The Third Best Gift
November 2013 — Vol. 3, Issue 4
Just a little more than six months ago, I was given the third best gift I have ever received. The first was the gift of life itself, being born into the best family in the world. The second was my birth into God’s holy Church at my baptism at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Parsons, Kansas. The third was being Ordained to the Office of Presbyter at the hands of Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria. My life and ministry have been something of a whirlwind most days since.
By the end of your years in seminary, you should be hungering for priestly ministry. Your heart is ready; your mind and hands have been trained lovingly and carefully by your seminary formators, community brothers, academic faculty and lay colleagues. You have had the opportunity to work in various ministries part time, or perhaps even full-time for a while. You have been soaked in the rhythm of the Church’s liturgy: daily Mass, the Divine Office, wakes and funerals for your elder brothers and fathers in the community. In my experience, I felt like a horse in the starting gates or a sprinter in the blocks. For those of us who were looking ahead to time in pastoral ministry, we were ready to stop talking and reading about ministry, and ready to jump in and work.
Pretty quickly after Ordination, as the Masses, Confession times, weddings and Baptisms began to fill my calendar, I was struck with two seemingly contradictory facts:
2. there is really no way to prepare for some of the realities of priestly ministry.
I have been the beneficiary of so much skillful teaching and steady modeling of religious life and priesthood, but at the same time, there is necessarily a large amount of hands-on learning that you can only get through experience. There is no way to “practice” being a spiritual first-responder to a home where a loved one has just passed. You can’t observe a skilled confessor except by confessing to him yourself—which of course colors your experience in certain ways—because the very nature of that sacrament, and the Seal around it, protects the penitent from any extraneous observers. I had practiced the various elements of the Mass many times before the day of my first Mass, but knowing that you have been granted the faculty to effectively pronounce the Words of Institution…you just can’t practice that.
Relatively shortly after Ordination, I was asked to start working in the Office of Vocations as the Associate Director. I was able to continue living at the parish where I had been since Diaconate Ordination, Christ the King, just north of Notre Dame. I would be able to keep up a sacramental presence at the parish, helping with daily and weekend Masses, confessions, baptisms, weddings, and funerals, but I would have to step away from some of the other areas of parish life (like RCIA and baptism preparation) in order to make room for my new responsibilities.
This has been both a challenge and a huge blessing. I miss some of the things I had been doing at the parish, and I greatly miss the extra time with the parishioners and school kids, but I also have been given the opportunity to help my province welcome the next generation of Holy Cross priests and brothers. It is a great joy to be able to speak with young men and their parents about our Congregation, about our Founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, St. André Bessette and the way I felt called to join this great band of men, this family of Holy Cross.
I know that I have so much more to learn about the priesthood and religious life, about ministry in Christ’s Church, and even about vocation work, but I have already found that my elder brothers in Holy Cross continue to be good and patient teachers and mentors, just as they were when I was a seminarian. I look forward to continuing to live out this third gift under their guidance. I also look forward to the great opportunity to share the news of this gift with the people of God, and to invite men to consider that God may be offering them this very same gift.
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