Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

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Monday, May 22, 2006

The Gift of the Priesthood
Matthew J. Albright
Seminarian, Diocese of Youngstown
April 2006

How often we hear about the "vocation crisis" in the Church. It is true that many priests, who have served the Church faithfully, are now retiring or being called home to the Lord, and the yearly ordinations are not sufficient to replace them. It is also true that the crisis is not with God’s call but with our response. God is still calling men to the priesthood, yet few are open to hearing his voice.
Truly, the world in which we live and the Church we serve, suffer from a crisis of commitment, and not only concerning the priesthood but religious life and marriage as well. We live in a world that thrives on fast food, instant connections, and all things disposable, and promotes a fear of anything permanent.
In our day, the priesthood demands serious commitment to a way of life that is counter-cultural. In the midst of our cluttered and busy world, the priest is called to live a life of simplicity. When self-promotion seems to be the rule of the day, priesthood demands selfless service. And when the media continually disregards the beauty of human sexuality, the celibate priest stands as a model of self-giving love after the pattern of Christ.
As a seminarian in the final weeks of preparation for Ordination as a Deacon (on April 29, 2006), my thoughts turn to the commitment I am about to make. I approach Ordination with excitement, after seven years of seminary preparation. Yet, pondering the tremendous gift I will very soon receive causes me to approach also with trepidation, and reminds me just how much I depend on the grace of the Lord in all things.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, makes mention of the Diaconate in his first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"). In describing the Church’s responsibility to practice charity and service to the community, he recalls that the office of the Deacon (from the Greek, diakonia, meaning "service") arose because of a need in the early Church to have ministers dedicated to the charitable service of others, so that the Apostles could concentrate their ministry on preaching the Word and celebrating the Sacraments (see Acts 6). To this day, the essential meaning of the Diaconate is service, since "the deacon, configured to Christ the servant of all, is ordained for service to the Church" (Compendium of the Catechism, no. 330).
Transitional Deacons, that is, deacons in formation for the priesthood, make three promises at Ordination: obedience to the Bishop, daily celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, and chaste celibacy. For many, the commitment to celibacy is the principal obstacle to the discernment of a religious vocation. It is one of the first things to come to mind when anyone speaks of the priesthood. Celibacy has even become the subject of a documentary on A & E: "God or the Girl." The questions posed by people today often betray a negative view of celibacy, which is seen as an archaic and unnecessary obligation.
While celibacy is an obligation for clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, it is above all a gift. Men who enter the celibate clerical state, who "have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom" (Mt. 19: 12), do so freely, and not merely because they are bound to. The vocation of every human person is to love with his whole body, mind, and spirit, for man is created in the image of God, Who is Love itself (see John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, no. 11). The vocation of the priest is to love, completely and selflessly, as a celibate. The priest "gives up" the love of one woman, the goodness of marriage, and the joy of family life, in order to receive from the Lord the joy and goodness that comes from bringing Christ to others in Word and Sacrament. While the priest may never father children, his love is fruitful in every "spiritual child" that he baptizes, as well as in the weddings he celebrates, and confessions he hears. The love of the priest calls him daily to give up one good gift of God in order to experience another.
Celibacy involves a sacrifice. The word "sacrifice" is formed from two Latin words: sacrum and facere, which together mean "to make holy." By sacrificing marriage and family life, the priest is able to dedicate his life to the mission of making holy the souls of all those who receive the absolution, blessing and anointing of Christ through his hands. A priest "gives up" a wife and children for the sake of the kingdom of God because Christ Himself, the Great High Priest, lived a life of celibacy. Their gift of celibacy is a sign of the heavenly treasures all people will one day know, when, as Jesus said, "in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage."
Every priest offers his life as a gift and makes the sacrifice of celibacy for the same reason the Church requires it as an obligation: not out of disdain for marriage or family but out of love for the Church. The Church in our day desperately needs the strong example of men willing to love as celibate priests. She needs holy priests to carry on the mission of Christ. Let us, then, pray that many men will open their hearts to hear the call of the Lord to the celibate priesthood. To those who respond to this noble calling great rewards are given in both earthly happiness and eternal bliss.
As I prepare with joy and holy fear to enter the clerical life, I ponder the words of Dominican Father Jean-Baptiste Lacordaire: "To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasures; to be a member of every family, yet belonging to none…to have a heart of fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity. O God, what a life, and it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!"

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