Year of the Priest 2009–2010: December 2009 Archives

Am I not here who am your Mother?

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At Clear Creek

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

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

Our Mother of Guadalupe

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

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

She Will Never Disappoint You

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

The Holy Spirit and Our Lady

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

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

A Springtime of Holiness in the Church

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

The Secret of Priestly Holiness

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

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

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

Priests Who Pray

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

Dear Priests,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

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

[Translation distributed by the Congregation for Clergy]

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.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

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