DAY THREE: Prayer Vigil with the Holy Father
Monday, June 14, 2010
By Father Mark Mary

On Thursday, we met the Holy Father. In the morning, we had Mass at St. Paul Outside the Walls and a conference, and in the evening we had a prayer vigil with the Holy Father.

We went to St. Peters Square around 7 p.m. to get our seats and waited for the Holy Father. It seems we always meet someone we know, or someone who watches EWTN comes up and talks with us. There is a great peace here, and the priests here truly have a great spirit about them.

I have been impressed that there are a number of older priests here. Physically, the travel and schedule of these events is not easy. Also, the heat can be pretty intense at some of the venues. But I guess they are tough pastors who have been around awhile.

The weather was perfect while we waited for the Holy Father and heard various testimonies on the priesthood. It was nighttime when Pope Benedict arrived, and he was driven through the crowd in an open-air vehicle, waving to everyone. We all cheered, Ben-(n)e-detto and waved back to him.

He took his chair on top of the steps in front of St. Peters Basilica. He was clearly moved with emotion to see the 15,000 priests plus cheering with enthusiasm. To me, he looked like he teared up a number of times. The Church has been through a lot in recent times.

The Holy Father took one question each from five priests. I would assume he had the question ahead of time and had time to ponder an answer. After the priest asked his question at a microphone, the Pope would respond without referring to any notes and spoke somewhat extemporaneously. As George Weigel put it, Most people answer difficult questions in sentences, this Pope answers in paragraphs. Pope Benedict thrives when given a chance to connect our faith with real lived experience.

He gave beautiful, thoughtful answers to all the questions the priests asked. The ones that struck me most were his answers to the questions of celibacy and promoting vocations to the priesthood.

He said celibacy is a sign of faith in the world. Celibacy is an embrace, in the present, of the life to come in heaven. The celibate attempts to live that total union with Christ in the here and now. The world, which is so mired in the present, has trouble letting go and embracing Divine Life or Eternal Life.

He also pointed out that many today also have trouble seeing the beauty of marriage. Many prefer not to get married, but to live together with no commitment or bond. It is hard for us to commit to someone because it limits what we might want to do in the future. We, oftentimes, want to keep the focus on ourselves and not someone else. So both marriage and celibacy rise and fall together because they are both about commitment and leaving self behind. The two support each other because both involve a commitment to Christ and His way of life.

Our Holy Father was also asked about what we can do to inspire vocations to the priesthood. He said we all need to pray, to ask the Lord to send laborers into the harvest. But he also said we need to inspire young men with the witness of our own life. He told us to live our priesthood in a way that inspires a young man to say, Yes, that is a way to live.

We must also pray much and be drawn into Christ; to have his joy. This is our most powerful witness, to be friends with Christ through our speaking with Him in prayer. If people see this in us then they can accept that the priest cannot be everywhere and do everything. A priest, in humility, must make a decision about what he is able to do and not do in his pastoral activity. These were great practical points that he made to us during the prayer vigil. But Fr. Miguel pointed out how powerful it was this evening when we had benediction. We came to hear the words of the Pope and to pray with him, but we can, at times, make him into a celebrity or a rock star with his high office and tremendous personal gifts.

But this was all quickly dismissed when the huge crowd knelt with Holy Father in adoration before the Eucharist in the monstrance. He turned toward the monstrance and we all faced and adored Jesus together. We knelt in silence and worship, something Pope Benedict likes to do in these liturgical services.

The Church is about Jesus. In Him is our grace and our strength. In Him is our unity, and everything we have is received from Him. Tonight, in an intense way, I felt like the Pope was leading us to Jesus. Everything about his office and ministry is about bringing us to Jesus. The flock is entrusted to the successor of Peter, but it is Jesus, Himself, who shepherds and tends His sheep through the hierarchy. Tomorrow, we will have the closing Mass with our Holy Father on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.

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