Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Always a Priest, Always Present

Already, the moment's seemingly become part of the Gotham legend -- as the New York presbyterate hit 50th Street to process into St Patrick's Cathedral for the installation of the tenth archbishop, the sun broke out from behind the clouds.

Lest anyone forgot, the gang up there never misses a thing.

Since word began leaking in early February, much musing's been made of the qualities that landed Tim Dolan on Stateside Catholicism's hottest seat. Yet while the Appointed One's exuberance, candor, Midwestern folksiness, "people-as-oxygen" approach to ministry -- and, indeed, his Irishness -- rank high on the list, the key trait in the mix arguably lay elsewhere.

As the Pope's choice put it when asked why he thought B16 gave him the job, Dolan "savors his own priesthood." And so, after years of tension between the priests and his predecessor twice broke into the open toward the end of Cardinal Edward Egan's decade at the 1011 helm, it was no accident that the prelate who's become the US church's priesthood guru ended up with the keys to 452 Madison.

'Nuff said.

As he departs for his pallium pilgrimage with the usual "spiritual conga line" in tow, several listening sessions (and, yep, barbecues) with the presbyterate already under his belt, Dolan upped the outreach another notch late last week with the start of a "hopefully" monthly e.mail to the guys on the ground.

Judging by the dropped-jaw reaction -- from the oft-skeptical included -- you'd think he sent 'em gold... especially that bit about the numbers.

As what happens in New York is of wider ecclesial interest, especially given the historic place of its archbishops as the "nation's priest," here below are snips from Dolan's first Pastores Dabo Vobis ("I Will Give You Shepherds") note to his clergy, dated Friday, the feast of the Sacred Heart and the kickoff to the global Year of the Priest:
To: My brother priests

From: +Timothy M. Dolan....

1. At our gatherings in April, I mentioned my desire to keep in touch with you as frequently as I could, and in many different ways. This circular, hopefully coming out monthly, will be one such way. Here goes....

Of course, this presumes that my office has access to all of you by e-mail! I can only trust this is a valid assumption! When we know that a priest does not have e-mail access, I’ll see this circular is mailed....

I need your help in staying in touch. I enjoy telephoning you. I am finding, though, that the general phone numbers, the only ones I now seem to have, are not too helpful in reaching you....

I’m asking [priest-secretary Fr] Jim Cruz to work with [personnel director Fr] Tom Devery in compiling a list of all the cell phone/private telephone numbers of our priests. I hope you will agree that it’s a good thing for me to have them.

4. Turn-about-is-fair-play. I have two cell phones: one for family and out-of-town friends; the second one is for you.

I told you that I wanted to be approachable and that you should be able to reach me at significant times. Here are my numbers:

[xxxxxxx] my private cell phone for priests;
leave a message if I do not answer.

[xxxxxxx] direct to office
5. While on the topic of communication, this September, I want to restore a custom I understand worked well in the past: on the first and third Thursdays (the day Jesus gave us the priesthood) I want to be available to any priest who wants to see me for any reason. The first Thursday of each month, I’ll be available at my home from 8:30—noon exclusively for priests; on the third Thursday of each month, I’ll be at the seminary from 9:00—11:30 for priests. (On that day as well, I’ll attend the priests’ personnel board meeting, have lunch with our auxiliaries, participate in the priests’ council meeting, and four times a year, meet with the college of consultors.) Let’s see how it works.

This does not mean you need to wait until Fall to see me. Since my arrival, I have been and intend to keep meeting with priests. Say but the word.

6. I renew to Cardinal Egan my heartfelt thanks for his help and support in my transition. He has been a blessing to me. He’s settled in his new residence... ([e]ven though The New York Times reports he has a fancy condo.)

7. And I renew to all of you my deep appreciation for your extraordinarily warm embrace and welcome! The vicariate visits, barbecues, meetings, pastoral visits to parishes, schools, and projects—you have made me feel very much at home. I need you and cherish you very, very much.

8. I’m looking forward to my upcoming pilgrimage to Rome to receive the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI on June 29th, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. With me will be about 250 pilgrims, among them, I’m told, about two dozen priests. Alleluia! (I’m glad I had my physical prior to this “pasta pilgrimage,” since my doctor told me to lose weight.) Keep me in prayer, as I will you, especially at the tombs of the two princes of the apostles.

9. In my first months with you, I have found the counsel and cooperation of certain structures and individuals to be priceless in my interaction with priests: the priest council, as I look forward to our third meeting next week; the college of consultors, with whom I will now meet quarterly; the personnel board, with whom I have sat-down once to discuss how I can best work with them, and whose labors bear such obvious fruit this time of the year, as we prepare for new assignments.... I am grateful to them all and count on continued close collaboration.

10. I am also very inspired by those who care for our infirm brethren: Sister Monica Walsh, Deacon Don Quigley, and Mary Lynch. Thank you! Our [retired and infirm] bishops and priests... all gave me a warm welcome when I visited, and I look forward to staying in touch with them.

11. Thanks as well to our elders who remain active in assignments even after they could retire from an appointment. I am edified at how active and particularly zealous our senior priests remain, and deeply appreciate their ministry.

12. I trust all of you will get time away for a vacation these summer weeks. You deserve it.

13. Finally, today, my brothers, begins the Year of the Priest. Pope Benedict XVI invites the Church to dedicate this year to her priests, and opens it today, the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars.

With my recent arrival, I confess that I have not yet had the time to plan any special events to observe this special year. We did have a productive discussion about it during a priests’ council session. Some of the promising ideas that arose were: an assembly of priests in the Spring; days of recollection in Advent and Lent; and a priests’ pilgrimage for a retreat in Ars. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted.

Personally, I will try to use this year as a time to deepen and renew my own priesthood, “fanning into a flame” that gift given us by the laying-on of hands. And I will try to be more attentive to the high duty I have to love and serve you, my brother priests.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in Thee!

Saint John Vianney, pray for us!
Speaking of the Priestly Year, in an EWTN appearance Sunday night (fullvideo) Dolan held court on the global observance alongside New York's own Fr Benedict Groeschel as the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal marked his golden jubilee of ordination.

PHOTOS: Sam Lucero