Priests gather for annual evening of prayer, fraternity

BRIGHTON — Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley encouraged the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston to be men of prayer and love at the second annual St. John Vianney Evening of Prayer at St. John’s Seminary Aug. 3. The event was sponsored by the Vocation Office and the Office for Pastoral Support and Ongoing Formation.

About 120 priests gathered on a warm summer evening in St. John’s Chapel to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. They sang in tenor and bass voices between periods of silent prayer.

Cardinal O’Malley addressed the men during adoration, thanking the Lord for the gifts of the priesthood and the Eucharist.

The cardinal said that a church in the Diocese of Fall River that he visited while bishop there, has stained glass windows of the seven sacraments. The most prominent window depicts confession with the words, “Go and sin no more.”

“In these dog days of summer, they open the windows of the church. There’s one little pane of glass that opens up, and it happens to be the part of the stained glass window with the word ‘no’ on it,” he said.

The window then reads, “Go and sin more.”

“I think people try to characterize the Catholic Church as the Church of ‘no.’ The Church that’s always telling people they can’t do this or do that” the cardinal said. “For that reason I think that it is so important that our Holy Father has chosen as his first encyclical to write about God as love. In the lives of the saints we see that the Church is not about ‘no’ but it’s about saying, ‘yes.’ Yes to God. Yes to love.”

St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, lived at a time when things were unraveling in his homeland, France. After the French Revolution, Catholics faithful to the Church faced persecution. They held secret Masses in their homes, and by the time St. Vianney was 40, 300 Catholic priests had been executed, he said.

St. Vianney faced many challenges, but with the encouragement of his family and his parish priest, he studied in the seminary and was ordained a priest himself in 1815, he said.

“In today’s world, many of our young people don’t have the support of that pious family that St. John Vianney had. The role of the parish priest in promoting vocations is greater than ever,” the cardinal added.

St. Vianney outlined three great challenges found during his time— religious ignorance, people seeking their own pleasure and a lack of observance of Sunday Mass, he said.

“As I was looking at his biography again, it occurred to me that in many ways his life has a lot to say to us in our challenge as priests in Boston in the year 2006,” he added. “No one can do for our people what you as priests are doing for them. I know there are many things that make us feel discouraged and many challenges that we face, but the more we reflect on what we are called to do and knowing that our presence among our people makes the presence of the Good Shepherd visible to them.”

St. Vianney also wrote that the main duties of Catholics are to pray and to love, he said.

“It sounds so simple, and I know we’re swamped with so many other things that call on our energy and our attention,” he said. “Our people are hungry for God’s love. We will be able to give it to them only if we are men of prayer. Without prayer there can be no authentic love.”

“Our vocation is not a cheap sacrifice, it’s a costly one, but it’s worth it. Thank you for being priests. Thank you for all that you do for God’s people. Thank you for being here today,” he added.

At a cookout held for the priests following adoration, Father Daniel Hennessey, assistant vocation director for the archdiocese, said that it is important for priests to pray together.

“It’s important for priests to gather together to have a fraternity amongst ourselves,” he said.

Father Wayne Belschner, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in East Boston, agreed, saying “It strengthens the body of the priesthood.”

Priests need to ask God for strength during the difficult times following the sexual abuse crisis, reconfiguration and a decline in vocations. With God’s help they can make a difference together, he added.

Father Belschner said he was inspired by the cardinal’s reflections on St. John Vianney who faced many difficulties but remained faithful to the Church.

“We are called to do the same,” he said.

Father Darin Colarusso, who was ordained this year and is now at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Braintree, added that St. John Vianney can serve as a model for today’s priests since they face many of the same circumstances that existed in the saint’s time.

Father Colarusso said he was encouraged by Cardinal O’Malley’s words and by the large number of priests gathered at the evening of prayer.

He added that it was powerful to hear all of the priests singing psalms with such unconstrained force. The unison of priestly voices in prayer cannot be heard elsewhere, he said.

“It impresses on the individual priest the unique fraternity he’s part of,” he added.