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Msgr. Richard Soseman, an official with the Congregation for the Clergy, explained the aims of the Year of the Priest, which kicked off June 19.
BY Edward PentinREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
The Year of
the Priest has begun, but what will it entail exactly?
Msgr. Richard Soseman, an official
in the Congregation for the Clergy and a priest from Peoria, Ill., explained
the main aims of the year and how the laity can play an important part,
especially in praying for their priests.
The celebration will close on the
feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in June 2010.
What is the main aim of the Year
of the Priest?
The main aim is to focus on the
priesthood and the person of the priest. One might say that not since the
Council of Trent has the Church focused on the priesthood itself.
The First Vatican Council was
dedicated to the papacy and, of course, at Vatican II the laity and the work of
the Church in the world were very much focused on. So the identity, holiness
and the grace of the sacrament of orders is the real focus of the year.
The formation and ongoing
formation of priests is being stressed during the year. Is that its main
It’s one of the main elements.
Certainly formation is important. Many laypeople don’t realize the amount of
preparation that goes into becoming a priest in years of seminary.
Also, of course, it’s important
priests keep updated intellectually and maintain that camaraderie and priestly
spirit. Some of that can be done through ongoing formation also.
What particular events are
The emphasis has been on inspiring
dioceses, local Churches throughout the world, to come up with events that
might be significant in the local area. But there are three chief events:
vespers with the Holy Father in the presence of the relics of St. John Vianney,
set for the feast of the Sacred Heart June 19. There is a retreat for priests
at Ars in September, a national retreat for priests, and then a conference here
in June to close the year — an international meeting for priests.
L’Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi
[pilgrimage office for the Vicariate of Rome] has been working to set up
tourist packages, arrangements that will help bring as many priests as possible
What is the significance of
beginning and ending the year on the feast of the Sacred Heart?
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a
priestly heart, and the outpouring of graces from Our Lord symbolized in the
Sacred Heart is meant really to be the example and sustenance of priests — that
we must give ourselves in love, in service for the evangelization of the world,
for the ongoing catechesis of our flocks. It’s also [being held] on the 150th
anniversary of St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars. He’s patron of parish priests,
and he will now be patron for all priests.
Some commentators say this year
has come about because of the Holy Father’s concern about abuse by priests. In
2005 as cardinal, he referred to cleaning, as he put it, the “filth” that was
in the Church. How true is this?
I think the Church has, in many
ways, been purified over the last several years, but this perhaps has led to
alienation among priests, from one to the other, an uncertainty — one might say
just the difficulty of living a daily life of holiness. There’ll be a refocus
on priestly identity, as I said earlier.
But the vast majority of priests are
not involved in these terrible events which have taken place in the last 30 to
40 years. But going out to get the newspaper in the morning and seeing yet
another headline about a priest having failed or sinned — that can be just as
disconcerting to other priests as it is to the laity. So the year is meant to
be a focus on the good elements of the priesthood that each priest should focus
on — his quest for holiness, identity of oneself with Christ, the great High
Priest, and pouring out oneself in service of others.
These are all important and valuable
and need to be remembered in order to strengthen the priest and the priesthood
throughout the world.
The theme for the year is “Faithfulness
of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests,” and it’s so beautiful — the theological
preparation in the Old Testament — how, although we may be unfaithful to God,
he will never be unfaithful.
That is broken open in the great
graces flowing from the Sacred Heart and to remind priests that, just as Our
Lord is always faithful to us, so we need to always be faithful to him, not in
a lackadaisical manner of faithfulness, but with a real zeal, a zeal for our
own spiritual lives and also a zeal for the souls of those around us.
Do you think more vocations
could come from the year?
I think whenever there’s a focus on
the priesthood, vocations do come.
There’s been some attention paid
to priestly celibacy in recent weeks. Will this year reinforce the importance
of priestly celibacy and emphasize that this teaching is not going to change?
Our focus is not to combat
negatives, but to positively expound the priesthood as it is. Yes, celibacy
will be greatly celebrated and studied.
Cardinal [Cláudio] Hummes and
Archbishop [Mauro] Piacenza have already written about celibacy in their
letters on the year. So celibacy will be positively focused on.
What other aspects of the year
would you like to highlight?
I should say that examples of
priests who have lived in recent times — such as the Curé d’Ars, Archbishop
Sheen — will be studied this year. There will also be commentary by laypeople
about the priesthood.
Our website (Clerus.org) has already
promised that each month articles will be coming out from laypeople about the
priesthood. Then there is also the initiative of the Congregation for the
Clergy, which began last year and focuses on Eucharistic adoration and the
spiritual maturity of priests, calling people to come before Our Lord in the
Blessed Sacrament in prayer and also calling on laypeople to spiritually adopt
priests and to pray for individual priests. That initiative is online, and
that’s one thing that’s sadly lacking in the modern world — a consciousness of
prayer for the priest. Dom [Jean-Baptiste] Chautard said over 100 years ago [in
Soul of the Apostolate] that a missionary priest in Africa could do
wonderful things through the grace of orders, through grace coming to him, but
if he had a cloistered convent of nuns praying for him in his work, he could do
ever more magnificent things.
God will multiply the graces in him.
So that idea that, yes, our prayers are very effective for the intentions we
offer them for and the spiritual sustenance of priests is very important.
Are there any more documents
coming out from the Vatican in relation to priests?
The Apostolic Penitentiary is slated
to come out with a directory for confessors and spiritual directors to aid
priests in the important sacrament of confession and give them spiritual
direction. It’ll be a kind of vademecum (manual or
Is it being issued in response
to a falling away of confession in some parts of the world?
In a way, but really there’s a
positive emphasis. In the Year of the Priest there’s an emphasis on the
elements that Our Lord has established that are connected to the priesthood.
These are very vital and important.
It has been several decades since
there has been a directory of confession or any guidance or help specifically
in a document about confession. It’s aimed at bringing it up to date, to
reinvigorate the sacrament in some ways, and a re-appreciation of the power of
Edward Pentin writes