Our New Priests and Gratitude

Yesterday (May 15th) Archbishop Schnurr ordained seven men to the holy priesthood for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. That is a sign of great hope, as the twin gifts and mysteries of the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist are at the heart of our Christian faith. Please pray for them by name: Fathers Michael Kapolka, Aaron Hess, Edward Hoffman, Louis Jacquemin, Elijah Puthoff, Scott Morgan, and Anthony Marcelli. Oratorian Fathers Henry Hoffman and Brent Stull were ordained in March.

On the parish blog, sccrparish.blogspot.com, you will find a mini-bio for each of these men, sharing their personal stories about how they were called to the priesthood. Each of these men belongs not just to a particular parish, but to the whole Church of Cincinnati because the Archbishop assigns their ministry and duties anywhere in the diocese.

I’m always struck when I read those bios just how varied the backgrounds the men have and how different their gifts and personalities. They are united by a common zeal to save souls and serve the Lord, but other than that there is a great mystery to which men are called to serve as mediators between God and men in helping to bring others to Heaven, just as it is mysterious why our Lord chose the first Twelve.

In praying for our own young sons, grandsons, brothers, and nephews, we should not “pigeonhole” them. Sure enough, there are certain young men that we have an “instinct” about being a good priest (and we should not hesitate to tell them so!) – but God often surprises us.

It is important to encourage our young men to the priesthood, because our young people are generally affirmed and encouraged to enter into marriage and family life by those close to them. This is not often enough the case with the priesthood. Some of the seminarians tell me that people they are close to actively discouraged them from entering seminary.

Hard to tell why. My own theory is that people are sometimes a bit fearful or mistrustful of things they don’t understand. And while they are intimately acquainted with what marriage and family is about, usually from experience, they don’t really know what it is like to be a priest.

There is a supernatural element to the call to the priesthood. That is, in marriage, most people are (at first) drawn to marriage largely because of our biological nature: boy meets girl, boy is attracted to girl, and so on. But in the priesthood, the answer to the call comes more from the yearning of the soul. That’s why it’s hard to describe. In my own case, I remember praying at Mass on occasion and – seemingly out of the blue – hearing an inner voice telling me that I would never be truly happy unless I could celebrate the holy Mass myself. You could almost call it “falling in love with the Mass,” somewhat parallel to the way some men and women have a sense when they meet their future spouse that they won’t be happy unless they are with them. (Yes, I realize dating isn’t always that simple! But sometimes it is.)

Of course, there is much much more to it than just a feeling – even a spiritual one. To be a good priest requires an enormous amount of preparation and formation in seminary: academic work so our priests know the faith inside and out; learning the law of the Church (canon law) which they are bound to administer; a deep understanding of history and tradition so that the men aren’t blown about by whatever the prevailing winds of popular culture are, but are rooted in what Jesus taught his Apostles; counseling training so priests can help others carry their burdens; training in prayer so that the men may be carefully attentive to the will of Christ and know where to lead their parishioners; and much more.

While seminary formation is challenging, and involves a great deal of sacrifice, it is part of the joyful duty of serving Christ with a man’s whole heart, mind, and soul.

We focus sometimes on praying for more priests (more young men being open-hearted, generous and responsive to God’s call). Nothing wrong with that! As I frequently remind people, even though we have very good news of a respectable number of men now in seminary (and we are doing better than many other dioceses here), still, with a very large wave of priests about to retire, we will be down almost 25 pastors from our current number within just five years. So we need many more men willing to offer their lives to Christ, and more families who teach them the spirit of self-sacrifice and love for the Church.

Above all, I think we need to pray for a spirit of gratitude for the men who have responded to Christ’s call to serve them by giving up so much to bring them the holy sacraments. I love being a priest, can’t imagine not being one, and am very grateful to God for giving me my vocation. I have had the experience of serving many, many wonderful, faith-filled and holy people – often the “anonymous saints.” Still, I am sometimes unpleasantly surprised at the number of faithful who frequently complain about their priests and seem to lack any gratitude for them.

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