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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Priest Forever

 I just returned from the Chrism Mass here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.  Some of you readers may not know what that is so a brief explanation is in order.  It is a Mass, celebrated by the bishop of a diocese, during Holy Week, when the sacred oils used in the various Sacraments are blessed.  There are three of them, The Oil of the Sick, used for anointing the sick, the oil of Catechumens used in the rite of Baptism, and Holy Chrism, used in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.  At the Mass the priests of the diocese also renew their commitment to priesthood.  This year's Mass was particularly special to me because I will be ordained for 40 years in a little over a month (May 22) and those of us celebrating 25, 50, 60 and even one for 70 years of ordination were recognized by Bishop Robert Lynch of our diocese.

   Because of this special anniversary I have given a lot of thought over the past few weeks as to what being a priest means to me.  A lot has happened during these 40 years and most of it has been wonderful.  A major turning point for me came in 1975 when I made a marriage encounter weekend. This 40 hour experience in February of that year made me into a different and better priest.  Some might wonder how an experience geared toward marriage speaks to a celibate priest.  It's really quite simple.  As the priest sees the married couple deepening their love for one another he realizes more deeply his call to love the Church, not merely the institution of the Church, but the people, the Body of Christ.  It made clear to me that the priesthood is not a mere function, but a call to an ever deepening relationship of love with God and God's people.  Interestingly I have been called upon a few times in recent years to preach retreats to priests and that is my major theme.

   I have been a high school religion teacher, a director of formation, a parish priest, a foreign missionary, and for the last 24 years a traveling preacher, or if you will, a wandering friar, thus the title of this blog. The real joy of these years is the continuing stream of people who become woven into the fabric of my life.  I have no children but I have two wonderful nieces and many people whom I met as youngsters and have now had the privilege of marrying them and baptizing their children.  I have friends with whom I can be real, down to earth, and yet respected as a priest.  Likewise I have had countless people whom I met only once, but who were moved by the Sacraments we shared together, or by a word spoken in a homily.  I take no credit for these moments, but see them as privileged moments when the Lord works through me.  Also as much as it is a joy and privilege to celebrate the Eucharist some of the most special moments for me come in the confessional. In these days when so much has happened to cause mistrust of the clergy, it is amazing that so many trust God and the priesthood enough to bare the darkest recesses of their soul in the hope of encountering the merciful God who takes away their sin.  To hear a good confession is a humbling moment for me and for any priest, yet a rewarding one.  In another blog entry in the near future I hope to say more about the Sacrament of Reconciliation which has been going through growing pains over the last 40 years.

  We priests are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the Church, and we re indeed that, yet any priest will tell you that the faith we encounter in the laity so often puts us to shame. That is certainly true in my life. There are so many who have been an inspiration to me.

  I am already beyond the length I like to give in a blog entry but I will close by quoting some key phrases from the rite of renewal of priestly commitment that we observed to day. The bishop asks:
   ". . .Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like him by joyfully sacrificing your own pleasures and ambition to bring his peace and love to your brothers and sisters? We answer. I AM
   "Are you resolved to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to celebrate the Eucharist and the other liturgical serices with sincere devotion?   We anser. I AM.
   Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, by teaching the Christian faith solyfor the well being of the people you serve?  We answer. I AM.

   I will paste these words to my mirror so that I am reminded every morning of what I am to be about.

   Our bishop gave a wonderful homily at the Mass. You can check it on his blog, just click:  Bishop Lynch's Homily

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