Another gem from the archbishop of New York on well-placed faith. Posted on his blog , Archbishop Dolan once again demonstrates his remarkable gift of humor, simple, to the point, wanna-give-the-guy-a-hug delivery. Other than his poor choice of the word “lax” in characterizing some bishops complicity in the abuse scandal, he aptly directs us to put trust in the Lord, not in the hierarchy. Never with Jesus, but inevitably we will be disappointed by the latter. Pretty funny story thrown in there too.
A Blessed Holy Week
Let’s see now: we’ve got a Sunday night series on one of the most corrupt and tawdry families in Church history, the Borgias, with popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests, all part of this big, happy family; we’ve heard non-stop for a decade about abusive priests, (albeit a small minority) and lax bishops who reassigned them; we’ve got front page stories of priests who embezzled money from their parishes; and I saw one not long ago about a priest arrested for DUI.
Yes, all this is scandalous, sinful, sickening, and criminal.
But, it is not new.
Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns, brothers are human.
That means, we are sinners.
Granted, when one of us falls, it hurts and shocks more. People rightly expect their spiritual leaders to practice what we preach. When we don’t, we’re hypocrites. And we know what Jesus thought about hypocrites.
But, this is not new.
If you think it worse today than in the past, I ask you to consider the solemn days we will observe next week, Holy Week: Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
Within an hour or so after Jesus had ordained His very first bishops and priests — the twelve apostles — what happened? They fell asleep when He asked them to pray with Him; one betrayed Him for thirty silver coins; one — the first Pope — denied three times even knowing Him; and all but one, the youngest, ran away scared at the time He most needed them. That lonely loyal one, St. John, was there with our blessed Mother at the foot of the cross on a hill called Calvary on a Friday strangely called “good.”
Not a very good start for bishops and priests. Within a few hours after their ordination, 11/12 had abandoned Him. That’s a worse record than even the Mets!
What’s the point? That we should tolerate and overlook the sins and vices of the clergy? Absolutely not! Or, worse, that we priests and bishops should stop seeking the heroic virtue, holiness, and perfection called for by Jesus? Never!
The point is that, if the life, vigor, holiness, and efficacy of the Church depended only upon the virtue of priests and bishops, it would have been dead-on-arrival, not surviving that afternoon when the sun hid in shame and the earth shuddered in sadness.
Our faith is not in popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, or even in monsignors. Nope: our faith is only in Jesus. He and He alone will never let us down; He will never sin; He and He alone will never break a promise; He and He alone deserves our absolute trust and confidence.
That’s why it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop. If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with. We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.
One of the more moving, sad, yet, usually “sacramental” duties I have as a bishop is to meet at times with victim survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, and on occasion their families. Some of them tell me they have left the Church, they hate the Church, they have lost their faith. Most of them, though, tell me that, as shattered, sickened, and angry as they may be, nobody, nowhere, nohow is going to take their faith away! These are an inspiration to me.
The wife of one victim once graciously said to me, “Archbishop, you have helped me regain my faith in the Church! I am putting my trust in you!”
I replied, “I’m flattered and grateful, but, please, don’t put absolute confidence in me. I’ll work everyday to earn and keep your trust, and pray daily I’ll never, ever let you down, but, believe me, sooner-or-later, sadly, I’m afraid I will let you down and disappoint you. Please, put your total faith and trust only in Jesus! Anything else is idolatry!”
Maybe, maybe there’s a decent reason for leaving the Church. I’ve never heard one, but a lot of people apparently think they have good cause, since “ex-Catholics” sadly number in the millions.
However, leaving because of something a priest or bishop may have done or not done is surely not a decent reason.
When I was about six-or-seven, I spent Saturday night with my grandpa and grandma, “Nonnie” and “Pata.” On Sunday morning, we got ready for Mass. Pata wasn’t budging from his EZ chair with the sports page and a second cup of coffee.
“Let’s go, Dad! (that’s what Nonnie called him),” yells Nonnie. “We’ll be late for Mass.”
“I’m not going. I can’t stand that new priest, Father McCarthy,” replies Pata.
“Oh, yeah,” responds Nonnie. “You can’t stand the new bartender up at Nick’s, either, but that sure doesn’t seem to keep you from going up there! Get moving!”
All three of us went to Mass . . .
Frank Sheed, that great Catholic lay theologian of last century, expressed it a bit more eloquently than Nonnie: “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope, a bishop, a priest could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church (although I might well wish that they would).”
Pray for us bishops and priests, please. We’re sorry when we hurt you. We must try harder to conform our lives to Jesus. But don’t ever let our sins drive you away.
A blessed Holy Week!
During this Year for Priests it is the intention of the Holy Father to educate the faithful’s understanding of what a priest is and to encourage priests to renew their own priestly identity. On the Friday after Ash Wednesday Pope Benedict XVI addressed the priests of his diocese and referred to the priest as a bridge and mediator; his mission “unites and thus brings man to God, to His redemption, to His true light, to His true life”.
If the priest is a “bridge” bringing humankind into communion with the divinity, his soul must draw nourishment from constant daily prayer and from the Eucharist, said the Pope. “A priest, who is above all other things a completely-fulfilled man, has a heart dedicated to “compassion”. For St. John Vianney, patron of priests and of the Year for Priests, “the Priesthood is the love for the heart of Jesus”.
Below is a three part video produced by the Congregation of the Clergy in order to promote The Year for Priests. It is well done and pretty comprehensive.
When I first entered high school seminary in 1962, seminary life was still very conservative, strict and disciplined. The Seminary Rule was second in importance only to the Bible itself. “The Rule is the disciplinary means the seminary uses to mold all the individual characteristics and personal talents of seminarians into the likeness of Christ . . . The importance of strict observance of the Seminary Rule cannot be over-emphasized,” the Rule boasted. The Rule was enforced by a well-defined demerit system which “is similar to that used at West Point.”
Each hour of the day was programmed for us and was clearly announced by the omnipresent bell. And so for example, on weekdays, the rising bell rang at 5:50; at 6:05 the chapel bell sounded, and at 6:10 morning prayers and Holy Mass began. If a student wasn’t in his assigned place in the chapel at that moment, a demerit was issued. And so it went all day, until the bell sounded night prayer at 9:00 and “lights out” at 9:45.
Along with the daily routine, just about every other aspect of seminary life was tightly controlled: our vacation time, visiting days, free days, and where we could go and what we could do; our attire – cassocks and surplices in chapel, coats and ties in public areas of the building, and standard-issue gym shorts and shirts for recreation; our telephone calls were severely limited and our mail, both outgoing and incoming, was subject to inspection.
Some students chafed under the strict discipline of the seminary and hated the experience. Personally, it didn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoyed seminary life and thrived under its discipline and expectations.
But then the Second Vatican Council came along, the windows of the Church were thrown open, and by the time I arrived at the North American College in Rome, seminary life had changed dramatically. Most minor seminaries had disappeared and major seminaries were completely different.
In the major seminary of the 1970s and 80s, there were very few rules and expectations. The emphasis was on personal freedom and accountability. You were expected to attend Mass and class, but that was about it. Other hours of prayer – morning prayer and evening prayer for example, were said privately, if at all. Devotions were deemed old-fashioned, and the Rosary was relegated to little old ladies.
A seminarian could move about as he wished with few questions asked; he could go out every night, party till midnight, and travel at will. Because the house was comprised of adults, alcohol was free-flowing and certain rooms became party rooms. In some major seminaries, students were permitted to have part-time secular jobs, and there were few limitations on social relationships. Boundaries between faculty and students disappeared as everyone wanted to be part of the action. Spiritual direction was encouraged, but not supervised, and personal formation programs were just beginning.
Most of the baby-boomer priests, now in their fifties and sixties attended seminaries like this and, for the most part, believe that the more open experience was beneficial to their growth and maturity. And, in fact, lots of fine priests came through this liberal system.
But the story doesn’t end there, because now, in the last twenty years or so, the pendulum has swung again and seminaries have become more structured and conservative.
In a typical seminary today there are more rules and expectations; there’s a lot of structure and discipline. Masses and classes are mandatory and the public recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours is expected. Devotions have returned in force, the Rosary is part of the daily routine, and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a litmus test for orthodoxy.
Seminarians are far more “conservative” than their immediate predecessors. They embrace ritual, love the Pope, willingly accept the teachings and disciplines of the Church, display the Roman Collar and even – gasp! – wear the traditional cassock. Seminarians today are expected to participate in a robust program of spiritual direction and human formation. Even getting into the seminary these days requires serious psychological testing – a requirement I’m not sure I would have passed in my day, or even now!
Some older priests are wary of the new breed of seminarians and young priests. The veterans think the young guys are regressing to a pre-conciliar Church. One senior priest told me recently that he’s not sure the young priests will be able to relate to the laity because they’re “too clerical.” Other priests encourage me to assign our seminarians to more “liberal seminaries.” Of course there are no “liberal seminaries” anymore, as seminaries today are either conservative or ultra-conservative.
From my personal perspective, however, I’m proud of and thrilled with our crop of seminarians and young priests. I find them to be intelligent, talented, balanced and personable. They’re in love with the Lord, generous with their gifts, and anxious to serve the Church. They’re not perfect, of course, and are sometimes a little eccentric. (Now there’s a new phenomenon in the Church – eccentric priests!) But, I’m really excited about where the Spirit is leading the Church and I just hope I’m around long enough to see these young guys in action.
Do I hear an “Amen”!
During the Year for Priests which began on June 19, 2009 and will end on June 19, 2010, the gift of special Indulgences is granted as described in the Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary, published on 12 May. The instructions for priests and for the faithful are as follows:
A. Truly repentant priests who, on any day, devoutly recite at least morning Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament, exposed for public adoration or replaced in the tabernacle, and who, after the example of St John Mary Vianney, offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the sacraments, especially Confession, are mercifully granted in God the Plenary Indulgence which they may also apply to their deceased brethren in suffrage, if, in conformity with the current norms, they receive sacramental confession and the Eucharistic banquet and pray for the Supreme Pontiff’s intentions.
Furthermore the Partial Indulgence is granted to priests who may apply it to their deceased confreres every time that they devoutly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a holy life and to carry out in a holy manner the offices entrusted to them.
B. The Plenary Indulgence is granted to all the faithful who are truly repentant who, in church or in chapel, devoutly attend the divine Sacrifice of Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest, for the priests of the Church, and any other good work which they have done on that day, so that he may sanctify them and form them in accordance with His Heart, as long as they have made expiation for their sins through sacramental confession and prayed in accordance with the Supreme Pontiff’s intentions: on the days in which the Year for Priests begins and ends, on the day of the 150th anniversary of the pious passing of St John Mary Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month or on any other day established by the local Ordinaries for the benefit of the faithful.
Dear Saint John Vianney, your childhood dream was to be a Priest, to win souls for God. You endured years of toil and humiliation to attain the Priesthood. You became a Priest truly after God’s own heart, outstanding in humulity and poverty; prayer and mortification. Totally devoted to the service of God’s people. The Church has exalted you as model and patron saint of all Parish Priest, trusting that your example and prayers will help them to live up to the high dignity of their vocation to be faithful servants of God’s people, to be perfect imitators of Christ the Savior Who came not to be served but to serve, to give His Life in ransom for many.
Pray that God may give to His Church today many more Priests after His own Heart. Pray for all the Priests under your patronage, that they may be worthy representatives of Christ the Good Shepherd. May they wholeheartedly devote themselves to prayer and penance; be examples of humility and poverty; shining modelss of holiness; tireless and powerful preachers of the Word of God; zealous dispensers of God’s Grace in the Sacraments. May their loving devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to Mary His Mother be the Twin Fountains of fruitfulness for their ministry.
Once again Pope Benedict focuses on the Year for Priests, demonstrating the great importance he is placing on the desired fruit of this year: the sanctification of priests. Hopefully those dioceses and priests that have yet to join the Holy Father in this endeavor will be moved to do so and dedicate themselves to a continued renewal of self conformed to Christ.
From Vatican Information Service:
VATICAN CITY, 24 JUN 2009 (VIS) – During today’s general audience, held in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope focused his remarks on the Year for Priests which he inaugurated last Friday, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and day of prayer for the sanctification of the clergy, and which is intended to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney.
“Why a Year for Priests?” the Pope asked. “And why should it recall the holy ‘Cure of Ars’ who apparently did nothing out of the ordinary?”
The Holy Father went on to explain how “Divine Providence ordained that the figure [of St. John May Vianney] should be associated with that of St. Paul” because, “although the two saints followed very different life paths, … these exists nonetheless a fundamental factor that unites them: their total identification with their ministry, their communion with Christ”.
“The aim of this Year for Priests”, he went on, “is to support each priest’s struggle towards spiritual perfection, ‘upon which the effectiveness of his ministry particularly depends’, and to help priests, and with them the entire People of God, to rediscover and revive an awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of Grace which the ordained ministry represents, for the person who receives it, for the entire Church, and for the world which would be lost without the real presence of Christ”.
“Although the historical and social conditions in which the ‘Cure of Ars’ worked have changed, it is right to ask how priests can imitate him by identifying themselves with their ministry in modern globalised societies”, said the Pope.
“In a world in which the common view of life leaves ever less space for the sacred, in place of which ‘functionality’ becomes the only decisive category, the Catholic concept of priesthood could risk losing its due regard, sometimes even in the ecclesial conscience”.
The Holy Father identified two conceptions of the priesthood, “which do not in fact contradict one another”. On the one hand “a social-functional conception which identifies the essence of priesthood with the concept of ‘service’. … On the other hand there is a sacramental-ontological conception” which sees priestly ministry “as determined by a gift called Sacrament, granted by the Lord through the mediation of the Church”.
“What”, the Pope asked, “does it mean for priests to evangelise? In what does the primacy of announcement exist? … Announcement coincides with the person of Christ”, he said, “a priest cannot consider himself as ‘master’ of the Word, but as its servant”.
“Only participation in Christ’s sacrifice, in His ‘chenosi’, … and docile obedience to the Church … makes announcement authentic. … Priests are Christ’s servants, in the sense that their existence, ontologically configured to Him, have an essentially relational character. The priest is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ at the service of humankind. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of man”.
Benedict XVI concluded by expressing the hope that “the Year for Priests may lead all the clergy to identify themselves completely with Christ Who died and rose again, so that, imitating St. John the Baptist, they may be ready ‘to diminish’ that He may grow; and that, following the example of the ‘Cure of Ars’, they may be constantly and profoundly aware of their mission, which is both sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God”.
To live in the midst of the world
without wishing its pleasures;
To be a member of each family,
yet belonging to none;
To share all suffering;
to penetrate all secrets;
To heal all wounds;
to go from men to God
and offer Him their prayers;
To return from God to men
to bring pardon and hope;
To have a heart of fire for Charity,
and a heart of bronze for Chastity
To teach and to pardon,
console and bless always.
My God, what a life;
and it is yours,
O priest of Jesus Christ.
The Year for Priests begins tomorrow, June 19th, at Solemn Vespers in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Thus begins a special year of grace and intercession for the “importance of the priest’s role and mission in the Church and in contemporary society ever more clearly perceived”. (Pope Benedict audience 16 March, 2009) It is more than a year to honor, a public relations maneuver or a “shot in the arm” for priests who have been fatigued by scandal and bad press. To think this is to miss the point…and a tremendous opportunity for grace. This year is “precisely to encourage priests in [their] striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends”. (ibid)
Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, writes, “Each day we are called to conversion, but we are called to it in a very particular way during this year, in union with all those who have received the gift of priestly ordination. Conversion to what? It is conversion to be ever more authentically that which we already are, conversion to our ecclesial identity of which our ministry is a necessary consequence, so that a renewed and joyous awareness of our “being” will determine our “acting”, or rather will create the space allowing Christ the Good Shepherd to live in us and to act through us”.
The Holy Father has asked 1.2 billion Catholics throughout the world to dedicate themselves to a year of prayer for the sanctification of priests, and has called the over 400,000 priests of the world to re-dedicate themselves to the goal of personal sanctity and mission. Think about that! How important a cause must be for the Pope to mobilize behind it the entire Church Militant? Priests, rediscover the nature of your priestly identity, recommit yourselves to Christ in prayer, lectio divina, continuing education, theological study, preaching the Gospel and the salvation of souls. All faithful unite their prayers with yours in a common goal of renewal and holiness.
St. John Mary Vianney pray for us!
The priest must be a believer, one who converses with God. If this is not the case, then all his activities are futile. The most lofty and important thing a priest can do for people is first of all being what he is: a believer. Through faith he lets God, the other, come into the world. And if the other is not at work, our work will never be enough; When people sense that one is there who believes, who lives with God and from God, hope becomes a reality for them as well. Through the faith of the priest, doors open up all around for people: it is really possible to believe, even today. All human believing is a believing-with, and for this reason the one who believes before us is so important. In many ways this person is more exposed in his faith than the others, since their faith depends on his and since, at any given time, he has to withstand the hard-ships of faith for them….
There is a mutual given-and-take in faith in which priests and lay people become mediators of the nearness of God for one another. The priest must also nurture the humility of such receiving in himself ….
The first “task” a priest has to do is to be a believer and to become one ever anew and ever more. Faith is never simply there automatically; it must be lived. It leads us into conversation with God which involves speaking and listening to the same degree. Faith and prayer belong together; they cannot be separated. The time spent by a priest on prayer and listening to Scripture is never time lost to pastoral care or time withheld from others. People sense whether the work and words of their pastor spring from prayer fabricated at his desk.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, from A New Song for the Lord, tr. by Martha M Matesich, NY: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1996, and quoted in Magnificat for Holy Thursday, March 24, 2005.
Back on March 16th Pope Benedict XVI declared a “Year for Priests” beginning with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 19, 2009–this Friday. The year will conclude in Rome with an international gathering of priests with the Holy Father on June 19, 2010.
With the announcement of this Year for Priests, the Pope has declared St. John Vianney the Universal Patron of Priests on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé d’Ars.
During the Year for Priests the gift of special Indulgences is granted as described in the Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary, published on 12 May.
Pope Benedict has called this special year of dedication to encourage priests to “strive for spiritual perfection [and] divine intimacy in which the priest is called to be expert, so that he may be able to lead the souls entrusted to him humbly and trustingly to the same encounter with the Lord”. Throughout this year our part is to pray for all priests that they may have a renewal of personal purity and holiness, a re-dedication to study and evangelization, and a profound self-identity of being an “alter Christus“.
There is no Church without the Eucharist and there is no Eucharist without the Priest!