ACK IN late May, I attended the annual convocation of priests for my home presbyterate of Philadelphia. Our speaker this year was Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, Scotland. He gave three excellent talks, each marked by simplicity, gentleness, and insight.
The best of these presentations was the final one, in which the archbishop reflected on a mysterious duality of the priesthood. Priests in every age, he argued, are both scandalous and alluring, as a result of their unique call to holiness (or “set-apartness”).
This talk has just been published as an article in First Things. It is rather short, and I highly recommend it, especially as a reflection for priests on this feast of their patron, St. Jean-Marie Vianney.
Archbishop Tartaglia writes:
Priests are consecrated and set apart—this is fundamental to the priesthood. It means we invariably embody the scandal and the allure of the divine. Ordination consecrates a priest to a life of service. This means performing very tangible tasks, such as maintaining the parish buildings and ensuring that the parish school is well run. But that is not the core of the priestly ministry. . . . Priests are commissioned by God to handle divine things. We are custodians of the Church’s sacred liturgy and mysteries of faith. We are not the sources of divine grace. Jesus alone is the source. But like the ancient priesthood of Israel, priests are instruments of that grace, which reaches its fullness in the sacraments of the Church that Jesus Christ instituted. The world’s vision may be impaired by sin, but it’s not blind. Our secular culture can’t help but see us as odd and out-of-date, even scary—but strangely attractive. Even non-believers recognize that our job, as priests, is to stretch the umbilical cord of human nature toward the divine.
He goes on in another part of the article:
We’ve all heard the complaint that the Church should do more to meet the needs of the poor or address climate change, and worry less about liturgies and worship and spiritual realities. Fundamentally, that’s a complaint against holiness as the Church’s highest aim. And yet, the Church’s transcendent orientation fascinates our culture. Holiness offends and frightens people.
The full article is worth a few minutes’ attention.
St. Jean-Marie Vianney was a man who placed priority on holiness and prayer as the fundamentals of his pastoral plan, well ahead of parish programs and capital campaigns and motivational speakers. By holiness and prayer, he was able to bring about the conversion of his parish in Ars. Might not all parishes benefit from this pastoral plan?