Day Two in Rome for the International Meeting for Priests
Thursday, June 10, 2010
By Father Mark Mary

ROME -- Today, I truly realized we are in Rome. Yesterday was not part of the official Vatican program, but was put on by some Charismatic Renewal groups. Today officially began the International Meeting of Priests. We went to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls for a conference, Mass, adoration and confession. We then went to Paul VI Hall for some additional talks and reflections on the priesthood by various bishops, priests, laity and groups within the Church.

The Masses celebrated by Vatican officials are truly spectacular. First you are in a beautiful Church where some original event of Christianity took place. The liturgy shone in all its splendor, from the expert choir to the high church style of the Vatican official. The Latin used for the Mass texts has a lyrical beauty. The Scripture readings done in different languages highlight the universality of the Church. The sonorous voices of the choir transport you to a spiritual place that is not of this world; and everything in the Mass, from the predictable ritual of the liturgy to the trained movements of the altar servers, is transparent to a greater world above.

I was with a group of about 6,000 priests today. There was another group of 4,000 to 5,000 at St. John Lateran celebrating Mass and hearing talks. We were able to go to confession and spend time in adoration. Six thousand, gabby and very friendly priests were in hushed silence before Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. I felt a great fellowship and sense of fraternity among brother priests. Also, to have this great basilica filled with deep, resonant, masculine voices was stirring to hear.

Growing up in a non-Catholic culture in Alabama, I did experience wonder that I was even here in Rome, the center of the Church. We heard from some of the Vatican all stars today. We heard Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State; Cardinal Hummes, head of the Congregation of the Clergy; Cardinal Meisner of Germany; and many other speakers who had thought-provoking things to say. Much of what was said today goes beyond intellectual reflections, but had real Gospel insight into the times we live in and the challenges we face. It was based on real lived experience.

Today, the cardinals reflected on conversion and mission. The Church is sent into the world to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and leading them to full communion in the Eucharist. The mission renews the Church. Our deepening conversion to Jesus Christ more deeply incorporates us into His being sent by the Father for the salvation of the world. The Church comes alive when she is dispossessed of herself and is a Church for others.

Cardinal Meisner said that people come up to him and say, What can I do to help priests? He tells them, Go to confession. A priest, himself, is reminded of his mission when he sees the Gospel at work in peoples lives, especially confession where sin is crushed and the devil defeated. Priests feel the very purpose of their existence, in a deep way, when they hear confessions and help bring the Gospel to people. Without the mission, we get bound up in endless introspection of pastoral techniques.

The Cardinal went on to say that we need to be comfortable on both sides of the screen, meaning that we need to go to confession ourselves. We need to listen more than speak in the confession. The wounded heart of the penitent needs to bleed a little, he needs to honestly face what he has done, in order to be healed.

Cardinal Meisner also reflected upon how the priest in the confessional is an image of the father waiting for the return of the prodigal son. It is an image of Gods patient waiting for us. A phrase I heard today was, the night does not have to be so long. Why do we stay away? Paul was knocked to the ground and then gave his life totally to Christ. It is God who makes us true missionaries. It is His love that revitalizes us, like the returning prodigal son who physically returns, but his heart is still dead until he is embraced by the Father and experiences His love.

The Cardinal told us that we all have to accept Gods forgiveness. At times, our mediocrity weighs us done. We get sick and tired of ourselves and our own weaknesses. Pope Benedict XVI has said, the Word of God seems only a word, almost nothing; but take courage, this Word contains life! It bears fruit! The Gospel radiates its power best in our human weakness. We want to evangelize from a point of strength, security and self reliance, but it is God who is at work; He gives the increase, we plant the seed. Like St. Paul, we have to give way to this new life and let God work in our lives. Today was another great day for me, and, tomorrow, we get to see the Pope.

Enough said!

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