December 4, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Priests called to ‘put out into the deep’ and trust in Christ

On Dec. 9, Father Paul Etienne receives the fullness of the priesthood as a bishop in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo. My reflections on the priesthood continue.

By ordination, a priest becomes an intercessor of God’s love and mercy, the awesome gift won for us by Jesus.

When St. John Baptist Vianney was to be assigned to the small parish of Ars—a tiny place of 230 people—the vicar general of the diocese told him: “There is not much love for God in that parish; you will have to introduce it.”

In a Holy Thursday letter to priests, the late Pope John Paul II wrote: “Great indeed is the mystery of which we have been made ministers. A mystery of love without limit, for ‘having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’ (Jn 13:1); a mystery of unity, which from the source of Trinitarian life is poured out upon us in order to make us ‘one’ in the gift of the Spirit (cf. Jn 17); a mystery of divine diakonia which prompts the Word made flesh to wash the feet of his creation, thus showing that service is the high road in all genuine relationships between people: ‘You should do as I have done to you’ (Jn 13:15). By ordination, a priest is made a witness and minister to this great mystery of love, of unity and of service.”

Taking a lead from his apostolic letter “Nuevo Millennio Ineunte,” in which he outlined our Christian challenge for the new millennium, the late Holy Father noted that the Great Jubilee of the mercy of God 2,000 years after the birth of Christ became the incentive to continue the journey.

“Duc in altum!” Launch out into the deep. The Holy Father quoted Christ’s instruction to Peter and his friends after a long night of fruitless fishing.

It is a call to trust. The Lord invites us priests to put out into the deep, with trust in his word. The Holy Father wrote, “We must persevere in the task of bearing witness to the Gospel with the enthusiasm that contemplating the face of Christ engenders in us. Christ must be our point of departure in rediscovering the profound rationale of our brotherhood. ‘As I have loved you, you also must love one another’ ” (Jn 13:34).

Duc in altum. A priest’s call as a witness to the mystery of Divine Mercy at ordination is an invitation to “put out into the deep.”

At Christ’s call, a priest is asked to trust in his word and to entrust his very life and future to his grace.

On the day of ordination, one cannot know where his journey in ministry will lead through the years.

Father Etienne’s “yes” at his priestly ordination was an act of trust and a sign of hope for the people of God. His “yes” as he is ordained a bishop in Cheyenne is an act of trust and a sign of hope as well.

Reflecting on the challenge that priestly ministry can present, Pope John Paul wrote to us priests: “At this time I am also thinking of the work you do every day, work that is often hidden and, without making headlines, causes the kingdom of God to advance in people’s minds and hearts. I want you to know of my admiration for this ministry, discreet, tenacious and creative, even if sometimes watered by those tears of the soul which only God sees (cf. Ps 56:8). Your ministry is all the more admirable when it is tested by the resistance of a widely secularized environment, which subjects priestly activity to the temptations of fatigue and discouragement. You well know that such daily commitment is precious in the eyes of God.”

I can’t help but think of our retired priests whose work and ministry, often hidden and without headlines, advanced God’s kingdom for so many years. And yes, there must have been the tears of the soul, yet they cast out into the deep year after year.

Cast out into the deep. Our priests know the reality and the gift as they entrust their life to Christ and the Church. Should we celebrate such a gift? Of course we should.

But priests are also human. A preacher at the first Mass of a priest said, “Blessed are you who are not scandalized by the man in the priest.”

We need only recall that Christ was not afraid to choose his ministers from among sinners. Think of the 11 who deserted Christ in his time of Passion before the Resurrection. Yet by God’s grace they carried on the mission of Christ even unto death.

Our priests need our prayer and love and support. We should not be passive about their trust in Christ. †

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