God’s gift of the priesthood Print
Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

In my 35+ years on the staff of the Catholic Herald, I have had the privilege of getting to know many priests in the Diocese of Madison. 

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It is indeed a privilege.  Our priests are holy, wise, dedicated, sensitive, well-educated, loving, humorous, faith-filled men — and those are only some of the good qualities I’ve observed. 

Priests lead busy lives

I am aware that many of our priests work long hours, from early morning Mass to evening meetings. Their sleep may be interrupted at night by a call to visit a dying person in the hospital. 

They prepare engaged couples for marriage and counsel couples having marital problems. They baptize babies, hear first Confessions, give first Communion, prepare young people for Confirmation, and anoint the sick. They give instructions to those entering the Catholic Church. They help in food pantries and meal programs. They visit the imprisoned. They march for life.

The list goes on and on. In some ways, priests are like parents: their job never ends. The priesthood is a 24/7 career — and will continue into eternity.

We take priests for granted

Unfortunately, I think many Catholics take priests for granted. Although, with a shortage of priests in more recent years, we may be starting to appreciate them a little more.

We now have a special opportunity to thank God — and priests — for the gift of the priesthood. On June 19, Pope Benedict XVI launched the Year for Priests. The Holy Father said priests themselves should use this time to deepen their commitment to the priesthood “for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.”

On the part of the members of the Church, the pope said the year is an an occasion to thank the many priests who selflessly give their lives to serving the Church and alleviating human suffering. 

Pope Benedict acknowledged that some priests have harmed others, including sexually abusing minors. In the face of this scandal, the pope said in a special letter to the world’s priests released June 18 that what is most helpful to the Church “is not only a frank and complete acknowledgement of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift” of the priesthood.

Look to St. John Vianney as model

June 19 was chosen as the beginning of this special year because it marked the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests.

Catholic News Service noted in an article on the pope’s letter that Pope Benedict encouraged priests to use St. John Vianney as a model for their priesthood. The pope specifically asked priests to focus on learning from St. John Vianney’s devotion to the Eucharist and his conviction about the importance of the sacrament of penance.

St. John Vianney “taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life. It was from his example that they learned to pray, halting frequently before the tabernacle for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,” the pope said.

In St. John Vianney’s France, “confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day,” but the saint insisted that the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist demanded that people be reconciled with God. He made sure he was in the church for long hours each day in case someone came wanting to confess their sins.

The pope entrusted the Year for Priests to the Blessed Virgin Mary and asked her “to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church.”

Let us pray for our priests and give them special words and notes of appreciation during this Year for Priests. May God bless all priests!

The text of the pope’s letter in English is available online at:

Also see the U.S. bishops’ Web site: