Young priests are among the great signs of hope in the Catholic Church in the United States today.
Eleven months ago, when the Long Lent of 2002 was taking a daily, bitter toll across the country, my family had the pleasure of hosting for dinner a dozen recently-ordained priests who were in Washington for the annual reunion of North American College alumni. These men had become my friends while I was working in Rome on Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, and I was concerned that their morale might have been dampened by the ugliness that had been unleashed after the Geoghan case broke in the press in January 2002. To the contrary, I found these young priests full of determination to live the vows they had made to Christ and the Church and to get about the business of authentically Catholic reform. Their faith strengthened my hope.
My young priest-friends are now organizing a national “Novena for Priests,” to be prayed during the nine days before Pentecost, which falls on June 8 this year. They invite every Catholic in the United States to join them in a nationwide surge of prayer: to lift up our priests before the Throne of Grace; to beseech God’s grace for a renewal of the priesthood, of priestly formation, and of authentic priestly fraternity; and to commit ourselves, one and all, to living radically Catholic lives through our own distinctive vocations, which their priestly vocations exist to support and ennoble.
Here is the Novena Prayer, which has been approved by Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., the Bishop of Peoria:
“Jesus, Good Shepherd, You sent us the Holy Spirit to guide Your Church and lead her faithful to You through the ministry of Your priests.
“Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, grant to Your priests wisdom in leading, faithfulness in teaching, and holiness in guarding Your sacred Mysteries.
“As they cry out with all the faithful, ‘Abba, Father!’ may Your priests be ever more closely identified with You, in Your divine Sonship, as they offer their own lives with You, the one saving Victim.
“Make them helpful brothers of one another, and understanding fathers of all Your people.
“On this Pentecost Sunday, renew in Your priests greater trust in You, childlike reliance on our Mother, Mary, and unwavering fidelity to the Holy Father and his bishops.
“Holy Mary, intercede for your priests.
“St. Joseph, protect them. St. Michael defend them. St. John Vianney, pray for them.”
All great periods of reform in Catholic history have included a reform of the priesthood. That was true in the High Middle Ages, when a period of clerical corruption was followed by a profound renewal of the priestly office in the Church. That was true in the years after the Reformation, which was caused in part by another period of clerical malfeasance. That was true in the shattered French Church after the tidal wave of the French Revolution.
And that must be true, now, if the decades following the Second Vatican Council are to be remembered in the centuries to come as a new springtime of reform, in which the entire Church is empowered to be ever more what the Church always is: the spouse of Christ, incarnate in a great evangelical movement that offers the world the amazing truth about its origins and its glorious destiny. Many priests, older and younger, will contribute to the reform of the priesthood. But perhaps it will be younger priests who are at the forefront of the reform – men who know themselves to be, not ecclesiastical functionaries licensed to do certain kinds of churchly business, but icons of the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, called and sent into the world for the world’s sanctification.
My friends who are organizing the “Novena for Priests” would welcome your participation. They are also eager to help meet your spiritual needs and concerns, and their Web site – www.novenaforpriests.com – includes an e-mail form on which you can list your prayer requests in complete privacy. The Web site contains the novena prayer, and it would be a kindness if you would pass that prayer along your list of e-mail correspondents and among your fellow-parishioners.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.