When Jesus began his public ministry, he started by choosing 12 men who became the Church’s first priests. The 12 Apostles are the foundation (Eph 2:20) upon which the rest of the Church is built and through whom Christ spiritually feeds us. Therefore, any effort to nourish the whole flock must include caring for its shepherds.
The Catechism makes this clear when it says, “The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1547).
In other words, the Archdiocese of Denver cannot be faithful to Jesus’ missionary calling if its priests are not cared for. This is why one of my priorities in shifting the orientation of the archdiocese from maintenance to mission is improving the spiritual, psychological and physical health of our priests.
Over the past year, as the archdiocese has responded to Pope Francis’ call to harness the gifts of a synodal approach, our ears have been opened to the Holy Spirit’s call to healing and unity. Bringing this calling together with the imperative to address priestly health happened at the yearly Convocation for priests in May. We concentrated on Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
During the Convocation we followed the same method that we experienced bearing fruit in the archdiocesan synod process. First, with the mindset of a physician, we asked God in prayer what are the wounds in us and in the presbyterate that hinder the communion Jesus wants and prays will be present among us. Second, we asked the Lord to show us Satan’s strategy for attacking the priesthood and our presbyterate. Third, with the mindset of a general, we asked God where he is asking us to attack the strongholds of the Devil in the presbyterate. We wanted to let the Holy Spirit do the work. We asked him to cast out the Evil One by calling us to conversion and forgiveness.
The results were grace-filled. After communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, I heard the priests share what they heard God saying. There were four major themes. The first was the power of intercessory prayer for priests. Second, we heard the Lord emphasizing the importance of common prayer as a presbyterate and the need to have more common initiatives, such as the Advent preaching series or the Surrender Novena that we recently undertook. Third, the Lord revealed the need for us to ask him to heal wounds and divisions within the presbyterate. Although there is a degree of unity and communion, God is calling us to grow in this area. Fourth, the Lord spoke very clearly about the importance of rediscovering fatherhood in a threefold way: the fatherhood of God the Father towards his priests, my fatherhood as a bishop towards the priests in the presbyterate, and the fatherhood of each priest towards the people of God entrusted to his care.
Our Church and society have been living through a period of increased disunity, but we can rejoice that Christ is working to bind up wounds and increase our unity. He is far more powerful than these wounds and he desires to heal and free us. We know when we put our trust and confidence in God, nothing is impossible for him (Lk 1:37; Mt 19:26).
It is my fervent prayer that the presbyterate continues to grow in closeness with Christ, as they will then be able to bring his healing ministry even more effectively to the whole Archdiocese of Denver and the broader Church. Unified in Christ, we will be equipped to share the Gospel anew with a world desperate for it. Please continue to pray for your priests each day, offering Holy Hours, rosaries, and other prayers for them so they may have the heart of Jesus, and most especially, pray for them on the annual World Day of Prayer for the sanctification of priests, June 24, 2022.
May we allow Jesus to fulfill our deepest hopes and heal our deepest wounds in this Easter season.