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WESTON -- Dozens of Boston clergy -- some active, some retired, most in casual dress -- came to St. John XXIII National Seminary on Aug. 2 for the annual St. John Vianney Cookout.
The Boston Archdiocese's tradition of gathering for prayer and food around Aug. 4, the feast day of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, began in 2005. This was the second time the event was held at St. John XXIII. Previously it took place at St. John's Seminary in Brighton.
The priests began their gathering with evening prayer in the seminary's chapel and in his homily, Cardinal Seán O'Malley shared some reflections on the priesthood.
He began by pointing out that although the cookout is always held around the date of St. John Vianney's feast, the day on which they had gathered was actually the Feast of the Portiuncula and Our Lady of the Angels. He spoke about the history of the Portiuncula, the chapel that was restored by St. Francis of Assisi, was a central location of his ministry and where the saint died in 1226.
St. Francis, knowing that many pilgrims could never make the journey to the Holy Land, asked Pope Honorius III to grant the same indulgences to those who made a pilgrimage to the Portiuncula. Over the centuries, the locations available to receive the "Portiuncula Indulgence" were expanded and can now be obtained by making a pilgrimage to any Franciscan church on Aug. 2.
"Fittingly, the Feast of the Portiuncula is about pilgrimage, about graces and blessings," Cardinal O'Malley said. "For us, coming together is a grace and a blessing. It's a day when we, as priests, can support each other and enjoy one another's company."
He then thanked Pope St. John XXIII's rector Father Brian Kiely and the seminary staff for hosting the event as well as director of the Office of Clergy Personnel Father Robert Blaney "and all those who promote these events to nurture our priestly fraternity."
Cardinal O'Malley then expounded on a priests' duties, which include encouraging and praying for vocations.
"We certainly know how important the role of a priest is in promoting vocations," he said.
"Many of us are here because a priest invited us to reflect on what God was calling you to do," he said.
In an apparent reference to the ongoing scandal involving former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, the cardinal urged the priests not to lose heart in the face of challenges.
"At times we can all become discouraged by the scandals in our Church. It's at such times that we have to remind ourselves that we have to follow Jesus. The infidelities of some of the Church's leaders cause pain to priests and people alike. We must acknowledge our need for God's mercy. But we also want to achieve a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God's gifts, embodied in the splendid examples of generous pastors, priests and religious, on fire with love for God and for people and a desire to bring God's love and mercy to those they serve."
He went on to examine some wisdom from the patron saint of priests.
"St. John Vianney once said, 'A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure that the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy,'" Cardinal O'Malley said.
"Today we give thanks to God for your ministry and example, and we want to encourage everyone to support one another, to pray for one another, to celebrate each other's successes and lament each other's failures--and not the opposite; help people to glimpse the loving glance of the Good Shepherd in our ministry," he continued.
With the day's heat index approaching 100 degrees and predicted downpours, the meal following the prayer service was served and eaten indoors, a first in the cookout's history.
Father Bryan Parrish, episcopal vicar and secretary for Parish Life and Leadership, explained that the change had been made out of consideration for the elderly retired priests, who might have suffered in the outdoor conditions.
"I think having it inside is actually helping build up more comradery," he said.
Father Parrish pointed out that some of the priests present were visitors from other dioceses, "which helps us kind of experience the diversity of the priesthood, but also the unity that we have with each other."
After desserts were set out, Father Kiely surprised Cardinal O'Malley with a cake to honor the anniversary of his consecration as a bishop on Aug. 2, 1984.