Archbishop Denis Hart - On Priesthood

A PRie
st, a man of a pierced heart
Second Rite of Reconciliation for Priests
Homily by Archbishop Denis Hart
at Sacred Heart Church, on Thursday, 1st April, 2004



My dear brothers in the priesthood,

We all remember Saint Peterís words on Mount Tabor, "Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here." It is indeed wonderful for us to be together this afternoon. We come as brothers, priests, disciples, friends, and also as sinners in need of forgiveness. We come humbly, yet joyfully, to our great High Priest, who feels our weaknesses with us.

I welcome each of you very warmly to this Lenten celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.

As the Letter to the Hebrews says: "Let us draw near, then, to the throne of grace", confident of the infinite mercy of GodÖ


Almost forty years ago, in 1966, Karl Rahner wrote some words about the priest of the future, which now seem to have a prophetic ring to them. Tomorrowís priest, he said, may not have a power drawn from the social prestige of the Church, but will have the courage to carry out his ministry even without prestige and power. He will calmly see Godís triumph at work even if he himself feels defeated. He will know that he is in Godís service and on Godís mission, even if he cannot always measure the power of grace. He will be a man whose vocation is his life, and whose life will be to believe and hope and love from his own innermost experience of God and Godís grace.

Tomorrowís priest, Rahner says, will be like his Lord, a man with a pierced heart: pierced with the godlessness of the life around him, pierced by love that does not count the cost, pierced by the experience of his own weakness; and, we must add today, pierced by the misconduct of fellow-priests, which has cast such a shadow over all of us.

The priest will be a man with a pierced heart because his task is to lead others to their own hearts, to the core of our human existence. He can do that only if he has found his own heart, and discovered for himself that it is in the very woundedness of human life that God has chosen to dwell.

The priest of the future will know that he has been chosen by God in spite of ó or rather, because of ó his weakness. He will know that just as Christís pierced heart is the temple of God and the fountain of the Spirit, so his own pierced heart is the true strength of his mission. He will know that his unembarrassed faithfulness to the wisdom of God, which seems foolish to the world, is the real source of his credibility. [cf. "The Man with the Pierced Heart", in Servants of the Lord, London: Burns & Oates, 1968, 107-119]

We are those priests of the future. Rahner, of course, has not said everything about us, but many of his thoughts will resonate with us as we come today to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation together.

Much has changed in our lives in the last few decades, but the essential things remain the same: above all, Jesus, the Son of God, remains the same, our supreme high priest, who understands our weakness, who has been put to the test in the same way as ourselves. (Hb 4.14-16) It is him whom we have come to meet here, "the mercy that welcomes and the love that saves". [John Paul II, Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, 2002]

We know from our own ministry as confessors the power and graciousness that are part of the mystery of this sacrament. Like Mary in todayís Gospel, in the face of God's plans we have all asked, "But how can such a thing come about?" and have learned that the answer lies in the mysterious presence of the Spirit. We have all experienced in this sacrament the unexpected of the Gospel, the unexpected of grace; we know from experience that "nothing is impossible to God". (Lk 1.34, 38) In our ministry as confessors we have all tried, as Pope John Paul says so beautifully, to bring "the penitent into contact with the merciful heart of God through the friendly face of a brother". [ibid.]

In his letter "Misericordia Dei - On Certain Aspects of the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance", also published in 2002 and sent to all priests, the Holy Father provides much for us to reflect on as bearers of Godís mercy.

The merciful heart of God is a pierced heart, just like ours. So we come humbly, but assured of welcome, knowing that we have a high priest who understands us. In our experience of Godís astonishing graciousness, we try to learn how to become the "friendly face" of a reconciling and welcoming Church. Wounded, we come for healing; weak, we come for strength; weary, we come for the courage to go on; sinners, we come for the forgiveness which gives new life. Though we are unworthy servants, we have tried our best to be faithful ones, and we come joyfully to the Lord, our Teacher and Friend. "Let us, then, have no fear in approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace when we are in need of help." (Hb 4.16)

+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.

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