Year of the Priest 2009–2010: November 2009 Archives

The Filial Obedience of the Priest

| | Comments (1)


Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, Secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, addresed the following letter to the priests of the Church on November 18th.

"Do you promise filial respect and obedience to me and my successors?"

From the Vatican, 18 November, 2009

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,

The Offering of One's Will to Another

Even if they are not bound by a Solemn Vow of obedience, ordinands profess a "promise" of "filial respect and obedience" to their own Ordinary and his Successors. If the theological standing of a Vow and a promise is different, the total and definitive moral obligation is identical, and likewise identical is the offering of one's will to the will of Another: to the Divine will, mediated through the Church.

In a time such as ours, marked as it is by relativism and democraticism, by various forms of autonomous individualism and libertinism, such a promise of obedience appears ever more incomprehensible to the prevailing mindset. It is not rare for it to be conceived as a diminution of dignity and human freedom, as perseverance in obsolete forms, typical of a society incapable of authentic emancipation.

Filial Respect

We who live authentic obedience know well that this is not the case. Obedience in the Church is never contrary to the dignity and respect of the person, nor must it ever be understood as an abandonment of responsibility or as a surrender. The Rite utilizes a fundamental adjective for the right understanding of such a promise; it defines obedience only after mentioning "respect", and this with the adjective "filial".

Clemency and Respect

Now the term "son", in every language, is a relative name, which implies, specifically, the relationship of a father and a son. It is in this context that the obedience we have promised must be understood. It is a context in which the father is called to truly be a father, and the son to recognize his own sonship and the beauty of the fatherhood that has been given to him. As happens in the law of nature, no one chooses his own father, nor does one choose one's own sons. Therefore, we are all called, fathers and sons, to have a supernatural regard for one another, one of great reciprocal clemency and respect, that is to say the capacity to look at the other keeping always in mind the good Teacher who has brought him into being, and who always, ultimately, moulds him. Respect is, by definition, simply this: to look at someone while keeping Another in mind!

Conversion and New Life

It is only in the context of "filial respect" that an authentic obedience is possible, one which is not only formal, a mere execution of orders, but one which is ardent, complete, attentive, which can really bring forth the fruits of conversion and of "new life" in him who lives it.

In the Church

The promise is to the Ordinary at the time of ordination and to his "Successors", since the Church always draws back from an excessive personalism: She has at heart the person, but not the subjectivism that detracts from the power and the beauty, both historical and theological, which characterize the Institution of obedience. The Spirit resides also in the institution, since it is of divine origin. The institution is charismatic, of its very nature, and thus to be freely bound by it in time (the Successors) means to "remain in the truth", to persevere in Him, present and operative in his living body, the Church, in the beauty of the continuity of time, of ages, which joins us enduringly to Christ and to his Apostles.

Through Our Lady

Let us ask of the Handmaid of the Lord, the obedient one par excellence, of her who, even in weariness, sang her "Behold, do with me according to your Word", the grace of a filial obedience, entire, joyful, and ready; an obedience which frees us from being the protagonists of our own selves and which can show the world that it is truly possible to give all to Christ and to be men fully real and authentic.

Mauro Piacenza
Titular Archbishop of Vittoriana


At no time and in no place does the particular vocation of our little monastery come into focus more clearly than on Thursdays when we succeed each other in adoration and reparation before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face, repeating at the beginning of our watch:

Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim,
behold, I kneel before Thy Eucharistic Face
on behalf of all Thy priests:
(Fathers N. and N.)
and especially those priests of Thine,
who at this moment are most in need
of Thy grace.
For them and in their place,
allow me to remain,
adoring and full of confidence,
close to Thy Open Heart,
hidden in this, the Sacrament of Thy Love.

Through the Sorrowful and Immaculate
Heart of Mary,
our Advocate and the Mediatrix of All Graces,
pour forth upon all the priests of Thy Church
that torrent of mercy that ever flows
from Thy pierced side:
to purify and heal them,
to refresh and sanctify them,
and, at the hour of their death,
to make them worthy of joining Thee
before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary
beyond the veil (Hb 6:19)
where Thou art always living
to make intercession
for us (Hb 7:25). Amen.

An adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus is happy to take his place before the altar. He makes his own the psalmist's inspired words:

My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee:
thy face, O Lord, will I still seek.
Turn not away thy face from me.
(Psalm 26: 8-9)

Behold, O God our protector: and look on the face of thy Christ.
For better is one day in thy courts above thousands.
(Psalm 83:9-10)

I am always with thee.
Thou hast held me by my right hand;
and by thy will thou hast conducted me, and with thy glory thou hast received me.
For what have I in heaven? and besides thee what do I desire upon earth?
For thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away:
thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever.
For behold they that go far from thee shall perish:
thou hast destroyed all them that are disloyal to thee.
But it is good for me to adhere to my God, to put my hope in the Lord God:
That I may declare all thy praises, in the gates of the daughter of Sion.
(Psalm 72: 24-28)

An adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus opens his inmost soul to the radiance of Our Lord's sacramental countenance. He exposes himself to the One who is exposed before his eyes, and asks to be wounded with the love of His Eucharistic Heart. Enboldened by the words of the Bridegroom in the Canticle, he dares to pray:

"Wound my heart with the love of the Eucharistic Heart.
Make me completely Thine.
Unite me to Thyself in the indestructible bond of Thy Divine Friendship.
Do for me, and in me, and through me,
all that Thou desirest to do for, and in, and through each one of Thy priests.
Let me offer myself to the Mercy which others refuse;
let me believe in the Love that others doubt;
let me accept the Friendship that others ignore
because I am a poor sinner amidst poor sinners,
and because I, even more than others,
have betrayed Thy Mercy, spurned Thy Love, and abused Thy Friendship.

My confidence is immense
because Thou art Love
and because Thou offerest the Friendship of Thy Heart
even to those sinners who have offended Thee most grievously.
Remove then from my soul every obstacle to Thy grace
and every resistance to Thy loving friendship,
until I am completely and forever Thine,
for Thy glory
and for the sake of Thy beloved priests.

An adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus prays as the Holy Spirit inspires him to pray: at times in an adoring silence, at times groaning and in tears, and at times in words as they are given him to utter.

Beloved Jesus,
Thou knowest all things and Thou searchest the hearts of men,
despising iniquity, and ready, at every moment,
to purify and heal tem
by a powerful and gentle infusion of Thy Mercy.

To all that Thou art and to all that Thou wouldst do in me,
I say "Yes."
I surrender entirely to the operations of Thy merciful Love
and to the action of the Holy Spirit.
I am all Thine,
and I abandon myself to Thy own burning desire to become my All.
Thou, O Jesus, art enough for me
for in Thee alone lies the happiness
for which Thou didst create me
and which Thou desirest to give me in this life
and in eternity. Amen."

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.

Donations for Silverstream Priory