I was ordained a priest on Saturday, June 30th, 2007, at the Cathedral in Green Bay. A couple months ago it dawned on me that my five-year anniversary was fast approaching. I was taken aback. I always saw myself as a “baby priest,” but now half my priest support group has been ordained fewer years than me. How did the time go by so quickly? I reflected back on where my life has taken me since ordination:
In just five years I have already held three assignments in communities as diverse as Oshkosh, De Pere and southern Oconto County. I have now served seven parishes plus a Newman Center (if you consider parishes before they were merged, that makes 13). I have celebrated about 2,000 Masses. I have done more than one hundred burials and exactly 38 weddings. I have put at least 83,000 miles on three vehicles. Suddenly, ordination seems like a long time and a lot of work gone by. Before ordination I really wondered – Will I be happy as a priest? It seems the question hasn’t been answered. I like challenges, but frankly, this is ridiculous. I didn’t expect that every time I got comfortable, God would change things. As soon as I felt comfortable in my first assignment, we had to build a Newman Center. When that was done I moved into a parish with a school controversy. As soon as that settled down, I moved here. It took a year for things to become comfortable and then the school burned! For a job that pays well and gives me the ability to kind of be my own boss, I really didn’t expect so much suffering.
That is how I was feeling when I came across these words that Mary said to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France: “I cannot promise to make you happy in this world, only in the next.” I started to realize that my idea of happiness revolved around me. The greatest source of suffering is that I expected to get my way in priesthood, ministry, and even life in general. What a silly expectation! With this realization, I tried not to look at myself so much. This is what I saw:
Smiling faces at Mass. A beautiful card telling me how someone’s life has changed. Little children begging me to go on the bouncers with them at the parish picnic. The joy of watching a young couple fall deeper in love with each other and with God. A dying person that needs me to come offer the sacraments even though I’m tired and sneezing from allergies. I didn’t expect so many beautiful moments. I didn’t expect so many thoughtful cards. I didn’t expect my priesthood to be so necessary to people and so fulfilling for me. I didn’t expect so much joy.
Too often we all get caught up in all the things we have to get done. I know that as I feel the pressures of running parishes, I am not always kind or thoughtful or patient. I’m sorry for that. I am not the only one that needs to take time to rest, relax, spend time with family and friends, and above all, give thanks to God for all His blessings. My five years have been a blessing for me and I hope they have blessed you, too. I am grateful for each of you, and the many ways you have touched my life without even realizing it. May your summer be filled with family, friends, fun, and faith!
Peace and Joy, + Fr. Joel Sember
~ Published in the parish bulletin for Sunday, 1 July 2012