To the many beloved priests and seminarians,
Has anyone told you “thank you” lately? Asked how you were doing? Expressed how much your priesthood meant to them? Said more after Mass than just, “Good homily, Father!”?
It can be hard to remember amid these turbulent times our Church is facing. I’ll be the first to admit that it is discouraging to hear about the many broken situations in the Church today. The scandals and headlines have me wondering why Jesus would allow all of this to happen.
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But recently, as I sat reading another disappointing story, I thought about you. And I realized that in the midst of all of my frustrations and questions, it had been a while since I told you just how thankful I am for you and for all you’ve given up to be where you are now.
I remember what it was like for you to make the hard decision to discern your vocation to the priesthood by entering seminary. You were excited, but not free from worries and fears. I remember what you gave up — a promising career, many material possessions, autonomy, the potential of a wife and children. I remember what your family thought — their pride, but also their sadness and concern, for we live in a world that Jesus promised would persecute you because of his name.
I remember the many hours you spent away from the world, living far from home and disconnected from your closest friends and family. I remember your hard work and study. I remember your journey of making new friendships, knowing they could discern to leave seminary, leaving you wondering if you’re called to leave, too.
But I also remember your joy on the day of your ordination. How you wept for love of God, the tears also flowing from your parents, family and friends. I remember you excitedly asking me if I would receive a blessing from you before I left your ordination party, and the joy you had at having a bouncy house for all the kids to play in as we celebrated. I remember how nervous you were for your first assignment, even though I knew that no matter where the Lord placed you, you were going to be Jesus to so many people.
I remember your frustrations, just like mine, with certain ways that things functioned within parishes and dioceses. I remember your deep desire to help bring healing and restoration to the Church and her faithful. I remember how excited you were, above all else, to bring Jesus to his people in the Eucharist and through the beauty of the sacraments.
Your priesthood has seen its fair share of trials. It seems that, no matter where you go, someone is displeased. Whether it’s the liturgy, the music, what you’re wearing, your boldness, your gentleness, other people at your parish, or many other decisions completely out of your control, it seems you hear more complaints than you hear anything else.
So with that being said, please hear it from me — I am so thankful for you. When we were new to your city, you welcomed us, connected us, had meals with us and always made sure to say hello to us. You baptized our children with joyful attention to the beauty of the sacrament. You anointed my dying father and constantly checked in on how he was doing, celebrating his funeral Mass with beautiful reverence and hope of heaven. You rejoiced at a surprise visit as I was passing through town and made time to check in on me. You made the long journey to be there with us on our wedding day. You extend God’s mercy to me time and again in the confessional. And this only scratches the surface of the myriad of ways you give of yourself daily.
At the drop of a hat, you head to the hospital to be with the sick and dying. You are a listening ear to the poor who come to your door. While many spend the weekend relaxing and enjoying themselves, you spend it serving your flock. You obediently respond to the promptings of your bishops and superiors. You stand as a witness of Christ’s love in a world that hates you. You strive to reclaim those parts of the Church that have strayed from the truth. You are pulled in a million directions, trying your best to love and to serve every person that you come in contact with. All while being the head of churches, finances, schools and extracurriculars.
Much is expected of you, often more than you are capable of being responsible for. Not only that, but you carry the weight of your brothers who have failed utterly and the people who are hurting and lost because of them.
And yet, every day you come to your vocation faithfully and lovingly. You show up and give of yourself in the best way that you can. You aren’t free from mistakes, but you are always trying to listen, grow, and become better. Just like the rest of us.
I truly don’t know what I would do without your presence in my life. And I know many others feel the same way that I do.
So know this, we are so thankful for you. And we are so sorry you don’t hear that more often. We are so grateful for all you do, both the seen and unseen things.
And we are praying for you. Because we know that, in doing God’s work, you are still human. You have sins and failings. You are not perfect, though we’d like to pretend that you should be. And I’m sure that, among other things, is a heavy cross to bear.
We love you. We cannot wait to continue working with you to bring about the good news of the Gospel in the world. And thank you for being Christ to us.