In my keynote I reviewed the recent Cara survey on what influenced the newly ordained class of 2011 in discerning their vocation, looked at what the new Roman Missal says about priestly identity, and suggested ways in which we might support Priests as teachers, sanctifiers, and shepherds. Here's an excerpt from the last part of my talk:
How do we promote the priest as teacher?
First we listen. We let him teach. A few years back Pope John Paul II in speaking to a group of bishops from the United States noted that “in a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty.” but listening is indispensable to learning and is a recognition that we have something to learn. Are priests in infallible? Are they always so fascinating that we hang on their every word? Of course not. But we do believe that they have been chosen by God to be the chief teachers of the truth, the ones who pass on the tradition which began with Jesus and the apostles. In the first and most important thing we can do in promoting their teaching ministry is to listen to them.
And then we can reflect: take what they say to heart. Take it seriously. The words they preach can change our lives. Hear the ways in which their words comfort us in our affliction, and afflict us when we are entirely too comfortable.
And finally we must support the priest in a ministry which oftentimes brings him ridicule, derision, or worst of all creates within his heart the impression that he is irrelevant, properly ignored, and just not very important. But the words that he speaks are important, indeed they are the most important words that we will ever hear. They are the words of Christ, spoken through his Church and by his sacred ministers and if we hear them they will change the world and maybe, even change our hearts.
How can we support the priest as Sanctifier?
First, we can pray, for him, for ourselves, for all the needs of the church. Only through a deep and profound relationship with Christ can we be made holy. And only through “full, conscious, and active participation in the sacred liturgy” can we receive the grace which Christ imparts through the hands of the priest in the mysteries which are the source and summit of our lives.
Participation in the sacred mysteries which the priest celebrates in our name and on our behalf is not only the way in which we support the Priest, but the way in which we live out the baptismal priesthood which makes us the mystical body of Christ.
And finally, we must support our Priest in his efforts to authentically and faithfully celebrate the liturgy as it has been handed down from the time of the apostles. Celebrating the liturgy with full knowledge of our unworthiness we seek not so much to express ourselves as to worship the God who has sent us this priest to bring us the sacramental graces which will literally save our lives.
How can we support the priest as Shepherd, the leader of our Parish?
First we can listen to him. In an age of talking heads, when MSNBC and Fox 5 for our allegiance more than our understanding, the greatest support we can provide to the priest is to hear where he wishes to lead us.
And then we can follow him. The first words which Jesus spoke to his disciples were “follow me”. He speaks to us still in the parish priest who asks for volunteers, seeks collaborative partners, and makes every effort to use the talents, insights, and energy of all the members of your parish to promote the work of the church in your town and community.
And finally, to use a word not too popular anymore, we can obey. Priests have promised to obey the Bishop, and bishops to remain loyal to the see of Rome. Likewise, parishioners oh a certain debt of obedience to the one whom Christ has placed before them as their shepherd. Not blind obedience, nor unthinking allegiance, but the obedience of faith which gives the benefit of the doubt to the one whom God has sent to lead us home to himself.