December 21, 2023
Saint Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church
My Dear Brother Priests,
I pray that the last few remaining days of Advent are full of blessings as you transition from the joyful season of Advent to the glorious season of Christmas. Having been a pastor for many years, I know all too well the challenges you and the faithful will experience as you make the quick change from Advent to Christmas in the space of a few hours. It can be dizzying, but I always found it uplifting to see the same faithful souls return for another liturgy, and I enjoyed laughing with them as we all wondered, “now, which liturgical celebration are we here for this time?” Although the 4th week of Advent 2023 will be very short, let us pray that we are still prepared for the Nativity of the Lord.
In my previous letter, I made a plea to all priests to become Marian priests, but I suspect we each have different ideas about how to become a Marian priest, and many probably wonder what this means for our priestly journey. First, I believe it means that we must intentionally invite and include Mary in our daily journey so that we can eventually come to fully understand our role as priests. Our Lord understood the importance of His Mother’s constant presence in His life, and He shares the gift of her presence with us. Scripture makes this very clear. As Jesus spoke from His Cross to Mary and the beloved disciple, John, He speaks to us, His ordained priests. We are to dedicate our lives to serving others with His Mother by our side. Her role in our priestly lives opens a rich dimension of what it means to be a priest of Jesus Christ.
Additionally, a Marian priest must be aware of Mary’s presence at the altar when offering the sacrifice of the Mass. She was present when He breathed His last breath as He died on the cross,and she is with us every time the Mass is celebrated. Our Marian focus, as priests, helps us to stay connected to the supernatural truth we celebrate at the sacrificial altar of Jesus Christ. With her help, we can overcome the challenge of losing the sense of the sacred and the supernatural.
Lastly, priests who have a Marian focus are drawn closer to Christ, and as priests, the closer the better, for it is Christ who teaches us the true meaning of our priesthood. Priests sacrifice themselves and cling to the Church in service to God’s people, much like spouses sacrifice themselves and cling to each other for the good of the other. Our work is directed towards the salvation of souls. I must admit my focus, over the years, has not always been clear, but as my personal devotion to Mary has developed, the greatest blessings have been a heightened awareness of her presence at the altar and a more profound humility in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. I believe seeking to be Marian priests is simply entering more deeply into what our priesthood truly means.
My dear brothers, as we go forward, may we rest in Our Mother who is the advocate of priests. She will hold us close, and she will adopt us as her sons, as she did St. John. She will draw usinto the radiance of her Son and there, by the intercession of Our Mother’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, we will be a consoler of Christ’s Sacred Heart. As we His priests, in His presence, offer adoration and reparation for His Bride, the Church, there will be a renewal of holiness within our own lives and within His Church.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, your priestly sons.
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland