This Tuesday, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars. It is special this year not only because it is the 150th anniversary of his death but also because this is the Year for Priests.
We titled this blog posting, "It's the Year of ???" because, while the Church has enthusiastically received this special year it seems that many haven't quite got the title right and what this year means in all it's depth and beauty is found in the correct title the Holy Father gave this year.
Some call it "The Year of the Priesthood", others, "The Year of Priests" or even "The Year of the Priest" but the correct title is "The Year FOR Priests". Getting the title right is important because we will understand the Holy Father's intention correctly for calling for this year and it will bear much more fruit if we understand why.
In the letter promulgating this year, Our Holy Father wrote, "This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”, the saintly Curé of Ars would often say."
This Year for Priests is first of all a year FOR priests. It is, as the Holy Father says, a year of intense renewal in their commitment to this stupendous gift God as given not so much for themselves but a gift to them for the Church and the world. Without priests we would not have the Holy Eucharist. More and more parishes in our country can tell you from experience what this is like.
Without our priests we would also not have the gift of Our Lord's healing grace in Confession, the comfort of the anointing of the sick in the Sacrament of the Sick, etc. In other words we would not have the Sacraments.
But priests are not simply "sacrament dispensers". The validity of the power of the sacraments doesn't depend on the holiness of the priest. For the Church to grow in holiness it needs holy priests! This is what this year is all about.
For the rest of us, this year is not so much about celebrating the priesthood but as a year of intense love and prayer FOR priests, uniting our sacrifice, our prayer and our love to theirs so that they will be better priests more in love with their vocation to be other Christs and the crucifying demands of such a personal identification.
Hopefully, if we are all faithful to the graces of this year not only will our priests be more holy, more zealous and more like Christ but we will, too. It's a win-win situation. We look up to our priests as witnesses to holiness but they in turn have the right to look to us for that same witness, for encouragement that despite, or maybe because of, their humanness that is just like us, God can, and will do great things in them!