The Gift of the Priesthood
Giving gifts is a part of Christmas. Giving thanks for the gifts we receive is also a part of Christmas. In this "Year for Priests," our Christmas celebration should include taking stock of the gift of priesthood. Not only should we thank God for the gift of the priesthood, but also for the priests who serve us. And we can express our thanks by showing our solidarity with our priests.
After all, it is through the priesthood that we receive Christ. Thanks to the ministry of priests, the Living Word of God is preached and taught. Thanks to them, the Incarnation and Birth of Christ are not simply a dim memory but a living reality. The same is true of the Lord's death, resurrection, and exaltation. In the celebration of the Mass, the saving words and deeds of Christ become accessible to us. Thanks to the priesthood, we receive Christ's Body and Blood. And through their ministry of reconciliation, we receive the forgiveness of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.
Priests spend countless hours preparing couples for marriage and helping their marriages to succeed. Priests spend vital time serving the sick and the dying and reaching out to bereaved families. Every day, priests work hard in support of Catholic schools and programs of religious education and youth ministry. Our priests also pray for us. When you ask us to remember some special intention or tell us of a loved one who is troubled, sick, or dying, we account it both a duty and an honor to do so. Lest we forget, most priests also have administrative duties, some of which are demanding.
Because they are the last of the generalists, it's impossible to come up with a complete priestly "job description." That's because the priestly vocation is more than a job – it's a vocation!
I've been a priest 33 years. Like brother priests everywhere, I recognize that I am not worthy of the great vocation I have received. We priests are in need of the redeeming love we proclaim and dispense. Pope Benedict XVI designated this Year for Priests to celebrate the priesthood but also to call us priests to embrace the truth and beauty of vocation more deeply, especially the pursuit of personal holiness. It is a call we take seriously.
I ask your prayers for me and for all my brother priests so that, at Christmas, we might be renewed in that holiness which befits the ministry entrusted to us by the Lord and the Church. Praying for us, your priests, is one of the best gifts you can give us at Christmas and throughout the year.
A kind and encouraging word also means so much to us. For example, this past weekend, local newspapers continued a spate of negative stories about the Catholic Church. They presented as "news" events and allegations from the 1960s and 70s as if they had never been reported on before – when, in fact, they were the subject of more than 200 news articles in the past. In truth, there was nothing new to report. Everywhere I went, parishioners went out of their way to offer me and my brother priests encouragement. "Don't let them get you down," I was told maybe hundreds of times. Two priests celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversaries to thunderous applause. Other priests who were unfairly targeted were surrounded by the support and love of the people they serve day in and day out.
Yes, we grieve over the events of the past and reach out to those who were harmed. And yes, we've taken massive steps to prevent these things from happening again. Yet many people are recognizing, more clearly than ever, that the Church and her priests are being unfairly and incessantly targeted for what is actually a massive societal problem. So please do not underestimate how much a kind and encouraging word means to us, your priests.
Your solidarity with priests is also expressed in your loving service to the parishes. You, the members of the laity, are our co-workers.
I think of the invaluable service of the highly qualified lay persons who serve the whole Diocese as Chancellor, CFO, Superintendent of Schools, Director of Development, and other roles of leadership and service. I think of the tremendous service that Dr. Joe McAleer has rendered in the field of communications and wish him well as he moves on to new challenges.
I think of our parish staffs, our teachers, and people who donate their time and talent in areas such as finance, religious education, and many other areas. I think also of the service which local Councils of the Knights of Columbus offer to our priests and parishes. Your service to the Church signals your solidarity with the priests and your gratitude for the gift of the priesthood.
For the gift of your service, given year in and year out, we, our priests, thank you.
There is yet another way to express thanks for the gift of the priesthood – working and praying for vocations to the priesthood. We are blessed with 32 seminarians, with many more young men seriously discerning a priestly vocation. This weekend, I will ordain Jeff Couture to the diaconate and, next month, Jaime Marin; both, God willing, will be ordained to the priesthood in May.
When you foster priestly vocations in your own families and help support our seminary program, you are expressing your love for the priesthood. It's a way of showing priests who have spent their lives in priestly service that we want their ministry to continue in our midst. A family who is open to a priestly vocation is one of the greatest gifts we priests can receive.
So, even as you give thanks at Christmas for the gift of the priesthood, we, your priests, thank you for your love and support. We know that you rightly expect much of us, for much has been given us. And even as you pray for us, work with us, and lend us your understanding, we ask you to continue encouraging us to be the good and holy priests we pledged we'd be on the day of our ordination.
Please know that we will remember you and your loved ones in our Christmas Masses and prayers. May God bless you and keep you in His love.