For Catholics who have lived long enough, it is stating the obvious to acknowledge that the priesthood has changed a great deal in this archdiocese over the course of the last 50 years or so. But then, the whole world has changed! One very striking difference is that our presbyterate is far more culturally and ethnically diverse than ever before. At our recent priests’ retreat, the retreat director commented that our priests resemble a miniature United Nations!
Certainly the demands and expectations placed upon priests in 2013 are far different from those of 1963 at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council! For example, in coordinating the various ministries of the parish, priests today spend far more time meeting, organizing and consulting than in the past. The role of pastoral governance has become far more challenging than in the days when Father was in charge of virtually everything except the parish school, which would usually have been entrusted to a religious sister! Today parish priests must collaborate in a number of ways with deacons, religious and lay ecclesial ministers as well as parish staff and volunteers. These men and women serve in roles of parish leadership and service that would have been hardly imaginable 50 years ago.
Our priests are a very resilient group of men. I am very proud of them. As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In spite of many changes in the life of the Church and in the role of the laity, the core identity of the priest has not changed at all. He is still “Father.” As our spiritual father he imparts to us a share in eternal life through the sacraments. He instructs and guides and comforts us. He celebrates Mass. He hears our confessions. He marries our children. He prepares us for death and lays us to rest. There have been many changes in the outward forms of priestly ministry, but the essential mission of the ministerial priesthood remains the same. The ordained priest shares in a unique way in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church. He is an icon of Christ the Good Shepherd who dedicates his life to building up the Body of Christ.
Thanks to the initiative of the USA Council of Serra International and Worldwide Marriage Encounter, we are celebrating Priesthood Sunday this weekend, the last Sunday of October. Priesthood Sunday gives us an opportunity to express our appreciation to these ordinary heroes who give themselves so generously and courageously in the service of Christ and the Church. I encourage you to take time to remember those priests who have accompanied you during the ordinary and extraordinary times of your lives. Take time to thank your parish priest today, and to show your support throughout the year.
Priesthood Sunday is just one way to celebrate the importance of the priesthood for the life of the Church. It gives us an opportunity to thank those who have served us and to affirm this holy vocation as a gift to be cherished by all. Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations!