Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sons of the Church

I was reading an old rector's conference of Archbishop Timothy Dolan on the priest as a Son of the Church. I've just quote a few portions below. I assume it must be in one of his books by now but I am unsure which one. But it's a must read!

"St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, our first native-born American saint...on her death bed in 1821, at that white frame house one can still visit in Emmitsburg, she spoke her last words to her beloved religious sisters, five words, yet so telling and profound: “Be daughters of the Church.” Her biographer tells us she uttered those five words, seemed to fade away, and then revived to lift her head and say one final time, “Be daughters of the Church.”

Maybe it is because the Liturgy of the Word during this paschal season is so ecclesial, so rich in readings about the apostolic Church, bursting with promise, growth, conversion, evangelical preaching, and, yes, with adversity; maybe because this is a topic close to my heart, and because this is the final rector’s conference I will present here at the College – who knows, who cares why – but I say to you this evening, brother priests and future priests, “Be sons of the Church! Be sons of the Church!”

He mentions the fact that it takes a lifetime to discover what the Church really is. The Church is such a great mystery to be discovered. But he does mention seven things the Church most definitely is. It is catholic (universal), true, one, composed of people who are not perfect, apostolic, people centered, and it is on the cross. He goes into much greater detail. I focus simply on the last two sections.

The Church we love is people. Someone criticized Newman for writing too much about the role of the laity in the Church, and he replied, “The Church would sure look silly without them.” As Lumen Gentium reminds us, the role of the ministerial priesthood is precisely to serve the common priesthood of all the faithful. Call it communio, call them the “people of God,” call them “the faithful,” call it the Church – who cares? The Church we love is people...

...That means people first. If you are bothered by people, bored by people, distracted by people, inconvenienced by people, the priesthood is not for you; come to think of it, the Church is not for you, because the Church we love is people...

...Finally, the Church we love is on the Cross. “From His wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life in the Church,” as we pray in the preface of the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We usually call Pentecost the “birthday of the Church,” but many of the Fathers would contend it to be Good Friday instead.

From this perspective, all those facts usually cited to prove the Church is failing – rejection of the Church’s teaching, criticism of the Church for its “failure to change,” persecution by hostile forces – are actually proofs of its success, because that means the Church is on the cross. That’s the Church’s real vocation, its real “contribution.” “If you want to see what a contribution really is,” observes Catherine Doherty, “look at the man on the cross. When you are hanging on a cross, you can’t do anything, because you’re crucified. That’s His contribution.”

That’s why priests are very near to those visibly on the cross – the sick, poor, suffering, struggling, lonely, hurting; that’s why a priest is mostly a “man of the Church” when he is suffering – from doubt, frustration, temptation, weariness, discouragement; that’s why the priest is strong in fighting the temptation the Body of Christ, the Church, still is taunted with today, “Come down off your cross and we will believe in you.” Because the Church we love is on the cross.


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