Priesthood and clay vessels
Fr. Ireneusz Skubis
The sermon preached on 22 June 2009 in the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and of Fr Pio in Terliczka near Rzeszow. It concerned the Year for Priests that has just been announced in the Catholic Church.
Several days ago I saw a tragic car accident. A huge lorry pushed a car to the ditch and simply smashed it. Two people, brother and sister, lost their lives. We stopped and I approached the firemen and policemen. I told them that I was a priest and wanted to give absolution to the victims. Of course, they let me do that. I gave absolution to those two poor fellows. And I was thinking: I have been realising many important works, I have written many articles, books; I have delivered many speeches, participated in hundreds of conferences. And what is the most important thing? In fact, the possibility to give absolution to the dying, the fact that I fulfilled my fundamental priestly function. On 19 June 2009 the Holy Father Benedict XVI opened the Year for Priests, showing the world the figure of St John Vianney, the parish priest of Ars, whom he made the patron of all priests. He showed a simple man, who had even had problems at school but he was able to show great love of God. Thanks to that he became an extraordinary priest. Today we have come to Terliczka at the invitation of Fr Pio. We have come to his sanctuary. In the little album published by ‘Niedziela’ we have seen a picture of the body of this Italian saint, exhumed after 40 years. With equally great fascination like in the case of St John Vianney we look at this priest, a simple Capuchin, who loved God with all his heart; who accepted Jesus’ stigmata and who realised radicalism of love in his pastoral ministry. We can actually say that he did not do much more than praying a lot, celebrating Masses, hearing confessions. He was always close to the suffering Lord Jesus. Sometimes it seems that we need so much – space, cars, travels, bank accounts with huge sums. But it turns out that there are much more important things. God gives them to all of us. We, priests, may think many a time that we lack something, that we have not achieved a lot. We would like to be appreciated much more. But God gives us so much. When I sometimes preach during priests’ first masses I remind young priests of the great truth: you begin a new priestly life, remember that you celebrate the same Mass as the Pope, your bishop and thousands of priests; that you participate in the great mystery of God that is both ‘mysterium tremendum’ and ‘mysterium fascinosum’ as philosophers would say; ‘mysterium tremendum’ – since man trembles touching great works of God, and at the same time ‘mysterium fascinosum’ – since this mystery takes him into the unique space of God’s love, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, God’s mercy. Priests are in the circle of great mystical things all the time. So here in Terliczka, when we look at St Father Pio we would like to see first of all a priest of God, a priest of the Eucharist, a priest of great prayer, a priest who loved Christ – and this was the most important thing to him; it was enough for him. We remember that Fr Pio lived a life of great suffering. After all, he feared his stigmata, he asked God to let him suffer but to spare him these external signs of blood. But it was different. God demanded from Fr Pio bloody sacrifice: wounds of his feet, hands, side and arm. And Fr Pio accepted God’s will. Once I celebrated Mass in the chapel where he had celebrated masses alone for two years because the Church as if did not believe in his stigmata. Fr Pio accepted that with big humility and obedience towards the Church. He is a priest who shows us all what it means to love the Crucified Christ. He himself adhered to him, clang to his wounds and showed that loving God was a big treasure of man.
Today we look at Fr Pio mainly through the prism of his stigmata, the unique signs of unity with the Suffering Christ. Let us remember that his priesthood, the Eucharists he celebrated, his ministry in confessional booth, the sacraments he administered were expressed in his stigmata. This is a very important example for the contemporary Church, for contemporary priests. As priests we should again look at our priesthood. Each of us should look again at his application for Holy Orders – each priest has written such an application. It might open our eyes more widely at our priestly obligations. If we experienced priesthood like we did on the day of our ordinations the world might look different. Since a lot depends on priests. The quality of worldly life, its sins depend on the way priests work. Therefore, it is good that the Year for Priests has been announced. This is a brilliant idea of Benedict XVI. Since one should re-read priesthood and look at the ties of priests with God in the Trinity, priest who is God sending – God the Father sends his Son and together they send the Holy Spirit. And the Church realises this mission – she sends bishops and priests and all of this is supported by God’s strength. Therefore, there is enormous power in our priesthood, immersed in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Fr Pio’s priesthood confirms it. The Holy Stigmatic died but his priesthood is still vivid since people still come to him, pray and change their lives. From San Giovanni Rotondo unceasing flows of prayers, confessions, Eucharists… go to God. The pilgrimage of Benedict XVI to San Giovanni Rotondo also aimed to show priests in the whole world where their power and strength were. Joining the celebrations of the Year for Priests the editorial board of ‘Niedziela’ organised an exhibition dedicated to the Servant of God Fr Jerzy Popieluszko in Czestochowa, in Sienkiewicz Avenue. He is also an example of priest who teaches how to love God and Homeland.
I would like all of us to look at priesthood again in the Year for Priests. The obvious thing is that we, priests, must do that continuously. But it will be surely good if Catholics all over the world look at it and then they will look at their priests with love and gratitude. The late Bishop Roman Andrzejewski of Wloclawek went to Ukraine and Belarus after the fall of the Soviet Union and told us that people had rushed to see him since many had never seen a bishop. Those people, having no priests, died lonely because nobody could hear their confessions, administer sacraments. Thank God we have priests in Poland. Let us remember that this is a big treasure but we can lose it because it is placed in clay vessels. So may the Year for Priests, which we begin here with Fr Pio, be a year of our renewed view on priestly life. Let it be the time of great adherence to Christ, the Eternal Priest. And perhaps let us make a little examination of conscience, asking ourselves how many good words we speak about priests and how many bad things we say about them, realising that we will be held accountable for every word we said, and especially for these bad words against priests, chosen from among us by Christ himself. Let St Pio lead us in this reflection on our priesthood and the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ.