I have been a priest for thirty-five years now. It has been quite an adventure.
“Are you resolved, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral order, as a conscientious fellow worker with the bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?” We are not to be free-lancers; we are part of a team. There can be disagreement that can be frustrating, but I think God planned it that way.
“Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us, for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people?”
“Are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?” This is perhaps the most underestimated aspect of the work of the Church. Many don’t know enough about their faith to maintain it in the face of attacks from the world, or even questions they naturally ask as adults. Many learned a version of the faith that made them think that the Catholic faith doesn’t make much difference, and there is no reason to learn more. Our succeeding as Church absolutely depends on our learning lots and lots about the faith. I’m learning as fast as I can, given the realities of my life.
“Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of His people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?” First and foremost, our lives are meant to be an offering to God: this is what I have done with what You gave me, Lord.
As a priest, I deal with the most important issues that exist, the things that go to the center of the human person, the things that affect someone’s life forever (yes, literally forever). I have the privilege and the challenge of regular intimate contact with the most sacred, most profound mysteries. The challenge, of course, is the temptation to forget how amazing and powerful they are and treat them in a matter-of-fact manner. This requires constant care. I have had so many different experiences. I have been to hospitals, psychiatric wards, jails, prisons, rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, schools, and other places I can’t think of. I have been with people in their happiest moments and their saddest moments. Helping people through the most important moments of their lives is a unique privilege.
I have had a sharp learning curve. I look back in horror at some of the mistakes I’ve made. I remind myself that God knew all about me when He called me, and somehow decided it was worth it to have me around. Someone once said, “Remember God has incorporated your stupidity into His plan.” I find that wonderfully comforting. I’m not responsible for where I started, but I’m responsible for where I go from there. Priesthood has been such a great opportunity to learn and to grow, and I can’t imagine what I would be like now if I weren’t a priest.
I have dealt with all sorts of people. Some are the kindest, most generous, holiest people who are an inspiration to be with. Some are very hard and painful to deal with. Some are quite broken. Some demonstrate incredible gifts, and some have not discovered theirs yet. Everyone is someone I can learn from.
The Church is undergoing major transition now, and how we react is going to make a great difference for our future. I see signs that there will be major difficulties but also potential to accomplish great things. This is an exciting time to be a priest. It is an exciting time to be a Catholic.