Priests Called to Conversion of Life

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The Letter to Priests

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza's letter should be communicated without delay to all priests. He invites priests to prepare for the opening of the Year for Priests (Anno Sacerdotale) at First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus this coming June 18th.

Priestly Conversion of Manners

He invites priests to conversion. The Benedictine tenor of his message struck me immediately. Benedictine monks make the conversion of manners (one's way of living from day to day) the object of a vow. Conversion is synonymous with penitence or repentance; it is a radical turning toward the glory of the Father that shines on the Face of His Christ (2 Cor 4:6). The Archbishop rightly emphasizes being over acting and doing. He invites priests to make space in their lives for that surrender to the transforming love of Christ that is prayer. In my own experience there is no better way of doing this concretely than by spending time before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, close to His Open Heart in the Sacrament of His Love.

I am reminded of what the Holy Father said in his extraordinary Pentecost homily:

So that Pentecost renew itself in our time, perhaps there is need -- without taking anything away from God's freedom [to do as he pleases] -- for the Church to be less "preoccupied" with activities and more dedicated to prayer.

Priestly spirituality? It is nothing other than the spirituality of Christ Himself, the High Priest of the New Covenant. During this year, priests need to hear (lectio), and repeat (meditatio), and pray (oratio) the Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Saint John. Blessed Abbot Marmion draws from both sources in all his works, but especially in his Christ, the Ideal of the Priest.

The Whole Mystery of Christ

Archbishop Piacenza points to the whole Mystery of Christ, in a manner reminiscent of the Preface of the Second Eucharistic Prayer. The Servant God Conchita Cabrera de Armida developed this very form of priestly holiness in what she called the grace of mystical incarnation.

Reviewing One's Life

Returning to the theme of conversion -- or priestly repentance -- the Archbishop stresses that the evidence of conversion will be in a priest's manner of life. Again appears the Benedictine motif of conversion of manners. Conversion, essentially a turning away from many things so as to turn toward The One Thing Necessary, presupposes a lucid, rigorous, and thorough examination of conscience, that leaves no area of life unexplored.

The Priest and the Sacred Heart

A priest's way of loving, though human, transcends what is merely human to become, by grace, a participation in a love that is holy and divine. Every priest is called to be, like Christ and in communion with His pierced Heart, a Tremendous Lover. (Thank you, Dom Eugene Boylan!)

The Priest as Workman in the Vineyard of the Lord

Calling the priest a workman or labourer, Archbishop Piacenza recalls Pope Benedict XVI's first words after being elected -- "I am a humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord" -- and the Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue, 14-20:

And our Lord seeking His labourer among the multitude to whom He here speaketh, saith again: "Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days?" If thou, hearing this, dost answer: "I am he": God saith unto thee: "If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips, that they speak no guile. Decline from evil, and do good; seek after peace and pursue it." And when you have done this: My eyes shall be upon you, and My ears shall be open to your prayers. And before you can call upon Me, I will say: "Behold I am present." What, dearest brethren, can be sweeter, than this voice of the Lord, inviting us? Behold how in His loving Kindness He showeth unto us the way of life!

With a Dilated Heart

The Benedictine influence on Archbishop Piacenza's letter is confirmed beyond all doubt by his direct quotation from the Prologue of the Rule: "We should be able to run spiritually with a 'wide open heart' so as to inwardly conform to our vocation the better to say, in truth. 'it is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me' (Gal 2:20)."

Saint Benedict, at the end of his Prologue says:

But in process of time and growth of faith, when the heart has once been enlarged, the way of God's commandments is run with unspeakable sweetness of love

For the Church

Finally, Archbishop Piacenza makes it clear that the holiness of priests is not for themselves, it is a sacrificial holiness, the oblation of themselves with Christ, Priest and Victim, for the benefit of the entire ecclesial Body, the Bride of Christ that is His Church. This, of course, invites one to a meditation of the words of Our Lord in His Priestly Prayer in the Cenacle: "And for them do I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth" (Jn 17:17).

Here is the text of Archbishop Piacenza's letter:



Dear Priests!

In only about two weeks' time, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19th June, we will experience an intense moment of faith, closely united with the Holy Father and amongst ourselves, when we shall begin the Year for Priests by celebrating First Vespers of the Feast in the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican.
Each day we are called to conversion, but we are called to it in a very particular way during this year, in union with all those who have received the gift of priestly ordination. Conversion to what? It is conversion to be ever more authentically that which we already are, conversion to our ecclesial identity of which our ministry is a necessary consequence, so that a renewed and joyous awareness of our "being" will determine our "acting", or rather will create the space allowing Christ the Good Shepherd to live in us and to act through us.
Our spirituality must be nothing other than the spirituality of Christ himself, the one and only Supreme High Priest of the New Testament.
In this year, which the Holy Father has providentially announced, we will seek together to concentrate on the identity of Christ the Son of God, in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who became man in the virginal womb of Mary, and on his mission to reveal the Father and His wondrous plan of salvation. This mission of Christ carries with it the building up of the Church: behold the Good Shepherd (Cf. Jn. 19:1-21) who gives his life for the Church (Cf. Eph. 5: 25).
Yes, conversion every day of our lives so that Christ's manner of life may be the manner of life made ever more manifest in each one of us.
We must exist for others, we must undertake to live with the People in a union of holy and divine love (which clearly presupposes the richness of holy celibacy), which obliges us to live in authentic solidarity with those who suffer and who live in a great many types of poverty.
We must be labourers for the building up of the one Church of Christ, for which we must live purposefully and faithfully the communion of love with the Pope, with the Bishops, with our brother priests and with the Faithful. We must live this communion with the unbroken pilgrimage of the Church within the very sinews of the Mystical Body.
We should be able to run spiritually in this Year with a "wide open heart" so as to inwardly conform to our vocation the better to say, in truth "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).
The holiness of priests redounds to the benefit of the entire ecclesial Body. Thus it would be most fitting for all of us, be that the ordained Faithful, seminarians, the male and female religious, and the lay Faithful, to find ourselves all together at the Vatican Basilica for the Vespers presided over by the Holy Father, which will be celebrated after welcoming the reliquary of the heart of that most outstanding priestly model who is St. John Mary Vianney.
Those who are unable to be in City of Rome are encouraged to join themselves spiritually to the occasion.
+ Mauro Piacenza Arcivescovo tit. di Vittoriana Segretario

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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