Recently in Year of the Priest 2009–2010 Category

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Thou hast set Thy Heart on us (cf. Dt 7:7)
that we might set our hearts on Thee.
In this is consecration,
not that that we have consecrated ourselves to Thee,
but that Thou hast set Thy Heart on us.
"For their sake," Thou didst say,
"I consecrate Myself,
that they also may be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17:19).

This the Beloved Disciple understood
not by any labour of the mind
but by the resting his head
on the Heart of the Lamb.
"In this is charity,
not as though we had loved God,
but because He hath first loved us,
and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:10).

This he learned
not by searching far and wide,
but by abiding with Mary near the cross,
there to gaze on the "One whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37).
This he learned, John the eagle,
gazing unblinking into the Sun
that rose each day before his eyes
in the Breaking of the Bread.
"This is My Body which is given for you.
Do this for a commemoration of Me.
In like manner the chalice also,
after He had supped, saying:
'This is the Chalice, the new testament in my blood,
which shall be shed for you'" (Lk 22:19-20).

Teach us, John of the seeing heart,
how to gaze with unveiled faces
on the Face here veiled,
that we may discern in the Bread broken and given
the Eucharistic Heart, the water and the blood (cf. Jn 19:34).

He who gazes
is drawn into mysteries hidden from the wise and clever,
to "what no eye hath seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what things God hath prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9).
These things children understand
and those who like them
gaze through the crystal of a pure heart.
For this is given the water and the blood
that we with eyes bathed in light
might look upon the Sacred Host
and see the Face, the Heart of Love.

"Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden"
--Love's invitation --
"and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:28).
No crushing deity here.
No annihilating power.
Here lies bare the weakness of Love
and the meekness of one Humble unto death.

Love waits
not for our gaze alone
but for the "Yes" of hearts already claimed by Love.
On us He hath set his heart,
the Pierced One, the Victim and the Priest.
Amen, Alleluia.

Via Crucis for Priests

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First Station
Jesus Condemned to Death

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.
(1 Corinthians 4, 1-5)

V. Prove me, O Lord, and try me.
R. Test my heart and my mind. (Psalm 25, 2)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb without blemish or spot,
You accepted the judgment of a human tribunal,
and by Your humble surrender to a sentence of condemnation,
opened to sinners the tribunal of Your inexhaustible mercy;
look graciously upon Your priests,
that as faithful stewards of the mysteries of God,
they may draw sinners into the embrace of the Father,
Who not sparing You, gave You up for us all.
With Whom You live and reign
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Second Station
Jesus Is Laden with the Cross

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand I seek him, but I cannot behold him; I turn to the right hand, but I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth. (Job 30, 10-12)

V. Surely He has borne our griefs.
R. And carried our sorrows. (Is 53, 4)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, laden with the wood of the Cross,
You were regarded as a lamb to be slaughtered;
be the strength of those priests of Yours
who go forward in the midst of tribulation and distress,
famine, weariness, and peril,
that comforted by Your presence,
they may, in turn, be able to comfort those
who are in any affliction,
with the comfort that You have given them.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Third Station
Jesus Falls the First Time

They abhor me, they keep aloof from me; they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me. Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me, they have cast off restraint in my presence. On my right hand the rabble rise, they drive me forth, they cast up against me their ways of destruction. (Job 30, 10-12)

V. When I thought, "My foot slips."
R. Your mercy, O Lord, held me up. (Psalm 93, 18).

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of man from the dust of the earth,
You fell beneath the weight of the tree
and, in the sight of all, lay humbled in that very dust;
reveal to those priests of Yours brought low by weakness
the surpassing power of Your grace deployed in infirmity,
for when they are weak, You are their strength,
and when they fall, You raise them up.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Fourth Station
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can restore you? (Lamentations 2, 13)

V. Cry aloud to the Lord, O daughter of Zion.
R. Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night. (Lamentations 2, 18)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, despised and rejected by men,
Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief,
Your Virgin Mother beheld Your Face
bruised and bloodied, disfigured and defiled,
and You, in her gaze, beheld a pool of tenderness
for the refreshment of Your Heart and the hearts of Your priests
through the ages;
grant that every priest of Yours
may find in Mary's pure gaze
the courage to advance along the Way of the Cross
until, with her, he enters forever into the joy of Your Resurrection.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Fifth Station
Simon the Cyrenian Is Made to Help Jesus

Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3, 13-20)

V. Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us.
R. Behold, and see our disgrace. (Lamentations 5, 1)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest,
You sympathize with our weaknesses
for in the days of Your flesh
You were tempted as we are, yet without sin;
with confidence, then, do we draw near to You
humbly praying that Your priests may receive mercy and find grace
to take upon their shoulders that sweet yoke of the Cross
by which You bind them to Yourself in the mystery of Your Sacrifice.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Sixth Station
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 3, 18; 4, 1, 5-6)

V. Of you my heart has spoken, "Seek His Face."
R. It is Your Face, O Lord, that I seek.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Image of the Invisible God,
with no form or comeliness that we should look at You,
and no beauty that we should desire You,
open the eyes of Your priests to the light of Your Countenance
that. by contemplating Your Holy Face,
the sacramental character of your priesthood in their souls
may grow ever more radiant
for the glory of Your Father
and the joy of Your Spouse, the Church.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Seventh Station
Jesus Falls the Second Time

Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11, 25-30)

V. My grace is sufficient for you.
R. For my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12, 9)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You fell beneath the weight of the Cross
and so made Yourself close to all who cleave to the dust
in moments of humiliation, failure, and disgrace;
by the grace of Your abasement
raise those of Your priests who have fallen low,
restore unto them the joy of Your salvation,
and strengthen them with a perfect spirit.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Eighth Station
Jesus is Comforted by the Women of Jerusalem

The Lord calls you back, a woman forsaken and forlorn, the wife of his youth, long cast away; your God sends you word, If I abandoned you, it was but for a little moment, and now, in my great compassion, I bring you home again. I hid my face from you, but for a short while, till my anger should be spent; love that takes pity on you shall be eternal, says the Lord, your redeemer. (Isaiah 54:6-8)

V. Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends.
R. For the hand of God has touched me. (Job 19:21)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You revealed the thoughts of Your Heart to the women of Jerusalem,
enjoining them to weep for themselves and for their children;
pierce the hearts of Your priests with sorrow for sin,
giving them the grace to mingle their tears
with those of the spiritual mothers
whom You have called to console and sustain the priesthood
by the hidden oblation of their sufferings and their prayer.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Ninth Station
Jesus Falls the Third Time

He has made me a byword of the peoples, and I am one before whom men spit.
My eye has grown dim from grief, and all my members are like a shadow. (Job 17, 6-7)

V. My soul cleaves to the dust.
R. Revive me according to Your Word. (Psalm 118, 25)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, when you fell a third time
beneath the terrible weight of the Cross
a rain of insults assailed Your Heart in all its tenderness;
allow us, by adoring the mystery of Your humiliation,
to obtain for the most shamed and broken of Your priests
the grace to recover their sacred dignity
and to honour the character of Your priesthood
that is forever inscribed in their souls.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Tenth Station
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2, 5-8).

V. They divided My garments among them.
R. And for My raiment they cast lots. (Psalm 21, 18)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
by the abjection of Your nakedness
You won for the children of Adam and Eve
a vesture of grace and of glory
more beautiful by far than the original innocence they lost by sin;
grant to all Your priests the gift of calling sinners to repentance
and of restoring to Your friendship
those whom sin has caused to hide from Your face.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Eleventh Station
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. . . . Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6, 14-17).

V. He Himself bore our sins in His Body.
R. By His wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2, 24)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you were nailed to the wood of the Cross
so that, by Your wounds and by the shedding of your Blood,
those wounded by sin might find healing and copious redemption;
look, then, upon your priests --
heal those wounded by sin
and, in Your inexhaustible mercy,
use them to make many whole,
for You are the Physician of our souls and bodies.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Twelfth Station
Jesus Dies Upon the Cross

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23, 44-46)

V. One of the soldiers open His side with a spear.
R. And at once there came out blood and water. (John 19, 34)

Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
glorious in this, the Hour of Your Sacrifice,
pour forth upon all the priests of Your Church
the sanctifying Breath of Your Mouth.
Wash them in that torrent of mercy
that ever flows from Your pierced side
and, at the hour of their death,
make them worthy of joining You
before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary beyond the veil,
where You are always living to make intercession for us.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Thirteenth Station
Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross

Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. (Luke 23:50-54)

V. This is My Body which is for you.
R. I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly. (1 Corinthians 11, 24; John 10, 10)

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Immaculate Lamb immolated upon the altar of the Cross,
bestow, we beseech You, upon all your priests
such purity of heart in drawing near to Your altar,
such adoration in the enactment of Your sacrifice,
and such reverence in the handling of Your Holy Mysteries,
that by their decreasing in the eyes of men,
You may increase until, at length,
You are all in all.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Fourteenth Station
Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Thanks be to God, 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, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2, 14-16)

V. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
R. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
hidden from our eyes,
and silent in the stillness of the tomb,
let the prayer of Your Virgin Mother
enfold the priests of Your Church
and sustain them in the valley of the shadow of death,
that by always carrying Your Passion in their bodies,
they may contemplate Your Face in faith's dark night
and rejoice in the revelation of Your glory.
Who live and reign with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.


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Several years ago, on a visit to the Irish College in Rome where the ever gracious Father Bernard Healy, then a student there, I was able to take a picture of this original photograph of Dom Columba Marmion. The Abbot of Maredsous disguised himself as a cattle trader in order to cross the Channel during World War I. It was on this occasion that, when asked for his passport, Dom Marmion replied with a smile, "I'm Irish, and the Irish need no passport, except to get into hell, and it's not to hell that I'm going!" He was allowed to cross the border.

Death is not improvised. We die as we have lived. Life fully lived, with one's eyes fixed on the Face of Jesus, even in this valley of tears where faith alone pierces the night, is an apprenticeship in the art of dying well, l'art de bien mourir. For many years, on the anniversary of the death of Dom Marmion, I would open his biography by Dom Raymond Thibaut, and turning to the last chapter, I would re-read the account of his holy death on January 30, 1923. Today I am sharing these moving pages with all of you, dear readers.

I Will Love Thee, O Lord
Tuesday the 30th was to be the last day of his earthly life. As on other days, he was able to receive the Bread of Life. On this feria in Septuagesima week the Mass was that of the preceding Sunday, Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis. "The sorrows of death," thus begins the Introit, "encompassed me; in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice from His holy temple . . . I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength: the Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer."
Trust
For him it was that all his sons repeated the liturgical words of the Gradual, so applicable to that hour: "Thou art, O Lord, a helper in due time of tribulation: let them trust in Thee who know Thee: for Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee."
Evening Was Come
Dom Columba had "sought" the Lord; he had made that "sincere seeking after God" required by Saint Benedict the law of his whole life. Had he not been of those who, according to the words of Saint Paul in the Epistle of the Mass, had run in the race that he might receive the prize? Or again, according to Our Saviour's own parable, repeated in the Gospel of the day, was he not among those labourers whom the Father of the household sent to his vineyard, there to work unremittingly for the glory of their Master? Now "evening was come," and the faithful servant, after having borne "the burden of the day and their heats," was about to receive his wages.
His strength continued to ebb, and it was clear that the end was near. In the afternoon Dom Marmion's confessor came to comfort him with these words:
"Mon Révérendissime Père, you are soon going to appear before Our Lord Jesus Christ; show Him now that unshaken confidence that you have preached so often."
Mercy
The dying monk was no longer able to articulate a distinct reply. But no words could have been more fitting at that moment than those just spoken to that soul ready to vibrate at every word of faith. His prayer, moreover, responded to this suggestion; he was many times heard to repeat that verse of the Magnificat: "He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy." Recordatus misericordiae suae.
Into Peace With Thee
In the evening, about five o'clock, the community assembled for the Recommendation of the Departing Soul, while the dying abbot held the blessed candle in his hand. Dom Robert de Kerchove, the Father Abbot President of the Congregation, recited the prayers to which the community responded. A touching sight was this crown of sons encircling a venerated father with their prayers, and inviting all the heavenly court to come to aid and meet a soul on its passing to eternity. And how striking were certain of the invocations, considering the circumstances:
"O God most merciful, O God most loving and kind, look favourably upon Thy servant Columba, and deign to hear him. Lord, have pity on his sighs, have pity on his tears, and since his only hope is in Thy mercy, grant him the grace to enter into peace with Thee. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . ."
Cast Me Not Away From Thy Face
The prayers, being ended, the community withdrew; only a few privileged ones remained. Supplications for the dying man were continuous and grew ever more earnest; in low tones those near him repeated the Litany of Our Lady, the Psalms most appropriate for the occasion: Qui habitat in adjutorio Altissimi; the Benedictus. From time to time those texts on which his soul had been nourished were suggested to him: "O Jesus, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. . . . No man cometh to the Father but by Me. . . . Gladly will I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may dwell in me. . . . Lord, cast me not away from Thy face!"
Heart of Jesus
The last prayer proved to be the Litany of the Sacred Heart, where are summed up all the acts of confidence of a believing, loving soul: "Heart of Jesus, salvation of them that hope in Thee. . . . Hope of them that die in Thee. . . ." And then: "Jesus, Mary, Joseph"; and finally, the supreme invocation, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus . . . !"
The Moment of Eternity
About half-past nine his breathing became sensibly fainter, his face grew pallid, the moment of eternity had come. The dying abbot's brow was asperged with holy water, the crucifix was held for him to kiss. Shortly before ten o'clock one last effort, a contraction of the lips: the soul had escaped from its mortal frame.
The prior at once recited the Subvenite: "Come, ye saints of God . . . come forth to meet him, ye angels of the Lord! . . . May Christ Who hath called thee, receive thee forever into His kingdom. . . ."

An Irish Priest for Priests

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August 16th, 1917: The Anniversary of Father Willam Doyle, S.J.

When Father Willie Doyle entered my life, something happened. It was the beginning of one of those heavenly friendships that make a difference. The anniversary of his death compels me to seek his intercession with confidence. I recommend his friendship and his intercession to all the readers of Vultus Christi.

The marvelous blog, Remembering Father Willlie Doyle, gives the following information on the death of the soldier priest:

It is worth noting that there is some dispute about the exact date of Fr Doyle's death. The earliest sources seem to agree that it was the 16th. Recent references suggest that he died on the 17th while some veterans of the war came forward in the 1940's to state that Fr Doyle was killed on the 15th. Given the horrendous conditions in the war, it is not surprising that such confusion exists.

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Pope Benedict XVI to the Church in Ireland

Reading the Holy Father's message to the Church in Ireland, I cannot but relate it to the sufferings, prayers, and holiness of Father William Doyle.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember "the rock from which you were hewn" (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

Serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division

Father Doyle, serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division, fell in the Battle of Langemarck doing his duty to God and the many soldiers, of all armies, who also died in the Third Battle of Ypres. Although I have written of Father Willie Doyle elsewhere on Vultus Christi, I want, once again, to make these pages from Alfred O'Rahilly's splendid biography of Father Doyle (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1920) available to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests and to all my readers.

Priestly Sanctity and Reparation

Fr. Doyle had a very high ideal of the sacerdotal vocation. This he showed not only by his efforts to procure labourers for the great harvest, but especially in his own life. His daily Mass, for instance, was celebrated with a fervour which was apparent even to strangers. Phrases, such as Kyrie Eleison, Sursum Corda, Dominus Vobiscum, which by their very iteration tend to become mechanical utterances, seemed on his lips to be always full of freshness and meaning.

The Office: Every Word A Precious Coin

Similarly he always strove to prevent the recitation of the Office from becoming mere routine; he regarded it as a minting of merit, every word a precious coin. He so valued the Sacrament of Penance that he resolved to go daily to Confession. This lofty priestly ideal is made abundantly evident by his growing preoccupation with the work of promoting priestly sanctity and his increasing realisation that, like the great High Priest, he should be "a propitiation for the sins of the people." (Hebr. 2. 17.)

Priest and Victim

We see this idea in the following note: Sacerdos et victima -- Priest and Victim: After the words, Accipe protestatem offere sacrificium Dei*, the ordaining bishop adds, Imitamini quod tractatis. Jesus is a Victim, the priest must be one also. Christ has charged His priest to renew daily the sacrifice of the Cross; the altar is a perpetual Calvary ; the matter of the sacrifice, the victim, is Himself, His own Body, and He is the sacrificer. 'Receive, O Eternal Father, this unspotted Victim.' Can a priest worthy of the name stand by and watch this tremendous act, this heroic sacrifice, without desiring to suffer and to be immolated also? 'With Christ I am nailed to the Cross.' (Gal. 2. 20.) . . . Would that I could say a pure holy spotless victim. Let Jesus take me in His hands, as I take Him in mine, to do as He wills with me."
This idea is quite scriptural. "I beseech you," writes S. Paul, "that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God." "Be you also," says S. Peter (I. 2, 5), "as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Priesthood of the Lay Faithful

This association of priesthood and sacrifice applies also to those who are not priests, to all the faithful, who constitute "a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people." (I Peter 2. 9.) "Pray, Brothers," says the priest at Mass, "that the sacrifice which is mine and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty" And all through the Canon of the Mass the words emphasize the intimate union between celebrant and people in the great mystery which is being enacted. The assistants join not only in offering up the Divine Victim but also, as a water-drop in wine, in offering themselves as 'a living sacrifice.'

Extending and Supplementing the Sacerdotal Work

Thus the Sacrifice of the Mass is the living source from which our reparation derives its efficacy and inspiration. Co-operation in the great mystery of the Redemption, says Blessed Marie-Thérèse Dubouché, the foundress of the Congrégation de l'Adoration Réparatrice, is "the act of the Sacrifice of the Mass continued by the members of the Saviour at every moment of the day and night." And this ideal of co-sacrifice with Christ leads naturally from an appreciation of the sublime function of the priesthood to the idea of a spiritual crusade, extending and supplementing the sacerdotal work and atoning for the inevitable negligences and even scandals which occur in its performance.

Prayer for Priests

This is the devotion which, during the last three years of his life, strongly took hold of Fr. Doyle, namely, prayer for priests to aid them in their ministry and reparation in atonement for the negligences and infidelities of those whose calling is so high. We have already seen how earnestly he besought prayers for his own work. Saint Teresa of Avila exhorts her nuns to this apostolate of prayer. "Try to be such," she says, 3 "that we may be worthy to obtain these two favours from God: (1) that among the numerous learned and religious (priests) whom we have, there may be many who possess the requisite abilities . . . and that our Lord would improve those that are not so well prepared, since one perfect man can do more than many imperfect ones; (2) that our Lord may protect them in their great warfare, so that they may escape the many dangers of the world." She considered that her Carmelites, enjoying the seclusion and immunity of the cloister, owed this duty to the Church Militant.

Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny

This ideal is still more conspicuously enshrined in some recent religious institutes, particularly in the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus founded by Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny. These sisters are "to ask by fervent prayers, by sufferings and even by their lives, if necessary, for the outpouring of grace on the Church, on the Catholic priesthood and on religious orders." In his Brief to Mgr. van den Berghe, 14th March, 1872, Pius IX welcomed the new foundation. "It is not without consolation of heart," said the Pope, "that we have heard of your plan to arouse and spread in your country that admirable spirit of sacrifice which God apparently wishes to oppose to the ever increasing impiety of our time. We see with pleasure that a great number of persons are everywhere devoting themselves entirely to God, offering Him even their life in ardent prayer, to obtain the deliverance and happy preservation of His Vicar and the triumph of the Church, to make reparation for the outrages committed against the divine Majesty, and especially to atone for the profanations of those who, though the salt of the earth, lead a life which is not in conformity with their dignity."

Reparation: Horizons Opened Up for the Weak

The seal of the Church has therefore been set on this apostolate of prayer and reparation. There is, needless to say, no question of pride or presumption, no attempting to judge others. It is merely the just principle that those who are specially shielded and privileged should aid those active religious - priests, brothers and sisters - who have great responsibilities and a difficult mission, and should by their faithfulness atone for the shortcomings of those who are exposed to greater temptations. "More than ever," says Cardinal Mermillod, "is it necessary to console the wounded Heart of Jesus, to pray for the priesthood, and by immolation and adoration, without measure or truce to give our Saviour testimony of affection and fidelity." "There is much which needs reparation," writes Mgr. d'Hulst, "even in the sanctuary and the cloisters, and indeed especially there. Our Lord expects compensation from souls who have not abused special graces." "How grievous are these scandals!" he exclaims in another letter. "Only the thought of reparation can soften the bitterness of them. To take expiation on oneself is to be like Him of whom it is said: Vere languores nostros ipse tulit et dolores nostros ipse portavit, "Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows." (Isaias 53, 4) If this thought had thoroughly entered into us, without running after great penances, should we not give quite another reception than we usually do to sufferings, vexations, and the dulness and bitterness of our poor lives? And then the thought of reparation is so beneficial to poor souls like ours! It is a great mistake to think it is the privilege of the perfect. On the contrary, it pleases our Lord to open up these horizons to the weak, to give them courage by turning their attention away from their own wretchedness. If I am incapable of satisfying God in myself, I will try to make up to Him for others. If I cannot lament my own ingratitude sufficiently, I will learn to do so by lamenting for others."

Secret Apostolate of Victim Souls for Priests

These consoling words will help to convince those whose ideal of holiness is unconsciously individualistic and self-centred, that the ideal of reparation by no means implies the possession or the delusion of perfection. Of course in all this there may creep in some spirit of censorious self-sufficiency, though indeed there is not much danger of it in the hidden humble lives of those victim-souls who are devoted to the secret apostolate of prayer for God s ministers and reparation for those scandals and infidelities which occur from time to time in the Church. It has, therefore, seemed right to show briefly here, by way of preface to Fr. Doyle's private notes, how explicitly this work of priestly sanctification and reparation has been recognised by the Church and adopted by saints and mystics.

To Obtain Grace for Other Priests

This ideal appealed greatly to Fr. Doyle. On 28th July, 1914, the anniversary of his Ordination, he wrote: "At Exposition Jesus spoke clearly in my soul, 'Do the hard thing for My sake because it is hard.' I also felt urged to perform all my priestly duties with great fervour to obtain grace for other priests to do the same, e.g. the Office, that priests may say theirs well." On the Feast of St. Teresa, October, 1914, there is this simple but eloquent record: "Last night I rose at one a.m. and walked two miles barefooted in reparation for the sins of priests to the chapel at Murrough (Co. Clare), where I made the Holy Hour. God made me realise the merit of each step, and I understood better how much I gain by not reading the paper; each picture, each sentence sacrificed means additional merit. I felt a greater longing for self-inflicted suffering and a determination to do more little things.'"

Chosen by God for Priests

During his 1914 retreat this ideal came home to him as a special mission. "The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent," he writes on 1st December, "has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace they may meritoriously do what I cannot; that unless I constantly live up to the life of a willing victim, I shall not please our Lord nor ever become a saint - it is the price of my sanctification; that Jesus asks this from me always and in every lawful thing, so that I can sum up my life 'sacrifice always in all things.'"

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League of Priestly Sanctity

On the following Christmas Day (1914) Fr. Doyle records a further step. "During midnight Mass at Dalkey Convent I made the oblation of myself as a member of the League of Priestly Sanctity.* During my preparation beforehand a sudden strong conviction took possession of me that by doing so, I was about to begin the 'work' which - had spoken of. Our Lord gave me great graces during the Mass and urged me more strongly than ever to throw myself into the work of my sanctification, that so I may draw many other priests to Him. He wants the greatest possible fervour and exactness in all priestly duties."

* The League of Priestly Sanctity, to which reference is here made, was founded in the North of France in the year 1901, under the direction of Père Feyerstein, S.J. (+ 1911). Fr. Doyle became Director-General for Ireland and strove to spread the League among Irish priests. In an explanatory leaflet which he issued, it is described as "an association of priests, both secular and regular, who, in response to the desire of the Sacred Heart, strive to help each other to become holy and thus render themselves worthy of their sublime calling and raise the standard of sacerdotal sanctity." Two special objects are enumerated: "(1) The assistance of priests, and especially those of the League, in living a life worthy of their high calling. (2) The atonement for outrages to the Sacred Heart in the Sacrament of His love. This Sacrament, needless to say, is committed to priests in a special manner; and there ought to be a priestly expiation for irreverence, negligence, and particularly sacrilegious Masses, which the Divine Heart has to endure from the very ministers of His altar.

Fr. Doyle had this League very much at heart and had prepared several schemes for its spread and improvement when his appointment as military chaplain interrupted the work. But while engaged in this novel sphere of activity, the ideal of a life of reparation remained uppermost in his mind and once more the special form which it took was expiation for the negligences and sins of God's anointed. He recorded this resolution on 26th July, 1916: "During a visit our Lord seemed to urge me not to wait till the end of the war, but to begin my life of reparation at once, in some things at least. I have begun to keep a book of acts done with this intention. He asked me for these sacrifices, (1) To rise at night in reparation for priests who lie in bed instead of saying Mass. (2) At all costs to make the 50,000 aspirations. (3) To give up illustrated papers. (4) To kiss floor of churches. (5) Breviary always kneeling. (6) Mass with intense devotion. The Blessed Curé d'Ars used to kneel without support while saying the Office. Could not I?"

Reparation and Penance for the Sins of Priests

"This is my vocation," he notes on 8th February, 1917, "reparation and penance for the sins of priests; hence the constant urging of our Lord to generosity." Appropriately enough the last entry in his diary was made on 28th July, 1917, the tenth anniversary of his ordination. Fr. Doyle's last recorded thought was about his sacrificial ideal of priestly immolation.

All That Happens, Sent by Jesus

"The reading of La vie réparatrice (Canon Leroux de Bretagne, Desclée 1909) has made me long more to take up this life in earnest. I have again offered myself to Jesus as His Victim to do with me absolutely as He pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat, cold, etc., with joy as part of my immolation, in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all 'little pains' in this spirit. A strong urging to this."

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Like most chaplets or repetitive prayers, this Offering of the Precious Blood for Priests is meant to be prayed quietly and gently as a way of "turning into prayer" (oratio), the Word of God received (lectio), and meditated (meditatio). This sort of prayer can, by the grace of God, lead one to a simple abiding in adoration in the presence of God (contemplatio).

Offering of the Precious Blood for Priests


This chaplet of reparation and intercession is meant to be prayed on an ordinary five decade rosary.

Incline (+) unto my aid, O God; O Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Alleluia. (After Septuagesima: Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory.)

On the Our Father beads:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee
the Precious Blood of Thy Beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19)
in reparation for my sins
and for the sins of all Thy priests.

On the Hail Mary beads:

By Thy Precious Blood, O Jesus, purify and sanctify Thy priests.

In place of the Glory be to the Father:

O Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:14), have mercy on all Thy priests, and wash them in the Blood of the Lamb.

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I preached this homily to the Reverend Fathers of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, to mark the closing of the Year of the Priest on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 11 June 2010.

And now, already, we have crossed the threshold,
not only of Your feast, but also of Your mystery,
O Pierced One.
For four days we, Your priests, have been in pilgrimage to Your Heart.
It was the light of Your Eucharistic Face that drew us on,
compelling us, impelling to seek in its radiance
the wound in Your side.

Now before us lies the door
opened not by the turn of a key
but by the thrust of a lance,
and beyond the door the abode of love.
"He has brought me to the banqueting house,
and is banner over me was love" (Ct 2:4).

We opened our breviaries to First Vespers
and found there not the mere form of words
but the traces of a burning, blazing Word
-- Your Heart --
and beneath the text
embers glowing
waiting to be fanned again into flame
by a mingling of Spirit-Breath with ours,
breath well spent in the chants of Your Church.

The Spirit came again to the help of our weakness,
loosing our tongues for the praise of Love wounded and wounding,
teaching Love's own language:
strange to those in exile from Your Heart
but now become -- O wonder!--
our native tongue.

Strange and blessed
this language of Your Church,
spilling fire in antiphons
and rivers of light in psalms,
infusing Your prayer, O Christ, Eternal Son, Eternal Priest
-- nothing less than that --
into all of us who know not how to pray as we ought.

Your Heart's prayer
poured into every aching emptiness of ours.
Your Heart's song
rising in our silence.
Your Heartbeat
making us bold
by a gift of words not of our making.
And in those words Heart speaks to heart.

In them
Your Heart speaks to the Father;
and the Father's heart to yours.
In them Your Heart sings to Your Church, Your Bride;
and her heart sings to yours.
This is Love's exchange,
hidden from the learned and the clever
but revealed to little ones,
splashed like pure water on the lips of children
to delight the Father
and to fall all shining onto the cracked and dusty face
of a world grown old in thirst.

You stood up once
as you stand before us now,
-- it was the last day of the feast, the great day --
and cried out, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink;
out of His heart shall flow rivers of living water" (cf. Jn 7:37-38).
You said this about the Spirit
that blazes from Your face --
and rushes from Your open side
in water and in blood.

Where is the heart held aloft,
the heart become a chalice to catch the torrent in its flow?
Where are hands to press that chalice
to the lips of those who, with weary step,
return from empty cisterns?
My heart?
For this I give it
and for this I give my hands.
My heart to cup the flow of love,
my hands to tip the chalice.

It is Your Face, O Christ, that we came seeking,
the Face that sought us first,
Your Eucharistic Face seen now as through a glass darkly,
a polished monstrance crystal cut by faith.
And we all, with unveiled face,
beholding Your glory veiled here,
are being changed into Your likeness (cf. 2 Cor 3:18)
and drawn beyond the threshold wound,
Your Heart's pierced portal.
"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away." (Ct 2:13-14).

It is time for us to be like the nesting dove
time for us to spread our wings
and, lifted by the Spirit, to hide in the cleft of the rock.
There, "they shall hunger no more,
neither thirst any more;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat" (Rev 7:16).
Pass through the narrow gate.

Priests, apostles of the Sacred Heart,
sent out from that secret place,
be a dove made white in the Blood,
and like the dove, after every mission far-flung or near
to it return to be silent and adore.

Adorers of the Sacred Heart
we will all of us be in the end
for adoration will have the last word
as it must have the first.
"The hour is coming and now is,
when the true adorers shall adore the Father
in spirit and in truth,
for such the Father seeks to adore Him" (Jn 4:23).

Adoration then will be the only word,
an ocean of light dissolving every other discourse
and bathing a broken world
in the healing water and the cleansing blood.
"And He who sat upon the throne said,
'Behold, I make all things new'" (Rev 21:5).

"And they shall see His face,
and His name shall be on their foreheads.
And night shall be no more;
they need no light of lamp or sun,
for the Lord God will be their light" (Rev 22:4-5).
O Eucharist, Sun of Life,
radiating the Heart's flame of fire!
O Host burning and yet not consumed!

"And Moses hid his face,
for he was afraid to look at God" (Ex 3:6)?
Gentle Christ, humble hidden Bread,
to look at you is all refreshment.
Irresistible God.

"After this I looked,
and lo, in the heaven an open door!
And the voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said,
'Come up hither'" (Rev 4:1).

And I looked and looked
and looked at Him whom they have pierced (cf. Zech 12:10).
"And the angel who talked with me came again,
and waked me, like a man that is wakened out of his sleep.
And he said to me, 'What do you see?'" (Zech 4:1-2).
"A Eucharistic Face," I said,
"and an Open Heart."


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Are There Any Bishops Among My Readers?

Saint Anselm's pastoral qualities as a bishop surely originated in his experience as abbot of Bec. On 21 April we read the second part of Saint Benedict's Chapter LXIV, The Appointment of the Abbot. It occurred to me that bishops would do well to meditate Saint Benedict's wisdom, particularly with regard to their relations with the priests and deacons of their dioceses. Listen to Saint Benedict. I took the liberty of adapting the text to the situation of bishops and their diocesan clergy!

Let the bishop when he is appointed
consider always what an office he has undertaken
and to whom he must render an account of his stewardship;
and let him know that it is his duty rather to profit his clergy than to lord it over them.

It behoves him, therefore, to be learned in the divine law,
so that he may have a treasure of knowledge
whence he may bring forth things new and old;
and to be chaste, sober, and merciful.

Let him always set mercy above judgment (Jas 2, 13),
so that he himself may obtain mercy.
Let him hate ill-doing but love the clergy.
In administering correction, let him act with prudent moderation,
lest being too zealous in removing the rust he break the vessel.
Let him always distrust his own fraility
and remember that the bruised reed is not to be broken.
By this we do not mean that he should allow evils to grow,
but that, as we have said above,
he should eradicate them prudently and with charity,
in the way which may seem best in each case.

And let him study rather to be loved than feared.
Let him not be turbulent or anxious,
overbearing or obstinate,
jealous or too suspicious,
for otherwise he will never be at rest.

Let him be prudent and considerate in all his commands;
and whether the work he enjoins concerns God or the world,
let him always be discreet and moderate,
bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said:
If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,
they will all perish in one day
(Gen 33, 13).

So, imitating these and other examples of discretion,
the mother of all virtues,
let him so temper all things that the strong may still have something to long after,
and the weak may not draw back in alarm.
And, especially, let him keep this present rule in all things;
so that having ministered faithfully
he may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard
who gave his fellow-servants wheat in due season:
Amen, I say unto you, he will set him over all his goods (Mt 24, 47).

The Most Precious Blood

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Again, this year, for my friend, Father J.K., C.PP.S., on this Feast of the Most Precious Blood.

Priest of Jesus Christ,
you are forever marked by His Blood.
The Blood of the Lamb flows through you:
It sanctifies your touch;
It comes to flower on your lips;
It purifies and quickens all that you do
in your sacred ministry.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
you offer the Blood of Christ to the Father.
In the Sacrament of Penance
you apply the healing balm of the Precious Blood to souls
and wash them in It's laver.

Your purity, priest of Christ,
is itself the fruit of your intimacy with the Precious Blood.
It manifests the power of the Precious Blood,
making you, in spite of all your weaknesses,
victorious over the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Cultivate, then, a strong a lively devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Christ.
Apply it mystically -- that is, through your priestly intercession --
to souls in need of healing, deliverance, and inner cleansing.

You are the guardian of the Blood of the Lamb,
responsible for It being treated with the utmost reverence and adoration
in Holy Mass and, in particular, at the distribution of Holy Communion
under both species.

Preach often on the power of the Precious Blood
received in Holy Communion.
Tell souls that the Most Precious Blood of Jesus is
the price of our redemption.
the salvation of the world,
the glory of the Holy Sacrifice,
the vesture of Christ's priesthood,
the beauty of His altar,
the splendour of His saints,
the defeat of Satan,
the reconciliation of sinners,
the healing of those wounded by the evil serpent,
the shining purity of priests,
the life of those who follow the Lamb,
the peace of the troubled,
the remedy for every ill,
the soul's desire,
the astonishment of the angels,
and the joy of the Church.

Priest of Jesus Christ,
you are His minister, set apart to handle and to dispense His Precious Blood.
In making you the minister of His Blood,
Jesus entrusts you with His Life,
so that through you His life might be communicated to souls.
You are the guardian and dispenser of His Blood:
heaven's greatest treasure and the salvation of the universe.

He is the Lamb once slain Who lives forever.
His Blood flows still from the wound in His Side;
It is the stream that irrigates the Church
and brings health to souls weakened by sin.

Cultivate an intense devotion to the Precious Blood.
The Blood of Jesus is the power of your priesthood
and, where His Blood is, there too is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is communicated most richly in the mystery of the Blood.
When you receive the Blood of Jesus
you receive an infusion of the Holy Spirit;
the Life of Jesus courses in your veins,
making you with Him one Priest, one Victim,
one Son eternally beloved of the Father.

Speak of the power of the Blood of Christ
to heal the soul's wounds,
to bring peace to troubled hearts,
to reconcile enemies,
to transform sinners into saints,
to lift those degraded by vice into the pure and holy happiness of virtue.

Invoke the power of the Blood of Christ to defeat Satan,
to liberate souls from bondage to sin,
and to establish peace where there is unrest and disquiet.
Have a boundless confidence in the might of the Precious Blood.
Wheresoever you invoke the Blood of Jesus,
there will He establish the peace and joy of His Kingdom,
casting out the spirits of darkness who labour incessantly
to bring about the ruin of families,
and of communities,
and of every attempt to overcome evil with good
by living in prayer and in charity.

The Precious Blood is the most potent remedy
for the ills that cause so much suffering in the world;
and that remedy has been given to you, priest of Jesus Christ, in a limitless way.
You are a physician of souls,
sent out to bring healing to the brokenhearted
and freedom to those enslaved by sin.

When the Precious Blood of Jesus touches the lips of a priest,
it purifies them of sin,
and descending into his heart, makes him fit for the Work of God.
Reflect on the immense grace that is yours, day after day, at the altar.
You are marked by Christ's Most Precious Blood in the eyes of the Father.
That same mark of the Precious Blood terrifies demons,
and It accredits you to do all that Christ commands you to do
through His Holy Church.

Priest beloved of the Heart of Jesus,
adore His Precious Blood.
Make known It's power.
Teach souls to have the greatest reverence for the mystery of the Blood.
Call down upon yourself and upon souls
the protection and infinite merits of the Blood of the Lamb.

The Blood of Jesus Christ is fire in the soul of the priest who acknowledges It's power.
Be the priest of His Precious Blood,
just as you are the priest of His Heart,
and of His Eucharistic Face.
These are the mysteries by which you are sanctified
and configured to Him,
Who is eternally Priest and Victim.


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Here is the Angelus Message given by the Holy Father today, Sunday, 13 June, 2010:

Dear brothers and sisters!

Conclusion of the Year for Priests

The Year for Priests concluded a few days ago. Here in Rome we experienced some unforgettable days with the presence of more than 15,000 priests from every part of the world. So, today I would like to give thanks to God for all the good things that have come to the universal Church this year. No one could ever measure them but certainly they see them and still more they will see their fruits.

The Priest, A Gift from the Heart of Christ

The Year for Priests concluded on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is traditionally the "day of priestly sanctification"; this time it was so in a very special way. In fact, dear friends, the priest is a gift from the Heart of Christ: a gift for the Church and for the world. From the Heart of the Son of God, overflowing with charity, there stream all the goods of the Church and in a special way it is the origin of the vocations of those men who, conquered by the Lord Jesus, leave everything to dedicate themselves entirely to the service of the people, following the example of the Good Shepherd. The priest is formed by Christ's charity itself, that love that moved him to give his life for his friends and also to pardon his enemies. Because of this priests are the first builders of the civilization of love. And here I think of many priests, known and unknown, some elevated to the honors of the altar, others whose memory remains indelibly in the faithful, perhaps in a small parish community -- as happened in Ars, that village of France where St. John Marie Vianney undertook his ministry. There is no need to add words to what has been said of him in recent months. But his intercession must accompany us from now on. May his prayer, his "Act of Love," that we have recited so many times during the Year for Priests, continue to nourish your colloquy with God.

Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko

There is another figure whom I would like to recall: Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, priest and martyr, who was proclaimed "Blessed" just last Sunday in Warsaw. He exercised his generous and courageous ministry alongside those who worked for freedom, for the defense of life and its dignity. His work in the service of goodness and truth was a sign of contradiction for the regime that governed Poland at that time. The love of the Heart of Christ led him to give his life, and his witness was the seed of a new springtime in the Church and society. If we look at history we can observe that so many pages of authentic spiritual and social renewal have been written by the contribution of Catholic priests, animated only by the passion for the Gospel and for man, for his true religious and civil liberty. How many initiatives of integral human promotion have begun in the intuition of a priestly heart!

Mary's Immaculate Heart

Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust all the priests of the world to Mary's Immaculate Heart -- whose liturgical memorial we celebrated yesterday -- so that by the power of the Gospel they may continue to build in every place the civilization of love.

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HOMILY OF THE MASS OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
CELEBRATED BY HIS HOLINESS, POPE BENEDICT XVI
AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS,
11 JUNE 2010


Grandeur and Beauty of the Priestly Ministry

Dear brothers in the priestly ministry, dear brothers and sisters, the Year for Priests which we have celebrated on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the holy Curè of Ars, the model of priestly ministry in our world, is now coming to an end. We have let the Curé of Ars guide us to a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry. The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ's name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ's words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation - words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood - words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite it to him.

God Entrusts Himself to Our Infirmities

The priesthood, then, is not simply "office" but sacrament: God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings - who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead - this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word "priesthood". That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year. We wanted to reawaken our joy at how close God is to us, and our gratitude for the fact that he entrusts himself to our infirmities; that he guides and sustains us daily. In this way we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist - and that God is indeed waiting for us to say "yes". Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation. We have to beg for workers for God's harvest, and this petition to God is, at the same time, his own way of knocking on the hearts of young people who consider themselves able to do what God considers them able to do.

Not Pleasing to the Enemy

It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the "enemy"; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light - particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God's concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life's dangers.

A Gift Concealed in Earthen Vessels

Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God's gift, a gift concealed in "earthen vessels" which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God's courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of today's liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be a priest: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).

Peering Into the Heart of Jesus

We are celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in the liturgy we peer, as it were, into the heart of Jesus opened in death by the spear of the Roman soldier. Jesus' heart was indeed opened for us and before us - and thus God's own heart was opened. The liturgy interprets for us the language of Jesus' heart, which tells us above all that God is the shepherd of mankind, and so it reveals to us Jesus' priesthood, which is rooted deep within his heart; so too it shows us the perennial foundation and the effective criterion of all priestly ministry, which must always be anchored in the heart of Jesus and lived out from that starting-point. Today I would like to meditate especially on those texts with which the Church in prayer responds to the word of God presented in the readings. In those chants, word (Wort) and response (Antwort) interpenetrate. On the one hand, the chants are themselves drawn from the word of God, yet on the other, they are already our human response to that word, a response in which the word itself is communicated and enters into our lives.

Psalm 22, The Lord Is My Shepherd

The most important of those texts in today's liturgy is Psalm 23 (22) - "The Lord is my shepherd" - in which Israel at prayer received God's self-revelation as shepherd, and made this the guide of its own life.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want": this first verse expresses joy and gratitude for the fact that God is present to and concerned for humanity. The reading from the Book of Ezechiel begins with the same theme: "I myself will look after and tend my sheep" (Ez 34:11). God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind. I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered. God looks after me. He is not a distant God, for whom my life is worthless. The world's religions, as far as we can see, have always known that in the end there is only one God. But this God was distant. Evidently he had abandoned the world to other powers and forces, to other divinities. It was with these that one had to deal. The one God was good, yet aloof. He was not dangerous, nor was he very helpful. Consequently one didn't need to worry about him. He did not lord it over us. Oddly, this kind of thinking re-emerged during the Enlightenment. There was still a recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way. But wherever God's loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry. It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me.

I Know My Sheep and Mine Know Me

"I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10:14), the Church says before the Gospel with the Lord's words. God knows me, he is concerned about me. This thought should make us truly joyful. Let us allow it to penetrate the depths of our being. Then let us also realize what it means: God wants us, as priests, in one tiny moment of history, to share his concern about people. As priests, we want to be persons who share his concern for men and women, who take care of them and provide them with a concrete experience of God's concern. Whatever the field of activity entrusted to him, the priest, with the Lord, ought to be able to say: "I know my sheep and mine know me". "To know", in the idiom of sacred Scripture, never refers to merely exterior knowledge, like the knowledge of someone's telephone number. "Knowing" means being inwardly close to another person. It means loving him or her. We should strive to "know" men and women as God does and for God's sake; we should strive to walk with them along the path of friendship with God.

We Are Not Fumbling in the Dark

Let us return to our Psalm. There we read: "He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me" (23 [22]:3ff.). The shepherd points out the right path to those entrusted to him. He goes before them and leads them. Let us put it differently: the Lord shows us the right way to be human. He teaches us the art of being a person. What must I do in order not to fall, not to squander my life in meaninglessness? This is precisely the question which every man and woman must ask and one which remains valid at every moment of one's life. How much darkness surrounds this question in our own day! We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus, who felt compassion for the crowds because they were like a flock without a shepherd. Lord, have mercy on us too! Show us the way! From the Gospel we know this much: he is himself the way. Living with Christ, following him - this means finding the right way, so that our lives can be meaningful and so that one day we might say: "Yes, it was good to have lived". The people of Israel continue to be grateful to God because in the Commandments he pointed out the way of life. The great Psalm 119 (118) is a unique expression of joy for this fact: we are not fumbling in the dark. God has shown us the way and how to walk aright. The message of the Commandments was synthesized in the life of Jesus and became a living model. Thus we understand that these rules from God are not chains, but the way which he is pointing out to us. We can be glad for them and rejoice that in Christ they stand before us as a lived reality. He himself has made us glad. By walking with Christ, we experience the joy of Revelation, and as priests we need to communicate to others our own joy at the fact that we have been shown the right way.

If I Sink to the Nether World, You Are There

Then there is the phrase about the "darkest valley" through which the Lord leads us. Our path as individuals will one day lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where no one can accompany us. Yet he will be there. Christ himself descended into the dark night of death. Even there he will not abandon us. Even there he will lead us. "If I sink to the nether world, you are present there", says Psalm 139 (138). Truly you are there, even in the throes of death, and hence our Responsorial Psalm can say: even there, in the darkest valley, I fear no evil. When speaking of the darkest valley, we can also think of the dark valleys of temptation, discouragement and trial through which everyone has to pass. Even in these dark valleys of life he is there. Lord, in the darkness of temptation, at the hour of dusk when all light seems to have died away, show me that you are there. Help us priests, so that we can remain beside the persons entrusted to us in these dark nights. So that we can show them your own light.

Use of the Rod

"Your rod and your staff - they comfort me": the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church's ministry, of the priest's ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd's rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God's gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd's staff - a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.

The Divine Hospitality

At the end of the Psalm we read of the table which is set, the oil which anoints the head, the cup which overflows, and dwelling in the house of the Lord. In the Psalm this is an expression first and foremost of the prospect of the festal joy of being in God's presence in the temple, of being his guest, whom he himself serves, of dwelling with him. For us, who pray this Psalm with Christ and his Body which is the Church, this prospect of hope takes on even greater breadth and depth. We see in these words a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist, in which God himself makes us his guests and offers himself to us as food -as that bread and fine wine which alone can definitively sate man's hunger and thirst. How can we not rejoice that one day we will be guests at the very table of God and live in his dwelling-place? How can we not rejoice at the fact that he has commanded us: "Do this in memory of me"? How can we not rejoice that he has enabled us to set God's table for men and women, to give them his Body and his Blood, to offer them the precious gift of his very presence. Truly we can pray together, with all our heart, the words of the Psalm: "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Ps 23 [22]:6).

The Pierced Heart Become A Fountain

Finally, let us take a brief look at the two communion antiphons which the Church offers us in her liturgy today. First there are the words with which Saint John concludes the account of Jesus' crucifixion: "One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out" (Jn 19:34). The heart of Jesus is pierced by the spear. Once opened, it becomes a fountain: the water and the blood which stream forth recall the two fundamental sacraments by which the Church lives: Baptism and the Eucharist. From the Lord's pierced side, from his open heart, there springs the living fountain which continues to well up over the centuries and which makes the Church. The open heart is the source of a new stream of life; here John was certainly also thinking of the prophecy of Ezechiel who saw flowing forth from the new temple a torrent bestowing fruitfulness and life (Ez 47): Jesus himself is the new temple, and his open heart is the source of a stream of new life which is communicated to us in Baptism and the Eucharist.

Life-Giving Water for a Parched and Thirsty World

The liturgy of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus also permits another phrase, similar to this, to be used as the communion antiphon. It is taken from the Gospel of John: Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me. And let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said: "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (cf. Jn 7:37ff.) In faith we drink, so to speak, of the living water of God's Word. In this way the believer himself becomes a wellspring which gives living water to the parched earth of history. We see this in the saints. We see this in Mary, that great woman of faith and love who has become in every generation a wellspring of faith, love and life. Every Christian and every priest should become, starting from Christ, a wellspring which gives life to others. We ought to be offering life-giving water to a parched and thirst world. Lord, we thank you because for our sake you opened your heart; because in your death and in your resurrection you became the source of life. Give us life, make us live from you as our source, and grant that we too may be sources, wellsprings capable of bestowing the water of life in our time. We thank you for the grace of the priestly ministry. Lord bless us, and bless all those who in our time are thirsty and continue to seek. Amen.

The Fatherhood of the Priest

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The Healing Power of the Father's Love

For many priests, faith in the Fatherhood of God is a path to interior healing. This is especially true for those who, for one reason or another, did not grow into manhood in liberty of heart and in joy under the affirming gaze of a father. The Eternal Father desires to banish fear from the hearts of his priest-sons. God's will is that His priest-sons should "serve him without fear, in holiness and justice before Him" (Lk 1:74-75) all the days of their life.

As Jesus Was Father in the Midst of the Apostles

God would have every priest know that he is loved and surrounded by His paternal presence as Father, a presence that sustains the priest, that allows him to become in every way the man that God has always wanted him to be. Faith in the paternal presence of God allows the priest, in turn, to become a father, a father in the image of The Father, a father even as Jesus was fully father in the midst of His disciples. The disciples discovered the fatherhood of God on the face of Jesus Christ. They felt the Divine Fatherhood when they drew near to His Sacred Heart. They saw the Fatherhood of God at work in the signs of mercy and power that Jesus worked in His Father's Name.

Abandonment to the Father

It must be the same for us, priests. We are called to be living images of the Divine Paternity. The Father Himself implants in the heart of His priests the charism of a paternal love. By virtue of this grace of paternal love, the priest can bring healing to a multitude of souls held back in their spiritual development for want of the indispensable experience of a father's love. Out of that experience souls can grow in the theological virtue of hope, in confidence, trust and, ultimately, in the practice of abandonment to the Eternal Father's love and unfailing providence. There is, by the way, a little known classic on this very subject, L'abandon filial by a humble, hidden religious named Soeur Jean-Baptiste. As far as I know it is available only in French, but it merits being translated into English.

The Spiritually Fatherless

It seems to me that the Eternal Father desires, at this precise moment in the history of the Church, to renew the grace of fatherhood among His priests. It is when a priest is father that he corresponds most fully to God's designs of love upon his life. The Church, beloved Spouse of Jesus Christ, suffers because so many priests fail to live the singular grace of their supernatural paternity. Souls seek fathers and, all too often, they are sent away disappointed and abandoned to live among the vast numbers of the spiritually fatherless who mark contemporary society with a particular sadness.

Divine Fatherhood in the Souls of Priests

The Eternal Father would have each of us priests receive the graces and the supernatural energies of the Divine Fatherhood in our own souls. The more a priest lives out his paternal mission, the more will he resemble the Only-Begotten Son who said, "He that seeth me, seeth the Father also" (Jn 14:9).

The Father's Will

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This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on Pope Benedict XVI's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary. I am writing it from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, where I am preaching a retreat to members of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (F.S.S.P.).

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of thy Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and His priests,
consecrate ourselves to thy maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Not My Will, But Thine Be Done

Pope Benedict XVI presents consecration to the maternal Heart of Mary as a means to carrying out faithfully the Father's will. In doing this he echoes the teaching of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, for whom consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary was a simple, straight, and secure way of following Jesus in His obedience to the Father and in the wisdom of the Cross. One who frequents the school of Mary, in the company of a vast company of saints, enters into Virgin's total adhesion to the Will of the Father by repeating after her, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38). It is by repeating these words of the Mother, that one is prepared to repeat those of the Son: "Father . . . not my will, but thine be done" (Lk 22:42). It is by entering into dispositions of the maternal Heart of Mary that one becomes capable of expressing in one's own life, and at the hour of one's death, the dispositions of the filial and priestly Heart of Jesus, saying with Him: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

The Psalms

The life of Our Lord was characterized by a single burning passion: the Father's Will, the Father's plan, the Father's designs, the Father's glory. The priest who desires to participate in this one burning passion of the Heart of Jesus does well to open the psalter as he would the tabernacle, confident of finding therein the bread of a spiritual communion with Our Lord in His obedience to the Father, in His prayer to the Father, in His filial surrender to the Father.

Draw Me After You

I am thinking, in particular of Psalm 118, that long litany in praise of the Law that, in the mouth of Jesus, becomes a litany of obedience to His Father's Will.
One does well, at least from time to time, possibly during a retreat, to pray the entire psalm Beati immaculati in via. One hears the voice of Jesus praying to His Father; one senses the pulsation of His Sacred Heart and the rhythm of His breath. One is compelled to say to him in the words of the Canticle: "Draw me: we will run after you to the odour of your ointments" (Ct 1:4). What ointments are these? The ointments of His Divine Anointing as Son, as Priest, and as King, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost poured out in abundance upon the Head for the sake of all His members and, first of all, for His priests.

The Gospel of Saint John

Again, one might open the Gospel of Saint John to discover from the first page to the last the irrepressible impetus of Our Lord ad Patrem. When He speaks, He speaks to His Father or of His Father. He has no desires apart from those of His Father, no words and no deeds that are not sign and revelation of the Father. "Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing: for what things soever He doth, these the Son also doth in like manner" (Jn 5:19). His very being is an epiphany of the Father. "He that seeth me seeth the Father also" (Jn 14:9). "Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, He doth the works" (Jn 14:10). Freely, the Son enters into His Passion, saying, "But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I: Arise, let us go hence" (Jn 14:31).

To My Father and to Your Father

After His Resurrection, Our Lord continues to speak of His Father. "Go to my brethren," He says to Mary Magdalene, "and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God, and to your God" (Jn 20:17). And in the final verses of the Fourth Gospel, when Jesus speaks to Peter, after eliciting from him a threefold confession of love and attachment, He says to him, "Follow me" (Jn 21:10). I have always understood this, "Follow me," as Our Lord's way of calling Peter after Him, through the Cross, into the glory of the Father. Would this not be the word to which Peter remains attached and to which he would have us attend, "as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 P 1:19)?

United to the Father, With the Son, in the Holy Ghost

In a word the will of the Father is that we should come to Him through the Son, and with the Son be united to Him in the bond of the Holy Ghost. To carry out the Father's will, then, is to do those things -- shown us by the teachings of Our Lord, by the light of the Holy Ghost, and by the example of the Saints -- by which the Father's love for the Son may be in us, and the Father Himself in us, even as He is in the Son, and the Son in Him.

The Chalice Which My Father Hath Given Me

The priest consecrated to the will of the Father has but one response to those who question him on the meaning of his life: "The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink of it" (Jn 18:11).

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Pope Benedict XVI
Apostolic Journey to Cyprus
5 June 2010

In this Year for Priests, let me address a special word to the priests present today, and to those who are preparing for ordination. Reflect on the words spoken to a newly ordained priest as the Bishop presents him with the chalice and paten: "Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's Cross". As we proclaim the Cross of Christ, let us always strive to imitate the selfless love of the one who offered himself for us on the altar of the Cross, the one who is both priest and victim, the one in whose person we speak and act when we exercise the ministry that we have received. As we reflect on our shortcomings, individually and collectively, let us humbly acknowledge that we have merited the punishment that he, the innocent Lamb, suffered on our behalf. And if, in accordance with what we have deserved, we should have some share in Christ's sufferings, let us rejoice because we will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

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In this segment of my commentary on the Holy Father's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, I propose a reflection on the significance of his choice of the term, "maternal Heart."

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

I was surprised and moved to discover that, in referring to the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Benedict XVI chose, from among any number of expressions possible, that of the Maternal Heart. It was a remarkable English woman, the Venerable Mother Mary Potter (1847-1913), who, with energy and perseverance, devoted herself to promoting the title of the "Maternal Heart."

Mother Potter's Marian Mission

At the end of 1874, Mother Potter received the inner certitude that she and the religious Congregation she was to institute (The Little Company of Mary) were called to foster devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. "We are chosen," wrote Mother Potter,

. . . to promulgate in God's Church an increase of devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. We must increase our love for Our Lady and her sweet Maternal Heart, which makes us desire to propagate that devotion and to lead as many of God's vast family as we can to love and honour that Heart.

For Mother Potter, the Maternal Heart of Mary was a way of life:

Love that Heart, consecrate yourself to it, and make it your constant endeavour to be actuated by all the holy desires, wishes, and prayers that emanated from it. Let your sufferings, your actions, your words, your whole being renew again, on this earth, the life of Mary. To do this you must study Mary; to study her you must enter her Heart and observe its workings.

Desirous of giving an iconographic expression to the Maternal Heart, Mother Potter directed that an existing statue of the Mother of God should be artistically adapted to this end by adding to it the image of a heart surmounted by the lily of Our Lady's immaculate purity, and pierced by the sword of her sorrowful compassion on Mount Calvary.

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A Title Contested and Vindicated

The suitability of the title was the subject of some controversy, the principal objection being that it was novel, and that the Church had not recognized the Maternal Heart by authorizing its cultus in the liturgy. Opening her first house in Rome on 20 May 1884, Mother Potter succeeded in obtaining the blessing of Pope Leo XIII on its designation as the "Convent of the Maternal Heart of Mary." In 1908, after building the heart-shaped chapel of Calvary Hospital (near the Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo) in Rome, Mother Potter was told by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr Carlo Respighi that it could not be dedicated under the title of the "Maternal Heart of Mary," because no such title was in liturgical use. Mother Potter held her ground, and Msgr Respighi was obliged to seek the counsel of the Cardinal Vicar. Shortly thereafter, word reached Mother Potter that Pope Pius X had not only approved of the title "Maternal Heart," but had further directed that a commemoration of the Maternal Heart should be made at every Mass during the octave of the new chapel's dedication.

Consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary

In July 1876, in obedience to Father Edward Selley, a convert from the Church of England, Mother Potter sought in fervent prayer an answer to her desire for a confirmation of her total consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary. After making the Way of the Cross, and asking at each station for an answer to her prayer, Mother Potter received what, to my mind, must be taken as an inner locution on the part of Our Lady:

My child, God, Almighty though He be, after the possession of Himself, cannot give me anything more desirable, more precious, or dearer than souls. This Jesus knew; and at His death, wishing to leave me a measure of His Love, confided the Church in the person of Saint John to my Maternal protection.
Come, then, to me! I am your Mother! An earthly mother can forget her child and lack in pity for it, but your Heavenly Mother will protect you in your day of sorrow. Come, then, to me, and bring to me the Church, which I have borne in my womb from the very time that I bore its Author, Jesus. May the holy vicar of My Son proclaim from his cross that I am the Mother of this Church. May he unite himself with his Master in saying to the nations of the earth, 'Behold your Mother,' and consecrate the Church confided to him, to my Maternal Heart, and I will show myself a Mother.

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Archbishop Kirby Enlisted in the Cause

A letter of Mother Potter, dated 17 September 1891 relates that she entrusted her spiritual director, Archbishop Tobias Kirby (1804-1895), Rector of the Irish College, with a letter to Pope Leo XIII in which she asked the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Five days later -- was it by coincidence? -- Pope Leo XIII addressed the following words to the universal Church in his Encyclical Letter Octobri Mense:

Mary is this glorious intermediary; she is the mighty Mother of the Almighty; but-what is still sweeter - she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. As such God gave her to us. Having chosen her for the Mother of His only begotten Son, He implanted in her a maternal heart that breathes nothing but pardon and love. Such Christ desired she should be, for He consented to be subject to Mary and to obey her as a son a mother. Such He proclaimed her from the cross when he entrusted to her care and love the whole of the race of man in the person of His disciple John. Such, finally, she proves herself by her courage in gathering in the heritage of the enormous labours of her Son, and in accepting the charge of her maternal duties towards us all.
The design of this most dear mercy, realised by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was comprehended at the beginning, and accepted with the utmost joy by the Holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the counsel and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the nations of the Christian age received it with one mind; and even when literature and tradition are silent there is a voice that breaks from every Christian breast and speaks with all eloquence. No other reason is needed that that of a Divine faith which, by a powerful and most pleasant impulse, persuades us towards Mary.

Audience With Leo XIII

On 5 July 1896, shortly before leaving Rome to visit her houses in England, Mother Potter was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII. The Pope spoke to her of the Church's troubles, asking for Mother Potter's prayers and those of her daughters. Then, addressing Mother Potter, the Holy Father asked her if she thought the Church would rise triumphant over her persecutors and emerge from the problems which beset her. Mother Potter answered at once: "Yes, if the Church were consecrated to the Maternal Heart of Mary, she would show herself a Mother." The Holy Father was silent. The Sister translating into Italian for Mother Potter led the Holy Father to believe that she was asking for a liturgical feast in honour of the Maternal Heart. Pope Leo XIII then directed her to make a written petition to this effect and to address it to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. This, of course, was not Mother Potter's primary desire. Her intention was to ask the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Nonethless, she was obedient to the Holy Father's directive, and wrote her request to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. She never received a reply. In fact, she later learned, that the matter was never even discussed!

A Determined Woman

Towards the end of her life, Mother Potter intensified her campaign to obtain the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Among her supporters were Cardinal Merry del Val and the Abbots of Saint Paul's Outside-the-Walls and of Grottaferrata. Mother Potter went so far as to commission a painting of Pope Pius X offering the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary.

Pope Benedict XVI

The Venerable Mother Mary Potter died in 1913, firm in her conviction that God willed the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary by the Supreme Pontiff. Has her desire been fulfilled? One might pass in review the consecrations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary made by Pope Pius XII, the proclamation of the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI at the close of the Second Vatican Council, and the many Marian consecrations made by Pope John Paul II. All of this not withstanding, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI's consecration at Fatima of all the priests of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary, very happily fulfills and crowns Mother Potter's mission and desire. In consecrating all priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, Pope Benedict XVI has, in effect, consecrated the entire Church to her Maternal Heart, for wherever and whenever a priest belongs to Mary by virtue of an act of consecration, multitudes of souls around him are drawn to her Maternal Heart.

Consecrated

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I continue today my commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's consecration of priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary (Fatima, 12 May 2010).

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Consecrate Ourselves to Your Maternal Heart

It is highly significant that the Holy Father uses the verb, "to consecrate" in this prayer addressed to Our Lady. The most complete treatment of the theology of Marian consecration is found in Msgr Arthur Burton Calkins' Totus Tuus, John Paul II's Program of Marian Entrustment and Consecration (1992), soon to appear in an enlarged and revised edition. I also recommend Msgr Calkins' chapter on the same subject in Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (2007).

Consecrated

It is unfortunate that the verb "to consecrate" and, even more, the adjective "consecrated" has acquired in the minds of some Catholics a peculiarly legalistic or canonical connotation. Some would even argue that the term specifically designates or, at least, suggests the state of one bound by the vows of religion. Such a narrow understanding of the term obscures its rich biblical and mystical content.

Set Apart and Made Over to God

The biblical notion of "consecration" pertains to the state of one sanctified by being set apart and "made over to God" after the manner of a sacrifice upon an altar, a holocaust, or an immolation. The destruction of the victim thus made over to God symbolizes that the act of consecration is irrevocable, final, and permanent. To sacrifice means, in fact, to consecrate or to sanctify. Thus does Our Lord Himself pray in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle:

Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
And for them do I sanctify myself,
that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17-19)

Consecration From Above and From Below

First, Our Lord asks His Father to take the Apostles to Himself, to make them entirely and irrevocably His, even as He, the Eternal Son, belongs to the Father. Only by virtue of this consecration (from above) will the Apostles be made fit for their mission into the world. Then, Our Lord, acting as High Priest, consecrates Himself. This consecration (from below) expresses and seals Our Lord's ascent to the altar of the Cross where, exercising His priesthood, He will offer Himself in sacrifice to the Father as a spotless victim.

Priest-Victims

By sacrificing Himself upon the altar of the Cross, Christ, the Eternal High Priest, opens the way for His Apostles, and the generations of priests who will follow after them, to become, with Him, true victims offered (and offering themselves) from every altar whereupon the Sacrifice of the Cross will be made sacramentally present until the end of time.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice: Source and Summit of Consecration

Clearly, there are two modes of consecration: one, from above, and the other, from below. These two modes correspond, respectively, to the descending and ascending mediation of Christ the Priest described in article 7 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Consecration from above is effected when, in response to the prayer of Christ and of the Church, the Father sends the Holy Ghost upon the oblation set before Him by being placed either literally or symbolically upon the altar. The supreme paradigm of this consecration from above, prefigured in the fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-46) is, of course, the Eucharistic Sacrifice. All other consecrations, and first of all those given ritual form in the liturgical books of the Church, derive from and return to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, their source and summit.

Placed Upon the Altar

Consecration from below is effected when, in obedience to an inspiration of divine grace, a person makes the oblation of all that he is and has by placing himself (symbolically) upon the altar. (See, for example, the rites for monastic profession and oblation described in Chapters 58 and 59 of the Rule of Saint Benedict.) This may be an act of personal devotion carried out in a private or even in a para-liturgical setting, or it may be an ecclesial act recognized by the Church and upheld and protected by the appropriate structures set forth in Canon Law.

Saint Augustine

Most helpful is Saint Augustine's definition of sacrifice in Book Ten of The City of God. There, the Doctor of Grace says:

A true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. And therefore even the mercy we show to men, if it is not shown for God's sake, is not a sacrifice. For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it sacrifice meant to indicate. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God.

Consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary

What then are we to make of the use of the same verb "to consecrate" in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, in reference to her immaculate and maternal Heart?

The Heart of Mary: An Altar

In consecration from above and in consecration from below, the altar represents both the place whereupon the victim is blessed, accepted, and ratified (cf. The Roman Canon), and the place whereupon the victim offers and immolates himself with the intention of belonging henceforth to God alone in a true and indissoluble union. I would suggest, then, that the immaculate and maternal Heart of Mary is, by way of analogy, both the altar from which God blesses, accepts, and ratifies one's self-offering, and the altar upon which one offers and immolates oneself with the intention of belonging to God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a true and indissoluble union.

Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

No single analogy is perfect, and that of the altar with the maternal and immaculate Heart of Mary is not without limitations. The most obvious of these is that the Heart of Mary is not an altar of cold inert stone, but a real heart of flesh and blood, pulsating with life, a Heart infused with and diffusing Divine Grace. The Blessed Virgin Mary actively receives and takes into her maternal care all who, by placing themselves upon the altar of her Immaculate Heart, consecrate themselves through her to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

This excerpt from the journal of a priest is an invitation to further reflection on the Heart of Mary as the altar of our consecration:

I offered Myself to the Father
from the altar of My Mother's sorrowful and immaculate Heart.
She accepted, consented to bear the full weight of My sacrifice,
to be the very place from which My holocaust of love blazed up.

She, in turn, offered herself with Me to the Father
from the altar of My Sacred Heart.
There she immolated herself,
becoming one victim with Me
for the redemption of the world.
Her offering was set ablaze in My holocaust
by the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, from our two Hearts,
become two altars,
there rose the sweet fragrance of one single offering:
My oblation upon the altar of her Heart,
and her oblation upon the altar of Mine.

This is, in effect,
what is meant when, using another language,
you speak of My Mother as Co-Redemptrix.
Our two Hearts formed but a single holocaust of love
in the Holy Spirit.

She offered Me her Heart
that it might be My altar,
and I offered her My Heart
that it might be hers.

Any soul desiring to be united to My sacrifice
must begin by consecrating herself
on the pure altar of My Mother's immaculate Heart.
This is the secret of union with Me in My Priesthood,
in My victimhood,
and in the one oblation to the Father
of our two Hearts.


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I began this morning a little commentary on the Holy Father's Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I will have to post it in installments as it emerges from my meditation of the text. Here is the first installment:

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Immaculate Mother

The Holy Father begins by addressing the Virgin Mary in reference to the singular privileges of her Immaculate Conception and her Divine Maternity. Conceived immaculate in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, the Blessed Virgin was, from the first moment of her conception, full of grace, and perfectly prepared for the further gift of Divine Motherhood that would be offered her.

Far from making her indifferent and distant to souls flawed and soiled by both original and actual sin, Our Lady's sinlessness makes her capable of a uniquely pure compassion and of a maternal love that doesn't recoil from intimate spiritual contact with the children of Eve who, in this valley of tears, fall and seek to rise again.

In This Place of Grace

The Holy Father acknowledges that Fatima is a place of grace, that is, a place favoured by God and visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a sacred geography spread over the face of the earth. There is a certain sacramentality of place. It pleases God, and thus pleases the Mother of God, to make of certain precise locations abiding occasions of grace. Clearly, Fatima, is one such place, but there are countless others. Some of these are hidden, humble, and infrequently visited.

Not so very long ago every Catholic Church had an altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God. Some even had a "Lady Chapel," a special space within the larger church graced with an image of the Most Holy Virgin. These local shrines of Our Blessed Lady were, in their own modest and unpretentious way, places of pilgrimage and of grace for people who could never have imagined going to Fatima, Lourdes, Loreto, Guadalupe, Rue du Bac, Jasna Gora, or Knock. How many candles were lighted before Our Lady in humble parish churches? How many furtive visits were made to the foot of her altar? How many tears were shed there? And how many graces and consolations received?

There is a monastic custom dating back to Cluny and even earlier according to which monks would daily make the rounds of the altars in the abbey church, taking special care to tarry before the image of Mary, Queen and Mother of Monks, Refuge of Sinners, and Cause of Our Joy. There are monasteries, even today, where in the pre-dawn darkness before Matins or after Compline, Mary's sons make their way to her image, there to pour out their hearts and to receive her maternal blessing.

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori recommended that the daily visit to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament be completed by a visit to the Madonna Santissima. Children need to be taught, from an early age, to approach the altar (or shrine) of the Blessed Mother in the parish church and to experience it as a place of minor pilgrimage, a sacred destination, a place of grace. Priests do well to give the example of praying before the image of Our Blessed Lady in the parish church. This humble expression of devotion to Mary, still common in my youth, needs to be recovered for the joy and upbuilding of the Church at every level.

Called together by the love of your Son Jesus the Eternal High Priest

Love attracts. Love draws. Love unites. Love calls. The Holy Father acknowledges that the multitude surrounding him at Fatima and, in particular, the bishops and priests who were present, have this in common: they were attracted, drawn, united, and called by Love. The priestly love of Jesus chooses certain men, calls them friends, and unites them to Himself and to one another in His sacrifice: priests made one with The Priest, and victims with The Victim. All whom Jesus the Eternal High Priest draws to His Heart are assumed into His holocaust. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (Jn 12:32). What is true here of "all men" is true, first, of His priests. When a priest is drawn into the mystery of Crucified Love, many souls are drawn there after him; and when a priests resists the drawing of Crucified Love, many souls are held back by his hardness of heart.

We, Sons in the Son and His Priests

The Holy Father's expression is reminiscent, not only of a recurrent theme in the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B., but also of the first published writings of the French mystic, Marie de la Trinité de Mulatier, O.P. (1903-1980). These appeared in 1986 under the title, "Filiation et sacerdoce des chrétiens."

"The world," she writes, "is most opposed to the spirit of priesthood, because it is by the spirit of priesthood that that the spirit of the world will be healed. It is, nonetheless, by the Filial spirit that we must begin, because we go to God only if He draws us to Himself. And the Father first sends forth His Son, before drawing us to Himself. We have no need of the spirit of priesthood to go to the Son, to the Incarnate Word. When we are in contact with the Son, then does the Son give us the priesthood so that, in Him, we may with all that we are, tend towards the Father and be received by Him."

By the gift of Filiation (by adoption) the Father offers Himself to us, precisely as Father. By the gift of participation in the priesthood of Christ, we can offer ourselves to Him in return. The priestly spirit flourishes in souls marked by the filial spirit of confidence, trust, love, and a holy boldness.

Before sharing in the priesthood of Christ, one must share in the grace of His Divine Filiation. While the grace of sonship is unitive, that of priesthood is consecratory. The filial grace and the sacerdotal grace are both perfected by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. By the former God unites us to Himself as beloved sons to their Father, and by the latter we make an act of oblation consecrating ourselves as victims pleasing to God.

"Priesthood and Filiation," writes Marie de la Trinité "are not rewards, but are pure gifts granted us . . . not for any pre-existing holiness of ours, but for the sake of a potential holiness. . . . Sinners that we are, fully conscious of our guilt, and graced by the goodness of the Father with the gifts of priesthood and of Filiation, we need not wait to be fully purified and restored before making use of these gifts, or before having completed the expiation due to the Holiness and Majesty of the Father."

Salted With Fire

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Msgr Charles Scicluna's meditation in Saint Peter's Basilica, in the context of a morning of Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests, will be of interest to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests and to other readers of Vultus Christi.

[Gospel texts: Mark 9:33-37, 41-50; 10:13-16]

The Gospel text gives us a brief description of the beautiful but sweet and tender rapport Jesus had with children. This scene, indeed central and emblematic for those called to be disciples of Christ, marks verses 36-37 of Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mark and is repeated in Chapter 10 in verses 13-16: "He took a child, and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms" (Mark 9:36).

"People were bringing children to him that he might touch them and he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them" (Mark 10:13,16).

Our presence here today, your presence at the Altar of the Chair, in the presence of the Eucharistic Jesus, echoes the love, care and concern that the Church, the Bride of Jesus, has always had for children and those who are weak.

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Guests Not Lacking

We are living days of grace here at the Monastery of Our Lady of Cenacle. Our guest accommodations are filled to capacity. Priests from Washington, DC.; Richmond, Virginia; Denver, Colorado; and seminarians from Tulsa, OK; Lafayette, LA; and Austin, TX are among those whom we are privileged to receive as Christ. On Saturday morning, we will be at Holy Family Cathedral for the ordination of Kerry John Wakulich to the priesthood, and of Jorge Alfonso Gómez Alvarado to the diaconate.

The Inner Monk of the Diocesan Priest

One of the emerging characteristics of our little community is the inclusion of clerical guests in the monastic rhythm of prayer, Eucharistic adoration, and even in the daily chapter, a conference on the Rule of Saint Benedict that follows Lauds each morning. A number of men have come to discover what Father Andrew Wadsworth so aptly calls "the monastic heart of the diocesan priest." The etymology of the word "monk" has to do with being single, alone, and singlehearted. In every diocesan priest there is an "inner monk" waiting to be strengthened, consoled, and built up for the sake of the whole Body of Christ and in view of the pressing demands of the sacred ministry in the parochial context. By the grace of God, this spiritual care for every priest's "inner monk" is something that we,
who are called to be both "inner" and "outward" monks, can offer the Church.

And for those of you who have not had a moment to read and meditate it, here is the Holy Father's magnificent address at last Wednesday's audience:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Called to Govern and to Guide

The Year for Priests is coming to an end; that is why in the last catecheses I began to speak about the essential tasks of the priest, namely: to teach, to sanctify and to govern. I have already given two catecheses, one on the ministry of sanctification, above all the sacraments, and one on teaching. Hence, it remains for me today to speak about the mission of the priest to govern, to guide -- with the authority of Christ, not his own -- the portion of the people that God has entrusted to him.

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Authority

In contemporary culture, how can such a dimension be understood, involving as it does the concept of authority and with its origin in the Lord's own mandate to feed his flock? What is authority really for us Christians? The cultural, political and historical experiences of the recent past, above all the dictatorships in Eastern and Western Europe in the 20th century, made contemporary man suspicious in addressing this concept. A suspicion that, not rarely, is expressed in upholding as necessary an abandonment of all authority that does not come exclusively from men and is subject to them, controlled by them. But precisely a glance at the regimes that in the past century sowed terror and death, reminds us forcefully that authority, in every realm, if it is exercised without reference to the Transcendent, if it does away with the supreme Authority, which is God, ends inevitably by turning against man.

For the Good of the Person

Hence, it is important to recognize that human authority is never an end, but always and only a means and that, necessarily and in every age, the end is always the person, created by God with his own intangible dignity and called to relationship with the Creator himself, in the earthly journey of existence and in eternal life. It is an authority exercised in responsibility before God, before the Creator. An authority thus understood, which has as its only objective to serve the true good of persons and to lucidity to the only Supreme Good that is God, not only is not foreign to men but, on the contrary, is a precious help in the journey toward full realization in Christ, toward salvation.

In the Name of Jesus

The Church is called and is committed to exercise this type of authority that is service, and she exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, who received from the Father all power in heaven and on earth (cf. Matthew 28:18). In fact, Christ feeds his flock through the pastors of the Church: It is he who guides it, protects it, corrects it, because he loves it profoundly.

To Guide, Animate, and Sustain

But the Lord Jesus, Supreme Shepherd of our souls, willed that the Apostolic College, today the bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter, and priests, their most valuable collaborators, should participate in his mission to take care of the People of God, to be educators in the faith, guiding, animating and sustaining the Christian community or, as the Council says, seeing to it that the "faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6).

Gentle With the Weakest

Hence, every pastor is the means through which Christ himself loves men: It is through our ministry -- dear priests -- it is through us that the Lord gathers souls, instructs them, protects them, and guides them. In his commentary to the Gospel of St. John, St. Augustine says: "may it be, therefore, a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord" (123,5); this is the supreme norm of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, such as that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, open to all, attentive to neighbors and solicitous toward those far away (cf. St. Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle with the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. Id. Letter 95, 1).

Living Friendship With Christ

If such a pastoral task is founded on the sacrament, nevertheless its efficacy is not independent of the personal existence of the presbyter. To be a pastor according to the heart of God (cf. Jeremiah 3:15) there must be a profound rootedness in living friendship with Christ, not only of the intelligence, but also of liberty and of the will, a clear awareness of the identity received in priestly ordination, an unconditional willingness to guide the entrusted flock where the Lord wishes and not in the direction that, apparently, seems more suitable and easy. That requires, first of all, the continuous and progressive willingness to let Christ himself govern the priestly existence of the presbyters. In fact, no one is really capable of feeding Christ's flock if he does not live a profound and real obedience to Christ and to the Church, and the docility itself of the people to their priests depends on the docility of priests to Christ; because of this, at the base of pastoral ministry is always the personal and constant encounter with the Lord, profound knowledge of him, conforming one's will to the will of Christ.

Hierarchy: Sacred Origin

In the last decades, the adjective "pastoral" has often been used almost in opposition to the concept of "hierarchical," exactly as the idea "communion" has also been interpreted in the very same opposition. This is perhaps the point where a brief observation might be useful on the word "hierarchy," which is the traditional designation of the structure of sacramental authority in the Church, ordered according to the three levels of the sacrament of holy orders: episcopate, presbyterate, diaconate. Prevailing in public opinion, for this reality of "hierarchy," is the element of subordination and the juridical element; because of this for many the idea of hierarchy appears in contrast to the flexibility and the vitality of the pastoral sense and even contrary to the humility of the Gospel. But this is a badly understood sense of hierarchy, caused also historically by abuses of authority and careerism, which are in fact abuses and do not stem from the very being of the reality of "hierarchy."

The common opinion is that "hierarchy" is always something linked to domination and thus does not correspond to the true sense of the Church, of unity in the love of Christ. But, as I have said, this is a mistaken interpretation, which has its origin in abuses of history, but does not correspond to the true meaning of what the hierarchy is.

Let us begin with the word. Generally, it is said that the meaning of the world hierarchy is "sacred dominion," but the real meaning is not this, it is "sacra origine," that is: This authority does not come from man himself, but has its origin in the sacred, in the sacrament; hence it subjects the person to the vocation, to the mystery of Christ; it makes of the individual a servant of Christ and only insofar as he is a servant of Christ can he govern, guide for Christ and with Christ. Because of this, whoever enters in the sacred order of the sacrament, the "hierarchy," is not an autocrat, but enters in a new bond of obedience to Christ: he is tied to him in communion with the other members of the sacred order, of the priesthood. And even the Pope -- point of reference for all the other pastors and for the communion of the Church -- cannot do what he wants; on the contrary, the Pope is custodian of the obedience to Christ, to his word taken up again in the "regula fidei," in the Creed of the Church, and must proceed in obedience to Christ and to his Church. Hence, hierarchy implies a triple bond: first of all, the one with Christ and the order given by the Lord to his Church; then the bond with the other pastors in the one communion of the Church; and, finally, the bond with the faithful entrusted to the individual, in the order of the Church.

Hierarchical Communion

Hence, it is understood that communion and hierarchy are not contrary to one another, but condition each other. Together they are only one thing (hierarchical communion). Hence, the pastor is pastor precisely when guiding and protecting the flock and at times impeding its dispersal. Outside a clearly and explicitly supernatural vision, the task of governing proper to priests is not comprehensible. But, sustained by true love for the salvation of each member of the faithful, it is particularly precious and necessary also in our time. If the goal is to take the proclamation of Christ and lead men to the salvific encounter with him so that they will have life, the task of guiding is configured as a service lived in total donation for the upbuilding of the flock in truth and in sanctity, often going against the current and remembering that the one who is the greatest must be made the smallest, and one who governs, must be as one who serves (cf. Lumen Gentium, 27).

The Humble Kingship of the Cross

Where can a priest today get the strength for such exercise of his ministry, in full fidelity to Christ and to the Church, with a total dedication to the flock? There is only one answer: in Christ the Lord. Jesus' way of governing is not that of domination, but it is the humble and loving service of the washing of the feet, and Christ's kingship over the universe is not an earthly triumph, but finds its culmination on the wood of the cross, which becomes judgment for the world and point of reference for the exercise of authority that is the true expression of pastoral charity. The saints, and among them St. John Mary Vianney, exercised with love and dedication the task of caring for the portion of the People of God entrusted to them, showing also that they were strong and determined men, with the sole objective of promoting the true good of souls, able to pay in person, to the point of martyrdom, to remain faithful to the truth and to the justice of the Gospel.

Give the Hope that God Is Near

Dear priests, "tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by constraint but willingly, [...] be examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2). Hence, do not be afraid to lead to Christ each of the brothers that he has entrusted to you, certain that every word and every attitude, if stemming from obedience to the will of God, will bear fruit; know how to live appreciating the merits and acknowledging the limits of the culture in which we find ourselves, with the firm certainty that the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest service that can be done to man. In fact, there is no greater good in this earthly life, than to lead men to God, reawaken faith, raise man from inertia and despair, to give the hope that God is near and guides personal history and that of the world.

In Labor Until Christ Be Formed in You

This, in sum, is the profound and ultimate meaning of the task of governing that the Lord has entrusted to us. It is about forming Christ in believers, through that process of sanctification that is conversion of criteria, of the scale of values, of attitudes, to let Christ live in every faithful. St. Paul thus summarizes his pastoral action: "My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!" (Galatians 4:19).

Pray for Me, the Successor of Peter

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to invite you to pray for me, the Successor of Peter who has a specific task in governing the Church of Christ, as well as for all your bishops and priests. Pray that we will be able to take care of all the sheep of the flock entrusted to us, also those who are lost. To you, dear priests, I address a cordial invitation to the closing celebrations of the Year for Priests, next June 9, 10 and 11, here in Rome: we will meditate on conversion and mission, on the priestly gift, sustained by all the People of God. Thank you!

Do Not Tire of Visiting Us

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Tonight, at least, I have no words to express what I perceive to be the significance of this Act of Consecration in the context of The Year of the Priest. I have nothing but joy, and an immense gratitude to the Holy Father.

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

We are mindful that, without Jesus,
we can do nothing good (cf. Jn 15:5)
and that only through him, with him and in him,
will we be instruments of salvation
for the world.

Bride of the Holy Spirit,
obtain for us the inestimable gift
of transformation in Christ.
Through the same power of the Spirit that
overshadowed you,
making you the Mother of the Saviour,
help us to bring Christ your Son
to birth in ourselves too.
May the Church
be thus renewed by priests who are holy,
priests transfigured by the grace of him
who makes all things new.

Mother of Mercy,
it was your Son Jesus who called us
to become like him:
light of the world and salt of the earth
(cf. Mt 5:13-14).

Help us,
through your powerful intercession,
never to fall short of this sublime vocation,
nor to give way to our selfishness,
to the allurements of the world
and to the wiles of the Evil One.

Preserve us with your purity,
guard us with your humility
and enfold us with your maternal love
that is reflected in so many souls
consecrated to you,
who have become for us
true spiritual mothers.

Mother of the Church,
we priests want to be pastors
who do not feed themselves
but rather give themselves to God for their brethren,
finding their happiness in this.
Not only with words, but with our lives,
we want to repeat humbly,
day after day,
Our "here I am".

Guided by you,
we want to be Apostles
of Divine Mercy,
glad to celebrate every day
the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar
and to offer to those who request it
the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Advocate and Mediatrix of grace,
you who are fully immersed
in the one universal mediation of Christ,
invoke upon us, from God,
a heart completely renewed
that loves God with all its strength
and serves mankind as you did.

Repeat to the Lord
your efficacious word:
"They have no wine" (Jn 2:3),
so that the Father and the Son will send upon us
a new outpouring of
the Holy Spirit.
Full of wonder and gratitude
at your continuing presence in our midst,
in the name of all priests
I too want to cry out:
"Why is this granted me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).

Our Mother for all time,
do not tire of "visiting us",
consoling us, sustaining us.
Come to our aid
and deliver us from every danger
that threatens us.
With this act of entrustment and consecration,
we wish to welcome you
more deeply, more radically,
for ever and totally
into our human and priestly lives.

Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth
in the desert of our loneliness,
let it cause the sun to shine on our darkness,
let it restore calm after the tempest,
so that all mankind shall see the salvation
of the Lord,
who has the name and the face of Jesus,
who is reflected in our hearts,
for ever united to yours!

Amen!

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Here is another excerpt from the journal of a priest that I quoted yesterday. Readers may find it a timely help as we move towards the end of the Year of the Priesthood.

I Make Myself A Beggar Before Them

"My Heart grieves over so many priests who have no desire to approach Me in the Sacrament of My Love. Their hearts have grown cold, but My Heart burns with love for them still. How I suffer from their coldness, their indifference, their lack of desire for Me and for the friendship I offer them. I make Myself a beggar before them. I plead with them to accept My friendship and to give Me each day but an hour of their time. So much of their time is wasted pursuing things of no value, things of no consequence, and I, all the while, wait for them to come to Me.

Will They Hear My Call?

Will they hear my call during this Year for Priests? Will they turn from the perishable things that fascinate them and hold them enslaved, and turn to Me who will make them truly happy, and Who will give them what no creature can?

A Revolution of Love

My priests are in need of a great revolution: a revolution of love. I have seen the lives of so many priests; I know their sufferings. Nothing is hidden from Me. I will raise up a company of faithful friends of My Heart, priest adorers of My Eucharistic Face. I will gather them together as once I gathered the Twelve in the Upper Room, and will speak to them heart to heart as a man speaks to the friends he has chosen for himself. I will heal those who are wounded. I will refresh those who are weary. I will sanctify them all, but only if they heed My appeal and, following the sound of My voice, seek Me out and learn to abide in My presence. This is how I will renew My priesthood during this year of grace.

One Hour A Day

I do not ask that my priests live all the day in church, as did my faithful servant John Vianney, but I do ask of every priest one hour in My presence, one hour in the light of My Eucharistic Face, one hour close to My Heart. Let them come to Me and I will do for them more than they can ask or imagine.

Come Into the Cenacle

I am calling My priests into My company. I am pressing them to come into the Cenacle and, there, to be radiant in the light of My Face. I would have them listen to the secrets of My Heart, to those secrets that I have reserved for this generation and for the joy of My Spouse the Church in this year of grace.

Console Me

As for you, be the consoler of My Eucharistic Heart. Abide in My presence. Speak to Me as the Holy Spirit moves you to speak. Listen to Me and receive the words that I address to you, words that communicate something of the fire of love that blazes in My Heart for you and for every priest of Mine.

Console Me, console Me, for My own have rejected Me. Console Me, for I am forsaken by those whom I chose for Myself, expecting that they would respond to My love with love, and to My tenderness with a like tenderness. You, at least, give Me all the tenderness of your heart, and know that My Heart is open to you to receive you and to be the sanctuary of your priesthood here and in the world to come."

--

Healing in the Sufferings of His Priestly Heart

"My Heart overflows with Merciful Love for my priests. There is not one of them for whom I would not suffer the most bitter betrayals and humiliations of My Passion over again, so great is My desire to see every priest of Mine made whole, washed clean in My Precious Blood and sanctified in the fire of the Holy Spirit. All that I suffered once -- especially the sufferings of My priestly Heart -- remains available until the end of time to the priests of My Church, the chosen friends of My Heart. My suffering remains for them a wellspring of healing, and from My wounds there flows for my priests a balm of purity and of love. If only My priests would approach Me and apply to themselves the merits and power of My most bitter Passion and of My most Precious Blood!

I Saw Each One's Sins

There were moments in My Passion -- the darkest moments of all -- when My Heart was crushed as in a winepress, beneath a weight of sorrow that no words can describe: when I was suffering particularly for My priests. I saw them passing before Me, a seemingly endless procession until the end of time. I saw each one's sins, each one's betrayals, sacrileges, and coldheartedness. I saw too those who lived and walked in the light; these were My consolation, and in each of them I saw the influence of My Most Pure Mother. She formed them for Me, and this she will continue to do until the last priest is ordained and the sacraments I gave My Church pass into the blaze of glory that they signify in time. I looked into the eyes of each of My priests. In some I saw a burning love and a desire to please Me in all things. I others I saw a mercenary spirit, an inability to move past the necessary organization of My Church into the mysteries for which she came forth from My wounded Side, and received the Holy Spirit at the Third Hour on Pentecost. In still others I saw a terrible indifference, a loss of the First Love, a betrayal of all that My priesthood represents. It is these who added immeasurable sorrow to the sufferings I endured.

Reparation

In this Year of the Priest I ask for priestly souls to console Me and to make up for what is lacking still in a part of My priesthood. For the coldness of so many I ask for an undivided and tender love. For the indifference of so many I ask for a holy zeal. For the irreverence of so many I ask for a renewed awareness of My Divine Majesty and of the holiness that befits My sanctuaries.

Return to the Wound in My Side

The time is measured and it will pass quickly. Let My priests return to the wound in My Side. Let them follow the beacon that shines from My Eucharistic Face to drawn them into My presence. I wait for them. With a great desire I desire their company and the consolation that only they can offer My pierced Heart."

July 2009
From In sinu Iesu, the Journal of a Priest

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The following excerpt from a priest's journal may encourage the readers of Vultus Christi to persevere in the work of intercession for priests before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, especially as this Year of the Priesthood begins to draw to a close.

"When you pray for any soul, begin by uniting yourself wholly to My perfect will for that soul and by entering into all the designs of My Heart on that soul. Desire only what I desire. Will what I will. Let your prayer be a way of harnessing yourself to Me so that we might work together for souls and for My Father's glory. This is what I meant when I called my dear friends to take My yoke upon them. I wanted them to learn to labour with Me.

By the prayer of adoration for My priests you are working with Me for them. You are working with Me to lift them when they fall, to bind up their wounds, to deliver them from bondage to evil, to open them to My gifts, and to obtain for them a greater openness to the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit.

Your union with Me in prayer lessens the resistance of many priests to entering resolutely upon the path of holiness that I am opening before them. When you represent My priests before My Eucharistic Face, you are obtaining graces for them, but also the grace to accept those graces that I long to bestow upon them. So much of what I long to give My priests is refused because they are unable to move beyond their fears and their self-absorption.

I would work marvels in every place on earth through the ministry of My priests if they would accept the graces that I hold in reserve for them. I would first purify and sanctify them, and then, by means of their sacred ministry, purify and sanctify a great multitude of souls, so as to make of them an offering of praise and thanksgiving to the glory of My Father.

Why do My priests refuse the gifts that I would lavish upon them? Many are self-sufficient, relying on their natural abilities and talents, and thinking that these natural gifts are sufficient for the success of their ministry. But their idea of success is not mine. And the means that they would take are not mine. And I have no need of their natural abilities and talents. I can do more with one poor priest who, like the Curé of Ars, is humble and utterly united to Me by ceaseless prayer, than I can with a priest who astounds the world with his knowledge and presents himself brilliantly in the sight of men.

When I find a priest who is open to My gifts, I lavish these gifts upon him. Nothing is lacking to the priest who comes before Me in his poverty, and even in his sins, provided that he give Me his poverty and trust Me with his sins, and expose all his weaknesses to the transforming light of My Eucharistic Face.

This is what I ask you to do . . . not only for yourself, but for all My priests. I am about to renew My priesthood in the whole Church. I will purify the sons of Levi in fulfilment of the ancient prophecy, not those of a physical priestly lineage, but those who have taken the place of the former priesthood, and who are one with Me in the everlasting priesthood of the Order of Melchisedek. I will change the face of the priesthood to make it resplendent with the light reflected from My Eucharistic Face."

23 June 2009
From In sinu Iesu, the Journal of a Priest

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Dear Priests,

The Year for Priests brings great joy to the Church and she thanks the Lord for having inspired the Holy Father to announce it. All the information which is presented here in Rome concerning the numerous initiatives taken by the local Churches throughout the world, in order to put this special year into effect, are proof of how this Year has been so well received and - we can add - how it has responded to a true and deep longing of priests and the entire People of God. It was time to give special attention, acknowledgement and commitment to the great, hardworking and irreplaceable presbyterium, and to each individual priest of the Church.

It is true that, albeit proportionately small in number, some priests have committed horrible and most serious crimes of sexual abuse upon minors, deeds that we must condemn and rebuke in an absolute and uncompromising manner. Those individuals must answer for their actions before God and before tribunals, including the civil courts. Nevertheless, we also pray that they might achieve spiritual conversion and receive pardon from God. The Church, for her part, is determined neither to hide nor to minimize such crimes. Above all we are on the side of the victims and want to support their recovery and their offended rights.

On the other hand, it is absolutely unacceptable to use the crimes of the few in order to sully the entire ecclesial body of priests. Those who do so commit a profound injustice. In the course the Year for Priests, the Church seeks to say this to human society. Anyone possessed of common sense and good will knows it to be the truth.

That being necessarily said, we turn now to you, dear priests. We want to repeat to you, yet again, that we recognise that which you are and that which you do in the Church and in society. The Church loves you, admires you and respects you. You are, moreover, a joy for our Catholic people throughout the world and it welcomes you and supports you, especially in theses times of suffering.

Within two months we will have reached the conclusion of the Year for Priests. The Pope, dear priests, invites you from the heart to come to Rome from every part of the world for this conclusion, on the 9th, 10th and 11th June next. From every country in the world! Shouldn't we expect many thousands of them from the countries nearest Rome? Do not, then, hesitate to respond to the heartfelt and cordial invitation of the Holy Father. Come to Rome and God will bless you. The Pope wants to strengthen the priests of the Church. Their presence in large numbers in St. Peter's Square will be a proactive and responsible way for priests to show themselves ready and unintimidated for the service of the humanity entrusted to them by Jesus Christ. Their visibility in the Square, before the modern world, will be a proclamation of their being sent not to condemn the world, but to save it (cf. Jn. 3: 17 and 12: 47). In such a context even a large number will have a special significance.

There is yet another particular motivation for the presence in Rome of numerous priests for the conclusion of the Year for Priests, which is found at the heart of the Church today. One speaks of offering to our beloved Pope Benedict XVI our solidarity, our support, our confidence, and our unconditional communion, in the face of the frequent attacks direct towards Him, at this moment of time, in the field of his decisions with regard to clerics involved in crimes of the sexual abuse of minors. The accusations directed towards Him are obviously unjust, and it has been shown that no one has done as much as Benedict XVI to condemn and to combat properly such crimes. Therefore, the large presence of priests in the Square with Him will be a determined rejection of the unjust attacks of which he is a victim. So then, come as well to publicly support the Holy Father.

The conclusion of the Year for Priests will not be, properly speaking, a conclusion, but a new beginning. We, the People of God and its shepherds, want to thank the Lord for this privileged period of prayer and reflection on the priesthood. At the same time we want to be alert to what the Holy Spirit wants to say to us. Meanwhile we will return to the exercise of our mission in the Church and in the world with renewed joy and with the conviction that God, the Lord of history, remains with us, both in crises and in new times.

May the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Priests, intercede for us and inspire us in the following of her Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Rome, 12th April 2010

Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy


No Boasting But in the Cross

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Maundy Thursday
Vesperal Mass of the Lord's Supper


April 1, 2010
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

"For us, no boasting,
but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
These are the words of the Church as she crosses the threshold
to enter into these Three Days of Awe.

"For us, no boasting,
but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
These are the words of every priest,
from our Holy Father Benedict XVI
to the very youngest and the very last frail man
anointed and set apart to make present the one saving Mystery of the Cross
on the altars of the world.

"For us, no boasting,
but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
These are the words of every priest
in this Year of the Priesthood,
a year of grace for the whole Church,
the year of a priesthood that has, in recent weeks
felt the cruel lash of a hostile media,
the sting of a bloodthirsty public commentary indifferent to truth,
and set upon reviling the very things we hold in deepest reverence.

"For us, no boasting" (Gal 6:14).
No boasting, that is, of anything that is ours.
For who am I and who are you to boast
in the presence of God offering Himself as a victim to God?
In the presence of God washing and wiping the feet of sinful man?
In the presence of God feeding us with His flesh
and offering us the chalice of His Blood?
Who am I and who are you to boast
on this the night of God's doing,
the night of the covenant?

At the beginning of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy
the deacon, turning to the priest, says:
"Father, it is time for the Lord to act!"
And so it is among us.
All is His doing, not ours.
It is time for the Lord to act!

"For us, no boasting,
but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is health and life and resurrection to us,
by whom we are saved and set free (cf. Gal 6L14).

If any one of us is sick; He is health.
If any one of us is in the grip of death; He is life.
If any one of us has stumbled and fallen low,
once, twice, three times or more,
He is resurrection.

If you are bound up and fettered,
if you are pushed down, or held back,
or laden with burdens too heavy to bear,
He is deliverance and freedom.

If you are oppressed in sin's suffocating narrowness,
He takes you by the hand
and tonight, yes, tonight,
He leads you out into the vast and spacious place
of His own prayer to the Father.
"This, Father, is my desire,
that all those whom Thou hast entrusted to me
may be with me where I am,
so as to see my glory,
Thy gift made to me,
in that love which Thou didst bestow upon me
before the foundation of the world. (Jn 17:24).

This is the birthnight of Eucharistic adoration,
the night of a hushed amazement,
the night of believing disbelief,
and of wordless wonder.

This is the night of God at table with man.
Not only does this Companion-God sit at our board to share our bread:
he becomes Bread in every mouth.

This is the night of the Blood of the Lamb
drunk first by those whom He calls friends
and then drunk, drop after drop, by Gethsemani's ancient earth.
This is the birthday of the Chalice,
the first wave of that immense crimson tide
that tomorrow will gush from the pierced side.

This is the night of the astonishing humility of God.
the night of God bending low
to wash,
to kiss,
to perfume the very feet
that will run from the fearful garden in the night,
and from the proud praetorium,
and from the Cross terrible against dark and heavy skies.

"Before you run from me,
O you whom I have chosen to run after me,
let me wash your feet," He says,
"and mark them sweetly with the imprint of my kiss.
'You did not choose me, but I chose you'" (Jn 15:16).

"This kiss to your feet is the pledge of my paschal absolution.
My feet, you will see them pierced by a nail;
yours, I would pierce them with a kiss,
that turning, you would come back to me
who have come so far in search of you.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back,
turn back to the Lord your God!"


Tonight our Priest begins his ascent:
the solemn procession to the high place of his preaching:
to the noble Tree
from which his voice will go out through all the earth.

Tonight our Priest, without leaving us,
enters the hidden sanctuary beyond the veil (Heb 6:19);
there He appears in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9:23),
taking not the blood of goats and calves
but his own Blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9:12).

Tonight the Paschal Lamb is set before us.
Tonight His Blood is given us,
not to be smeared, as of old, on doorposts and lintels,
but to sanctify our lips
and moisten every parched tongue;
to warm every heart grown cold
with a libation of fire;
to give sweetness for bitterness,
and boldness for fear.

Those marked by the Blood of Lamb,
those with the Blood of the Lamb wet upon their lips
and fragrant on their breath
have passed from death to life.

Every mouth sanctified by the Blood
is, in the Father's eyes, the mouth of the First-Born Son.
Every prayer uttered from Blood-blessed lips,
every kiss offered,
every sigh and every groan,
the Father receives
as coming from the Son, the Only-Begotten, the Beloved.
"In that day you will know
that I am in the Father,
and you in me, and I in you" (Jn 14:20).

The psalmist too sang of the Chalice and of the Blood:
"I will lift up the chalice of salvation,
and call upon the name of the Lord" (Ps 115:13).
Lifted up, it is our thanksgiving: a sun blazing red against the sky.
Pressed to our lips, it is our salvation: the antidote, the remedy,
one drop of which is enough to cure this weary world of every ill,
to wash the defiled heart of every impurity,
to heal the hearts oldest and deepest wounds,
the very ones we thought incurable.

The Apostle handed on to us
what had had been handed on to him.
O humble and glorious Tradition!
Ours it is to receive what he received,
(to transmit and not to betray,)
to cherish what he cherished,
to obey the commandment he obeyed,
to adore the mystery he adored.

"This is My body which is for you.
Do this in remembrance of Me. . . .
This chalice is the new covenant in My Blood.
Do this, as often, as you drink it, in memory of Me" (1 Cor 11:24-25).

This is the night of the new priesthood.
Awed they are, not quite understanding and not quite misunderstanding
the fearful spectacle of God bent prostrate at their feet.
He, sinless, kneels to absolve the sinner
while the sinner, seated,
has nought to offer but two bare journey-worn feet
and the story they tell of paths they have trod,
and places they have been.

"What I am doing you do not know now,
but afterward you will understand . . . .
For I have given you an example,
that you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13:7, 15).

Feet, these first priests of the New Covenant will wash,
but more than feet:
hearts caked with the hard crust of sin,
and polluted souls,
and faces bearing the traces of blood and tears.

Then we did not know what He was doing,
but now we understand the mystic absolution.
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).

For us, no boasting but in what Love has left us:
the Bread and the Chalice
making present His Sacrifice;
and priests with feet washed clean and anointed hands
to pronounce the Absolution,
and to lift high the spotless Oblation.

And behind the sacramental veils
shines the Face for which we yearn:
the Face of immolated Purity,
the Face of Beauty humbled,
the Face of the Priest,
the Face of the Victim,
the Face of Holiness,
the Face of Crucified and Triumphant Love.

In looking, adore Him.
In adoring, look at Him.
And so, pass over
from what is old to what is new,
from the land of heavy burdens to the land of freedom,
from darkness to light,
from sin to holiness,
from groans to jubilations,
from tears to laughter,
from sorrow to bliss,
from combat to peace,
from struggle to rest,
from death to life
It is the Passover of the Lord (Ex 12:11).

Letter to a Brother Priest

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Dear Father X,

You asked me the other day to write something that would encourage you to be faithful to your daily Eucharistic adoration. Here then are a few thoughts that came to me while at prayer. I share them with you simply, as one priest to another.

When you come into Our Lord's presence to adore Him, and when you prefer Him to the countless other things that solicit your attention and make claims upon your time, Jesus is consoled and glorified. The proof of friendship is the choice of one's friend over all else. Our Lord wants you to prefer Him, to give Him time that could be given to other persons and things. In so doing, you will show Him your love and offer Him the consolation of a true friendship.

The Lord Jesus asks this preferential love of all His priests. Friendship, if it is to thrive, must be practiced. This is as true of friendship with Our Divine Lord as it is of human friendships. Jesus waits for the companionship of His priests. With them He holds His priesthood -- and His victimhood -- in common. This is what makes the friendship of His priests so precious to His Sacred Heart.

With us priests Jesus shares the purest joy of living in the presence of His Immaculate Mother and of experiencing her maternal care in all the circumstances of priestly life. Given that friendship is based on treasured things held in common, Our Lord's friendship with His priests is unlike His friendship with other souls. The more we priests come to Him and linger in His presence, the more will He share with us the secrets and the treasures reserved for us in His Sacred Heart.

We priests are sometimes fearful of finding ourselves silent and alone in Our Lord's presence. When we come to adore Him and to offer Him the consolation of our company, He doesn't require that we speak to Him; it is enough that we remain in the radiance of His Eucharistic Face, allowing our hearts to go out to His Eucharistic Heart. If you have experienced this movement -- this leap -- of the heart to His Eucharistic Heart, and I trust you have, you will know of what I speak. Words are not always necessary. The engagement of the heart, on the other hand, is indispensable.

Weariness and fatigue are no obstacle to a fruitful time of adoration. They are incidental; what matters is the desire to seek the Eucharistic Face of Jesus and to abide in His company.

For one who loves, the time in Our Lord's presence passes quickly, storing up immense treasures of merit for souls. If you are offering your adoration in reparation and intercession for our brother priests, Our Lord considers the merits of your adoration as belonging to the neediest and most broken among them. Is that not the meaning of the prayer by which we begin our adoration here at the monastery?

Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
behold, I kneel before Thy Eucharistic Face
on behalf of all Thy priests,
and especially those priests of Thine,
who at this moment are most in need
of Thy grace.
(N. and N.)
For them and in their place,
allow me to remain,
adoring and full of confidence,
close to Thy Open Heart,
hidden in this, the Sacrament of Thy Love.

Through the Sorrowful and Immaculate
Heart of Mary,
our Advocate and the Mediatrix of All Graces,
pour forth upon all the priests of Thy Church
that torrent of mercy that ever flows
from Thy pierced side:
to purify and heal them,
to refresh and sanctify them,
and, at the hour of their death,
to make them worthy of joining Thee
before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary
beyond the veil (Hb 6:19)
where Thou art always living
to make intercession
for us (Hb 7:25). Amen.

Father, you will not see in this life the good done to the souls of Christ's beloved priests, our brothers, by your fidelity to adoration, but in heaven it will be revealed to you, and this revelation will cause you an indescribable increase of delight in His presence.

Be the adorer of Jesus' Eucharistic Face, and draw other souls, those whom He will send you, into its radiance. Thus will your priesthood bear fruit, fruit that will last.

In lumine vultus Iesu,

Father Mark

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I was inspired to offer a little commentary on the brilliant address that the Holy Father gave this morning to the International Theological Conference, "Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest," organized by the Congregation for Clergy. My remarks are in italics.

The Priest: A Man Strange to Common Opinion

In the context of widespread secularization, which progressively excludes God from the public sphere and, by tendency, also from the shared social conscience, the priest often seems "strange" to common opinion, precisely because of the more fundamental aspects of his ministry, such as being a man of the sacred, removed from the world to intercede in favor of the world, constituted in that mission by God and not by men (cf. Hebrews 5:1).

The Holy Father defines the priest as (1) a man of the sacred, (2) removed from the world to intercede in favor of the world, (3) constituted in that mission by God and not by men. This three-fold definition of the priest stands in marked contrast to any number of "spiritualities of priesthood" that have been marketed and, alas, too often consumed over the past forty years. The Holy Father's words remind me of the text of Father Lacordaire that I first read many years ago in the rectory office of my home parish where it was displayed in a frame on the wall:

To live in the midst of the world,
Without wishing its pleasures;
To be a member of each family,
yet belonging to none;
To share all sufferings,
To penetrate all secrets;
To heal all wounds;
To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers;
To return from God to men,
To bring pardon and hope!
To have a heart of fire for Charity,
And a heart of bronze for Chastity;
To teach and to pardon,
To console and to bless always.
My God! What a life!
And it is thine, O Priest of Jesus Christ.

A History of Grandeur and Holiness

For this reason, it is important to overcome the dangerous reductionism that, in past decades, using categories that were more functional than ontological, has presented the priest almost as a "social agent," running the risk of betraying the priesthood of Christ itself. Just as the hermeneutic of continuity is increasingly revealed as urgent to understand in an appropriate way the texts of the Second Vatican Council, similarly an hermeneutic seems necessary that we could describe "of priestly continuity," which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and going through the 2,000 years of the history of grandeur and holiness, of culture and piety, which the priesthood has written in the world, arrives at our days.

What a brilliant expression the Holy Father gives us here: an hermeneutic of priestly continuity. For two thousand years the priesthood of Jesus Christ continued in His Church has enriched the world with a history of grandeur and of holiness, of culture and of piety. This is a truth that, when it is not altogether forgotten, is certainly overlooked in the present crisis.

The Charism of Prophecy

Dear brother priests, at this time in which we live it is especially important that the call to participate in the one priesthood of Christ in the ordained ministry flower in the "charism of prophecy": There is a great need of priests that speak of God to the world and that present God to the world; men not subject to ephemeral cultural ways, but capable of living in an authentic way that liberty that only the certainty of belonging to God is in conditions to give. As your Congress has pointed out well, today the most necessary prophecy is that of fidelity, which, starting from the fidelity of Christ to humanity, will lead through the Church and the ministerial priesthood to live one's priesthood in total adherence to Christ and to the Church. In fact, the priest no longer belongs to himself but, because of the sacramental seal received (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1563;1582), is "property" of God. This "being of Another" must be made recognizable by all, through a clear witness.

The priest as prophet: he speaks of God to the world, revealing to the world the Face of Christ and His Heart. The priesthood belongs to God; he is "property of God." All that defiles the priest is a sacrilege, an affront to the holiness of God.

Worldliness Challenged

In the way of thinking, of speaking, of judging the events of the world, of serving and loving, in relating to persons, also in the habit, the priest must draw prophetic strength from his sacramental belonging, from his profound being. Consequently, he must have every care to subtract himself from the prevailing mentality, which tends to associate the value of the minister not to his being, but only to his function, thus not appreciating the work of God, who influences the profound identity of the person of the priest, configuring him to himself in a definitive way (cf. Ibid., No. 1583).

This particularly dense paragraph is an effective examination of conscience for priests. It addresses one of the chief temptations threatening the priesthood today: the temptation to worldliness. The priest stands apart from the world (1) in his way of thinking, (2) in his way of speaking, (3) of judging the events of the world, (4) of serving and of loving, (5) in relating to persons, (4) and in his dress. I cannot help but think of Saint Benedict's saying in Chapter IV of the Holy Rule: "Saeculi actibus se facere alienum," To make oneself a stranger to the ways of the world. The cry so often raised in clerical circles that "diocesan priests are not monks," does not stand up under the Holy Father's scrutiny. The so-called "secular" priest will be effective in the world only insofar as he is not of the world. Hear the very word of Christ: "They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world" (Jn 17:16).

Celibacy

The horizon of the ontological belonging to God constitutes, moreover, the appropriate framework to understand and reaffirm, also in our days, the value of sacred celibacy, which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Holy Orders (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," 16) and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches (cf. CCEO, can. 373). That is authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, sign of consecration to the Lord and to the "things of the Lord" with an undivided heart (1 Corinthians 7:32), expression of the gift of self to God and to others (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1579).

All of the tired human justifications for priestly celibacy that have been argued and found wanting -- it makes one more available for ministry; it affords a certain mobility; it is economically advantageous, etc. etc. -- pale in the light of the Holy Father's central affirmation: the priest belongs to God. He is a man set apart and made over to God alone. He places himself daily upon the altar of the Holy Sacrifice becoming one victim with Christ. The very being of the priest is a "sacrificium," in the sense explained by Saint Augustine in Book Ten of The City of God.

Prophetic Life Without Compromises

Hence, the vocation of the priest, which continues being a great mystery also for those of us who have received it as a gift, is sublime. Our limitations and weaknesses must lead us to live and protect with profound faith that precious gift, with which Christ has configured us to Himself, making us participants in his salvific mission. In fact, comprehension of the ministerial priesthood is linked to the faith and calls, ever more strongly, for a radical continuity between the formation of the seminary and permanent formation. The prophetic life, without compromises, with which we will serve God and the world, proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the Sacraments, will foster the coming of the Kingdom of God, already present, and the growth of the People of God in the faith.

The priest cannot afford not to be aware of his limitations and weaknesses. These cast him into a state of radical and ceaseless dependence on the all-sufficient grace of Christ. The grace of Christ deployed in the weakness of a priest is itself a proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God among men.

Only in the Priest

Beloved priests, the men and women of our time ask only that we be priests through and through. The lay faithful will find in many other persons what they humanly need, but only in the priest will they be able to find that Word of God that must always be on their lips (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," 4); the mercy of the Father, which is lavished abundantly and free in the sacrament of reconciliation; the Bread of New Life, "true nourishment given to men" (cf. Hymn of the Office on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi of the Roman rite).

Priests sometimes exhaust themselves in trying to be more than priests. The Holy Father makes it clear that only the priest who is content to be a priest through and through will be capable of meeting the needs of the faithful for the Word of God, the mercy of the Father, and the Bread of New Life. He does this by preaching, by forgiving sins in the Sacrament of Penance, and by nourishing souls with the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ. A priest who does these things is, in his own way, living out Saint Benedict's injunction in Chapter 43 of the Holy Rule: "Nihil operi Dei praeponatur", "Let nothing be put before the Work of God." All of the priest's other activities are ordered to these and flow from them.

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My dear brother in Christ, Vincent Uher, offered us a beautiful message and prayer today. Lest you miss it in the recent comments, here it is:

Courage, dear brothers and sisters! Even if our Holy Father Pope Benedict were the only light in the darkness, that darkness cannot overcome that light nor can it diminish it. And in addition to our Holy Father there remain among the clergy and religious many brilliant lights burning with the glory of Heaven. Think for a moment of those lights and how the darkness can never overcome the Light of Christ all over this beautiful and troubled world. . . . and even though some of us may feel like a dimly burning wick, Christ promises never to put it out and, again, the darkness cannot diminish even a dimly burning wick.

Let us shine before the Lord with His Light, and let us do so in confidence. And everywhere we go let us leave the encouragement of the Holy Ghost with friend and stranger, priest and pauper, bishop and Pope!

O Christ our Light, the one true Eternal Flame,
behold thy Bride the Church,
surrounded and assaulted, infiltrated and distressed,
and visit Her with the radiance of thy Holy Face
that all darkness and every evil
be cast out from Her good company
of faithful people, devout religious and her anointed priests
so that She be ready at thy soon-appearing
with lamps alight and hearts raised up;
for thy tender mercies' sake. Amen.

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Joseph

Like his baptismal patron, Saint Joseph, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, seems, at times, to stand alone in the night. One has the impression that, as the Year of the Priesthood draws to a close, the forces of evil are trying desperately to discredit the Holy Father and to disfigure the face of the Church. Days of shame and darkness have come upon Our Lord's beloved priests in so many countries. Could this not be a sign that the attack on the priesthood, that appears to be spreading and growing, is, in fact, in its final stages?

Onslaught and Triumph

We are witnessing, I believe, a diabolical onslaught against the Bride of the Lamb, an attempt to destroy her by attacking the most wounded of her ministers in their carnal weaknesses. More than ever, we must pray Our Lord to dispel the powers of darkness with the radiance of His Eucharistic Face. "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: and let them that hate Him flee from before His Face" (Ps 67:2). Our Lord Jesus Christ will undo the destruction wrought by the devil and his human allies, and He will cause His priests and His Spouse the Church to recover a glorious holiness that will confound His enemies and be the beginning of a new era of saints, of martyrs, and of prophets.

Prayer

Could we not offer the Novena in Preparation for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph for the Joseph whom God has set over the household of His Church: Pope Benedict XVI? It is no coincidence that, in these days of battle against the powers of darkness, the Successor of Peter bears the name of Joseph, protector of the universal Church. The providential designs of God are often revealed in such details.

I recommend the Prayer to Saint Joseph that Pope Leo XIII promulgated with his Encyclical Quamquam pluries in 1889. It is perhaps more suitable today than when it was written one-hundred-twenty-one years ago. In many places it is customary to pray this prayer after the recitation of the Rosary.

To you, O Blessed Joseph, we come in our trials, and having asked the help of your most holy spouse, we confidently ask your patronage also. Through that sacred bond of charity which united you to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God and through the fatherly love with which you embraced the Child Jesus, we humbly beg you to look graciously upon the beloved inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by his blood, and to aid us in our necessities with your power and strength.
O most provident guardian of the Holy Family, defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ. Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin. Our most mighty protector, graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness. And just as you once saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God's Holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity. Shield each one of us by your constant protection, so that, supported by your example and your help, we may be able to live a virtuous life, to die a holy death, and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven. Amen.

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I sometimes wonder if those of you who keep watch before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus for the sake of His priests, really grasp the significance of your adoration. Allow me on this Lenten First Friday of March to suggest something of what you are doing, and of what Our Lord is doing through you, when you persevere in prayer close to the tabernacle or in the radiance of the monstrance containing His adorable Body and Blood.

A Divine Work

You are participating in a divine work, in a work of grace. You are before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face as an empty vessel to be filled with the power and sweetness of the Holy Spirit, so that souls might drink of His Love and, drinking, know that His Love is sweeter than any earthly delight.

Intercession

You are before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face as an intercessor in whose soul the Holy Spirit is sighing with ineffable groanings, and obtaining from the Father, through Christ, the Eternal High Priest, all that the Father desires to give His priests in this world and in the next.

Reparation

You are a reparator opening yourself to receive the love that so many others ignore, refuse, or treat with indifference, coldness, and disdain. By offering yourself to the Lord Jesus in an adoration of reparation, you console His Eucharistic Heart, which burns with love and so desires to fill souls with His tender mercy.

Friendship

When you are before HIs Eucharistic Face, you are the privileged friend of His Heart, keeping Him company in His loneliness and allowing Him to share with you His sorrows, His grieving over sin, and His designs for a priesthood made pure and radiant with holiness.

Victimhood

When you are before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face, you are with Him a victim of love, handed over and bound to remain at your place before the altar with no desires or plans other than to love, to adore, to make reparation, and to represent all priests in a prayer that simple, and confident, and life-changing.

The Work of Christ the Priest

When you are in adoration before His Eucharistic Face, you are are not idle; you are working in a way far more efficacious than any human undertaking can be. This is your work and it is Christ's work in you. This is a work that many will criticize and not understand. You are before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus in a divinely active collaboration with Him, who from the Sacrament of His Love, continues His priestly mediation before the Father on behalf of poor sinners.

Never Doubt

Never doubt of the value of your hours of adoration. It is this that Our Lord is asking you to do, and He will draw from your presence in the sanctuary a great good and a superabundance of graces for His priests.

Confirmetur in eo caritas

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Chapter

This morning at Chapter (a daily reflection on a chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict) we read one of my favourite passages: "That the Abbot Be Solicitous for the Excommunicated" (Chapter XXVII).

Let the Abbot show all care and concern towards erring brethren because "they that are in health need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Mt 9:12). Therefore, like a wise physician he ought to use every opportunity to send consolers, namely, wise elderly brethren, to comfort the troubled brother, as it were, in secret, and induce him to make humble satisfaction; and let them console him "lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Cor 2:7); but, as the same Apostle saith, "let your charity towards him be strengthened" (2 Cor 2:8); and let everyone pray for him.

The Excommunicated Brother

First of all, what does Saint Benedict mean by "an excommunicated brother"? Saint Benedict so cherishes life together that he can think of no better corrective measure than depriving a brother, in whole or in part, of participation in the daily round of community activities and, in particular, of meals and of the solemn choral prayer. One might think of it as an adult version of the very effective "time out" that my brother, the father of three, uses with his sometimes obstreperous children.

Toward Repentance and Healing

Saint Benedict is not so much concerned with punishing offences as he is with bringing the offending brother to repentance and to healing. The measures prescribed in the so called "penal code" of the Holy Rule are medicinal and therapeutic, not punitive. Saint Benedict presents them as remedies for the variety of spiritual infirmities that can and do affect even the most fervent monastic communities.

Sapiens Medicus

The brothers in question are not iniquitous criminals; they are weak men who have fallen short of the ideal, frail sinners who keep on missing the mark, even after repeated admonitions and interventions. The first biblical passage that Saint Benedict quotes in this chapter is Matthew 9:12: "They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill." He describes the abbot (the father of the monastery) as a sapiens medicus, wise physician. He would have him use "every remedy in his power" to restore an ailing brother to spiritual health.

Salutary Intervention

In my own long experience of religious life, I have, more than once, witnessed situations in which a brother gave clear signs of delinquency; in which there was evidence of patterns of unhealthy and perhaps sinful behaviour; in which a brother by "acting out" was, in fact, crying out for help. Also, more than once, I have witnessed superiors turn a blind eye to the problem, refusing to intervene, even in cases where a wise and compassionate intervention could have brought about a real conversion of life and avoided scandal.

I know of one instance in which a student brother residing in a community other than his own was giving unmistakable signs of moral distress, unhealthy personal choices, and depression. The brother in question kept strange hours, failed to participate in community prayer and meals, and avoided the companionship of the religious residing in the same house. Although the superior of the host community had no canonical authority over this brother (who belonged to another religious Order), he certainly had an evangelical obligation to offer him the ministrations of mercy and of healing. Instead, like the priest and the levite of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the superior passed the brother by; he never sought out the brother for a personal conversation, and never attempted to intervene in a situation that had become a question to many. At the very least, he could have approached the brother in difficulty as a priest to a brother priest and said, "I sense -- or I know -- that you are in difficulty, brother. How can I help?"

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Over a decade later, this same superior, denounced the brother whom he had virtually ignored in the throes of a grave spiritual and emotional crisis. He destroyed the brother's reputation, causing untold anguish and grief. All of this happened long after the brother had recognized the error of his ways, sincerely repented, and begun to strive for holiness of life and emotional health. The superior, although a son of the Seraphic Father Saint Francis, would have done well to take a lesson from the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Consolers

Even when Saint Benedict is obliged to separate a wayward monk from the rest of the community to give him time to reflect, and also to prevent the spread of his spiritual malady to others, the wise abbot sends trustworthy elders to "secretly comfort the troubled brother, to induce him to make humble satisfaction, and to console him lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." Here one sees the magnanimity and resourcefulness of Saint Benedict; the abbot shares the duties of his spiritual paternity with chosen elders in the community. They are, as it were, the envoys of his mercy and paternal tenderness.

Charity and Prayer

When a brother shows signs of spiritual distress by disobedience, possessiveness, disregard for the Rule, or aggressive behaviour, that brother should not be judged, condemned, and forsaken. "Let charity be strengthened toward him," says Saint Benedict. The remedy is more love, not less. And, he adds, "let everyone pray for him." Charity and prayer can melt even the most hardened hearts, provided that those loving and praying, persevere and not lose heart.

The Care of Weakly Souls

The next section of Chapter XXVII reveals the Heart of Jesus living in the heart of Saint Benedict:

For the Abbot is bound to use the greatest solicitude, and to strive with all prudence and diligence, that none of the flock entrusted to him perish. For the Abbot must know that he has taken upon himself the care of weakly souls, not a tyranny over the strong; and let him fear the threat of the Prophet wherein God saith: "What ye saw to be fat, that ye took to yourselves, and what was diseased you threw away" (Ezek 34:3-4). And let him follow the tender example of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the ninety-nine sheep on the mountains, went to seek the one that had gone astray, on whose weakness He had such pity, that He was pleased to place it on His sacred shoulders and thus carry it back to the fold (cf Lk 15:5).

Paternal Solicitude

In dealing with the wayward sheep of his flock, the abbot is to manifest the greatest solicitude, that is, an almost maternal devotedness. For an abbot after the heart of Saint Benedict there can be no greater tragedy than the loss of a brother. I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Saint Paul: "I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great sadness, and continual sorrow in my heart. For I wished myself to be anathema from Christ, for my brethren. . . ." (Rom 9:1-2).

Father and Physician of Souls

The abbot is above all a father and a physician of souls. He is entrusted with the care of those bearing the burden of moral infirmities, and of weaknesses of soul and body. The abbot is not a tyrant driving the strong with threats and inspiring fear; he is a shepherd tending the flock with love and inspiring confidence. Saint Benedict warns the abbot of the sin of preferring "the fat" -- the gifted, the charming, the virtuous, the intelligent, and the comely -- and of throwing away "the diseased" -- the not-so-gifted, the trying, those caught in webs of vice, the unintelligent, and the unattractive.

The Lost Sheep

Saint Benedict enjoins the abbot to follow the tender example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine well-behaved and observant sheep, so as to search for the one who, deceived by the world, the flesh, and the devil, has lost his way in the mists of temptation. If that one sheep cannot walk, the abbot is bound to carry him on his shoulders and, perhaps, to keep him by his side until, at length, he recovers health and begins to give signs of newness of life.

Not Just for Monks

In reflecting on this chapter of the Holy Rule, it occurred to me that it could just as well apply to bishops and to their priests as to abbots and their monks. It might even apply to fathers and to their children. At the end of Chapter every morning I pray, "Stir Thou up, O Lord, in our hearts, the Spirit to whom our holy father Saint Benedict was obedient, that filled with tht same Spirit, we might love what he loved and put into practice what he taught. Through Christ our Lord." Would that all priests had a share in the spirit of the Holy Patriarch of Monks: self-sacrificing love, mercy, wisdom, patience, and zeal for souls.


Domus mea domus orationis vocabitur

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A Resolution

I apologize to you, dear readers, for my absence from Vultus Christi over the past few weeks. The task of settling into the new house and the duties of hospitality that, almost immediately, presented themselves, made it difficult to find time to write daily. One of my Lenten resolutions is to be more faithful to writing on Vultus Christi and this in obedience, not only to the Holy Father's desire that priests make good use of the apostolic opportunities offered by the internet, but also in obedience to my own bishop, who believes it important that I continue writing daily.

Visitors from Florida

The petite chronique of the last two months includes the visit of Father Jordi, Lourdes, and Tessie from Miami, Florida, as well as that of Mary from Iowa. Father Jordi and Lourdes, founders of the Community of Love Crucified in Miami, met with the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa and also addressed priests of the diocese of Tulsa on January 14th. Tessie and Mary offered support in prayer. Father Jordi stayed here at the monastery, while Tulsa's Spiritual Mothers of Priests, Sheila and Kate, offered hospitality to the ladies. Heartfelt thanks to all.

January Day of Recollection for Priests

The January Day of Recollection for the Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa was abundantly blessed. Father Jordi's message, and the challenging conference given by Lourdes, touched many priestly hearts.

Retreatants

Shortly thereafter, Father Rick Jones of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri arrived to spend several days in prayer, and on February 2nd, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a young Nebraskan, who graduated in 2009 from the University of Tulsa, began an extended period of observership in order to discern a vocation to this particular expression of Benedictine-Eucharistic life.

NAC Seminarian Sean Donovan, currently serving a pastoral year at Tulsa's Church of the Madalene, shared our life for a full week of retreat. Immediately after Sean's retreat, Father Gerard Dewan of the Diocese of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan arrived from Canada to begin his retreat.

February Day of Recollection for Priests

Last, but by no means least, we welcomed Father Basil Cole, O.P., of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., to address the priests of the Diocese of Tulsa for their monthly Day of Recollection on February 18th. Father Basil is the author of The Hidden Enemies of the Priesthood, The Contributions of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Father's stay was all too brief. Apart from his brilliant conferences, I especially enjoyed his contributions in choir, at table, and at recreation.

Et Haec Tua Dona

During all this time of comings and goings, Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa supplied us with a splendid variety of tasty casseroles, breads, salads, and soups. Thank you to each one. May the King of glory make us all partakers of the heavenly table.

Lenten Horarium

Some readers and friends asked what the Lenten Horarium is at 1132 East 21st Street in Tulsa. Here it is. You are welcome to join us for prayer.

HORARIUM FOR LENT 2010

4:45 a.m. Rise
5:15 Matins, Angelus

Lectio Divina

7:30 Lauds
Chapter

9:30 Tierce and Holy Mass
Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

12:30 p.m. Sext, Rosary, Angelus
1:00 Dinner / Kitchen duties
2:00 Rest

3:00 None

5:00 Vespers
Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

6:45 Supper / Kitchen duties
7:45 Compline Reading
8:00 Compline, Angelus


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The Holy Father's homily for Vespers on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is, as are all his homilies, a model of liturgical preaching. At the core of the Holy Father's message is the mystery of Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Consecrated men and women, be they hidden in the cloister, or engaged in the Church's mission to the world, are associated to the priestly mediatorship of the Lord Jesus and called, at every moment, to remain close to Him, at "the throne of grace."

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a celebration of a mystery of the life of Christ, linked to the precept of the Mosaic law that prescribed for parents, 40 days after the birth of their first-born, to go to the Temple of Jerusalem to offer their son to the Lord and for the ritual purification of the mother (cf Exodus 13:1-2.11-16; Leviticus 12:1-8).

The Only-Begotten Son Presented to Men

Mary and Joseph also fulfilled this rite, offering -- according to the law -- a couple of turtle doves or pigeons. Reading things in greater depth, we understand that at that moment it was God himself who presented his Only-begotten Son to men, through the words of the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as "salvation" of humanity, as "light" of all nations and "sign of contradiction," because he would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf Luke 2:29-35).

The Feast of Meeting

In the East this feast was called Hypapante, feast of meeting: In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized in him the Messiah so awaited, represent humanity that meets its Lord in the Church. Subsequently, this feast spread also to the West, developing above all the symbol of light, and the procession with candles, which gave origin to the term "Candlemas." With this visible sign one wishes to signify that the Church meets in faith him who is "the light of men" and receives him with all the impulse of her faith to take this "light" to the world.

A Life of Oblation

In concomitance with this liturgical feast, Venerable John Paul II, beginning in 1997, wished that the whole Church should celebrate a special Day of Consecrated Life. In fact, the oblation of the Son of God -- symbolized by his presentation in the Temple -- is the model for every man and woman that consecrates all his or her life to the Lord.

The purpose of this day is threefold: first of all to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; in the second place, to promote the knowledge and appreciation by all the People of God; finally, to invite all those who have fully dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has operated in them.

In thanking you for having gathered in such numbers, on this day dedicated particularly to you, I wish to greet each one of you with great affection: men and women religious and consecrated persons, expressing to you my cordial closeness and heartfelt appreciation for the good you do in the service of the People of God.

Christ the High Priest

The brief reading, which was just proclaimed, treats of the Letter to the Hebrews, which brings together well the motives that were at the origin of this significant and beautiful event and offers us some ideas for reflection. This text -- which has two verses, but very charged with significance -- opens the second part of the Letter to the Hebrews, introducing the central theme of Christ the high priest.

The Priestly Mediatorship of Christ

One should really consider as well the immediately preceding verse, which says: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14). This verse shows Jesus who ascends to the Father; while the subsequent one presents him descending toward men. Christ is presented as the Mediator: He is true God and true man -- that is why he really belongs to the divine and to the human world.

In reality, it is properly and only from this faith, from this profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the only and definitive Mediator, that consecrated life has meaning in the Church, a life consecrated to God through Christ. It has meaning only if he is truly Mediator between God and us, otherwise it would only be a form of sublimation or evasion.

The Consecrated Person: A Bridge

If Christ was not truly God, and was not, at the same time, fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would come to naught, and in an altogether particular way, the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman would come to naught. Consecrated life, in fact, witnesses and expresses in a "powerful" way the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a "bridge" to God for all those he or she meets -- a call, a return. And all this by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Father's Consecrated One. He is the foundation! He who shared our frailty so that we could participate in his divine nature.

Our text insists on more than on faith, but rather on "trust" with which we can approach the "throne of grace," from the moment that our high priest was himself "put to the test in everything like us." We can approach to "receive mercy," "find grace," and "to be helped in the opportune moment." It seems to me that these words contain a great truth and also a great comfort for us who have received the gift and commitment of a special consecration in the Church.

A Love So Great and Beautiful

I am thinking in particular of you, dear sisters and brothers. You approached with full trust the "throne of grace" that is Christ, his Cross, his Heart, to his divine presence in the Eucharist. Each one of you has approached him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what he has done for us. But you approached him, and every day you approach him, also to be helped in the opportune moment and in the hour of trial.

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I am inserting at this point the image of an heroic French woman, religious, and mystic: Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus (1901-1951). Yesterday, February 3rd, was, in fact, the anniversary of her death, her dies natalis. Like Saint Faustina in Poland, Mother Yvonne-Aimée was an extraordinary witnesse to the mercy of the Lord in the Church of the last century. She is, for all consecrated men and women, a model of burning love for Christ, humility in moments of misunderstanding and persecution, and greathearted hospitality. Among her many charisms -- almost too many to be catalogued -- Mother Yvonne-Aimée exercised a spiritual motherhood in favour of the souls of priests. This aspect of her rich life is abundantly documented in a book by her spiritual son, Father Paul Labutte, Yvonne-Aimée, ma mère selon l'Esprit. Personally, I have received many graces through the intercession and supernatural friendship of Mother Yvonne-Aimée. Her "little invocation," O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness, has been for countless souls a means of inner healing and growth in holiness.

Witnesses of the Mercy of the Lord

Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They have the vivid experience of God's forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. Because of this, also for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of "compunction of heart," of the humble recognition of one's misery but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love that never abandons. In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially of those who are far from God.

The Cloister and the Cross

In particular, communities that live in cloister, with their specific commitment of fidelity in "being with the Lord," in "being under the cross," often carry out this vicarious role, united to Christ of the Passion, taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.

At the Throne of Grace

Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and this all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful (cf Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Consecrated Life, 105). Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first "lost" his life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification, I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the "throne of grace." Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and his Word.

The Year for Priests

Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion, for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer.

This year of grace will have a culminating moment in Rome, next June, in the international meeting of priests, to which I invite all those who exercise the Sacred Ministry. We approach the thrice Holy to offer our life and our mission, personal and community, of men and women consecrated to the Kingdom of God.

In the School of Mary

Let us carry out this interior gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary: while contemplating her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, we venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by that God she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because totally of God. In her school, and with her maternal help, we renew our "here I am" and our "fiat." Amen.

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This morning His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the bishops of England and Wales on the occasion of their ad limina visit. His message was "gentlemanly" and firm. I was particularly moved by the connections he highlighted between the witness of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman and the Year for Priests. I pray that the Holy Father's request, that their Lordships implement Anglicanorum Coetibus by extending a warm and open-hearted welcome to those Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, fall into fertile soil. "Such groups," said the Holy Father, "will be a blessing for the whole Church."


From the Holy Father's Address to the Bishops of England and Wales


Much attention has rightly been given to Newman's scholarship and to his extensive writings, but it is important to remember that he saw himself first and foremost as a priest. In this Annus Sacerdotalis [Year for Priests], I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel.

You yourselves should set a similar example. Be close to your priests, and rekindle their sense of the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as alter Christus. In Newman's words, "Christ's priests have no priesthood but His ... what they do, He does; when they baptize, He is baptizing; when they bless, He is blessing" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI 242).

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Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.
Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue assume great importance in England and Wales, given the varied demographic profile of the population. As well as encouraging you in your important work in these areas, I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Nine

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Blessed Columba's Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

For those who already know of Blessed Columba Marmion's friendship and frequent spiritual exchanges with Désiré-Joseph Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926), it will come as no surprise that the Abbot of Maredsous, like the Primate of Belgium, stood in the vanguard of the mariological and liturgical movement that sought to recognize and venerate Our Blessed Lady as the Mediatrix of All Graces. Dom Marmion's reflections on the universal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while expressed with sobriety in carefully measured theological terms, are no less compelling than those of Cardinal Mercier. Both prelates promoted and lived a filial consecration to Our Lady that expressed an entire dependence on her all-powerful maternal supplication.

The Ninth Day of the Novena
Saturday, 30 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

God willed to give His Son to men only through Mary; so, likewise, He wills that all graces should come to them through Mary. As Bossuet put it very effectively: "As God once willed to give us Jesus Christ through the Blessed Virgin, and as the gifts of God are irrevocable, there will be no change in this order. It is and always will be true that, having received, through the charity of Mary, the universal principle of all grace, we shall continue to receive through her mediation the various applications of that grace in all the divers circumstances which make up the Christian life."
The Lord is therefore pleased when we invoke Our Lady as the mediatrix of His pardon and of His benefits. She is our advocate for His mercy. Her prayers and her merits constitute an intercession for us which is unceasing, so that for centuries Christian piety has proclaimed her "The all-powerful suppliant": Omnipotentia supplex.

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When we cast ourselves at the feet of Our Lady, we can say to her, "I am a priest . . . turn towards me your merciful countenance"; Mary sees in us, not only a member of the Mystical Body of her Son, but a minister of Jesus who shares in His priesthood. She sees her divine Son in us and cannot reject us; it would be to reject Jesus Himself. The priest can repeat, with even more confidence than the simple Christian, those beautiful words: "It is a thing unheard of that anyone who had recourse to thy protection and implored thy assistance was left forsaken."
When you feel that you are plunged into an abyss of misery, recall to mind the words of Saint Bernard: "When you feel the breath of temptation passing over your soul . . . invoke Mary . . . if you are troubled by the remorse of conscience, frightened by the thought of the judgment, if you are sinking into the depths of sorrow or discouragement, think of Mary: Mariam cogita."
. . . I would like to make this final point. Before drawing His last breath, Jesus entrusted His Mother to Saint John. In this moment of unique solemnity He gave His disciple a legacy which was supremely precious. And what was the reaction of the apostle, the priest to whom Jesus confided the care of His mother? As a son, "he took her for his own": Accepit eam in sua (Jn 19, 27).
Let us also take Mary for our own, as a son full of affection receives his mother; let us dwell with her, that is to say, let us associate her in our works, in our troubles, in our joys. Does she not desire, more than anyone else, to help each one of us become a holy priest and to reproduce in himself the virtues of Jesus?

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Eight

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Blessed Abbot Marmion's entire chapter XIV, entitled The Divine Office, in Christ, the Ideal of the Priest deserves to be studied, and meditated, and brought to prayer. I never tire of re-reading it. For this next to the last day of our novena in preparation for the anniversary of Blessed Marmion's holy death, I chose but a few paragraphs from a chapter that is, from beginning to end, pure gold.

The Eighth Day of the Novena
Friday, 29 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

The primary object of the Divine Office is to praise God, to pay Him homage. But, in His goodness, the Lord allows the soul who carries out this duty in faith and love to draw from it rich fruits of sanctification.
It is beyond all doubt, as experience teaches us, that the pious recitation of the breviary has the most beneficial effects on the interior life of the priest.
The first and most striking of these is habitual union with Christ in His priesthood of eternal praise. All the glory rendered to God on earth as in heaven ascends to Him only through Jesus Christ. We proclaim this great truth every morning at that solemn moment when we conclude the Canon of the Mass: Per Ipsum et cum Ipso et in Ipso.
When we recite the Hours in communion with the whole Church, Christ, as Head of the Mystical Body and centre of the communion of saints, takes up and unites all our praise in Himself. Even the blessed in heaven must avail of His priestly mediation to sing their heavenly Sanctus: Per quem maiestatem tuam laudant angeli. How imperfect and deficient is our giving of glory! But Christ supplies for our weakness. "If you put in His hands your poor effort," says Blosius, "your lead will be changed into precious gold, your water into the finest wine."

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Seven

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A Book to Own and Meditate

Today's passage from the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion is taken from Union With God, Letters of Spiritual Direction. It is available here from Zaccheus Press.

Sharing in the Passion of Christ

For the friend of Christ, for the member of His Mystical Body, for one baptized into His saving death, and nourished by the adorable Mysteries of His Body and Blood, suffering is a means of union with Jesus, Priest and Victim. In His infinite wisdom, the Father has reserved for each and every member of His Son's Mystical Body a certain portion of His Passion. Our Lord Jesus Christ asks His friends, one by one, if they will allow Him to suffer in them, to complete His Passion in their flesh and in their hearts.

The Holy Spirit

With suffering comes a great anointing. He sends upon one who suffers with Him, and in whom He deigns to suffer, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, so that one may be able to suffer joyfully and in the peace of a complete submission to the designs of His Sacred Heart.

For Priests

Our Lord chooses to have need of our sufferings and asks for them, in some instances, specifically for the renewal of the priesthood in His Church, and for the spiritual regeneration of priests weakened by sin and held in various forms of bondage to evil. To these souls, Our Lord says that, by their humble participation in His Passion many priests will be healed and purified and restored to holiness.

Freely Given

He does not inflict suffering, but He humbly and meekly asks for our "Yes" to it. "Will you," He asks, "consent to this work of mine in you and through you?"

Victimhood

Blessed Dom Marmion, formed by the contemplation of Love Crucified in his daily Way of the Cross, never hesitated to invite souls who sought spiritual counsel from him, to enter into the way of victimhood and to offer themselves to the Father in the hands of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest. The sufferings involved are not extraordinary tortures; they are the sufferings of the body, of the heart, and of the soul that are woven into the fabric of every life. They are the sufferings of the husband, wife, mother, child, sick person, and priest. They are the sufferings of betrayal, abandonment, failure humiliation, weakness, helplessness, pain, and uncertainty. And they are, all of them, infinitely precious in the eyes of the Father when united to the Passion of His Beloved Son.

The Seventh Day of the Novena
Thursday, 28 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

For what regards your weaknesses, your failings, the Good God permits them in order to keep you in humility and in the sense of your nothingness. God can always draw good from our miseries, and when you have been unfaithful and have failed in confidence and in abandon to His holy will, if you humble yourself deeply, you will lose nothing, but on the contrary, you will advance in virtue and in the love of God.
If everything happened you just as you could wish, if you were always in robust health, if all your exercises of devotion were performed to your satisfaction, if you had no doubts and uncertainties for the future, etc., with your character you would quickly become full of self-sufficiency and secret pride; and instead of exciting the bounty of the Father of Mercies and of drawing down His compassion on His poor weak creature, you would be an abomination in God's eyes. "Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord. You must therefore set to work. Our Lord loves you He sees into the depths of your soul, even into recesses hidden from yourself, and He knows what you need; leave Him to act, and don't try to make Our Lord follow your way of seeing things, but follow His in all simplicity.
Uncertainty, anguish, disgust are very bitter remedies necessary to the health of your soul. There is only one road that leads to Jesus, namely that of Calvary; and whosoever will not follow Jesus along upon this road must give up the thought of divine union. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
Take courage! I have as much need myself of these considerations as you have, for nature does not like sacrifice, but the reward of sacrifice namely, the love of God, is so great, that we ought to be ready to bear yet more in order to attain it.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Six

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Tomorrow will be the sixth day of our novena seeking the intercession of Blessed Columba Marmion. I invite the readers of Vultus Christi who are joining me in this novena to publish thanks for any graces or favours received through the intercession of Blessed Abbot Marmion by leaving a comment.

The Sixth Day of the Novena
Wednesday, 27 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

The priest is raised to a dignity which is, in a certain sense, divine, for Jesus Christ identifies Himself with him. His role as a mediator is the highest vocation in this world. It is worth repeating; if a priest did nothing during his whole life but offer the holy sacrifice piously every morning, or even if he were to offer it only once, he would have accomplished an act greater in the hierarchy of values than those events which convulse the world. For the effect of every Mass will endure for eternity, and nothing is eternal except the divine.

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We must orient our whole day towards the Mass, It is the central point and the sun of the day. It is, as it were, the focus from which there comes to us light, fervour, and supernatural joy. We must hope that, little by little, our priesthood will take possession of our soul and our life so that it may be said of us: "he is always a priest." That is the effect of a eucharistic life, fragrant with the perfume of the sacrifice which makes us an alter Christus.
How good it is to see a priest after long years of fidelity, living with the true spirit of the divine oblation!
There are many priests entirely dedicated to Christ and to souls who realize this ideal fully; they are the glory of the Church and the joy of the Divine Master.
If we also wish to rise to the heights of our priestly vocation, if we want it to impress its character on our whole existence so as to inflame us with love and zeal, we must prepare our souls to receive the graces of our Mass.
After years it may happen that some souls remark an habitual lack of fervour in the course of their lives. To what must we attribute this? Many reasons may be given. Remember that a radical death to sin, even to deliberate venial sin, is an indispensable condition for the definite triumph of charity in us.
Still, lack of effort to celebrate Mass every morning as well as possible is the most common explanation of a spiritual decline. In fact by the checking up of conscience which it pre-supposes and by the atmosphere with which it surrounds the sacred minister, the pious offering of the holy sacrifice affords the priest every day a providential opportunity to recollect himself, to humble himself, and to pull himself together. If we neglect this means, so well calculated to plunge us back into the supernatural current, we open the way more and more for the invasion of routine and mediocrity into our lives. On the other hand, so long as the concern to celebrate as well as possible remains in the soul, it will never be carried away in the drift.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Five

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Saint Paul and Blessed Columba

Although I am writing this on Monday, 25 January, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, it is intended for the fifth day of the Novena, which occurs tomorrow. Matins and Lauds, with their proper antiphons for the Conversion of Saint Paul, were glorious this morning. I had the joy of singing the very same office that Blessed Columba Marmion knew, and sang, and loved. Yes, there is joy in the hermeneutic of continuity!

Savour What You Sing

It is not enough merely to recite or read the antiphons of the Divine Office. Their unique penetrating quality, that which allows them to descend from the mind into the heart and become for us a "sacrament" of the grace of Christ, is intrinsically related to their musical treatment in the Church's liturgical books. One who recites the Office does not, of course, lose out entirely, but the difference between an Office chanted in the cantillations and melodies proper to the Roman Rite and one recited, or sung to other forms of music, is akin to the difference between reading a letter from a loved one, and holding a face-to-face conversation with him. To do this, I know of no better resource than The Gregorian Hours prepared by the Communauté Saint-Martin.

Even a diocesan priest, deacon, or layman who prays the Divine Office "privately" can benefit immensely from beginning to chant parts of it, preferably from the Antiphonale, The Gregorian Hours, or even the Liber Usualis. A first step in that direction is to recite the Office aloud, not in an easy chair, but standing, sitting, bowing, and kneeling as one would in a choral celebration. These simple means of improving the private celebration of the Hours can go a long way in making the Divine Office the principle resource of one's interior life after Holy Mass, and the privileged expression of one's desire to "bless the Lord at all times" (Psalm 33:2).

Blessed Marmion on Saint Paul

Blessed Columba Marmion was greatly devoted to the Apostle of the Nations. He knew Saint Paul's Epistles so well that the Apostle's words came to him spontaneously as he preached and wrote. For your meditation, here is a page from the chapter entitled, Sacerdos Alter Christus, in Blessed Marmion's Christ, the Ideal of the Priest.

The Fifth Day of the Novena
Tuesday, 26 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

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Of all those upon whom Christ conferred the signal honour of associating them with His priesthood no one has better appreciated than Saint Paul the amplitude and the depth of this vocation.
From the moment that Christ revealed Himself to the apostle, the world and public opinion no longer meant anything to him: "I condescended not to flesh and blood" (Gal 1, 16). He knew that he was the minister, the priest, the apostle, of Christ, "predestined as such from the womb of his mother" (Gal 1, 16). He writes to the Corinthians telling them of his life, and how does he describe it? As an unbroken sequence, a wondrous chain of sufferings endured for Christ, and of labours undertaken to make known the riches of His grace: "Thrice I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned." Perils of every kind marked his days: "Perils in the cities . . . perils in the wilderness . . . perils from false brethren." Hunger and cold and all kinds of miseries were his common lot. Besides all this he bore in his heart grave solicitude for the newly founded churches; the personal difficulties of his converts found their echo in his heart: "Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is scandalized and I am not on fire?" (2 Cor 11, 25 and ff.)
Despite these many tribulations, Saint Paul was not overwhelmed. How was it that he maintained his courage? He gives us the explanation: "Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Cor 12, 9). Elsewhere he says, "But in all these things we overcome because of Him that hath loved us" (Rom 8, 37). He had attained such a degree of union with the Saviour that he could exclaim: "For to me, to live is Christ" (Phil 1, 21); and again, I live in the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and delivered Himself up for me" (Gal 2, 20). If ever a priest understood the depths of the significance of the Passion and death of Jesus and the immensity of the divine mercy, it was the great Saint Paul. He spoke of himself as "nailed to the Cross with Christ" (Gal 2, 19). Now, he who is attached to the Cross is in very truth a victim.
What was the consequence of all this? He was able to say: "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me" (Gal 2, 20). Christ is in me; you see me act, but this zeal, these words are not from me; they are from Christ, Who inspires my whole life, because I have renounced all that I am in order to be completely His minister. By the grace of God I live by the love of Him Who has given His life for me.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Four

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The icon of Blessed Columba Marmion was written by the hand of Brother Claude, O.S.B., monk of Mount Angel Abbey.

Blessed Columba Marmion and the Word of God

Those who had the happy privilege of hearing Blessed Columba Marmion preach were struck by the abundance of the Word of God that, stored up in his heart, came to flower spontaneously in his discourse. Dom Columba Marmion was thoroughly steeped in the Sacred Scriptures. His familiarity with the Bible came, not so much through systematic study, as through the monastic life's daily round of choral liturgical prayer. Dom Marmion heard, and received, and held in his heart, all that the Sacred Liturgy put on his lips.

His Preaching

It was often remarked that Dom Marmion's preaching had about it a certain divine anointing, a penetrating quality that touched the heart of his hearers. When questioned about this, he would attribute it to the large place that he gave to the Word of God in his preaching and spiritual conferences. He was convinced that a copious and apt use of Scripture, informed by the Sacred Liturgy, invests a priest's preaching with a supernatural efficacy and with the power to move souls.

The Fourth Day of the Novena
Monday, 25 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

A priest taken up with his ministry has not much time at his disposal for supplementary study, but could he not apply himself every day to spiritual reading, to the lectio divina, as St. Benedict calls it? He will be astonished when he realizes after some time how much this daily application, even in small doses, can do to fill his intelligence with great thoughts, to warm the heart, and to maintain the soul in precious contact with the divine mysteries.
Holy Scripture, carefully read, and even learned by heart, will always be like a living fountain in the heart of the priest.
In the Eucharist the Divine Word hides Himself under the sacred species, clothed in majestic silence; in the Scriptures He communicates Himself to us under the form of human speech, which expresses itself according to the manner of our expression.
The Word of God in Himself is incomprehensible. Is He not infinite? In HIs Son the Father gives expression to all that He is and all that He knows. In the Scriptures we read only one small syllable of that incommunicable Word pronounced by the immensity of the Father. In heaven we shall contemplate this living Word, we shall be introduced into its secret, but even here on earth we must keep our intellect in a state of respectful attention to what has been revealed and to that portion of divine Wisdom which has been made known by the Holy Writings.
If you want to touch the hearts of your people, and do good, I cannot repeat to you too often the advice of Saint Paul: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly" (Col 3, 16).

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Three

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The photograph shows Joseph (Columba) Marmion as a seminarian at the Irish College in Rome.

Victims and Victimhood

For today's text from Blessed Columba Marmion, I chose an extract from Christ, the Ideal of the Priest, in which he presents the participation of the faithful in the offering of Christ. Many Catholics become fearful and uneasy when they hear the word "victim" or "victimhood" being applied to themselves. They misconstrue the word as somehow marking them for the most appalling mistreatment by a cruel God. The secular press and media often speak, for example, of the "victim" of a mugging, a rape, a kidnapping, or of some form of abuse. In the minds of many, this has distorted the meaning of "victim soul," a rich and theologically sound expression sometimes encountered in spiritual writings and in the lives of the saints.

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Sacrificial Offering

The theological sense of the word "victim" is a "sacrificial offering." Saint Augustine teaches that a sacrifice is anything or anyone entirely made over to God by being placed literally or symbolically on the altar. The Latin word hostia means victim in this sense; this is why we refer to the bread used in the Holy Sacrifice as the "host." The Eastern Churches call the bread for the Divine Liturgy "the Lamb."

Every Christian is called to make himself over to the Father as a sacrificial offering with Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Prayer Over the Oblations (Secret) of the Mass of Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest says this explicitly:

Haec munera, Domine, mediator noster Iesus Christus
Tibi reddat accepta;
et nos, una secum,
hostias Tibi gratas exhibeat.

May our mediator Jesus Christ, O Lord,
make these offerings acceptable to Thee;
and together with Himself
may He present us to Thee as victims.

The Third Day of the Novena
Sunday, 24 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

In every Mass the supreme mystery is, beyond all doubt, the sacramental immolation of Jesus; but the offering presented by the Church comprises in its totality, with the oblation of Christ, the oblation of His members. On the altar as on the Cross, the Saviour is the one victim, holy, pure, and immaculate, but it is His will that we should be associated with Him in His offering as being His complement.
Since the time of His Ascension, Christ has never been separated from His Church. In heaven He presents Himself before the Father with His mystical body brought to its perfection: "not having spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5,27). All the elect, united with Him and amongst themselves, live of the same life of praise in the light of the Word and in the charity of the Holy Spirit.
The mystery of unity and of glorification is prepared here on earth during Mass. The union of the members with the chief is still imperfect. It is ever growing and develops in faith, but on account of their offering with Christ, the faithful participate truly in His character of victim.
What do these words mean: "character of victim?" The mean that by uniting Himself to Christ as He offers Himself, immolates Himself and gives Himself to be our food, the Christian wills to live in a state of constant and total dedication to the glory of the Father. It is thus that Jesus imparts His life in the poverty of the human heart; He makes it like to His own, entirely devoted to God and to souls.
Among the faithful who assist at Mass some are inspired to a generous gesture; carried away by the example and by the grace of Jesus, they imitate Him unreservedly; their offer their being, their thought, their actions, and accept all the troubles, the contradictions and the labours which Providence disposes for them.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Two

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The Second Day of the Novena
Saturday, 23 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

Christ communicates to His priests something more than a mere delegation. He clothes them with His own power; He operates efficaciously through their ministry. That is why their priesthood is so entirely subordinated to that of Christ, but it is from this subordination that its supreme dignity is born; it is the reflection of the priesthood of Christ among us. The priest is entrusted with sacred gifts. And this is so in a double sense: to the Father he offers Jesus sacramentally immolated; this is the supreme gift which the Church on earth presents to God; to men he distrubutes the fruits of the redemption, that is to say he imparts to them the divine graces and pardons. The priest is associated with the whole work of the Cross, as the authorized dispenser of the treasures and the mercies of Christ.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

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The image of Blessed Abbot Marmion is a photograph I took of a painting in the Irish College in Rome in 2006. I remain grateful to The Reverend Father Bernard Healy for the opportunity he gave me to make my "Marmion pilgrimage" to the Irish College.

January 30, 2010 will be the 87th anniversary of the death of Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B. His liturgical feast, however, is celebrated on October 3rd, the anniversary of his reception of the abbatial blessing in 1909. In observance of his dies natalis (heavenly birthday), I propose the following novena, composed in the context of this Year of the Priest from the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion in his classic, Christ, the Ideal of the Priest.

The First Day of the Novena
Friday, 22 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

If anyone should say to you: "To aspire to such elevation of soul is beyond my capacity, I must give up the idea," you should rely firmly: "Yes, it is impossible for you if you must rely on your natural strength and without allowing the necessary length of time." But so powerful is the action of Christ, so sanctifying the influence of a Mass well celebrated, of Holy Communion, of the atmosphere of prayer and of noble generosity in which the priestly life is normally lived, that you must fill your heart with unlimited confidence. If you show even a little fidelity to Him, Christ, by His grace, will raise you up.
Even if your life as a priest appears mediocre in the eyes of some -- the world often judges thus -- you may be sure that, in the eyes of God, it is great and agreeable because the Father sees in it the image of the life of His Son. "For you are dead: and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3, 3).

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.


Immaculata Victrix

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In the spiritual combat that is the daily experience of so many priests, nothing can take the place of a confident recourse to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. By begging Our Lord Jesus to grant His priests victory through the intervention and intercession of His Mother, we glorify His own desire to see her unique and irreplaceable role acknowledged and glorified.

O my Jesus,
save and sanctify all Thy priests!
Let not one of those whom Thou hast chosen
and anointed for Thyself be lost.
Let not the Evil One,
the sworn enemy of our souls,
overcome them,
but, rather, let Thy Immaculate Mother
crush the head of the ancient serpent,
and, by her constant intercession,
preserve Thy priests in purity and in holiness of life. Amen.

Am I not here who am your Mother?

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At Clear Creek

Brother Juan Diego and I have been at Clear Creek Monastery for the past few days. I have been preaching a retreat to the Benedictine Oblate Sisters of Clear Creek; Brother Juan Diego was welcomed into the choir novitiate. The Sisters' convent, named for Mary, Queen of Angels, is directly across the road from the gateway to the monastery.

Clear Creek celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe as a minor solemnity with First Vespers, a procession after Tierce, and Solemn High Mass. At the Hours there are proper antiphons, magnificently suited to today's feast.

Our Mother of Guadalupe

I have always found immense comfort in Our Lady's words to Juan Diego:

"Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness, or accident, or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else?" (Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego)

She Will Never Disappoint You

These words of Our Blessed Mother to Saint Juan Diego are echoed in the words attributed to Our Lord in the journal of a priest: "My Mother watches over you. She is your advocate and your perpetual help. Go to her confidently with whatever troubles you. Go to her with your doubts, your worries, and your fears. Trust in her maternal heart is never misplaced, and she will never disappoint you." To the same priest Our Lady once said, "Be prudent, but without fear, because I am your Mother. . . . Trust in my protection. Yes, I am your Mother of Perpetual Help, ever ready to come to your rescue, ever ready to provide for your needs, to deliver you from danger, and to console you in sorrow. Approach me with childlike confidence and you will never be disappointed."

The Holy Spirit and Our Lady

And again, Our Lord said, "Your union with Me will take place through My Immaculate Mother and by the gentle but continuous operations of the Holy Spirit in your soul. Together, the Holy Spirit and My Immaculate Mother put themselves at the service of souls who seek union with Me. Is not this a wonderful thing? God the Holy Spirit, the Source of Holiness in creatures and the Substantial Love by which My Father and I are eternally one, puts Himself at the service of a finite and sinful creature to bring about a union with Me that is the perfect expression in a human soul of the union of My human Soul and of My Divinity with My Father."

When I first read this, it rather astonished me. Then I recalled Our Lord's words in John 14:20-23: "In that day you shall know, that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. . . . And he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. . . . If anyone love Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make our abode with him." And again in John 17:21: "That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they may also be one in Us." Our union with Christ is patterned after His union with the Father and is, at the same time, the means of union with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

A Springtime of Holiness in the Church

Continuing in the same journal, I read: "And in this work of uniting a soul to Me, no one can take the place of My most pure and loving Mother. She is the Mediatrix of all graces, and just as no one can come to the Father except through Me, so too can no one come to Me except through her in whose virginal womb I took flesh. If only my Mother's role and the greatness of her work, even now, from her place in heaven, were better known! Then there would be a great springtime of holiness in My Church and, first of all, among my priests, for I have entrusted each one of them to her as to the most attentive and compassionate of mothers. All the resources of her Immaculate Heart, full of grace, are a the service of her motherhood of the souls of My priests. Priests have the right and privilege of calling upon My Mother in every need, trial, failure, and sin, confident of receiving from her help and solace, mercy and healing, comfort and peace."

The Secret of Priestly Holiness

"Too few of my priests have entered into the relationship of filial love and of spousal intimacy with My Most Holy Mother, that I desire for them, and from which their holiness will flow as from a spring. In a word, this relationship with My Most Pure Mother is the secret of priestly holiness. My priests have only to seek Mary, My Mother, and all the rest will be given them in abundance. The greatest saints knew this, but today many priestly hearts have grown dark and cold, and their relationship with My Mother, which is to be a reproduction of my own relationship with her, is almost non-existent."

For the Joy of the Church and the Glory of the Father

"The renewal of holiness in my priests will come about as I have promised, only when they become little and childlike, and consecrate themselves entirely to My Mother's Immaculate Heart. Their hearts need her Heart. That is my message today. That is what I so desire my priests to learn and to put into practice. Those who do this will quickly advance in holiness and their virtues will shine for the joy of the Church and for the glory of My Father in heaven."

Priests Who Pray

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His Eminence, Claudio Cardinal Hummes, addressed the following letter to priests for the month of December in this Year of the Priest. My own comments are in italics.

Dear Priests,

Prayer necessarily occupies a central place in the life of the priest. This is not hard to understand, since prayer fosters the disciple's intimacy with his Master, Jesus Christ. We all know that when prayer lessens, faith is weakened and the ministry loses content and meaning. The essential consequence of this is that the priest will have less joy and less happiness in his daily ministry. It is as if, following Jesus along the road, the priest, who walks along with many others, were to begin to lag behind bit by bit and so distance himself from the Master, even losing sight of him on the horizon. From that moment he will find himself lost and uncertain.

Yes, a priest who neglects prayer will become weak in faith, joyless, and uncertain of the very things that should be life giving for him. At the origin of every crisis in the life of a priest is a lack of prayer, that is, of conscious surrender to the Friendship of Christ. Nowhere can a priest experience the Friendship of Christ more effectively than in the radiance of His Eucharistic Face. Priests who pray daily, for one hour, before the Blessed Sacrament attest to the purifying, healing, and transforming effect of such prayer on their lives.

St. John Chrysostom, in a homily commenting on the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, observes wisely: "The devil attacks the shepherd. In fact, if by killing the sheep the flock is reduced, by instead eliminating the shepherd he will destroy the entire flock." This statement makes one think about many contemporary situations. Chrysostom warns us that the lessening of the shepherds will and does make the number of the faithful and of communities decrease. Without shepherds our communities will be destroyed!

The Evil One hates the priests of Jesus Christ, and will do everything in his power to drag or push them into patterns of sin, to confuse their thinking, to corrupt their hearts, and to destroy their confidence in the Mercy of God. Who then, among priests, can be saved? The priest who takes refuge beneath the mantle of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, his Mother and his Advocate. The priest who cherishes Mary with a love that is at once filial and spousal. Mary's most precious gift to her priests is a gentle, but compelling, inclination to prayer. Saint Benedict speaks in the Holy Rule of "falling frequently to prayer." This is, I think, a distinctively Marian grace.

But here I would like above all to talk about the needfulness of prayer so that, as Chrysostom might say, the shepherds can defeat the devil and so that they are not lessened. Truly, without the vital food of prayer the priest becomes sick, the disciple does not find the strength to follow the Master, and thus dies of hunger. As a consequence his flock is scattered, and dies in its own turn.

Priests who pray generate communities that pray. A prayerful priest will generate a praying parish. Where priest and people persevere together in prayer, with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is poured out in abundance, quickening the life of the Church, and causing the face of the Church to shine with joy even in the midst of great sufferings.

In fact every priest finds an essential reference point in the ecclesial community. He is a very special disciple of the Lord who called him and who, by the sacrament of Order, configured him to Himself as Head and Shepherd of the Church. Christ is the one Shepherd, but he has deigned to make the Twelve and their Successors partake in His Ministry, amongst whom Priests also participate in this sacrament, albeit in a lower grade, in such a way that they also take part in the ministry of Christ, Head and Shepherd. This carries with it an essential bond between the priest and the ecclesial community. He cannot do any less than his duty, since without a shepherd the community withers. Rather, following the example of Moses, he must be found with his arms raised to Heaven in prayer so that the people will not perish.

This paragraph causes me to think, not only of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, but also of Saint Gaetano Catanoso, and of the vast brotherhood of parish priests who, though uncanonised and unsung, prayed their flocks into a great holiness. I am reminded of the example of Father Edgar J. Farrell, whose Mass I often served as a boy; he would prepare for Holy Mass with prayer, kneeling at his prie-dieu in the sacristy, and prolong his thanksgiving after Mass. In recent years, the "Protestant" custom of greeting the faithful at the door of the church after Holy Mass has become widespread. We ought to recover, it seems to me, the paradigm of the recollected priest, intent on making his thanksgiving after Mass in the sanctuary, in view of his people. How much more fruitful would this be than the banal greeting and trivial remarks at the door of the church.

It is for this reason that the priest, if he is to remain faithful to Christ and faithful to the community, must be a man of prayer, a man who lives close to the Lord. Moreover, he needs to be strengthened by the prayer of the Church and of every Christian. Let the sheep pray for their shepherd! When the shepherd becomes aware that his life of prayer is weakening, it is time for him to turn to the Holy Spirit and to beseech like the poor of heart. The Spirit will rekindle the fire in his heart. He will rekindle the passion and the enchantment of the Lord, who is ever present and wishes to eat with him.

Surrounding every priest who prays is a community that prays for him and with him. The criticism of priests often leads to sins of rash judgment, defamation, and slander. The temptation to speak ill of a priest can become, in effect, an invitation to pray for him, to fast for him, and to represent him before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, close to His Open Heart.

We wish to pray with and for priests in this Year for Priests with perseverance and great love. To this end, the Congregation for the Clergy celebrates a Eucharistic-Marian Hour for and with priests, at 4 p.m. in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, Rome, each first Thursday of the month during the Year for Priests. Many people joyfully come to pray with us.

The Spiritual Mothers of the Diocese of Tulsa have taken a similar initiative and, in our embryonic monastery, Brother Juan Diego and I dedicate each Thursday, in a special way, to adoration and reparation for priests.

Dear Priests, the Nativity of Jesus Christ draws near. I wish to express my best and heartfelt good wishes to you for a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year 2010. The Child Jesus lying in the manger invites us to renew this closeness with him of a friend and disciple, so as to send us out again as his evangelizers.

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy

[Translation distributed by the Congregation for Clergy]

The Filial Obedience of the Priest

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Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, Secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, addresed the following letter to the priests of the Church on November 18th.

"Do you promise filial respect and obedience to me and my successors?"


From the Vatican, 18 November, 2009

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,

The Offering of One's Will to Another

Even if they are not bound by a Solemn Vow of obedience, ordinands profess a "promise" of "filial respect and obedience" to their own Ordinary and his Successors. If the theological standing of a Vow and a promise is different, the total and definitive moral obligation is identical, and likewise identical is the offering of one's will to the will of Another: to the Divine will, mediated through the Church.

In a time such as ours, marked as it is by relativism and democraticism, by various forms of autonomous individualism and libertinism, such a promise of obedience appears ever more incomprehensible to the prevailing mindset. It is not rare for it to be conceived as a diminution of dignity and human freedom, as perseverance in obsolete forms, typical of a society incapable of authentic emancipation.

Filial Respect

We who live authentic obedience know well that this is not the case. Obedience in the Church is never contrary to the dignity and respect of the person, nor must it ever be understood as an abandonment of responsibility or as a surrender. The Rite utilizes a fundamental adjective for the right understanding of such a promise; it defines obedience only after mentioning "respect", and this with the adjective "filial".

Clemency and Respect

Now the term "son", in every language, is a relative name, which implies, specifically, the relationship of a father and a son. It is in this context that the obedience we have promised must be understood. It is a context in which the father is called to truly be a father, and the son to recognize his own sonship and the beauty of the fatherhood that has been given to him. As happens in the law of nature, no one chooses his own father, nor does one choose one's own sons. Therefore, we are all called, fathers and sons, to have a supernatural regard for one another, one of great reciprocal clemency and respect, that is to say the capacity to look at the other keeping always in mind the good Teacher who has brought him into being, and who always, ultimately, moulds him. Respect is, by definition, simply this: to look at someone while keeping Another in mind!

Conversion and New Life

It is only in the context of "filial respect" that an authentic obedience is possible, one which is not only formal, a mere execution of orders, but one which is ardent, complete, attentive, which can really bring forth the fruits of conversion and of "new life" in him who lives it.

In the Church

The promise is to the Ordinary at the time of ordination and to his "Successors", since the Church always draws back from an excessive personalism: She has at heart the person, but not the subjectivism that detracts from the power and the beauty, both historical and theological, which characterize the Institution of obedience. The Spirit resides also in the institution, since it is of divine origin. The institution is charismatic, of its very nature, and thus to be freely bound by it in time (the Successors) means to "remain in the truth", to persevere in Him, present and operative in his living body, the Church, in the beauty of the continuity of time, of ages, which joins us enduringly to Christ and to his Apostles.

Through Our Lady

Let us ask of the Handmaid of the Lord, the obedient one par excellence, of her who, even in weariness, sang her "Behold, do with me according to your Word", the grace of a filial obedience, entire, joyful, and ready; an obedience which frees us from being the protagonists of our own selves and which can show the world that it is truly possible to give all to Christ and to be men fully real and authentic.

Mauro Piacenza
Titular Archbishop of Vittoriana
Secretary

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At no time and in no place does the particular vocation of our little monastery come into focus more clearly than on Thursdays when we succeed each other in adoration and reparation before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face, repeating at the beginning of our watch:

Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
behold, I kneel before Thy Eucharistic Face
on behalf of all Thy priests:
(Fathers N. and N.)
and especially those priests of Thine,
who at this moment are most in need
of Thy grace.
For them and in their place,
allow me to remain,
adoring and full of confidence,
close to Thy Open Heart,
hidden in this, the Sacrament of Thy Love.

Through the Sorrowful and Immaculate
Heart of Mary,
our Advocate and the Mediatrix of All Graces,
pour forth upon all the priests of Thy Church
that torrent of mercy that ever flows
from Thy pierced side:
to purify and heal them,
to refresh and sanctify them,
and, at the hour of their death,
to make them worthy of joining Thee
before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary
beyond the veil (Hb 6:19)
where Thou art always living
to make intercession
for us (Hb 7:25). Amen.

An adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus is happy to take his place before the altar. He makes his own the psalmist's inspired words:

My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee:
thy face, O Lord, will I still seek.
Turn not away thy face from me.
(Psalm 26: 8-9)

Behold, O God our protector: and look on the face of thy Christ.
For better is one day in thy courts above thousands.
(Psalm 83:9-10)

I am always with thee.
Thou hast held me by my right hand;
and by thy will thou hast conducted me, and with thy glory thou hast received me.
For what have I in heaven? and besides thee what do I desire upon earth?
For thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away:
thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever.
For behold they that go far from thee shall perish:
thou hast destroyed all them that are disloyal to thee.
But it is good for me to adhere to my God, to put my hope in the Lord God:
That I may declare all thy praises, in the gates of the daughter of Sion.
(Psalm 72: 24-28)

An adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus opens his inmost soul to the radiance of Our Lord's sacramental countenance. He exposes himself to the One who is exposed before his eyes, and asks to be wounded with the love of His Eucharistic Heart. Enboldened by the words of the Bridegroom in the Canticle, he dares to pray:

"Wound my heart with the love of the Eucharistic Heart.
Make me completely Thine.
Unite me to Thyself in the indestructible bond of Thy Divine Friendship.
Do for me, and in me, and through me,
all that Thou desirest to do for, and in, and through each one of Thy priests.
Let me offer myself to the Mercy which others refuse;
let me believe in the Love that others doubt;
let me accept the Friendship that others ignore
because I am a poor sinner amidst poor sinners,
and because I, even more than others,
have betrayed Thy Mercy, spurned Thy Love, and abused Thy Friendship.

My confidence is immense
because Thou art Love
and because Thou offerest the Friendship of Thy Heart
even to those sinners who have offended Thee most grievously.
Remove then from my soul every obstacle to Thy grace
and every resistance to Thy loving friendship,
until I am completely and forever Thine,
for Thy glory
and for the sake of Thy beloved priests.
Amen."

An adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus prays as the Holy Spirit inspires him to pray: at times in an adoring silence, at times groaning and in tears, and at times in words as they are given him to utter.

Beloved Jesus,
Thou knowest all things and Thou searchest the hearts of men,
despising iniquity, and ready, at every moment,
to purify and heal tem
by a powerful and gentle infusion of Thy Mercy.

To all that Thou art and to all that Thou wouldst do in me,
I say "Yes."
I surrender entirely to the operations of Thy merciful Love
and to the action of the Holy Spirit.
I am all Thine,
and I abandon myself to Thy own burning desire to become my All.
Thou, O Jesus, art enough for me
for in Thee alone lies the happiness
for which Thou didst create me
and which Thou desirest to give me in this life
and in eternity. Amen."

Via Crucis for Priests

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I'm happy to announce that my Via Crucis for Priests has been published in Magnificat's Year for Priests Companion. Read about it here. It would be wonderful if, during Lent of this Year for Priests, parishes might use the Via Crucis for Priests at their Friday Stations of the Cross.

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The painting is by the so-called Master of the Osservanza and dates from around 1440. Notice the lovely chasuble of the priest and the noble simplicity of the altar. The young man to the left is none other than our father among the saints, Antony of Egypt. The scene depicts his conversion. The artist has it taking place in the cathedral of Siena!

Here is another prayer for priests that one might say each day. It will be included in the prayerbook that is still in preparation.

A Daily Prayer for Priests

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who commanded
that the men whom You called and set apart
for the service of Your holy altars,
should themselves be holy:
grant such holiness to Your priests
that in them Your Father may take delight,
and Your Bride, the Church, find consolation.

Send the promised Paraclete upon them
to keep them firm in their faith
in the midst of an unbelieving world;
to keep them ardent in their love
among those that do not love You;
to keep them pure amidst the impure;
and to keep them for Yourself
amidst those who are as yet not Yours
- but whom You, O gentle Shepherd,
came to seek and to save.

Through the intercession of our most gracious Lady and Queen,
Your Mother, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin,
give them grace so to serve You
among all the changes and chances of this passing world
that, at the hour of their death, they may be ready
to enter with You, O Eternal High Priest,
into the sanctuary not made by human hands,
where You live for ever
to make intercession for us,
and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.
Amen.

Pope Benedict XVI on Saint Pio

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It is extremely noteworthy and significant that the Holy Father chose to spend the first Sunday of The Year of the Priest in pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo. Saint Pio may well be the best known priest of modern times. In many ways, his priestly ministry resembles that of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. We have entered into an "acceptable year of the Lord" (Is 61:2), a time for contemplating the living icons of priestly holiness set before us by the Church, and for seeking their intercession for all priests. In the text below emphases in boldface are my own.

Discourse of the Holy Father at the Church of Saint Pio

Dear men and women religious,
Dear young people,

With this our encounter my pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo comes to a close. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Lecce, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, and to Father Mauro Jöhri, secretary general of the Capuchin Friars Minor, for the words of cordial welcome that they have given me on your behalf. My greeting is now turned to you, dear priests, who are daily engaged in the service of God's people as wise guides and diligent workers in the vineyard of the Lord. I greet with affection the dear consecrated persons, called to offer the testimony of a total dedication to Christ through the faithful practice of the evangelical counsels. A special thought for you, dear Capuchin Friars, who lovingly care for this oasis of spirituality and evangelical solidarity, welcoming pilgrims and devotees gathered by the living memory of your holy confrere, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Thank you very much for this valuable service you render to the Church and to souls who here rediscover the beauty of faith and the warmth of divine tenderness. I greet you, dear young people, to whom the Pope looks with confidence as to the future of the Church and society. Here in San Giovanni Rotondo, everything speaks of the sanctity of a humble friar and a zealous priest, who this evening, also invites us to open our hearts to the mercy of God; he exhorts us to be holy, that is, sincere and true friends of Jesus.

Dear priests, just the other day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day of priestly holiness, we began the Priestly Year, during which we will recall with reverence and affection the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars. In the letter I wrote for the occasion, I wanted to stress the importance of the sanctity of priests for the life and mission of the Church. Like the Curé d'Ars, Padre Pio also reminds us of the dignity and responsibility of the priestly ministry. Who was not impressed by the fervor with which he re-lived the Passion of Christ in every celebration of the Eucharist? From his love for the Eucharist there arose in him as the Curé d'Ars a total willingness to welcome the faithful, especially sinners. Also, if St. John Mary Vianney, in a troubled and difficult time, tried in every way, to help his parishioners rediscover the meaning and the beauty of sacramental penance, for the holy friar of the Gargano, the care of souls and the conversion of sinners were a desire that consumed him until death. How many people have changed their lives thanks to his patient priestly ministry, so many long hours in the confessional! Like the Curé d'Ars, it is his ministry as a confessor that constitutes the greatest title of glory and the distinctive feature of this holy Capuchin. How could we not realize then the importance of participating in the celebration of the Eucharist devoutly and frequently receiving the sacrament of confession? In particular, the sacrament of penance must be even more valued, and priests should never resign themselves to seeing their confessional deserted or to merely recognizing the diffidence of the faithful for this extraordinary source of serenity and peace.

Ipse est sacerdos, ipse est Deus

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The lessons at Vigils this morning were extraordinarily compelling in the context of this Year of the Priest. (I use the Latin-French Lectionnaire monastique in six volumes edited by the Abbey of Solesmes. Would anyone know if a Latin-English version of the same lectionary is in preparation anywhere in the monastic world?)

First Lesson, Hosea 4:6-10
When Priests Lack Knowedge

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and requite them for their deeds. They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the harlot, but not multiply; because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish harlotry.

Here is my translation of the Second Lesson:

Fulgentius Ferrandus was a sixth century deacon of Carthage renowned for his defense of the orthodox faith against the Arians.

From the Dogmatic Letter of the Deacon Ferrandus, Against the Arians
The Action of the Priest

The action of the priest is twofold: first, he intercedes in order to be heard,
and then, once heard, he gives thanks.
In his intercession he offers the sacrifice of supplication,
in his thanksgiving he offers the sacrifice of praise.
In his intercession he presents the needs of sinners,
in his thanksgiving he recounts the benefits granted with mercy to those who make reparation.
In his intercession he implores pardon for the guilty,
in his thanksgiving he desires to rejoice with those who are absolved.

And so it is with Christ:
possessing an eternal priesthood uninterrupted by death as it is among other priests,
He interceded for us in offering the sacrifice of His own body upon the cross,
and He intercedes even now for us all,
desiring that we also should become a pure sacrifice unto God.

But when Divine Mercy will have become perfected in us,
when death will have been swallowed up in victory,
once all our sorrows will have disappeared,
when, filled with all good things,
we will sin no more,
no more will we lament,
no more will we have to suffer the enemy, the devil,
but we will reign in supreme peace and felicity.
Then, it is true, Christ will no longer intercede for us,
for we will have no need to ask for anything.
Never, however, will He cease giving thanks for us,
just as, in this present day, it is by the mediation of our High Priest
that we will offer the sacrifice of praise.

Always then will Christ be the High Priest
by whose mediation we can offer the sacrifice of praise.
Always, He is lower because He is the priest.
This notwithstanding, because Christ is forever one,
He Himself is the High Priest,
and He Himself is God who with the Father and the Holy Spirit
is adored, blessed, and glorified by the faithful.
He Himself intercedes,
He Himself gives thanks,
and He Himself bestows grace.

Marcel Van: A Soul for Priests

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Called Not to Be a Priest, But to Be for Priests

For a long time, the Servant of God, Vietnamese Redemptorist Brother Marcel Van (1928-1959) believed that he was called to become a priest. The Lord made him understand that, even though he had the soul of a priest, such was not his vocation. Marcel Van understood that he was to pray in a special manner for priests and for future priests. As he himself says:

I recognize that the function the Lord has entrusted to me is very important, that it consists in giving life to priests. . . . God, then, has need of the collaboration of certain souls so as to bring to birth among priests the abundance of divine grace which will help them to live and to act in conformity to the will of God. (Letter to Hghi, 23 July 1952)
Yes, this is the unique thirst of my life, and because of this thirst, I have taken upon myself the obligation of being "the heart" of priests, using the warmth of love and the wellspring of redeeming love to beat and to give life to priests.

I pray Marcel Van to send to the new Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle a few good men like himself: men ready to become, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, "the heart" of priests, offering themselves so that priests may be sanctified in truth and have within themselves life, life in abundance.

A Little Brother of Saint Thérèse

Brother Marcel Van was privileged to experience an extraordinary intimacy with Our Lord, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Few souls, even among the disciples of Saint Thérèse, have understood the Merciful Love of Jesus, as profoundly as did Marcel Van. Our Lord said to Marcel:

Confidence in Love

O sinful souls . . . the only thing I ask of you, and which suffices for me to press you to my overflowing Heart, is that you truly believe that Love loves you infinitely. Unfortunate little ones, do you believe that I do not know how wretched you are? Even if your wretchedness is infinite, you must believe that my merits are also infinite. Even if your sins have earned hell for you an infinite number of times, you must not, for all that, lose confidence in my Love. The unfortunate thing is that men have no confidence in my Love. Oh! Sin! Sin! Sin never offends my Love; there is absolutely nothing that offends my Love, except the lack of confidence in my Love. . . .
Marcel! Marcel! Little brother, pray that sinful souls, so numerous, never lose confidence in my Love. As long as they keep this confidence, the kingdom of heaven truly does not cease to belong to them.

A Simple Glance of Confidence

A simple glance of confidence towards me suffices to grab sinful souls from the claws of the devil. Even if a soul found itself already at the gates of hell, waiting for its last sigh before falling into it, if in this last sigh there is the slightest element of confidence in my infinite Love, that will still be sufficient for my Love to draw that soul to the arms of the Trinity. That is why I say that it can be very easy for men to go to heaven and even infinitely difficult to fall into hell, because Love can never permit a soul to lose itself so easily.


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Our Lady in the Life of the Priest

Pope Benedict XVI has been using every opportunity to promote a fruitful observance of the Year of the Priesthood. Especially noteworthy is the Holy Father's attention to the place of Our Lady in the life of the priest. At the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Assumption, he spoke of the Immaculate Virgin in the experience of Saint John Mary Vianney.

The Curé of Ars and the Parish Priest of Knock

It struck me, after my recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock, that the Marian devotion of the Curé of Ars (1786-1859) had much in common with that of the Parish Priest of Knock, the Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh (1821-1897). Both priests were devoted to Our Lady in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception; both priests consecrated their parishes to her.

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The memorial tablet erected by the grateful parishioners of Knock in honour of Archdeacon Cavanagh could, in fact, describe the Curé of Ars. It reads:

Pray for the soul of the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Archdeacon of the Chapter of Tuam, and parish of Knock-Aghamore, whose fame, on account of the extraordinary sanctity of his life and his devotion to the Mother of God, was diffused thus far and wide. Unwearying in the Confessional, assiduous in works of piety, he died, full of years and merits, December 9th, 1897, R.I.P.

There is one mistake on the memorial tablet; the Archdeacon died, not on December 9th, but on December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception to whom he was so devoted.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Mary Our Mother

In the heart of the month of August, a holiday period for many families and also for me, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the ultimate meaning of our existence, helped by today's Liturgy which invites us to live in this world oriented to eternal happiness in order to share in the same glory as Mary, the same joy as our Mother (cf. Collect).

The Example of the Saints

Let us, therefore, turn our gaze to Our Lady, Star of Hope, who illumines us on our earthly journey, and follow the example of the Saints who turned to her in every circumstance.

Priestly Love and Veneration for the Most Holy Virgin

You know that we are celebrating the Year for Priests in remembrance of the Holy Curé d'Ars, and I would like to draw from the thoughts and testimonies of this holy country parish priest some ideas for reflection that will be able to help all of us especially us priests to strengthen our love and veneration for the Most Holy Virgin.

His biographers claim that St John Mary Vianney spoke to Our Lady with devotion and, at the same time, with trust and spontaneity. "The Blessed Virgin", he used to say, "is immaculate and adorned with all the virtues that make her so beautiful and pleasing to the Blessed Trinity" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 303).

Never Tired of Speaking of Mary to the Faithful

And further: "The heart of this good Mother is nothing but love and mercy, all she wants is to see us happy. To be heard, it suffices to address oneself to her" (ibid., p. 307). The priest's zeal shines through these words. Motivated by apostolic longing, he rejoiced in speaking to his faithful of Mary and never tired of doing so. He could even present a difficult mystery like today's, that of the Assumption, with effective images, such as, for example: "Man was created for Heaven. The devil broke the ladder that led to it. Our Lord, with his Passion, made another.... The Virgin Most Holy stands at the top of the ladder and holds it steady with both hands" (ibid.).

Mary's Beauty

The Holy Curé d'Ars was attracted above all by Mary's beauty, a beauty that coincides with her being Immaculate, the only creature to have been conceived without a shadow of sin.

"The Blessed Virgin", he said, "is that beautiful Creature who never displeased the good Lord" (ibid. p. 306). As a good and faithful pastor, he first of all set an example also in this filial love for the Mother of Jesus by whom he felt drawn toward Heaven. "Were I not to go to Heaven", he exclaimed, "how sorry I should be! I should never see the Blessed Virgin, this most beautiful creature!" (ibid., p. 309).

Marian Consecration

Moreover, on several occasions he consecrated his parish to Our Lady, recommending that mothers in particular do the same, every morning, with their children.

Turn to Mary

Dear brothers and sisters, let us make our own the sentiments of the Holy Curé d'Ars. And with his same faith let us turn to Mary, taken up into Heaven, in a special way entrusting to her the priests of the whole world.

Mary in the Life of the Priest

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Dear readers, I returned from Ireland to Connecticut last evening. As soon as I can, I will share some of the pilgrimage experience with you. In the meantime, I must catch up with correspondence and other pressing duties. The Holy Father's General Audience of August 12th is a real gift for the Year of the Priesthood. This unusual depiction of Our Lady and Saint John in the Cenacle is a fitting illustration of the Holy Father's teaching on Mary, Mother of Priests.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our Lady and the Priesthood

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priests. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Mary's Yes

When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes".

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.

Mary at the Heart of This Mystery

Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.

Saint John the Beloved Son

Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests.

Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27).

The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home".

Taking Mary Into One's Inner Life

This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being.

To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate.

It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them.

In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world.

Priests: Beloved Sons of Mary

Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as "Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry". The Council continues, "priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18).

The Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: "Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305).

Priests: Stewards of the Precious Treasure of Jesus' Love

This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today's world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!

Ireland

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A View of "Lovely Leitrim," the Land of My Paternal Ancestors

Drumshanbo

In just a few hours I will be on my way to JFK International Airport in New York and, from there, will be winging eastward to greet the Irish dawn. My destination is Drumshanbo in County Leitrim where Father Dan L. and I will be staying at the lodge of the Franciscan Convent of Perpetual Adoration. Father and I will be spending the week before the Most Blessed Sacrament, seeking the light of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus for ourselves and for all priests.

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I will also be visiting my one remaining cousin in the "old country": John McKeon of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. John, now retired, attends Holy Mass on weekdays at Saint Patrick's Hospital, originally a "poorhouse" for the victims of the Great Hunger.

130th Anniversary of the Apparition of Our Lady at Knock

Father Dan and I plan on going over to Knock in County Mayo for the celebrations surrounding the annual feast of Our Lady of Knock. This is the 130th anniversary of the apparition that took place on the evening of August 21, 1879. As I wrote in a post below, Knock is, in a very special way, a pilgrimage for priests. How fitting, then, that Father Dan and I should have the grace of being there during this Year of the Priesthood.

I am not sure that I will have internet access in rural Ireland. Do not be surprised, dear readers, if ten days pass without a post on Vultus Christi. I humbly ask for your prayers, and assure you of a remembrance in mine.

An Offering to Christ the Priest

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Hymn for the 'Year For Priests'


Vincent William Uher III, a gifted hymnographer, who is "completing in his flesh what remains of Christ's sufferings for His Body, the Church" (Col 1:24), wrote this hymn at my request. He dedicates it:

In honor of The Most Reverend Edward James Slattery
Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa
And in honor of Father Mark Daniel Kirby
and The Adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, O.S.B.

The hymn can be sung to any one of the following tunes: Beach Spring, Chartres, In Babilone, or Hyfrydol.

Friends of Christ, O royal priesthood,
Sing God's praise for every priest -
Strong and faithful, weak or lonely -
From the greatest to the least.
Brother priests of the Good Shepherd
Called to live the Lamb's high feast,
Witness to your love of Jesus,
Lord and Master, Great High Priest.

Take the Cross upon your shoulder.
Place your mind within your heart.
Make of Christ your perfect model.
Walk His steps and learn His art.
Beat down Satan with each footstep.
Fight to free each captive soul
Till the world's deceits and pleasures
Are no longer mankind's goal.

Learn from Mary Blessed Mother;
Ponder in your hearts God's grace:
How Christ makes His living presence
Real to feed the human race -
The Atonement raised to heaven
Through the holy hands of priests
For the life of all creation
Christ's own life, His Heart, His peace.

Forward go the royal banners
Of our Eucharistic King.
The Wise Virgins follow closely
Lamps of seven in offering.
Priests of God guide Christ's lay faithful
To bring forth their gifts and lights
And to call both friend and stranger
To the Way of Jesus Christ.

Now behold the Cross illumined
By the uncreated light.
See your Lord alive and risen
Calling you to share His life
And around Him all assembled
Martyred priests and Saints of God
Calling all of us together
To the Wedding Feast of God.

Copyright © 2009 Vincent William Uher III
All Rights Reserved.

The Triduum: Evening III

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I came in from the cathedral a short while ago. The third and last evening of the Triduum was very well attended. His Excellency, Bishop Slattery presided from the throne and went to the altar to give Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The veneration of the first class relic of Saint John Mary was very touching. Folks of all ages, including wide-eyed little children, came forward to kiss a humble fragment of the saint's mortal body and to ask for his intercession. I was especially gratified to see a number of our seminarians there this evening. Heartfelt thanks to all who joined in the Triduum from their homes!

"He stood up as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch" (Ecclus 48:1).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Love Crucified Here and Now

I left off last evening by quoting Saint John Mary Vianney on the Mass. ""What a good thing it is," he said, "for a priest each morning to offer himself in sacrifice." Saint John Mary Vianney's identification with Love Crucified was so complete that his only glory was in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, not in a remote Cross, not in the mere symbol of a sacrifice that happened in a place far away and long ago, but in the Cross made present, actualized, brought out of the historical "there and then" of another place and time, into the immediacy of the real "here and now," and this by the miracle of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Into the Hands of the Living God

When the parish priest of Ars ascended the steps of the altar in his village church, it was to say "Yes" to all the exigencies of Redeeming Love. It is a terrifying and risky thing for a priest to ascend to the altar . . . to the place of sacrifice, morning after morning. He does so with the words of Jesus crucified on his lips, "Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46), not forgetting for a single moment what is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:1).

Between the Wood of the Cross and the Sin of the World

Saint John Mary Vianney, like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, like the soon-to-be-Saint Damien of Molokai, like the fiery Irish Jesuit Father Willie Doyle, and like so many other priests through the ages, knew that he could not hold the Body of Crucified Love in his hands, and raise the Chalice of Love Crucified's Blood, without yielding to the embrace of Love Crucified. Only in the embrace of Love Crucified does the priest begin to understand -- and this in a partial and shadowy way -- the utter horror of sin. Even as God draws the priest into the mystery of the Sacrifice he offers at the altar day after day, the Divine Hand shields the priest from too close an understanding of what sin is. Were the priest -- any priest -- to grasp, even for an instant the enormity of a single sin, that realization would annihilate him. But that is not all. Were the priest -- any priest -- to grasp even for an instant the immensity of Crucified Love, that realization would incinerate him. The priest, like Jesus whom He represents, accepts in every Mass to place himself between the wood of the Cross and the sin of the world. This is the place of the priest: between the wood of the Cross and the sin of the world. "God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal 6:14).

From the Altar to the Confessional

It is this identification with Love Crucified and with the sin of the world that compels the priest to go from the altar to the confessional. One might say that the priest who consents, day after day, to the mystical crucifixion of the Mass -- and mystical does not mean spooky; it means hidden -- will be driven by the Holy Spirit into the confessional. Altar and confessional are but two faces of a single mystery: what sin does to Love, and what Love does to sin.

The Horror of Sin

In his letter for the Year of the Priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI says that "this deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led Saint John Mary Vianney -- by a sole inward movement -- from the altar to the confessional." The Holy Father goes on to say that, "Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament." "In France," he says, "at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval of the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion." Saint John Mary Vianney lived in the wake of the bloody French Revolution (1789-1799); we live in the wake of the sexual revolution, and in the throes of a cultural revolution that has spawned and abetted the undoing of Christian principles in every area of life. In both cases, the revolutionary animus has blunted our awareness of the horror of sin as an offense against God, and led to a disaffection for the Sacrament of Penance.

The Return to the Confessional

At the same time, changes in liturgical and pastoral practice, such as the introduction of the Saturday Vigil Mass, displaced or reduced the weekly availability of priests for confessions. In most places, there was little critical reflection on the long-term consequences of this displacement, and only minimal efforts at making the Sacrament of Penance readily available at other times. At no other time in the history of the Church hav we seen such long lines for Holy Communion, and such short ones for Confession. One of the aims of this Year of the Priesthood is the return of both priests and people to the confessional. The Babylonian Exile of confessors and penitents is over! Confession is back! The confessional cannot be separated from the altar any more than sin can be separated from the blood-soaked Cross on Calvary.

The Restoration of the Sacrament of Penance

Pope Benedict XVI present Saint John Mary Vianney as our model in the restoration of the Sacrament of Penance. Monsignor Halpine has more than once preached eloquently on this very subject here in Holy Family Cathedral! Saint John Mary Vianney "sought in every way, "says the Holy Father, "by his preaching and by his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He this created a "virtuous circle."

A Virtuous Circle

It is this "virtuous circle" going from the altar to the confessional, and from the confessional to the altar, that the Holy Spirit wants to regenerate during this Year of the Priesthood. Our parishes must become what the village of Ars had become under its saintly pastor: "a great hospital of souls." The Divine Physician of our souls and bodies waits to disinfect the fetid wounds of our sins with His Precious Blood; He waits to anoint them with the healing balm of the Holy Spirit -- and this He wills to do through the ministry of His priests.

The Needs of Souls

Saint John Mary Vianney adapted his treatment of souls to the particular needs of each one. Listen to what Pope Benedict XVI writes:

"Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God's forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the 'flood of divine mercy' which sweeps everything away by its vehemence.

If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God's love in these beautiful and touching words: 'The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, He already knows that you will sin again, yet He still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: He even forces Himself to forget the future, so that He can grant us His forgiveness.'

To those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how abominable this attitude was. 'I weep,' he used to say, 'because you don't weep.'"

Three Sacraments

This final evening of our Triduum -- and the two previous evenings we have spent together -- send us to three Sacraments: 1) to the altar, that is, to the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist; 2) to the confessional, that is, the Sacrament of Penance; and 3) to the priest, that is, to the Sacrament of Holy Orders without which we would have neither the one nor the other.

A Quickening of Sacramental Life

The Sacerdotal Pentecost -- the New Pentecost of the Priesthood -- for which we are praying will be revealed, not in a might wind and tongues of fire, not in a profusion of extraordinary charisms, but in a quickening of sacramental life in every parish, in every diocese, and in the Church throughout the world. Let the sacramental dance begin: from the altar to the confessional, from the confessional to the altar, and then into the darkness of a world waiting for the light of Christ, into the coldness of a world waiting for His warmth, into the infirmity of a world waiting for His healing touch. Eucharistic Face of Jesus, sanctify Thy priests!

The Triduum: Evening II

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"I will most gladly spend and be overspent for your souls" (2 Cor 12:15)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Arrival at Ars

When Saint John Mary Vianney arrived in the village of Ars, it counted 230 souls. He was thirty-two years old and had been ordained but three years. The young priest walked the 18 miles from his first assignment to what would be, in fact, his last. Approaching the village, he lost his way and asked directions from a group of children keeping sheep. A lad named Antoine Givre pointed him in the direction of Ars. "My young friend," said the new parish priest, "you have shown me the way to Ars; I shall show you the way to Heaven." Prophetic words in more than one way: Antoine Givre was the first parishioner of Ars to follow Saint John Mary Vianney in death forty-one years later in 1859.

Where There Is No Love, Put Love

Before sending John Mary to Ars, his bishop warned him that he would find but little love of God there. "There is little love of God in that parish," he said; "You will be the one to put it there." One is reminded of the maxim of Saint John of the Cross: "Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love."

Love Crucified

Saint John Vianney would bring about the conversion of his little parish not by so much by teaching an ethic of love nor by undertaking the works of love -- even if he did these things to an heroic degree -- but by allowing himself to be transformed into Love, and Love Crucified.

Priest and Victim

For John Vianney the priesthood was not a job, not a career, not a function, not at all a question of doing, but rather one of being. Pope Benedict XVI says that the first thing we priests need to learn from Saint John Mary Vianney is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. Saint John Mary Vianney was all priest and only priest, and this at every moment of the day and night. His priesthood was not a garment to be put on and taken off: every fibre of his being had become priestly. And because the priesthood of Jesus Christ cannot be separated from his victimhood, John Mary Vianney was as much victim as priest, as much the offering as the offerer, as much the lamb of sacrifice as the sacrificer.

All Priest

In his letter proclaiming The Year of the Priesthood, our Holy Father writes that, "in a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification." I often reflect on this after celebrating Holy Mass: there is not a single moment when I am not all priest. Priest in my body. Priest in my heart and in all its affections. Priest in my intelligence: in my memory, imagination, and will. Priest in all that I say, in all that I touch, in all that do. Priest with every breath I draw and priest with every heartbeat. At every moment I am either coming from the altar of Christ's sacrifice or going toward it. At every moment, because it is no longer I who live but Christ the priest and victim who lives in me, I can say, "I know whence I have come and whither I am going" (Jn 8:14), and again, "I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (Jn 16:28).

The Objective Truth of the Priesthood

I share this with you, brothers and sisters, precisely because it is not personal to me; this is no less true of any other priest. It is the objective truth of the priesthood. Ordination to the priesthood by the laying on of hands and by the consecratory prayer of the Church effects a real change in a man's very being. It is not a mere dedication of his energies to a specific life's work. It is a kind of configuration to Christ, Priest and Victim, from the inside out. And it cannot be undone. "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech" (Ps 109:4).

At Home In Church

Just how did Saint John Mary Vianney go about "putting love where there was no love, so as to find love" in the parish of Ars. He began by going to the very wellspring of love, and in this beginning he persevered until death. His first biographer tells us upon arriving in Ars, "he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed."

With Me Where I Am

This pastoral method is, I think, a little shocking to our contemporary American notions of creative enterprise, and strategic planning, and committee forming. By abiding from before sunrise to after sunset in his parish church, Saint John Mary Vianney was not fleeing the world; he was, rather, imitating the divine economy of the Incarnation of the Son of God by pitching his tent at the very heart of the parish community, by living close to the tabernacle. In some, astonishingly literal way, Saint John Mary Vianney began his pastoral ministry by responding to Jesus' own prayer to the Father on the night before He suffered: "Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, may be with Me where I am" (Jn 17:24).

A Priest Spent and Overspent

The marvel of Saint John Mary Vianney's pastoral method is that by anchoring himself to the altar and tabernacle of his little church, he became capable of spending himself, of pouring himself actively over the entire territory of his parish. It was his Eucharistic contemplation that allowed him to say with the Apostle Paul: "I will most gladly spend and be overspent for your souls" (2 Cor 12:15). Spend himself he did, not only in the confessional from twelve to eighteen hours a day, but also by visiting the sick and caring for families, by organizing missions and parish feasts, by collecting and administering funds, by looking after orphans, by providing education for children, and by collaborating most effectively with the lay women he formed and directed. By remaining at the source of life -- the altar and the tabernacle -- the parish priest of Ars became the principal artery of Divine Love quickening and warming not only the little village's population, but thousands of souls beyond it as well.

Keeping Company With Jesus

Saint John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners how to pray by praying. They learned more from his example than from his words. "One need not say much to pray well," he used to say. "We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle. Let us open our hearts to Him, let us rejoice in His sacred presence. That is the best prayer." He invited his people to "keep company" with Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. One who keeps company with Jesus is compelled to adore Him, and one who adores him desires nothing so much as to remain in His company. This is the kind of prayer that transforms life. It heals. It restores. It sanctifies quietly and almost imperceptibly, but surely.

The Mass

Saint John Mary Vianney's Mass, like that of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, made words superfluous. Eyewitnesses relate that when he offered the Holy Sacrifice, he gazed upon Host with immense love. On one occasion, while holding the Sacred Host in his hands, he went so far as to say: "I I thought I were to be eternally damned, now that I hold Thee in my hands, I would never let go of Thee." For the parish priest of Ars, nothing could compare with a single Mass. "All good works taken together," he said, "do not equal the Sacrifice of the Mass since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God."

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, in his letter for The Year of the Priest, of Saint John Mary Vianney's absolute conviction that the fervour of a priest's life depends entirely upon the Mass. Listen to the Saint's own words: "The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaging in something routine." And then, he would add, "What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself in sacrifice."

Toward the Sacerdotal Pentecost

On this second evening of our Triduum, brothers and sisters, I beg you once again to pray mightily for a new Priestly Pentecost, for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all the priests of our diocese and of the whole Church, that the holiness of Saint John Mary Vianney might be reproduced in our day -- not only in the more than 406, 0000 priests currently serving the Church in every culture and place on earth -- but in a vast number of new priestly vocations. The Heart of Jesus, Priest and Victim, waits for men to respond to His call by saying with Saint Paul, and with Saint John Mary Vianney: "I will most gladly spend and be overspent for your souls" (2 Cor 12:15)

The Triduum: Evening I

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"For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:25).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Man Sent by God

In 1827, Ars was a remote country village eighteen miles outside of Lyons in France with nothing extraordinary about it . . . nothing extraordinary apart from the fact that from 1827 until 1859 -- a period of thirty-two years -- the little church of Ars was never empty. Multitudes poured into the church from before the first light of day until well into the night.

You see, "there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8).

The Baptist

Remarkably, the parish priest of Ars was, even by name, another John the Baptist; his full Christian name was, in fact, John Mary Baptist Vianney. Baptized John Mary, he chose the name Baptist at the time of his Confirmation on a cold snowy day in 1807. He was twenty-one years old. On that one day Cardinal Fesch, the Archbishop of Lyons, confirmed three-thousand souls. The ceremony began early in the morning and continued until after 5 o'clock in the afternoon. In the wake of the French Revolution, so many souls had been deprived of catechesis and of the sacraments, that it was not uncommon for such sacramental marathons to take place. From that day forward, John Mary Vianney signed his name John Mary Baptist, or John Baptist Mary. The identification with the Forerunner of Our Lord was a mysterious portent of things to come.

Twenty years later as crowds of pilgrims descended upon Ars, one might have put to them the very words of Our Lord concerning Saint John the Baptist: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in king's houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." (Mt 11:7-9). Yes, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, John Mary Baptist Vianney was a prophet -- but he was more than a prophet. He was a priest of Jesus Christ.

Nothing of the Showman About Him

Naturally speaking, there was nothing in the parish priest of Ars to draw crowds. He had nothing of the showman about him. He wasn't surrounded by publicists. There were no sophisticated lighting and sound systems. He wasn't, for example, anything at all like a Joel Osteen, or a Dr. Billy Graham, or even like the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. One would not have described him as handsome, although a childlike purity of heart shone in his eyes, and there was about his face something of a supernatural radiance, especially when one observed him in prayer. His clothes were more or less clean, but shabby; an old patched cassock and shoes totally unacquainted with polish. He wore his hair in the clerical fashion of the day: shoulder-length and pushed straight back. Once at a meeting of priests, a more fastidious clergyman refused to sit next to him for fear of catching something from Vianney's greenish, soiled hat.

Not the Typical Priest

Many of his brother priests found him eccentric, even odd. With raised eyebrows and knowing smiles, they murmured among themselves about his notoriously deficient seminary training, about his lack of sophistication, his very rudimentary Latin, and -- to their mind -- excessive piety and fasting. The numbers of penitents drawn to his confessional disconcerted them. Were they not better educated than the parish priest of Ars? Had not they more respectable credentials, a sense of propriety, and the ability to ally their priesthood with life's finer pleasures, those of the palate, of the eye, and of the mind? Why then were veritable caravans of souls making their way to the parish priest of Ars, and returning from him transformed, converted, repentant and joyful?

John Mary Vianney might have answered their queries with the words of Saint John the Baptist: "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:28-30).

Freely You Have Received

In these few lines one finds a portrait, not only of Saint John Mary Vianney, but of a universal, that is, a Catholic priestly holiness. The grace of the priesthood, and the charisms that, by God's gracious will, sometimes accompany it come from heaven. They are pure gift. "Every good endowment and every perfect gift," says Saint James, "is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jas 1:17). The priest gives what he himself has received. What were, after all, Our Lord's instructions to his first twelve priests-in-training? "Preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely have you received; freely give" (Mt 10:7-8).

Another Christ

The priest is another Christ: a representation of the Divine Original, invested by the Holy Spirit with a three-fold gift and power to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. The priest images Christ as Bridegroom of the Church; Christ as Head of the Mystical Body; Christ as Shepherd of the flock of God; Christ as Sower of the Seed. The priest makes Christ. present. He reveals his Face, His Heart, and His Hands. He acts in the Name and in the Person of Christ.

The priest bears within himself a mysterious sacramental imprint: the indelible character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, that nothing and no one can erase. In heaven, the indelible character that marks the soul of the priest causes him a glorious joy beyond description; in hell, which God forbid, that same indelible character causes the priest an everlasting torment.

Oh, How Great Is the Priest

Saint John Mary Vianney was aware of the immense dignity of the priesthood. He was humble: not denying the gifts he has received, but glorifying their Giver. Listen to him preach on the priesthood:

"A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy. Oh, how great is the priest!" he said. "If he realized what he is, he would die... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host."

Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he said:

"Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is."

Stand Up, and Kneel Down for Your Priests

It is time, brothers and sisters, for us to reclaim and recover a sense of awe in the face of the priesthood. It is time for us to rediscover the beauty of the priesthood. It is time for us to stand up for our beloved priests and, even more importantly, to kneel down for them before Christ in grateful adoration and supplication.

The priesthood of Jesus Christ has, over the past decade, been dragged through the mud. The sins and weaknesses of a few -- and these cannot in any way be minimized, rationalized, or condoned: they can only be humbly confessed and mercifully forgiven -- these sins and weakness have, in fact, covered the Face of Christ the Priest with filth, and caused His Bride the Church to weep tears of bitterness and shame.

Say what you will, the promises of the Lord uttered through the mouth of His prophet remain, because the Word of the Lord endures forever: "Her priests I will clothe with holiness, and her faithful will ring out their joy" (Ps 131:16).

The Priest Continues the Work of Redemption on Earth

In declaring this Year of the Priesthood, the Holy Father has invited us to listen to the teachings of the parish priest of Ars, and to take them to heart. Here is the remedy we have been waiting for: the words of a holy priest on the priesthood:

"Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you."

A Sacerdotal Pentecost

No priest is for himself. Each and every priest is for you. You then, be for your priests, first of all by praying and fasting for them. Beseech the Father to glorify the priesthood of His Son by a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit over the priests of the entire world. Ask boldly for a Sacerdotal (Priestly) Pentecost. Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will we priests be "sanctified in the truth" (Jn 17:17). Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will we priests recover the ardour of our first love and the zeal of the prophets and saints.

These three consecutive evenings of prayer in honor of Saint John Mary Vianney, unites us to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to His Excellency, Bishop Slattery, and to all the priests of the Diocese of Tulsa and of the world. I pray that they will give a dynamic impetus to the Year of the Priesthood in every parish of the diocese and, to this end, I ask Bishop Slattery, to bless this statue of Saint John Mary Vianney. After this Triduum it will travel from parish to parish in the Diocese of Tulsa: a visible reminder of the mystery of the priesthood, and of our responsibility for so amazing a gift.

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Blessing of the Statue of Saint John Mary Baptist Vianney


V. Our help is the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

Let us pray.
Almighty and ever-living God,
You inspire us to fashion images of Your saints,
so that we, in beholding them,
may be led to imitate their virtues
and seek their intercession.
Wherefore, we beseech You,
to bless + and sanctify + this statue of Saint John Mary Baptist Vianney, Priest.
Mercifully grant that as this statue is displayed for veneration
in the parishes of our diocese,
our priests may be clothed in holiness
and your faithful ring out their joy.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

The statue is sprinkled with holy water.


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Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma
August 2, 3, 4 at 6:30 in the evening


Here, dear Fathers and other readers, is the full text of the booklet being prepared for the Solemn Diocesan Triduum in honor of Saint John Mary Vianney for the Diocese of Tulsa's observance of the Year of the Priest. Do feel free to use it as it is or to adapt it for your own needs.

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Novena to Saint John Mary Vianney: July 27- August 4


I composed this Litany of Saint John Mary Vianney for the Novena that begins today and for the Triduum that will be held at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa on August 2, 3, and 4 at 6:30 p.m. It will also be included in the prayerbook for the Spiritual Mothers of Priests that is now in preparation.

It is not necessary to pray the entire litany every day. I propose a method of alternating the sections of the litany. One must take care not to "rattle off" the invocations. Allow each invocation to descend gently into the heart, bearing the particular grace it implores.

Each day:

Lord, have mercy. R. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. R. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. R. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven, R. Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, R. Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, R. Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, R. Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, R. Pray for us.
Holy Mary, Advocate of Priests, R. Pray for us.
Holy Mary, Mother of the Church, R. Pray for us.

Days 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 of the Novena: Childhood and Youth

Saint John Vianney, R. Pray for us.
Saint John Vianney, graced by God even as a little boy, R.
Saint John Vianney, a blessing to your parents and family, R.
Saint John Vianney, nourished by the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ, R.
Saint John Vianney, most loving son of Mary Immaculate, R.
Saint John Vianney, devoted to the Holy Rosary, R.

Days 2, 4, 6, and 8 of the Novena: Man of the Beatitudes

Saint John Vianney, poor in spirit, R.
Saint John Vianney, who shed tears over the hardheartedness of sinners, R.
Saint John Vianney, meek and humble of heart, R.
Saint John Vianney, merciful and ready to forgive, R,
Saint John Vianney, pure in heart and radiant with chastity, R.
Saint John Vianney, peacemaker and healer of divisions, R.
Saint John Vianney, persecuted for righteousness' sake. R.

Days 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 of the Novena: Mirror of the Gospel

Saint John Vianney, salt of the earth and shining lamp of the Church, R.
Saint John Vianney, rewarded by the Father who sees in secret, R.
Saint John Vianney, showing us the narrow gate that leads to salvation, R.
Saint John Vianney, physician of sick souls, R.
Saint John Vianney, reaching out to sinners, R.
Saint John Vianney, healer of disease and infirmity, R.
Saint John Vianney, to whom the Father revealed
the mysteries of the Kingdom, R.
Saint John Vianney, gentle with the bruised reed and the smoldering wick, R.
Saint John Vianney, who denied yourself, took up your cross,
and followed Jesus, R.

Days 2, 4, 6, and 8 of the Novena: Holy Parish Priest I

Saint John Vianney, chosen to offer the Holy Sacrifice, R.
Saint John Vianney, enriched with the Holy Spirit's Seven Gifts, R.
Saint John Vianney, zealous for the beauty of the Lord's house, R.
Saint John Vianney, imbued with reverence at the altar, R.
Saint John Vianney, tender father of the poor, R.
Saint John Vianney, able to sympathize with our weaknesses, R.
Saint John Vianney, fearless in preaching the truth, R.
Saint John Vianney, nourishing souls with pure spiritual milk, R.
Saint John Vianney, graced with the gift of prophecy, R.
Saint John Vianney, preacher of the Word in season and out of season, R.
Saint John Vianney, unafraid to convince, rebuke, and exhort, R.
Saint John Vianney, faithful dispenser of the Divine Mysteries, R.
Saint John Vianney, persevering in prayer by night and by day, R.
Saint John Vianney, faithful adorer of the Most Blessed Sacrament, R.
Saint John Vianney, privileged friend of Saint Philomena, Virgin and Martyr, R.

Days 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 of the Novena: Holy Parish Priest II

Saint John Vianney, penetrated with the fear of God's judgment, R.
Saint John Vianney, whom the devil tormented cruelly, R.
Saint John Vianney, shining image of priestly holiness, R.
Saint John Vianney, inflamed with priestly zeal, R.
Saint John Vianney, compassionate toward the sick, R.
Saint John Vianney, catechist of children and teacher of your entire parish, R.
Saint John Vianney, wise and prudent father of souls, R.
Saint John Vianney, who spent hours in the confessional each day, R.
Saint John Vianney, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, R.
Saint John Vianney, formidable enemy of Satan's empire, R.
Saint John Vianney, tenderhearted toward every suffering, R.
Saint John Vianney, providence of poor orphans, R.
Saint John Vianney, favoured with the charism of miracles, R.
Saint John Vianney, who reconciled so many sinners to God, R.
Saint John Vianney, who helped countless souls along the path of holiness, R.

Each Day of the Novena: In the Glory of Heaven

Saint John Vianney, who tasted divine sweetness at the hour of your death, R.
Saint John Vianney, rejoicing in the glory of Heaven, R.
Saint John Vianney, giving joy to those who invoke you, R.
Saint John Vianney, advocate of struggling seminarians, R.
Saint John Vianney, patron of parish priests, R.
Saint John Vianney, comforter of bishops, R.

Lamb of God, Who take away the sins of the world,
R. Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who take away the sins of the world,
R. Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who take away the sins of the world,
R. Have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
R. Christ, graciously hear us.

V. Pray for us, Saint John Mary Vianney,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

Almighty and merciful God,
who made Saint John Mary Vianney
wondrous in his pastoral labour;
grant, we implore, that by his example and intercession,
we may win our brothers and sisters for you in the charity of Christ,
and with them be able to attain glory everlasting.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.
R. Amen.

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Spiritual Mothers of Priests


Do visit Jane Mossendew's wonderful new blog here:

Jane calls it a "blog created in response to Pope Benedict's institution of the Sacerdotal Year 2009-10 and which aims to spread knowledge of the vocation of a spiritual mother and to encourage women to consider embracing it." The new blog could be an effective "meeting place" for spiritual mothers of priests from around the world.

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In response to questions about the Plenary Indulgence for the Year of Priests, readers can find the Vatican's announcement of the decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary below these comments of my own.

The decree says that, "all truly penitent priests" -- having confessed their sins and received Holy Communion -- may obtain a Plenary Indulgence each day by devoutly praying Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament, and by making themselves available "with a ready and generous heart" for the Sacrament of Penance and the other sacraments. This Plenary Indulgence may be applied to the souls of priests in purgatory. Priests may also obtain a partial indulgence so often as they offer prayers to ask for the grace of sacerdotal holiness. What a splendid opportunity for priests to come to the assistance of their brother priests in purgatory!

The decree also makes generous provision for the lay faithful. They may obtain a Plenary Indulgence on the opening and closing days of the Year of the Priest and on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney (August 4, 2009), on the First Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful. The particular conditions are given below. By way of example, a prayer suitable for obtaining the Plenary Indulgence would be:

O Jesus, Eternal Priest,
keep Thy priests within the shelter of Thy Sacred Heart,
where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Thy Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with Thy Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unworldly their hearts sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let Thy holy love surround them from the world's contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit,
and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here
and their everlasting crown hereafter.
Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us;
obtain for us numerous and holy priests.
Amen.

VATICAN CITY, 12 MAY 2009 (VIS) - According to a decree made public today and signed by Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv., respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Benedict XVI will grant priests and faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the Year for Priests, which is due to run from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010 and has been called in honour of St. Jean Marie Vianney.

The means to obtain the Plenary Indulgence are as follows:

(A) All truly penitent priests who, on any day, devotedly pray Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament exposed to public adoration or in the tabernacle, and ... offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, will be granted Plenary Indulgence, which they can also apply to their deceased confreres, if in accordance with current norms they take Sacramental Confession and the Eucharist and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. Priests are furthermore granted Partial Indulgence, also applicable to deceased confreres, every time they devotedly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a saintly life and to carry out the duties entrusted to them.

(B) All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. This may be done on the opening and closing days of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.

The elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, "on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles".

Partial Indulgence is offered to all faithful each time they pray five Our Father, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri, or any other duly approved prayer "in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life".

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Answering Your Questions

I have been receiving so many requests concerning the call to spiritual motherhood for priests that I am unable to answer them all in a timely fashion. For the moment I am still alone, following the monastic horarium and devoting the greater part of the day to Holy Mass, the Divine Office, and Eucharistic Adoration. After prayer, I must give priority to welcoming the priests, deacons, and deacon candidates who come seeking spiritual support. The promotion of spiritual motherhood is intrinsically related to my work here in Tulsa but, not having a secretary to assist with the correspondence that comes in almost daily from women all over the country, many requests remain in the "to do" pile. I apologize for this.

The Prayer Book

With regard to the promised book of prayers for the Spiritual Mothers of Priests, I will announce its publication here on Vultus Christi as soon as it becomes available. I am still working on the final revisions of the text and on some additional content.

Indispensable Reading

In the meantime, I thank you for your patience and recommend that you read the 2007 letter from the Congregation for the Clergy entitled Adoration, Reparation, and Spiritual Motherhood for Priests here, and the equally important letter to bishops that accompanied it here.

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The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year B
The First of Five Sundays
Focusing on the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist
in the Sixth Chapter of Saint John's Gospel


A Midsummer Eucharistic Season

Every three years when the B cycle of the Sunday Lectionary returns, the Church interrupts her reading of Saint Mark's Gospel to spend five weeks listening to the magnificent sixth chapter of Saint John: Our Lord's discourse on the Bread of Life. These five Sundays -- the 17th through the 21st -- constitute a kind of Johannine interlude, a Eucharistic season within the cycle of Time Throughout the Year. In this Year of the Priest, these five Sundays will take on an even richer meaning.

These five weeks, marked by the contemplation of the Bread of Life, invite us to three things:

1) a clear and systematic Eucharistic catechesis;
2) an examination of conscience on our personal response to what the Church teaches concerning the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist;
3) a more generous dedication of time to Eucharistic adoration.

A Eucharistic Program

Pope John Paul II's Year of the Eucharist in 2004-2005 is, I fear, already beginning to fade from our consciousness. We are, as the saying goes, "no better than our fathers, slow to remember and quick to forget." I would suggest, then, that you make yourself a program for these next five weeks. It would be opportune to re-read Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, and his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum, Domine. Take out the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and study articles 271-294 on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Meditate on Pope Benedict XVI's Letter for the Year of the Priesthood. Prepare each day's Mass with attention. Make more time for Eucharistic adoration, remembering that when adoration involves an element of sacrifice, it is a more worthy expression of love.

A Lavish Love

Our Lord multiplies the loaves in today's Gospel in order to give us an image of just how lavish His superabundant love for us is. The twelve baskets left over demonstrate that God is not content with providing us with what is strictly necessary: the work of God is characterized by superabundance. "I came that they may have life," says Our Lord, "and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

The Antiphons at the Magnificat and Benedictus

The three antiphons carefully chosen by the Church for the Gospel Canticles of today's Divine Office are, in themselves, a meditation in three movements on the Mystery of Faith that we will contemplate over the next five weeks:

Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

Benedictus Antiphon

The Lord satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fish.

Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers

When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!"

Note: The American edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, due to a purely arbitrary editorial decision, does not, alas, give all three antiphons for each of the yearly A, B, and C cycles. They are given in the Latin editio typica, as well as in the Italian, French, and German editions of the Liturgy of the Hours. Those who pray the Hours in English are unjustly deprived of the richness of what Mother Church wants them to have. One hopes that this omission will be corrected in future editions of the Liturgy of the Hours in English. Until then the best solution is to repeat the antiphon corresponding to the Sunday Gospel at all three Gospel Canticles. The Magnificat I Antiphon corresponds to Year A; the Benedictus Antiphon to Year B; and the Magnificat II Antiphon to Year C.

Transubstantiation

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is a very little thing in comparison to the miracle which takes place on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Acting in the very person of Christ the Head of His Mystical Body, the Eternal High Priest, the priest pronounces the words of consecration over the offerings of bread and wine. By the words of consecration and by the action of the Holy Spirit, the bread becomes the very Body of Christ and the wine becomes His Precious Blood. This is the miracle of Transubstantiation: the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his Blood" (Comp. CCC, art. 283).

You still see the appearance of bread, but there is no longer any bread, but only Christ, the Bread of Life. You still see the appearance of wine, but there is no longer be any wine, but only the Precious Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine: "Christ whole and entire, God and Man" (Comp. CCC, art. 282). This is no momentary or fleeting presence; it is permanent, lasting so long as one can see, touch, and taste the outward properties of bread and of wine.

Fruits of Holy Mass and Communion

In Holy Mass the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ are offered to the Father for the salvation of the world, for the forgiveness of sins, for the needs of the living and for the eternal rest of the dead. This same Sacred Body and Precious Blood are offered to us as food and drink in Holy Communion. Holy Communion builds up the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ; "it increases our union with Christ and with His Church. It strengthens us in charity, wipes away venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin in the future" (Comp. CCC, art. 292).

The Eucharistic Life

Without Holy Communion the Christian life is impossible. The more you receive Holy Communion, the more will you hunger and thirst for it. Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, the Lebanese monk whose feast we celebrated this past Friday, organized his whole life around the Eucharist; he celebrated Mass at noon each day so as to have the whole morning to prepare for it, and the whole afternoon for thanksgiving. Holy Communion is Love poured into our hearts, and the effect of Love is to make us long for even more Love.

Real Presence

The mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist is not confined to the duration of Holy Mass. The miracle of Our Lord's real presence is ongoing and dynamic, continuing by day and by night at every moment in all the tabernacles of the world. This, of course, is why we Catholics adore the Most Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle and exposed to our gaze in the monstrance on the altar. The faithful Catholic is compelled to linger before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, is magnetized by His presence, and drawn to His Open Heart hidden, and yet beating with love for us in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Our Lord's real sacramental presence is not static; it is not the presence of some thing, however sacred; it is the living presence of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, eternally Priest and Victim, offering Himself to His Father, and saying to us, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is supremely active, divinely active, testifying here and now to what Saint Luke wrote: "And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power (virtus) came forth from him and healed them all" (Lk 6:19).

With the Saints

In a few days the Church will present us with the feasts of three holy priests: passionate lovers of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. These three saints appear right on cue as if to encourage us in living this summer Eucharistic season as they lived their whole lives. On August 1st, we will remember Saint Alphonsus Liguori; on August 2nd, Saint Peter Julian Eymard; and on August 4th, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. These will be privileged moments of grace in this Year of the Priesthood. Do not let them pass you by!

Saint Alphonsus, Saint Peter Julien Eymard, and Saint Jean-Marie Vianney were priests overwhelmed with Eucharistic Love, drunk with Eucharistic Love, all ablaze with Eucharistic Love! They lived from one Holy Mass to the next. I so look forward to their companionship in this Year of the Priesthood. Ask them, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests, to introduce us into these five weeks of Eucharistic renewal. There is no better way to go straight to the heart of the Year of the Priesthood.

Tulsa Will Observe Three Evenings in Prayer for Priests

Diocese of Tulsa News
7/14/2009 - EOC Staff

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In observance of the Year of Priestly Jubilee, the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Tulsa are invited to spend three consecutive evenings next month to pray for the priests of this Diocese and of the whole Church.

The Triduum will begin at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2 at Holy Family Cathedral and will continue, gathering at the same time and place, on Monday, Aug. 3 and Tuesday, Aug. 4. The Triduum will end on the Feast of St. John Mary Vianney, in whose name Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Year of Priestly Jubilee that began in June and will continue through June 2010.

The preacher for the Tulsa evenings will be Father Mark Kirby, O.S.B., who serves as spiritual director to the clergy. He said each event will include prayer for priests, supplication and litany to St. John Mary Vianney, benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament and veneration of the relic of St. John Mary Vianney.

Morning Offering for Priests

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I composed this Morning Offering for Priests for the Prayerbook for the Spiritual Mothers of Priests that I am preparing for publication.

Father most holy,
I offer You the prayers, works,
joys, and sufferings of this day
by placing them in the holy and venerable hands
of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest,
and by saying, as He did upon entering the world,
"Behold, I come to do Your will" (Hebrews 10:9).

For the sake of all His priests,
and in particular for Fathers N. and N.,
I entreat Your beloved Son to unite my offering
to the Sacrifice of the Cross,
renewed upon the altars of Your Church
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Malachy 1:11).

Most merciful Father,
look upon these men chosen by Your Son
to show forth His death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26);
keep them from the Evil One (John 17:15)
and sanctify them in the truth (John 17:17).

Bind them by a most tender love
to the Virgin Mary, their Mother
that, by her intercession,
they may be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)
in every act of their sacred ministry;
thus may their priesthood reveal
the Face of Jesus and the merciful love of His Heart,
for the fruitfulness of His spouse, the Church.
and the praise of Your glory. Amen.

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For the Year of the Priesthood

SOLEMN DIOCESAN TRIDUUM IN HONOR OF
SAINT JOHN MARY VIANNEY, PATRON OF PRIESTS


Our priests, deacons, religious, and lay faithful are invited to assemble on three consecutive evenings to pray for the priests of our diocese and of the whole Church.

Where: Holy Family Cathedral, Tulsa
When: 6:30 each evening
Sunday, August 2
Monday, August 3
Tuesday, August 4

The Triduum will end on the feast of Saint John Mary Vianney.

Preacher: Father Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B.

Prayers for priests
Supplication and Litany to Saint John Mary Vianney
Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament
Veneration of the Relic of Saint John Mary Vianney


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Yesterday, after praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Precious Blood of Christ. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (Ap 2:29). My comments are in italics.

Dear brothers and sisters!

In the past, the first Sunday of July was characterized by devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Christ. In the last century some of my venerable predecessors confirmed this [tradition] and Blessed John XXIII, with his apostolic letter "Inde a Primis" (June 30, 1960), explained its meaning and approved its litanies.

How wonderful that the Holy Father should allude to the custom of keeping July as the month of the Precious Blood. The Litanies of the Precious Blood approved for public prayer by Blessed John XXIII are a favourite prayer of mine, a devotion entirely grounded in Sacred Scripture and in Tradition, and endowed with a particular efficacy.

The theme of blood linked to that of the Paschal Lamb is of primary importance in sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament the sprinkling of the blood of sacrificed animals represented and established the covenant between God and the people, as one reads in the Book of Exodus: "Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying: 'This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you on the basis of all these words of his'" (Exodus 24:8).

The Mass and Office of the Most Precious Blood (Feast: July 1st) are woven of Old Testament types and images of the Blood of Christ, the Immolated Lamb.

Jesus explicitly repeats this formula at the Last Supper, when, offering the chalice to his disciples, he says: "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). And, from the scourging, to the piercing of his side after his death on the cross, Christ has really shed all of his blood as the true Lamb immolated for universal redemption. The salvific value of his blood is expressively affirmed in many passages of the New Testament.

The Holy Father invites us to meditate on the mystery of the Precious Blood from the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist in the Cenacle, through the Passion and piercing of Our Lord's Side, to the glory of the Immolated Lamb in the Apocalypse.

In this Year for Priests, one need only cite the beautiful lines of the Letter to the Hebrews: "Christ ... entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own Blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God?" (9:11-14).

The mystery of the Blood of Christ that appears so vividly in the Letter to the Hebrews is inseparable from all that is related to the Year of the Priest. I recommend, in particular, the recitation of the Litany of the Precious Blood for priests during this year.

Dear brothers, it is written in Genesis that the blood of Abel, killed by his brother Cain, cried out to God from the earth (cf. 4:10). And, unfortunately, today as yesterday, this cry does not cease, since human blood continues to run because of violence, injustice and hatred. When will men learn that life is sacred and belongs to God alone? When will men understand that we are all brothers? To the cry of the blood that goes up from many parts of the earth, God answers with the Blood of his Son, who gave his life for us. Christ did not answer evil with evil, but with good, with his infinite love.

Life is sacred and belongs to God alone. In the Bible, life is blood. God answers the taking of human life with the giving of the Blood of His Son. The Blood of Christ pleads on behalf of all: those who are the victims of violence and even those who perpetrate it, that they may be converted and live.

The blood of Christ is the pledge of the faithful love of God for humanity. Looking upon the wounds of the Crucified, every man, even in conditions of extreme moral misery, can say: God has not abandoned me, he loves me, he gave his life for me -- and in this way rediscover hope. May the Virgin Mary, who beneath the Cross, together with the apostle John, witnessed the testament of Jesus' Blood, help us to rediscover the inestimable riches of this grace, and to feel profound and perennial gratitude for it.

I am in awe of this sentence: "Looking upon the wounds of the Crucified, every man, even in conditions of extreme moral misery, can say: God has not abandoned me, he loves me, he gave his life for me -- and in this way rediscover hope." And then, the Holy Father directs us to Our Lady with Saint John at the foot of the Cross, eyewitnesses of the Blood and Water that gushed from the Open Side of Jesus. There is room for everyone at the foot of the Cross, even those who find themselves "in conditions of extreme moral misery." And there, at the foot of the Cross, is hope and copious redemption.

One Who Prays Is Never Alone

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Here is a translation of the Holy Father's teaching during yesterday's general audience in St. Peter's Square. He continues to foster a fruitful celebration of the Year of the Priest. The beginning of the last paragraph is extraordinary: "One who prays is not afraid; one who prays is never alone; one who prays is saved!"

Dear brothers and sisters:

Deeper Into the Knowledge of the Mystery of Christ

As you know, with the celebration of First Vespers for the solemnity of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Pauline Year has come to a close -- the year that marked the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the spiritual fruits that this important initiative has brought to so many Christian communities.

As a precious heritage of the Pauline Year, we can reap the Apostle's invitation to go deeper into the knowledge of the mystery of Christ, so that he becomes the heart and center of our personal and social realities.

True Spiritual and Ecclesial Renewal

This is, in fact, the indispensable condition for a true spiritual and ecclesial renewal. As I already emphasized during the first Eucharistic celebration in the Sistine Chapel after my election as the Successor of the Apostle St. Peter, it is precisely from that full communion with Christ that "flows every other element of the Church's life: first of all, communion among all the faithful, the commitment to proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel, the ardor of love for all, especially the poorest and lowliest" (1st Message at the End of the Eucharistic Concelebration With the Members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, April 20, 2005).

How Great Is the Priesthood

This is true in the first place for priests. Because of this, I thank Divine Providence, which now offers us the possibility of celebrating the Year for Priests. It is my heartfelt wish that this will be an opportunity for interior renewal for every priest, and consequently, [a year of] firm reinvigoration in the commitment to his own mission.

Just as during the Pauline Year, our constant reference point was St. Paul, so in the coming months we will look to St. John Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars, recalling the 150th anniversary of his death. In the letter I wrote to priests for this occasion, I wanted to emphasize what shines forth in the existence of this humble minister of the altar: "the complete identification of the man with his ministry."

He often said that "a good pastor, a pastor after the heart of God, is the greatest treasure that the good God can give to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy." And almost unable to conceive the greatness of the gift and the task entrusted to a poor human creature, he sighed, "Oh how great is the priesthood! ... If he could understand himself, he would die. ... God obeys him: He pronounces two words and Our Lord descends from heaven at his beckoning and enters into a tiny Host."

Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests

In truth, precisely considering the binomial "identity-mission," every priest can better see the need for this progressive identification with Christ that will guarantee him fidelity and fruitfulness in the evangelical testimony.

The very theme of the Year for Priests -- Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests -- shows that the gift of divine grace precedes every possible human response and pastoral accomplishment, and thus, in the life of the priest, missionary proclamation and worship are never separable, just as the ontological-sacramental identity and the evangelizing mission are not separable.

Holy Oblation

Apart from that we could say the objective of every priest's mission is "cultic": so that all people can offer themselves to God as a living host, holy and pleasing to Him (cf. Romans 12:1), that in creation itself, in people, it becomes worship and praise of the Creator, receiving from it that charity that they are called to abundantly dispense among each other.

The Sacrifice Offered by Priests

We clearly see this in the beginnings of Christianity. St. John Chrysostom said, for example, that the sacrament of the altar and the "sacrament of one's brother" or, as they say, the "sacrament of the poor," are two aspects of the same mystery. Love for neighbor, attention to justice and to the poor, are not just themes of social morality, but rather the expression of a sacramental conception of Christian morality, because through the ministry of the priest, the spiritual sacrifice of all the faithful is carried out, in union with that of Christ, the one Mediator: the sacrifice that priests offer in an unbloody and sacramental manner awaiting the new coming of the Lord.

United to the Sacrifice of Christ

This is the principal dimension, essentially missionary and dynamic, of priestly identity and ministry: by way of the proclamation of the Gospel, those who still do not believe are begotten in the faith, so that they can unite their sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ, that translates in love for God and neighbor.

Primacy of Divine Grace

Dear brothers and sisters, faced with so many uncertainties and struggles, it is urgent to recover -- also in the exercise of priestly ministry -- a clear and unmistaken judgment about the absolute primacy of divine grace, recalling what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "The smallest gift of grace surpasses the natural good of the whole universe" (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 113, a. 9, ad 2).

Encounter With Christ

The mission of every priest depends, therefore, also and above all on the awareness of the sacramental reality of his "new being." The priest's renewed enthusiasm for his mission will always depend on the certainty of his personal identity, which is not artificially constructed, but rather given and received freely and divinely. What I have written in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" is also true for priests: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (No. 1).

Critique of a Post-Concilar Misconception

Having received such an extraordinary gift of grace with their "consecration," priests become permanent witnesses of their encounter with Christ. Beginning precisely from this interior awareness, they can plentifully fulfill their "mission," by means of the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. After the Second Vatican Council, the impression has come about that in our times, there is something more urgent in priests' missions; some believed that they should in the first place build up a distinct society. On the other hand, the verses from the Gospel that we heard at the beginning call our attention to the two essential elements of priestly ministry. Jesus sends the apostles, at that time and now, to proclaim the Gospel and he gives them the power to cast out evil spirits. "Proclamation" and "power," that is to say "word" and "sacrament," are therefore the two foundational pillars of priestly service, beyond its many possible configurations.

Identity of the Priest

When the "diptych" consecration-mission is not taken into account, it becomes truly difficult to understand the identity of the priest and his ministry in the Church. Who in fact is the priest, if not a man converted and renewed by the Spirit, who lives from a personal relationship with Christ, constantly making the Gospel criteria his own? Who is the priest, if not a man of unity and truth, aware of his own limits and at the same time, of the extraordinary greatness of the vocation he has received, that of helping to extend the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth?

Eucharistic Adoration -- Especially Monasteries

Yes! The priest is a man totally belonging to the Lord, because it is God himself who calls him and who establishes him in his apostolic service. And precisely being totally of God, he is totally of mankind, for all people. During this Year for the Priest, which will continue until the next solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us pray for all priests. May there be an abundance of prayer initiatives and, in particular, Eucharistic adoration, for the sanctification of the clergy and for priestly vocations -- in dioceses, in parishes, in religious communities (especially monasteries), in associations and movements and in the various pastoral groups present in the whole world -- responding to Jesus' invitation to pray "to the lord of the harvest that he may send workers to his harvest" (Matthew 9:38).

The True Path of Sanctification for Priests

Prayer is the first task, the true path of sanctification for priests, and the soul of an authentic "vocational ministry." The numerical scarcity of priestly ordinations in some countries should not discourage, but instead should motivate a multiplication of opportunities for silence and listening to the Word, and better attention to spiritual direction and the sacrament of confession, so that the voice of God, who always continues calling and confirming, can be heard and promptly followed by many youth.

An Existence Made Prayer

One who prays is not afraid; one who prays is never alone; one who prays is saved! St. John Vianney is undoubtedly a model of an existence made prayer. Mary, Mother of the Church, help all priests to follow his example so as to be, like him, witnesses of Christ and apostles of the Gospel.

[Translation: Libreria Editrice Vaticana]

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Here are the prayers that I use to open and close Eucharistic adoration in the Cenacle of the Diocese of Tulsa:

At the beginning of the hour of adoration:

Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
behold, I kneel before Thy Eucharistic Face
on behalf of all Thy priests:
(Fathers N. and N.)
and especially those priests of Thine,
who at this moment are most in need
of Thy grace.
For them and in their place,
allow me to remain,
adoring and full of confidence,
close to Thy Open Heart
hidden in this, the Sacrament of Thy Love.

Through the Sorrowful and Immaculate
Heart of Mary,
our Advocate and the Mediatrix of All Graces,
pour forth upon all the priests of Thy Church
that torrent of mercy that ever flows
from Thy pierced side:
to purify and heal them,
to refresh and sanctify them,
and, at the hour of their death,
to make them worthy of joining Thee
before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary
beyond the veil (Hb 6:19)
where Thou art always living
to make intercession
for us (Hb 7:25). Amen.

At the end of adoration, three times:

Eucharistic Face of Jesus, sanctify Thy priests!

A Note on the Expression "Eucharistic Face of Jesus"


In his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II drew the eyes of the Church to the Face of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. He coined a new phrase, one not encountered before in his writings or in the teachings of his predecessors, "the Eucharistic Face of Christ." Thus did Pope John Paul II share with the Church his own experience of seeking, finding, and adoring the Face of Christ in the Eucharist.

To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the "programme" which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization. To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his Body and Blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by Him she is fed and by Him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a "mystery of light." Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: "their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (Lk 24:31). . . . I cannot let this Holy Thursday 2003 pass without halting before the "Eucharistic face" of Christ and pointing out with new force to the Church the centrality of the Eucharist.

The experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus culminated in their eyes being opened to see the Eucharistic Face of Christ. "When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and he vanished out of their sight" (Lk 24:30-31). Christ vanished from the sight of the disciples, leaving in their hearts a mysterious burning (cf. Lk 24:32), and the broken Bread that at once conceals and reveals His Eucharistic Face. In the Eucharist the Face of Christ is turned toward us. The Eucharistic Face of Christ waits to meet the gaze of our faith, waits to be sought and recognized, adored and implored. "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known" (1 Cor 13:12). Sanctissima Facies Iesu, sub sacramento abscondita, respice in nos et miserere nostri.

The Face of Christ shines through the veil of the Sacred Species to illumine those who seek it there. The radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus heals and repairs the disfiguration of sin; it restores beauty to the face of the soul and likeness to the image of God obscured by sin. It is in the Most Holy Eucharist that the prayer of the psalmist is wonderfully fulfilled: "The light of Thy face, O Lord, is signed upon us: Thou hast given gladness in my heart" (Ps 4:7). Again, it is the psalmist who says, "Look to Him and be radiant, and your faces shall not be put to shame" (Ps 33:6). The adorer who seeks the Eucharistic Face will experience that in its light there is the healing of brokenness and the beginning of transfiguration. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).

The Eucharistic Face of Jesus is veiled beneath the humble species of bread lest we be blinded by its glory. "His face," says Saint John, "was like the sun shining in full strength" (Rev 1:16). The rays of that Sun reach us nonetheless through the appearance of bread that conceals it; its healing effects are not in any way diminished, nor is the splendour of its glory. "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen" (2 Cor 4:18). "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Eucharistic face of Christ" (cf. 2 Cor 4:6).

The sentiments of every human heart find expression on the face even before they are communicated in words. So too are the secrets of the Sacred Heart revealed on the Face of the Word made Flesh and communicated to those who seek that Face in the mystery of the Eucharist. One who seeks the Face of Christ will be led surely, inexorably, to the inexhaustible riches of His Heart.

The Face of Christ is "the brightness of the Father's glory and the figure of his substance" (cf. Heb 1:3). To Philip wanting to see the Father, Jesus replied, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" (Jn 14:9-10). The Face of Christ, "full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14), reveals the Father. Those who seek the Eucharistic Face of Jesus can in truth say with Saint John, "We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (Jn 1:14), and again, "No one has ever seen God; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known" (Jn 1:18).

He who is from all eternity "in the bosom of the Father" (Jn 1:18) is also, "in these last days" (Heb 1:2), sacramentally present in the heart of the Church, abiding there as "the living Bread which came down from heaven" (Jn 6:51). It is in adoring Him there that we become "the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob" (Ps 23:6).

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This is the homily that I preached this evening at First Vespers of Saints Peter and Paul in our Cathedral of the Holy Family in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Spiritually in Rome

This evening, with the Church's evening sacrifice of praise, we enter into the festival of the Apostles Peter and Paul and bring the Pauline Year to a close. The Vespers hymn given us by the Church would have sing: "The beauteous light of God's eternal majesty / Streams down in golden rays to grace this holy day (Aurea luce). We find ourselves on pilgrimage to the Eternal City; spiritually we are in Rome at the tombs of Peter, the Keeper of Heaven's Gate, and of Paul, the Teacher of the Nations. Describing Rome as the eyes of faith see her, the hymn goes on to say:

O happy Rome! who in thy martyr princes' blood,
A twofold stream, art washed and doubly sanctified.
All earthly beauty thou alone outshinest far,
Empurpled by their outpoured life-blood's glorious tide.

Grace Abounds All the More

The mere tourist on a Roman holiday, rushing from one attraction to another, and distracted by a wildly delicious assault of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, misses the city's most precious secrets: the mortal remains of Saints Peter and Paul, and the immortal holiness of streets, and stones, and earth soaked in the blood of a host of other martyrs. "But Father," you may object, "I have been to Rome" -- it is rife with sin and thievery." Saint Paul, addressing the Romans, answers, saying: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20).

A Cascade of Graces

Mystically transported to the tombs of Saints Peter and Saint Paul and enveloped by the liturgy of the feast, we are already standing under a cascade of graces coming down from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17). Every feast in the Church's calendar, indeed every Hour of the Divine Office of every feast, is the vehicle of a particular grace: one coloured by the saint or mystery being celebrated and divinely adapted to whatever our present needs may be.

First Antiphon

The first antiphon, taken from Mathew 16:16-17, is composed of a word pronounced by Peter, and of Jesus' reply. Peter confesses his faith: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." Straightaway Our Lord confirms him in his faith: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona." This first antiphon framed Psalm 116 for us: the shortest psalm in the Bible. Psalm 116 has but two verses: a clarion call summoning all the nations to praise the Lord because His mercy over us is confirmed, and because His truth will abide forever.

Blessed Art Thou

If you would enter into the grace of the first antiphon and psalm, make Peter's confession of faith your own, and then listen to Our Lord say to you, "Blessed art thou." If your own faith is beset with doubts, and uncertain in the face of suffering, lean on the faith of Peter and of the Church. Persevere in repeating Peter's prayer -- "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." Say it even if you feel nothing. Say it even if you think that your prayer is going nowhere. Say it even if you think no one is listening. The mercy of Christ will, at the appointed hour, break through the darkness that surrounds you, and you will hear Him say to you, as He said to Peter, "Blessed art thou."

Second Antiphon

The second antiphon is taken from Matthew 16:18. Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks, saying: "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). These words, once addressed to Simon Bar-Jona have been repeated to each of his 265 successors as Bishop of Rome. This is the antiphon sung to greet the Pope every time he solemnly enters Saint Peter's Basilica. And this is the text written in monumental letters around the base of the great dome of Saint Peter's.

Pray for the Pope and for the Church

Today, this antiphon opens and closes Psalm 147, a hymn in praise of the Lord who so loves His Church that He blesses her children, places peace in her borders, and fills her with the wheat of the Most Holy Eucharist, the swift-running efficacy of His Word, and the very Breath of His mouth, the Holy Spirit. Both the antiphon and the psalm invite us to pray fervently and gratefully for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church. Prayer for the Pope is as old as the Church herself. We read in Acts 12:5: "But prayer was made without ceasing by the Church for him [Peter]" (Ac 12:5).

Third Antiphon

The third antiphon is addressed to Saint Paul. It is an artfully crafted composition, made up of Acts 9:15 and 1 Timothy 2:7. This illustrates, incidentally, that the Church is sovereignly free in her use of Sacred Scripture in the liturgy. Guided by the Holy Ghost, she so grasps the unity of the Bible, that she knows how to lift out first one verse and then another. She then reassembles them in such a way that they become a fitting expression of her prayer for all times.

In Acts 9:15, Our Lord appears to Ananias in a vision. When Ananias protests to Him that he wants nothing to do with this hateful Saul, Our Lord answers, "Go thy way, for this man is to me a vessel of election" (Ac 9:15). That is the first part of the antiphon. In the second part -- 2 Timothy 2:7 -- Paul boasts of his divinely conferred credentials: "I am appointed a preacher and an apostle, (I say the truth, I lie not,) a doctor of the Gentiles in faith and truth."

Grace

This antiphon opens and closes a canticle that Saint Paul either composed or learned from hearing it sung in the assemblies of the Church. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving, glorifying God the Father for having chosen us in Christ, His Beloved Son, for the praise of His glorious grace. In this canticle, grace is the keyword. Grace is the graciousness of God in action, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace is what changed Saul into Paul, making him God's vessel of election, and the preacher of the truth in the world. Grace is what will change us from what we are -- frail, broken sinners -- into the saints God wants us to be forever. Hold fast to the Our Lord's own words to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Cor 12:9).

The Reading

It comes as no surprise that the short lesson this evening should be from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It is, in fact, the salutation from the very beginning of his letter: "To all that are at Rome -- and, spiritually, we are there this evening -- the beloved of God called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7). This is a greeting that delivers what it wishes. It is the word of God uttered in the midst of the Church: no vapid sentimentality here, but rather the efficacious Word of God sent like a flaming arrow into the hearts of those who hear it.

The Responsory

The Reponsory tells us that the Apostles spoke the Word of God with confidence and boldness, bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Latin text has cum fiducia, with assurance, confidence, and trust. Trust in whom? Trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. "I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever" (Jn 14:16). There is no reason then to be timid and shrinking about our Catholic faith, even in an intimidating culture that mocks it, rejects the hope it offers, and would have us dilute it. Apostolic Catholic Christianity is to be lived cum fiducia, with confidence, and boldly.

Magnificat Antiphon

The Magnificat Antiphon will have us sing: "The glorious Apostles of Christ, just as they loved each other in life, so too, are they not separated in death." Did Peter and Paul love each other? Yes. Did they always agree about everything? No. It is this that makes their fraternal love credible, even more compelling. What was this charity with which they loved each other? It is the charity that Saint Paul describes in First Corinthians: a charity that is patient, is kind, that envieth not, that dealeth not perversely, and that is not puffed up; a charity that is not ambitious, that seeketh not her own, that is not provoked to anger; a charity that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things" (1 Cor 13:4-7).

The Collect

The Collect, in its own way, tells us quite a lot about God and about ourselves. It is proper to this evening and different from the one that we will hear at Mass and at the Hours tomorrow:

Give us, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God,
to be lifted up by the intercession of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul,
so that through them to whom Thou gavest Thy Church
the first proofs of heavenly gifts,
Thou wouldst provide us with helps for everlasting salvation.

We pray to God as a people in need of being lifted up. We are fallen and falling . . . but God is ever ready to lift us up. Today He does so by the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul. Both of them knew what it is to fall. . . and to fall in a spectacular way. Now, in the glory of heaven, they are well placed to help us rise from the sin that, again and again, knocks us down. In the beginning, God gave Saints Peter and Paul signs and demonstrations of His heavenly protection; what He did for them in the first days of the Church, He is ready to do for us in 2009, at this end of the Year of Saint Paul and beginning of the Year of the Priest.

A Lamp to Our Feet

Under Saint Peter's watchful eye, Saint Paul is handing the torch to Saint John Mary Vianney, the Curé d'Ars. Pray that this torch be for all of us, but especially for the priests of our diocese of Tulsa, "a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths" (Ps 118:105).

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The Sacred Side of Jesus in the Redemptorist Church of Sant'Alfonso in Rome
Home of the Miraculous Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help


On this Octave Day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: the Vatican's English translation of the Holy Father's homily at Vespers in Saint Peter's Basilica on June 19. My comments are in italics.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In a little while, we shall be singing in the Antiphon to the Magnificat: "The Lord has welcomed us in His Heart Suscepit nos Dominus in sinum et cor suum". God's Heart, considered to be the organ of His will, is mentioned 26 times in the Old Testament.

What a brilliant opening! Pope Benedict XVI goes straight to the Magnificat Antiphon, the mystical key that unlocks the most solemn moment of Vespers. Then he presents the biblical understanding of the heart: the organ of the will.

Man is judged according to God's Heart. Because of the pain His Heart feels at the sins of man, God decides on the flood, but is subsequently moved by human weakness and forgives.

Yes, the Heart of God can feel pain. The Heart of God grieves over the sins of men.

Then there is an Old Testament passage in which the subject of God's Heart is expressed with absolute clarity: it is in chapter 11 of the Book of the Prophet Hosea in which the first verses describe the dimension of the love with which the Lord turned to Israel at the dawn of its history: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11: 1). Israel, in fact, responds to God's tireless favour with indifference and even outright ingratitude.

The message of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary echoed the Reproaches of the Good Friday Liturgy and, beyond them, the indifference and ingratitude of Israel to a Bridegroom God. "In return for My love," He said to Saint Margaret Mary, "I receive from most nothing but ingratitude, irreverence, sacrilege, coldness, and scorn. . . . Look how sinners treat Me. They have nothing but coldness and disdain for all My eagerness to do them good."

"The more I called them", the Lord is forced to admit, "the more they went from Me" (v. 2). Nonetheless he never abandons Israel to the hands of the enemy because "my Heart", the Creator of the universe observes, "recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender" (v. 8).

Speaking through His prophet, God bares His Heart: He reveals that, even in the face of coldness, indifference, and betrayal, He remains compassionate and tender.

The Heart of God throbs with compassion! On today's Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church offers us this mystery for contemplation, the mystery of the Heart of a God who feels compassion and pours forth all His love upon humanity. It is a mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God's immeasurable love for the human being. He does not give in to ingratitude or to rejection by the People He has chosen; on the contrary, with infinite mercy He sends His Only-Begotten Son into the world to take upon Himself the burden of love immolated so that by defeating the powers of evil and death He could restore the dignity of being God's children to human beings, enslaved by sin.

The translation is a little awkward, but the message is overwhelming. It is Love Crucified. It is the Heart of the Only-Begotten Son opened by the soldier's lance so that sinners might be drawn through the awful gaping wound into the bosom of the Father.

All this comes about at a high price: the Only-Begotten Son of the Father is sacrificed on the Cross, "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (cf. Jn 13: 1).

The Holy Father quotes the beginning of Saint John's account of the Cenacle and of the Lord's final discourse: in finem dilexit. He loved them to the end. I read chapters 13 through 17 of Saint John every Thursday; it is an abyss of love, an inexhaustible mystery. It is the Heart of Jesus forming His first priests.

A symbol of this love which goes beyond death is his side, pierced by a spear. In this regard, the Apostle John, an eye-witness, says: "one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water" (cf. Jn 19: 34).

Yes, the Sacred Side of Jesus is opened after His death so that even the roseate blood and water remaining in His Heart might be poured out for sinners.

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you because, in response to my invitation, you have come in large numbers to this celebration with which we begin the Year for Priests. I greet the Cardinals and Bishops, in particular the Cardinal Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy with their collaborators, and the Bishop of Ars. I greet the priests and seminarians of the various seminaries and colleges of Rome; the men and women religious and all the faithful.

I address a special greeting to H.B. Ignace Youssef Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for Syrians, who has come to Rome to meet me and to acknowledge publicly the "ecclesiastica communio" which I have granted him.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pause together to contemplate the pierced Heart of the Crucified One. We have heard again, just now, in the brief Reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians, that "God, Who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ... and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2: 4-6). To be in Jesus Christ, is to be already seated in heaven.

This, Fathers, is how to preach at Vespers! The Holy Father began with the Magnificat Antiphon (not yet sung at this point, therefore creating a certain anticipation), and then quotes the Short Reading, explaining what Saint Paul means when he speaks of being "in Jesus Christ."

The essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of Jesus; in Christ the whole of the revolutionary newness of the Gospel was revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and already makes us live in God's eternity.

The Heart of Jesus is the essentIal nucleus of Christianity! Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an immense gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. We have not yet begun to probe its inexhaustible richness. The point of departure in any such attempt is the liturgy of the Church: the Proper of the Mass, the Lectionary, and the Divine Office with its antiphons, responsories, hymns, and orations.

The Evangelist John writes: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (3: 16). His Divine Heart therefore calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in Him and, following His example, to make of ourselves a gift of love without reserve.

To abandon our human certainties to trust in Him! How many of you learned to say as children, "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in Thee"? I learned that aspiration as a small boy and it has never left me. Children need to learn such prayers from the heart at an early age, because they will need them later on in life's moments of crisis.

If it is true that Jesus' invitation to "abide in my love" (cf. Jn 15: 9) is addressed to every baptized person, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Day for priestly sanctification, this invitation resounds more powerfully for us priests, particularly this evening at the solemn inauguration of the Year for Priests, which I wanted to be celebrated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé d'Ars.

What does the Sacred Heart of Jesus say to His priests? "Abide in my love" (Jn 15:9). The school of this abiding is, without any doubt, prolonged daily prayer in front of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, close to His Open Heart, hidden in the Sacrament of His Love. A priest who has learned to tarry in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament will progress from tarrying there to abiding in His Heart, that is, in His Love.

One of his beautiful and moving sayings, cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, immediately springs to my mind: "The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus" (n. 1589).

How is it possible not to remember with emotion that the gift of our priestly ministry flowed directly from this Heart? How can we forget that we priests were consecrated to serve humbly and authoritatively the common priesthood of the faithful?

Priestly ministry flows from the Heart of Jesus, from His pierced Heart.

Ours is an indispensable mission, for the Church and for the world, which demands full fidelity to Christ and in unceasing union with him this to remain in His love means that we must constantly strive for holiness, this union, as did St John Mary Vianney.

In case you had any doubts, Fathers: ours is an indispensable mission both for the Church and for the world! With priests the fecundity of the Church would dry up; she would become barren. And the world would become a wasteland.

In the Letter I addressed to you for this special Jubilee Year, dear brother priests, I wanted to highlight certain qualifying aspects of our ministry, with references to the example and teaching of the Holy Curé d'Ars, model and protector of all of us, priests, and especially parish priests.

We are to spend this year in the company of Saint John Mary Vianney, that is in the real experience of his companionship, made possible by the Communion of Saints.

May my Letter be a help and encouragement to you in making this Year a favourable opportunity to grow in intimacy with Jesus, who counts on us, his ministers, to spread and to consolidate his Kingdom, to radiate his love, his truth.

Intimacy with Jesus.

Therefore, "in the footsteps of the Curé of Ars", my Letter concluded, "let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!" (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, see p. 5).

Enthralled by Jesus.

To let oneself be totally won over by Christ! This was the purpose of the whole life of St Paul to whom we have devoted our attention during the Pauline Year which is now drawing to a close; this was the goal of the entire ministry of the Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we shall invoke in particular during the Year for Priests; may it also be the principal objective for each one of us.

And totally won over by Christ.

In order to be ministers at the service of the Gospel, study and a careful and continuing pastoral and theological formation is of course useful and necessary, but that "knowledge of love" which can only be learned in a "heart to heart" with Christ is even more necessary. Indeed, it is He who calls us to break the Bread of His love, to forgive sins and to guide the flock in His name. For this very reason we must never distance ourselves from the source of Love which is his Heart that was pierced on the Cross.

Study is necessary and useful, but "cursed be the study that leadeth not to love." The priest must never distance himself from the Heart pierced on the Cross; this of course, is why he will offer Holy Mass daily. If a priest is comfortable letting a single day pass without offering the Holy Sacrifice, his priesthood is in danger. He may continue going through the motions for a tIme, but a certain spiritual lifelessness will betray the distance he has taken from his First Love. The faithful will notice it.

Only in this way will we be able to cooperate effectively in the mysterious "plan of the Father" that consists in "making Christ the Heart of the world"! This plan is brought about in history, as Jesus gradually becomes the Heart of human hearts, starting with those who are called to be closest to him: priests, precisely.

Christ is the Heart of the priest's heart. If He is not, other loves will move in to occupy the void.

We are reminded of this ongoing commitment by the "priestly promises" that we made on the day of our Ordination and which we renew every year, on Holy Thursday, during the Chrism Mass. Even our shortcomings, our limitations, and our weaknesses must lead us back to the Heart of Jesus.

Yes, yes. Even our shortcomings, our limitations, and our weaknesses must lead us back to the Heart of Jesus. This is why I practice and recommend frequent -- very frequent Confession. Every Confession is a return to the Heart of Jesus. We priests need to avail ourselves very frequently of the restorative grace of sacramental absolution. It makes an enormous difference in the fruitfulness of our sacred ministry. Weekly? you ask. Yes. Weekly is not too often. I once heard the confession of a saintly Jesuit (!) who approached the sacrament daily with the most touching compunction and humility.

Indeed, if it is true that sinners, in contemplating Him, must learn from Him the necessary "sorrow for sins" that leads them back to the Father, it is even more so for holy ministers. How can we forget, in this regard, that nothing makes the Church, the Body of Christ, suffer more than the sins of her pastors, especially the sins of those who are transformed into "a thief and a robber" of the sheep (Jn 10: 1 ff.), or who deviates from the Church through their own private doctrines, or who ensnare the Church in sin and death?

The sins of priests horribly disfigure the face of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Reparation for the sins of priests is not the unfashionable product of an overheated 19th century piety. It is a compelling call to plunge oneself into the Fire and the Blood. It is the means by which priests themselves are restored to spiritual health, and by which the most the unspeakable damage to souls, caused by the sins of priests, is repaired.

Dear priests, the call to conversion and recourse to Divine Mercy also applies to us, and we must likewise humbly address a heartfelt and ceaseless invocation to the Heart of Jesus to keep us from the terrible risk of harming those whom we are bound to save.

This is phenomenally powerful: "We must likewise humbly address a heartfelt and ceaseless invocation to the Heart of Jesus to keep us from the terrible risk of harming those whom we are bound to save."

I have just had the opportunity to venerate in the Choir Chapel the relic of the Holy Curé d'Ars: his heart. It was a heart that blazed with divine love, that was moved at the thought of the priest's dignity and spoke to the faithful in touching and sublime tones, affirming that "After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is" (cf. Letter, Year for Priests, p. 3).

Sobering and humbling: after God, the priest is everything. If anything should keep us prostrate and faces to the ground before the Blessed Sacrament, it is this, dear Fathers.

Dear Brothers, let us cultivate this same emotion in order to carry out our ministry with generosity and dedication, or to preserve in our souls a true "fear of God": the fear of being able to deprive of so much good, through our negligence or fault, those souls entrusted to us, or God forbid of harming them.

The Holy Father asks us to cultivate the fear of God: the fear of not doing good, the fear of harming souls, the fear of not corresponding to grace.

The Church needs holy priests; ministers who can help the faithful to experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are his convinced witnesses.

Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes the experience of the merciful love of the Sacred Heart. A priest cannot communicate what he has not experienced.

In the Eucharistic Adoration that will follow the celebration of Vespers, let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest on fire with that "pastoral charity" which can enable him to assimilate his personal "I" into that Jesus the High Priest, so that he may be able to imitate Jesus in the most complete self-giving.

"The most complete self-giving": this is the victimal or oblative dimension of priesthood. A priest cannot stand at the altar without placing himself on the altar.

Also, a liturgical note: Exposition, adoration, and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament properly follow Vespers. This is the Roman practice. Vespers "coram Sanctissimo" poses the same theological problem as celebrating the Mass of the Catechumens (or Liturgy of the Word) "coram Sanctissimo." It is not something one would do. Pope Pius XII recognized the unsuitableness of it.

Vespers, being a complete Liturgy of the Word (even as it ascends in the sight of the Divine Majesty as a Sacrifice of Praise) calls for its Eucharistic complement in the exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The paradigm remains the "Liturgy of the Word" on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27-32). So moved were the two disciples by Our Lord's revelation of Himself in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, that they pleaded with Him, "Mane nobiscum, Domine -- Stay with us, Lord." He acceded to their prayer, and going in, they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. This is why the centuries old practice of the Roman Church has been to celebrate Vespers first, and then procede to the recognition and adoration of the Lord in the adorable Sacrament of the altar.

May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Heart we shall contemplate with living faith tomorrow, obtain this grace for us. The Holy Curé d'Ars had a filial devotion to her, so profound that in 1836, in anticipation of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he consecrated his parish to Mary, "conceived without sin".

Pope Benedict XVI does not tire of expressing his filial devotion to Our Blessed Lady. Here he relates the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Parishes consecrated to Our Lady's Immaculate Heart thrive and prosper. The Curé d'Ars knew that.

He kept up the practice of frequently renewing this offering of his parish to the Blessed Virgin, teaching the faithful that "to be heard it was enough to address her", for the simple reason that she "desires above all else to see us happy".

How wonderful! The Blessed Virgin desires above all else to see us happy! Happy, of course, in the sense of the Beatitudes preached by her Son. It is a happiness with no alloy of bitterness, satiety, or boredom. It is the bliss of her own Immaculate Heart communicated to the hearts of her children.

May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, accompany us during the Year for Priests which we are beginning to day, so that we are able to be sound and enlightened guides for the faithful whom the Lord entrusts to our pastoral care. Amen!

And so, the Year for Priests is entrusted to the Blessed Virgin, our Mother! Holy Mary, behold your sons! Sons, behold your Mother.

[Translation Libreria Editrice Vaticana]

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The Schola Cantorum of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa


1. You can ask your Parish Priest to offer the Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest on the First Thursday of the Month. Suggest that he use the parish bulletin and the Sunday homily to invite the faithful to participate in this monthly Mass for the sanctification of all priests.

2. Study the Holy Father's Letter for the Year of Priests in a small group. Make copies. Mark them up. Take the message to heart. So much of what the Holy Father writes never reaches ordinary Catholics! Get the word out!

3. Yes, you can offer all your sufferings -- physical, emotional, and spiritual -- for the sanctification of all priests.

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4. Considering the damage done to the priesthood by sins of calumny, detraction, and tale-bearing, you can resolve to refrain from all critical, unkind, and judgmental speech (and blogging) concerning priests, and also resolve never to repeat disedifying comments, anecdotes, or gossip concerning priests, their sins, and their failings.

5. Don't forget the souls of priests in purgatory. You may want to join with others in having Masses offered for the happy repose of the souls of departed priests.

6. Resolve to show all priests a supernaturally motivated respect and reverence. Reclaim the beautiful Catholic custom of asking for a priest's blessing whenever you encounter him. And brother priests, don't hesitate to offer your priestly blessing on every occasion!

7. "And He said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting" (Mk 9:32). In reparation for the sins of priests and to obtain for them graces of conversion, deliverance from patterns of habitual sin, and fortitude in spiritual combat, you can fast, abstain, or offer some other mortification for priests every Wednesday. (Spy Wednesday was the day of Judas' plotting against Our Lord.)

8. On Thursday (the day of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and of the Priesthood) you can spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament in thanksgiving for the gift and mystery of the priesthood, and in confident supplication for the sanctification of all priests. I recommend that during this hour you meditate Our Lord's own prayer for priests in the 17th Chapter of Saint John's Gospel.

9. On Friday (the day of Our Lord's Blessed Passion) make the Way of the Cross for priests or pray the Litany of the Precious Blood or the Litany of the Sacred Heart for them.

10. Every Saturday (Our Blessed Lady's day) offer for priests five decades of the Rosary or the Ave, Maris Stella, a most suitable liturgical hymn for interceding for priests.


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The Holy Father is elucidating his plan for The Year of the Priest. Here is his Wednesday audience:

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Heart of Jesus and the Heart of the Curé d'Ars

Last Friday, June 19, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day traditionally dedicated to pray for the sanctification of priests, I had the joy of inaugurating the Year for Priests. The year was proclaimed on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the "birth into eternal life" of the Curé d'Ars, St. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney. Entering into the Vatican basilica for the celebration of vespers, almost as a first symbolic gesture, I paused in the Choir Chapel to venerate the relic of this saintly pastor of souls: his heart. Why a Year for Priests? Why particularly in memory of the holy Curé d'Ars, who apparently did nothing extraordinary?

Two Saints: Paul and Jean-Marie

Divine Providence has ordained that this personage would be placed beside that of St. Paul. As the Pauline Year is concluding, a year which was dedicated to the Apostle of the Gentiles, the epitome of an extraordinary evangelizer who made various mission trips to spread the Gospel, this new jubilee year invites us to gaze upon a poor farmer turned humble pastor, who carried out his pastoral service in a small town.

If the two saints are quite different insofar as the life experiences that marked them -- one traveled from region to region to announce the Gospel; the other remained in his little parish, welcoming thousands and thousands of faithful -- there is nevertheless something fundamental that unites them: It is their total identification with their ministry, their communion with Christ. This brought St. Paul to say: "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). St. John Vianney liked to repeat: "If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind glass, like wine mixed with water."

Support in the Struggle for Spiritual Perfection

The objective of this Year for Priests, as I wrote in the letter sent to priests for this occasion, is to support that struggle of every priest "toward spiritual perfection, on which the effectiveness of his ministry primarily depends." It is to help priests first of all -- and with them all of God's people -- to rediscover and reinvigorate their awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of grace that the ordained ministry is for he who receives it, for the whole Church, and for the world, which would be lost without the real presence of Christ.

Undoubtedly, the historical and social conditions in which the Curé d'Ars lived have changed, and it is justifiable to ask oneself how it's possible for priests living in a globalized society to imitate him in the way he identified himself with his ministry. In a world in which the customary outlook on life comprehends less and less the sacred, and in its place "useful" becomes the only important category, the catholic -- and even ecclesial -- idea of the priesthood can run the risk of being emptied of the esteem that is natural to it.

Priest in Service

It is not by chance that as much in theological environments as in concrete pastoral practice and the formation of the clergy, a contrast -- even an opposition -- is made between two distinct concepts of the priesthood. Some years ago, I noted in this regard that there is "on the one hand a social-functional understanding that defines the essence of the priesthood with the concept of 'service': service to the community in the fulfillment of a function. On the other hand, there is the sacramental-ontological understanding, which naturally does not deny the servicial character of the priesthood, but sees it anchored in the being of the minister and considers that this being is determined by a gift called sacrament, given by the Lord through the mediation of the Church" (Joseph Ratzinger, Ministry and Life of the Priest, in Principles of Catholic Theology).

Priest in Sacrifice

The terminological mutation of the word "priesthood" toward a meaning of "service, ministry, assignment" is as well a sign of this distinct understanding. The primacy of the Eucharist is linked to the sacramental-ontological conception, in the binomial "priest-sacrifice," while to the other [conception] would correspond the primacy of the word and service to the proclamation.

Considered carefully, these are not two opposing understandings, and the tension that nevertheless exists between them should be resolved from within. Thus the decree "Presbyterorum Ordinis" from the Second Vatican Council affirms: "Through the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel, the People of God are called together and assembled. All belonging to this people can offer themselves as 'a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God' (Rom 12:1). Through the ministry of the priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes" (No. 2).

Proclamation as Holiness

We then ask ourselves, "What exactly does it mean, for priests, to evangelize? What is the so-called primacy of proclamation?" Jesus speaks of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as the true objective for his coming to the world, and his proclamation is not just a "discourse." It includes, at the same time, his actions: His signs and miracles indicate that the Kingdom is now present in the world, which in the end coincides with himself. In this sense, one must recall that even in this idea of the "primacy" of proclamation, word and sign are inseparable.

Christian proclamation does not proclaim "words," but the Word, and the proclamation coincides with the very person of Christ, ontologically open to the relationship with the Father and obedient to his will. Therefore, authentic service to the Word requires from the priest that he strains toward a deep abnegation of himself, until being able to say with the Apostle, "It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me."

Servant of the Word

The priest cannot consider himself "lord" of the word, but rather its servant. He is not the word, but rather, as John the Baptist proclaimed, (precisely today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist), he is the "voice" of the Word: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths'" (Mark 1:3).

Victimhood of the Priest

Now then, to be the "voice" of the Word doesn't constitute for the priest a merely functional element. On the contrary, it presupposes a substantial "losing oneself" in Christ, participating in his mystery of death and resurrection with all of oneself: intelligence, liberty, will, and the offering of one's own body as a living sacrifice (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Only participation in the sacrifice of Christ, in his kenosis, makes the proclamation authentic! And this is the path that should be walked with Christ to the point of saying with him to the Father: Let it be done, "not what I will but what you will" (Mark 14:36). The proclamation, therefore, always implies as well the sacrifice of oneself, the condition so that the proclamation can be authentic and effective.

Abiding Heart to Heart With Christ

Alter Christus, the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father, who in incarnating himself, has taken the form of a slave, has made himself a slave (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). The priest is a slave of Christ in the sense that his existence, ontologically configured to Christ, takes on an essentially relational character: He is in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ at the service of man. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: He is the minister of their salvation, of their happiness, of their authentic liberation -- maturing, in this progressive taking up of the will of Christ, in prayer, in this "remaining heart to heart" with him. This is therefore the essential condition of all proclamation, which implies participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church.

Sayings of the Curé d'Ars

The holy Curé d'Ars often repeated with tears in his eyes: "What a frightening thing to be a priest!" And he added: "How we ought to pity a priest who celebrates Mass as if he were engaged in something routine. How wretched is a priest without interior life!"

Entrustment to Our Lady

May this Year of the Priest bring all priests to identify themselves totally with Jesus, crucified and risen, so that in imitation of St. John the Baptist, we are willing to "decrease" so that he increases; so that, following the example of the Curé d'Ars, they constantly and deeply understand the responsibility of their mission, which is sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God. Let us entrust to the Virgin, Mother of the Church, this Year for Priests just begun and all the priests of the world.

[Translation by Zenit]

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The Initiative of Pope Pius XI

With the beginning of the Annus Sacerdotalis, a number of people have asked me about the Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest. Pope Pius XI ordered the preparation of this Votive Mass in 1935, intending that its celebration should become customary on the First Thursday of the month, in a manner analogous to the widespread Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the First Friday. He announced the new Mass formulary at the end of his Encyclical Ad Catholici Sacerdotii Fastigium (20 December 1935):

Before concluding Our letter, to you, Venerable Brethren in the Episcopate, and through you to all Our beloved sons of both clergy, We are happy to add a solemn proof of Our gratitude for the holy cooperation by which, under your guidance and example, this Holy Year of Redemption has been made so fruitful to souls. We wish to perpetuate the memory and the glory of that Priesthood, of which Ours and yours, Venerable Brethren, and that of all priests of Christ, is but a participation and continuation. We have thought it opportune, after consulting the Sacred Congregation of Rites, to prepare a special votive Mass, for Thursdays, according to liturgical rules: De summo et aeterno Iesu Christi Sacerdotio, to honor "Jesus Christ, Supreme and Eternal Priest." It is Our pleasure and consolation to publish this Mass together with this, Our Encyclical Letter.

The Mass prepared by order of Pope Pius XI disappeared from the 1970 edition of the Missale Romanum or, more exactly, was replaced by another Mass formulary having the same title, but a different euchology. The Collect in the 1970 formulary emphasizes the common priesthood of all the baptized; the Collect in the formulary promulgated in 1935, on the other hand, emphasizes the priesthood of the ordained. I would suggest that the Mass formulary of Pope Pius XI, found in the 1962 Missale Romanum, better corresponds to the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI in calling for the Year of the Priest. Here are the English texts:

Introit / Entrance Antiphon

1962 Missal

The Lord has sworn, and He will not repent: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech (P.T. Alleluia, alleluia). Ps. The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand. V. Glory be to the Father. (Psalm 109: 4, 1)

1970 Missal

The Lord has sworn, and He will not repent: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech. (Psalm 109: 4, 1)

Collect

1962 Missal

O God, by Whom Your only-begotten Son
has been established High and Eternal Priest,
to the glory of Your Majesty and for the salvation of mankind,
grant that those He has chosen as ministers and dispensers of His mysteries,
may be found faithful in fulfilling the ministry they have accepted.
Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.

1970 Missal

O God, who for the glory of Your majesty
and for the salvation of mankind,
established Christ the Eternal High Priest,
grant that by participating in His memorial,
the people whom He acquired for you by His blood
may lay hold of the power of His cross and resurrection.
Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

The Mass in the 1962 Missal gives Hebrews 5:1-11 as the Epistle, followed by the Gradual and Alleluia:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me.
V. To bring good news to the poor He has sent Me,
to heal the contrite of heart. (Luke 4:18)

Alleluia, alleluia. V. But Jesus, because He continues forever, has an everlasting priesthood. Alleluia. (Hebrews 7:24)

The Gospel in the 1962 Missal is Luke 22:14-20, recounting the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Offertory

1962 Missal

Christ having offered one sacrifice for sins, has taken His seat forever at the right hand of God: for by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified (P. T. Alleluia). (Hebrews 10: 12, 14)

Secret/Prayer Over the Oblations

1962 Missal

O Lord, may Jesus Christ, our Mediator,
render these offerings acceptable to You,
and may He present us with Himself as victims agreeable to You.
Who being God, lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

1970 Missal

Grant us, we beseech you, O Lord,
worthily to enter into these mysteries:
for so often as this memorial sacrifice is celebrated,
the work of our redemption is carried out.
Through Christ our Lord.

The 1962 Missal calls for the use of the Preface of the Holy Cross. The whole question of the Preface for this Mass merits a separate entry, which I hope to write.

Communion Antiphon

1962 and 1970 Missals

This is My Body which shall be given up for you;
this cup is the new covenant in My Blood, said the Lord;
Do this as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of Me (P.T. Alleluia). (1 Corinthians 11: 24-25)

Postcommunion

1962 Missal

We pray, Lord, let the offering and reception of the Divine Victim vivify us,
that, united to You by perfect charity,
we may bear an everlasting fruit.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.

1970 Missal

We beseech you, Lord,
that by our participation in the sacrifice
which your Son commanded us to offer in commemoration of Him,
You would make us with Him an eternal oblation to you.
Through Christ our Lord.

Whether one uses the 1935 formulary given in the 1962 Missal or that found in the 1970 Missal, it is desirable, I think, that the First Thursday of the month, at least during this Annus Sacerdotalis, should be marked by the celebration of the Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest.

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Like all great men of God, Padre Pio had himself become prayer, soul and body. His days were a living rosary, that is, a continuous meditation and assimilation of the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary. This explains the unusual presence within him of supernatural gifts and of human existence. And everything had its climax in the celebration of Holy Mass: there he joined himself fully to the crucified and risen Lord. From prayer, as from an ever-living source, love flowed. The love that he bore in his heart and transmitted to others was full of tenderness, always attentive to the real situations of individuals and families. Especially towards the sick and suffering, he cultivated the predilection of the Heart of Christ, and precisely from this origin the form of a great work dedicated to the "relief of suffering" took shape. One cannot understand or properly interpret this institution divorced from its inspirational source, which is evangelical charity, which in turn, is inspired by prayer.

Here is the Holy Father's homily at San Giovanni Rotondo on this first Sunday of the Anno Sacerdotale:

The Year of the Priest

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Hosea 11:1.3-4. 8-9
Isaiah 12:2-6
Ephesians 3:8-12. 14-19
John 19:31-37

I preached this evening to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa, gathered for the Mass of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the opening of the Year of the Priest. Here is my homily:

When Israel Was a Child

"Thus says the Lord: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11:1). This is the very voice of God pouring out His Heart to us: the story of how every vocation to the holy priesthood began, begins, and will begin until the end of time. The priesthood is not a career one chooses: it is a mystery into which one is called. "You did choose Me," says the Lord, "but I chose you."

Chosen by the Heart of Jesus

Where are life's truest and deepest choices made, if not in the heart? We are created in the image of a God whose divine choices are formed in His Heart and whose designs from age to age reveal that Heart as Love. The call to the priesthood is a choice of the Heart of Jesus. Looking upon a given man, Our Lord sets His Heart upon him and, at length, guides his steps to the altar to enter there into the life-giving Mysteries of the Open Heart.

The Indelible Character of Priesthood

In the context of the Year of the Priest, the First Reading may be heard as the account of a priestly vocation. The names of Israel and Ephraim, designating the Chosen People, also represent every man destined by the Father to bear in his soul the character of the priesthood of the Son, indelibly engraved there by the incandescent incisions of the Holy Spirit.

I Bent Down to Him

"When John -- or Mark -- was child, I loved him, and out of Egypt -- that is to say, out of the world insofar as it is the realm of sin -- I called my son. Yet it was I who taught him to walk; I took him up in my arms. I led him with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to him as one who raises an infant to his cheeks, and I bent down to him and fed him" (Hos 11:1).

Sin and Grace

There is, of course, the question of sin in the life of one so chosen. How can weaknesses and betrayals be reconciled with the irrevocable choice of God? Once, in prayer a certain priest put this question to Our Lord: "Why didst Thou call me to the priesthood, knowing in advance all my weaknesses, sins, and betrayals of Thy friendship." The Lord answered him, "I saw all the sins that you would commit and these grieved My Heart that so loves you, even as they outraged My Divine Majesty, but I also knew the mercies that my Heart held in store for you and the future full of hope into which My merciful Love would bring you, and this was for My Heart an immense joy. Where sin abounded grace has abounded all the more."

Pleading and Hoping

You, Spiritual Mothers, are called to plead for priests with the Heart of Jesus, believing in their call even when they, in hours of doubt, struggle to believe in it. You are called to obtain for priests, by your intercession, an abiding confidence in the unchanging choice of God, a choice that reveals the Heart of Jesus. This perhaps is why Saint Jean-Marie Vianney said, "The priesthood is the Heart of Jesus." And when the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to extinguish the flame of hope in the soul of a priest, you must be there to cup your hands around it. Hope on behalf of that priest on the edge of despair until, helped by Our Lady's prayers and by yours, he regains confidence in the mercy of God and begins to breathe freely once again.

The Wounds of Christ

In the Responsorial Psalm we heard these exultant and mysterious words: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Is 12:3). What are the wells of salvation if not the five glorious wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ: those in His Sacred Hands, in His Sacred Feet, and in His Sacred Side? The joy of the priest, the joy that he communicates to the faithful entrusted to him, the joy that will never fail him or cease to quicken the Church, flows from the wounds of Christ. Where does the priest go to draw the living water of this joy? To the altar. Ancient liturgical tradition prescribes that the mensa of the altar should be engraved with five crosses representing Our Lord's five glorious wounds. So often as the priest ascends to the altar, greeting it with a kiss, he finds himself at the very wellspring of eternal joy.

God Who Giveth Joy to My Youth

You, Spiritual Mothers of Priests, are charged with obtaining for every priest a copious participation in the fresh, ever-youthful joy that flows from the altar. Saint Jean-Marie Vianney said, "How we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine." Routine is, in fact, the death knell of joy. Pray then that every priest may say in truth, even fifty or more years after his ordination: "Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. I will go in unto the altar of God, unto God who giveth joy to my youth" (Ps 42:4).

The Prayer of the Priest

In the Second Reading, Saint Paul shows us how every priest is to pray for souls entrusted to his spiritual paternity: "For this reason," the Apostle says, "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph

Partners in Prayer

Spiritual Mothers, you are partners of the priesthood in prayer for the Church. Just as your prayer leans on the prayer of the priest for the Church and relies on it, so too will the priest lean on your prayer for him, knowing that you are praying so that he will persevere in prayer and never lose heart.

Calvary

Finally we come to the Gospel, the very Gospel that we heard on Good Friday. Today, in the light of the Resurrection, Ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we return to Calvary with the Virgin Mother of Jesus, with Saint John the Beloved Apostle, and with the other holy women.

The Open Heart

The centurion -- tradition calls him Saint Longinus -- seeing that Jesus was already dead, opened His side with a spear. The verb "opened" is used here designedly": the pierced Side of Jesus is the open door in the ark of salvation. We know that at this moment, John and undoubtedly the Sorrowful Mother were looking on attentively. John calls himself "he who saw it," adding that he speaks as an eyewitness. Then, demonstrating that the thrust of the centurion's lance fulfills Zechariah's ancient prophecy, he adds, "They shall look on Him who they have pierced" (Zech 12:10).

Gazing on the Heart of the Crucified

John gazing at the pierced Heart of Jesus is the image, the prototype, the model of every priest. The priest is a man who lives with the eyes of His heart fixed on the open Heart of Jesus. Therein is the assurance of the eternal love of Christ from which nothing can separate him and those entrusted to his mystical paternity. You, Spiritual Mothers, stand with the Mother of Sorrows and, together with the priest, look on the Heart of Jesus in order to witness to the Blood and the Water that gush from its deep wound.

Into the Sacred Heart

The priest is essentially a man who, in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, witnesses day after day to the mystery of the Heart of Jesus, opened by the soldier's lance and never closed. Your role, Spiritual Mothers, is not to look at the priest; it is, rather, to look with Him at the pierced Side of Jesus until, by the force of Love's irresistible attraction, the priest, and you with him, are drawn across the threshold of that wound, into the inner sanctuary of the Sacred Heart. This more than anything else will make this Year of the Priest fruitful for our Diocese of Tulsa and for the Church throughout the world.

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LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI
PROCLAIMING A YEAR FOR PRIESTS
ON THE 150th ANNIVERSARY OF THE "DIES NATALIS" OF THE CURÉ OF ARS


Dear Brother Priests,

On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 - a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy -, I have decided to inaugurate a "Year for Priests" in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the "dies natalis" of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide.[1] This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. "The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus", the saintly Curé of Ars would often say.[2] This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ's words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labours, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as "friends of Christ", whom he has called by name, chosen and sent?

I still treasure the memory of the first parish priest at whose side I exercised my ministry as a young priest: he left me an example of unreserved devotion to his pastoral duties, even to meeting death in the act of bringing viaticum to a gravely ill person. I also recall the countless confreres whom I have met and continue to meet, not least in my pastoral visits to different countries: men generously dedicated to the daily exercise of their priestly ministry. Yet the expression of Saint John Mary also makes us think of Christ's pierced Heart and the crown of thorns which surrounds it. I am also led to think, therefore, of the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister. How can we not also think of all those priests who are offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission and persecuted, even at times to offering the supreme testimony of their own blood?

There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God's gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of Saint John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Curé of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: "A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy".[3] He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: "O, how great is the priest! ... If he realized what he is, he would die... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host...".[4] Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: "Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is".[5] These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the sacrament of the priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: "Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you".[6]

He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his Bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: "There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there". As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ's presence and to bear witness to his saving mercy: "[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!": with this prayer he entered upon his mission.[7] The Curé devoted himself completely to his parish's conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of Saint John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ's saving activity was, and is, an expression of his "filial consciousness" which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to his will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry's objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Curé of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonizing his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to "live", physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: "Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed".[8]

The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Curé also knew how to "live" actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organized popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for his charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the "Providence" (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.

His example naturally leads me to point out that there are sectors of cooperation which need to be opened ever more fully to the lay faithful. Priests and laity together make up the one priestly people[9] and in virtue of their ministry priests live in the midst of the lay faithful, "that they may lead everyone to the unity of charity, 'loving one another with mutual affection; and outdoing one another in sharing honour'" (Rom 12:10).[10] Here we ought to recall the Second Vatican Council's hearty encouragement to priests "to be sincere in their appreciation and promotion of the dignity of the laity and of the special role they have to play in the Church's mission. ... They should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes, and acknowledge their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able together with them to discern the signs of the times".[11]

Saint John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life. It was from his example that they learned to pray, halting frequently before the tabernacle for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.[12] "One need not say much to pray well" - the Curé explained to them - "We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to him, let us rejoice in his sacred presence. That is the best prayer".[13] And he would urge them: "Come to communion, my brothers and sisters, come to Jesus. Come to live from him in order to live with him...[14] "Of course you are not worthy of him, but you need him!".[15] This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Those present said that "it was not possible to find a finer example of worship... He gazed upon the Host with immense love".[16] "All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass" - he would say - "since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God".[17] He was convinced that the fervour of a priest's life depended entirely upon the Mass: "The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!".[18] He was accustomed, when celebrating, also to offer his own life in sacrifice: "What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!".[19]

This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him - by a sole inward movement - from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a "virtuous" circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become "a great hospital of souls".[20] His first biographer relates that "the grace he obtained [for the conversion of sinners] was so powerful that it would pursue them, not leaving them a moment of peace!".[21] The saintly Curé reflected something of the same idea when he said: "It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him".[22] "This good Saviour is so filled with love that he seeks us everywhere".[23]

We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: "I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite".[24] From Saint John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the "dialogue of salvation" which it entails. The Curé of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God's forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the "flood of divine mercy" which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God's love in these beautiful and touching words: "The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again, yet he still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: he even forces himself to forget the future, so that he can grant us his forgiveness!".[25] But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how "abominable" this attitude was: "I weep because you don't weep",[26] he would say. "If only the Lord were not so good! But he is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!".[27] He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God's own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God's love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence: "Everything in God's sight, everything with God, everything to please God... How beautiful it is!".[28] And he taught them to pray: "My God, grant me the grace to love you as much as I possibly can".[29]

In his time the Curé of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord's merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love: Deus caritas est (1 Jn: 4:8). Thanks to the word and the sacraments of Jesus, John Mary Vianney built up his flock, although he often trembled from a conviction of his personal inadequacy, and desired more than once to withdraw from the responsibilities of the parish ministry out of a sense of his unworthiness. Nonetheless, with exemplary obedience he never abandoned his post, consumed as he was by apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls. He sought to remain completely faithful to his own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism: "The great misfortune for us parish priests - he lamented - is that our souls grow tepid"; meaning by this that a pastor can grow dangerously inured to the state of sin or of indifference in which so many of his flock are living.[30] He himself kept a tight rein on his body, with vigils and fasts, lest it rebel against his priestly soul. Nor did he avoid self-mortification for the good of the souls in his care and as a help to expiating the many sins he heard in confession. To a priestly confrere he explained: "I will tell you my recipe: I give sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place".[31] Aside from the actual penances which the Curé of Ars practiced, the core of his teaching remains valid for each of us: souls have been won at the price of Jesus' own blood, and a priest cannot devote himself to their salvation if he refuses to share personally in the "precious cost" of redemption.

In today's world, as in the troubled times of the Curé of Ars, the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a forceful witness to the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI rightly noted, "modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses".[32] Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: "Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?".[33] Just as Jesus called the Twelve to be with him (cf. Mk 3:14), and only later sent them forth to preach, so too in our days priests are called to assimilate that "new style of life" which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles.[34]

It was complete commitment to this "new style of life" which marked the priestly ministry of the Curé of Ars. Pope John XXIII, in his Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii nostri primordia, published in 1959 on the first centenary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney, presented his asceticism with special reference to the "three evangelical counsels" which the Pope considered necessary also for priests: "even though priests are not bound to embrace these evangelical counsels by virtue of the clerical state, these counsels nonetheless offer them, as they do all the faithful, the surest road to the desired goal of Christian perfection".[35] The Curé of Ars lived the "evangelical counsels" in a way suited to his priestly state. His poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk, but that proper to a priest: while managing much money (since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works), he realized that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his "Providence",[36] his families of modest means. Consequently, he "was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself".[37] As he would explain: "My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back".[38] When he lacked money, he would say amiably to the poor who knocked at his door: "Today I'm poor just like you, I'm one of you".[39] At the end of his life, he could say with absolute tranquillity: "I no longer have anything. The good Lord can call me whenever he wants!".[40] His chastity, too, was that demanded of a priest for his ministry. It could be said that it was a chastity suited to one who must daily touch the Eucharist, who contemplates it blissfully and with that same bliss offers it to his flock. It was said of him that "he radiated chastity"; the faithful would see this when he turned and gazed at the tabernacle with loving eyes".[41] Finally, Saint John Mary Vianney's obedience found full embodiment in his conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of his ministry. We know how he was tormented by the thought of his inadequacy for parish ministry and by a desire to flee "in order to bewail his poor life, in solitude".[42] Only obedience and a thirst for souls convinced him to remain at his post. As he explained to himself and his flock: "There are no two good ways of serving God. There is only one: serve him as he desires to be served".[43] He considered this the golden rule for a life of obedience: "Do only what can be offered to the good Lord".[44]

In this context of a spirituality nourished by the practice of the evangelical counsels, I would like to invite all priests, during this Year dedicated to them, to welcome the new springtime which the Spirit is now bringing about in the Church, not least through the ecclesial movements and the new communities. "In his gifts the Spirit is multifaceted... He breathes where he wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places, and in ways previously unheard of... but he also shows us that he works with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body".[45] In this regard, the statement of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis continues to be timely: "While testing the spirits to discover if they be of God, priests must discover with faith, recognize with joy and foster diligently the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or more exalted kind".[46] These gifts, which awaken in many people the desire for a deeper spiritual life, can benefit not only the lay faithful but the clergy as well. The communion between ordained and charismatic ministries can provide "a helpful impulse to a renewed commitment by the Church in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world".[47] I would also like to add, echoing the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis of Pope John Paul II, that the ordained ministry has a radical "communitarian form" and can be exercised only in the communion of priests with their Bishop.[48] This communion between priests and their Bishop, grounded in the sacrament of Holy Orders and made manifest in Eucharistic concelebration, needs to be translated into various concrete expressions of an effective and affective priestly fraternity.[49] Only thus will priests be able to live fully the gift of celibacy and build thriving Christian communities in which the miracles which accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel can be repeated.

The Pauline Year now coming to its close invites us also to look to the Apostle of the Gentiles, who represents a splendid example of a priest entirely devoted to his ministry. "The love of Christ urges us on" - he wrote - "because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died" (2 Cor 5:14). And he adds: "He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them" (2 Cor 5:15). Could a finer programme be proposed to any priest resolved to advance along the path of Christian perfection?

Dear brother priests, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney (1859) follows upon the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Lourdes (1858). In 1959 Blessed Pope John XXIII noted that "shortly before the Curé of Ars completed his long and admirable life, the Immaculate Virgin appeared in another part of France to an innocent and humble girl, and entrusted to her a message of prayer and penance which continues, even a century later, to yield immense spiritual fruits. The life of this holy priest whose centenary we are commemorating in a real way anticipated the great supernatural truths taught to the seer of Massabielle. He was greatly devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; in 1836 he had dedicated his parish church to Our Lady Conceived without Sin and he greeted the dogmatic definition of this truth in 1854 with deep faith and great joy."[50] The Curé would always remind his faithful that "after giving us all he could, Jesus Christ wishes in addition to bequeath us his most precious possession, his Blessed Mother".[51]

To the Most Holy Virgin I entrust this Year for Priests. I ask her to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Curé of Ars. It was his fervent prayer life and his impassioned love of Christ Crucified that enabled John Mary Vianney to grow daily in his total self-oblation to God and the Church. May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their Bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary. Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to his Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: "In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33). Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Curé of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!

With my blessing.

From the Vatican, 16 June 2009.

BENEDICTVS PP. XVI

Saint Ephrem said . . .

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Honour the priests with diligence, as good stewards of the household. Give due honour to their degree, and search not out their doings. In his degree the priest is an angel, but in his doings a man. By mercy he is made a mediator, between God and mankind.
Search not out the faults of men; reveal not the sin of thy fellow; the shortcomings of thy neighbours, in speech of the mouth repeat not.

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The Letter to Priests

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza's letter should be communicated without delay to all priests. He invites priests to prepare for the opening of the Year for Priests (Anno Sacerdotale) at First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus this coming June 18th.

Priestly Conversion of Manners

He invites priests to conversion. The Benedictine tenor of his message struck me immediately. Benedictine monks make the conversion of manners (one's way of living from day to day) the object of a vow. Conversion is synonymous with penitence or repentance; it is a radical turning toward the glory of the Father that shines on the Face of His Christ (2 Cor 4:6). The Archbishop rightly emphasizes being over acting and doing. He invites priests to make space in their lives for that surrender to the transforming love of Christ that is prayer. In my own experience there is no better way of doing this concretely than by spending time before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, close to His Open Heart in the Sacrament of His Love.

I am reminded of what the Holy Father said in his extraordinary Pentecost homily:

So that Pentecost renew itself in our time, perhaps there is need -- without taking anything away from God's freedom [to do as he pleases] -- for the Church to be less "preoccupied" with activities and more dedicated to prayer.

Priestly spirituality? It is nothing other than the spirituality of Christ Himself, the High Priest of the New Covenant. During this year, priests need to hear (lectio), and repeat (meditatio), and pray (oratio) the Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Saint John. Blessed Abbot Marmion draws from both sources in all his works, but especially in his Christ, the Ideal of the Priest.

The Whole Mystery of Christ

Archbishop Piacenza points to the whole Mystery of Christ, in a manner reminiscent of the Preface of the Second Eucharistic Prayer. The Servant God Conchita Cabrera de Armida developed this very form of priestly holiness in what she called the grace of mystical incarnation.

Reviewing One's Life

Returning to the theme of conversion -- or priestly repentance -- the Archbishop stresses that the evidence of conversion will be in a priest's manner of life. Again appears the Benedictine motif of conversion of manners. Conversion, essentially a turning away from many things so as to turn toward The One Thing Necessary, presupposes a lucid, rigorous, and thorough examination of conscience, that leaves no area of life unexplored.

The Priest and the Sacred Heart

A priest's way of loving, though human, transcends what is merely human to become, by grace, a participation in a love that is holy and divine. Every priest is called to be, like Christ and in communion with His pierced Heart, a Tremendous Lover. (Thank you, Dom Eugene Boylan!)

The Priest as Workman in the Vineyard of the Lord

Calling the priest a workman or labourer, Archbishop Piacenza recalls Pope Benedict XVI's first words after being elected -- "I am a humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord" -- and the Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue, 14-20:

And our Lord seeking His labourer among the multitude to whom He here speaketh, saith again: "Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days?" If thou, hearing this, dost answer: "I am he": God saith unto thee: "If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips, that they speak no guile. Decline from evil, and do good; seek after peace and pursue it." And when you have done this: My eyes shall be upon you, and My ears shall be open to your prayers. And before you can call upon Me, I will say: "Behold I am present." What, dearest brethren, can be sweeter, than this voice of the Lord, inviting us? Behold how in His loving Kindness He showeth unto us the way of life!

With a Dilated Heart

The Benedictine influence on Archbishop Piacenza's letter is confirmed beyond all doubt by his direct quotation from the Prologue of the Rule: "We should be able to run spiritually with a 'wide open heart' so as to inwardly conform to our vocation the better to say, in truth. 'it is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me' (Gal 2:20)."

Saint Benedict, at the end of his Prologue says:

But in process of time and growth of faith, when the heart has once been enlarged, the way of God's commandments is run with unspeakable sweetness of love

For the Church

Finally, Archbishop Piacenza makes it clear that the holiness of priests is not for themselves, it is a sacrificial holiness, the oblation of themselves with Christ, Priest and Victim, for the benefit of the entire ecclesial Body, the Bride of Christ that is His Church. This, of course, invites one to a meditation of the words of Our Lord in His Priestly Prayer in the Cenacle: "And for them do I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth" (Jn 17:17).

Here is the text of Archbishop Piacenza's letter:

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CONGREGATIO PRO CLERICIS


Dear Priests!

In only about two weeks' time, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19th June, we will experience an intense moment of faith, closely united with the Holy Father and amongst ourselves, when we shall begin the Year for Priests by celebrating First Vespers of the Feast in the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican.
Each day we are called to conversion, but we are called to it in a very particular way during this year, in union with all those who have received the gift of priestly ordination. Conversion to what? It is conversion to be ever more authentically that which we already are, conversion to our ecclesial identity of which our ministry is a necessary consequence, so that a renewed and joyous awareness of our "being" will determine our "acting", or rather will create the space allowing Christ the Good Shepherd to live in us and to act through us.
Our spirituality must be nothing other than the spirituality of Christ himself, the one and only Supreme High Priest of the New Testament.
In this year, which the Holy Father has providentially announced, we will seek together to concentrate on the identity of Christ the Son of God, in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who became man in the virginal womb of Mary, and on his mission to reveal the Father and His wondrous plan of salvation. This mission of Christ carries with it the building up of the Church: behold the Good Shepherd (Cf. Jn. 19:1-21) who gives his life for the Church (Cf. Eph. 5: 25).
Yes, conversion every day of our lives so that Christ's manner of life may be the manner of life made ever more manifest in each one of us.
We must exist for others, we must undertake to live with the People in a union of holy and divine love (which clearly presupposes the richness of holy celibacy), which obliges us to live in authentic solidarity with those who suffer and who live in a great many types of poverty.
We must be labourers for the building up of the one Church of Christ, for which we must live purposefully and faithfully the communion of love with the Pope, with the Bishops, with our brother priests and with the Faithful. We must live this communion with the unbroken pilgrimage of the Church within the very sinews of the Mystical Body.
We should be able to run spiritually in this Year with a "wide open heart" so as to inwardly conform to our vocation the better to say, in truth "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).
The holiness of priests redounds to the benefit of the entire ecclesial Body. Thus it would be most fitting for all of us, be that the ordained Faithful, seminarians, the male and female religious, and the lay Faithful, to find ourselves all together at the Vatican Basilica for the Vespers presided over by the Holy Father, which will be celebrated after welcoming the reliquary of the heart of that most outstanding priestly model who is St. John Mary Vianney.
Those who are unable to be in City of Rome are encouraged to join themselves spiritually to the occasion.
+ Mauro Piacenza Arcivescovo tit. di Vittoriana Segretario

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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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The image is Adé Béthune's Christ the Priest. The vine and branches of John 15:1-8 surround the wood of the Cross. Christ is depicted in priestly vesture. Note the maniple on His left arm. Adé shows the glorious wounds in His hands and feet; the wound in His side appears on the outside of the chasuble, making this also an image of the Sacred Heart. Adé always worked with the Bible, Missal, and Breviary close at hand.

Plenary Indulgence for the Year of the Priest

 VATICAN CITY, 12 MAY 2009 (VIS) - According to a decree made public today and signed by Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv., respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Benedict XVI will grant priests and faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the Year for Priests, which is due to run from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010 and has been called in honour of St. Jean Marie Vianney.
 
  The period will begin with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, "a day of priestly sanctification", says the text, when the Pope will celebrate Vespers before the relics of the saint, brought to Rome for the occasion by the bishop of the French diocese of Belley-Ars. The Year will end in St. Peter's Square, in the presence of priests from all over the world "who will renew their faithfulness to Christ and their bonds of fraternity".
 
  The means to obtain the Plenary Indulgence are as follows:
 
  (A) All truly penitent priests who, on any day, devotedly pray Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament exposed to public adoration or in the tabernacle, and ... offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, will be granted Plenary Indulgence, which they can also apply to their deceased confreres, if in accordance with current norms they take Sacramental Confession and the Eucharist and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. Priests are furthermore granted Partial Indulgence, also applicable to deceased confreres, every time they devotedly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a saintly life and to carry out the duties entrusted to them.
 
  (B) All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. This may be done on the opening and closing days of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.
 
  The elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, "on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles".
 
  Partial Indulgence is offered to all faithful each time they pray five Our Father, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri, or any other duly approved prayer "in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life".

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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.

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In his 1986 Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, Pope John Paul II wrote:

The Mass was for John Mary Vianney the great joy and comfort of his priestly life. He took great care, despite the crowds of penitents, to spend more than a quarter of an hour in silent preparation. He celebrated with recollection, clearly expressing his adoration at the consecration and communion. He accurately remarked: "The cause of priestly laxity is not paying attention to the Mass!"
The Curé of Ars was particularly mindful of the permanence of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. It was generally before the tabernacle that he spent long hours in adoration, before daybreak or in the evening; it was towards the tabernacle that he often turned during his homilies, saying with emotion: "He is there!"
It was also for this reason that he, so poor in his presbytery, did not hesitate to spend large sums on embellishing his church. The appreciable result was that his parishioners quickly took up the habit of coming to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, discovering, through the attitude of their pastor, the grandeur of the mystery of faith.
Dear brother priests, the example of the Curé of Ars invites us to a serious examination of conscience: what place do we give to the Mass in our daily lives? Is it, as on the day of our Ordination -- it was our first act as priests! -- the principle of our apostolic work and personal sanctification? What care do we take in preparing for it? And in celebrating it? In prayng before the Blessed Sacrament? In encouraging our faithful people to do the same? In making our churches the House of God to which the divine presence attracts the people of our time who too often have the impression of a a world empty of God.

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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Saint Catherine of Siena holds a place of singular honour among the heavenly friends and models of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests. In this passage from The Dialogue, after describing in rather vivid detail the three pillars of vice found among priests -- impurity, bloated pride, and greed -- the Eternal Father calls Saint Catherine and, with her, other souls to offer Him sorrowful and loving desires for their purification and sanctification.

I Would Conquer Them by the Strength of My Mercy
O sweetest daughter! What keeps the ground from swallowing up such ministers? What keeps My power from turning them into solid immobile statues before all the people to confound them? My mercy. I restrain Myself, that is I restrain My divine justice with mercy in an effort to conquer them by the strength of mercy. But they, obstinate demons that they are, neither see nor recognize My mercy. . . .
Serve Christ By Praying for His Priests
I have told you all this to give you more reason for bitter weeping over their blindness, over seeing them damned, and to give you a deeper knowledge of My mercy. In this mercy you can find trust and great security, offering to Me these ministers of holy Church and the whole world, and begging Me to be merciful to them. The more you offer Me sorrowful and loving desires for them, the more you will prove your love for Me. For the service neither you nor my other servants can do for Me you ought to do for them instead. Then I will let myself be constrained by the longing and tears and prayers of my servants, and will be merciful to My Bride by reforming her with good and holy shepherds.

Venite, benedicti Patris mei

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Wednesday of Pascha

Come, you blessed of my Father,
receive the kingdom, alleluia
prepared for you
since the foundation of the world, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia (cf. Mt 25:34)

The Voice of Christ

In today's Introit, the fourth one of the ongoing Paschal solemnity, we hear the voice of none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Today's text is extraordinary in that it is one of the very few Introits drawn from the Gospels. It comes from Chapter 25 of Saint Matthew. The context is that of the Last Judgment. The words are those of Christ the King, of the Son of Man coming in His glory, and all the angels with him. He is seated upon the throne of His glory. All the nations are gathered in His presence.

Come to Me

How are we to understand this Introit today? Our Lord is addressing the newly-baptized. His first word to them is, "Come." Venite, benedicti Patris mei. Where else do we hear this same word, Venite, in the mouth of Jesus? In Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened; I will give you rest." I see Our Lord pronouncing this word with His arms spread wide in a gesture of welcome. The hands nailed to the wood of the Cross shine with His glorious wounds. His Holy Face is radiant. A torrent of light flows from His Open Side. When He says, "Come," who can resist His invitation?

Every Spiritual Blessing

Our Lord calls the newly-baptized benedicti Patris mei, blessed of my Father. Is not this what Saint Paul develops in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians? "Blessed be that God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us, in Christ, with every spiritual blessing, higher than heaven itself" (Eph 1:3). There is no greater blessing than incorporation into the Body of Christ that is the Church. The children of the Church, the Bride of Christ, are nourished from the altar of His Sacrifice with the mysteries of His Body and Blood. It is in the Eucharist that we are blessed, here and now, with every spiritual blessing, higher than heaven itself.

Here is a photo of the little Oratory of the Cenacle where I offer Holy Mass, sing the Divine Office, and make my daily adoration.

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Sacrament of the Kingdom

To receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion is to receive "the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34). The Most Holy Eucharist is a foretaste of heaven. It is already the "Wedding Banquet of the Lamb" (Ap 19:9). The Orthodox theologian, Father Alexander Schmemann, calls the Eucharist, "the ascent of the Church to the heavenly altar." The kingdom prepared for us since the foundation of the world is offered to us sacramentally in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is the Church assumed into heaven, and heaven filling the Church.

Since the Foundation of the World

The little phrase, "prepared for you since the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34) tells us that creation itself, from the very beginning, was ordered to the Eucharist. Every created thing has a Eucharistic finality; every created thing is ordered to the priesthood of Christ. The Sacrament of the Eucharist recapitulates the purpose of God, the design of His Love, in creating man and in redeeming him. Only the Mass makes sense of history. Only the Mass gives meaning to all things.

The Canticle of the Three Young Men

This is why the Church enjoins the priest to say daily, as part of his thanksgiving after Mass, the Canticle of the Three Young Men, the Benedicite. Blessed Abbot Marmion remained faithful to this all his life. In Christ, the Life of the Soul, he writes, "The Church, the Bride of Christ, who knows better than anyone the secrets of her Divine Bridegroom, makes the priest sing in the sanctuary of his soul where the Word dwells, the inward canticle of thanksgiving. The soul leads all creation to the feet of its God and its Lord, that He may receive homage from every creature."

The Bread of Angels

The Eucharistic motif of today's Introit becomes explicit in the Offertory Antiphon. (This is why I said yesterday that the Proper of the Mass is an integral whole.) As the priest goes to the altar today, the Church sings, "The Lord opened the doors of heaven and rained manna on them for food; he gave them the bread of heaven, man ate the bread of angels, alleluia" (Ps 77:23-25). The priest goes to the altar precisely for this: that the Lord might open before him, for the sake of all those who stand behind him, the doors of heaven. The true Manna, the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Angels, descends from heaven to become the food of mortal wayfarers.

Year of the Eucharist and Year of the Priest

One final thought: when the Servant of God Pope John Paul II announced the Year of the Eucharist in 2004, he placed it under the sign of today's Gospel of Emmaus. He asked the whole Church to take up the prayer of the disciples on the road: Mane nobiscum, Domine (Lk 24:29) -- "Abide with us, Lord."

The Year of the Eucharist was more than a passing observance; it was a grace of conversion in the strictest sense of the word: a turning toward the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, a rekindling of the fire that burned in the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus. The Year of the Eucharist was a beginning, not an end. The Year of the Priest announced by Pope Benedict XVI on March 16, 2009 is, I think, intrinsically related to the Year of the Eucharist. It represents an opportunity to enter more deeply into the adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ for the sake of a holier priesthood, of a priesthood purified and renewed.

Examination of Conscience

We would do well today, five years after the Year of the Eucharist, to make an examination of conscience based on Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, Mane Nobiscum, Domine.

-- Are we conscious of the Eucharistic finality of all we think, say, and do?
-- Have we grown in the grace of Eucharistic amazement?
-- Has the tabernacle become for us, to use Pope John Paul's expression, "a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever greater number of souls"?
-- What have we done to respond individually and corporately to the call to Eucharistic adoration?
-- What have we done with the unique grace offered us five years ago?
-- How has it changed us?

We will be held accountable for the Year of the Eucharist, just as we will be held accountable for the Year of the Priest that will open on June 19th, solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These are moments of grace for the universal Church. "Much will be asked of the man to whom much has been given; more will be expected of him, because he was entrusted with more" (Lk 12:48). "Listen, you that have ears, to the message the Spirit has for the churches" (Ap 2:7).

Hoc Est Hodie

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Pope Benedict XVI is a master of mystagogical catechesis. This homily for the Mass of the Lord's Supper probes the words of institution and consecration of the Roman Canon, and introduces us into the richness of their mystical content. The Holy Father teaches that these words of the Sacred Liturgy shape and reshape the Church, beginning with the priest who, at the altar, utters them. Again, thank you, Most Holy Father.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today

"Qui, pridie quam pro nostra omniumque salute pateretur, hoc est hodie, accepit panem": these words we shall pray today in the Canon of the Mass. "Hoc est hodie" -- the Liturgy of Holy Thursday places the word "today" into the text of the prayer, thereby emphasizing the particular dignity of this day. It was "today" that He did this: he gave himself to us for ever in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. This "today" is first and foremost the memorial of that first Paschal event. Yet it is something more. With the Canon, we enter into this "today". Our today comes into contact with his today. He does this now. With the word "today", the Church's Liturgy wants us to give great inner attention to the mystery of this day, to the words in which it is expressed. We therefore seek to listen in a new way to the institution narrative, in the form in which the Church has formulated it, on the basis of Scripture and in contemplation of the Lord himself.

The first thing to strike us is that the institution narrative is not an independent phrase, but it starts with a relative pronoun: qui pridie. This "qui" connects the entire narrative to the preceding section of the prayer, "let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord." In this way, the institution narrative is linked to the preceding prayer, to the entire Canon, and it too becomes a prayer. By no means is it merely an interpolated narrative, nor is it a case of an authoritative self-standing text that actually interrupts the prayer. It is a prayer. And only in the course of the prayer is the priestly act of consecration accomplished, which becomes transformation, transubstantiation of our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Eucharistia

As she prays at this central moment, the Church is fully in tune with the event that took place in the Upper Room, when Jesus' action is described in the words: "gratias agens benedixit -- he gave you thanks and praise". In this expression, the Roman liturgy has made two words out of the one Hebrew word berakha, which is rendered in Greek with the two terms eucharistía and eulogía. The Lord gives thanks. When we thank, we acknowledge that a certain thing is a gift that has come from another. The Lord gives thanks, and in so doing gives back to God the bread, "fruit of the earth and work of human hands", so as to receive it anew from him. Thanksgiving becomes blessing. The offering that we have placed in God's hands returns from him blessed and transformed. The Roman liturgy rightly interprets our praying at this sacred moment by means of the words: "through him, we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice". All this lies hidden within the word "eucharistia".

The Hands and Eyes of the Lord and of His Priests

There is another aspect of the institution narrative cited in the Roman Canon on which we should reflect this evening. The praying Church gazes upon the hands and eyes of the Lord. It is as if she wants to observe him, to perceive the form of his praying and acting in that remarkable hour, she wants to encounter the figure of Jesus even, as it were, through the senses. "He took bread in his sacred hands " Let us look at those hands with which he healed men and women; the hands with which he blessed babies; the hands that he laid upon men; the hands that were nailed to the Cross and that forever bear the stigmata as signs of his readiness to die for love. Now we are commissioned to do what he did: to take bread in our hands so that through the Eucharistic Prayer it will be transformed. At our priestly ordination, our hands were anointed, so that they could become hands of blessing. Let us pray to the Lord that our hands will serve more and more to bring salvation, to bring blessing, to make his goodness present!

With Eyes and Hearts Raised Towards God

From the introduction to the Priestly Prayer of Jesus (cf. Jn 17:1), the Canon takes these words: "Looking up to heaven, to you his almighty Father " The Lord teaches us to raise our eyes, and especially our hearts. He teaches us to fix our gaze upwards, detaching it from the things of this world, to direct ourselves in prayer towards God and thus to raise ourselves. In a hymn from the Liturgy of the Hours, we ask the Lord to guard our eyes, so that they do not take in or cause to enter within us "vanitates" -- vanities, nothings, that which is merely appearance. Let us pray that no evil will enter through our eyes, falsifying and tainting our very being. But we want to pray above all for eyes that see whatever is true, radiant and good; so that they become capable of seeing God's presence in the world. Let us pray that we will look upon the world with eyes of love, with the eyes of Jesus, recognizing our brothers and sisters who need our help, who are awaiting our word and our action.

The Lord Distributes Himself

Having given thanks and praise, the Lord then breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. Breaking the bread is the act of the father of the family who looks after his children and gives them what they need for life. But it is also the act of hospitality with which the stranger, the guest, is received within the family and is given a share in its life. Dividing (dividere), sharing (condividere) brings about unity. Through sharing, communion is created. In the broken bread, the Lord distributes himself. The gesture of breaking also alludes mysteriously to his death, to the love that extends even to death. He distributes himself, the true "bread for the life of the world" (cf. Jn 6:51). The nourishment that man needs in his deepest self is communion with God himself. Giving thanks and praise, Jesus transforms the bread, he no longer gives earthly bread, but communion with himself. This transformation, though, seeks to be the start of the transformation of the world -- into a world of resurrection, a world of God. Yes, it is about transformation -- of the new man and the new world that find their origin in the bread that is consecrated, transformed, transubstantiated.

Agape in Daily Life

We said that breaking the bread is an act of communion, an act of uniting through sharing. Thus, in the act itself, the intimate nature of the Eucharist is already indicated: it is agape, it is love made corporeal. In the word "agape", the meanings of Eucharist and love intertwine. In Jesus' act of breaking the bread, the love that is shared has attained its most radical form: Jesus allows himself to be broken as living bread. In the bread that is distributed, we recognize the mystery of the grain of wheat that dies, and so bears fruit. We recognize the new multiplication of the loaves, which derives from the dying of the grain of wheat and will continue until the end of the world. At the same time, we see that the Eucharist can never be just a liturgical action. It is complete only if the liturgical agape then becomes love in daily life. In Christian worship, the two things become one -- experiencing the Lord's love in the act of worship and fostering love for one's neighbour. At this hour, we ask the Lord for the grace to learn to live the mystery of the Eucharist ever more deeply, in such a way that the transformation of the world can begin to take place.

The Chalice and the Mystery of Nuptial Love

After the bread, Jesus takes the chalice of wine. The Roman Canon describes the chalice which the Lord gives to his disciples as "praeclarus calix" (the glorious cup), thereby alluding to Psalm 23 [22], the Psalm which speaks of God as the Good Shepherd, the strong Shepherd. There we read these words: "You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes My cup is overflowing" -- calix praeclarus. The Roman Canon interprets this passage from the Psalm as a prophecy that is fulfilled in the Eucharist: yes, the Lord does indeed prepare a banquet for us in the midst of the threats of this world, and he gives us the glorious chalice -- the chalice of great joy, of the true feast, for which we all long -- the chalice filled with the wine of his love. The chalice signifies the wedding-feast: now the "hour" has come to which the wedding-feast of Cana had mysteriously alluded. Yes indeed, the Eucharist is more than a meal, it is a wedding-feast. And this wedding is rooted in God's gift of himself even to death. In the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Church's Canon, the solemn mystery of the wedding is concealed under the expression "novum Testamentum". This chalice is the new Testament -- "the new Covenant in my blood", as Saint Paul presents the words of Jesus over the chalice in today's second reading (1 Cor 11:25). The Roman Canon adds: "of the new and everlasting covenant", in order to express the indissolubility of God's nuptial bond with humanity. The reason why older translations of the Bible do not say Covenant, but Testament, lies in the fact that this is no mere contract between two parties on the same level, but it brings into play the infinite distance between God and man. What we call the new and the ancient Covenant is not an agreement between two equal parties, but simply the gift of God who bequeaths to us his love -- himself. Certainly, through this gift of his love, he transcends all distance and makes us truly his "partners" -- the nuptial mystery of love is accomplished.

Consanguinity With Jesus

In order to understand profoundly what is taking place here, we must pay even greater attention to the words of the Bible and their original meaning. Scholars tell us that in those ancient times of which the histories of Israel's forefathers speak, to "ratify a Covenant" means "to enter with others into a bond based on blood or to welcome the other into one's own covenant fellowship and thus to enter into a communion of mutual rights and obligations". In this way, a real, if non-material form of consanguinity is established. The partners become in some way "brothers of the same flesh and the same bones". The covenant brings about a fellowship that means peace (cf. ThWNT II, 105-137). Can we now form at least an idea of what happened at the hour of the Last Supper, and what has been renewed ever since, whenever we celebrate the Eucharist? God, the living God, establishes a communion of peace with us, or to put it more strongly, he creates "consanguinity" between himself and us. Through the incarnation of Jesus, through the outpouring of his blood, we have been drawn into an utterly real consanguinity with Jesus and thus with God himself. The blood of Jesus is his love, in which divine life and human life have become one. Let us pray to the Lord, that we may come to understand ever more deeply the greatness of this mystery. Let us pray that in our innermost selves its transforming power will increase, so that we truly acquire consanguinity with Jesus, so that we are filled with his peace and grow in communion with one another.

Death and Resurrection

Now, however, a further question arises. In the Upper Room, Christ gives his Body and Blood to the disciples, that is, he gives himself in the totality of his person. But can he do so? He is still physically present in their midst, he is standing in front of them! The answer is: at that hour, Jesus fulfils what he had previously proclaimed in the Good Shepherd discourse: "No one takes my life from me: I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again " (Jn 10:18). No one can take his life from him: he lays it down by his own free decision. At that hour, he anticipates the crucifixion and resurrection. What is later to be fulfilled, as it were, physically in him, he already accomplishes in anticipation, in the freedom of his love. He gives his life and he takes it again in the resurrection, so as to be able to share it for ever.

Make Us Live in Your Today

Lord, today you give us your life, you give us yourself. Enter deeply within us with your love. Make us live in your "today". Make us instruments of your peace! Amen.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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I am in awe of the Holy Father's homilies at the Chrism Mass and at the Mass of the Lord's Supper. These are inspired words. Already he speaks to the heart of every priest. The grace of the Year of the Priest has begun to flow out of his heart. Thank you, Holy Father, thank you.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Sanctify Them in the Truth

In the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion, the Lord prayed for his disciples gathered about him. At the same time he looked ahead to the community of disciples of all centuries, "those who believe in me through their word" (Jn 17:20). In his prayer for the disciples of all time, he saw us too, and he prayed for us. Let us listen to what he asks for the Twelve and for us gathered here: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth" (17:17ff.).

I Consecrate Myself

The Lord asks for our sanctification, sanctification in truth. And he sends us forth to carry on his own mission. But in this prayer there is one word which draws our attention, and appears difficult to understand. Jesus says: "For their sake I consecrate myself". What does this mean? Is Jesus not himself "the Holy One of God", as Peter acknowledged at that decisive moment in Capharnaum (cf. Jn 6:69)? How can he now consecrate -- sanctify -- himself?

Taken From the World and Given to God

To understand this, we need first to clarify what the Bible means by the words "holy" and "consecrate -- sanctify". "Holy" -- this word describes above all God's own nature, his completely unique, divine, way of being, one which is his alone. He alone is the true and authentic Holy One, in the original sense of the word. All other holiness derives from him, is a participation in his way of being. He is purest Light, Truth and untainted Good. To consecrate something or someone means, therefore, to give that thing or person to God as his property, to take it out of the context of what is ours and to insert it in his milieu, so that it no longer belongs to our affairs, but is totally of God. Consecration is thus a taking away from the world and a giving over to the living God. The thing or person no longer belongs to us, or even to itself, but is immersed in God. Such a giving up of something in order to give it over to God, we also call a sacrifice: this thing will no longer be my property, but his property.

I Sacrifice Myself: Priest and Victim

In the Old Testament, the giving over of a person to God, his "sanctification", is identified with priestly ordination, and this also defines the essence of the priesthood: it is a transfer of ownership, a being taken out of the world and given to God. We can now see the two directions which belong to the process of sanctification-consecration. It is a departure from the milieux of worldly life -- a "being set apart" for God. But for this very reason it is not a segregation. Rather, being given over to God means being charged to represent others. The priest is removed from worldly bonds and given over to God, and precisely in this way, starting with God, he is available for others, for everyone. When Jesus says: "I consecrate myself", he makes himself both priest and victim. Bultmann was right to translate the phrase: "I consecrate myself" by "I sacrifice myself". Do we now see what happens when Jesus says: "I consecrate myself for them"? This is the priestly act by which Jesus -- the Man Jesus, who is one with the Son of God -- gives himself over to the Father for us. It is the expression of the fact that he is both priest and victim. I consecrate myself -- I sacrifice myself: this unfathomable word, which gives us a glimpse deep into the heart of Jesus Christ, should be the object of constantly renewed reflection. It contains the whole mystery of our redemption. It also contains the origins of the priesthood in the Church.

Into the Holiness of God

Only now can we fully understand the prayer which the Lord offered the Father for his disciples -- for us. "Sanctify them in the truth": this is the inclusion of the Apostles in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the institution of his new priesthood for the community of the faithful of all times. "Sanctify them in truth": this is the true prayer of consecration for the Apostles. The Lord prays that God himself draw them towards him, into his holiness. He prays that God take them away from themselves to make them his own property, so that, starting from him, they can carry out the priestly ministry for the world. This prayer of Jesus appears twice in slightly different forms. Both times we need to listen very carefully, in order to understand, even dimly the sublime reality that is about to be accomplished. "Sanctify them in the truth". Jesus adds: "Your word is truth". The disciples are thus drawn deep within God by being immersed in the word of God. The word of God is, so to speak, the bath which purifies them, the creative power which transforms them into God's own being.

Pervaded by the Word of God

So then, how do things stand in our own lives? Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking? Or is it rather the case that our thinking is constantly being shaped by all the things that others say and do? Aren't prevailing opinions the criterion by which we all too often measure ourselves? Do we not perhaps remain, when all is said and done, mired in the superficiality in which people today are generally caught up? Do we allow ourselves truly to be deeply purified by the word of God? Friedrich Nietzsche scoffed at humility and obedience as the virtues of slaves, a source of repression. He replaced them with pride and man's absolute freedom. Of course there exist caricatures of a misguided humility and a mistaken submissiveness, which we do not want to imitate. But there also exists a destructive pride and a presumption which tear every community apart and result in violence. Can we learn from Christ the correct humility which corresponds to the truth of our being, and the obedience which submits to truth, to the will of God? "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth": this word of inclusion in the priesthood lights up our lives and calls us to become ever anew disciples of that truth which is revealed in the word of God.

One With Christ the Priest

I believe that we can advance another step in the interpretation of these words. Did not Christ say of himself: "I am the truth" (cf. Jn 14:6)? Is he not himself the living Word of God, to which every other word refers? Sanctify them in the truth -- this means, then, in the deepest sense: make them one with me, Christ. Bind them to me. Draw them into me. Indeed, when all is said and done, there is only one priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ himself. Consequently, the priesthood of the disciples can only be a participation in the priesthood of Jesus.

The Seal Imprinted Upon Our Being

Our being priests is simply a new way of being united to Christ. In its substance, it has been bestowed on us for ever in the sacrament. But this new seal imprinted upon our being can become for us a condemnation, if our lives do not develop by entering into the truth of the Sacrament. The promises we renew today state in this regard that our will must be directed along this path: "Domino Iesu arctius coniungi et conformari, vobismetipsis abrenuntiantes". Being united to Christ calls for renunciation. It means not wanting to impose our own way and our own will, not desiring to become someone else, but abandoning ourselves to him, however and wherever he wants to use us. As Saint Paul said: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20).

In the words "I do", spoken at our priestly ordination, we made this fundamental renunciation of our desire to be independent, "self-made". But day by day this great "yes" has to be lived out in the many little "yeses" and small sacrifices. This "yes" made up of tiny steps which together make up the great "yes", can be lived out without bitterness and self-pity only if Christ is truly the center of our lives. If we enter into true closeness to him. Then indeed we experience, amid sacrifices which can at first be painful, the growing joy of friendship with him, and all the small and sometimes great signs of his love, which he is constantly showing us. "The one who loses himself, finds himself". When we dare to lose ourselves for the Lord, we come to experience the truth of these words.

Enter Into the Words Set Before Us by the Church

To be immersed in the Truth, in Christ -- part of this process is prayer, in which we exercise our friendship with him and we come to know him: his way of being, of thinking, of acting. Praying is a journey in personal communion with Christ, setting before him our daily life, our successes and failures, our struggles and our joys -- in a word, it is to stand in front of him. But if this is not to become a form of self-contemplation, it is important that we constantly learn to pray by praying with the Church. Celebrating the Eucharist means praying. We celebrate the Eucharist rightly if with our thoughts and our being we enter into the words which the Church sets before us. There we find the prayer of all generations, which accompany us along the way towards the Lord. As priests, in the Eucharistic celebration we are those who by their prayer blaze a trail for the prayer of today's Christians. If we are inwardly united to the words of prayer, if we let ourselves be guided and transformed by them, then the faithful will also enter into those words. And then all of us will become truly "one body, one spirit" in Christ.

True Love Is Costly

To be immersed in God's truth and thus in his holiness -- for us this also means to acknowledge that the truth makes demands, to stand up, in matters great and small, to the lie which in so many different ways is present in the world; accepting the struggles associated with the truth, because its inmost joy is present within us. Nor, when we talk about being sanctified in the truth, should we forget that in Jesus Christ truth and love are one. Being immersed in him means being immersed in his goodness, in true love. True love does not come cheap, it can also prove quite costly. It resists evil in order to bring men true good. If we become one with Christ, we learn to recognize him precisely in the suffering, in the poor, in the little ones of this world; then we become people who serve, who recognize our brothers and sisters in him, and in them, we encounter him.

Property of the God of Holiness

"Sanctify them in truth" -- this is the first part of what Jesus says. But then he adds: "I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth" -- that is, truly consecrated (Jn 17:19). I think that this second part has a special meaning of its own. In the world's religions there are many different ritual means of "sanctification", of the consecration of a human person. Yet all these rites can remain something merely formal. Christ asks for his disciples the true sanctification which transforms their being, their very selves; he asks that it not remain a ritual formality, but that it make them truly the "property" of the God of holiness. We could even say that Christ prayed on behalf of us for that sacrament which touches us in the depths of our being. But he also prayed that this interior transformation might be translated day by day in our lives; that in our everyday routine and our concrete daily lives we might be truly pervaded by the light of God.

Sanctify Them in the Truth

On the eve of my priestly ordination, fifty-eight years ago, I opened the Sacred Scripture, because I wanted to receive once more a word from the Lord for that day and for my future journey as a priest. My gaze fell on this passage: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth". Then I realized: the Lord is speaking about me, and he is speaking to me. This very same thing will be accomplished tomorrow in me. When all is said and done, we are not consecrated by rites, even though rites are necessary. The bath in which the Lord immerses us is himself -- the Truth in person. Priestly ordination means: being immersed in him, immersed in the Truth. I belong in a new way to him and thus to others, "that his Kingdom may come". Dear friends, in this hour of the renewal of promises, we want to pray to the Lord to make us men of truth, men of love, men of God. Let us implore him to draw us ever anew into himself, so that we may become truly priests of the New Covenant. Amen.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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This 15th century painting of the miraculous Mass of Pope Saint Gregory the Great is in the Church of Sant'Andrea in Palermo, Sicily. Above, we see Our Lord Jesus Christ surrounded by depictions of the mysteries of His bitter Passion, all of which are made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Below, we see Saint Gregory at the altar surrounded by his Cardinals. It appears to be the moment of the consecration. Notice the large host. Curiously, the Pope is wearing his tiara and the Cardinals their galeros. The Pope is facing outward, and there are two missals on stands placed on either side of the altar.

In preparation for this evening's Holy Mass of the Chrism and for the forthcoming Year of the Priest: A Sermon of Saint Ephrem, Syrian Deacon, on the Priesthood. Saint John Eudes chose this passage for Matins of the Office that he composed for the Feast of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ in 1652. Saint John Eudes' Mass and Office for the Feast of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ were adopted not only by his own Congregation of Jesus and Mary, who kept it on November 13th, and by the Priests of Saint Sulpice, who kept it on July 17th, but also by the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament, who kept it on the Thursday after the Octave of Corpus Christi. The feast fell into disuse in the middle of the nineteenth century. Only the Sulpicians kept it until the liturgical reforms of Pope Pius X.

O wondrous miracle!
O power unutterableI
O tremendous mystery of the Priesthood,
holy and spiritual mystery, worthy of reverence and blameless,
which Christ hath by His advent into the world
imparted even to those unworthy!

On bended knees, with tears and sighs,
I pray that we may look into this treasure of Priesthood;
a treasure, I say, to those who guard it with fitting holiness.
For it is indeed a matchless bright shield, a strong tower, a wall unbreakable,
a firm and stable foundation, reaching from earth to highest heavens!
What am I saying, brethren?
It even attaineth those supernal regions,
ascending without let or labor from the depths to the very heavens,
and there with incorporeal spirits, surrounded by angels,
holdeth free and familiar intercourse.

But why do I say surrounded by the Heavenly Powers except it be that it treateth
--familiarly with the very Lord and Creator of angels Himself, the Giver of Light,
asking forthwith whatsoever it will,
making petition as it were with certain seemly ease and right?

Nor do I desist, brethren, from giving praise and glory
to that profundity of dignity which the Holy Trinity hath liberally bestowed
upon us, the sons of Adam.
Thereby the world hath been saved and the creature enllghtened.
Thereby both the power of death hath been destroyed and the forces of hell spoiled;
both the curse of Adam destroyed and broken,
and the heavenly bridal chamber adorned and thrown open.
What shall I say and declare? what in the way of praise?

Forsooth, this gift of the lofty dignity of the Priesthood
hath outrun my mind and speech and all thought.
And this I think is what Saint Paul indicates when,
stricken with an amazement of mind, he exclaims:
O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!
Flying from earth to high heaven,
it bears most swiftly to God above our requests,
praying the Lord for His servants.

O power unutterable, which hath deigned to dwell in us
through the laying on of hands of holy priests!
What great depths lie within this awful and wonderful Priesthood!
Happy the man who purely and blamelessly ministers in this dignity!

So let us know, brethren, that great and manifold, vast and boundless
is the dignity of the Priestly Office itself.
Glory be to the Sole-Begotten,
glory also to the Only Good,
Who offers this through the new and holy covenant to His disciples,
that these in turn, by the laying on of their hands upon worthy men,
may furnish an example unto us.

Therefore let us all give honor to Priests
and all pronounce those to be happy who have been adorned
by this sublime and admirable office of Priesthood,
knowing for sure that he will be loved much more by the King,
who is a lover of the King's friend.
Wherefore, let us love the priests of God,
seeing that they His friends are good
and intercede for us and the world.


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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