Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The Year of the Priest"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the July 2, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Pope Benedict XVI has declared 2009-10 the year of the priest. The declaration took place on June 19, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. That date marks the 150th anniversary of the death in 1859 of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars in France.

St. John Vianney is the patron of parish priests and was known for his extraordinary holiness.

His story is indeed remarkable. In a day and age when we take notice of sharp minds or glorious careers, John Vianney barely made it through the seminary. He was born during the time of the French Revolution, and in his early life he couldnít go to the seminary because his father needed him to work on the farm. He received his First Communion in secret because parish priests at the time were not allowed to celebrate Mass in public.

Finally, at age 20, he was able to begin his studies for priesthood. He struggled with his studies. At one time there was concern about whether or not he should be ordained. Shortly before ordination he was considered to be a model of goodness. The decision was finally made to ordain him. The Vicar General of the diocese commented at the time that ďThe Church wants not only learned priests but holy ones.Ē When John was appointed to Ars as a young priest, the town consisted of only 260 people. Yet, this place became the location of his growth in holiness. Ultimately, Ars became known all of over the world. It is said that Pope St. Pius X had a statue of St. John Vianney on his desk.

The Year of Priest has not been declared because priests (or bishops, for that matter) have achieved perfect holiness. They havenít, nor has anyone else. Yet Jesus makes use of human instruments, imperfect men, whom he calls to continue the role and mission of the Apostles, to do as he did. That task is humbling, challenging and very important in the modern world, just as it has always been. God calls men so that his love may be known to the world through service and commitment to live faithfully the Gospel in an exceptional way.

Recently, our diocese has been blessed with public response and commitment to Godís call to priesthood. On June 3, I ordained six members of the Society of Jesus to the priesthood in St. Aloysius Church. On June 26, three new priests will be ordained for the Diocese of Spokane in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. Although we hear comments about the crisis of a sufficient number of priests in certain areas of our country and our world, there are signs of generous response and a concerted effort to support those who have been called to this ministry. The most important reality in all of this is what God calls each of us to be. In the case of priesthood, that call is affirmed officially by the Church to make sure it is genuine and appropriate.

In announcing this special year, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that the priest lives out his vocation in an ecclesial, communal, hierarchical, and doctrinal dimension. The ecclesial or church dimension reminds us that we are always part of church family. The priestís role and mission should be that of St. John the Baptist, who said: ďHe must increase, I must decrease.Ē The priest primarily brings God to the world, not himself. The mission of the Church always is carried out by the priest with a profound sense of unity and communion with the Church. The priestís expertise should be his relationship with the Lord in relationship to all of Godís people. The hierarchical aspect of priesthood is a reminder of this order in the Church which helps everything hold together in a structured way. The doctrinal aspect of priesthood upholds the teaching aspect of his ministry, based upon the rich tradition and teaching of the Church.

The Year of the Priest will help all of us to appreciate and affirm this gift in the Church. Please pray for priests, that they may be faithful to their calling. For us who are priests, even with our limitations, we have the opportunity this Year of the Priest to become ever more faithful to conversion and spiritual growth. We who are priests bear a very serious and humbling responsibility to be good priests, to balance our lives with a spirit of prayer, and demanding schedules that demand generous and committed service. We also need to be profoundly grateful for the rich blessings of serving Godís people and coming into contact with so many we serve who work out their lives in very human circumstances and in faith-filled ways.

For all of us in the Church, we journey in faith together. We support one another in love, compassion, and attitude, striving to bring out the best in everyone. And to you, my brother priests, I express profound gratitude and constant prayers.

Blessings and peace to all.

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