On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, 19 June 2009, I was in Washington DC to attend my friend’s ordination to priesthood. The day prior to his ordination I attended the Inaugural Mass in observance of the Year for Priests at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. The grace and beauty of what I experienced there and throughout the Year for Priests edifies my faith, hope and love.
The main celebrant was His Eminence Theodore Cardinal Mc Carrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington. The Cardinal was joined by approximately one hundred priests. At the time of the Cardinal’s homily I wrote down his words. Providence arranged that I hear this particular homily at the inauguration of this unprecedented Year for Priests. These are the inspiring words from the heart of a Cardinal in that graced time.
Cardinal Mc Carrick:
One part of the Confiteor most threatening as you age is when you ask God to have mercy upon you for what you haven’t done. Priesthood is a great gift and you ask God to renew you each day. So we priests ask the laity to celebrate this year with us and for us—that God may bless us and that we may do what God wants us to do this year.
The readings of the day are fascinating. Why? They are fascinating for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and the Year for Priests.
The Old Testament reading speaks of God as loving Father; speaks of His goodness and care for us. God comes out to meet us, holds us, carries us. This is the love God shows us symbolized in a special way in the Sacred Heart.
The Gospel portrays His love; the total gift of Himself. The soldier pierces His Heart and He’s poured out. He gives all and asks for nothing.
In Ephesians, Paul rejoices that he receives the fullness of the life of Christ—inscrutable wisdom. We are all called to live the life of Christ.
All three readings speak of God’s love. This is the meaning of the symbol of the Sacred Heart. This could be the solemnity of God’s love. Why is it pertinent to the priesthood?
1. We don’t merit the great gift of God’s love. This great gift calls us from our mother’s womb. We come to this love. We are transformed into God’s love. Thank God for loving you! Sit in the presence of God and thank Him for breaking His Heart for us!
2. We priests have seen the glory of God in a newly baptized baby and in an old dying lonely nun and in the face of a soldier in battle. Priests mirror God’s love. We see His glory in great Catholic parents open to life—to raise children. We see his glory in the prisoner and the wonder of forgiveness. We proclaim his glory in pronouncing the words of the consecration over bread and wine; when we raise a hand in absolution; when the little girl receives her first Holy Communion and says, “Oh Jesus I love you so much”. We see the glory of his love in the wonder of the sacrifice.
The Church gives us two people today as examples of God’s love.
Saint John Vianney: not a great scholar; his catechetical instruction is not very good. He is not a great saint because he wrote well but because he loved well. The children he instructed saw in his face how he loved the Lord. He was a great lover. He felt God’s love for him. John Vianney suffered for love. He’s our stupendous example of priest!
A Jesuit Priest, Saint Claude de Colombiere, Saint of the Sacred Heart, spiritual director of Saint Margaret Mary who received these wonderful revelations of the Sacred Heart. No one understood her. She asked Jesus to help her. Jesus said I’ll send you a helper, a wonderful counselor, because he is my perfect friend. Saint Claude came just in time when Saint Margaret Mary needed someone to help her with her revelations on the Heart of Jesus.
The Cardinal concluded, you must pray for me, for the Holy Father, and for all priests—that they find some love, kindness and trust in what is real holiness and real priesthood. Amen.
Only for love did Jesus reveal the gift of his Sacred Heart. Only for love does Christ choose from among men those called to radiate his priestly heart in a singular privilege for the Church. Only for love will an ordinary man yield himself to Someone extraordinary to become alter Christus. Only for love do priests live out their daily self-sacrificing fiat. The many priests I know and work with are brave and live heroic lives of service.
On June 11, 2010, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and close of the Year for Priests, I will have the privilege of introducing and listening to the Norbertine Prior of St. Michael’s Abbey whose talk is entitled, “The priest is the love of the heart of Jesus.” This is a fitting way to close the Year for Priests that I began in Washington DC. This year has been fruitful in renewing the hearts of many priests. Also, I have been renewed in the charism of intercession for priests and vocations.
It is Spirit-birthed that Pope Benedict XVI begins and ends the Year for Priests on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. The pierced heart of the Eternal High Priest is a perpetual fountain of grace flowing uniquely through priests. To better appreciate the gift of the priesthood it is good to ponder the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In doing so, we come to realize that God loves us to folly.
The first of the visions in which Jesus Christ revealed to Saint Margaret Mary his desire to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart occurred in 1673. Margaret Mary wrote, “The Blessed Sacrament was exposed, and I was experiencing an unusually complete state of recollection, my sense and faculties utterly withdrawn from their surroundings, when Jesus Christ, my kind Master, appeared to me. He was a blaze of glory—his five wounds shining like five suns, flames issuing from all parts of his human form, especially from his divine breast which was like a furnace, and which he opened to disclose his utterly affectionate and loveable heart, the living source of all those flames. It was at this moment that he revealed to me the indescribable wonders of his pure love for mankind; the extravagance to which he’d been led for those who had nothing for him but ingratitude and indifference. “This hurts me more” he told me, “than everything I suffered in my passion. Even a little love from them in return—and I should regard all that I have done for them as next to nothing, and look for a way of doing still more. But no; all my eager efforts for their welfare meet with nothing but coldness and dislike. Do me the kindness then—you, at least—of making up for all their ingratitude, as far as you can.”
My prayer: Lord Jesus thank you for the gift of faith and for the treasury of love you impart through the Church. Thank you for the gift of ministerial priesthood. In the priest you remain with us as the Head of the Mystical Body whom you call “beloved Bride”. Thank you for the manifold grace of the Year for Priests. Thank you for Pope Benedict XVI, your beloved Vicar on Earth who guides the Barque of Peter through stormy waters to the safe harbor of your Heart. Thank you for the stupendous gift of the Incarnation wherein your human heart was fashioned. Thank you for the revelation of your Most Sacred Heart manifested in your life, death and resurrection. Thank you for granting a visitation to Saint Margaret Mary in which you remind humanity of your ineffable divine love. Thank you for repeatedly offering your Sacred Heart as a refuge of love and wellspring of joy. Thank you for forgiving me the times I spurned your love for lesser things. Today I surrender my heart to you anew. May the whole Church and world be renewed by the flames of divine love from your Most Sacred Heart! May every priest experience the love of your Sacred Heart and radiate that love to a world starving for love. Amen.