The Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 19, 2009, Pope Benedict declared the opening of the Year of the Priest, and established Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, patron of parish priests, as our example to follow. It is no coincidence that the Year of the Priest begins as the Year of Saint Paul concludes. Both Saint Paul and Saint John Vianney were missionary men committed to the message that all priests proclaim by their sacrificial lives: Jesus Christ is Lord!
For the sake of this Lord Saint Paul gloried in all his hardships and Saint John Vianney desired nothing more than to be conformed to and to lead others to Him. In fact, on his way to his assignment as parish priest of Ars, a tiny town of 300 in southern France, he asked a young boy for directions. After listening, the priest told the boy, “you have shown me the way to Ars, I will show you the way to heaven.” Saint John spent the rest of his life doing just that, hearing confessions, living ascetically, preaching carefully the message of salvation, loving his flock, and often doing their penances for them when they left the confessional.
When I reflect on the priests who have touched my own life, the most endearing quality, above all else, was their sacrificial love for others, their willingness to go out of their way for the good of others, not in a showy manner, nor to be noticed by anyone, but because “being for others” was part of who they are as priests. When I noticed how they gave of themselves so generously, without requiring much in return, I too was inspired to be part of their ranks. I learned that priesthood is not all about me, but about Christ, others, and His Church.
How important is the role of the priest in helping us draw close to God. He is the heart of the parish – the place where the love and mercy of Christ are made real for us. Although the priest is a man like others – he hurts, he needs, he errs – yet he forgives, anoints, baptizes and blesses in the name of Christ, and gives Him to us in the Bread of Life.
The great hope of this year dedicated to deeper reflection and appreciation for priests has been articulated beautifully by Pope Benedict:
“The aim of this Year for Priests 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.”
I join with Bishop Robert Shaheen in this Year of the Priests and pray that we all would be better priests, attending with great care to our own spiritual perfection in Christ. Let us pray for priests, let us promote and work for vocations to the priesthood, let us redouble our efforts to support our priests, and may the prayer of the Mother of God, Mother of Priests, be with us.
+Gregory J Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)