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Bishop Robert Finn on what it means to be a Catholic priest
Dear sons, you are to be raised to the order of the priesthood. For your part, you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the Word of God which you have received with joy. Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practise what you teach.
The people of God look to you to be dependable teachers who hand on faithfully the Church's tradition. Paul says that this is a matter of 'salvation' for 'yourself and those who listen to you.' We must never weaken or dilute the mandate of the Gospel as entrusted to the Magisterium and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Faithfully guard and transmit the whole deposit of faith which is entrusted to you as Catholic pastors and teachers.
Be trustworthy sons of the Holy Father, who, as Bishop of Rome and successor to St Peter, 'is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and the whole company of the faithful' (Lumen Gentium, no. 23).
Likewise, you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For, by your ministry, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the altar, in union with the faithful, in the celebration of the sacraments.
Take care always, therefore, to prepare well the celebration of the sacraments and the sacramentals. By your attention to the Church's liturgical books and by your reverence in carrying out the sacred rites, assist the faithful to recognise more clearly Jesus Christ who alone makes the people holy through prayer and the sacraments.
Above all be filled with wonder and awe at the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, from which flows the life of the Church and which is the primary source of the priest's pastoral love (Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 14). See in the daily offering of Holy Mass your identity as priests and your greatest service to God's holy people.
By the manner of your celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments, the faithful will understand most fully the transcendent truths of the faith. Your priestly service at the altar can bring many to Jesus Christ and the Church. In the purity of the sacred mysteries celebrated with integrity and a deep commitment to the Church's maternal prerogative, you will be fit instruments for the transmission of the supernatural riches of the Church.
Devote yourself to daily prayer before the Eucharistic Lord, so that you will know Jesus Christ and allow His love to infuse and perfect your own human love. Pray before Mass. Pray in thanksgiving after Mass. Though you never do this for show, do not hesitate to let your parishioners see you as a man of prayer. They will be inspired both to pray more fervently themselves and also to pray for your perseverance.
You have wonderful personal gifts. Share them generously, but remember: your vocation is to the priesthood. The Church ordains you as priests! Therefore, be priests! Be willing to be priests who stand in the person of Jesus Christ. Allow yourself to be recognised as priests: not for the sake of privilege or honour, but as a sign of your ready service to God's people.
Devote yourself also to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Love Confession: both as a necessity in your own life and as the expression of your priestly ministry second only to the Holy Eucharist.
The epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that the priest deals patiently with erring sinners, not because we are without sin, but because we also are beset by weakness (Hb 5:2). Make it clear to the faithful that this sacrament is a vital part of your life. Take the initiative in being available to them and they will come to you - drawn by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Your priesthood will be aided by the gift of priestly celibacy by which you are free to give yourself completely to the Church with an undivided heart. In this way it will be clear that you belong entirely to Jesus Christ and your love for others will be at the same time deeply personal and all-embracing. Renew your profession of perpetual continence each day and you will be a source of strength to us all. By your example you will inspire others to live a love for others which is pure and holy.
Justice and peace
In your priestly apostolate, allow God to make you an instrument of justice and peace. Promote the dignity and respect for all human life from its inception until natural death. Support with zeal those persons who have no voice of their own: the unborn, those with special needs, the aged and the dying. Defend the integrity of marriage and the family which, as the Church teaches, are at the core of our society. Be in solidarity with those who suffer injustices in our society, those who are the target of prejudice, the poor, the migrant and refugee. Be for them the sign of God's love and mercy.
Be close to Mary, to whom our Lord entrusted us all, but in a special way, because she is the Mother of the High Priest, she is the mother of all priests. When your pastoral duties weigh upon you, ask St Joseph, guardian of the Redeemer, Patron of the universal Church and our diocesan patron, to help you carry the load without becoming discouraged.
This is the edited text of Bishop Robert Finn's address in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at an Ordination Mass for the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 20 No 6 (July 2007), p. 20
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