Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the Year For Priests with solemn vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on June 19, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.
Occasion for the Jubilee Year for Priests is the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney’s death (1786-1859).
St. John Mary Vianney is the patron saint of parochial priests. He was parish priest of Ars, a small village in France with 230 persons.
Purpose is to deepen commitment of all priests to interior renewal.
St. John showed the way to deep commitment to prayer and active life. From morning Angelus to evening Angelus he was in the little Church – actually a chapel. Penitents went there for confession and spiritual advice. His activities: regular visits to families and the sick, popular missions, patronal feasts, fund raising, furnishing of Church, care for orphans and street children, free education for children, confraternities, lay formation for parish participation and passionate campaign against immorality, drunkenness, etc.
Lesson from St. John Vianney’s life: complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission coincide. In the same way Benedict stresses in his Letter for Priests, in priests person and mission should coincide. Meaning, priest must be holy to make others holy. Quoting Paul VI, Benedict XVI says, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Letter for Priests).
Pope Benedict, then, urges priests to adopt the “new style of life” of Jesus and the Apostles. It is a “spirituality nourished by the practice of the evangelical counsels” (Letter). Poverty means judicious use of money and other assets. Chastity is “suited to one who must daily touch the Eucharist”. Obedience “conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of…ministry” (Letter).
Emphasized in the Letter for Priests is the “communion between priests and their bishops”, expressed in “effective and affective priestly fraternity”. “Only thus will priests be able to live fully the gift of celibacy and build thriving Christian communities in which the miracles which accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel can be repeated” (Letter).
Source: Communication from the Bishop (No. 539, 22 June 2009)