DAY ONE IN ROME FOR THE CLOSE OF THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
A retreat for priests at St. John Lateran sponsored by groups in the Charismatic Renewal

By Father Mark Mary

Rome, Italy (EWTN): The first day, on these kinds of trips, is usually rough. You basically miss a night of sleep and then trying to pay attention to speakers during an all-day conference. But this first day was spectacular for us. The conferences were in St. John Lateran Basilica, where the Popes used to live before St. Peters, and where numerous Ecumenical Church Councils were held.

The main body of the church is lined with beautiful, huge (much bigger-than-life-size) statues of the Twelve Apostles plus St. Paul. I could not help but reflect on the fraternity of the priesthood as the church filled with priests. Even though the statues showed the Apostles with superhuman bodies and in great strength and awe (fitting because they were martyrs or died in exile), I paused to think of them in their humanity. The Gospel and Acts speak of strengths and weaknesses.

Peter, who heard the Gospel preached from the very Son of God, who saw Jesus walk on water, perform miracles, and even transfigured into His holy glory on Mt. Tabor, denied even knowing our Lord during the crucifixion. How does one recover from that to go on and be head of the apostles? That is a serious wake-up call about ones relationship with Jesus. It is not like he did not know or believe in Jesus. Something of the old Peter had to die and make way for this new life in Christ, to depend on Christ in the core of his being.

The speakers we heard today were excellent. They all spoke of having a real relationship with Jesus; to cultivate a real and vibrant faith in him. Not one where we just do the work of a priest, but pretty much depend on ourselves and not on Christ. Isnt this the transformation of Peter? He recognizes his own personal weakness and depends on Christ for strength. His encounters with the Risen Christ picked him up and renewed him in his mission. Pentecost gave him the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be a strong witness to Christ.

One the speakers made a statement that all the power of Christ has been handed over to the priest. This is true, in the sense that Christ defeated sin and death through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus merited our forgiveness through his suffering, death and resurrection, and the power (or grace) of that event is handed over to us through the sacraments of which the priest is a minister. The real power of Christ is the forgiveness of sins, for that is how He defeats evil.

The speakers reflected on how the priest is called to go and preach the Gospel; to preach what Jesus did; to hand on to the flock what is given to us in Scripture and Tradition through the Magisterium of the Church. The speakers exhorted us to preach that saving truth in all of its fullness. We are to preach to a world that mocks it, but to a flock of His little ones, who are dying of hunger to hear the Word. Our mission is to plant the seed, and the Holy Spirit gives the increase.

They told us to preach with conviction, with the authority of Christ. It is not our words or wisdom that we preach, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No apologies. No endless qualifications. No continually softening of the message until it demands nothing of us. Priests are weak and sinful men, but they carry a treasure in earthenware jars.

Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, they are not like everyone else. They bring the presence of the Good Shepherd to the flock in their very persons, configured to Christ the head and shepherd of the flock. Certainly, the priest in his preaching of the Word and in the sacraments brings Jesus to the people, but he is also to love the flock with the very love of Christ. Priests are to be spiritual fathers, to communicate the abundant life that Jesus promises us.

One of the speakers, Sr. Briege McKenna, has a real love for the priesthood. She gives retreats for priests and works with them. She has a mothers heart for them that come through in her words and prayers, and I felt so encouraged by her presence there today. She reminded us that we are not alone. Christ didnt send the disciples out alone expecting them to be able to do it all themselves. Going out two-by-two teaches that it is never, simply up to us though sometimes we act like it. He is with us always. Like St. Peter we are to trust and to depend on Christ for everything.

Fr. Kevin Scallon, with a little tongue-in-cheek, said that since Vatican II we have really tried everything else but drawing upon a deep personal encounter with Christ to renew the Church. Pope Benedict reminds us to become friends with Christ to know Him, to spend time with Him in prayer, and to radiate His life, and I cant think of a better message to begin this week in Rome with.




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