This weekend families will celebrate their fathers with visits, cards and maybe a necktie. Other families will pause to remember their deceased fathers with prayers for their eternal rest. Our country marks Father’s Day as it did Mother’s Day last month, with prayers and expressions of love and gratitude.
The Church this week announces not just one day but a whole year dedicated to prayer and appreciation for priests, the spiritual fathers in communities throughout the world. The Year of the Priest begins June 19 and in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia many events are planned to focus attention on the mystery of the priesthood. Perhaps the best way to understand it is through the sacrifice of the Mass. In the place of Jesus, the priest brings together the faithful in word and sacrifice to share the body and blood of Christ in communion with the whole Church, and to be strengthened for the journey through life.
The priesthood is essential for the life of the parish and the universal Church. That’s why the theme for the Year of the Priest in the Archdiocese is “Holy priests for a holy people.” As priests strive for personal holiness they stand with the people, sanctifying, teaching and leading them, especially in the parish community.
Families today must balance the challenges of managing finances in a difficult time and juggling numerous family activities with celebrating the simple joys of family life. So too must priests balance the difficult work of managing parish or institutional business with the joys of ministry to the people they serve.
It is no secret that priests do so in a smaller presbyterate than in the past. The 617 archdiocesan priests in 2008, according to the Archdiocese’s Catholic Directory, are 23 percent fewer in number than 1998, 31 percent fewer than 1988. With fewer priests serving almost a million and a half Catholics in the 269 parishes of the Archdiocese and its schools and institutions, the need to support our priests (diocesan and religious) has never been greater.
The Year of the Priest gives God’s holy people the chance to recognize the need for priests, to understand their call to ministry among the people of God, to support them with a generous spirit of friendship and collaboration, and especially, to pray for them.