Archbishop Dolan: Priesthood Is an Identity, Not a Job

Offers Encouragement to Irish Clergy

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MAYNOOTH, Ireland, JUNE 1, 2010 ( The archbishop of New York is urging priests to remember that their vocation is an identity, not simply a career, and thus it must be lived with holiness.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan affirmed this in a lecture he gave Thursday at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, marking the Year for Priests, which will end June 11.

The text of his address, which focused on the theme «God is the only treasure people desire to find in a priest,» was publicized by the Irish bishops’ conference.

The conference is also offering on its Web site a special feature video with an additional interview with Archbishop Dolan, excerpts of the address, and other images from the event.

The archbishop urged priests to be aware of their identity. He recalled the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his life to save a fellow prisoner chosen at random for execution.

The prelate noted: «When the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz snickered, ‘Who is the Polish swine?’ the ‘Polish swine’ did not reply, ‘I am Maximilian Kolbe,’ nor ‘I am prisoner number 1408,’ nor ‘I am a friend and would like to take his place in execution.’ No. He simply replied, ‘I am a Catholic priest.'»

«Priesthood is not, first and foremost, something we do, but someone we are,» the archbishop emphasized.
He added, «The priesthood is a call, not a career; a redefinition of self, not just a ministry; a way of life, not a job; a state of being, not a function; a permanent, lifelong commitment, not a temporary style of service; an identity, not a role.»

Archbishop Dolan pointed out: «If the very value of my priestly vocation depends on what I do, where I’m assigned, how the people affirm me, how my bishop treats me, what the newspapers report about us, what horrible sins brother priests may have committed, what negligence was shown by their bishops, how much I get out of it, or how high or low morale may be at a given time — if the very value of our priesthood depends upon those external forces, however dominant they may be; if, in a word, my value depends on what I do, sooner or later we’ll get frustrated, cynical, exhausted, crabby, bored, and tempted.»

«Our value must come from who we are,» he reiterated.

Divine invitation

The prelate noted that «Jesus much preferred the being words to the do words.»

Thus, the archbishop pointed out, he did not ask us to plan, organize, strategize, work out or write job descriptions with him, but rather to «remain with him, to abide with him, to rest with him, to come away with him, to stay with him, to keep vigil with him.»

He added that this is not because «doing, actions, ministry, service were not important, but because, unless what we do flows from who we are, we’re shallow, empty functionaries.»

Archbishop Dolan urged his listeners to «recapture a sense of who we are, our identity, gratefully, humbly, joyfully aware that our value is within, that it comes from who we are — a child of God, created in his image, passionately and personally loved by our Father, destined for eternity with him, redeemed by the precious blood of his own Son, reconfigured to that same Son at the ‘ground zero’ of our being.»

«It has a special urgency now, in a moment of crisis,» he affirmed. «At such times of emergency, the Church can go one of two routes: We can become frantic, losing focus, hope, and trust, tempted to impetuous actions and rudderless going around in circles; or, we can return to basics and rediscover our identity, purpose, and confidence.»

«If priests are expected to give God, we better have him,» the prelate asserted.

All we have is Jesus, he stated, «and that’s the greatest treasure of all. That’s what people want!»

Joy and hope

He told the Irish clergy that their country’s president, Mary McAleese, was at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral at a Mass on the previous Sunday. Knowing that the prelate was soon to address the priests of Ireland, the president told him, «Tell our priests we need them to be men of joy and hope.»

The archbishop added that in order to give Jesus to others, we must have him, which is what holiness consists of.

«What sparks and sustains sanctity is the Holy Eucharist,» he said.

The prelate continued, «The daily celebration of the Eucharist, with proper preparation, joyfully, sincerely, reverently offered, the anchor of a day then laced with prayer, from our morning offering to our Salve Regina, especially that prayer that is such a constant of our life that we priests call it our office, is the key to intimacy with Jesus, which is holiness.»

«We’re not priests for what we can get,» he affirmed, «but for what we can give, and anyone who’s in it for power, authority, privilege, or entitlement should not be.»

Archbishop Dolan recalled the last days of Pope John Paul II, who gradually lost «the use of his legs, his facial motions, his hearing, his movement.»

«But he kept pouring out,» the prelate noted, «and he inspired perhaps more in that condition of utter humility, of frailty, of kenosis — pouring out — than he did in the first two decades of hyperkinetic activity and vigor.»

The archbishop urged his listeners to be «humble priests; grounded in our joyful, confident identity as priests at the very core of our being.»

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