VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- When a priest begins to pray less, his own faith is weakened and the Christian community he cares for suffers, says the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.
Cardinal Cláudio Hummes said this in a letter he wrote for priests on the importance of prayer. It was released by the dicastery today.
“Prayer necessarily occupies a central place in the life of the priest,” the cardinal states. “This is not hard to understand, since prayer fosters the disciple’s intimacy with his Master, Jesus Christ.”
“We all know that when prayer lessens, faith is weakened and the ministry loses content and meaning,” he continued. “The essential consequence of this is that the priest will have less joy and less happiness in his daily ministry.”
Cardinal Hummes explained using the analogy of a priest walking along a road with Jesus, surrounded by others. The priest that doesn’t pray lags behind little by little, until finally, he no longer sees Christ.
“From that moment he will find himself lost and uncertain,” the cardinal said.
The prefect noted that the priest also needs prayer to keep the Christian community strong.
Quoting St. John Chrysostom, he said: “The devil attacks the shepherd […]. In fact, if by killing the sheep the flock is reduced, by instead eliminating the shepherd he will destroy the entire flock.”
“Truly,” Cardinal Hummes noted, “without the vital food of prayer the priest becomes sick, the disciple does not find the strength to follow the Master, and thus dies of hunger. As a consequence his flock is scattered, and dies in its own turn.”
Needing a shepherd
There is an “essential bond” between the priest and the Christian community, the cardinal explained, and “without a shepherd the community withers.”
The priest “must be found with his arms raised to heaven in prayer so that the people will not perish,” he added.
The prefect continued: “The priest, if he is to remain faithful to Christ and faithful to the community, must be a man of prayer, a man who lives close to the Lord.”
Cardinal Hummes urged all the faithful to pray for priests, and then offered advice to priest who find themselves lagging behind in prayer.
“When the shepherd becomes aware that his life of prayer is weakening, it is time for him to turn to the Holy Spirit and to beseech like the poor of heart,” the cardinal said. “The Spirit will rekindle the fire in his heart.
“He will rekindle the passion and the enchantment of the Lord, who is ever present and wishes to eat with him.”
Cardinal Hummes noted at the end of his letter the monthly Eucharistic-Marian holy hour the Congregation for Clergy organizes at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on the first Thursday of each month at 4 p.m. during the Year for Priests.
“We wish to pray with and for priests in this Year for Priests with perseverance and great love,” he said. “Many people joyfully come to pray with us.”