On June 30th I quietly marked sixteen years of priesthood. In contrast with last year’s lovely surprise celebration, this year gave me too much time alone to reflect. I have always believed in the power of the Sacraments. It was, in fact, experiences at Mass, Confession, and Eucharistic Adoration that began to awaken my call to the priesthood. Most weeks I get to witness some moment of Jesus’ healing love in the Confessional. I love the joy of marriages and the new life of Baptisms. I have had many moving moments with the Anointing of the Sick. I love hearing from others about their encounters with Jesus through the Sacraments. You may have realized how much I love the Sacred Triduum, the heart of Lent and the birthplace of Easter. I hope you too will one day experience it as a profound experience of God’s love for you. As a newly-ordained, I thought this was the essence of priesthood. And maybe it was, for a newly-ordained.
The title “Father” is by no means honorary; it is a job description. The parish family needs a dad. We all, in fact, need a dad. We need our biological dads to be there for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We need them to love us unconditionally, make good boundaries and punish us gently when we get out of line, and never give up on us. God, the Father, sees a great lack of fatherhood being lived by his creatures, so he calls men to give up their own families so that they will be fathers to His family. A priest must love with a father’s heart. The longer I have been a pastor, the more I realize that people need me to love them. That is often how God’s grace reaches us. The administrative work that so many priests dislike is, in fact, an extension of fatherhood. I am tasked with seeing a vision for the family, having healthy expectations and holding people accountable. I have to listen to the mom and kids. We build things together and figure out how to pay for them. Most days it feels like too much. Yep, we’re a family.
And this, I thought, was the deepest layer of priesthood. But the week of my anniversary I tested positive for Covid. Though my symptoms were mild, I endured a week of isolation and celebrated Mass privately (I do not enjoy celebrating Mass without a congregation). It was during one such private Mass, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, that it struck me that my offering of my life to the Father, in, with, and through Jesus, was the most important part of priesthood. I put myself on the paten. I give my life away, or rather, offer it up. My life becomes a sacrifice. I trust the Father that his ways are not my ways, and that he is working to give me something better than I could imagine. Things often don’t go as I would want them to, and I need to surrender those disappointments, frustrations, and reversals to the Father. We are all called to a life of sacrifice. A priest gets to lead the way.