Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, February 19, 2018

This is the first part of a yearlong series.

The time is right for a Year for Priests. The last 40 years have been challenging for the Catholic Church. Many good men who serve as Roman Catholic priests have been demoralized by the dramatic changes since Vatican II; the decline in Mass attendance and confessions; the scandals of sex abuse; secularism’s erosion of morals, faith and family; and the decline in the number of men ordained to the priesthood.

Amid these concerns, Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed a Year for Priests, from June 19, 2009, through June 19, 2010. The Pope made the announcement on March 16 during an audience with the members of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy in the Vatican's Consistory Hall. The Year for Priests will begin on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 19, with a vespers service led by the Pope. He will close the celebrations during a World Meeting of Priests in St Peter's Square June 19, 2010.

The objective of the Year for Priests is to further the Church's support of all priests – desire for spiritual excellence. Pope Benedict XVI stated: "Precisely to encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends, I have decided to establish a special Year for Priests."

It is time to once again feel good as a Church about the priesthood. We've had enough of the inappropriate humor, the irreverent comments of troubled priests and the lack of prayerful appreciation of what the men ordained to the priesthood are attempting to do with their lives. In other words, we, as people of faith, are ready once again to see the dignity of men who heed the Lord's call: "Be my priest."

At the root of every priestly vocation there is the desire to make a sacrifice of one's self. The desire to sacrifice personally for the service of God's people in the Church is the starting point of any authentic vocation for a parish priest.

The desire for spiritual perfection is found within every priest's response to Christ's call to be his priest. No man is ordained to be his own minister or agent; he is ordained to be a priest of Jesus Christ. This fundamental selflessness of the priestly heart is the initial spiritual impulse for priestly spiritual perfection. There is no better example of this selflessness than St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, who in the coming year will be named patron of all priests.

The Year for Priests coincides with the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney's death. His life was a remarkable example of a priest’s ability to grow selfless in the service of God’s people, first to his parish, then to his country and then to much of Europe and the universal Church. His influence was and is still unmistakable.

The late Pope John Paul II encouraged all parish priests to a renewal of life and ministry through the example of St. John Vianney. To that end, the late Pope erected an international seminary in Ars, France, where the saint served for much of his life. A visit to Ars today easily becomes a spiritual pilgrimage filled with moral and spiritual inspiration. As happens with many of the great saints, the Curé d'Ars's presence is still very real in this small, humble hamlet.

St. John Vianney will play a special role in the Year for Priests. Pope Benedict stated that he is "a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ's flock."

The saint's full name is St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney. He was born in Dardilly, near Lyons, France, on May 8, 1786. His parents were humble people, Matthieu and Marie Vianney. While his vocational call to the priesthood was always evident, the young saint faced a number of obstacles, including struggles with his studies, especially Latin, and an order to serve in the war with Spain. Once he resumed his studies, he was single-hearted in his effort to become a priest. That he finally served God's people in the town of Ars after years of overcoming personal limitations will be a great source of spiritual reflection in this Year for Priests. In all, he understood himself as in the service of souls, in the celebration of the Mass and in the hearing of countless confessions.

May this Year for Priests prove to be an occasion for our clergy for personal renewal and deeper appreciation of Christ’s ministry, and may it also prompt an increase in young men's ability to answer the Lord's call: "Be my priest."

Father Michael Hinkley is a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford serving as Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church and School and the Shrine of Saint Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.