As I celebrate 50 years of priesthood, many thoughts and emotions spring up within me. It has been a wonderful “run,” lots of “fun,” with some days of cold rain seeping into my soul. Even though there will never be anyone to call me Grandpa, there are a legion of folks who will always call me Father.
As I look back, it would have been hard to imagine all that was going to happen after that glorious day in June 1966.
Celebrating daily Mass is still a meaningful moment in my daily living. If all that mystery and awe from saying “Hoc Este Enim Corpum Meum” has faded, as all first loves and infatuations do, there is still that wonderful experience of bringing the Risen Lord to the hungry sheep. My presence allows Christ to work through me and bring His plentiful redemption to all who seek Him.
Even though I do not touch or caress another warm body in affection and love, I feel and handle the Body of Christ who gives my life meaning and purpose. I say with the Psalmist, “So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory” (No. 62).
My first reaction on reaching 50 years is one of gratitude and thanksgiving. Why me? There were so many more intelligent and gifted members of my original class. I was not the best in sports, could hardly carry a tune for the choir, rarely ever was invited to be in a theater play, not good at languages, etc. If raw material was to be the criterion for priesthood, then I was not even a raw diamond in the rough.
It was purely a gift from the Lord, out of His infinite goodness. I have met and heard of many colleagues who have become bitter and disillusioned. My feelings are just the exact opposite. Did the Lord really know what He was picking? How lucky I was to get the call.
Then I think of the gift of perseverance. I know and still have contact with many wonderful men who, after leaving the priesthood for other activities, are doing great social work and who have helped many through counseling. Here I am, still plodding along. A jack-of-all-trades, master of none! How and why did I make it this far?
As a Redemptorist, we pray for the gift of Final Perseverance, to stick around to the end. Yes, there have been temptations, but few strong enough to want to give it up. Today, as I see many retirees in other professions unhappy and frustrated, feeling useless or unwanted, not needed, I still get lots of thanks from people for showing up, thanks for being a priest. Makes it all worthwhile.
Yet I need to say with Pope Francis that I am a sinner. I have not always used in the best way possible all the graces and opportunities the Lord sent my death is a mere door, a door which Christ himself opened, a way into eternal life. way. Besides personal sins and failings, my sins of omission are what weigh the most; for not have grown and become holier, a better priest.
How many occasions and times to have matured and developed were wasted? How many hours of prayer were not taken advantage of? Thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation which I still call Confession.
But a joy that I have is to see more clearly the summons that I have been given in my older age to develop a deeper personal relationship with the Lord, to grow in holiness and sanctity. With less work to do, not so many commitments and duties, I have more time to prepare myself in this antechamber of eternity for an everlasting encounter with this fabulous Jesus who gave everything of Himself, to teach me how to give at least something of myself to others.
Another bonus item that my priesthood has given me is an international experience and travel. I can truly describe myself as a RedempTOURIST. I spent almost 40 years in Brazil, studied in Rome, preached in over 40 States, have been to Africa and the Middle East, the Holy Land, all over Europe, etc. Celebrated and participated in Masses in at least 10 languages! While that isn’t intrinsic to living one’s priesthood, I have a greater appreciation for what Paul did, what Xavier must have felt, how Patrick could become the incarnation of the Irish soul.
But my hat goes off to those dedicated country pastors who stayed in small, insignificant and barely known towns for decades, far from the television cameras and the news reporters, even from their bishops and brother priests, who kept the faith alive in all those small communities because they spent their lives with them. Wherever we are stationed, we priests are missionaries when we preach Jesus and make the Gospel come alive.
Today I live in a very international community of Asian theologians who will be the backbone of my province in the near future. They study with many Latinos from all over Central and South America. Not too many German, Irish, Polish or Italian vocations these days.
American society is changing, and so is the Church becoming more and more the United Nations. Their journey will be different from mine. I am grateful for what I have received, remorseful for not having done a better job. May many more men come to know the joy and delight of being called to be Alter Christus.
FATHER KIRCHNER was ordained a Redemptorist priest in 1966, spent 39 years in the Amazon, has been a pastor many times and also did formation work. He received a degree in moral theology in Rome, taught, and is currently living at Hyde Park, Chicago.