Year of the Priest: August 2009 Archives

On the feast of Saint Lawrence (August 10), the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, Claudio Cardinal Hummes, OFM, wrote to the world's permanent deacons that what the Year of the Priest is also oriented toward the Order of Deacon and what is said to the priests applies very much to the deacons. This is welcome news! 

I admire the vocation of deacons but I have had my fill of deacons who believe their vocation is undervalued, mis-understood or abused by priests. While there are tensions among some deacons and priests, the problem is often grossly reported. In recent weeks since the pope inaugurated the Year of the Priest I have heard deacons complaining that they feel "left out" by not having a spiritual/intellectual year dedicated to them as one is to the priesthood. The moaning distracts. Complaining is rather 

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tedious when you see the connections among the various hierarchies in our Church because none can exist without the other (even though the Church didn't have the permanent deaconate for long a period of time). Look at the witnesses of the sainted deacons through the millennia: Stephen, Ephrem, Francis among many. Quoting Pope "to work in favor of this pull of priests toward spiritual perfection, upon which, above all, depends the efficacy of their ministry," (discourse of March 16, 2009). Hence, I am happy to see something on the value of the permanent deacons in the Year of the Priest because the call and ministry of priests and deacons are intimately interrelated as is the call to the episcopacy in the service of the Gospel. Additionally, I am elated the Cardinal once again drew our attention to the need to know our Scripture and the practice of lectio divina. Proper and ongoing formation in the Lord and the Church requires careful attention to the place of Scripture and lectio. The letter said in part:

To know Revelation, to adhere unconditionally to Jesus Christ as a fascinated and enamored disciple, to base oneself always upon Jesus Christ and to be with Him in our Mission, this is then what awaits a permanent deacon, decisively and without any reservation. From a good disciple a good missionary is born.

The ministry of the Word which, in a special way for Deacons, has as its great model St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, requires of ordained ministers a constant struggle to study it and carry it out, at the same time as one proclaims it to others. Meditation, following the style of lectio divina, that is, prayerful reading, is one well traveled and much counseled way to understand and live the Word of God, and make it ones own. At the same time, intellectual, theological and pastoral formation is a challenge which endures throughout life. A qualified and up to date ministry of the Word very much depends upon this in depth formation.

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The second reflection regards the ministry of Charity, taking as a great model St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr. The diaconate has its roots in the early Church's efforts to organize charitable works. At Rome, in the third century, during a period of great persecution of Christians, the extraordinary figure of St. Lawrence appears. He was archdeacon of Pope Sixtus II, and his trustee for the administration of the goods of the community. Our well beloved Pope Benedict XVI says regarding St. Lawrence: "His solicitude for the poor, his generous service which he rendered to the Church of Rome in the area of relief and of charity, his fidelity to the Pope, from him he was thrust forward to the point of wanting to undergo the supreme test of martyrdom and the heroic witness of his blood, rendered only a few days later. These are universally recognized facts." (Homily Basilica of St. Lawrence, November 30, 2008). From St. Lawrence we also take note of the affirmation "the riches of the Church are the poor." He assisted the poor with great generosity. He is thus an ever more present example to permanent deacons. We must love the poor in a preferential way, as did Jesus Christ; to be united with them, to work towards constructing a just, fraternal and peaceful society. The recent encyclical letter of Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), should be our updated guide.  In this encyclical the Holy Father affirms as a fundamental principle "Charity is the royal road of the social doctrine of the Church" (n. 2). Deacons must identify themselves in a very special way with charity. The poor are part of your daily ambiance, and the object of your untiring concern. One could not understand a Deacon who did not personally involve himself in charity and solidarity toward the poor, who again today are multiplying in number.

Yesterday's general audience (August 19, 2009) Pope Benedict took the opportunity to draw our attention to the saint being memorialized in the Liturgy, Saint John Eudes, as a model for personal renewal which will lead to the renewal of the priesthood. The zeal, the desire for the face of God, the need for conversion will lead, I am convinced, not only the renewal of the priesthood (and seminarians) but also the entire Church. Christ is the one thing we are seeking, the one person we are seeking. As the Baptist said, "He must increase; I must decrease." AND focus on CHRIST!!!!!  Read a portion of the Pope's address.

While contempt was being spread for the Christian faith by some currents of thought that were prevalent then, the Holy Spirit inspired a fervent spiritual renewal, with prominent personalities such as that of Berulle, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort and St. John Eudes. This great "French school" of holiness also had St. John Mary Vianney among its fruits. By a mysterious design of Providence, my venerated predecessor, Pius XI, proclaimed John Eudes and the Curé d'Ars saints at the same time, on May 31, 1925, offering the Church and the whole world two extraordinary examples of priestly holiness.

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In the context of the Year for Priests, I wish to pause to underline the apostolic zeal of St. John Eudes, directed in particular to the formation of the diocesan clergy.

The saints have verified, in the experience of life, the truth of the Gospel; in this way, they introduce us into the knowledge and understanding of the Gospel. In 1563, the Council of Trent issued norms for the establishment of diocesan seminaries and for the formation of priests, as the council was aware that the whole crisis of the Reformation was also conditioned by the insufficient formation of priests, who were not adequately prepared intellectually and spiritually, in their heart and soul, for the priesthood.

This occurred in 1563 but, given that the application and implementation of the norms took time, both in Germany as well as in France, St. John Eudes saw the consequences of this problem. Moved by the lucid awareness of the great need of spiritual help that souls were feeling precisely because of the incapacity of a great part of the clergy, the saint, who was a parish priest, instituted a congregation dedicated specifically to the formation of priests. He founded the first seminary in the university city of Caen, a highly appreciated endeavor, which was soon extended to other dioceses.

The path of holiness he followed and proposed to his disciples had as its foundation a solid confidence in the love that God revealed to humanity in the priestly Heart of Christ and the maternal Heart of Mary. In that time of cruelty and loss of interior silence, he addressed himself to the heart so as to leave in the heart a word from the Psalms very well interpreted by St. Augustine. He wanted to remind people, men and above all future priests of the heart, showing the priestly Heart of Christ and the maternal Heart of Mary. A priest must be a witness and apostle of this love of the Heart of Christ and of Mary.

Today we also feel the need for priests to witness the infinite mercy of God with a life totally "conquered" by Christ, and for them to learn this in the years of their formation in the seminaries. After the synod of 1990, Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, in which he took up and actualized the norms of the Council of Trent and above all underlined the need for continuity between the initial and permanent moments of formation. For him, for us, this is a real point of departure for a genuine reform of priestly life and apostolate, and it is also the central point so that the "new evangelization" is not simply an attractive slogan, but rather is translated into reality.

The foundations of formation in the seminary constitute that irreplaceable "humus spirituale" in which it is possible to "learn Christ," allowing oneself to be progressively configured to him, sole High Priest and Good Shepherd. The time in the seminary should be seen, therefore, as the actualization of the moment in which the Lord Jesus, after having called the Apostles and before sending them out to preach, asks that they stay with him (cf. Mark 3:14).

When St. Mark narrates the vocation of the Twelve Apostles, he tells us that Jesus had a double objective: The first was that they be with him, the second that they be sent to preach. But in going always with him, they truly proclaim Christ and take the reality of the Gospel to the world.

In this Year for Priests, I invite you to pray, dear brothers and sisters, for priests and for those preparing to receive the extraordinary gift of the priestly ministry. I conclude by addressing to all the exhortation of St. John Eudes, who said thus to priests: "Give yourselves to Jesus to enter into the immensity of his great Heart, which contains the Heart of his Holy Mother and of all the saints, and to lose yourselves in this abyss of love, of charity, of mercy, of humility, of purity, of patience, of submission and of holiness" (Coeur admirable, III, 2).

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza writes that holiness is our concern for today, not something we should put off until tomorrow. His letter to priests exerted below speaks of some elements that are important for those observing the Year of the Priest. Piacenza highlights the fidelity that Saint John Vianney had even when he wanted to abandon the ministry in Ars, that is, being faithful and not creating some ambiguous, heroic sensibility is not coherent to the ministry of Christ. This is what alerts us that Vianney is a model worth following: grace truly building on nature. A theological concept that I associate most with John Paul II in his theology of the body, that of "self-gift," is applied here in the context of the life of the priest and to the sacrament of the Church. In time we'll here more about the role of self-gift as it applies to priesthood because it is an essential fact in the "becoming" of a priest of Christ and the richness of giving and receiving of that particular grace. Plus, the theology of self-gift, if really lived, might eradicate some evident sacred cows that diminish the flowering of life of holiness. Finally, let me draw our attention to the archbishop's last sentence because it is worth the time reflecting on, not because he happens to be right but because he reminds us what we are made for--God.

The Curé of Ars stands before us as an outstanding figure of priestly holiness, demonstrated not in the extraordinary nature of his works but in his daily fidelity to the exercise of the Ministry; he became a model and a beacon for the France of the early nineteenth century, and for the whole Church, of every time and place; he is a source and consolation for each one of us, even in the midst of various "exhaustions" which can touch our priesthood.

His total dedication is a spur to our joyful self-giving to Christ and to the brethren, so that the Ministry may always be a luminous echo of that consecration from which comes the one apostolic mandate and, in it, every pastoral fecundity.

May his love for Christ, which was the bearer of his humanity and sincere affection, be for us an encouragement to love every more deeply "our Jesus": may His be the sight we seek in the morning, the consolation which accompanies us in the evening, the memory and the companionship of every breath we take by day. To live according to the example of St. John Mary Vianney, as lovers of the Lord, means to always maintain at a high level of missionary tension, becoming progressively but concretely living images of the Good Shepherd and of him who proclaims to the world, "behold the Lamb of God".

May the real spiritual enrapture of the Curé of Ars during the celebration of Holy Mass be for each one of us an explicit invitation to always have a full consciousness of the great gift which has been entrusted to us: a gift which leads us to sing with St. Ambrose: "And we can all, raised to a dignity such as to consecrate the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, hope in Your Mercy!"

May his heroic dedication to the confessional, nourishes by a real expiatory spirit and sustained by the consciousness of being called to participate in a "vicarious substitution" of the one High Priest, spur us on to rediscover the beauty and the necessity, even for us priests, of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That sacrament is, as well we know, a place of real contemplation of the marvellous works of God in souls which He delicately captivates, guides and converts. To deprive ourselves of such a "marvellous manifestation" is an irreparable and unjustified privation for us, even more than for the Faithful, and for our ministry which is fed by the wonder which is born of every miracle of human liberty which says "yes!" to God!  

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Year of the Priest category from August 2009.

Year of the Priest: July 2009 is the previous archive.

Year of the Priest: September 2009 is the next archive.

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