An Occasion of Joy!
Fr. Jeffrey Keyes at The New Gasparian rightly laments that the conversation at St. Blog's about the priesthood has centered around the admittedly-dismal topic of what to do about those priests who have sullied their vocations by the crime of sexual abuse. The topic is painful for Fr. Keyes, as it is indeed for myself, my brother priests, and most Catholics. I hope in this post to provide something of an antidote to that pain and disappointment.
Today and tomorrow are days that give me hope, and I hope will be a source of encouragement to my readers. For tomorrow is a day of particular joy for me, as it is the 1-year anniversary of my priestly ordination. By God's good grace, one year ago tomorrow, Bishop James Murray laid hands upon me and imparted to me the gift of priestly ordination, making me a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, and giving me the awesome privilege and responsibility of acting in Persona Christi.
I feel particularly favored to have been ordained on the feast of St. John Marie Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. On that day I adopted him as my special patron: I have asked and will continue to ask for his intercession, that I can have some share of the zeal and love for souls that marked his priesthood. I feel especially close to him in regards the sacrament of reconciliation: St. John Marie was renowned for his skill and insight as a confessor. He had the gift of reading souls and people would come from all over France to his humble parish in Ars in order to go to confession with him. He was known on occasion to spend 18 hours in the confessional at a stretch. While I certainly do not claim anything like his gifts or sanctity, I do feel a kinship to him in that I truly love hearing confessions, and dispensing the healing mercy of Christ in that sacramant. The joy and wonder of being a confessor, of seeing souls cleansed and made whole, of seeing the redemptive grace of Christ at work through myself as priest, is something that the seminary didn't (and really couldn't) prepare me for. It is an awesome privilege. It is also a source of great edification to me, for in the sacrament of reconciliation I have been privileged to encounter people who, I am certain, are saints. They are people who look, on the outside, like "ordinary" Catholics, but the depth and richness of their interior lives is a source of wonder to me.
I ask all of my readers to say a prayer for me on my anniversary day, and join me in asking for St. John Vianney's intercession on behalf of all priests.
Another Occasion of Joy!
But today is a day of perhaps even greater joy, for it is a day of joy not only for me but for my whole diocese, and indeed for the whole Church. For today a new priest was added to Christ's Church, and I was privileged to participate in the ordination of Fr. John Fleckenstein to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Every time a new priest is ordained the Triumph of Christ over sin and death is made that much stronger. Every time a new priest is ordained the Kingdom of God is brought to a fuller realization. Every time a new priest is ordained the boundaries of the kingdom of this world are pushed back a little farther. So it is a day on which all Christians should rejoice. I tell you that the Angels and Saints in heaven are rejoicing!
In spite of the scandal of The Situation and the dismal failure of our bishops I am very hopeful, and I think you should be as well, because the rising generation of young priests and seminarians, like Fr. Fleckenstein, are men of zeal for the authentic Catholic Faith: they are men inspired by, loyal to, and eager to imitate our Holy Father. They not only assent to Church teaching and discipline, they willingly embrace it. And their numbers are growing. I encountered this phenomenon in microcosm, as many recently-ordained priests and seminarians were there at the ordination. I had the good fortune of meeting Fr Raymond D'Souza, about whose First Mass several bloggers wrote a couple of weeks ago. It was an impressive gathering, and something that should give hope to all Catholics.
Let us pray for more such men to follow Christ in the priesthood, and see to it we give these men our support and encouragement.