The Priest as a Man of Communion
In his apostolic letter on the formation of priests in the circumstances of the present day, Pastores Dabo Vobis, St. John Paul II boldly claims that every priest is called to be a man of communion: “Impelled by the desire and imperative to proclaim Christ’s salvation to all, the priest is called to witness in all his relationships to fraternity, service and a common quest for the truth, as well as a concern for the promotion of justice and peace (Pastores Dabo Vobis 18).” This call to be a man of communion is rooted in the Most Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of all charity. As a servant of God’s people by means of the sacraments, the priest has the mission of going out to the highways and hedgerows to invite and gather all to the Supper of the Lamb. He thus fosters unity in and amongst the Church. The priest is also called by his configuration to Christ to be a mediator in the communion between God and each Christian. The priest thus has the charism of bringing out the very best in people, namely their union with God in the sacraments and the realization of their unique call and gifts to live a saintly life. We are reminded every All Saints Day that there is no such thing as a “cookie-cutter” saint. This call to be a man of communion means to be at the service of God’s creative diversity, for “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father” (Eloi Leclerc quoted by Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti 4).
A great example of a priest calling out the spiritual gifts of his people occured in the life of Mary Lou Williams, who is perhaps the finest American Catholic composer to date. Mary Lou Williams had great success in the jazz music scene, collaborating with all the great musicians of her day. At the peak of her career, she shocked her audiences by taking a four year break from the stage and converting to Catholicism. During this time, she devoted herself to prayer and opened her home to care for musicians struggling with addictions. She also encountered Fr. John Crowley and Fr. Anthony Woods, SJ, who encouraged her to put her musical gifts at the service of the Gospel. Mary Lou returned to music by writing sacred jazz. She had a special devotion to St. Martin de Porres, whom we celebrate today, and paid great homage to him in her choral masterpiece, “Black Christ of the Andes.” The piece begins with a reverently somber opening by the choir, which enters the listener into the compassion of St. Martin for the poor in the misty mountains of Peru. We then hear the thrilling entrance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the saint imitated by Mary Lou’s colorful piano solo and a return to the choir with some ascending chromaticism representing the miracle of St. Martin raising a man from the dead.
Mary Lou gives us a beautiful representation of St. Martin, who was a great man of communion. St. Martin knew exclusion and prejudice well, but instead of growing bitter and creating division, he spent his life in the service of the Truth by spending many hours before the Blessed Sacrament, working for reconciliation in his community, and promoting the dignity of every human being through acts of charity and healing. Through the intercession of St. Martin, let’s pray for more priests who will serve courageously as men of communion, and like St. Martin de Porres, “let us seek out others and embrace the world as it is, without fear of pain or a sense of inadequacy, because there we will discover all the goodness that God has planted in human hearts” (Fratelli Tutti 78).