From the Pastor – June 28, 2009

This coming July 3 is the tenth anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood. It is a blessing to me that only two weeks beforehand, on June 19, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the period from June 19 until June 11, 2010 as a “Year for Priests.”Â  The year coincides with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Marie Vianney, whom Pope Pius XI declared in 1929 to be the patron saint of parish priests. This year, Pope Benedict will also name him patron saint of all priests. The inauguration on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart was particularly appropriate because St. John Vianney once famously said that the priesthood is “the love of the heart of Jesus.”

The Year of the Priesthood arrives at an important time. Over the last few years, the whole Church has suffered as a result of the shame of the clergy sexual abuse scandals. The sins of a few have been translated into the tendencies of all, and good priests have suffered thereby. While this suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of victims and their families, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the image of the “holy priest” has been grievously damaged, and it will take generations of faithful priests to recover it.

The Year for Priests is an opportunity for the Church to renew its understanding of the priesthood. Throughout the year, the Church aims to rediscover the identity of the priest, to celebrate the gift and mystery of his vocation and to help each priest to be faithful to his holy mission. The attention to priests isn’t an attempt to divert attention from the types of hard reforms that need to occur, but it is itself a recognition that every true reform in the Church has begun with a reform of the clergy. Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy recently stated that the purpose of this priestly year is: “to encourage priests in their striving for the spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends.” At the same time, the Holy Father recognized “how important the holiness of priests is for the life and mission of the Church.”

In his letter opening the year the Holy Father wrote: “Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence.

On June 21, 2009, two days after the inauguration of the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a crowd at the tomb of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. Once again he urged priests to pay attention to the Sacrament of Confession:“Like the Curé d’Ars, Padre Pio also reminds us of the dignity and responsibility of the priestly ministry. Who was not impressed by the fervor with which he re-lived the Passion of Christ in every celebration of the Eucharist? From his love for the Eucharist there arose in him as the Curé d’Ars a total willingness to welcome the faithful, especially sinners.”

So what we have is a strong realization that priests need to be urged to holiness of life so that the Church might be strengthened in life and mission, and that an important part of growing in holiness is frequent confession!

In upcoming bulletin articles, I will try to reflect more on the Year for Priests in order to understand what the Holy Spirit is asking for priests through the words of our Chief Shepherd. But the first thing I know is that after ten years of the priesthood, I need to make myself available for more hours in the Confessional. And I mean on both sides of the screen!

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty