On the Church’s Birthday, Let’s Pray for Our Priests

Ten years ago, as St. John Vianney Theological Seminary opened its doors for the first time, I wrote the following words to the people of our local Church:

“The Church is not just a collection of individuals convened around a sacred text. She is a community — a community rooted both in God’s Word and in sacrament. No matter how many other things bear good fruit for the Gospel in our day, there is no on-going presence of Jesus Christ in the world without the Church; there is no Church without the Eucharist; and there is no Eucharist without the priest. We need priests: good men, well formed; men of joy and courage; men who love Jesus Christ, love the Church and are eager to serve God’s people. And — equally important — we need a community of faith which will foster and encourage these men, and support them as family in their sacrifices.”

I’ve thought about those words many times during this Year for Priests, but especially this month. On May 6, I dedicated a new Spirituality Year residence for men considering the seminary, an effort made possible only by the extraordinary generosity of major lay donors and faithful Catholics across northern Colorado. And on May 15, I had the privilege of ordaining five outstanding men as new priests for our people: Fathers Matthew Book, John Green, David Nix, José María Quera and Michael Rapp. Another five more men educated by St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for other U.S. dioceses will be ordained by their own bishops later this month and in June. Together, our two archdiocesan seminaries — St. John Vianney and Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary — have become a source of new life in the archdiocese, forming a new generation of dedicated priests. These new men will build on the legacy of service created by the scores of good, unselfish priests who lead our parishes today and led our communities in decades past.

It’s never wise or fair to compare one diocese with another. Like any family, each local Church has its own set of unique strengths, resources, problems and challenges. But we can be thankful that God has blessed northern Colorado in a powerful way. At a time when the Church is struggling for many different reasons in some parts of the world, we have a brotherhood of good priests, strong seminaries, committed lay and religious workers, and tens of thousands of generous Catholic families who take their faith seriously and sacrifice to advance the Gospel through the work of the Church. These are tremendous gifts. We should never take them for granted.

I mention this for two reasons. Here’s the first. As we draw toward the close of the Year for Priests next month, we need to remember the many remarkable blessings we already have. The Church always needs renewal and reform because all of us — clergy, lay and religious — are human, and therefore sinners. As the Holy Father has reminded us, we need to be vigilant over our own hearts and actions, and we need to root out evil wherever we find it, including within the Church herself. This is a serious duty. But it’s not ultimately “news.” In fact it’s been the difficult reality of Christian life, to one degree or another, from the time of the Apostles themselves.

Here’s the second reason. As we head toward Pentecost Sunday — the great day of celebration that commemorates the birth of the Church — I ask you all to remember the priests of the archdiocese in your prayers, especially the five men newly ordained. Without the Church, there is no witness of Jesus Christ in the world. Without the Eucharist, there is no Church. And without the priest, there is no Eucharist. Please thank God for the priests who serve us; thank Him for sending new priests into the vineyard; and ask Him to surround his Church, his priests and his people with his joy and protection.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

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Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011

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