I have been presenting in the seminary over the past couple of weeks the part which priestly fraternity has in the life of the Diocesan priest. This has been drawn, in part, from what Fr Julian Green and I have learned and experienced from being a part of the Societe Jean Marie Vianney. I will post here, in three parts, the vision which I have spoken about in the seminary.
First of all, what are the obstacles to priestly fraternity? They are two-fold: priests being isolated, living on their own, and priests not thinking of one another. Both of these can easily become stumbling blocks to priestly fraternity.
Secondly, priestly fraternity is something which, in my experience, doesn't happen in the normal course of events; it is rather something which has to be learned, received and embraced. This is because priestly faternity is established not upon basic human camaraderie, but upon the charismatic gift of the priesthood, together with those particular charismatic gifts which each priest has been given. This is not to say that the human elements of fraternity are not involved, they are; but that priestly fraternity really comes alive when it is lived at the level of the priesthood.
In fact, there is only one Priest, who is Christ the Lord; this is the key to fraternity. For although there is only one Priest, we priests are a multitude, for we have been given a share in His Priesthood. Our origin and our priestly nature is identical - this is what we share in common.
How is priestly fraternity received and embraced? The way in which I 'learned' priestly fraternity was by coming to realise my own interior poverty as a priest - that I was maintaining a certain level of interior life, but didn't like to go beyond this. Then, through my contact with the priests of the SJMV I was opened to a deeper experience of the priesthood both in myself and in other priests. This openness, at the level of the charismatic gift of the priesthood was truly enriching of my own priesthood, and I could see that to be the case in the other priests also. Indeed, the focus of priestly fraternity is not so that priests can have a cosy clerical club in which to withdraw, but is for the opening up and nurturing of the interior life of the individual priest, precisely so that he can be a better priest in whatever apostolic mission he has in the Church.
An occasion where this became evident to me took place in August 2007 when both of us were spending a week in Normandy with the priests of the SJMV. One day we went to explore a region of the Normandy beaches and, at midday, had a picnic by the Batterie des Longues (a WWII German gun battery overlooking the English Channel). After the picnic we all stood up in a great ring (about 65 diocesan priests) and prayed aloud together the psalms of Midday Prayer. The place where we were is a very popular tourist spot, and as we prayed many visitors to the site silently joined in our act of worship. It was a most tremendous moment - a great gathering of diocesan priests praying together in public in a totally un-selfconscious way; our priestly hearts came alive together in Christ, our priesthood became stronger. It is because of experiences like this that priests can support and nurture one another in a unique way.