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Faithfulness, the priesthood and an opportunity for renewal

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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

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Blogs by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Comments from readers

Bishop Estevez - 05/31/2009 09:44 PM
I thank all the persons who have posted their comments on this subject. I just finished reading them all. I thank you Ana Rodriguez for your very thoughtful response to those concerned that there are other worst failures by priests and the wish to know the Church's response to those failures. I just would add that since the departure of Father Cutie was treated as a huge media event and played out in a series of stages, the Catholic shepherd was concerned for the flock. There was a need for a moral cry to reiterate the values that were at stake. The faithful expressed their gratefulness for a clear voice on the consequences of actions which were being disguised in a relativistic rhetoric such as a mere "changing spiritual families" or comparing Cutie's move to baseball, as when team players change teams. I wished those saying it would know better Cardinal Newman's faith conversion. To understand properly Archbishop Favalora's message one needs to understand well the climate of that week in south Florida and how it was being played out in the global media. Most of your responses show that the Catholic faithful know how deeply they need faithful priests who are true and humble servants of the community of faith.
L. Manning - 05/31/2009 09:17 PM
We all should know that when we determine to follow God's instructions,we must live up to all His standards.God does not permit us to rewrite His rules simply because humankind is naturally inclined to premarital sex,adultery,homosexuality or any other sin.We must strictly adhere to God's biblical standards.Any church that claims to represent God but ignores His explicit instructions from both The Old and New Testaments will suffer enormously.People follow their leaders and moral behavior will take a dive. When we try to decieve God we are only fooling ourselves.Maybe someone should ask what kind of woman claims to be with the Lord and then seduces a priest?Or if we are supposed to be walking with the Lord wouldn't we remove ourselves from the thing that would cause us to sin? We must pray for Father Cutie.That he comes to his senses,and comes home.
Edward Guedes - 05/31/2009 08:05 PM
Mr. Brennan is absolutely correct in his observations. I sat today in church in utter dismay as the Archbishop's letter regarding Father Albert (for ease of reference, I'll avoid calling him Reverend Cutie) was read publicly. I certainly took no issue with the Archbishop's informing our parishioners of the limitations on Father Albert's "authority" under Canon Law or even expressing his disappointment in how the matter was handled; but it was readily apparent that His Excellency made the matter a far more personal attack by informing the parishioners that Father Albert had "abandoned" them. It seemed to me and many around me an act of spite and certainly not Christ-like in any way. For many of these parishioners who are struggling with the difficulties created by this situation, the comment was a cold slap in the face. It reminded me of the selfish behavior of feuding or divorcing parents who belittle the other parent to the children in an effort to gain their sympathies.

Let's assume that Father Albert was entirely in the wrong, that his manner of separation and his failure to fulfill his vows were unpardonable. Why was it necessary to drive a dagger in the hearts of those who loved Father Albert? Was it to shore up support for the Church, because certainly the exact opposite effect was achieved? It is shocking to think that the Archbishop would go to such lengths to wound a flawed man who "erred" by falling in love and who sought to serve God another way! Where was the public outrage from his office when it was discovered priests molested children and the Church chose not to defrock those priests but to silently transfer them to other locations? How many of His Excellency's letters were read to congregations around Miami to proclaim the "abandonment" and betrayal of those priests and to call for the punishment of those priests?? I don't seem to recall any. Apparently, molestation of children is a far less serious crime against the Church than choosing to serve God through another denomination of Christianity.

If the Church wishes to diminish the impact of Father Albert's departure, it might begin by expression some human compassion. All I felt today in Church was shame.
Miriam Manning - 05/31/2009 04:45 PM
When will the faithful realize that we must obey Mother Church.If you love me you will obey my commandaments.I applaud and pray for all the faithful priest who are trully walking with the Lord by keeping their vows.It seems to me that we all need to unite and pray for these difficult last days when the devil and his evil are loose and ready to devour..I pray that all will seek Him. He is Mercy but will return as a JUDGE. And will do so at the twinkling of an eye.
Stephen Casserly - 05/31/2009 02:32 PM
WOW.....EVEN THE DISCLAINER SOUNDS SO at Mass the priest lectured on two things: that priest that left and the closing of parishes.
THEN the lecture read a letter from the bishop....
It sounded so harsh and so bad. It would be better to have had a low key statement by the church and that;s that.
NOW this makes the church sound SO BAD....I am a devoted catholic despite the church!
People are leaving and not becoming less religious BUT GOING SOMEWHERE ELSE where they can truly whorship and become spiritual.....
the church has lost their spirituality and are more concerned about harshness and dogma......
So catholics are forced to leave and churches get empty and parishes have to close......well bishop You have done a good job and more catholics can get a chance to leave too!
Teresa Rodriguez - 05/31/2009 02:32 PM
Lo que ha sucedido recientemente en la Iglesia Catolica con el Padre Cutie, es muy lamentable,pero espero y confio en que Dios Nuestro Senor y la Sma. Virgen que la verdadera justicia se hara y nuestra Iglesia Catolica,Apostolica y Romana triunfara ante todo. El Padre Cutie sabia realmente lo que hacia. Que Dios le perdone Tuve una hermana muy santa que ya murio, la cual vivio por 50 anos siendo fiel a las Hermanas Carmelitas Calzadas y la cual, hubiera sufrido mucho estos reveses que han sucedido a nuestra Iglesia Catolica. Necesitamos mucha oracion para nuestro sacerdotes y religiosas. sobretodo al Espiritu Santo.
jose gonzalez - 05/31/2009 11:56 AM
I am very dissapointed on the comments stated by the archbisshop recently concerning father cutie's departure form the catholic church. I agree on the general content of the archbishop's message,but I find the way he expressed it as very harsh and devisive. Educating the public on how a truely devout priest changes sacraments from holy order to marriage would have been more powerful and unifying message.
Fernando J. Ruiz - 05/30/2009 11:53 AM
Querido Mons. Estevez:
He leido su articulo con detenimiento y en fe estoy totalmente convencido que lo que es de Dios siempre prevalecera. Doy gracias al Senor porque a traves de mi vida siempre me ha amado con un amor que lo considero especial, al proveerme en los momentos que mas lo he necesitado, a Sacerdotes fieles que siempre me han guiado y ayudado a continuar la lucha, porque no podemos dejar de entender que vivimos en una lucha espiritual.
Me siento muy orgulloso porque siempre me ensenaron a amar a la Iglesia y a alegrarme con las buenas noticias y tambien a sufrir con las malas, porque siempre me ensenaron que mi Iglesia es mi familia y lo miembros de nuestra familia nos cuidamos y protegemos unos a los otros.
Oro por todos los Sacerdotes y termino con este pensamiento que espero sea alentador: Por mas de 2000 anos no han podido destruirnos ni podran porque tenemos una cabeza invencible, Cristo Jesus!
Agradezco siempre su bendicion.
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - 05/30/2009 10:26 AM
In response to Mr. Brennan, I must defend my church and archbishop by pointing out that the circumstances surrounding the clergy sexual abuse scandal are quite different from those of the "topic du jour." First of all, there were no tabloid pictures proving the abuse was committed and no television interviews defending it as "natural". Although the clergy sexual abuse scandal broke in 2002, most of the abuse took place 20, 30 or 40 years ago; many of those priests are now dead, retired, or had long since been removed from the priesthood; and by their own admission in court papers, most of the victims say that they never spoke of the abuse to anyone until they decided to file a lawsuit. Finally, most psychologists at the time advised the bishops that the perpetrators had been "cured" after a few weeks or months of therapy. It was the same standard of care applied to priests with alcoholism problems. The Church '' and science '' now know that such an approach was wrong. But we cannot judge the past looking through the lens of the present. Our society has come a long way on many other issues as well, such as domestic violence and the rape of women. Police and the courts no longer respond to those complaints the way they did 30 or 40 years ago.

Still, I can assure you that the anger and disappointment over clergy sexual abuse runs as deep, if not deeper, among bishops and priests as any anger or disappointment expressed at this moment. I can also assure you that, unlike other organizations, the Catholic Church both in the archdiocese and at the national level is taking the lead on child sexual abuse prevention, establishing training and screening programs to make sure the vulnerable are protected and potential perpetrators are not allowed to groom victims within church walls. The Catholic Church is also funding in-depth comprehensive studies of what happened and why it happened in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. No other religious or secular organization is doing as much on this issue as the Catholic Church.

Anyone wishing to learn more should click on the "Protecting God's Children" tab of this Web site or to the US bishops' Web site,
Daisy Berman - 05/30/2009 08:37 AM
I thank you for your message and would like you to know that the work and sacrifice of the priests is appreciated. I need to know in my soul that this Love exists in a world that cannot recognize this gift. I ask for your prayers for my family as I have a baby granddaughter who will be baptized next month and another granddaughter who will begin her First Holy Communion. I ask for your blessings.
Francis - 05/30/2009 12:47 AM
I would like to THANK the Archbishop of Miami and his loyal priests, for their commitment to Catholic teaching during this scandalous time. The Church teaches that those who know that the Catholic Church is established by Christ yet refuse to enter or remain in her arms cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Fr. Alberto, needs to be told that his soul is in jeopardy. Who among us would not warn another man of impending death if we had the chance? May GOD BLESS the Archdiocese of Miami
Iliana Artime - 05/29/2009 08:27 PM
From the bottom of my very sore heart...Thank you so much for your wise words of wisdom....
Hedy Santana - 05/29/2009 06:35 PM
Como muchos católicos en Miami conozco del dolor profundo por el que todos pasamos, pero qué oportuno comenzar el mes de junio con el "año sacerdotal". Hay tantos sacerdotes buenos que sirven a Dios con su Fé y sus Valores, que llevan su celibato con alegría por el Amor que llevan dentro. La Iglesia ya tiene la respuesta para aquellos que quieran servirle conjunto a una familia y ahí tenemos a maravillosos diáconos que inyectan con su vigor una gran ayuda al Pastor y su rebaño. Gracias por tan lindo artículo y que Dios los bendiga a todos.
Joseph F. Brennan - 05/29/2009 05:48 PM
The message is thoughtful and articulate.
I am disappointed, though, at the Archbishop's public comments on the "topic de jour". When compared to public statements issued by the Church hierarchy over the transgressions against chastity that were committed by wayward priests against children over the years ("Celibacy is the renunciation of marriage implicitly or explicitly made, for the more perfect observance of chastity, by all those who receive the Sacrament of Orders in any of the higher grades"-definition from this website), I never saw similar anger, disappointment and outrage expressed. I am bothered and disappointed by what appears to be a public double standard and what the Church appears to see as the greater wrong.
Joseph F. Brennan
Jorge Fernandez Maldonado - 05/29/2009 05:05 PM
Estimado Monseñor Estevez:
Es gratificante para un católico, leer articulos como el suyo que reavivan nuestra fe y nos animan en perseverar en el amor a Nuestro Señor. Pertenezco al Grupo Emaus, de la Parroquia Santa Rita de Casia, en Lima, Peru. movimiento que fue traido al Peru, por hermanos de la parroquia de St. Louis de Miami, hace mas de 15 años.

Los sucesos acaecidos en las ultimas semanas con relacion al padre Cutie, mas que desmoralizarnos, nos hacen sentir mas fuertes en nuestra fe. Es una lastima que un sacerdote que ha manejado medios, no haya enraizado su fe y prefiera escoger una iglesia que le acomode a su conveniencia personal. El amor de Dios exige sacrifcios de la misma forma que nos exige sacrificios, la vida matrimonial. Hasta ahora no entendemos que la pasion y los sentimientos en el amor, son solo una parte; lo mas importante es el compromiso y la decision de amar a Dios y a nuestros hermanos sin esperar nada a cambio.

Es una lastima tambien , que algunos fieles, movidos por un sentimentalismo elemental, hayan optado por seguira este padre " a la iglesia que se vaya".
Oremos juntos por estas personas de debil fe, para que el Señor las ilumine y las haga recapacitar su decision.

Nuevamente felicitaciones por su articulo.

Que el Señor lo bendiga siempre y que la Virgen Maria lo proteja.
Jorge Fernandez Maldonado
Norma T. Molina - 05/29/2009 04:57 PM
Dear Bishop Estévez, thank you for such a wel written article, especially thank you for expressing such a clear vision about the priesthood and celibacy. Thank you for expressing the great value of the priesthood/celibacy and its direct and inseparable link to the Eucharist and that certainly this is a gift for which the Church exists and a gift for the whole world.
Allow me to congratulate you on your 39th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood and to thank you for the gift of your priesthood.
Maria Carmen Regalado - 05/29/2009 01:47 PM
At this moment of so many problems for the Church I feel more Catholic than ever. I think that the Catholic Church is passing through hard times, especially now, due to the economic problems that face us all, and to the betrayal of others.
Closing those schools hurts me deeply but at the same time we must wake up and start fresh again, work and contribute with the Catholic Church more than ever and getting together and support all kind of funds raising that the parish may come up with. Lets leave depression and start new avenues looking to the future where we may open more schools and parishes again.
I do think that if we could have more convents where the nuns and priests orders stay together and protect themselves from the world we could see a parade of new vocations joining in. The priests and nuns, even when they belong to the same order, are being sent to different parishes and they are too lonesome. I think that they should, at least each order, have the same place for living that they can call home, even if during the day they go to work to different parishes. This union will make the Church stronger as it used to be. I have witness nuns dispersed and living in different places and I do not see them as happy as they were when they were living all together at the convent of my school. Thank you.
Maria Carmen Regalado
Maria E. Semper - 05/29/2009 12:33 PM
Bishop Estevez: For many years now your words are always great teachings, spiritual guidance and food for deep reflection and growth. May the Lord continue to guide you in the mission he has chosen you to do and also all the good priests that make a difference in our lifes. My prayers are with all of you.
Maria E. Semper
Fr. Mark Noonan - 05/29/2009 01:02 AM
A beautiful article Bishop! Thank you - and many prayers for everyone there in Miami. With Gratitude, Fr. Mark Noonan - St. Amelia Parish, Tonawanda, NY
ana paez sanchez - 05/28/2009 10:12 PM
Wow Bishop Estevez your words and thoughts always leave me with such a beautiful feeling!!!!!!! I believe just like a man and a woman promise to love and honor each other before God that is the same promise that a priest makes to his church and community and anything that gets in the way to keep that promise in place must must be set aside and avoided. We have too manny wonderful and faithful priests that does follow that promise that this one that strayed will not be missed by me!!!!!!!!!!
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D. - 05/28/2009 04:02 PM
During my life, filled with my fair share of happy moments and not so happy, I have encountered the helping hand, the reassurring hand of so many good priests that have helped othes and me to have our personal encounter with our Lord. It is most appropriate that the Church celebrates the year of the priest and that we stand up and say that their example is a beacom in our lifes. Yes, there have been Peters. Yet our Lord made him the rock of our Church. Yes, there have been Thomases so that we can all cope with our disbeliefs at times. Yes, there have been so many other wonderful examples that have helped us to emulate their good deeds and lifet us when we have needed
Enhorabuena, Bishop Estevez, for your writing and your ministry and all what our Church stands for.
Carlota E. Morales
Bill Brown - 05/26/2009 10:03 PM
Amen Bishop Estevez! We need more good and holy priests to serve the people of God.
Antonio Fernández - 05/26/2009 10:48 AM
Thanks to Bishop Estévez for his well thought and very appropriate contribution to this week blog.

As I read Mons. Estévez article, with tears in my eyes and bursting love in my heart, the names and faces of so many priests that have touched my whole life came to my mind. The concept of the priest as "alter Christus" in the celebration of the Mass is something I learned very early in my life. However, I did not grasp this fully until the constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" of the Vatican Council II, that in its section 7, states that during the celebration of the Mass, Christ is present not only in the consecrated bread and wine but also in the Word proclaimed, in the assembly gathered and praying together but also He is present in the person of the minister. That’s why a priest can say “This is my body…”, “this is my blood…” instead of merely saying His body and His blood.

As a married man, the celibacy of the priests is very important to me. When a priest promises to observe celibacy, he does it with full awareness that he is giving up something good, not only physically, emotionally or human but mainly spiritually, because the sacrament of marriage is a “great mystery” as St. Paul calls it in his letter to the Ephesians (5.32). He does that for something even greater. The celibacy of the priests affirms to the married couples the value of their matrimony and it is a challenge for married couples to live their sacrament to the fullest. There are many interrelations and parallel between these two sacraments at the service of communion: Holy Orders and Matrimony. They both are directed towards the salvation of others and they serve to build up the People of God as we learn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Both sacraments are based on the love of God and the love for each other. Let us keep in mind that real and mature love is not a feeling that is here today and gone tomorrow, but a decision that we have to make daily for the rest of our lives... priests and married couples the same. That’s the only way we can be faithful to God and to our spouse.

I want to use this opportunity to thank all our priests for their loving dedication and prophetic presence among us. This “is right and just” to be done more openly and frequent during the course of the special year of the priesthood that will start in jiust few weeks. This should be part of our plan to affirm our priests. It is very easy to let a priest know when something in his homily touched us or answered any of our doubts or difficulties. Let us celebrate the anniversaries of our priests’ ordination. Invite them to your homes occasionally. Let them know that they are part of your family and circle of close friends. Pray for them and let them know that you have them in your prayers… Love them and everything will be real and evident.
Juan del Sol - 05/26/2009 08:09 AM
May this inspirational message joined to the intentions of the Holy Father bear much fruit in the Universal Church. May St. John Marie Vianney continue to pray for all priests. God bless you Bishop Estevez. Juan A. del Sol, St. Theresa Catholic Church

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