December 11, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

To serve and model Christ, priests must pray faithfully

Bishop Paul D. Etienne’s ordination in Cheyenne, Wyo., was a proud moment for his family and our archdiocese. The new bishop acknowledged his need for prayer and support.

Christ calls some from the community of faith to act in his person as Head of the Body as Teacher and Priest, as Shepherd and Bridegroom of the Church as ordained priests.

Christ chose the Twelve who, in their turn, designated successors, bishops, who were appointed to carry on the visible ministry of Jesus in the Church.

Early on, it was clear that the bishops could not minister by themselves. They called deacons to help with the ministry of charity, along with the entire community of faith.

As the Christian community grew, the bishops could no longer serve as local pastors for the growing churches so they ordained helpers, co-workers called presbyters, priests, whom they empowered to function as vicars in their place.

That is why we say priests are called to share in the priesthood of the bishop, and the bishop and the presbyterate are a communio in priestly ministry to serve the unity of the Church.

Our liturgical rites say our priests are ordained as helpers to me as archbishop in this local Church. And they become members of the presbyteral college of this archdiocese.

The ordination rite gives special attention to the promise of obedience to the bishop and his successors. The obedience of the priest sustains the tradition received from Jesus through the Apostles and their successors for the unity of his body. Obedience and fidelity are for the unity of the Church. Obedience is not always easy. It is a gift for unity. Without faith, it is impossible. It is an act of trust: Cast out into the deep!

The obedience of a priest includes a commitment to respect brother priests and the people of God. Priests need each other. And together they need all of our sisters and brothers of the faith, and they need us.

By obedience, priests receive and hand on the Tradition and magisterial teaching of the Church to whom is entrusted the Word of God. It is important for us priests to give special prominence to teaching and preaching. Joyfully, we are urged to meditate on the Word of God, believe what we read, teach what we believe and practice what we teach.

But, remember, as Pope John Paul II noted in his apostolic letter “Novo Millenio Ineunte,” people don’t want us to just talk about Jesus, who is the focus of all ­evangelization. They want to see Jesus.

If we are to show Christ to the people, we priests must first contemplate his face in the Gospels. To serve in the person of Christ, we must know Christ personally, and that happens in prayer. We constantly recall our duty as priests to be men of prayer. The value of our ministry to others is governed by the worth of our prayer. Otherwise, it is yet another form of social service.

Faithful prayer may be the greatest personal gift we bring to ministry in our archdiocese. Still, realistically we already know that the demands for pastoral service test our fidelity to prayer. We are challenged to remember that prayer is the key to happiness in ministry because personal prayer is the key to fidelity. It is a safety net as we “cast out into the deep.”

The wise experience of the ages has given us the Liturgy of the Hours to shape our prayer in order to allow the Spirit to lead us and not merely allow us to lead ourselves. We promise to pray the breviary as intercessors of and for the people of God. That is a most powerful, and, yes, most unsung ministry.

We priests are to live the simple life of the Gospel in a way that somehow mirrors Jesus as the one who serves. What our Church needs more than anything else from us priests is integrity and holiness.

In a pornographic culture, and in the midst of lonely people, we do not reject but affirm human sexuality and the treasure of family life and marriage. And like Jesus, we choose to offer a chaste love and to be celibate so we can love the many and not just an exclusive one or few. This, like other aspects of the simple life of the Gospel, is countercultural.

We know that by ourselves alone, we could never live the simple life of the Gospel as Jesus did. But by the unique grace of Holy Orders, with God’s help, we can and do.

In prayer, we remember that always his grace is enough in good times and in bad. God does not let us down as we continue to cast out into the deep! †

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