Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A Year for Priests or a year to pray for vocations?

I had reason to visit St Therese again yesterday evening - driving Zero up to Westminster Cathedral. We arrived in time to catch the ending of the opening Liturgy of the night vigil being held for the Year for Priests. In his homily, Bishop Longley spoke mostly about what we might learn from Therese about response to vocations.
Each one of us will bring our own particular petitions to be united to the intercessory prayer of St Thérèse. But together let us ask her to strengthen the resolve of those who are contemplating a call to priesthood at this time and to inspire all our Seminarians to follow their calling, faithfully obedient to the voice of Christ. Let us pray for any of our brothers in the priesthood who are struggling because of temptations, problems or ill health. And as we listen to the words of our Lord: do not neglect the gift that is in you, let us give thanks with all those who celebrate their special anniversaries of ordination this year, or who are simply grateful day by day that the Lord has entrusted us with the gift of the priesthood.

In his letter inaugurating the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict wrote:
This Year [is] meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world ....

In today’s world, as in the troubled times of the Curé of Ars, the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a determined witness to the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI rightly noted, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”. Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: “Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?”. Just as Jesus called the Twelve to be with him (cf. Mk 3:14), and only later sent them forth to preach, so too in our days priests are called to assimilate that “new style of life” which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles.

So, whilst prayer for vocations to the priesthood is undoubtedly necessary and good - and the presence of the seminarians from Allen Hall at the vigil in Westminster Cathedral made this an appropriate prayer for that occasion - we should not lose sight of the intention of Pope Benedict that the Year for Priests be a year for the renewal of priestly life and ministry, and a year of prayer towards that end.

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