Thursday, April 16, 2009

Frohliche Geburtstag


ad multos annos
Father Ken Brighenti and I spent the past week in Pembroke, Massachusetts, attending the fifth annual Seminar for Priests sponsored by the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei and coordinated and directed by Father Roger Landry (diocesan priest from Fall River). Over 25 priests from across the northeast gathered for three days of talks and discussions on the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, in preparation for the Year of the Priest declareed by Pope Benedict XVI. Father George Rutler was one of the speakers (just in time before the installation of his new local Ordinary, the Most Rev. Timothy Michael Dolan, as Archbishop of New York). These annual seminars are based on the ones previously held for seminarians for more than a dozen years while many of us were still studying for the priesthood. Back then, most seminaries had Easter week off as vacation and thus more than 100 seminarians from across the nation could attend. Sadly, vacation schedules changed and the seminars had to be canceled. Father Landry resurrected the concept but adapted it for priests and it has been a totall SUCCESS. Ongoing formation of clergy is ESSENTIAL and INDISPENSABLE. The annual seminar as well as the annual convocation of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (July 13-16, 2009 in San Antonio, TX) are a response to the call of Vatican II for all priests and deacons to foster (post-ordination) ONGOING SPIRITUAL, THEOLOGICAL, PASTORAL and HUMAN FORMATION within a FRATERNAL setting. Physicians, scientists, acamedicians, business people, et al. attend seminars and workshops (and not just the mandatory ones from their employers, either). So, too, with Catholic Clergy. One or two weeks per year and one day a month (day of recollection, e.g.) is not only possible, it is NECESSARY for priests and deacons to give fraternal support and improve themselves to better serve Holy Mother Church and the People of God. A no-brainer, you would think until you hear priests complaining "I don't have enough time to attend." 99% of dioceses and parishes BUDGET money for such ongoing formation. Yet, too many priests and deacons get over-extended and fall into the trap of becoming ACTIVITY oriented and neglect their ongoing formation needs. Retreats, seminars, workshops and days of recollection in addition to SPIRITUAL DIRECTION are vital to the spiritual health of clergy as much as is daily prayer.

Sometimes, good priests, deacons and seminarians need a little encouragement and assistance. Here is where the devout faithful can help. SUGGEST to your parish clergy that they attend an annual gathering like the CCC this July. OFFER to pay their conference fee OR airfare as an ordination or anniversary gift or perhaps drive them yourself. Too many good clergy who are theologically solid and liturgically correct, get trapped in the treadmill of constant ACTIVITY. Everyone knows how dangerous it is to deny yourself enough sleep. It is no virtue to be so busy even doing sacramental/spiritual work that one does not get sufficient rest or nourishment. The result would be a WEAKENED if not SICK cleric at best. Even Our Divine Lord took time to PRAY and to spend quality time with His family and friends. Yet, often today, especially in the USA the Protestant Work Ethic has infiltrated Catholic spirituality. A priest or deacon feels GUILTY if he takes an afternoon to attend a day of recollection or if he goes out of town for a seminar or workshop. Even though canon law MANDATES an annual retreat of at least 5 days, I know many clergy who 'justify' their absence at these by saying "I am needed in my parish."

YES, needed but in good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Sloth and Workaholism are opposite extremes to be avoided. It is NOT laziness, however, to spend quality time in prayer, study, necessary relaxation and even in fraternal support. Spending TIME with other priests and deacons may prevent some who become lonely and eventually find solace in booze, gambling or worse. Being there for brothers in ordination is a work of mercy and not a luxury. I find when I take care of my ongoing formation, I am a BETTER priest in the long run and that helps me better serve my parishioners, my bishop and my brother clergymen.

Pope Benedict has declared next year to be the YEAR OF THE PRIEST after St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars. Help your parish priests, deacons and seminarians by URGING them to attend to their ongoing spiritual, theological, pastoral and human formation. REMIND them of the invaluable worth of genuine Christian fraternity among the clergy. The vocation you save may one day save you.

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