In Jesus Christ we find “the way, the truth, and the life.” He tells us how we receive that life: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Herein lies a dilemma. How do we receive Christ’s body and blood today? If we travel to Jerusalem, He is not there. We cannot go back in time. So, in His infinite wisdom, Christ established the priesthood to bring the possibility of eternal life to us in the present. God raises up saints to remind us of this truth.
Just this past month on August 4th the Church celebrated the feast day of St. John Vianney. Parish priests throughout the world look to him as the preeminent example of priestly ministry. Parishioners learn from him what to expect from their priests. He reminds priest and layperson alike why our Lord instituted the priesthood: “…everything has come to us through the priest; yes, all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts. If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have Our Lord. Who placed Him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The Priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest – always the priest.”
Through ups and downs, trials and triumphs, the priests and bishops of the Diocese of Providence have fulfilled their mission as priests for the last 150 years. Providence is a unique diocese in many ways not least of which is its size. The faithful do not need to travel far to receive the transformative love of Christ in the Sacraments. Whether in Westerly or Woonsocket the clergy celebrate the Sacraments in the Diocese of Providence. The baptismal fonts of our parishes have transformed many children into adopted sons and daughters of God through the priest. Many brides have walked down the aisles of St. Mary Parish in Newport, the Cathedral in Providence, or numerous other parishes to say the vows to their husband and before the priest. Here in the diocese, one does not need to go far to find Confession: at many different times, on many different days, and heard by both diocesan and religious clergy. In our nursing homes and hospitals, priests stand ready to console the ill or prepare the dying to meet Christ.
St. John Vianney reminds us how important it is to defend our priests: “When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.” Attacks against the priesthood take many forms; from without and within. On the day a man receives ordination he makes a promise. He promises to “celebrate faithfully and reverently…the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people.” God entrusts a priest to celebrate the Sacraments for the faithful. Likewise, God entrusts the faithful to look after His priests.
With the intercession of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, may God continue to provide good and faithful priests to the Diocese of Providence. Through them may we remain linked to Christ.
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