Year of the Priest Letter

(photo: ewtn.com)

Pope Benedict XVI today released a letter to priests, in proclamation of the Church’s Year of the Priest, which commences tomorrow.

The letter draws deeply on the priestly example of St. John Mary Vianney, France’s famous 19th-century “Curé of Ars.”

From the Pope’s letter:

There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of St. John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Curé of Ars was quite humble, yet ,as a priest, he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy”.3 He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die … God obeys him: He utters a few words, and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host …”.4 Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: “Without the sacrament of holy orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest … After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”.5 These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the sacrament of the priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: “Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love … Without the priest, the passion and death of Our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth … What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: It is he who opens the door: He is the steward of the good Lord, the administrator of his goods … Leave a parish for 20 years without a priest, and they will end by worshipping the beasts there … The priest is not a priest for himself; he is a priest for you”