November 20, 2009


What are you doing to celebrate the Church’s Year for Priests?

Last summer at a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI formally opened the Year for Priests.

“The Church needs priests who are holy, ministers who help the faithful experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are convinced witnesses of that love,” the Holy Father said.

The Year for Priests coincides with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. It is an opportunity to reflect on the blessings of priestly ministry—an especially important witness at a time when the image of the priest has been tarnished by scandal.

Pope Benedict reminded the world’s priests—more than 400,000 worldwide—that they have been consecrated to “serve, humbly and with authority, the common priesthood of the faithful.” He also warned that “nothing makes the Church and the Body of Christ suffer so much as the sins of its pastors.”

“Ours is an indispensable mission for the Church and for the world which demands full fidelity to Christ and unceasing union with him,” the pope said. “It demands, therefore, that we tend constantly to sanctity, as St. John Vianney did.”

John-Baptiste Marie Vianney (1786-1859) was not a gifted man by ordinary standards. Although he strongly desired to become a priest, his family needed him to work on their small farm, and they could not afford to advance his limited education. At the age of 20, he began to educate himself, but with much difficulty.

When he finally entered the seminary, the classes were all in Latin and, as a result, he failed the examination that was required before ordination. Because of his reputation for holiness, an exception was made. He was given private tutoring and finally ordained at the age of 29.

The newly ordained priest was later assigned to the small French village of Ars, where it was assumed he would minister quietly (and unremarkably) to the small population there.

Then something amazing happened. It is said that the young priest “had a talent for sympathetic listening” and that he had a special gift for helping people who struggled with their faith.

As a result, thousands of people flocked to the remote little village of Ars. This simple country priest served all who came to him, as Pope Benedict says, “humbly and with authority.”

John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests because he was an ordinary man who served his people with extraordinary love.

Like the more than 250 diocesan and religious order priests who serve the people of central and southern Indiana, John Vianney gave witness through his daily life and ministry to what the pope calls “the essential nucleus of Christianity.” This is the saving love of God that “invites us to step outside of ourselves” and “make ourselves a gift of love without reserve.”

The ordinary men who serve the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as priests are a gift to our Church, and to each of us. They have committed their whole lives to serving us humbly (with no great reward in the way or prestige or financial gain), and with authority (witnessing to the Gospel, forgiving sins and celebrating the holy Eucharist).

What are we doing to help them? Do we take their witness for granted? Do we assume that the sacrifices they have made are not all that important? Do we encourage them? Or do we too often criticize them for their failings and complain because we think our individual needs are not being met?

What are you doing to celebrate the Year for Priests? If you don’t have a ready answer, here are some simple suggestions:

  • Pray for our priests and for the men who are discerning God’s call to serve humbly and with authority.
  • Encourage ordinary men (and gifted ones, too) to consider a life of “fidelity to Christ and unceasing union with him” as priests.
  • Manage your expectations. Don’t expect one priest to do the work of four.
  • Volunteer your time and talent to help lighten the load of parish ministry.
  • Say thank you to your pastor and to all of the priests—living and dead—who ministered to you over the years.

Most of all, let’s thank God for the priests who serve our Church so faithfully. It is true, as Pope Benedict says, that nothing hurts the Church more than the sins of its priests.

But it’s also true that good, holy priests enrich our lives immeasurably. They serve us faithfully in Jesus’ name, and they show us the way to true happiness and peace.

May God bless all our priests—during this special Year for Priests and always.

—Daniel Conway

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