Bishop LaValley reflects on the closing of the
"graced Year for Priests"
On this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church relives the mystery of Holy Thursday in the light of the Resurrection. As you know, there is a Eucharistic procession each year on Holy Thursday at the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper when the Church repeats the departure of Jesus Christ from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. On that night, Jesus goes out and hands Himself over to the betrayer and, in so doing, overcomes the night, overcomes the darkness of evil. On that night it is the desire of the Church in prayer to keep watch with Jesus, not to abandon Him in the night of the world, on the night of betrayal.
Pope Benedict reminds us that on the Feast of Corpus Christi, we again go on this procession but in the joy of the Resurrection. The Lord is risen and leads us. We follow. “The angels say: the Lord goes ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see Him.”
Yes, Jesus goes before us--risen to the heights of God--and inviting us to follow Him. The true purpose of our journey is communion with God. But, as the Holy Father reminds us, we can be elevated to these dwelling places only by going “towards Galilee, traveling on the pathways of the world, taking the Gospel to all nations, carrying the gift of His love to the women and men of all times.”
We bring Christ, present under the sign of bread, onto the streets of Ogdensburg this Corpus Christi afternoon. We entrust these streets and streets everywhere, our homes, our daily lives, to God’s goodness.
As we close out this graced Year for Priests, I thank God particularly for the priests who minister to God’s people in the streets of our villages and cities here in the North Country. In many respects, it is here, on our streets, where our priests are on the front lines. It is here, in our parishes and parish missions, that our priests meet the angry or troubled people at Sunday Mass. They try to answer the questions about the worldwide crisis caused by priests and bishops around the world. It is here that they seek to explain God’s will to a traumatized young married couple whose infant son just died.
Yes, our priests are in the streets and byroads. In our expansive diocese there are our priests who stay up all night in a hospital waiting room with a distraught family whose teenage daughter lies near death from a motorcycle accident. They are there to hold the hand of a single mom in the ER watching her young son gasp for life from a drug overdose. These are the men who drive miles and miles from parishes and mission churches on Saturday evenings and Sundays to celebrate Eucharist, preside at funerals, perform baptisms, and counsel couples and troubled teens. These are the individuals who preach, proclaim and give public witness to the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death to a culture that too often sees violence and death as the only answer to our selfish woes.
These are the men who have persevered and worked generously and in a spirit of faith to cooperate with and support their bishop even when, at times, that may be difficult. These are the men who have defended and held on to the Church in the face of anger, bitterness and controversy. These are the men who have seen the parishes and schools close and disappear but have resolutely served the people in living faith. Priests who, unseen and unknown to most, are up at the crack of dawn or at the closing of a long day, quietly away for an hour of prayer in church, pleading to God on our behalf. These are men of God who do not seek praise or acclaim and who walk faithfully with the Lord in a time of testing.
So, why would a modern man want to become or remain a priest today? The great theologian Karl Rahner once answered: “It’s not the great works of the church in the service of justice and peace…rather,” he said, “I still see around me living in many of my brother priests a readiness for unselfish service carried out quietly, a readiness for prayer, for abandonment to the incomprehensibility of God, for the calm acceptance of death in whatever form it may come, for the total dedication to the following of Christ crucified.”
I think of the brother priest who in a parish with tremendous difficulty and without any clear evidence of success plods away at the task of awakening in just a few people a small spark of faith. These and many other forms and acts of renunciation, known only to God, are still what is decisive in the priesthood. Such perseverance makes all the difference in this world and in the world to come.
Archbishop Quinn recently wrote: “This is why I firmly believe that this is one of the best times to be a priest. It is a time for us, like the apostles, to give thanks that we are counted worthy to suffer something for Christ. The Church and the believer who pass through the dark night of this age are led to the loss of everything secondary and to discover that God is not who they thought He was and they are not who they thought they were. It is the discovery that God is beyond everything we can conceive.”
My sisters and brothers, we are learning painfully that we are incredibly poor and utterly dependent on God. The joy-filled faithfulness of our priests helps us all to follow the crucified One with confidence and enduring hope. As we close out this special Year for Priests, we rededicate ourselves to pray each day for our priests. We pray that more young men will respond generously to God’s call to become a priest. I am proud to be a priest and to minister with such faith-filled men. We are all so blessed.