As Christmas approaches, I thought I thought it would be a mercy to re-post one of those letters (the first) that Cardinal Piacenza used to address to clergy in his time as Prefect for the Congregation of Clergy. I always found them uplifting and full of a sense of care and joyful hope about those whom he was addressing. A father encouraging the best from his sons and pointing them in the right direction to stay on the good path or return to it if they had strayed. The Lord knows, we priests need all the encouragement we can get in these times.
Dear Priests and Deacons,
At this time, when the Holy Father has graciously named me as the new Prefect, I would like to take the opportunity to convey a cordial greeting to each and every one of you.
The Eucharist Celebrated and Adored
The Year for Priests, recently brought to a conclusion, remains always before us, both in its content and in its model of sanctity, St John Mary Vianney. With regard to its content, it is to be fully assimilated into the environment of the formation of the Clergy, both in the initial and ongoing stages, especially concerning to the central place it wished to recognise of the Eucharist, celebrated and adored; with regard to the model of sanctity that was offered, the heroic participation of the Curé of Ars in the self-giving of Christ for the life of men shines forth, and that witness spurs us continually to offer ourselves to the Lord in the "fragrant sacrifice".
It is in the contemplation and adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist that each priest and deacon begins to understand the exigencies of his own personal participation in the mystery of Christ, "the pure Victim, the holy Victim, the immaculate Victim". The life of he priest and deacon becomes increasingly identified with the sacrifice of the altar, consumed by the fire of the Holy Ghost, and rising as a pleasing fragrance in the presence of the Father.
First of All, Abide in Him
Even in the face of the storm of the "worldly sea," Jesus of Nazareth repeats to his disciples, "Do not be afraid!" To the temptation of activism and of the fitful searching after solutions that are human, and all too human, He beckons us gently, "Abide in my love" (Jn 15: 9).
The temptation of activism and the fitful searching after solutions that are human, and all too human: His Eminence identifies what lies at the root of so much clerical burn-out, superficiality, and despair.
As the Holy Father Benedict XVI pointed out, "If we continue to read this Gospel passage attentively, we also find a second imperative: "abide", and "observe my commandments". "Observe" only comes second. "Abide" comes first, at the ontological level, namely that we are united with him, he has given himself to us beforehand and has already given us his love, the fruit. It is not we who must produce the abundant fruit; Christianity is not moralism, it is not we who must do all that God expects of the world but we must first of all enter this ontological mystery: God gives himself. His being, his loving, precedes our action and, in the context of his Body, in the context of being in him, being identified with him and ennobled with his Blood, we too can act with Christ" (Allocution at the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, 12 February 2010).
It is impossible to observe the commandments of Christ without first abiding in Christ, without making one's dwelling in His open Heart. "His being, His loving," says Cardinal Piacenza, "precedes our action." This is, expressed in biblical terms, what Dom Chautard called, in his spiritual classic, The Soul of the Apostolate.
Dear friends, it is precisely this primacy of the ontological over the ethical, of the "abiding" over the "doing" that is the guarantee, and the only guarantee possible, of the fruitfulness of our apostolate!
In Confidence and Peace
In the face of prevailing secularism and rampant relativism, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman reminds us that:
Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God" (Biglietto Speech, 12 May 1879).
A splendid quotation from Blessed John Henry Newman! What can any one of us do but go on his own proper duties, in confidence and peace? "Stand still, " says Blessed Newman, echoing the versicle sung at Tierce on Christmas Eve: V. Constantes estote. R. Videbitis auxilium Domini super vos. "Be ye steadfast. And ye shall see the help of Lord upon you." There is a hidden heroism in quiet fidelity to one's duties sustained by confidence in the Providence of God, and by the peace that is the fruit of such a confidence.
The Mother of Priests
With these sentiments of profound, radical fidelity to the Lord in the Church and in history, in the Lord of my and of your sacerdotal existence, I ask a particular remembrance in your prayers, while I assure you of my pastoral concern, entrusting each one of you to the powerful protection of Her who, by virtue of a most special title, is the Mother of Priests: the Blessed Virgin Mary.
+ Mauro Card. Piacenza