Archbishop Timothy Dolan: 'God Is the Only Treasure People Desire to Find in a Priest'
assigned topic: God is the only treasure people desire to find in a priest.
I admired the late, lamented Cardinal Cahal Daly very much, but did not count prophecy one of his many talents. But listen to what he remarked to us bishops in America when he preached to us a day of recollection six-years ago: "The Church is on her knees, knocked to the ground in confusion, scandal, sin, anger, and shame. But, as long as she from her knees clings to the cross and does not fall on her face, on her knees is where she ought to be."
So, Cardinal Daly agrees with my priest-friend in Milwaukee: we are grounded because we have fallen to our knees in prayer. What both are exhorting is that we priests recapture holiness. God is the only treasure people desire to find in a priest. Well, as the philosophers remind us, Nemo dat quod non habet -- no one gives what one does not have. If priests are expected to give God, we better have Him -- and that's sanctity, holiness.
Eight days after the cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti, I visited leveled Port au Prince in my role as chair of the board of Catholic Relief Services, the American cousin of your excellent Trocaire. The misery and devastation was beyond belief. We spent Saturday evening with our 300 CRS workers who resided in Haiti, who had all been there that dreadful day, and who were physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted after nine days of intense relief and rescue. They cried, worried, told us their obstacles, dreamed of rebuilding. As I left, I asked them, "Is there anything personally I can do for you?"
One young woman raised her hand. I expected her request to be for more supplies, medicine, tents, food, or to go home and shout from the skyscrapers of New York the towering needs of Port au Prince. Instead, she simply said to me, "Father, tomorrow is Sunday. Will you say Mass for us?" Was she the one who supplied the topic you assigned me? God is the only treasure people desire to find in a priest. What she wanted from me was not money, supplies, or earthy goods - she wanted the Lord, and she presumed I had that treasure to share with her in the Eucharist.
Sometimes I wonder if we are being invited back to the Church of the Acts of the Apostles. Sometimes I wonder if we priests, bishops -- indeed the entire Church -- have been reduced to the utterly basic reply of Peter and John to the crippled beggar in Temple Square in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 3: "Silver and Gold I have not, but what I do have, I sure give you: In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk! Pizzazz, glitter, gold, clout, prestige, power, property, wealth -- we ain't got! All we got is Jesus -- and that's the greatest treasure of all. That's what people want! And we can't give Him unless we got Him. And that's called holiness.
Remember the homily at the Mass when Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated his ministry as successor of St. Peter? The pundits speculated: would this cerebral, esoteric professor give us a profound theological discourse? Would this reforming enforcer of orthodoxy lay down the law? On and on the experts went.And the Holy Father simply stated: "I call you to holiness, which means, friendship with Jesus."
As his predecessor already called "the great" had written in Pastores Dabo Vobis, "The priest must be a man of God, the one who belongs exclusively to God and inspires people to think of God. So, the priest must have a deep intimacy with Jesus." Might I propose that what sparks and sustains sanctity is the Holy Eucharist. The daily celebration of the Eucharist, with proper preparation, joyfully, sincerely, reverently offered, the anchor of a day then laced with prayer, from our morning offering to our Salve Regina, especially that prayer that is such a constant of our life that we priests call it our office, is the key to intimacy with Jesus, which is holiness.
A thoughtful priest from Ireland who wrote me in anticipation of my address here remarked, "We priests in Ireland are terribly wounded and broken." "Wounded and broken" -- are those other words for humbled ? In Von Balthazar's meditation on St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he concentrates the words Paul uses to describe the Last Supper: "Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it ." The great theologian then proposes that this is precisely a paradigm of the priesthood itself: Jesus, takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and gives us.
Taking and blessing we can live with! Breaking and giving? Well, that's another matter! What we're talking about here is humility. What we're talking about is the oblative dimension of the priesthood.
...When I visit a dying priest I whisper into his ear, "Father, we love you, we thank you, we need you. Right now you are a more effective priest than ever, because you are helplessly on the cross with Jesus." As a priest we are called to be configured to Christ as priest, head, and shepherd of His Church. Never was Jesus more priest, head, and shepherd of the Church than when He was on the cross. We priests don't whine with the thief on the left, "Get down off your cross and get me down off mine." Nope. We're like Dismas who tells the Lord, "I'm happy to be next to you on Calvary."
That's humility . that's an oblation.
Five years ago the world watched John Paul II die. For a couple of years prior we had seen him lose the use of his legs, his facial motions, his hearing, his movement. But he kept pouring out. And he inspired perhaps more in that condition of utter humility, of frailty, of kenosis -- pouring out -- than he did in the first two decades of hyperkinetic activity and vigor. His last Easter Sunday, he was unable to offer public Mass in the Square. At his window he attempted to greet the throng in the square and, like Peter, announce the resurrection. He could not speak. His faithful secretary tried to move him away from the window, but he fought him off. He tried to bless but his arms would not move. He had been poured out like a libation. And he died six days later.
Jesus takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and gives us . . . That takes being grounded in humility. Holy priests . . . humble priests . . . and, finally, priests aware of their identity.
When the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz snickered, "Who is the Polish swine," at the prisoner who had raised his hand asking to take the place of the married man and father who had been chosen at random to be executed, the "Polish swine" did not reply, "I am Maximilian Kolbe," nor "I am prisoner number 1408," nor "I am a friend and would like to take his place in execution." No. He simply replied, "I am a Catholic priest." In answer to a literal life-or-death question, Maximilian Kolbe identified himself as a priest. Priesthood is not, first and foremost, something we do, but someone we are. While ministry -- what we do -- is very, very critical, identity -- who we are -- is even more so. The professors of philosophy among us would recall the maxim, agere sequitur esse -- "act flows from being" -- and this applies mightily to the sacrament of Holy Orders.
The late, great John Paul II went hoarse teaching us that the priesthood is a dramatic, radical reordering of a man's very life, his soul, his heart, his identity, and that we're much better off looking at fathers and husbands for metaphors of priesthood than we are at professions. Thus, the priesthood is a call, not a career; a redefinition of self, not just a ministry; a way of life, not a job; a state of being, not a function; a permanent, lifelong commitment, not a temporary style of service; an identity, not a role... God Is the Only Treasure People Desire to Find in a Priest!"
Thank the Lord for Bishops like Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Thank Him as well for holy Priests. Pray for our beloved Church around the World.
- - -
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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