‘Priesthood Is the Love of the Heart of Jesus’
Dear Brother Priests,
On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 - a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy - I have decided to inaugurate a “Year for Priests” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the “dies natalis” of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide.
This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”, the saintly Cure of Ars would often say. This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labors, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as “friends of Christ”, whom He has called by name, chosen and sent?..
…The Cure 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”. 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”. 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".
…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 twenty 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”…
…In his time the Cure of Ars was able to transform the hearts…