In a year when Pope Benedict has proclaimed a Year for Priests, newly ordained Fr James McCarthy says the priesthood is a dynamic,
grace-filled and exciting vocation in which he lives the mission of
Christ in the world.
VATICAN CITY (CNA) – The Year for Priests from June 19 2009-June 19, 2010 is an occasion to “rediscover the beauty and importance of the priesthood and the ordained,” as well as for promoting vocations”.
The Congregation for the Clergy has issued a letter to the bishops of the world noting that the Year of Priests is for the entire Church – the lay as well as priests and Religious.
The letter signed by the Congregation’s prefect Cardinal Claudio Hummes invites bishops to utilise the Year of Priests as an opportunity to raise awareness among “the entire holy people of God: consecrated men and women, Christian families, those who suffer, and above all, young people who are so sensitive to great ideals lived out with authentic courage and constant fidelity.”
Likewise, the cardinal writes, the Year of Priests will be a privileged occasion “for a theological-spiritual deepening and pastoral ministry, of benefit first of all to priests themselves, called to renew their awareness of their own identity, and consequently, to reinvigorate the missionary zeal that springs forth from divine intimacy, from ‘being’ with the Lord.”
After encouraging the use of the media to announce the Year of Priests and the resources at www.clerus.org, the cardinal urges priests to remember that the initiative by Benedict XVI is an event that “should be experienced above all as an interior renewal in the joyous rediscovery of one’s own identity, of the fraternity of the priesthood and of the sacramental relationship with one’s own bishop.”
Cardinal Hummes also reported that during the Year of Priests a new Directory for Confessors and Spiritual Directors will be published, as well as a collection of texts by Benedict XVI on certain essential aspects of the life and mission of priests in today’s world.
Living Christ’s mission in the world
The Easter season is a time for celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Additionally in many places in the Catholic world, the Easter season is the time when celebrations of Ordinations often occur. On the fourth Sunday of Easter in Rome, the Holy Father ordained 19 men as priests for the Diocese of Rome. Three days earlier, on April 30 in Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, ordained four men to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, the largest Ordination for Sydney since 1988.
This was particularly significant for me as I returned home to Sydney from Rome, where I am currently studying, to be ordained as one of the four. The Ordination was a magnificent celebration of the Church in Sydney, with over 3000 in attendance at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral.
As a 27-year-old recently-ordained priest, I am greatly consoled by the fact that throughout the world, the number of men ordained every year is continuing to rise, as is the number of men who are entering seminaries. The priesthood is a unique vocation, and it is unlike any career or profession.
When I answered the call to enter into formation for the priesthood, I was studying History and Politics at the University of Sydney. It was in the context of a secular public university that I heard the call to serve God, the Church and our world as a priest.
Since the ordination, I have been delighted by the love, joy and support that the faithful have shown towards me and it is clear to me that Catholics value the vocation, witness and ministry of priests.
However, I was most pleasantly surprised by the support shown by many in our society, especially by people who are not Catholics.
Often in Australia, as in other places, faith is incorrectly described as a personal or private concern. The presence at the ordination in Sydney of over 30 politicians from all forms of government in Australia, including the Governor of the State, and more than 40 judges and many people involved in public life, was a sign that the ministry of the Church and the priesthood is a public concern and public support and recognition is appropriate.
The large number of representatives of different ecclesial communities and other faiths was another sign of the desire for unity in our world. The priesthood is not of this world, but the priesthood is in this world and it affects our world in a variety of ways. Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily for the ordinations in Rome earlier this month, commented that the priest is in the world, but “we run the risk of also being ‘of the world’”.
I was drawn towards the priesthood not only because of the priest’s role in the Church, but because of the important contribution priests make to our world, through serving our society and helping to make our communities, with the grace of God, into a more perfect reflection of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Catholic priests appear to spend most of their days serving Catholics, but the role and mission of the priest includes the service of all of humanity. Through translating our faith and belief into a language that is accessible to all in our society, the priest dialogues and expresses the truth of God, which nourishes the human consciousness with the fullness of life, that only God can give.
Through preaching the fullness of life in Christ, the priest is called to be a peaceful, uniting and joyful presence among Christians and all people of good-will.
And in living the mission of Christ, the priest participates and serves in Christ’s three-fold work as Priest, Prophet and King.
The Church is about to commence the Year for Priests, a year to celebrate and to pray for priests. Through the generosity of the Holy Father, special graces are available, particularly on the first Thursday of every month, where the faithful are encouraged to attend Holy Mass and to offer prayers to “Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church” both living and dead.
If the faithful are unable to attend Mass, they are encouraged to “perform any good work to sanctify and mould” priests to the Sacred Heart. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that “God is love” and that the priest is truly called to participate and share in God’s love and life.
The priest, in a unique and sacramental way, participates in the mission of Christ, in persona Christi, and this incorporates the mission of the Trinitarian God.
The priest, through a relationship with God as Father, becomes a spiritual father of all in our world.
Through a relationship with Christ, the priest becomes the pastor, servant and shepherd, who gathers, teaches and leads the flock towards the Kingdom of God, of which the priest is a sign.
Through the Sacraments, the Work of God, the priest enters into the sacrifice of God and pours out the graces of God to our world. And through a relationship with the Holy Spirit, a priest helps to sanctify the faithful and bring them into a relationship with God, so that “they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
As a young child, I often thought about the possibility that God was calling me to be a priest. When I was preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at the age of 10, I was introduced to the story of St Maximilian Kolbe and I was deeply inspired by his life. I quickly read many of his writings and his life of sanctity and martyrdom inspired me to live out my faith. His creativity in preaching the Gospel using different forms of media, often borne out of necessity in opposing the Nazis and preaching in Japan, and then his heroic death in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, truly inspired me to consider the priesthood as a legitimate option to serve God, the Church and our world.
The witness and example of Pope John Paul II also inspired me to seriously consider the priesthood. When I entered into seminary formation, I knew of only one Pope and Pope John Paul II showed me that the priesthood was not boring or irrelevant, but that the service and contribution of priests was needed more today than ever. He showed me that a commitment to faith and to preaching the Gospel means working towards unity, peace and the fullness of life, not only for Catholics, but for all within our society. I was privileged to be in St Peter’s Square when Pope John Paul II died and I was greatly honoured to sing in one of the choirs at his funeral. I owe a great deal to the hope that Pope John Paul II gave, and continues to give, to me, and to our world.
I have often heard it remarked that the ministry of the Holy Father of the time impacts upon the approach and vision of those ordained in that Pontificate. I am truly blessed to be ordained in the Pontificate and era of Pope Benedict XVI. He is one of the great giants of theology and every day I am learning more and more from Our Holy Father. As a student studying theology, I have been given many opportunities to study and reflect on the writings of Joseph Ratzinger and now Pope Benedict. His love for tradition and his humble approach which highlights, among other things, the importance of a theological continuity, has inspired me to study the early Church Fathers and the Councils of the Church.
In the name of “modernity”, many today encourage widespread relativism and true liberalism, which deforms our understanding of God and the human person.
Our Holy Father has inspired me to seek the Truth about all the great questions of life, not only for myself, but for the good of our entire world.
Since 2004, I was in seminary formation at the Pontifical North American College, which is the seminary for the US in Rome. In 2004, the College first accepted Australian seminarians and we currently have nine men in formation at the College. Despite a few sporting and colloquial differences, there are many similarities between American and Australian cultures, and our countries are the closest of allies. The friendships I have made in Rome have helped me to further realise that the Church is truly universal and I can now say that I have experienced the universality of the Church first-hand. The formation I received at the College has further highlighted the joyful role of the Catholic priest in our Church and society. I believe that I have been equipped with the resources to come to know the People of God in a specific place, to preach the Gospel and give the Sacraments to the faithful in such a way that all of humanity will be drawn more closely into the life of Christ.
As I begin my life as a priest I am overjoyed that most of my first year as a priest will be spent in Rome in the Year for Priests. Knowing that the faithful will be praying regularly for me and for all priests, that we will be holy, loving and truly good pastors and fathers after the Heart of Christ, is an affirming sign that the Priesthood is an important, necessary and worthy vocation and ministry in our world today.
Published in L’Osservatore Romano, May 20. Reprinted with permission.