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A Father's Letters Of Love To His Priest Sons

This October our beloved Holy Father Pope John Paul II will celebrate 25 years as the Vicar of Christ, Successor of Peter, Chief Shepherd and teacher of the flock.

From his first Holy Thursday as pope, Pope John Paul has written a letter to his brother priests who are first of all his priest sons. In each letter he has encouraged, instructed, challenged, comforted, always revealing his own profound love of the priesthood, his priestly joy, speaking from the very depths of a heart completely at the service of all.

Truly his letters are a communion of love from his priestly heart to each priest.

The Holy Father began his first Letter to Priests, for Holy Thursday 1979: Dear Brother Priests for you I am a Bishop, with you I am a priest. In this letter among various vital points he stressed the need for we priests to be converted anew each day of our lives and, most importantly to enable such conversion, keeping us one of mind and heart with Holy Mother the Church and the Pope, always living, moving, having our being rooted in the sacramental mystery and truth that by virtue of ordination we act in the person of Christ, in persona Christi Capitis, - the Holy Father brought us to the foot of the Cross, urging us to embrace fully, and surrender to the particular aspect of the Motherhood of Mary as Mother of the Priesthood, of all priests.

Just how important Pope John Paul understands this relationship between fidelity to our priestly vocation and union with Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Priesthood, can be taken to heart from the Pope's own words:
"Dear Brothers, at the beginning of my ministry I entrust all of you to the Mother of Christ, who in a special way is our Mother: the mother of Priests. In fact, the beloved disciple, who, as one of the twelve, had heard in the Upper Room the words, 'Do this in memory of me', was given by Christ on the Cross to His Mother, with the words: Behold your son. The man who on Holy Thursday received the power to celebrate the Eucharist was, by these words of the dying Redeemer, given to His Mother as her son. All of us, therefore, who receive the same power through priestly Ordination have in a certain sense a prior right to see her as our Mother. And so I desire that all of you, together with me, should find in Mary the Mother of the priesthood which we have received from Christ. I also desire that you should entrust your priesthood to her in a special way. Allow me to do it myself, entrusting to the Mother of Christ each one of you without exception in a solemn and at the same time simple and humble way. And I ask each of you, dear Brothers, to do it yourselves, in the way dictated to you by your own heart, especially by your love for Christ the Priest, nd also by your own weaknesses, which goes hand in hand with your desire for service and holiness. I ask you to do this."

Given the amount of pain suffered by the laity not only due to scandal when priests violate their vows or take liberties with sacramental ritual, but by an increasing bureaucratic mentality which makes it difficult for the laity to even get a visit from their priest, perhaps it is time the laity asked we priests if indeed, after 24 years, we have ever made that consecration to Jesus Priest through Mary the Mother of priests, as the Holy Father, with such profound love for us, asked us.

Indeed it would do well for we priests and the laity to recall that according to the document of the Second Vatican Council on the priesthood our priestly vow of obedience obliges us to obey not only the commands but also the suggestions of the Holy Father. So over and above the spiritual hazard of refusing the protection of the Holy Mother of God by hardness of heart towards such a plea from the Holy Father, refusal to make the consecration goes against the very spirit, perhaps even the letter of the law, of our vow of obedience.

Further along in his first Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, Pope John Paul again urges priestly love for and union with our Blessed Mother:
"In the midst of the People of God, that looks to Mary with immense love and hope, you must look to her with exceptional hope and love. Indeed, you must proclaim Christ who is her Son; and who will better communicate to you the truth about Him than His Mother? You must nourish human hearts with Christ: and who can make you more aware of what you are doing than she who nourished Him? Hail true Body, born of the Virgin Mary. In our ministerial priesthood there is the wonderful and penetrating dimension of nearness to the Mother of Christ. So let us try to live in that dimension."

Sadly many priests never read these letters from the Holy Father and even fewer of the laity are aware of them. Yet these letters are an immense treasure for priests and laity alike and a vital catechesis on both the mystery of sacramental priesthood and realties of priestly humble, loving service to the people of God.

In 2001 the emphasis of the Holy Father in his Letter to Priests was on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a theme to which he returned this year in his 2002 letter.

However this year's Letter is also perhaps his most passionate and tender of his 23 letters to priests so far throughout his pontificate, and it is precisely because of the depth of this year's letter and the importance it has for the whole Church, priests and laity together, that I have written this commentary.

My prayer is the she who is both the Mother of Priests and Mother of All believers, will encourage priests and laity to take time over the coming months to contemplate the teachings of the Holy Father in this letter and, together priests and laity, rediscover the true grace of sacramental Priesthood, the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of reconciliation.

The Holy Father at the very outset notes that he is sending, what he refers to as now his traditional letter, this year with deep emotion . . . placing the event of his words in the context of a profound union with all priests, bringing the reality of Holy Thursday into the present moment: ". . . taking my seat beside you as it were at the table in the Upper Room at which the Lord Jesus celebrated with His Apostles the first Eucharist: a gift to the whole Church, a gift which, although veiled by sacramental signs, makes Him really, truly and substantially present in every tabernacle throughout the world."

One of the great gifts of Pope John Paul to the Church and to every human being, believer or not, has been and is his very simple public faith and trust in what the Church believes and teaches. The Holy Father is a brilliant philosopher and theologian, a great intellect, yet, like Aquinas before him, the Holy Father allows us to glimpse his truly Gospel heart, that is the childlike heart Jesus tells us we must have in faith, hope, love and our trust in sacramental truths and realities.

Priests and laity alike need to learn from this example of the Holy Father, for in our technological, cynical age, where too many persons reduce beauty to the tatters of relativism, more than ever we need to hear Christ's clear words that heaven is gained by those will to be as little children.

In his letter the Holy Father stresses the immediate connection between the gift of Christ of Himself in the Eucharist and in the ordained priesthood and the specific duty of the Apostles and their successors, that is all Bishops and priests as apostles of Christ . . . "to always act in persona Christi Capitis, in the very person of Christ, the head of the Church, and that this happens above all whenever the sacrificial meal of the Body and the Blood of the Lord is celebrated. For then the priest as it were lends Christ his own face and voice: Do this in memory of Me (Lk.22:19)."

Of all the terms used in our day, some of them in accord with Church teaching, some of them frankly not, rarely do we hear the expression the 'Holy Sacrifice of the Mass', so again the importance of Papal teaching for the Holy Father specifically uses the term not meal alone but sacrificial meal.

Immediately, as he does so often when speaking or writing about sacramental priesthood, the Holy Father exclaims the joy of priesthood, which he articulated so expansively in his book on his own priestly life: GIFT AND MYSTERY: "How marvelous is this vocation of ours, my dear Brother Priests!"

The Pope then reminds priests of the emphasis on the Sacrament of reconciliation in his letter from last year and begins to speak again of "the mission which the Lord has given us to represent Him not just in the Eucharistic Sacrifice but also in the Sacrament of Reconciliation."

If one seriously studies the various speeches, homilies, encyclicals, letters, etc., of his pontificate to date, various themes emerge which are clearly and profoundly rooted in the heart of Pope John Paul in his mission, first given to Peter, to strengthen his brothers and sisters.

The central importance of the mystery of the Incarnation, true devotion to our Blessed Mother, being a voice for the poor, for peace, tireless worker towards Christian unity, in particular between the sister Churches East and West, these are some of the matters upon which he is a truth-speaking teacher, duties to which he devotes countless hours of very hard work indeed.

This willingness to teach by example, to be a tireless worker on the practical level as well, is shown by the very reverence and prayerfulness of his celebration of Holy Mass and his example of hearing confessions in St. Peter's each year during Holy Week, both of these reminding us of the inseparable connection between the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist: "Between the two sacraments there is a profound relationship. The Eucharist, the summit of the sacramental economy, is also its source:a ll the sacraments in a sense spring from the Eucharist and lead back to it."

A central reason which the Church instructs priests NOT to make the sign of the Cross during the mercy prayer at the end of the Penitential rite at the beginning of Holy Mass is because while the Mass itself cleanses us directly from venial sin there is not, through the Holy Mass, sacramental absolution from mortal sin. Forgiveness of mortal sin is the sanctifying grace domain of the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Mortal sins compromise our full communion relationship with the Holy Trinity, as well as our communion with the whole Church, and since the Holy Eucharist is the sacrament for those who are in true, full communion, a soul marked by mortal sin MUST receive sacramental absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before approaching to receive our Lord and God in Holy Communion. Jesus Himself admonishes us in the Holy Gospel that if we know that anyone has something against us when we are approaching the altar with our gift, and we ourselves are the first gift we should offer to the father in and through Christ who is THE perfect gift to the Father, we must first go and being reconciled.

In his letter the Pope quotes the Pauline teaching from 1 Corinthians11:28-29, regarding the severe divine judgement against those who partake of the Eucharist in a sinful state of unworthiness. Then the Holy Father, as he always does, tenderly, strengthening us in our role as priest-teachers of the laity, urges us to be sure we are living out what we teach for every priest at his ordination as a deacon, while holding the Holy Gospels which are held in the same moment by the ordaining Bishop, hears the Bishop declare: Believe what you read, teach what you believe, live what you teach.

Thus the Holy Father, after referencing 1st Corinthians, urges: "My dear Brothers in the Priesthood: in recalling this truth, I feel a pressing need to urge you, as I did last year, to rediscover for yourselves and to help others rediscover the beauty of the Sacrament of reconciliation."

Never one to shy away from even uncomfortable truth, the Pope then addresses the current crisis around this sacrament, his efforts over the decades to help restore confidence and participation in this sacrament, his joy at what he discerns as the beginnings of a return during the Great Jubilee, and notes: "this sacrament, when suitably presented and celebrated, can have broad appeal, even among the young."

Here the Pope gives a gentle, crucial key, I believe, to a major factor in the decline of participation in this beautiful sacrament. Namely, if we priests either initiate, or acceding to uniformed pressure, misuse general absolution, or even the second Rite with its communal dimension, failing therefore to make adequate provision,(and at times most convenient for the laity), for individual celebration of the sacrament, then, of course, the decline will continue and with it countless sacrilegious receptions of Holy Communion. Here the laity, by virtue of your Baptismal vocation, have a serious duty to encourage priests to make the Sacrament readily available, not merely by asking but by participating through truth-spoken confessions.

Continuing his teaching on this sacrament the Holy Father writes: "Its appeal is enhanced by the need for personal contact, something that is becoming increasingly scare in the hectic pace of today's technological society, but which for this very reason is increasingly experienced as a vital need." "How can we fail to recognize that the Sacrament of reconciliation without confusing it with any of the various forms of psychological therapy offers an extraordinarily rich response to this need? It does so by bringing the penitent into contact with the merciful heart of God through the friendly face of a brother."

The Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, foundress of the Madonna House lay Apostolate, always stressed the need for what she called the chit-chat apostolate, because she understood the need of the human heart for listening.

Such listening can be a real burden, a real challenge to loving patience on the part of the one doing the listening but such listening brings with it profound peace and healing, through actual grace, to the person who speaks.

But no matter how much love and wisdom the lay person, even one who is baptized, may have as a gift to the wounded heart seeking healing, only the ordained priest has the power from Christ by the action of the Holy spirit to dispense real sacramental absolution and the sanctifying grace which is the true balm of healing-forgiveness.

The Holy Father continues: "Yes, great indeed is the wisdom of God, who by instituting this sacrament has made provision for a profound and unremitting need of the human heart. We are meant to be loving and enlightened interpreters of this wisdom through the personal contact we are called to give so many brothers and sisters in the celebration of penance."

When the Holy Father uses an expression such as 'we are meant to be' in discussing the role of the ordained priest, every priest should understand the urgency and duty implied.

In this regard, I wish to repeat that the usual form of administering this sacrament is its individual celebration, and only in cases of grave necessity is it lawful to employ the communal form with general confession and absolution"

It is not necessary, I trust, here to note the abuse of general absolution which has had such a devastating impact upon the spiritual, faith lives of priests and laity alike. But it is vital here to quote the Holy Father from his letter regarding a central aspect of general absolution which directly impacts its validity, even when used with just reason. Indeed the failure of we priests to clearly articulate the following truth when celebrating general absolution is even more spiritually deadly than the misuse, per se, of the provision for general absolution.T he Holy Father re-teaches the core aspect of the rite of general absolution which is that: "The conditions required for this form of absolution are well known; but perhaps we should remember that for absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of subsequently confessing their grave sins individually (c. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.1483)."

Then once more the theme of joy: ""With joy and trust let us rediscover this sacrament. Let us experience it above all for ourselves, as a deeply-felt need and as a grace which we constantly look for, in order to restore vigour and enthusiasm to our journey of holiness and to our ministry."

As he did in his Holy Thursday Letter of 2001 to priests on this topic, and twice already in this letter, the Holy Father is making a direct link between the failure of priests themselves to frequently be penitents and receive sacramental absolution and a lack of vigour, enthusiasm, dedication to ministry, growth in holiness; cause and effect: the rarer it is for a priest himself to go to sacramental confession the rarer it is for the laity to approach him for sacramental absolution.

Indeed the Pope continues to be explicit about this connection for immediately upon urging we his priest sons and brothers to ourselves seek sanctifying grace in the Sacrament of Penance, he urges us: "At the same time, let us make every effort to be true ministers of mercy."

In the same paragraph the Holy Father makes three critical statements about the very essence of sacramental priesthood: in the first which follows is a declaration of the sanctifying action of priesthood, in the second the essence of priestly communion with the Holy Trinity for the benefit of those we serve as priests and in the third the sacred reality and importance of sacramental priesthood as living icon of Divine Mercy: "We know that in this sacrament, as in others, we are called to be agents of a grace which comes not from us but from on high and works by its own inner power. In other words and this is a great responsibility God counts on us, on our availability and fidelity, in order to work his wonders in human hearts. In the celebration of this sacraments, perhaps even more than in others, it is important that the faithful have an intense experience of the face of Christ the Good Shepherd."

Next the Holy Father presents to priests, and through us to the laity, a clear and powerful teaching on the beauty and graced effectiveness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation through the Gospel account of the communion of confession and mercy between Zacchaeus and Jesus.

The Holy Father introduces his teaching by stating that: "In order to bring out certain specific aspects of the unique saving dialogue that is sacramental confession, I would like to use the biblical icon of the meeting between Zacchaeus and Jesus (cf. Lk.19:1-10)."

Here I will simply excerpt a few lines from this powerful and detailed teaching which could well be used with great effect in celebration of the Sacrament according to the Second Rite, which allows for communal prayer, Scripture, examination of conscience suggestions and individual confession.

"As we follow this brief but powerful story, we try to capture Christ's demeanor and in His voice all those nuances of wisdom, both human and supernatural, which we too must strive to communicate if the sacrament is to be celebrated in the best possible way . . . The story . . . presents the meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus as if it happened by chance. At times God's meetings with man do appear to be merely fortuitous. But nothing that God does happens by chance. Those who hear many confessions and see how people ordinarily approach the sacrament can be disconcerted by the way certain penitents come to confession with even a clear idea of what they want. This is precisely the case of Zacchaeus. Everything that happens to him is amazing. If there had not been, at a certain point, the surprise of Christ looking up at him, perhaps he would have remained a silent spectator of the Lord moving through the streets of Jericho. Jesus would have passed by, not into, his life . . . Every encounter with someone wanting to go to confession, even when the request is somewhat superficial because it is poorly motivated and prepared, can become, through the surprising grace of God, that place near the sycamore tree where Christ looked up at Zacchaeus. That same gaze looks upon each of our penitents. In the Sacrament of reconciliation we are agents of a supernatural encounter."

Continuing his reflection and teaching the Holy Father stresses the truth that we seek sacramental mercy because we have been given the grace to seek it. This is part of the profound mystery of which St. John speaks in the Prologue of the Gospel where he notes we all receive grace in return for grace. Indeed it is also part of the importance of our prayer for each other, as in the prayer taught to the children at Fatima and prayed faithfully by so many when praying the Holy Rosary wherein we ask the Holy Trinity to lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Your mercy.

"This is what happens in every sacramental encounter. We must not think that it is the sinner through his own independent journey of conversion who earns mercy. On the contrary, it is mercy that impels him along the path of conversion. Left to himself, man can do nothing and he deserves nothing. Before being man's journey to God, onfession is God's arrival at a person's home"

Again as St. John notes in his epistle, when speaking of love, he speaks of the reality that God loves us first.

Because of this sacred reality of Divine Mercy preceding Itself, as it were, prompting the soul to enter the sanctifying beauty of the sacramental encounter with Divine Mercy Himself, the Holy Father pauses for a moment in his direct commentary on the biblical icon of the sacrament and reminds we priests that: ". . . of one thing we must be convinced: anticipating our invitation, and even before we speak the words of the sacrament, our brothers and sisters who seek our ministry have already been touched by a mercy that works from within. Please God, we shall know how to cooperate with the mercy that welcomes and the love that saves. This we can do by our words and our attitude as pastors who are concerned for each individual, skilful in sensing our people's problems and in delicately accompanying them on their journey, and knowing how to help them to trust in God's goodness."

This passage connects back to the very beginnings of this extraordinary holy Thursday letter where the Holy Father reminds priests of how vital is that we ourselves approach with confidence the sacramental seat of divine Mercy.

The more we priests hear ourselves the tender, understanding, welcoming and mercifully saving voice of Christ and see His Face gazing upon us through the ministry of our ordained brother, the more we shall generously be available to give the same holy love and understanding, the same sacramental absolution to our brothers and sisters.

Tragically the negative opposite holds true. Priests who rarely, if ever, surrender to the grace urging them to confession tend to be legalistic or lax, stern and abrupt, and rarely available for individual celebration of this beautiful sacrament of encounter with Christ.

This year's Holy Thursday letter is one of the more lengthy and detailed of the Holy Father's letters to priests, and this allows for a richness of teaching which will provides priests, and laity, sources of meditation to which we can return again and again.

Among those treasures to be found for meditation is the Pope's reflections on Christ's urgent word to Zacchaeus which the Holy Father notes actually lends itself to the more literally accurate 'I need to stay at your house.': "The words which Jesus speaks to Zacchaeus are not just a means of establishing a relationship but the declaration of a plan drawn up by God."

Stressing the fact this meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus unfolds against the background of the Word of God the Holy Father reminds us that the Word of God is one with the Word and the Face of Christ, leading the Holy Father to stress the primary importance of this very Word in the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance for "it is the Word of God which must sustain everything"

The rite of the sacrament itself provides for the proclamation of the word of God to the penitent, hough when hearing several confessions one after the other this may not always be possible to do so at any length another important reason to assure the laity of our availability for celebration of the sacrament outside of the normal times announced, when usually there are or should be many penitents.

While not stating so directly, it does appear in this section of the letter with his references to catechesis on a wide variety of matters of concern to contemporary people, the Holy Father is in fact urging priests to be excellent spiritual directors certainly he is clearly urging we priests to fulfill more ardently our duty as teachers of the faith at every opportunity.

Once again in his brilliant use of language, (brilliant not primarily in the sense of erudition but rather in the bright with light sense of the term,) the Holy Father shows how this biblical icon provides yet another cue. In the sacrament, the penitent first meets not the commandments of God but, in Jesus, the God of the commandments . . . "Whence see our encounter with Jesus as a gift, even the most demanding features of the law assume the lightness of grace every celebration of Penance should cause the soul of the penitent to leap with the same joy that Christ's words inspired in Zacchaeus, who made haste and came down and received Him joyfully (Lk.19:6)."

As a result of his experience of Divine Mercy and Love in his encounter with Jesus Zacchaeus not only repents and welcomes Christ into the home of his being but aware that he is now being treated as a son, he begins to think and act like a son, and this he shows in the way he rediscovers his brothers and sisters.

On this point while it is relatively easy to assign a Scripture passage to be read or a Rosary to be prayed, or some such as the penance, in reality such a penance does not facilitate a profound rediscovery of other.

In my experience as a confessor when, for example a spouse confesses impatience with their beloved, assigning a concrete act, such as the husband preparing a meal for his wife enables this holy rediscovery of our brothers and sisters.

Someone confessing, as another example anger towards people, may not yet be ready for direct encounter with the person[s] towards whom they have anger, and emotions do take a long time to heal even when we no longer embrace them in a sinful manner, nonetheless the penitent certainly could be given a penance which would start them out on the journey of discovery of their brothers and sisters as Christ who sometimes comes to us in disguise.

So long as the penance meted out lends itself to a quick and easy interior form of satisfaction there is a real danger the penitent will remain in a type of bondage to habitual sin. Whereas a penance which leads the penitent out of self and towards other which facilitate the true and profound conversion which was the grace granted to and cooperated with by Zacchaeus, is the very grace offered to each of us in the Sacrament of Penance.

The Holy Father draws further from the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus a teaching on the importance of priests avoiding the danger which afflicts our ministry from the two extremes of severity and laxity: "Severity crushes people and drives them away. Laxity is misleading and deceptive. The minister of pardon, who exemplifies for penitents the face of the good Shepherd, must express in equal measure the mercy already present and at work and the pardon which brings healing and peace."

After addressing the issue of discerning if the penitent is truly ready for sacramental absolution, and stressing unless there is clear evidence to the contrary the priest must, as the Church has traditionally taught,assume the contrition is genuine, the Holy Father again stresses the primacy of individual confession and shows his own astute and compassionate, understanding of the human person: "The ordinary form of reconciliation not only expresses well the truth of divine mercy and the forgiveness which springs from it, but also sheds light on the truth about man in one of its most fundamental aspects. Although human beings live through a network of relationships and communities, the uniqueness of each person can never be lost in a shapeless mass. This explains the deep echo in our souls when we hear ourselves called by name. When we realize that we are known and accepted as we are, with our most individual traits, we feel truly alive. Pastoral practice needs to take this into greater account the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the most effective instruments of personal growth . . . All who receive sacramental absolution ought to be able to feel the warmth of personal attention. They should experience the intensity of the fatherly embrace offered to the prodigal son.They should be able to hear that warm and friendly voice that spoke to the tax collector Zacchaeus, calling him by name to new life."

Stressing therefore the need of confessors to be properly trained and to celebrate the sacrament in all its beauty and dignity, the Holy Father then addresses the issue of priests conveying their own erroneous ideas as revealed truth or, while knowing the true teachings of the Church fail to speak out because of an erroneous notion of compassion: "A failure to speak the truth because of a misconceived sense of compassion should not be taken for love. We do not have a right to minimize matters of our own accord, even with the best of intentions. Our task is to be God's witnesses, to be spokesmen of a mercy that saves even when it shows itself as judgement on man's sin."

In the final paragraphs of this extraordinary Holy Thursday Letter to priests Pope John Paul, deeply aware that through the great Jubilee we are still at the dawn of this new millennium where we are offered, priests and people together, the grace of starting afresh in Christ shows how nonetheless we must face the reality of the bloodshed and suffering which is all around, including facing honestly those scandals in the priesthood which are causing so much suffering.

It is these final teachings in his letter which caused a media frenzy where much of the media showed what is nothing less than blatant hatred of Christ, His Church and His priests.

As well, many of the commentaries and editorials reveal a profound ignorance of sacred truth. This is significantly demonstrated by the way many in the media belittled the Holy Father for his references to the mystery of the cross and the reality of evil yet the Holy Father encapsulated justly, truthfully and with compassion the situation and his words bear repeating here verbatim:
"At this time too, as priests we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of Ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the mysterium iniquitatis at work in the world. Grave scandal is caused, with the result that a dark shadow is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice. As the church shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations, all of us conscious of human weakness, but trusting in the healing power of divine grace are called to embrace the mysterium Crucis and to commit ourselves more fully to the search for holiness. We must beg God in His Providence to prompt a whole-hearted reawakening of those ideals of total self-giving to Christ which are the very foundation of priestly ministry. It is precisely our faith in Christ which gives us the strength to look trustingly to the future. We know that the human heart has always been attracted to evil, and that man will be able to radiate peace and love to those around him only if he meets Christ and allows himself to be overtaken by Him. As ministers of the Eucharist and of sacramental Reconciliation, we in particular have the task of communicating hope, goodness and peace to the world."

The Holy Father then concludes the letter with wishes for peace in the hearts of his brothers and calling upon the Blessed Virgin Mary extends his apostolic blessing.

The full text of the letter can be found on the Vatican web site or from places like the publishing house of the Daughters of St.Paul who make the text available in printed form.

Every priest should read and mediate, and take into our hearts and priestly praxis this teaching of our Holy Father.S urely when we priests look at a world drowning in its own blood, a world in the dark grip of the culture of death, a world whose people hunger for truth, light and hope, we can no longer be culpable in aiding and abetting tragedy, no longer be deaf or ear or heart to the tears of our brothers and sisters longing to have the Good Shepherd gaze upon them in beauty and mercy. Therefore we must sense deep in our priestly hearts a burning urgent need to make the beautiful sacrament of mercy available to them, having the same urgency in our hearts as that which hope John Paul in this letter reveals so tenderly burns in his own.

Lay people as well will benefit from the full text and should encourage their priests to follow the urging of the Holy Father and make this sacrament of mercy readily available in all its beauty, power, grace and dignity.

Fr. Bob Papi 3rd Sunday of Easter. April 14, 2002

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