“I hope you have all the joys as a priest that I have had.” With these words, John Cardinal Foley welcomed a few of our seminarians as he was in Cincinnati to celebrate an occasion with Sacred Heart Radio. It was a humbling testimony to a life of prayer and wonder that has been shared by a modern day Prince of the Church, whom one can tell by the sheer joy rolling out of him that he just loves being a priest. He continued to our seminarians: “I’ve never had a bad day as a priest.” In a career that has spanned four popes and an unlikely ascension to the ‘Pope’s Senate,’ all he wants to do is be a simple priest, what a great gift to witness the faith and devotion of this man.
However, this love and desire to be a simple parish priest is not held by Cardinal Foley alone. Over this past summer, I spent a weekend with a priest friend in Akron, Ohio. At the end of a long day where we celebrated Mass together, heard confessions and relaxed with other friends; he looked at me and opined: “Why are we not turning men away from the seminary? This is the greatest life, if only they knew!” I nodded in agreement: four plus years a priest, never a dull day, and the impact that the laity have had in my life, that impact I hope I have had in theirs. Again, humbling that Our Lord could have called me, unworthy though I am, to this wonderful ministry. “Who am I, Lord, that you should call me?”
Unfortunately, the joy of the priesthood is something that we do not see too often in our modern day. The media often presents priests as frustrated old men, yet that is not the priesthood that I know. The priests whom I know are dedicated, holy, prayerful men; men who love to serve Our Lord, who love to serve His people; men who want to be a bridge between heaven and earth, recognizing that it is only through God’s great gift that we are able to stand in such a way.
I admit, even when I was in the seminary, I did not think this was possible. I was meeting new priests on a seemingly weekly basis, and there was something about each one of them that made me want to be like them. It was not an effervescent bubbly joy that would turn sour quickly, but a deep sense of purpose that I did not see anywhere else in this world. I have come to realize that it is the joy that comes from knowing Christ, which comes from giving one’s life over to Him, and realizing that in that giving over, there truly are many rewards, nearly all of which are unexpected.
Does this mean that every day is easy as a priest? Certainly not, just as every day as a parent is filled with both great joys and deep hardships. In fact, one of the most memorable days I have had as a priest was one of the greatest struggles, in how to make sense of the death of a ten year girl who was stricken with Cerebral Palsy. It was extremely difficult to celebrate her funeral with joy, with hope in the Resurrection, yet, looking back, it is a day that I will always remember as a priest.
Because priests have declined in numbers over the last forty years, I fear that many of the faithful, especially the young faithful, have never experienced the joy that radiates from a priest on fire for the priesthood.
Thank your priest for his service to the Church, for his willingness to give it all over to Christ. But more importantly, encourage the same self-sacrifice among our young people of today. I am convinced God is calling many more than those who are responding. With your prayers and support, the seminary will again be filled with young men eager to be Fishers of Men.