Revealing the priestly heart of Jesus

Cardinal Seán often is photographed celebrating Mass; he is usually pictured while preaching in the pulpit or standing at the altar, the Eucharist elevated at the moment of consecration. His five years in Boston have shown him to be a man who reveals the priestly heart of Jesus, for he knows himself to be loved by the Word on his lips and held in his hands.

As Director of the Office for Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation, I have seen up close the cardinal’s care and concern for a most important portion of his flock, the priests and deacons of the archdiocese. On the occasion of his fifth anniversary as archbishop, Cardinal Seán thanked especially the priests, those who have known the weight of recent painful years: “Your ministry has been a source of enormous strength and inspiration... As priests,” he wrote, “prayer, the celebration of the sacraments and fraternity must be the touchstones of our life; from these we derive our strength.” These are the themes that he returns to over and over again, for they flow from his own deeply held understanding and convictions about what it is to be a priest.

How has Cardinal Seán O’Malley shown his support for Boston’s clergy? When he arrived here, he found an archdiocese on its knees, begging for both mercy and hope. No doubt, it took the fabled, though weary, presbyterate of Boston and its new shepherd a little time to come to know one another, yet from the beginning, signals of the archbishop’s own vision began to emerge. His identity as a Franciscan, as a diocesan bishop, and as a son of Ireland is key to his style; it is an approach that is faith-filled, obedient, humble and determined, served up with a twinkle in the eye.

The size of the archdiocese called for new approaches. All vicars were encouraged more and more to be effective and “on the ground” sources of contact and outreach in his name. A significant development also involved the creation of the Clergy Services Group. In a step unmatched by any other diocese in the United States, and perhaps in the world, Cardinal Seán assigned six priests and a deacon to both part-time and full-time work overseeing the care of clergy. This allows for far more comprehensive and effective service in the areas of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral needs.

We see his support in participation at convocations for deacons and priests, his presence at many ongoing formation workshops for clergy, attendance at presbyteral and diaconal council meetings, and any number of below-the-radar personal meetings and conversations with those in need of his attention or counsel. Cardinal Seán also has a particular care for recently ordained priests. At least five times a year he meets with them for eucharistic adoration, a meal and extended conversation. He is also tireless in his support of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.

Cardinal Seán has clearly identified the Chrism and Ordination Masses as major opportunities to teach and form his clergy. His reflections over five years on the ministry of preaching, spiritual fatherhood, ongoing formation, prayer, obedience, devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints, service and chaste celibacy could easily be assembled as a tract on ordained ministry. It is no wonder that he is sought as a preacher throughout the world.

When Archbishop O’Malley received his Cardinal’s biretta and ring from Pope Benedict XVI, one couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words to Peter: “And you, in turn, must strengthen your brothers.” It is no coincidence that both these priests share a common theme in their preaching and personal lives: friendship with Jesus. In fact, this points to the most significant way Cardinal Seán supports his clergy--his own faithfulness to Christ and the Church and the example he gives of striving after holiness.

In his aforementioned letter to priests, the cardinal concludes: “Together let us go forward in the name of the Lord.” This aptly summarizes his care and relationship with the clergy. He leads with missionary zeal and points to Christ, all undertaken in a spirit of contemplation and communion. It is a blessing and privilege for all of us to be led by so faithful a father who brings new insight into the title “Eminence.”

Father William Kelly is director of the Office for Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation of the Archdiocese of Boston