Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Need for Holiness in the Priesthood

The Feast of the Sacred Heart is the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of the Clergy. This feast gives us the occasion to speak about the relationship between the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the holiness that is demanded of the clergy and of the entire People of God as well.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart allows us to look into the interior life of Christ. The image of the Sacred Heart shows us an exposed human heart – something which seems strange as all of us know that the heart is an internal organ. The iconography of the Sacred Heart thus teaches us that Jesus is the Master, the Teacher of the Interior life. As priests and religious, it is only right that we should concern ourselves with the interior life. It is our task to imitate the beloved apostle who leaned towards the breast of the Lord to learn the secrets of his Heart. It is also our task to testify, like the same beloved apostle, to the gushing forth of blood and water from the opened Heart of the Redeemer. These images of the beloved disciple and the Lord are truly intimate images expressive of the intimate friendship which we priests should enjoy with the Lord. To me, the priest is first and foremost a friend of the Lord. Before all our pastoral duties, we ourselves must first “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation,” “be strengthened through his Spirit in the inner self,”   and “comprehend…what is the breadth which surpasses knowledge.” In other words, we who share in the priesthood of Christ must lead lives of profound interiority. We must be men who constantly go to our inner rooms to pray to our Father in secret. The Holy Father has time and again reminded us of the necessity of retreating from activity in order to sit at the feet of our Lord and be truly his disciples.

The letter coming from the Congregation of the Clergy reminds us of this: “The expression found in Scripture ‘This is the will of God: your holiness!’ (1 Thess 4:3), though addressed to all Christians, refers to us priests in particular, for we have accepted the invitation to ‘sanctify ourselves’ and to become ‘ministers of sanctification’ for our brothers. In our case, this ‘will of God’ is, so to speak, doubled and multiplied to infinity, and we must obey it in everything we do. This is our wonderful destiny: we cannot be sanctified without working on the holiness of our brothers, and we cannot work on the holiness of our brothers unless we have first worked on and continue to work on our own holiness.” The Sacrament of Holy Orders configures us to Christ. We must acquire not only the mind of Christ, but his Heart as well. If St. Augustine calls the priesthood as amoris officium (Sacramentum Caritatis, 23.), then it is very clear that we must acquire the Heart of Christ. The flock of Christ deserves to be loved by nothing less than the love of the Lord. Thus, the responsory of the Litany of the Sacred Heart should truly be a priest’s prayer: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine!” This conversion of our hearts into the Heart of Christ cannot be made possible drawing close to his opened Heart to learn its inscrutable riches. It cannot be made possible without looking upon him whom we have pierced.

St. Claude de la Columbiere, SJ, the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary, lived in the friendship of Christ’s Sacred Heart. It would be good to end our meditation with his prayer: “My Jesus, You are my true Friend. My only Friend. You take part in all my misfortunes. You know how to turn them into blessings. You listen to me with great kindness when I tell you all my troubles, and You always have something with which to heal my wounds. I find You at any time of the day or night, for I find You wherever I happen to be.  You never leave me. If I change my dwelling place, I find You wherever I go. You never weary of listening to me. I am certain of being loved by You, if I but love You. My worldly goods are of no value to you, but by bestowing Yours on me You never grow the poorer. However miserable I may be, no one more noble, more clever, or even more holy, can come between You and me and deprive me of Your friendship. And death, which tears us away from all other friends will unite me forever to You. All the humiliations attached to old age or the loss of honor will never separate You from me; On the contrary, I shall never enjoy You more fully and You will never be closer to me than when everything seems to conspire against me and cast me down. You bear with all my faults with extreme patience. Even my lack of fidelity and my ingratitude do not wound You to such a degree as to make You unwilling to receive me back when I return to You. O Jesus, grant that I may die loving You and that I may die for love of You.   Amen.”

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine!

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