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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Year of the priest--A personal reflection

Greetings to all. I am on the move this week and will arrive in Eagle River on Friday evening. Once I get there I will resume my YouTube videos.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared the coming year to be a year of the priesthood. He has asked for prayers for priests and has called us to be more holy, more truly men of prayer. There are many challenges for us priests today, e.g. a decrease of credibility and respect due to the sexual abuse scandals of recent years. There are also issues of who should be ordained--women, married people, etc. I will not address those in this reflection though they loom on the horizon and cannot be swept under the rug. What I will do instead is offer some thoughts on what 38 years of priestly ministry have meant to me.

Let me begin by saying that these 38 years have been rewarding and fulfilling beyond my wildest imagination. I entered the seminary in 1962, just as the Vatican council was opening and was ordained on May 22, 1971. During my years of formation I witnessed a profound change in the church and in society. I found myself questioning both my country and my Church, yet learned with the help of some great teachers to love both more deeply because I did question.

Upon ordination I was thrilled to celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions and celebrate the other Sacraments as well. As I young priest I was amazed at the trust that people older and wiser than me put in me, opening their hearts and confiding their deepest secrets to me, simply because I was a priest. It was humbling to say the least and continues to be so as i witness God touching peoples lives not because of any skills of mine but because of His grace.

In 1975 I made a marriage encounter. What this experience for married couples gave me as a priest was a profound love and respect for the Sacrament of Matrimony and a realization that the priesthood was not to be defined by the functions I carried, but as a relationship of love with God's people. The functions--celebrating sacraments, providing pastoral care and leadership, flowed from that.

Since then, whether it has been serving in parishes, going to the missions in Bolivia, or preaching missions and retreats, which I have done for 21 years now, I have been continually blessed by contact with so many people who have become true friends and who while truly respecting my priesthood know me as a man, as a human being. I am a better priest because of this. they keep me grounded in the real world.

Along with all of the above has been the gift of not only serving the laity as a priest, but of ministering along with so many different women and men and discovering how our various gifts and roles compliment each other. As we move into the Church's future we need to embrace and empower lay people as ministers and most especially to call forth women to take their rightful place in the ministry of the Church.

Lastly, but most importantly, I personally could not have grown and thrived as a priest were I not a Franciscan. Our fraternal life as friars has given my life as a priest a dimension of being a brother to all as well as of support in my own life that I could not do without.

I do hope that all who read this will continue to pray for us priests and challenge us to move into the future of a Church which is truly open to all.

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