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 emphasis?
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 planned?
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 to Rome.
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 The 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 guidelines).
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 the sacrament.
Edward Pentin writes