April 9, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The call to be a priest comes from Jesus Christ

This week, I want to cite some of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI associated with the Year for Priests and, in effect, make them my own.

In his inaugural letter to priests, the Holy Father struck a theme from a frequent saying of the Curé of Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, whom he declared the universal patron of priests. “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

The pope wrote: “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 labors, 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?”

The Holy Father also wrote: “Yet the expression of St. 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?”

Pope Benedict also acknowledges, sadly, that the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity of some of her ministers. He underscores that, in such cases, it is important not only to acknowledge frankly the weakness 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.”

Again, the Curé of Ars is quoted speaking to his parishioners: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for the 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.” Pope Benedict acknowledges the dramatic expression of St. John Vianney, but the message is true.

These thoughts put down by the pope in his letter to priests are on my mind as I prepare to ordain one of our seminarians, Dustin Boehm, and a classmate at Saint Meinrad Seminary to the diaconate on Easter Saturday.

They will be transitional deacons for a time but, with the ordination to the diaconate, Dustin and his classmate from the Archdiocese of Dubuque make their permanent commitment for eventual ministry as a priest. It is the first of the holy orders. We should pray gratefully for these two candidates, and for all of our seminarians, who are diligent and fervent as they prepare for a life in the awesome ministry of the priesthood.

Seminarians do not take their commitment to accept the call to priesthood lightly. As they approach the ordination to the diaconate, and make their promise to remain celibate and chaste for life, in a world that has little understanding of their generous motivation, they have given their call much thought and prayer. And hard work. They spend years in priestly formation that takes into account their need for human development as well as their intellectual, pastoral and spiritual development. The wisdom of the ages tells us that grace builds on nature. The grace of holy orders builds on the humanity and particular talents of the person being presented for ordination.

The call to be a priest comes from Jesus Christ through the call of the Church, which is expressed by the bishop. Issuing that call in the name of Christ is one of the most serious responsibilities of a bishop. I take that part of my ministry to heart, and spend a lot of time getting to know our seminarians.

Please pray for us. †

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