Monday, May 25, 2009
Bishop Felipe Estevez
Stephen Rossetti of the St. Luke Institute in Washington polled the priests
of our country a while back and his findings were startling: When asked about
their level of satisfaction, these men gave the highest score above any other
profession, and with big margins. This data revealed that celibate priesthood is
truly affirmed by the vast majority of priests in our country — a far cry from
what we hear in the media.
Benedict XVI surprised us March 16 when he announced a special year of the priest beginning June 19 (the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus) and ending June 19, 2010. This initiative for the whole Church is an opportunity for renewal, not only for priests, but for all members of the community of faith; to truly affirm priests is not a form of clericalism but a demonstration of love for the Eucharist and the Church. Thank goodness, Vatican II has helped us to recognize the dignity of the laity and to bring back the permanent diaconate. Now is the time to invigorate the ministry of priests.
The theme for the year will be “The faithfulness of Christ, the faithfulness of the Priest.” Like a married man, a priest makes solemn promises to God and to the community. Both priests and married men face temptations and discouragement, but they are called to overcome them. In the case of priests, they are called to remain in a type of love that conquers all because its ultimate strength is rooted in the love of Christ.
The patron saint of all priests is a humble pastor of a tiny parish in the city of Ars near Lyon, France. This pastor was known as the Curé of Ars. He was a man of deep personal prayer who sat at the confessional for hours receiving sinners with words of truth and mercy. The evil one pursued him day and night to make him fail. This year is the 150th anniversary of his death. St. John Marie Vianney will be the special patron of the year of the priest. This is very opportune for us here in the Archdiocese of Miami because our local seminary is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its foundation. Archbishop Coleman Carroll named it after St. John Marie Vianney as his first initiative on behalf of the newly created diocese.
Our Church chooses as candidates for the priesthood those men who are willing
to love Christ with an undivided love (celibacy). I can understand how many
people might not understand this link between priesthood and celibacy. In some
cases it may be because they have not personally experienced this total love for
the heart of Christ. In the case of some commentators, I could certainly say
that they do not have a clue what celibacy is. Many give opinions favoring a
change for pragmatic reasons such as “we would have many more priests”, “we
would have more happy priests”, “we would adapt better to modernity,” etc.
Pragmatism will never win the minds of Church leaders, even at the price of
having fewer priests. The leaders of the Church know that quality candidates are
there, that generous youths are saying yes to this total love which makes
credible the ministry of priest-fathers for the sake of the family of God.
It is important to go back to the foundation of the priesthood by Christ. The Lord desired to renew his impending sacrifice for all ages. At the Last Supper, He asked the apostles to “do this” — the sacred meal — as a memorial of His sacrifice. He founded the Eucharist and, for its extension, he founded the priesthood. For me, this sequence is highly important: The Eucharist is the priest’s raison d'etre. Priests exist for the Eucharist. The Church cannot live without the Sunday Eucharist and thus needs the indispensable care of priests. For those communities who do not have priests, their prayer is intensified in asking for the gift of a priest to come and serve them the Eucharist.
It is known that in those parishes where the Eucharist is truly revered, where visits to the Blessed Sacrament are encouraged, where the practice of adoration happens, priestly vocations grow. This is logical. Where the Eucharistic love is intensified, this love touches the hearts of youths to the point of leading them to love Christ to the highest degree of self-giving disposition. Mother Teresa understood this so well that as the needs of the poor grew, she ordered more dedication to the Eucharistic Christ — and the results confirmed her vision.
When a marriage fails, both families suffer the pain of the separation and termination. The children bear the consequences for life. When a priest fails to keep his promises, the family of God experiences deep pain and sorrow. But when couples separate we do not question marriage and the value of children, for we know the future of humanity passes through the institution of marriage. So I was a bit surprised that the actions of one of our priests recently led to a media campaign questioning the Church’s celibacy policy. To be honest, this situation has convinced me even more that priestly ministry needs faithful celibacy for its enduring credibility.
What will you do to affirm priests? How will you contribute to their fidelity? How will you grow in understanding their identity as the Church understands it? The year of priests could not come at a better time for us!
Most Reverend Felipe J. Estévez
Auxiliary Bishop of Miami
- Pope declares “Year of the Priest”, Catholic News Service
- Christopher West on “Celibacy for the Kingdom and the Fulfillment of Human Sexuality”
- Celibacy as explained in the Catholic Encyclopedia