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June 2, 2010
Year for Priests: A time of prayer and sanctification
By Bishop James Conley
June 11, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, will mark the close of the Year for Priests. Pope Benedict XVI created this special time of prayer for priests to commemorate the 150th anniversary of St. John Marie Vianney’s death.
On the actual anniversary of the Cure of Ars’ death, Aug. 4 last year, Benedict named John Vianney the patron saint of all priests, not simply parish priests. Clearly the Holy Father sees the life of the Cure of Ars as a uniquely fruitful model for the entire ordained priesthood.
In his June 16, 2009, letter opening this special season of prayer, the pope entrusted the yearlong effort to the Virgin Mary asking her “to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Cure of Ars.”
As chairman of the archdiocesan planning team for the Year for Priests, I want to extend my sincere thanks to all those dedicated members of the clergy and lay faithful who responded so generously to the call of our Holy Father. Here in the Archdiocese of Denver, we fulfilled Pope Benedict’s request.
In a personal letter to Archbishop Charles Chaput dated April 29, 2010, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, wrote these words of gratitude to the people and clergy of the Archdiocese of Denver: “Once again, I wish to thank Your Excellency for the activities that have been promoted in your archdiocese. They will surely be well received by all, both priests and the laity: prayer cards, prayer calendar and Web site for the Year for Priests, an Advent novena for priests, Eucharistic Holy Hours in your various deaneries, monthly prayer vigils at the abortion clinic, an archdiocesan lecture series, the annual clergy convocation, the ‘Vianney’ one-man play and many other activities.”
As Archbishop Chaput reminded us last week in his column for the Denver Catholic Register, “The Church always needs renewal and reform because all of us—clergy, lay and religious—are human, and therefore sinners.” On the same theme, Pope Benedict recently said, “The biggest persecution of the Church doesn’t come from the enemies outside but is born from sin inside the Church.” The pope added: “The Church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness, but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice. We have to relearn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance.”
I believe that most young men entering the seminary today understand this need for purification and welcome a radical call to holiness in the priesthood. Their motives for entering the seminary have been tested in the crucible of an often-hostile world. This is why the number of strong seminarians is going up, not only in this archdiocese, but also throughout the world. The Church needs good, holy and orthodox priests now more than ever—and this will be one of the main long-term fruits of the special year of prayer for priests.
In his May 26 weekly audience, Pope Benedict invited priests to come to Rome and take part in the closing celebrations of the Year for Priests, June 9-11, when “we will meditate on conversion and mission, the gift of the Holy Spirit and on our relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary; and we will renew our priestly promises.”
I’m very grateful to say that I will be in Rome for these historic events, along with eight other priests from the Archdiocese of Denver. We will bring your prayers, hopes and greetings to our Holy Father on that special occasion.
I would ask all of you—priests, laity and religious—to take part in daily Mass in your parish on Friday, June 11, solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to pray in solidarity with the Church in Rome and throughout the world, in thanksgiving for this special Year for Priests.
In an April 12, 2010, letter preparing for the end of the Year for Priests, Cardinal Hummes wrote to priests around the world: “The Church loves you, admires and respects you. You are, moreover, a joy for Catholic people throughout the world who welcome you and support you, especially in these times of suffering. … The conclusion of the Year for Priests will not be, properly speaking, a conclusion, but a new beginning. We, the People of God and its shepherds, want to thank the Lord for this privileged period of prayer and reflection on the priesthood.”
We should all add our voices and our prayers to those wonderful words.
Most Rev. James Conley is auxiliary bishop of the Denver Archdiocese.