As I reflect on some thoughts for this week, I can’t help but be mindful that in the course of recent days we have celebrated the Priestly ordinations of nine men for service within the Archdiocese (including our former intern, Peter Saucedo), and the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Marc Trudeau. We’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate with our own Fr. Dan White, his Silver (25 year) Jubilee last Sunday. Then this past week, I found myself praying at the altar on my own anniversary of priesthood (Feast of St. Barnabas). June, traditionally the month of the Sacred Heart, is a month which is traditionally filled with such celebrations and opportunities for reflection on the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
In our time and place, Holy Orders tends to be a sacrament experienced more by observation than by ordination. I wonder sometimes what it is that people observe? I know that one of my own weaknesses is to throw myself into the work of the parish priest - pastoral, teaching and administrative. These correlate to the baptismal anointing of “priest, prophet and king”, with which we are all anointed in Christ, reminding me that the life of the Ordained is rooted firmly in the life of the Baptized. But I wonder sometimes, if people are able to see my joy in what I do, or if they just see me as being too busy trying to keep up with it all.
Survey after survey reports that Catholic Priests enjoy higher job satisfaction than most, and a 2006 National Opinion Research Center survey of 27,000 Americans (not just Catholics) bears this out, reporting that clergy enjoy the highest level of job satisfaction in America. Honestly, I am surprised every time I read these surveys. At the same time, when I consider my life as a priest, I have to admit that despite the challenges and struggles, I am, decidedly, a very blessed individual.
The thing that grounds me in my life and ministry is the experience of being invited into the lives of so many. Whether it is at a time of new life (infant baptism) or of grief (death), whether it’s being invited to journey with a couple preparing for marriage, or accompanying someone through an annulment, whether it’s walking alongside a young man discerning priesthood as a way of life (as our interns do) or exploring questions of meaning and significance with searching young adults, I am incredibly blessed. I anoint the sick. I’m privileged to explore questions of faith with young and old alike. Participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, both as penitent and as confessor, I never tire of hearing the words: “God the Father of mercies.... And I absolve you from your sins…” It is truly a grace to enter into some of the most vulnerable moments of life and there to come face to face with how precious we actually are.
I am grateful, these many years, for all who have contributed to and shaped my priestly ministry. I cannot even begin to count all those who have touched me with words of support and criticism, words of encouragement and caution. Of equal importance in my life has been all the lives of those who have quietly lived their faith, providing me with an example of love for Jesus in the concrete ordinariness of Christian living. Such people as these have inspired me to dig deeper and to reach higher, to try harder and to pray more deeply. From my first parish experience to this, I have been richly graced and incredibly blessed in love, in life, in goodness and in friendship.
The truth is that I don’t stop often enough to give thanks, or pause long enough to express my gratitude to those who deserve it from me. Working on building the Reign of God after the example and command of Jesus is demanding and rewarding. May God continue to bless me through my encounters with and among God’s people. May God bless us all, and keep us always in His grace.