Year of the Priest 2009–2010: May 2010 Archives

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

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


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

Immaculate Mother

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

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

In This Place of Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

We, Sons in the Son and His Priests

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

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

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

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

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

Salted With Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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Guests Not Lacking

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

The Inner Monk of the Diocesan Priest

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

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

Dear brothers and sisters,

Called to Govern and to Guide

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

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Authority

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

For the Good of the Person

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

In the Name of Jesus

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

To Guide, Animate, and Sustain

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

Gentle With the Weakest

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

Living Friendship With Christ

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

Hierarchy: Sacred Origin

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

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

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

Hierarchical Communion

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

The Humble Kingship of the Cross

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

Give the Hope that God Is Near

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

In Labor Until Christ Be Formed in You

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

Pray for Me, the Successor of Peter

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

Do Not Tire of Visiting Us

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

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen!

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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