Thursday, August 20, 2009

We must encourage prayer and sacrifice for our priests

Bishop Vasa gently urges us to pray for our priests in this heartfelt column.

Catholic Sentinel
August 20, 2009

By Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND — Last week’s liturgical observance of the memorial of St. John Vianney served as a wonderful reminder that this has been designated as a Year for Priests and offers the opportunity to once again encourage prayer and even sacrifice for our priests. It is no secret that priests are quite imperfect and often even seriously flawed. Some may manifest character flaws or even personality disorders. They are, after all, taken from among men for the service of God and so bring to the priesthood many of the same flaws and faults present in the general population. “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.” (Hebrews 5:1-3)

Despite these shortcomings, however, I have every reason to believe that practically every priest, with very few exceptions, possesses a strong desire to be in proper relationship to God and offer himself as a living sacrifice for the sake of the people entrusted to his pastoral care. Undoubtedly, it is not always clear that this is the case because this strong desire often loses something in its translation to action. It can often happen as well that the faithful, failing to appreciate the depth of true love that their pastors are manifesting for them, focus much more on the flawed presentation than the love that drives it. It comes as no surprise to any pastor that St. John Vianney was severely abused and derided because he called his people to chastity when debauchery was the norm, to sobriety when drunkenness was rampant, to holiness when secularity was much more popular. Because he loved, however, he did not cease to challenge sinfulness and call his people to repentance. He did this at great personal cost because of his determined love for souls. I strongly suspect that if St. John Vianney himself were in many of our American parishes there would be an abundance of letters from concerned parishioners about the direction in which he was taking the parish. This in no way implies that letters about priests to chanceries all across this country are not sometimes warranted and it in no way implies that our priests are comparable to St. John Vianney. It does imply that most of us do not respond well when the sinfulness of our own lives is challenged.

The old adage about the need to “hate the sin but love the sinner” makes perfect pastoral sense but the situation is often made very difficult when the sinner has such a solid affection for and attachment to and even defense of the sin that any attack on the sin is deemed an unjust and indefensible attack on the sinner. In some ways the adage has been revised for American sensibilities so that its present rendering might go something like: “Love the sinner, condone the sin.” It can also happen that what is determined to be sinful by the pastor, in accord with Church teaching, is not seen as sinful at all by a significant number of the faithful due to their ill formed consciences or due to a false understanding of conscience. This makes preaching about sin difficult. It is all the more difficult when there is a sense that such preaching is likely to fall on deaf ears. It is not at all uncommon to encounter members of the faithful whose personal conviction is that something that is really sinful, and in many cases seriously sinful, is not sinful at all for them. This is a clear symptom of a seriously defective formation and understanding of conscience. As the American view about the apparent acceptability of artificial contraception, homosexual union and abortion gets ever more firmly entrenched the Catholic conscience is gradually eroded and thus fails to recognize any of these serious evils as sinful.

There is need for prayer for our priests and the opening of the Year for Priests, with a variety of prayer hours was extremely well received and attended. The priests have commented how strongly they felt the support and prayer of their parishioners. This is very significant. We all want our priests to be holy, prayerful, devoted, pious, available, good administrators, good preachers, personable, affable, patient, accommodating, zealous, on time, to be all we want them to be and we want them to be all of these things all of the time. We sometimes forget that a man with great administrative skills may not be a good preacher. A man who is very pious may be more aloof and thus less personable. A man who is entirely affable may be, shall we say, administratively challenged. A man who is too available may frequently be late. A man who excels in patience may seem to lack zeal. It is good and necessary to hold very high standards for our priests and the Year for Priests affords us an opportunity to pray and work to help them achieve those high standards. The fact that priests have commented to me that they were positively affected by the evening of prayer is a sign of just how much we need prayers and encouragement.


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