Year of the Priest 2009–2010: June 2009 Archives

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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

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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