It may be spring, but this time of year, Catholics find themselves feeling thankful for an abundant harvest. In dioceses across the United States, ordinations to the priesthood are taking place — so often the fruit of fervent prayer by Catholics far and wide for more men to serve the Church as priests.
In 2014, that meant 545 new priests nationwide. In 2013, it was 508.
The importance and value of the priests serving the Church cannot be overstated. Answering the call to be laborers in the field — what Pope Francis would call the “field hospital” — they commit their lives to administering the sacraments and to serving God’s people full-time, actively working (unlike most other vocations) until the age of 75 or beyond.
Men who answer this call to service face significant challenges: a lack of resources and personnel assistance, a changing geographic and cultural Church, and their own personal need for spiritual and emotional support and fraternity.
The challenges of the lives of the flock they serve become their concern, too. Pope Francis offers reassurance on this point in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) when he states that entering into the misfortunes and reality of other people is to “know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated” (No. 308).
Those entering the priesthood today also face a challenge of perception and healing. This year’s ordination class enters into the Sacrament of Holy Orders in a world where the current Academy Award winner for Best Picture is “Spotlight,” a film documenting the work of the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism team to uncover the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. The abuse crisis is a wound that will take generations to heal, and each successive wave of new priests has the challenge of building trust anew by living up to the sacred responsibility to protect children and foster safe environments within the Church.
Whether atoning for the past sins of others or building on the rich heritage of faith in a local parish community, so much of priesthood is reaping what others have sown and sowing what others will reap.
| Msgr. Owen Campion
That is why it is good to remember not only the men being ordained this year, but those observing anniversaries of many years of priesthood this spring, particularly those ordained in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, who are now increasingly transitioning into retirement. Our Sunday Visitor’s own associate publisher and editor of The Priest magazine, Msgr. Owen Campion, marks an extraordinary 50 years as a priest this month. If he had celebrated just one Mass each weekend of his priesthood, he would have reached 2,600 liturgies. If that number is increased to daily Mass — which he has celebrated for us at OSV for the past nearly 30 years — that number jumps to more than 18,000.
But the witness provided by such men cannot be illustrated by numbers alone. It’s illustrated in the inspiration they provide for people to bind their lives to Christ, how they are living ministers of the Body of Christ. They may retire, but they never really stop ministering and certainly never cease to be “Father.” The beauty of the priesthood is, as Matthew’s Gospel says, “By their fruits you will know them.” And even as these laborers in the vineyard depart, they leave abundant fruit.
Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor