This has been a busy few days for liturgy news, hasn’t it? Even good news. Pope Benedict offers a reflection on liturgy and Saint John Vianney, up yesterday on Zenit.
Don’t worry about empty confessionals and no Saturday lines; the Curé of Ars didn’t. While some might dismiss the notion that a priest’s attitude and reverence while presiding at the Eucharist or praying before the Blessed Sacrament would inspire others, I’ve been around long enough to know it’s entirely the case otherwise. Likewise, notable lay people in the parish are watched, too. But since this is the first day of the Year for Priests, let’s focus there.
Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Cure of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion.
Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence.
He thus created a ‘virtuous’ circle.
Far better than a vicious cycle.
I don’t envy my brothers in the priesthood. People really do look up to them. Every action is scrutinized, every gesture, every word, every nuance. It would make me nervous in the way that fatherhood made me nervous. One pair of little eyes is on me all the time. I’m also well aware that the eyes of young people in my music groups are on me. I have a concern about that. It’s a real responsibility I must take seriously, whether I like it or not.
A new parishioner, not a young person, shared with me her uneasiness at our parish’s long practice of kneeling only during the epiclesis and consecration (my words, not hers) and standing for the memorial acclamation. She said since I took in the Eucharistic Prayer so reverently, she was okay with the variance from her old parish’s–and most of the universal Church’s practice. I mentioned this to my wife, who wisely nodded and affirmed that, indeed, many eyes are on me and I do well to stay on my best behavior.
I figure if a few select people are watching me so closely, what must it be like for the clergy? So here’s to your first day, guys–your first of 366. I plan on praying for you frequently, both generally and for the individual priests I know. More from the Holy Father on St John:
He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God’s own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor.
To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God’s love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence.
In his time the Cure of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love.
Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of love.