As Pope Benedict XVI drew the year to a close, he opened a new year of focus and prayer called the “Year for Priests.” The model for this year, focused on priests and priesthood, is the saintly Curè of Ars. I have described the life of this saintly diocesan or parish priest in my article to the young people on the Kids’ Page.
Why, do you suppose, is the Holy Father using this year as a year of focus on the priesthood and a year to call priests to a renewal of their spiritual lives and their vocations? Is there any particular reason for this focus on St. Jean Vianney? He is the patron of all priests and the pope mentions that the “two saints (Paul and John Vianney) followed very different life paths but were totally identified with their ministry, their communion with Jesus Christ.”
The pope continued, “The aim of the year of priests is to support each priest’s struggle toward spiritual perfection upon which the effectiveness of his ministry particularly depends and to help priests and with them the entire people of God to rediscover and revive an awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of Grace which the ordained priestly ministry represents, for the person who received it, for the entire church and for the world which would be lost without the real presence of Christ.”
In recent years, the priesthood has gone through a type of identity crisis, and has been defined merely in terms of its functionality. For example, some say that the priest is merely a functionary of the sacraments. In a world that has less and less space for the authentically sacred, it is difficult for priests to see their real purpose, which is fundamentally spiritual in nature.
In truth, the priesthood is both “social-functional,” given to service of others in the community and outside it, as well as “sacramental,” an instrument of the love and providence of God.
The pope is calling priests and bishops to be inspired by the example of St. Jean Marie Vianney as a simple parish priest who was totally configured in his person and in his priesthood to the person and priesthood of Jesus Christ who suffered greatly for the salvation of the world. This year, 2009-2010, pray for your parish priest. Thank the Lord for the “yes” to his calling which he gave and continues to give for you. Thank God when he celebrates the liturgy with you and makes present the very God of the Universe who became one of us in everything but sin.