“God inspired me, too, and still inspires me with such great faith in priests who live according to the laws of the holy Church of Rome, because of their dignity, that if they persecuted me, I should still be ready to turn to them for aid. And if I were as wise a Solomon and met the poorest priests of the world, I would still refuse to preach against their will in the parishes in which they live. I am determined to reverence, love and honor priests and all others as my superiors. I refuse to consider their sins, because I can see the Son of God in them and they are better than I. I do this because in this world I cannot see the most high Son of God with my own eyes, except for his most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others.” (The Testament of St. Francis of Assisi)
On June 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI opened the “Year of the Priest.” In a letter to all of the Church’s priests, he asked them to looked to St. John Vianney as a model on how a priest should live his life, perform his ministry. (See CNS) http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0902828.htm I am one of those who believe that a year dedicated to priests is good idea, but I hope that it will be a year of discussion, reflection, and discernment on the history of the priesthood, its present, and its future. I fear it could be used as an opportunity to turn the clock back to a clerical culture that existed pre-Vatican II. However, the Church has changed; there is a new understanding and appreciation of the “common priesthood” we all share as baptized Christians, members of the Body of Christ. We all participate in the Eucharistic liturgy; we all have a function in the life and mission of the Church.
There are those individuals who are called by God, from the community of the baptized, to serve that community in a unique and special way. Consecrated by the sacrament of the Holy Order, they receive the grace from the Holy Spirit, to (as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states) “act in the person of Christ the head, for the service of all members of the Church” (Para. 1142, CCC). The keyword is service; the priest must never forget they are called to be servant leaders of the parish community. I know many who are, and we need to pray for them, support them, and make sure they know how much we appreciate them. We also need to make sure that the priests of the future are being formed for servant leadership, that they realize the gifts that the laity can bring to the mission of the Church.