In this Year for Priests, we asked both a retired and an active priest to share with us their perspectives on priestly unity. Msgr. Lester died Feb. 20 and had submitted the reflection prior to his illness.
“Pan de Vida” (Gather Comprehensive, No. 848); “The Church’s One Foundation” (No. 661)
Prayer for Priests
Gracious and loving God, we thank You for the gift of our priests. Through them, we experience Your presence in the sacraments. Help our priests to be strong in their vocation. Set their souls on fire with love for Your people. Grant them the wisdom, understanding and strength they need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Inspire them with the vision of Your kingdom. Give them the words they need to spread the Gospel. Allow them to experience joy in their ministry. Help them to become instruments of Your divine grace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns as our Eternal Priest. Amen.
— From the Web site: www.catholicdaughters.org
Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to Priests:
May his (St. John Mary Vianney’s) example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary.
Commentary from Msgr. J. William Lester, Vicar for Retired Clergy
It is quiet, it is silent, and it is what the rubric calls “inaudible.” It is the prayer that the priest says in that moment when he pauses before he receives the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, a sacramental moment when he receives of the very Sacrifice that he has affected through the offerings of the Mass, their consecration, and now their reception.
That silent prayer, short but full of intense adoration ends, in the following way: “Keep me faithful to Your teaching, and never let me be parted from You.” Priests from all over the world are saying that beautiful prayer, and never could each one be united with the other priests of the world in a more meaningful way.
The unity of the priesthood is first the unity of all priests with Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer. From this unity flow all other relationships that exist so beautifully between priests everywhere. We are one with each other because we are one in Jesus Christ, at the altar, and in the precious moments of life that God gives each one of us to fulfill.
Keep me faithful to Your teaching …
It is the Lord who gives us the command to preach the Gospel to every nation. It is remarkable that any human being could have such a direct and challenging commission. Given first to the Apostles, this commission is still alive and working in the hearts of the members of the Church of Christ. Peter was to be the head of the Apostles. Today his direct successor is Pope Benedict XVI. He is supported by the apostolic succession of all those who have received the fullness of the priesthood, the bishops, who are united with the Holy Father in expressing the teachings of Christ throughout the world. It is the unity of the magisterium that gives validation to the teachings of Christ by all the priests, especially to the teachings of the priests who are united to the bishop in the fullness of his priesthood. He shares the unity of the priesthood with all priests who serve under, with or in company with him. It is a great unity that binds us together in fidelity to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
… and never let me be parted from You.
The priest moves in many directions in his daily duties. He may find himself in many diverse situations, but he always strives to have Jesus with him. To carry the Gospel into the world is no easy task, and it can occupy many diverse sides of the life and personality of the priest.
You will find a priest almost anywhere and doing anything. He first of all must be seen as a man of prayer, and one who brings the Mass and sacraments to his people. This is his crowning glory and most important facet of his life. Never does he want to be parted from this. But he also might be a teacher, a psychologist, a physician, a golfer or he may love to shoot baskets — if he is from Indiana. But in all things, he is to be united with Jesus Christ. He finds his unity with all priests in the unity he has with Jesus Christ.
“Ecce quam bonum, et quam jucundum, habitare fratres in unum.” (“Behold how good, how happy, to dwell, brothers in unity.”) May this be the glory of our priesthood: To dwell in unity with Jesus Christ and all our brother priests.
Commentary from Father Tom Shoemaker, active priest, pastor, St. Jude Parish, Fort Wayne:
Pope Benedict XVI, in declaring this “Year for Priests,” drew upon the inspiration of St. Jean Vianney. He prayed, “May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful.”
We have had unusual opportunities this year in our diocese to reflect upon our unity with the bishop, our shepherd. Our relationship with our bishop has been highlighted in Sunday homilies and at every level of catechesis as we have experienced the retirement of Bishop John M. D’Arcy and the installation of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. We now look forward to Bishop Rhoades’ first visit to the parish and to the chrism Mass when priests will clearly repeat our promise of obedience to the new bishop.
Our priests have worked for unity among themselves during this special year through days of continuing education and prayer focusing on St. Jean Vianney and the priesthood. In our gatherings and social times together, and especially as we laid hands and welcomed the two young men just ordained to the priesthood, we have strengthened our unity in the priesthood.
Efforts for unity with priests and laity are the easiest to identify. We live together in our parishes. We work together in teaching, in caring for the poor, and in providing ministries in our parishes. And most important, we join together daily in the Eucharist. It is here that the Church truly is one. Christ Jesus makes us so.
• What is our understanding of unity in the Church today?
• What can we do to support the ministry and unity of the ordained priesthood?
• How can we witness to Church unity in our daily lives?
Lord, our God, help us to walk with You on the pathway of the beatitudes and to live out Your mission in today’s world. Bind us to all men and women so that together we may bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. Open our hearts and our communities to the needy, the afflicted and the oppressed. May we radiate the Living Christ and transform our lives in the hope of the Resurrection. This prayer we make to You, our living God, now and forever. Amen.
— Prayer for Mission No. 2: adapted from the Web site: www.catholic.org/prayers
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