November 20, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

First duty of bishops and priests is to be men of prayer

On the occasion of Bishop-designate Paul D. Etienne’s appointment to the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., in this Year for Priests, I have begun a series of reflections on the meaning of the priesthood.

The single driving motive for the call to priestly ministry in the Church is love of Jesus Christ. That leads us to want to serve and not be served. The pastoral love of Christ in us serves the Church in a divided world.

The unity of the Body of Christ is one of the reasons that bishops and priests promise obedience as part of their service of charity.

Our obedience helps preserve the treasure received from Jesus through the Apostles and their successors for the unity of his body.

Obedience and the hierarchical structure of the Church have a basis in Christology and sacramental theology, not in a secular, social theory of governance and administration.

It is important to remember that our promise of obedience is a gift to God in the person of Christ and joined to his obedience to the Father. And it is a gift given to continue the life and fidelity of the Catholic Church to Christ.

We priests serve the unity of our faith, and so we join all bishops and the bishop of Rome in the official teaching mission of the Church. It is our responsibility to see that the treasure of our faith is passed on.

People of faith want to hear God’s Word, and they have a right to hear the Gospel and the authentic teaching of the Church.

At ordination, we were told to “joyfully meditate on the Word of God. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

With the late Pope John Paul II, I am convinced that in order to serve the unity of charity and the unity of faith in this archdiocese, the first duty of the bishop and priests is to be men of prayer.

As teachers, our first duty is to pray the words we want to preach and to teach.

As priests, our first duty is to personally know the Lord whom we worship in personal prayer.

As pastors, our first duty is to know our sisters and brothers in prayer. How else, except in personal prayer, do we remember and keep on wanting to remember to seek the face of Jesus in every human person?

The ritual of ordination urges us to model our life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross. It would not be possible to do that—and keep on wanting to do that—except through faithful prayer. We will not bear witness to the paschal mystery if we do not know the Lord of Mystery in prayer.

We can’t make many guarantees about our lives, but our faith can guarantee this: If we are faithful in prayer day in and day out, everything will be OK and we will persevere in faith with peace and joy.

Priests are called to live the simple life of the Gospel in a way that somehow mirrors Jesus, the one who serves.

When all is said and done, what our Church needs more than anything else from us bishops and priests, especially these days, is integrity and holiness.

The Church needs us to be no-nonsense, down-to-earth, holy, spiritual and moral leaders who are who we claim to be. That is the ultimate service, the ultimate witness to the unity of faith.

Like Jesus and with him because we love deeply, those of us in priestly ministry live alone so that others need not be alone. We offer a chaste and celibate love for the many.

Indeed, one must be decisive, careful and courageous to maintain the desire and the practice to be pure in a world that mocks purity.

All Christians need to nurture the discipline of chastity and modesty which are the clothes of true love, and do so especially in a world that abuses people as objects of sexual pleasure and in a social milieu that is cynical about the value and, yes, even the possibility of such love and such morality. In prayer, we remember, always, that God’s grace is enough.

When I left Memphis to come to Indianapolis in 1992, one of the priests wrote, “Archbishop, when you came to Memphis and said your first duty was to be a man of prayer, I was very disappointed because I felt we needed an activist bishop. Now I know, and the record shows, if we are faithful in prayer, activity flows aplenty!”

The truth of this is echoed in Pope Benedict XVI’s insistence that the mission of charity is inseparable from the prayerful celebration of the sacraments and the proclamation of God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus. †

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