Today Pope Benedict XVI released his Letter to Priests, in honor of the upcoming priestly year, and on the occasion of the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests.
As Our Lady of the Angels parish moves forward, one would do well to meditate upon this portion of the Holy Father's letter:
Here the teaching and example of St. John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Cure of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: "A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy". He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: "O, how great is the priest! ... If he realised what he is, he would die. ... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host". Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the Sacraments, he would say:
"Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest. ... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realise what he is".
These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the Sacrament of the Priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: "Were we to fully realise what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love. ... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth. ... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods. ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshipping the beasts there. ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you".
These are not the words of a mere "traditionalist" blogger -- they are the words of a saint, quoted by the Vicar of Christ. Let us take them to heart, in humility and in gratitude for the inestimable gift of the priesthood in our lives.
For a great commentary on the letter, check our Fr. Z's blog here.