Priests gather for day of prayer and fellowship

NEWTON -- Over 400 priests from the Archdiocese of Boston participated in a day of prayer and fellowship Nov. 20. The Presbyteral Convocation was a follow-up to a previous convocation held Sept. 14.

The gathering, entitled “Healing Reconciliation and Forgiveness,” included adoration and a penance service. The men began the day in song and prayer, their voices filling the banquet hall at the Newton Marriott Hotel.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, who led the opening prayer, said the September convocation assessed the past while the November convocation was a time to gather for prayer and fellowship.

“Our gathering today is to focus on priesthood, on our ministry,” he said. “As we are poised in our country to celebrate Thanksgiving, my heart is filled with gratitude to God for you, for your ministry, for your pastoral love that is for countless Catholics in the archdiocese the face of the Good Shepherd.”

Vicar general and moderator of the curia Father Richard Erikson added that the meeting was meant to strengthen the priests as they look toward the future.

“Today is meant to complement our time together in September and to continue our effort to renew our lives together,” he said. “Today we deepen this journey with prayer, reflection, conversation and fraternity.”

The priests heard speakers, enjoyed social time and received an update on the archdiocese’s upcoming bicentennial. Father Robert Connors, director of the archdiocese’s Bicentennial Committee, invited the priests to attend the 200th anniversary celebration’s opening Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.

Participants also had the opportunity to view a new video for vocations, entitled “Fishers of Men,” produced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The 18-minute documentary features priests talking openly about the “supernatural and counter-cultural calling” of their vocation.

Pope John Paul II is an excellent example for any man who thinks he may have a calling to the priesthood, said one young priest.

“He showed us that the priesthood is standing in truth with love,” he added.

The first of three speakers, Brother Loughlan Sofield, ST peppered his comments with stories from workshops he has conducted all over the world, in numerous countries on three continents.

Brother Laughlin said that priests all over the world are dealing with the very same issues: unrealistic expectations from themselves and others, desire for greater fraternity, burnout and difficulty in dealing with anger and conflict.

“If you don’t know how to deal with your anger, what it does is it begins to destroy your body and your soul,” he told them. “Many pastors who undertake a major building project end up having a stroke or heart attack within five years after its is completed.”

Brother Laughlin said priests must choose to forgive, an act of the will, and minister to their parishioners with love.

“What makes people whole is to be listened to with love,” he said. “Compassion is our response to prayer.”

The following speaker, Father Bruce Nieli, CSP spoke on the importance of priests as evangelizers and healers, he said.

Priests are meant to be bridge builders, closing the gap between the Catholic faith and American civilization. The current culture lacks cohesiveness and consistence, he added.

Speaking about the recent USCCB document “Forming consciousness for faithful citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” Father Nieli said Catholics must promote candidates who support all of the teachings of the Church. They should be “pro-life across the board,” which includes supporting immigration, families and universal health care, he said.

“Let’s get the message of faithful citizenship written on the consciences of all of our parishioners,” he added.

The final speaker was Sister Terry Rickard, OP, the coordinator for Renew International, a canonically-recognized Catholic organization based in Plainfield, N.J. The organization will facilitate a new program, “Arise: Together in Christ,” the centerpiece of the bicentennial.

Sister Terry spoke to the priests about living a contemplative lifestyle in our busy world. In our society we are constantly available, able to be reached anywhere through cell phones or the Internet. Sometimes we need to step back and be with God, she said.

“More than ever people are not looking for some kind of God out there, but we live in an existential age that calls for an encounter with God,” she said.

She then led the men in an exercise of “lectio divina,” or sacred reading of Scripture.

During the reconciliation service, Cardinal O’Malley spoke to the priests about the importance of confession and Christ’s call for conversion. Serious renewal can only happen with reconciliation, he said.

“So often we are like that unjust steward,” he said. “God has forgiven us so much, and we are unwilling to forgive the small injustices we inflict on each other.”

In confession, the merciful Christ teaches his people to be merciful. He heals the wounds of division and brings his love to the world, the cardinal added.

“Each confession, like each Communion, is a loving encounter with the merciful Lord who comes to bind up the wounds of sin,” he said. “We are called to be the healing voice of the risen Lord in the Sacrament of Penance. We must love the sacrament and make use of it to deepen our own vacation.”

Father Mark Hannon, a participant, said the convocation was a reminder of how important the priesthood is, both for the priests and for all Catholics.

“How fortunate we are to be priests,” he said.