In his letter of June 16, 2009, Benedict XVI draws the attention of his brother priests and of the whole Church to the meaning of the Year for Priests. Using the above quote of St. John Vianney, our Holy Father explains, “This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself.”
What better way for our Holy Father to have initiated the Year for Priests than to begin it on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart! He points the Church to Her Source, to obtain for priests a year of refreshment and rejuvenation. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Fountain from which all graces and gifts flow, and this year for priests is meant to be an outpouring of heavenly treasures. It is a time for priests to be strengthened, healed, encouraged, revitalized and renewed.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the fountain not only of the graces that priests will be receiving this year, but It is the Source of the priesthood itself: “The seven sacraments are so many inexhaustible fountains of grace and holiness, which have their source in the immense ocean of the Sacred Heart of our Savior; they are so many flames of a divine furnace from which proceed all spiritual blessings.” (St. John Eudes)
Certainly, the brightest and most treasured of these flames is the gift of our Lord Himself in the Eucharist, but can we separate this tremendous Gift from that of the priesthood? It was the same Love burning in Christ’s Heart that led Him to institute both the Eucharist and the priesthood, and these on that same cherished Holy Thursday night. We cannot have the Eucharist without the priesthood; nor can there be the priesthood without the Eucharist. Just as there can be no Jesus without His chosen Vessel, Mary and there would never be Mary but for the sake of bringing Jesus, so too the Eucharist and the priesthood are inseparable. There cannot be one without the other.
As Catholics, and lovers of the Two Hearts, we know the importance of worthily preparing for Holy Communion. We must ready our hearts to receive our Divine Guest. We pray, confess our sins, fast for the preceding hour and stir up our hearts with holy desire. Having prepared in this way, our meeting with the King is one of joy and blessing. Considering the special union of the Eucharist and the priesthood, should there not be some similar effort to worthily and readily receive this other gift, the priesthood from the Lord?
This year of the priest is a time for us, the religious and faithful, to also be renewed. It is a time for us to examine our hearts and renew our appreciation of this merciful Gift from the Heart of our Savior. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some probing questions and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of the ways we need to grow.
With that disposition, let us consider: how do we “receive” the priesthood, and more specifically, our priests? Do we hear and reverence, in the words and person of the priest, Jesus who is giving Himself to us in them?
With what “eyes” do we behold them? Do we look upon them with eyes of faith, those eyes that reveal to us the mystery of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, causing us to look beyond the external appearance to what is truly there? Or do we perhaps use other “eyes” that cannot, or will not, see beyond the humanity of the priest, and particularly that “humanity” that may clash with our own?
Is there, at this moment, a priest that I can think of, that I regularly criticize? Are there priests in my life that I have complained about, disliking this or that about what they done or said?
When we are in Adoration or when we receive Holy Communion, it would be a sad and pitiable reception if we thought only about accidence of the Eucharist, that is the color of the host or the taste of the wine. It would be a miserable waste if we considered the Gift of the Eucharist as only some special bread that does nothing but dissolve in our mouth, and cannot even satisfy physical hunger. Can we not, in all honesty, admit that there are times (perhaps more than we are comfortable confessing) when we do get caught up in examining and reacting to the “accidental qualities” of our priests: this one’s voice, that one’s homilies, this ones’ manners, that one’s inability to run the parish, manage finances, etc. etc. Don’t we at times consider the priest merely as one to “fulfill our needs” and conclude that he barely can do even that?
Our Lord and our Lady over the centuries and throughout the world ceaselessly call us to pray for our priests, do penance for them and above all never, ever judge them. Priests need our respect and support, our prayers and penance. Jesus and Mary know intimately each and every priest—faithful or unfaithful—and for Them each one, without exception, is beloved. Certainly They are aware of weaknesses and frailties; painfully They behold the scandals tragically committed by our priests, as well as the loss of faith and lack of love. But it can be confidently asserted that no one more than They support, pray and suffer for the priests. It can seem so easy for us, when we see errors, lack of faith, infidelity and sin, to justify our criticism and judgments of our priests. But this can never be the case; it is never right. We do no service to God, the Church, our neighbors or ourselves when we criticize or condemn priests.
Pope Benedict XVI as vicar of Christ and head of His Church is calling all priests as well as the faithful to take a renewed and deepened look at the priesthood. Priests are in need of this renewal and they have been given this year for that purpose. Yet, how can our priests be re-enkindled without the support of our prayers, our penance, and above all our love? Our Holy Father has unlocked a treasury of graces and it is our job to help pour them out by begging them from heaven. God never intended for the priests to fulfill their call alone. He wants to give them all they need. He will do so if we but ask.
Let us take advantage of Heaven’s abundance and pray for our priests. Let us be generous and offer penance so that our priests may be lifted up in heart and spirit. Perhaps someone could give up a particular T.V. program or a favored drink . . . for a certain day each week, or for a month, or for the whole year. Maybe it is time to finally give up some bad habit and offer it so that a particular priest can give up his. You are welcome to unite with us spiritually here at the Order on Mondays when there is an optional fast on bread and water for priests. We can also think about ways to support our priests: words of encouragement, service in the rectory or parish, withholding a complaint or criticism, accepting corrections or suggestions with faith and trust. Let us embrace this year as an opportunity to serve and unite with the Two Hearts and all that They desire for Their priests.
—By Fr. Francis of the Redeemer, OSIHJM