September 30, 2004
Come the holidays, every office has a Christmas party. It is a time to celebrate. In the Vatican, it has become the custom for the Pope at this time to meet with members of the Roman curia, the senior ranking prelates who help him in his pastoral mission of shepherding the universal Church. Beyond the normal Christmas greetings, the Holy Father seizes the opportunity to share with his close collaborators something of his vision for the Church. On January 11, 1988, the English edition of
L’Osservatore Romano reported the Pope’s remarks. The Holy Father placed before his staff and before us a most ancient way of looking at the Church. He reminded us that the Church is fundamentally Marian. Before Peter, to whom Christ confided the task of shepherding the whole Church, there was Mary; and with her, the Church was being formed.
Mary was the very first disciple. Her fiat made possible the Incarnation of the Son of God. The Virgin Mary conceived the Word in her heart and then in her womb. She brought forth the Word into our world and entered into the very mystery of our redemption. Mary stands at the beginning of the Church as the example for all of us. For like Mary, we are called to receive the Word who is Jesus, to allow him to reveal himself in and through us just as Mary did. Certainly this is the vocation of every Christian; and in a unique way, it is the vocation of every priest. As co-workers with the bishops, every priest has as his primary duty the proclamation of the word of God.
This past week, the priests of the diocese gathered together in convocation with the bishop. The formal presentations focused our attention on the ways we can more effectively preach the Word of God. When a bishop is ordaining new priests, he instructs those assembled on the meaning of the priesthood. He begins the instruction with these words, “In being configured to Christ the eternal High Priest and joined to the priesthood of the Bishops, they will be consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to the celebrate the sacred Liturgy, especially the Lord’s sacrifice.” Our Holy Father has said, “The priest is first of all a minister of the word of God (
Pastores Dabo Vobis, 26). Our time together gave us a graced opportunity to hear again how important our preaching is and to learn some ways to make our ministry of the word faithful to the mandate given us to nourish God’s people.
In our day, the authority of the Church is being questioned by many. Voices of hurt and anger recite a litany of sins against the clergy. And in a crucible of disappointment and discouragement, the priest is called to preach the Word. Our Holy Father’s reminder that the Church is first Marian, and then Petrine, helps every priest understand his special call at this particular juncture of history. The profile of the Church as Marian reminds us that discipleship comes before apostleship. Our following of Jesus precedes any mission we receive from the Lord. In fact, this image of the Church rightly challenges us to live the Word before we preach the Word.
A convocation of the priests with their bishop takes place every three years. We come together to renew the bonds of priesthood that unite us in our apostolic mission to serve God’s people. The convocation lasted a week and the weather could not have been better. Every day bright sunshine. During these days, we followed the example of Jesus. After he sent the apostles on their mission of preaching, and casting out the devil and curing the sick, the apostles came back to Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. It was then Jesus said to them, "You must come away…and rest by yourselves” (Mk 6: 31). All of us need quiet interludes of rest and prayer, of reflection and recreation from our hectic lives if we are to grow in a deeper relationship to the Lord. And our priests certainly deserve this time. They work with great zeal and enthusiasm in their ministry. Even our priests retired from administration continue to work. They love God’s people too much to retire from the priesthood!
I have been a presenter at many a clergy convocation throughout the country. However, this convocation brought a very special joy. I had the opportunity to listen to our priests speak openly and with great vision of the ways we can together face the challenges of our day in bringing the gospel to others. I listened to the ways our priests continue to preach and live the gospel. Our priests are dedicated, zealous and faithful to their people. And this is the reason---they have a heart that is Marian, a heart formed and nourished by the Word of God. They stand in the midst of the people they serve as a witness to the call of every Christian to hear the Word of God and keep it.
Through the intercession of the Mother of the Word, may our priests continue to preach the Word courageously and joyfully and lead us in the way of holiness.