The Year of St. Paul has come and gone and now we are just getting started with the Year for Priests. In announcing this year to the bishops, the Holy Father wrote, “Precisely to encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends, I have decided to establish a special “Year for Priests” that will begin on 19 June and last until 19 June 2010. In fact, it is the 150th anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé d’Ars, John Mary Vianney, a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ’s flock.”
He continues: “It will be the task of your Congregation, in agreement with the diocesan Ordinaries and with the superiors of religious institutes to promote and to coordinate the various spiritual and pastoral initiatives that seem useful for making the importance of the priest’s role and mission in the Church and in contemporary society ever more clearly perceived.”
In love for priests — past, present and future — individual people and organized groups are taking up the challenge with great enthusiasm. There are campaigns to spiritually adopt priests through daily prayer and sacrifice. There are holy hours scheduled for an increase in vocations and more. But, honestly, I have seen a lack of enthusiasm with some friends and acquaintances for this year which I greeted with such joy.
I will readily admit that I love priests. Having a brother who is a diocesean priest, now serving as a military chaplain in the Army, and a son off to the seminary in the fall, my joy may be understood but I also remember it as a part of me from my youth.
Its early roots came from my mother, who is one of those Catholic moms who would invite the parish priest over for dinner regularly. My dad was active in the parish, making sure that the rectory was in working order and that the priest did not have to climb ladders to replace light bulbs in the Church. Both of them saw that priests needed some taking care of and they were there to do what they could.
Now, however, I am not sure that all current priests get such care. We might want to blame the recent scandals, but I think all of us realize that it was a very select few priests guilty of crimes. The majority of priests were and are good men of God doing their best to serve. But, in an increasingly secular society, it can be hard to relate to men willing to forsake all others for God.
This is not to say that all priests are perfect, but neither are we. Some priests are excellent homilists, others good in the confessional while others struggle even making eye contact
Regardless of your current pastor or memories of priests past, the personal qualities of a priest should fade into insignificance compared with the realization that, by the sacrament of Holy Orders, these men have become Christ here on earth for us.
This point came home to me recently when I went to daily Mass at the retirement home for the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. As I sat participating in the Mass, I was overtaken by the profound thought of all that these 20 or so men have done. When the time for consecration came and they all raised their hands and joined their voices in the words of Christ from the Last Supper, I could not stop the tears from flowing. Despite their flaws, despite their age and infirmities, these men were still Christ for me.
On the drive home I began doing some mental math. If each of these men — let us say there were 20 — have been priests for 40 years (at the least) how many sacraments had they been a part of? The numbers staggered me. Consider this: If one priest serving the Church for 40 years performs one marriage a month they would have brought together 480 couples. And, if those same couples brought back even just two babies for baptisms there would be 960 of those. If this same priest occupies the confessional 1 hour a week they would have been offering real forgiveness for 2,080 hours.
The numbers really get amazing when you think of offering Mass. My own pastor shares Mass duties in our parish with both an associate pastor and one or two of the retired Oblates so his commitment to public Mass is on average 6 times a week. So, when he reaches his 40th anniversary he will have brought Christ 12,480 times! How many children received Christ for the first time from these men and how many were brought home to God?
We must all, despite our personal feelings and struggles, admit the gift of the priesthood is astonishing. And, none of these numbers include what they do in those committee meetings, personal counseling, visits to the homebound, comfort and Sacraments in hospitals and prisons – the list goes on and on.
So, without any words of complaint about the old priest you knew who yelled at you in the confessional or the priest who insisted on shaking hands with his sweaty palms, let us find a way to truly celebrate this awesome gift that the priesthood is to the Church as a whole and to us as individuals.
In spite of those who faltered in their faith, we must admit that our own admission to heaven will be the result of some very good priests who lived and died with their vows intact, bringing Christ to us despite the loneliness and lack of understanding. They stood at the altar every weekend; they have faced our wrath on a bad day and our tears on even worse days. They strive to be Christ to us; cannot we try to be Christ to them?
One small way you might want to celebrate this year as a family would be to download the free activity sheet for “The Year of the Priest” from Ecce Homo Press . It was developed for families to find concrete ways to both support priests, encourage vocations and develop a deeper appreciation for the Sacrament of Holy Orders in their homes.
The Year of Priest may not seem as accessible as the Year of St. Paul, but it will have a direct affect on the priests you pray and sacrifice for and on you and your family. For if this year is, in part, celebrating priests yet to come, how better to introduce the priesthood to some young boy in your life than by actively participating in it.