January 4, 2024
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Memorial
My Dear Brother Priests,
As we begin 2024, let us pray that we enter this new year with great priestly fervor and with the Blessed Virgin Mary by our side.
My previous letters have focused on us, as priests, becoming more and more deeply Marian. Now, I want to focus on what it means to be Eucharistic priests. First, I am compelled to emphasize the grave responsibility each of us carries to the altar of Jesus Christ when we celebrate Mass. Sadly, we have seen how devastating it is to the Bride of Christ when her priestly sons willfully live abusive and sinful lives. Priests who fail to authentically live Christ’s call to the priesthood and who lose their sense of repentance bring desecration to the sacred altar of Jesus Christ and wreak havoc on the Church. If we fail to respond to Christ’s call to holiness and to forsake any sin in our lives, the consequences for us and the people we serve are dire; therefore, we must double down on our efforts and use this time of crisis in the Church as an opportunity to grow even closer to Christ in the Eucharist and to experience a more profound conversion of heart. I believe the only truly effective way for us to respond to our human inclination toward sin is to seek a deeper Eucharistic piety.
Using the phrase “Eucharistic piety” may feel off-putting and overly spiritualized, but I believe our challenge as priests of the 21st Century demands that we seek holiness, real holiness. Although simplistic, I recommend striving to know Jesus Christ and His Sacred Heart more intimately. I am reminded of the eleven faithful Apostles in contrast to the unfaithful one, Judas Iscariot. The Gospels do not share the details of how each of the eleven came to truly know Christ in a profound way, but they do tell us about the time they spent with Him. The few times Judas is mentioned, it seems clear that he is preoccupied with the purse and not with learning at the feet of the Master. I suspect that if we had the chance to speak with apostles Peter, James, John, Andrew or any of the others, they would share wonderful, never-recorded stories about their quality time with Jesus. As His 21st Century priests, we are called to continually deepen our relationship with Him and, as with any relationship, it will require effort and selflessly spending quality time in His Presence in Eucharistic Adoration.
Ultimately, we must be men of self-sacrifice to become truly Eucharistic priests. We must be men of real, day-to-day, draining and exhausting sacrifice. We must be willing to confront false messages no matter their origin - whether from the secular world or the Church. Most importantly, we must be willing to place our lives on His altar and to join Him in the most profound sacrifice of love the world has ever known.
In closing, I believe we can agree that, as priests, we have made the commitment to love, honor, and cherish the Church. This is a difficult task, and we often fail, but I can think of no better person to emulate than the beloved disciple, St. John. He was at the Last Supper where wine becomes Christ’s Precious Blood, and with Eucharistic piety, John remained with Christ at the foot of the Cross where he was spattered with Christ’s Precious Blood as He died. Like John, this is also where we must be, intimately sharing in Our Lord’s Precious Blood as we offer His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity to the world.
Brothers, let us pray for each other that we may always authentically and humbly approach Our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration and at His altar each time we celebrate Holy Mass.
St. John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland