This is a golden opportunity for priests to focus themselves on their own spiritual lives as well as their lives of ministerial service. The first aspect of the Holy Father’s initiative invites priests to look carefully at what energizes their spiritual lives. In the present day, I wonder how many of us take time to consider the holiness of priests.
We spend a great deal of time thinking of priests as administrators and businessmen or professionals who are busy about many things.
Perhaps men of prayer, spiritual masters, models for holiness, doesn’t always come to our minds fast enough when considering the priestly job description. Perhaps that same thought may have crossed the pope’s mind as he decided to declare a Year for Priests. The Holy Father is asking us to make that a serious consideration in our interactions with priests – are we helpers to priestly holiness?
My friends know I am a priest – and now a bishop. Those who have known me for a long time and whom I count as close friends have seen the development of my character and some positive moral and spiritual growth over the years. If they are true friends, they have probably been contributors to that growth and have even channeled it and focused it correctly by their presence along the journey of my life.
To be sure, there were those whose counsel or acquaintanceship in my life might have taken me in quite different directions – those relationships have left their mark as well. Thank God for grace and for the wonderful friends who have made the difference.
The Christian vocation always first implies a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is true for all of us. This relationship gives meaning to our lives and makes each of us available for service for the Kingdom. That friendship is, of course, the first and absolute essential in the life of the priest.
As a seminary spiritual director, and even as a parish priest, I often counseled the benefits of good friends. For priests, it is always good priest friends first. Nobody understands the priest better than his brother priest. Those bonds must be encouraged in the seminary and are solidly forged in the white-hot love of the Heart of Christ. They are tried and true in the Lord’s own vineyard – the daily life of priestly ministry.
Close to good priest-friends, the next best arena for priestly holiness comes from his friends among the laity. Lay people encounter priests every day in so many different kinds of situations. Forming friendships often becomes a natural part of working together and participating in social activities.
Sometimes, we forget how important lay people are in the daily lives of priests. Of course, the ministry of priests is always directed for the upbuilding of the Christian faithful, but the Christian faithful help to build up the priesthood as well. We priests need you faithful lay people as friends and associates in the work of living the Gospel effectively and truthfully. As friends you truly come close to us and share our lives – as friends do.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that friends need to help one another in good and holy ways. Perhaps we can remember our mothers telling us that we should always choose good friends who would have a positive influence on our lives.
So it is if you are friend to a priest. Your participation in the Year for Priests is to be a force for good in his life. This is true in all of our friendships, of course, but even more so if you have the good fortune to be a friend to a priest.
It is important to consider that a priest has responded to a special call from Jesus to represent him in the world. We expect our associations with priests to be a source of Christ’s own goodness and comfort for us. In our friendships with priests we need to keep in mind what kind of example we may be for them. How do we help them to keep in mind the unique identity they have among us as Christ’s representatives on earth?
Certainly we have come to know the humanity and frailty of priests over the past years in some serious ways. The thing to keep in mind is that the priesthood continues in the church and it is a gift of Jesus himself to assure his personal love and care for all of us in his family.
So many priests have remained faithful and true to this vocation and gift of Jesus. We can help them by being good friends – assisting them by our encouragement and willingness to help them accomplish even greater deeds among us. This, of course, helps all of us. The more we value the priesthood, the more we encourage priestly virtue and holiness. Thus we can see all of us living the Gospel according to the graces we receive in baptism and we strive to practice in the church everyday.
St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, offers us, perhaps, the very best thing that we can do for priests: “If you want good priests, pray for the ones you have…”