November 19, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

In praise of our many priests who serve faithfully

On Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King and conclude another liturgical year. It is hard to believe another year has gone by.

I like the feast of Christ the King because it kind of sums up the feasts of the liturgical year. I am biased because it is also the 64th anniversary of my receiving first Communion and, in the afternoon, the sacrament of confirmation. I can still remember parts of both events. It is also a joy to know that we are about to begin the season of Advent, and then the joy of Christmas.

This feast is also the culmination of the end time and the recollection of the “last things.” The Gospel according to St. Luke refers to the Kingdom of Jesus as he is mocked on the Cross.

It also records the act of faith of the good thief: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). And Jesus replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

We long to hear those words at the hour of our death. And it is wholesome at this time of year to reflect on the simple fact that some day we will be called home to the house of the Father.

I don’t know why, but as I read the Gospel for the feast of Christ the King I thought of our deceased priests.

With the burial of Father Patrick Commons in late October, I noted that 77 priests have died since I became the archbishop here. I want to suggest that we continue to pray for the repose of our deceased priests.

For the most part, we are their surviving families and they need our prayers for repose like anyone else. We would do well also to put in a word to the Father for all the deceased priests we never knew—and for those who have been forgotten.

I think we may tend to take priestly ministry for granted. Priests give the better part of their lives to God and for the people of God. Generally, they do so generously and with good cheer. They promise obedience, and that means they are not in control of their ministry for the Church.

First of all, they serve in the person of Christ, in persona Christi. To place one’s life in the hands of the bishop is sometimes difficult. To do so for the sake of the people is admirable but not easy.

I have often thought that the most difficult promise that a priest makes at ordination is that of obedience. Giving up the ability to make choices about placement in parishes and other ministries over the years is a challenge in virtue.

And the older the priest becomes, the promise of obedience becomes more of a test. It amazes me how, for the most part, our priests accept the obedience that is asked of them generously. This promise exacts a deep trust and a lot of humility.

I don’t want to keep referring to the scandal of sexual abuse of minors, but this has been a heavy cross for our priests who are completely innocent of this grave sin. Yet, some folks are not aware that the numbers of priests who are guilty of this atrocity are very few.

I apologize in their name as I have done in the past. And I assure folks that child protection is taken very seriously by our archdiocese. Yet, here I also want to speak up in praise of the many priests who serve day in and day out with a good heart.

I don’t know if a lot of people are aware that, at their annual “Opportunity for Excellence” dinner, Marian University presented the priests of the archdiocese with the corporate Franciscan Values Award. I accepted the award in the name of our priests, and did so with pride.

It occurred to me that as a group our priests are seldom recognized for their unsung daily ministry. Nor were we ordained with the expectation of recognition.

When we accept the call to priesthood, we try to do so with a humble spirit, and we don’t ask for much in return.

I also want to make the point that we are keenly aware that many members of the laity and many consecrated religious men and women, alongside many permanent deacons, serve God and the people of God perhaps even more generously than we do. And we recognize that all of us are to serve collaboratively for the good of all.

I didn’t intend to embarrass our priests, but fair is fair. It just seems right that once in awhile our hard-working priests deserve a pat on the back. †

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