Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,
At this time in July many older priests from our Seminaries celebrate their ordination anniversaries. For me it is a time to express the wonder of the priesthood and to thank God for the constant, dedicated work of good priests throughout our country. Your joy, your deep faith, your humanity, the realisation that for the diocesan priest our lives are entwined with those of the people. We deal with the uncertain and unpredictable, we are there because we are given in hope for his people.
Christ, the great prophet, filled people with the wonder of his power, the magnetism of his personality and the way in which he taught them with authority and saved us by his blood.
Together with Pope Francis, I rejoice as your presence reminds me that the Church is alive. Despite the increasing problems, the Church possesses priests who truly desire to proclaim the kingdom of God, she is growing and standing up to the complications that we see in the culture of today.
In our age the capacity for listening needs to be taught and encouraged. Our preaching in church should help us to develop the lofty capacity which God gives us for listening to the voice of truth and the voice of values - the inner laws of being, the Word of God, the great moral experiences of humanity. We know that our life has a meaning which we must not produce of ourselves, but which guides us and precedes us.
Our role as priests is to guide people to the deepest voices, to the voice of the conscience that is the communicated through the great tradition of prayer of the moral life of the Church. We have to patiently educate our people and thereby live and find true life.
A number of the priests who met with Pope Benedict at Auronzo di Cadore back in 2007 were concerned about the present pressures
Perhaps in today’s reflection when we look at how we fill our days, we might well think it is necessary to determine the right priorities and not to forget the essential - the proclamation of the kingdom of God. The three imperatives are to pray, to provide care and to preach.
Without a personal relationship with God nothing else can function. We cannot bring God, the divine reality or true human life to people unless we live them in a deep, true relationship of friendship with Jesus Christ, hence, the Eucharist, the Hours. We are the ancient people renewed in the faith of the Church.
The second command – tend the sick, seek those who have strayed, those who are in need; this is the Church’s love for the marginalised and the suffering. We remember of course that the human and the divine go hand in hand - your goodness, your response at the importunate caller is most important.
Then preaching: We proclaim the kingdom of God, not a distant Utopia in a better world of some time in the future. It is the kingdom of God who is near to us. We have to draw close to this God who is close for he was made man and is always with us in his Word, in the Eucharist and in all believers.
In all our parishes we need to find a way, by involving others, to free the priest sufficiently so that we hold the essential reins, but rely on collaborators. Since we all form a parish together we priests are not left on our own mainly as co-ordinators, but discover that we are pastors who are backed up in these common tasks in which the parish lives and is fulfilled.
All of this must be in the context of realising our own limitations and the absolute vital need we have of freedom for prayer and the Word of God. This same need that inspired the apostles to choose deacons and inspires us to realise it is the Lord’s Church, him whom we serve, walking with our people, supported by their gifts.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.