Monday, December 06, 2004
Peeking through the Window
The Ad Limina visit, after which this blog is named, is the obligatory report that each bishop is required to make, in person, every five years, to the Holy See. It gives a bishop the chance to report on the activities and status of his diocese to the Holy See, and, perhaps more importantly, to receive guidance from the Servant of the Servants of God. There is always a liturgical component - the 'visit' is technically a pilgrimage to the churches of Rome, especially to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, usually involving masses at these churches - as well as an administrative component, as the bishops 'make the rounds' of the curial offices, receiving guidance and instruction from the various Congregations, both in groups and individually. In sum, the Ad Limina visit is both a potent theological sign of the Unity of the Church of Christ, and a fruitful means of mutually informative dialogue among her shepherds.
It confirms the origin of the ministry of the bishops in Christ and its visible source of unity in the service of St. Peter and his successors. It inspires new enthusiasm and new energy for carrying out the weighty and irreplaceable service of Shepherd of Flock, after the Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd.
In previous years the faithful received the fruits of these visits only indirectly; in recent years, with the rise of 'information age' bishops, the faithful have been fortunate enough to benefit from those bishops willing to share their experiences and photos on diocesan or personal webpages. This report
, published last Friday by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke
of St. Louis, is the most fantastic I have seen, both theologically and in terms of detailed information provided. Reports such as these provide a 'peek through the window' at the Holy See's concerns regarding Catholicism in the United States. There is always a certain 'slant' on the report, depending upon the particular bishop's interests and possible bias, but this can be taken into account.
With regard to Archbishop Burke's report, a number of understandable concerns fill out the conversations - the state of Catholic education in the United States and the Catholic identity of universities, abuses concerning the celebration of the Eucharist and the promotion of the Year of the Eucharist, the Church's response to the sexual abuse crisis, the Holy Father's teaching on nutrition and hydration, etc.
But the dominant theme during this year's visits, which seemed to dominate the conversations both with the Holy Father and with every curial office: Priests. The Priesthood. Priestly Formation. Priestly Ministry.
The Holy Father then spoke to us about the importance of our communion with our brother priests, our co-workers in the apostolic ministry, underlining the fraternal care of every priest, which must be ours. He reminded us that our unity with our priests has its origin in the ministry of St. Peter and, in turn, builds up the whole community in unity. In the same line, he reminded us of the affection and care which bishops must have for their seminarians and of the importance of a strong program for the promotion of priestly vocations. He asked that we institute a national day of prayer for priestly vocations. Care for seminarians and priests, he reminded us, means providing a sound seminary formation: growth in theological education, in holiness of life and in leadership, and in dedication to the service of the People of God. He stressed that it also means providing for the continuing or lifelong formation of the clergy. He noted the importance of sending young priests for further studies in order to enrich the life and ministry of all the priests and of all the faithful.
[Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re of Congregation for Bishops] also stressed the importance of the closeness of bishops to their priests, reminding us that we are father, brother, friend and Good Samaritan to the priests of our archdioceses and dioceses.
Cardinal [Zenon] Grocholewski [of the Congregation of Catholic Education] spoke strongly about the importance of seminary studies and priestly formation for the future of the Church. He reminded us that the bishop's most important work is the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and the care of seminarians. He expressed concern about the low number of seminarians in the United States and Western Europe, in comparison to other parts of the universal Church. He stressed the importance of the clear identity of the ordained priesthood, conferred with the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in relationship to the royal priesthood of all of the faithful, conferred with the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, for an effective apostolate of priestly vocations. He reminded us that the ordained priesthood is at the service of the other vocations. . . . he noted the need of a fundamental and systematic theological formation, in order that future priests will be reliable teachers and moral guides.
More priests, smarter priests, well-formed priests, faithful priests, priests in union with their bishops, priests with distinct sacerdotal identities. The unprecedented initiative to establish a national day of prayer for vocations
, along with the well-publicized Year of the Eucharist
, can both be seen as underlining the unique and irreplaceable role of the priest in the life of the Church. In the United States, where the last three years have seen an attack on the nature and identity of the priesthood of immense proportions, such a concern is nothing if not well-placed. The growing influence of well-educated, faithful Catholic laity within the Church has often been hailed, and rightly so. One can hardly imagine today's Catholic Church functioning at even quarter capacity without the assistance of these dedicated and committed laypersons. But, as is becoming all too clear, we can never forget that the lay vocation depends for its very life upon the sanctifying, teaching and governing ministries of the Church's ordained ministers. The ordained vocation is truly at the service of the lay vocation, which it animates and infuses with sanctifying life. If the future of the Church lies with the lay faithful, then it is all the more true that the future of the Church lies with the priest.
# posted by Jamie : 9:48 AM