EAST BOSTON -- On June 19, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, the Church opened the Year for Priests. The theme for the priestly year is “Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests.”
Speaking to The Pilot at the prayer service for priests held at Sacred Heart Church in East Boston to mark the opening of the special year here in the archdiocese, several priests reflected on the meaning this special year has in their lives.
For some, it is a year to bring unity to the priesthood; for others it is a year to renew their commitment to the Church. Others still saw it as a chance to promote vocations.
One thing was clear -- the Year for Priests means many different things to many different priests.
The prayer service began with Eucharistic adoration and Daytime Prayer for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, after which jubilarian Msgr. Francis V. Strahan, pastor of St. Bridget Parish in Framingham offered a reflection on the priesthood.
“To say that you and I have gone through a lot in these past few years is an understatement,” he began.
Msgr. Strahan noted that the Year for Priests “couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.”
The priest is called to have a “special mandate,” he said.
“He is the eyes of Christ...he is the voice of Christ...he is the hands of Christ...he is the feet of Christ,” he said.
From a human perspective, this mandate can be “overwhelming,” Msgr. Strahan admitted, but from a faith perspective, it is “a challenge.”
“The year of the priest can be a marvelous opportunity to be that ‘alter Christus,’ to be the other Christ that we want to be,” he said.
For Father Robert J. Blaney, ordained in 2007, the Year for Priests is a, “time to appreciate more fully the identity of a priest and to grow and, hopefully to unite, as a presbyterate.”
The identity of a priest is exactly what Father David Shoemaker is hoping to solidify during this year.
“I hope this year to get to the essence of the priest,” said Father Shoemaker, who has been ordained five years.
“I’d like to get a better grasp of what priesthood actually is,” he continued, adding that beyond the sacramental life of a priest, the rest of his time can be consumed with so many other duties that, “the priesthood can become so diluted or so multi-meaning” that finding the clarity to be what God intends a priest to be can be difficult.
Father Richard Putnam, SDB, ordained in 1989, sees the Year for Priests as “recognition that the pope is concerned for his priests.”
“Given the situation of the Church in recent years, it is a big-time boost for morale,” Father Putnam added.
For Father John Nazzaro, SDB, ordained in 1983, the year is not only important for those who are ordained, but for those who may be considering a vocation to the priesthood.
“So many times the priesthood is overlooked, taken for granted. I think that this year will be a good opportunity to tell young people that this is a very real choice. This is a good life.”
According to Father Bob Connors, vice-chair of the archdiocese’s Year for Priests Committee and priest since 1971, the year will serve as “an opportunity to regroup, to renew the sense of the priest not only for us as priests but also for the people.”
Father Connors explained that the archdiocese is hoping individual parishes take the initiative and find ways to celebrate the Year for Priests at a parish level.
“It’s always difficult for a priest to say, ‘Let’s do something for priests,’” he said. “I am hoping that the Year for Priests allows an opportunity for each parish to do that.”
Jubilarian Father Laurence J. Borges is hoping that the year will help to shake the cloud of negativity that has hung over the priesthood in recent years.
“Every family has a special priest who has baptized their children, buried their dead, been with them through a difficult time,” he said, adding that because of the scandal that involved a small percentage of priests, the reputation of all priests has been tarnished.
“Like the old song says, I am hoping that this is the time to ‘Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative,’” he said.