Fragments of the pastoral letter of Archbishop Jozef Michalik for the Year for Priests - 2009/2010
Looking at priesthood anew
Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year for Priests in June 2009. It is worth asking what the Pope meant by launching this initiative. He himself presented the reasons, ‘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’ (Benedict XVI’s letter of 16 June 2009).
Gift in clay vessels
In the world there is no more beautiful and worthy mission than ministering in the name of God; than proclaiming the word of God and sacramental making God come to the earth, cleansing and freeing human hearts from sins since reconciling people with God is giving them back the freedom from Satan’s slavery, restoring their dignity of God’s children. Yes! Priesthood is an extraordinary mission but only a man of faith can see the truth about the priestly role and function. Without faith one misses what is most important; without faith the life of priest himself would be empty and the evaluation of his mission would be reduced to his external successes or failures. Thanks to faith and in the light of faith a priest never experiences failures in his life since if he is united with Christ he knows that through suffering and failures, through the cross and death, he joins his salvific death and gains victory on the day of resurrection.
The Pope knows that priest’s faith strengthens people’s faith, that the Church urgently needs priestly holiness more than ever since we are not responsible for ‘yesterday’ and for ‘tomorrow’ but for ‘today’ of our ministry. The Pope knows how difficult it is to achieve maximum of priestly ministry. He can see how often priests lose their joy of life flowing from faith and people lose their enthusiasm of faith looking at their shepherds and leave the Church, being more and more weak. You cannot look at these things and other problems of the contemporary Church with indifference. You must mobilise your strength, kindle hope, warn and show the way. During his first pilgrimage to Poland in 1979, in Czestochowa, the Servant of God John Paul II spoke to the Polish priests about their merits for the Church, their relationships with the nation but he also warned them that ‘the Church can be most easily defeated by her priests’ (6 June 1979). Yes, since sin weakens the unity of priests with Christ; sin is a division in the Church and an inner division inevitably leads to paralysis and ineffectiveness of activities. The lack of identity of priestly life becomes a painful cause of scandals. Many a time in our Homeland we experience an excessive pursuit of popularity of some ‘television’ or ‘press’ priests, which also testifies about the lack of readiness of their hearts to sacrifice for the cause of the unity of the Church. We must notice that and we must mature in faith through proper discernment, judgement and choice of authorities as well as prayer for a bigger sensitivity of priestly conscience. Speaking honestly, the Pope observes constant attacks against priests and the Church in the world. He can see how the secular centres co-ordinate and promote actions against the right of God and of the Church to be present in public life. And he cannot remain silent. He speaks because revealing manipulations or falsity helps people accept the truth about priestly mission, which according to Christ’s will is to be a witness to the unity and friendship with him. And this is much more important. Helping us, priests, on our way of service to God and people, helping priests in their constant conversions, deepening faith and life in sanctifying grace is a great concern of the whole Church. The Church will not be fully radiant with holiness without holy priests!
Looking for models
The patron of the Year for Priests is the holy parish priest of Ars John Maria Vianney. His youth fell in the times of the French revolution that initiated a wave of persecutions of the Church and shed a spirit of hatred towards religion 200 years ago. The victims were first of all priests and congregations. The victims also included simple, believing people who wanted to live according to their own traditions. John Vianney was not young when he began his priestly formation after the revolution. After being a vicar for a short time he spent all his days as a parish priest in the village of some 200 souls. He became famous for his ministry in the confessional and as a worshipper of the Most Blessed Eucharist, and the successes of his ministry resulted from his continuous prayers, extraordinary penance and mortifications. The daily, unique conversions marked his simple, but full of faith, pastoral methods since the greatness of priestly ministry is not based on human wisdom and strategy but flows from God’s grace that someone must obtained by prayer and sometimes by sacrifices.
The simple Curate of Ars says that today the most important thing in pastoral ministry is a holy priest, who troubles himself around the holiness of his parishioners. In Ars people opposed their conversions for years but St Vianney did not surrender. He visited them, talked to them, convinced them and constantly prayed for them and did penance for them. God did the rest. Perhaps today it is worth reminding and restoring the simplest methods of evangelisation since they are most meaningful and authentic.
We have outstanding priests in our times, too. They are living among us. Thanks to their unity with Christ they are stable foundations of our faith and hope in difficult moments. We thank God for them and wholeheartedly want to thank for their faith and culture of life, for their disinterestedness and apostolic zeal, for their concern for churches and missions, for everything in their lives that is good and wonderful.