliness, Father X fell into it.

The Crash

After a few months the other party in the relationship demanded a measure of commitment that Father X was incapable of giving. Hurt and disappointed, she went public with her anger. As a result of her disclosures, Father X was ordered to withdraw from public ministry and provided with "professional" help. The underlying spiritual crisis was not, however, addressed. Without a humble surrender to the grace of Christ and to the maternal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary how will Father X be able to reactivate the sacramental grace of his priestly ordination, and so salvage his vocation?

What Could Have Been

Looking at Father X's story one can see the real downward spiral began when he stopped praying. Had Father X gone to Confession weekly, remained faithful to daily Mass, to the Divine Office, to Eucharistic adoration, the rosary, lectio divina, and the examination of his conscience, he could have stopped the impending spiritual disaster. Had his superior not been in complicity with his worldly successes, and exercised the vigilance of a true spiritual father, he could have been spared the wreckage of his vocation. Had his brethren, instead of whispering about his absences from community exercises and gossiping about his late nights out, gone to him offering wise counsel and support, he could have been pulled back from the edge of the miry pit. Had Father X, when confronted with the temptation of an illicit relationship, gone to a spiritual father and revealed his situation with humility and complete transparency, he would have found "grace in time of need" and much pain would have spared the other party.

Father X's issues were, I think, more spiritual than affective or psychological. Will he be able to turn his life around and return to the love he had at first? This depends, I think, not only on Father X's cooperation with the unfailing grace of Christ, but also on the supplication and reparation of those who, participating in the merciful advocacy of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests, accept to abide before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus for the sake of all priests, and especially for the most needy and broken among them.

Disclaimer: Father X, even if his story resembles that of hundreds of priests, is no one priest in particular. His story is a fictional composite based on the convergence of the experiences of priests of entirely different times, places, and backgrounds.

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Canon 904: Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function.

The Work of God

A certain secular model of professionalism is pernicious when applied to the priesthood. The priesthood is a life, not a profession, and certainly not a career. While a weekly "day off" and an annual vacation are legitimate and healthy variations in the ordinary pursuits of priestly life, they do not dispense a priest from the "Work of God" -- the Divine Office -- into which the Church sets the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice.

Desiring With A Holy Desire

The daily celebration of Holy Mass takes its place, in effect, within the living context of the daily Liturgy of the Hours to which every priest is bound (Can. 276 § 3); Canon Law also earnestly recommends daily celebration of Holy Mass (Can. 904). The priest who is faithful to the Divine Office, even on his "day off" or while on holiday, will desire with desire to complete and crown the daily round of praise with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, even if he must celebrate without the presence of the faithful. Thus will the word of Our Lord come to burn like a fire in the heart of the priest: " With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).

Trends

Certain trends holding sway over the past forty years have contributed in no small measure to a loss of attachment, among certain priests, to the daily celebration of Holy Mass. What theological suppositions and liturgical shifts of emphasis have shaped these trends or contributed to their entrenchment?

Sacrifice Offered to God

First of all, there has been a general weakening of adhesion to the essential character of the Most Holy Eucharist as a sacrifice offered to God in view of four ends: adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and supplication. This theological loss of perspective obviously goes hand in hand with the horizontalization of the priesthood to the detriment of its essential vertical (and mediatory) dimension. The priest, before being a man for others, is a man for God, a man who places himself upon the altar of the Holy Sacrifice day after day, offering himself through Christ and with Him as one victim (hostia) to the glory of the Father, out of love for the Spouse of Christ, the Church.

To the Altar

This reality is impressed upon the priest himself, and expressed to the faithful, when he alone ascends the altar, acting in the person of Christ the Head, with the body of the Church behind him, there to face God "on behalf of all and for all" (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Facing God vs. Facing the People

When, in fact, the trend of Mass "facing the people" came to be perceived as normative, a loss of awareness of the latreutic character of the Mass ensued. While addressing the Father in the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest found himself facing the people and, in some instances, was even led to believe that he should actively look at them. In most instances, this contributed, at least subjectively, to a loss of recollection, focus, and singlehearted devotion on the part of the priest. The physical change of direction led insidiously and almost imperceptibly to to a theological change of direction. Even without formulating it consciously, a question began to hang in the very air of the sanctuary: "Is the Mass a sacrifice offered to God or a service offered to the people?" A flashback to the Protestant Reformation.

I would argue, then, that the habit of celebrating "versus populum" has contributed significantly to the disaffection of many priests for the so-called "private Mass," or celebration of Holy Mass without an assembly. This is not the only factor to be considered. Although the Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI specifically provides for celebration without an assembly, certain elements in it de-emphasize the theocentric direction of the Mass, actual communion with the intercession of the Mother of God and of the saints, and the benefits derived from the Holy Sacrifice for both the living and the dead.

The Rites Themselves

First among these elements would be the curious structure of the Introductory Rites with the salutation of the people being given before the Rite of Penitence, Kyrie, and Gloria, that is, before the Godward direction of the celebration has been unambiguously established. In no traditional Catholic or Orthodox liturgy does the celebration open with the salutation of the people followed straightaway by a monitio addressed to them. This is, I would suggest, the first "structural defect" in the Mass of Pope Paul VI. It is one that could, however, be remedied quite easily.

In the Liturgy of Saint Gregory, the Godward movement set in motion by the Introit and by the priest's private declaration at the foot of the altar, "I will go unto the altar of God," affects the entire theological direction and spiritual climate of the celebration. The place of the salutation after the Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria, and before the Collect, has about it a "rightness" that signifies and fosters the over-arching Godward direction of the celebration even before the Liturgy of the Word.

More could be said on the subject. For today I must limit myself to what I have written thus far. The commitment of priests to the daily celebration of Holy Mass, even on days off and while traveling, will be, I think, all of a piece with the ongoing reform of the reform. What must be recovered above all is a new appreciation for the latreutic character of the Holy Sacrifice. Readers comfortable with Italian will also want to read Cantuale Antonianum on this subject. I welcome comments.

Pray much and pray well

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For the Year of the Priest


I just translated (rather quickly) a section of the splendid homily given yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI at the Ordination to the Priesthood of nineteen deacons in Saint Peter's Basilica. In my own service to my brother priests, I find that a recurring question is how best a priest can go about praying . . . praying in such a way that his life is prayer, and that prayer is his life. This is precisely the question that the Holy Father addressed yesterday. My own comments follow each section. I dedicate this little entry to my dear brother and son in Christ, Father B.J.

Prayer and Priestly Service
Here I would like to touch upon a point that is particularly close to my heart: prayer and its link to service. We saw that to be ordained priests means to enter, in a sacramental and existential way into the prayer of Christ for "His own." Out of this, for us priests, flows a particular vocation to prayer, in a strongly Christocentric sense: we are called, that is, to "abide" in Christ -- as the Evangelist John loved to repeat (cf. Jn 1, 35-39; 15, 4-10) -- and this is realized especially in prayer. Our ministry is totally bound up with this "abiding", which equals praying, and from this derives its efficacy.

There is an extraordinary density in this excerpt. First of all, the Holy Father confesses that the relationship of prayer to service (diakonìa) is particularly close to his own heart. Then, like the Johannine eagle, he rises to the heights of the mystery of priestly prayer; it is nothing other than an ongoing entrance -- or "passing into" -- the prayer of Christ for His own, for all whom the Father has given Him. "I came," He says, "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

Pope Benedict XVI then affirms that priests have a particular vocation to prayer. "Wait just a minute," I can hear some of my brother priests saying, "I thought that monks had a particular vocation to prayer. My vocation is to ministry." (I've heard this old slogan before.) From the beginning of his pontificate Pope Benedict has sought to close the artificial gap between monastic spirituality and ministerial spirituality. The tired slogan, "We are not monks" has been used to justify slacking off in a multitude of ways. The Curé of Ars was not a monk -- he was the quintessential parish priest -- and yet his life surpassed in prayer and in austerity that of the most observant monks in their cloisters.

Let's allow the Holy Father to address the issue. The priest, before being sent forth to minister, is called to abide in Christ. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his hymn for Lauds of Corpus Christi, has us sing:

Verbum supernum prodiens,
Nec Patris linquens dexteram,
Ad opus suum exiens,
Venit ad vitæ vesperam.

The heavenly Word proceeding forth,
Yet leaving not his Father's right side,
And going to His work on Earth,
Has reached at length life's eventide.


Just as Christ, on His mission of salvation, came into this world from the bosom of His Father, without leaving the Father's side, so too does the priest go forth on His mission from the Side of Christ, and without leaving the Side of Christ or, if you will, the tabernacle of His Sacred Heart. The priest is called to "abide" in ceaseless prayer, to go forth enveloped in prayer and to bring the sweet fragrance of his prayer wherever he goes. "But thanks be to God," says the Apostle, "who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2 Cor 2, 14-15).

The Priest's Daily Rule of Prayer
In such a perspective we must think of the various forms of the prayer of a priest, first of all daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the center and wellspring from which all the forms receive their "lifeblood": the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, and meditation. All these expressions of prayer have their centre in the Eucharist, and together bring about in the day of the priest and in all his life the fulfillment of the word of Jesus: "I am the good shepherd, I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" (Jn 10, 14-15).

Concretely, how does a priest go about abiding in Christ, remaining in His Heart, just as He abides in the bosom of the Father? By persevering in prayer. "Pray constantly," says Saint Paul (1 Th 5,17). The Holy Father presents priests with a Rule of Prayer: note well that this represents the daily minimum requirement. If you are too busy to do this, you are simply too busy. If you are too tired to do this, you are simply too tired. If you have no interest in doing this, your vocation is in danger and you are cheating your people of the "fragrance of Christ" that only a priest who prays always can spread.

What is Father Everypriest's daily Rule of Prayer according to Pope Benedict XVI? Let's consider the elements of the Rule in the order in which the Holy Father presents them.

1) Daily Holy Mass. Daily. Not 6 days week, not 5, or 4 days a week, but daily. The liturgical cycle in its hourly, daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms is given us precisely to facilitate our "abiding" in Christ hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and year after year. Integral to the liturgical cycle is daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic Sacrifice sends the divine lifeblood coursing through one's spiritual organism. Without daily Mass, the priest will succumb to spiritual anemia.

2) The Liturgy of the Hours. The Hours give rhythm and grace to daily life. They are a school of discipline (discipleship), a supernatural system of irrigation channeling grace into every moment of the day, a privileged way of offering thanks in communion with all who, "in heaven, on earth, and under the earth," confess the Name of Jesus and bend the knee before Him. A priest who loves the Divine Office will enjoy an interior life that is sane, and sound, and wholly ecclesial. Fidelity to the Divine Office refines the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, sharpens one's discernment, and imparts to everything the priest does a certain Eucharistic and doxological quality.

3) Eucharistic Adoration. Are you surprised? Eucharistic adoration has known a kind of springtime since The Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005) that was also the year of the death of Pope John Paul II and of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Two Americans known for loving their brother priests and ministering to them tirelessly -- Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Father Gerald Fitzgerald of the Holy Spirit -- insisted on a daily hour before the Blessed Sacrament as a sine qua non of priestly spirituality. The priest who adores the Blessed Sacrament exposes his weaknesses and wounds to the healing radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. Moreover, he abides before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus as the representative of his people: of the sick, the poor, the bereaved, and of those locked in spiritual combat. The priest who looks to the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, and draws near to His Open Heart in the Sacrament of the Altar, will, just as the psalm says, be radiant, and he will not be put to shame.

4) Lectio Divina. Again -- a monastic thing? No, a Catholic thing. The quality of a priest's preaching is directly proportionate to his commitment to lectio divina. Neglect of lectio divina leads to mediocre preaching. Opening the Scriptures is like opening the tabernacle: therein the priest finds the "hidden manna" his soul craves. The four steps of lectio divina can be accommodated to any length of time: 1) lectio, i.e. the Word heard; 2) meditatio, i.e. the Word repeated; 3) oratio, i.e. the Word prayed; 4) contemplatio; i.e. the indwelling Word. Lectio divina cannot be occasional; it is not a random pursuit. Learn to say, "I am not available." Get over feeling guilty about taking time for God!

5) Holy Rosary. Yes, the daily Rosary. It's a spiritual lifeline that has saved many a priest from spiritual shipwreck. The brilliant and holy exegete and founder of the École biblique in Jerusalem, Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, was observed praying fifteen mysteries of the Rosary each day, and asked, "Why, Father, do you, a great exegete, need to pray the Rosary?" "Because, " he answered, "it decapitates pride." I would add that not only does the Rosary decapitate pride; it decapitates each of the seven capital sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. With the passing of the years I have come to appreciate the profound wisdom of an old Dominican priest to whom I used to make my confession years ago. Invariably, after confessing my miseries, Father would ask, "Do you say the Rosary, son?" And invariably I would reply, "Yes, Father." And then he would say, "Aye, then you'll be alright." A priest who prays the Rosary daily will be alright and, almost imperceptibly, will grow in purity and humility.

6) Meditation. Meditation can mean many things, even within our Catholic tradition. It is integral to the prayerful celebration of Holy Mass and the Hours. "it nourishes Eucharistic adoration. It is the second "moment" of lectio divina. It is the soul of the Rosary. In my own experience, meditation is related to "remembering the things the Lord has done." Saint Gertrude the Great, a model of the mystical life grounded in the liturgy, used to say, "A grace remembered is a grace renewed." Understood in this sense, meditation, by recalling the mercies of the Lord in the past, infuses the present with hope, and allows the priest to go forward with a holy boldness.

Is it necessary to set a period of time apart for meditation as such? That depends on whom you ask. The Carmelite, Jesuit and Sulpician traditions would hold fast to some form of meditation as a daily exercise. The monastic tradition has, on the whole, taken a more supple approach to meditation. It is a daily practice, but one diffused in every form of prayer, including the liturgy itself. One learns to pace one's prayer, to pause, to breathe, to linger over a phrase, a word, or an image. Whether one espouses the Ignatian way or the monastic approach, meditation is an integral to every priest's daily Rule of Prayer.

The Priest Who Prays Much and Prays Well
In fact, this "knowing" and "being known" in Christ and, through Him, in the Most Holy Trinity, is nothing other than the truest and deepest reality of prayer. The priest who prays much, and who prays well, progressively becomes expropriated of himself and ever more united to Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Servant of the brethren. In conformity with Him, the priest also "gives his life" for the sheep entrusted to him. No one takes it from him; of himself he offers his life, in union with Christ the Lord, Who has the power to give His life and to take it upon again, not only for Himself, but also for His friends, bound to Him by the Sacrament of Orders. In this way the very life of Christ, Lamb and Shepherd, is communicated to the whole flock, through the mediation of consecrated ministers.

"The priest who prays much and prays well" -- what a marvelous phrase! It sums up the Holy Father's teaching on the subject. What is the fruit of praying much and praying well? A progressive, and I would add almost imperceptible, death to self and rising to newness of life in Christ Jesus, for the sake of His Spouse, the Church. The priest who prays much and prays well will, sooner or later, find himself drawn into the mystery of Christ Priest and Victim. He will learn to stand at the altar not only as the one who offers the Sacrifice, but as the one who is sacrificed, becoming one with the immolated Lamb. This is the secret of a fruitful priesthood. "Give your blood," said one of the Desert Fathers, "and receive the Spirit." Through the victimhood of the priest, the entire Body is quickened and sanctified. "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17, 19).


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Tomorrow, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is the 46th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In his message for this occasion Pope Benedict XVI writes:

The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: "Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really "have ever greater faith and hope in God's providence" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer.

The following prayer, presented both in traditional and contemporary language, is a response to the Holy Father's pressing invitation to prayer for vocations. Although written for the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of my own diocese of Tulsa, I am happy to make it available to all who might wish to use it. Pastors might want to print it in the parish bulletin for The Year of the Priest.

A Prayer for Vocations

Traditional Language

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who callest to Thy service whomsoever Thou wilt,
let the light of Thy Face and the tenderness of Thy Heart
rest upon the young men of our own parishes and families.
Grant that those whom Thou hast chosen from among us
may hear Thy invitation and respond to Thy call
with generosity and courage.
For our part, we are resolved
to welcome and support priestly vocations in our midst
with gratitude, humility, and joy.
We promise to pray tirelessly
for those whom Thou hast set apart to preach Thy Word,
to offer Thy Sacrifice, and to nourish, heal, and comfort our souls.
Confident that Thou hast already heard our prayer,
we entrust the future priests among us
to the Immaculate Heart of Thy Virgin Mother
that, for each one, she may be a guiding star in the night
and, day by day, a perpetual help.
Amen.

Contemporary Language

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who call to Your service whomsoever You will,
let the light of Your Face and the tenderness of Your Heart
rest upon the young men of our own parishes and families.
Grant that those whom You have chosen from among us
may hear Your invitation and respond to Your call
with generosity and courage.
For our part, we are resolved
to welcome and support priestly vocations in our midst
with gratitude, humility, and joy.
We promise to pray tirelessly
for those whom You have set apart to preach Your Word,
to offer Your Sacrifice, and to nourish, heal, and comfort our souls.
Confident that You have already heard our prayer,
we entrust the future priests among us
to the Immaculate Heart of Your Virgin Mother
that, for each one, she may be a guiding star in the night
and, day by day, a perpetual help.
Amen.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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