Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, recently addressed priests and seminarians in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Calif. He told them that the world urgently needs holy priests who avoid allowing their humanity to cast a shadow over the beauty of the Lord.
Cardinal Piacenza gave four addresses during his visit to the archdiocese, focusing on the identity of the priest, the centrality of Scripture, the vital importance of the Eucharist and the urgent need for holiness in the life of every priest.
In his homily for a Mass celebrated at the archdiocesan seminary on Oct. 4, the cardinal meditated on the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who “set the world on fire with missionary zeal and reoriented the eyes and hearts of Catholics toward that which is essential: Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal word made man, died and risen!”
“The experience of a vocation is always one of great predilection, undeserved and never the fruit of human efforts, but rather a free gift of the mercy of God. In a vocation, we all have been ‘taken by Christ,’ enveloped in his loving design, embraced in a story that will never end!”
“This insertion into the divine life, which begins at holy baptism, and for us is extraordinarily renewed by our priestly vocation, has a sense of totality. Christ gives everything and asks for everything!” the cardinal continued.
As St. Francis exemplified in his life, this total surrendering of the priest is offered on the cross, whose memorial we celebrate each day in the Eucharist, which should be “the true center of the life of a seminary and a seminarian.”
“Without this prayerful Eucharistic centrality, which surpasses every other means of formation, there is no authentic priestly formation. For this reason, an authentic and correct liturgical life is so important! A man of the Eucharist is formed in the school of the Eucharist.”
For this reason, he said, “we must pray with insistence for that radicalism and fervor that St. Francis had for all those who are preparing today for the priestly ministry.”
Cardinal Piancenza encouraged seminarians to live their time of formation with great intensity and to work hard so that “no part of our humanity will ever cast a shadow over the beauty and attraction of the Lord!”
Seminary is a time of preparation in the truth, “not in the opinions of one theologian or another, but rather in the truth that God has revealed about himself and that, throughout the different eras of history, always remains unchanging, like Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever!” the cardinal added.
The Word of God in the life of the priest
On Oct. 3, Cardinal Piacenza gave an address to seminarians titled, “The Word of God in the Life of the Priest,” in which he meditated on the apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini.”
Speaking in Spanish, he explained the importance of the Second Vatican Council for the life of the Catholic Church and that it should not be viewed as a break with the past. “It is always good to recall that the only authentic hermeneutic of the great conciliar event is that of continuity and reform.”
“There are not two Catholic Churches, one pre-counciliar and one post-counciliar. If that were the case, the latter would be illegitimate.”
Cardinal Piacenza said that this perspective is essential for understanding the function of Sacred Scripture in the life of every priest. The Word of God, he said, “is a person and not a book. It is necessary to recognize that when it comes to the writings from which it is inspired, Christianity maintains a unique relationship that no other religious tradition can have.”
These Scriptures, he said, cannot be separated from tradition. “It is never licit to separate Scripture from tradition, just as it is never licit to separate them from the interpretation that the Magisterium of the Church gives and has given them. These kinds of separations always entail very grave spiritual and pastoral consequences.”
“Scripture without tradition would be an historical book, and history tells us what others think, while Theology seeks to tell us about God.”
“The triptych of Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium, from the strictly historical point of view, should really be configured as: Tradition, understood as the place in which Scripture is brought forth, Scripture and tradition linked to Scripture; and everything authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium, that is, by the legitimate successors of the apostles,” the cardinal explained.
This kind of configuration wisely prevents “illegitimate” one-sidedness. In order to read, know and follow the Sacred Scriptures, a priest should read them always taking into account the pneumatic aspect, that is, the essential participation of the Holy Spirit. “If Christ is the fullness of revelation and the entire existence of Christ is in the Spirit, then revelation itself is a pneumatic event: the Spirit animates tradition, the Spirit inspires Scripture and the Spirit guides the Magisterium in the task of authoritatively interpreting Scripture and tradition,” the cardinal said.
He underscored that in reading the Scriptures in the Spirit, “any focus that is merely positivist or limited to historicism and that does not allow for the understanding of the real meaning of the text should be avoided. If we approach the Scriptures overlooking their pneumatic dimension, they end up saying nothing, and instead of talking to us about God and making us hear his voice, they simply narrate a story.”
After underscoring the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours in the life of the priest, Cardinal Piacenza explained that because of the ministry entrusted to them, priests are not just “hearers of the Word, like the rest of our brothers and sisters, but also its authorized proclaimers and interpreters.” For this reason, he added, “(w)e cannot proclaim what we do not know and have not made our own; consequently, the possibility to proclaim is structurally linked to knowledge of the Scriptures and familiarity and identification with the thinking of Christ.”
No “mechanism” for this process exists, he said, but only a profound interior life that allows us to make Christ and his message alive for the transforming of everyday culture. “Nothing creates culture like the proclamation of the Word. In other words, it creates a new way of envisioning life, relationships, society and even politics. The more evangelical this new way is, the more we discover how deeply and surprisingly it corresponds to the human heart,” the cardinal said.
Men of the Eucharist
Cardinal Piacenza also celebrated Mass with the Spanish-speaking priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Oct. 3, reminding them that the Eucharist should be at the center of a priest’s life.
“Any other understanding of the ministry … runs the risk of becoming a substantial reduction. A priest is and must be mainly a man of the Eucharist, in accord with the broad meaning of this great sacrament. Therefore, he most certainly should not reduce the ministry to a mere cultural function.”
More is demanded of priests than of the laity, he continued, “because the priest has been given so much more! This is not about returning to old forms of clericalism, which in the past damaged ecclesial communion, but rather of heeding in a simple, honorable and faithful way what Christ established for his Church: the concrete way he has chosen to continue to be the salvific presence at man’s side throughout history.”
As the administrator of sacraments such as reconciliation, a priest’s good example must always shine forth, since “there should be nothing in a priest that does not point to redemption!”
In this way priests should continually become “more perfect ‘living images’ of the Christ the Good Shepherd. This is what the holy People of God expect; this is what the Lord expects of us: that we make him and his salvation present in the world.”
On Oct. 4, Cardinal Piacenza delivered an address in Italian to the seminarians of Los Angeles in which he explained that what the world needs most today is the holiness of each believer. The primacy of God in one’s life must be expressed in a life of prayer and divine intimacy, he said. “The Church needs men of God, not administrators! …The Church needs men who are believers and who are believable. Men who, embracing the Lord’s call, become his enthusiastic witnesses in the world!”
“Amid the tempests of the dominant culture,” he continued, “the Church needs men who … are firmly at the helm of their own lives, of the communities entrusted to them and of the faithful who seek light and aid on their journey of faith.”
He also underscored the importance of intellectual formation, which should always be oriented toward passing on the clear content of the faith with rational arguments, inspired by the example of holy priests.
Among the key elements of this formation, he continued, are knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and of the documents of the Second Vatican Council interpreted correctly, “according to what the council actually said in its documents to the Church and to the world.”
After reiterating at there is no such thing as a “pre-counciliar or post-counciliar Church,” Cardinal Piacenza said, “(t)he true priority and the true modernity, dear friends, is holiness! Holiness is the only way for there to be authentic and profound reform, and we need reform!”
“There is no seminary for holiness except that of the grace of Our Lord and the freedom that is humbly receptive to his action of renewal and manifestation.”