Year of the Priest 2009–2010: March 2010 Archives

Letter to a Brother Priest

| | Comments (3)

kupelwieser.jpg

Dear Father X,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In lumine vultus Iesu,

Father Mark

Cristo_nell'orto_Giuseppe Mancinelli.jpg

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

The Priest: A Man Strange to Common Opinion

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

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

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

A History of Grandeur and Holiness

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

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

The Charism of Prophecy

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

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

Worldliness Challenged

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

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

Celibacy

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

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

Prophetic Life Without Compromises

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

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

Only in the Priest

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

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

holyface1.jpg

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

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

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

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

Santo Padred nella notte.jpg

Joseph

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

Onslaught and Triumph

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

Prayer

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

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

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

AgonyInGarden.jpg

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

A Divine Work

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

Intercession

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

Reparation

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

Friendship

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

Victimhood

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

The Work of Christ the Priest

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

Never Doubt

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

Confirmetur in eo caritas

| | Comments (2)

07-Gesu_Buon_Pastore.jpg

Chapter

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

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

The Excommunicated Brother

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

Toward Repentance and Healing

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

Sapiens Medicus

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

Salutary Intervention

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

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

Frati Capuccini.jpg

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

Consolers

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

Charity and Prayer

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

The Care of Weakly Souls

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

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

Paternal Solicitude

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

Father and Physician of Souls

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

The Lost Sheep

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

Not Just for Monks

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


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

Categories

Archives