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  A Christian Faith Magazine June 2003, Volume 8, Issue 11  
The Joy of Priesthood
Rev. Thomas J. Richter
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I try to exercise each week -with stress on the word "try". One recent evening as I was leaving the fitness center after a few games of racquetball, a woman, whose face I knew but whose name I had forgotten, greeted me and introduced herself as someone who had met me five years earlier during a pre-marriage seminar. When I asked how she was doing, she told me that she and her husband had been through difficult times due to an addiction that her husband faced, but that they had undergone treatment and were now enjoying a special time in their married lives. It was one of those conversations that is not soon forgotten.

Her last words, however, were the most memorable for me. When our chat was ending, she spontaneously said, "Father, do you see how special it is to be a priest? I felt so comfortable sharing these things with you simply because you are a priest. It must be a joy being that person in people's lives. Now, I am not so sure I want people telling me their "secrets" in public; nevertheless, the woman reminded me of a great truth: it is a joy to be a priest.


We can forget that sometimes. The former Bishop of Bismarck, Most Reverend John Kinney, would frequently ask the priests at clergy gatherings, "Gentlemen, are you enjoying the priesthood? Are you enjoying it?" The longer I am a priest the more I appreciate the importance of that question. In these last six and a half years, I have enjoyed being a priest in many ways, as an associate pastor, a pastor, a high school religion teacher, and now as a vocation director. I have certainly enjoyed the successes of the priesthood: the three great homilies I have given over the last six years, the increased collections at Mass, the confessions of people who have come back after ten or twenty years, and the former students who are now applying for the seminary. These all have been a source of joy for me. And they should be. We truly need to enjoy our successes; I am convinced that God does.

But the source of our joy in being a priest must ultimately come from what I call "being connected" to Christ. The story of Martha and Mary illustrates this well. In that story, Martha has welcomed Jesus, God, into her home. She is serving Jesus, feeding Him, and waiting on Him. Yet, all the while she is serving Jesus she is anxious and worried, burdened and unfulfilled. She is not enjoying it. Mary, on the other hand, without it being mentioned explicitly, is pictured as being content and at peace. She is enjoying it. The difference is not that one is overworked and the other is not. The difference is not that one is "active" and the other is "contemplative." The difference is that one is connected to Christ and the other is not.

It is possible for a priest to live like Martha, disconnected from the God he serves, or to live like Mary, enjoying his priestly service because he is connected to his Lord. Whether we are pastors, teachers, canon lawyers, vocation directors or school administrators, union with Christ must become a priest's source of joy.


Thus it seems to me that the priest's great need is to learn how to pray, to learn how to be conscious of Christ's presence in our midst, to be connected to the Risen Christ. During my first years in the seminary, there was a renewed interest in Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in particular in his many taped retreat talks. Over and over again in his talks, the archbishop stressed the need for a priest to be faithful to a daily holy hour. As a young and impressionable seminarian, that really spoke to me. It is one of the great blessings that I received and still carry with me from my seminary formation. Without it, Martha's burdensome servitude could easily become my daily experience, but with it, Mary's connectedness is a possibility even when I must be as busy as Martha.

One of the few things that the apostles, the first priests, asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. Jesus readily answered that request. May we "priests for the Third Millennium" also beg Jesus to teach us to pray, so that our joy may be complete!

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