What Would St. Francis Say About a ‘Year of the Priesthood’

by Sister Julie Ann on June 7, 2009

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On June 6, 2009 Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity were present for the Diocese of Green Bay, WI, Priestly Ordination of Fr. Timothy Brandt at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay, WI.

With Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration that  June 19, 2009 – June 19, 2010 is the “Year of the Priesthood”, it may be timely to ask the question: “What would St. Francis say about a year dedicated to the theme ‘Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of the Priest'”?

  • A study of the early documents reveals St. Francis’ own thoughts about the clergy/priesthood in his time…

We must also frequently visit churches and venerate and revere the clergy not so much for themselves, if they are sinners, but because of their office and administration of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ which they sacrifice upon the altar, receive and administer to others… (Later Admonition and Exhortation, 1220?)

Afterwards the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them. And if I had as much wisdom as Solomon and found impoverished priests of this world, I would not preach in their parishes against their will. And I desire to respect, love and honor them and all others as my lords. And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my lords. And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others. I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places. Wherever I find our Lord’s most holy names and written words in unbecoming places, I want to gather them up and I beg that they be gathered up and placed in a becoming place. And we must honor all theologians and those who minister the most holy divine words and respect them as those who minister to us spirit and life. (The Testament, 1226)

Can you find other references?

  • St. Francis, a man of joy, loved festivity. (Leave it to this saint of frivality to immerce himself into creating a nativity scene to celebrate the Incarnation.) It would seem in character for Franciscans to enjoy any ecclesial celebration heart-fully.

What do you think? Since followers of St. Francis and St. Clare are called to focus on Jesus and the Gospel in our current day, how do you feel called to celebrate this year of the priesthood?

3 thoughts on “What Would St. Francis Say About a ‘Year of the Priesthood’”

  1. Peter Sloan says:

    Francis’s faithfulness to, and appreciation for, the longevity of “Holy Mother Church” is just one more thing to love about him. At a time when roving bands of penitents like the Waldensians were de-emphasizing the role of priests, Francis and Clare–though zealous penitents themselves–were affirming those roles. With the perspective that only history provides we can see that affirmations like the ones excerpted above (from the Admonitions and Testament) harmonized nicely with the clerical emphases of the IV Lateran Council (e.g. Eucharist, confession).

    Today’s atmosphere is very different. The clerical are threatened not by the piety of lay penitents but from cultural disinterest and–in a small number of high visibility cases–from self-inflicted wounds. One doubts that Francis could fail to perceive the threats inherent in our own time. One has to believe–in my opinion–that he would find a way to affirm the office in harmony with the tenets of Vatican II.

    In doing so, I have a feeling he would have taught us all another badly needed lesson in humility.

    This is a superb blog. A Franciscanized world is where I hope to live. Come visit us at http://www.franciscanaction.org, too! Pax et Bonum.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful insights Peter!
    I agree with your thoughts especially about our need/the need of the Church to deepen our practice of humility and faithfulness.

    In the thirteenth century, St. Francis of Assisi held the practice of penance close to his heart. To the first penitents who approached him, desiring to share in his Gospel way of life, he wrote an exhortation through which he urged all those who love the Lord with their whole soul and mind, with their whole strength (Mark 12:30) and love their neighbors as themselves, to hate their bodies with their vices and sins. He continued to encourage them to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and produce worthy fruits of penance.

    I believe that Francis would encourage all with these words today also! For it is through the Eucharist that one experiences the humility of our God. How can we not learn from this?

  3. Here’s what Pope Pius XI said about St. Francis in 1926 (Rite Expiatis):

    What evil they do and how far from a true appreciation of the Man of Assisi are they who, in order to bolster up their fantastic and erroneous ideas about him, imagine such an incredible thing as that Francis was an opponent of the discipline of the Church, that he did not accept the dogmas of the Faith, that he was the percursor and prophet of that false liberty which began to manifest itself at the beginning of modern times and which has caused so many disturbances both in the Church and in civil society!

    That he was in a special manner obedient and faithful in all things to the hierarchy of the Church, to this Apostolic See, and to the teachings of Christ, the ‘Herald of the Great King’ proved both to Catholics and non-Catholics by the admirable example of obedience, which he always gave.

    It is a fact proven by contemporary documents, which are worthy of all credence, ‘that he held in veneration the clergy and loved with great affection all who were in Holy Orders.'(Thomas of Celano, Legenda, Chap.I, No.62)

    ‘As a man who was truly Catholic and apostolic, he insisted above all things in his sermons that the faith of the Holy Roman Church should always be preserved, and in violably, and that the priests who by their ministry bring into being the sublime Sacrament of the Lord, should therefore be held in the highest reverence. He also taught that the doctors of the law of God and all the orders of clergy should be shown the utmost respect at all time.’ (Julian a Spira, Life of St. Francis, No. 28)

    That which he taught to the people from the pulpit he insisted on much more strongly among his friars. We may read of this in his famous last testament, and again at the very point of death, he admonished them about this with great insistence, namely, that in the exercise of the sacred ministry, they should always obey the bishops and the clergy and should live together with them, as it behooves children of peace.’

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