By Father Patrick M. Carrion
Mothers get a day per year to be honored and lifted up on a pedestal. Fathers, like their gender counterpart, receive one day as well. It seems most people only get a day. Secretaries (or office support staff) get a day in April; Grandparents just got their day a few weeks ago. Nurses are honored during National Nurses Week with one day of the week set aside as the day for Nurses.
Priests, though, we receive a full year. St. Paul just received a whole year too. Before we priests let this go to our heads that we are deserving like St. Paul or are 365 times more deserving than nurses, grandparents, mothers and fathers, let us remember that, from a Chinese calendar perspective, this is also the Year of the Ox.
We are given this year not for parishioners to honor us as mothers are honored by their children through a nice dinner out or dads by receiving another box of golf balls or tie. We are given this year to reflect and rekindle the meaning that the priesthood is for us. Daily, mothers and fathers are formed by the very ones whom they are forming, being reminded continuously what it means to be a parent. They are reminded to be that nurturer, provider, that place of security and comfort for their child. Nurses as they administer medicine, walk floors, comfort patients 24/7, 365 days a year are reminded of their role in the healing process. We priests need this opportunity to reflect and rekindle who and what we are as we go about doing the work we promised to do.
Each priest on his anniversary day may reminisce about his ordination, the festivities, the laying on of hands that happened so many years ago. Do we ever go beyond the images we have of our ordination and remember the words that were said? In the presence of the Bishop and all the faithful, each priest-to-be expresses his resolve to carry out the office of priesthood using these or similar words, depending on the era of the ordination:
Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord's flock?
Do you resolve to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith?
Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church's tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?
Do you resolve to implore with us God's mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing?
Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all?
I probably should put these questions on my bathroom mirror instead of the post-it note that reminds me what I think is the primary ''to do'' for the day, lest I forget. If only I would remember ''to do'' these questions each day, since I did promise ''I do, with the help of God.'' These questions make for a great daily examination of conscience, if not a full week's retreat.
I imagine most married couples ask themselves the question, ''Would I say 'I do' all over again?'' Maybe the marriage ritual during the Statement of Intentions should add the phrase ''with the help of God'' because only these kinds of life commitments can be fulfilled with God's help. It is good to go back to the beginning and think, ''Why did I say 'I do' to this?'' and wonder,''Would I do it all over again?'' Look at some of the phrases from the above questions:
When I see these phrases listed so poignantly, stripped of all the flowery language that surrounds them in the ritual, it is a good thing we are having this whole Year of the Priest as it will take me a year to get myself back on track. I look at these phrases and see many of the not so worthy, not so faithful, not so reverent, not so prayerful and not so consecratory moments of my own years.
We all have heard the wise answer when someone asks a married couple, ''When did you decide to get married?'' or asks a priest, ''When did you decide to be a priest?'' and the sage answer is ''This morning, again.'' It demands constant vigilance to live out a life commitment, a decision each day to say yes. The mark of ordination may be indelible and you may be a priest forever, but that mark does get blurred if care is not taken. It is so easy just to get into the routine, the rhythm, to go through the motions that we miss a lot along the way. This does not mean that one is not happy nor does it mean that one is burned out. We still are doing good work, but the magnitude of the workload at times leaves little time to reflect. The Church gives us this year as a gift, forcing us or giving us permission to reflect worthily, wisely, faithfully, reverently, prayerfully in order to consecrate our lives once again.
The dwindling numbers of priests in the United States and the increasing number of Catholics at the same time is not news to any of us when we review reports from such organizations as CARA (Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate). These statistics show that there will only be an increased workload as fewer priests minister to more Catholics. This workload increases the likelihood that the routine, rhythm and the going-through- the-motions style of ministry will only increase. The need to care for the basics (the next funeral, the upcoming wedding, the next appointment) absorbs so much of the day-to-day routine ministry that little time is left for developing one's ministry or, even more important, developing one's call to the priesthood. Priests do an excellent job of maintaining the level of service that parishioners have come to expect when the ratio of priest to people has changed significantly over the years. The danger is that the constant doing impedes the constant conforming my life to the High Priest.
The five questions stated earlier from the ordination rite were once phrased differently: ''Are you resolved?'' and then answered, ''I am,'' ending the last question again with ''I am, with the help of God.'' This simple shift of these two-letter words from ''am'' to ''do'' does shed a different reflection as we declare our intention to undertake this office. Our lives are a constant balance of the ''doing what we have become'' and ''becoming what we do.''
The prayer at ordination as the priest receives the paten and chalice with the bread and wine before the consecration reminds us about this balance that is always before us.
Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's cross.
The understanding, the imitating, and the conforming are ongoing aspects of our lives. We are always doing, but are we always understanding? We celebrate the sacred mysteries daily but are we imitating and conforming our life to Christ as we do so?
This Year of the Priest gives us the permission to pause in the midst of the entire ministry we give to God's people, to minister to ourselves as well. St. Timothy in his second letter says to us, ''I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you'' (2 Tm 1:6). TP