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 November 7, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 19Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Priests’ convocation was a time of grace and blessings

Dear Sisters and Brothers:
In my remarks for this week’s column I want to ask your prayers for three particular intentions — each of which is very much on my mind these days.

First: In my last column (Voice, Oct. 17), I told you about the Convocation of the Oakland Priests that was to be held Oct. 16-21. I take great satisfaction in telling you that our gathering was filled with many graces and blessings from God. In our days together we had a powerful experience of our communion in the ministerial priesthood we received through our ordination.

There was a general consensus that the four speakers who addressed us offered us, each in his own way, both a powerful reminder of the great mission that has been entrusted to us through priestly ordination and an inspiring call to take hold once again of the grace of this sacrament in order to be the pastors of souls we aspire to be.

While the four speakers approached their topics from very different perspectives and with a great diversity of approaches, they all focused our attention on the great gift we priests were given through Holy Orders: We are configured to Christ in the specific identity of his character as Head, Shepherd and Bridegroom of the Church. It is our grace to be a grace for the Lord’s People: to make sacramentally present his service as pastor of the flock.

Working on the foundation of this great Gospel truth, we took up the very practical topic of beginning to establish for ourselves a renewed program of ongoing formation so that we can be the good shepherds Christ calls us to be.

Here we took our orientation from the late Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on priestly formation, “Pastores dabo vobis” [“I will give you shepherds (after my own heart)”].

There the Holy Father said that all formation for priestly life and ministry, whether prior to, or after, ordination, is based on four “pillars” — human formation (growth in human virtues), spiritual formation (growth in friendship with Christ), intellectual formation (growth in the understanding of faith and the other disciplines that help in that task), and pastoral formation (growth in pastoral skills).

One of our speakers, Father Louis Camelli, a Chicago priest with a long and distinguished record in this area of priestly formation, made the provocative remark that our success in the task of ongoing priestly formation would have for the post-conciliar renewal of the clergy envisioned by the Second Vatican Council an impact on the Church analogous to the renewal of the clergy accomplished by the Council of Trent with its establishment of the seminary system.

What was most gratifying to me was to experience the great excitement generated within our presbyterate in taking up the challenge of assuring our ongoing formation. For example: we want to preach better, to pray better, to live our celibate chastity better and to understand God’s word better.

This is nothing less than the Holy Spirit stirring us up to embrace once again, and with ever-increasing ardor, our call to be “other Christs” – to be flesh and blood embodiments of the Good Shepherd, whose love for the flock was a “love to the end,” even to laying down his life for his sheep.

I thank God the Holy Spirit that he has moved us priests of Oakland to aspire to be better priests, since – given the nature of the priesthood – that commitment can be nothing less than an aspiration to holiness.

And here is where my request for your prayers comes in.

To be more like Christ always means conversion, since there is so much of our hearts and minds that is not Christ, but is configured to the old Adam, is set on self-love instead of sacrificial love. We priests need the support of your prayers on this path of conversion.

Yes, in our ongoing formation there will be programs to attend and process to work through, but these are only the material of our ongoing formation. The soul of our growing in the likeness of Christ the Good Shepherd is becoming filled with his love. That’s what breathes life into these efforts.

No son or daughter of Adam can do that without the powerful help of God’s grace. Only the Holy Spirit can sustain us in the path of daily conversion – daily “turning away” away from sin and daily “turning toward” the Lord.

Every day, please pray for your priests. They have consecrated their lives to being your spiritual fathers and brothers, guides and companions on the pilgrim way back to Our Father’s house. Pray that they, and I, will become saints, so that we can give you the support you need in becoming saints, too.

About my two others intentions I will speak more briefly. We are in the first days of November, a month which Catholic piety has long devoted to special prayers for the dead. This practice is already mentioned in the Old Testament: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Macc. 12:46), and so is part of the heritage of grace that became ours through membership in the New Covenant.

About prayers for the dead, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” tells us: “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (sec. 1032).

This section of the Catechism concludes with this moving call from St. John Chrysostom for us to continue in our prayers for the dead: “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.” Amen!

May the souls of our own beloved dead and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

And the last of my intentions concerns the meeting of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference scheduled for the middle of November. Please sustain all us with your prayers to the Holy Spirit, as you ask from him light and courage for us in our deliberations.


Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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