“Priesthood is undoubtedly a demanding but also a very fulfilling life … while I will always be grateful for the theological formation and years of study, I can say without hesitation that I have learned more from yourselves, the people of God with whom I work and pray … I extend an invitation to young men to reflect on whether God may be calling them to follow him as a priest” – Archbishop Neary
Recent weeks have been challenging for everyone. As Church, we have been endeavoring to maintain and sustain our relationship with the Lord and with each other in ways that are in keeping with the health restrictions. Thanks to modern technology and social media the celebration of Mass is live-streamed to homes and people are in contact with neighbors and friends. Of course, we miss the visits, the coming together whether for worship, work, sporting, or social occasions. The busyness that controlled our lives is not as dominant now. We have more time to reflect and so to tune in to God and consider what God may be saying to us.
Interdependence and Responsibility
As the people of God graced with different gifts and entrusted with varied responsibilities, whether in marriage, single life, religious life or priesthood, the present situation affords an opportunity to pause and acknowledge our dependence on each other, our responsibility to support, encourage, challenge and pray for each other. Next Sunday we will celebrate a day of prayer for vocations. The different vocations which I mentioned do not compete with each other but rather collaborate with, affirm, and challenge each other. I have stated on a previous occasion that the priest is called to be a facilitator, enabling married couples, single persons and those in religious life to interpret God’s call for them, encouraging and supporting them in answering their call.
Our View of Priesthood Today
Having focused on and encouraged the baptismal vocation on various occasions in the past, I would like to focus on priesthood today. Our view of the priest and our attitude towards priesthood will be influenced by priests we have known. It may be the priest who officiated at your wedding, the one who baptized your children, was with you as a supportive presence when your world was shattered by bad news. Recent years have been a difficult time for priests; all of us are affected by the scandals associated with some priests and bishops. Having apologized for these on numerous occasions in the past we must never become complacent but endeavor to maintain the highest standards of integrity in ministry as we continue to keep victims in our thoughts and prayers.
Called, Chosen, Inspired
As priests, we are privileged to find ourselves at the heart of God’s human family. Why? Not because of our personality, gifts, or insights, but rather because we have been chosen by God, called by Him, and responded to that call. Therefore we represent and are a pointer to the God who is at the very heart of the human family. This is something which we treasure and will always respect and is something for which we will always be grateful.
Speaking personally, while I appreciate and will always be grateful for the theological formation and years of study, I can say without hesitation that I have learned more from yourselves, the people of God with whom I work, and pray. As priests, we never cease to admire and be grateful for the inspiration, example, courage, patience, and perseverance of our people, sometimes expressed in the most difficult situations. This is not to deny that at times we may be saddened and frustrated when our best efforts are misunderstood.
A Special Relationship
In our relationship with our people there is and must always be a special dimension. This has impinged on us in a very particular way at this time when visiting your families is restricted for health reasons. It is a source of great joy for us when you are happy and celebrate. Likewise, we are saddened when you suffer. We endeavor, albeit at times very imperfectly, to be a reminder of the fact that the Lord continues to journey with you through the rough places and the greener pastures of life’s journey. The God in whom you believe and I believe and try to serve is a God who is welcoming, understanding, sympathetic, encouraging, and wants the best for all of us.
Bringing Our People to God in the Eucharist
In every Mass, as priests, we bring our people before the Lord asking him to hear your cry for help, respond to your needs, enabling you to utilize your gifts for the good of others in transforming our world. At this time as we cope with Covid-19 people have experienced and expressed their appreciation of the generosity and support of the ministry of their priests albeit an “online” ministry.
Priesthood: Demanding Yet Rewarding
The priesthood is undoubtedly a demanding but also a very fulfilling life. Like any vocation, it has its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows. In our culture today people experience constant pressures – competitive climate, productivity in the workplace, educational demands, etc. With so many situations clamoring for our time and attention it is understandable that God’s call could easily lose its urgency and may even go unheard. I extend an invitation to young men to reflect on whether God may be calling them to follow him as a priest. I encourage all the People of God to pray that the Lord will inspire young men to hear and answer his call. Should someone known to you express interest in a vocation to the priesthood, I ask you to keep that person in your prayers and encourage him. The priest is one who radiates joy, serves others, is a man of prayer, and plays a very significant role in building up God’s kingdom. Here in our Archdiocese, we have been blessed by our priests who continue to respond generously and faithfully to the various challenges with which we all cope in a complex and rapidly changing culture.
An Enduring “Yes”
The priests I know and with whom I work are happy in their service of God and the people of God and each day we recommit ourselves to the priesthood and to the service involved. When storms blow we need deep roots. On entering unchartered territory we need direction. What provides us with the strength to cope in these situations are a loving family, a supportive community, and the hope which our faith in Jesus Christ generates. With hope in our hearts we can face the future with courage.
Here in our Archdiocese of Tuam we look forward to the ordination of deacon Shane Costello and keep him and other students in our prayers along with those who are studying for the permanent diaconate. The Ordination of a priest demonstrates how much faith is alive in a local Church. It illustrates the hope-filled courage which gives a young man the strength and joy to entrust himself to the Lord’s service, conscious that the faith of the people of God will support him.
This Sunday the Gospel sets before us the one priest who was without fault, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He is the one who has called us, sustains, and challenges us. I ask you to pray for us your priests, that we will draw ever closer to him and be a more faithful reminder of Jesus Christ to yourselves.
Archbishop Michael Neary is the Archbishop of Tuam and chair of the Council for Doctrine and Theology of the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference. The Council works closely with the Bishops’ Conference on matters relating to faith and morals.