September 30, 2009 // Uncategorized

Year for Priests is for sanctification, draws light from priestly ministry

The Year for Priests
This is a year, not for our exaltation, but for our sanctification. The priest is sanctified by his ministry, but that is not automatic. He must reflect on it, drawing light from his ministry: baptizing, offering the Eucharist, preaching, caring for the sick and the dying, reflecting on it so he sees it as a response to a call and a privilege and a service to Christ. As I did in August when the year officially began for us on the feast of St. John Vianney, I wrote to parishes about the jubilee Mass; and a large number of parishioners joined us. It was a privilege to offer this Mass and a source of joy with 50 priests present.

I based my homily on the letter, which Pope Benedict XVI wrote to priests inaugurating the year. In that letter, he did not focus so much on the theology of the priesthood as he has done many times. Rather he mostly told us about St. John Vianney. His devotion to hearing confessions. What he was told by the bishop when he was assigned to this parish, “I am sending you to Ars.” “There is not much love of God there, but you will put it there.” How he made the church his home, not leaving until it was time for the evening Angelus. How he was illiterate until he was 18 years of age. We were always told in the seminary how he struggled academically. No wonder. He could not read or write until he was 18 or 19. The pope quotes his extraordinary love for the priesthood, as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The priest is the love of the heart of Christ.” In a simple way, the theologian pope drew out lessons for us. Here is one. “No pastor can accept the fact of empty confessionals.”

Afterwards, we had a nice lunch at the Archbishop Noll Center for all the priests in attendance. Three priests spoke briefly. One was Archbishop Philip Hannan, who happened to be visiting Our Sunday Visitor. OSV hopes to publish a book he is writing. He is 96 and the archbishop emeritus of New Orleans. The second was Father Bob Pelton, CSC, a dear friend of mine, celebrating his 60th anniversary as a priest. He is an expert on Latin America, and is producing a movie on the saintly Archbishop Oscar Romero, pastor and martyr of El Salvador. The third speaker was Father Bruce Piechocki, JCL, our judicial vicar.
I asked each one what was most important and beautiful in their lives as priests, and each one replied, “Celebrating Mass.” A wonderful jubilee day with our priests.

Speaking of Archbishop Hannan
Philip Hannan has had an extraordinary life. A native of Washington, D.C., he was a paratrooper in World War II. I mean by that, a priest chaplain who jumped out of airplanes giving spiritual care for those who were in harm’s way. He went through France, and was in the Battle of the Bulge, and was one of the first people into Cologne and claimed the historic cathedral for the Holy See. He gave the homily at the funeral of President Kennedy at the request of Mrs. Kennedy, and is beloved in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He served on the Our Sunday Visitor board, and at 96 is completing a book about his life. One of the editors at OSV described it as, “Reading like a novel.” It was a pleasure to have him, along with Msgr. Owen Campion — editor of the Priest magazine, and who serves often at St. Joseph, Hessen Cassel — at this event.

A day with young people
Off early on a Sunday morning to Homestead High School for our annual youth fest. Three-hundred-and-forty teenagers from all over the diocese. Ordinarily, I would have Mass at the end of the day, but because of an afternoon commitment I celebrated Mass at the beginning. It was a special joy to have many of our seminarians there to be with the young people and make presentations. I also had a lively question-and-answer session with the young people after Mass.
I am very grateful to Cindy Black and Megan Oberhausen, our director and associate director, respectively. Their focus is always Eucharistic, and they draw the young people closer to the church and to Christ. Several priests came in the afternoon to hear confessions.
I always notice and appreciate the number of young people from small rural parishes. Such days are important for them. At Manchester High School, for example, last year in the senior class there was one Catholic. So my hat is off to the youth leaders in those rural parishes, who keep the young people together and give them instruction and strengthen their faith and draw them into these diocesan days to be with a large number of Catholic young people who wish to place God at the center of their life.

St. John, New Haven
We celebrated the 150th anniversary of this parish. I drove east down Route 24 and arrived in New Haven, and sat in the car and took a little nap. Double-headers like this can be demanding. There followed a beautiful Mass for their jubilee. New Haven is a working-class parish with over 1,300 families and a large school. The church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. I asked the people to ponder the beauty of a Catholic parish. “A family of families,” as Pope John Paul II used to call it.
Did you know that one of the first trips of Pope Benedict XVI, after he became pope, was to Poland? He went to the parish church in Wadowice, the parish of Pope John Paul II, who had gone back there many times as priest, cardinal, archbishop and as successor of St. Peter; and each time, kissed the baptismal font in memory of that special day when he became a Christian — a child of God — and received the faith in Christ our redeemer. Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

“My great predecessor indicated the Basilica of Wadowice, his home parish, as a place of particular importance for the development of his spiritual and the priestly vocation that was manifesting itself within him. He once stated:

In this church I made my first confession and received my first holy Communion. Here I was an altar boy. Here I gave thanks to God for the gift of the priesthood and, as Archbishop of Krakow, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. God alone, the giver of every grace, knows what goodness and what manifold graces I received from this church and from this parish community. To him, the Triune God, I give glory today at the doors of this church.”
— “John Paul II My Beloved Predecessor,” Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI.

At times like this, I think of my own parish church where my dear mother brought me and my sisters for baptism, where I said the Rite of Christian Burial for each parent and celebrated my first Mass. Now sadly closed, I think of it often.

A parish is a spiritual oasis, away from those aspects of the culture, which attack our faith, a place where we are strengthened through the sacraments. Almost every person at Mass had been baptized there or had children or grandchildren baptized there. In a culture so divided, the parish becomes ever more important as a community of faith and as a spiritual and human family.

I think being a parish priest, a pastor, is the very summit of the Catholic priesthood; and I had that conviction renewed Sunday in the presence of an excellent, hardworking and very prayerful pastor, Father Jim Seculoff. I look forward now to three days with our priests at Camp Potawatomi in the very northern edge of our diocese. Some of the talks will be on St. Paul and his epistles in order to help us become missionaries and preachers like St. Paul. There will be other talks on contemporary moral questions and on helping us become good confessors. All part of the Year for Priests.
Alas, it looks like the Yankees are very powerful as the playoffs begin, but you never know until the game is played.
See you all next week.

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