Archbishop’s column: the Year of the Priest

As our life unfolds, the Lord invites us to reflect on our lives whether our vocation is to be lived out through marriage, the single life, religious life, priesthood or some other form of consecrated life. Our vocation is always in the context of the faith community.

Archbishop's column: the Year of the Priest Archdiocese of Wellington The Year of Saint Paul which ends this month has given us a wonderful opportunity to rediscover the life and mission of this founding personality of the Christian faith. Throughout the diocese, there have been courses, presentations, study groups and pilgrimages aimed at getting to know St Paul —thank you.

Next month, Pope Benedict has invited us to set out on the Year of the Priest.

We live our baptism in different ways according to the vocation to which we believe God has called us. We grow throughout our lives as disciples—we learn as we listen and respond to the word of God. It is through this discipleship that we can enter into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The call that comes to us at baptism is unique. Every baptised person is called to be a missionary, active in the work of the church and in faithfulness to the Lord. It is a call to worship, serve and witness. As our life unfolds, the Lord invites us to reflect on our lives whether our vocation is to be lived out through marriage, the single life, religious life, priesthood or some other form of consecrated life. Our vocation is always in the context of the faith community.

As you look at your vocation, think of the following words spoken by Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide.

When we consider the question of vocation and our response to God, we learn that it is not a matter of waiting until everything is organised. We all respond to God out of the middle of the confusion and the different elements in our lives. There is no need to be perfect before taking up a vocation and there is no perfect time to do so.

I want to turn specifically now to the Year of the Priest. This year coincides with the 150th anniversary of the death of St Jean Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars, who spent his whole life’s ministry in a small village, these days about an hour’s drive from Lyon.

Earlier this year, during our archdiocesan pilgrimage to Lyon for the bicentenary of the birth of Bishop Philippe Viard, we were also able to visit and celebrate Mass around the tomb of the saint using the chalice he used. It was for me one of the most moving moments of the pilgrimage.

The church does not exist for itself. We are called to be both ‘salt and light together’ (remember the 2006 Synod) to the wider New Zealand society and the world through courageous and principled commitment to social justice and peace. The church has a mission to ‘Christ the world’. I am privileged to be called to do this as a priest.

In this upcoming Year of the Priest I hope that we will all come to a greater appreciation of what ordained priesthood is about.

Several years ago, there was a special Synod of Bishops on the Formation of Priests. After studying the recommendations and propositions of the synod, Pope John Paul II wrote the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis: I will give you shepherds(March 1992). The title is taken from the prophet Jeremiah (3:15) in which God is saying through the prophet: ‘I will give you shepherds after my own heart’. We priests are called to be shepherds, to be pastors of God’s people… After God’s own heart. What an incredible calling and privilege this is! 

Later in the document Pope John Paul II continued:
By faith we know that the Lord’s promise cannot fail. This very promise is the reason and force underlying the church’s rejoicing at the growth and increase of priestly vocations now taking place in some parts of the world. It is also the foundation and impulse for a renewed act of faith and fervent hope in the face of the grave shortage of priests which is being felt in other parts of the world.

We know that New Zealand now fits into the second category.
Some have seen the lay leadership programme, Launch Out, and the installation of lay pastoral leaders in some parishes (there are now five) as a stopgap for the shortage of priests. This is not so. The archdiocese is committed to the vision and practice of collaborative ministry and what we are seeing in lay pastoral leaders is drawing on the fullness of their baptismal call in a particular service to the church. They are showing us what can be possible when both priests and laity work together, each according to their particular vocation for the good of the whole church.

There is no confusion about the distinct vocation of each one: ‘The more the laity’s own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to the priest stands out’ (PDV #3).

Within the archdiocese, we have lay pastoral leaders and priests working closely together. But still we need priests for, without them, there would be no Eucharist and therefore no church as we know it.

The first aim in calling for this jubilee Year of the Priest is to foster the priest’s own yearning for holiness on which his whole ministry is built. The call to holiness is addressed to all the people of God, but in a special way to the priest who acts in the person of Jesus Christ in his sacramental ministry. We believe that the priest is configured to Christ in a unique way through his ordination as a priest.

When he proclaimed the Year of the Priest Pope Benedict said, ‘As church and as priests, we proclaim Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ, crucified and risen, …. in the certainty that this truth coincides with the deepest expectations of the human heart.’

My hope for this is that we priests will continue to proclaim Christ Jesus and in this way meet the deepest longings in the hearts of those we are called to serve.
I invite you all to pray for and support your priests to look for ways to promote vocations to the priesthood.
The Year of the Priest begins in prayer when we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the cathedral (June 19). I would love the Year of the Priest to bring all people to a greater appreciation of ordained priesthood. I would love each one of us as priests to be even more aware that we are called and privileged to reflect the heart of Jesus to you and to know that our priestly ministry responds to the ‘deepest expectations of the human heart’.