A few thoughts on the Catholic priesthood, after attending my brother's ordination last week.
A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of attending my brother's ordination at St Mary's Basilica in Marietta, OH. What a joy. He is now a transitional Deacon, one step closer to the priesthood!
The opening procession into that gorgeous basilica was simply awe-inspiring, as dozens of priests poured down the center aisle, reverently. Lines of strong, robed men taking their places on the altar of God. It was a sight to behold. And it got me thinking....
There are certain professions that are not really professions at all, but rather, callings. Doctors/nurses, missionaries, EMT and fire fighters, soldiers, police officers, counselors...to name just a few. People who devote themselves to the service of others—in care and healing, rescue and recitation, aid and relief, defense and protection, compassion and comfort.
Callings that are so completely and utterly self sacrificing that few would ever withhold any respect or honor due them. In fact, most recognize these callings employ real, live heroes.
But there is also another calling... sometimes forgotten and often misunderstood: it's that of the priesthood. Sometimes the priesthood is looked upon with confusion, disregard, even contempt. Support for the priesthood is not always as widespread, or easily obtained.
Perhaps because this calling is in the industry of religion. Perhaps because the employer is an unseen entity. Perhaps because there was a stigma given to it in some circles a few years back (because a small number of these called heroes failed horribly in their mission.) Perhaps because there is no monetary compensation beyond necessity. Perhaps because it is a calling so steeped in self-sacrifice that it actually demands chastity.
Perhaps, just perhaps, it is misunderstood because it is the call of all calls... The call that encompasses all others. And the idea of such sacrificial living transcends and mystifies natural, human comprehension.
The idea that one man can be a physician, counselor, missionary, rescuer, and soldier... for all people. Who can fathom it?
Only those who have experienced it.
Those who have entered the hospital of the Church, sick in body or sick with sin, and received from a priest the free, healing medicine of Jesus Christ.
Those who have entered the office of the rectory, unloaded every last one of their heavy troubles, and received free comfort and peace through the counsel and prayer of a priest.
Those who, with fear and trembling, have approached the valley of death, and have received the free, Sacramental aid (at any hour, day or night) through a priest.
Those who have been captured and tortured by the enemy of their souls, and were freed and delivered in a fierce battle, won at the hands of a priest.
Those who have lived in darkness, solitude and loneliness, and have found light, family and friendship in a lively parish, fathered and guided by a priest.
Those who have experienced love at weddings, joy at baptisms, comfort at funerals... All through the ever present ministry of a Catholic priest.
Let's face it: in moments of life and death, joy and sorrow (when profession, politics, stigma and money matter not) we look for the white collar on black garb, like a bright light in a black night. Somewhere deep down we know they can bring us to that "unseen entity" that created us. We know intrinsically they can help.
It was the opening procession that day got me thinking. But it was half-way through ordination when this calling really took on light. When my brother laid down on the altar, prostrate, his face in the floor. Yes, that was the moment I lost it. The tears began to pour.
Because that moment summed up everything. It completely embodied the calling he was headed towards.
"There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." John 15:13
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
"Come follow me." Jesus said. Mt. 4:19
The Catholic priest follows Him into chastity, being married to and completely committed to God... fathering His children, managing the affairs of His home, the Church.
The priestly calling transcends time and space, bringing Heaven to earth. It is it is a marked call, lasting into eternity. Even those who mock or scorn it, benefit from it, sometimes even seek it, when push comes to shove.... When all else fails them, like money, relationships, and health.
As I watched my brother laying there, surrounded by kneeling priests and a congregation of praying laity, I was overcome. Certainly I was proud of him as his sister... But even more than that, I was overcome as his sister in Christ, as a fellow member of this Church.
I was so grateful to God for instituting such a heroic calling, and grateful to all the world's priests for answering the call...for courageously going forward into the service of souls, in spite of stigma and misunderstanding.
I was humbled—deeply, deeply humbled— in the presence of so many "servants." I was renewed in passion and fervor for the Catholic Church. It was truly life-giving to me, to witness and experience such self sacrifice. It was a blessing beyond my imagination.
And so, I ask those of you who understand my sentiments about the priesthood: please pray for all those called to this vocation—those in seminaries and those already ordained. And please, pray for the heart of the world, that it be more open and receptive to the Roman collar.
To those of you considering entering this vocation: May the Lord God bless you richly, and the mighty Saint Michael the archangel defend and protect you.
To those of you who do not share my sentiments, who do not understand this vocation: it's ok. You will, someday.
Someday, when your heart has beat its last, when all your money and possessions have been passed on to others, when you're body is put in the ground and you enter into the presence of that unseen and unknown entity.
On that day, all the mysteries you suffered in this life shall be unveiled, and you will see and know, with keen clarity, every prayer said for you in this life, every Mass offered for you. You will see and know every priest who served as an anonymous benefactor for your soul, who helped you obtain the crown you are to receive. On that day, you too, will be humbled—deeply, deeply humbled.
In the meantime, if it is scorn you still feel.... remember the more than 412,236 priests in this world are fathering some 2 billion Catholics, who have experienced, firsthand, the call of the priesthood, and who are quite grateful for it. Please, be respectful of our family, our fathers, and our heroes.