October 28, 2011 – A Deserved “Thank You”

I’m not sure how this blog is going to turn out.  Like a lot of Cardinal fans I’m running strictly on adrenaline today after staying up late to see the incredible game on Thursday night.  As I have at many points in the last couple of months, I resigned myself to seeing the season end, and lo and behold my Cardinals somehow muster a comeback and stay alive.  Well tonight it will end one way or another, and I can return to my “normal” life. 

Of course most of us really can’t claim that our lives are always “normal”.  There are always the unexpected things that come up – things that require us to go above and beyond the call of duty.  Things come up that we know we have to endure even though we would rather be doing other things.  Things come up that we have never experienced before and we are not sure what the final outcome will be.  I think this certainly would qualify as an accurate description of the life of a priest.  The month of October in our nation is dedicated to showing appreciation to our clergy, and in particular the last Sunday of October is designated as Priesthood Sunday in the United States.  Our priests continue to face more and more challenges, and they deserve to be recognized for their tireless service to others.

A few weeks back I talked a little bit about the changing “face” of the Church that I observed when I attended the last West Deanery meeting.  This is even more evident when you look in the Messenger this week.  Many parishes placed an ad thanking their pastors and other priests that do parish ministry, and you can note the same things – That the number of clergy continues to fall, that a large block of clergy continuing to minister is aging, and more international priests on loan to our diocese are filling these roles.  The Messenger also highlighted that there are 4 more international priests who have come to our Diocese to serve for a 2-5 year period, and it also profiled the 5 seminarians from our diocese currently studying to hopefully fulfill the vocation of the priesthood.  Someone on the outside looking in may think that is great to have 5 gentleman in the seminary, and we certainly should be grateful for them.  However, considering that one is an older gentleman, and that the younger men will be in study for approximately 8 years if they complete their education, then we would still be averaging about ½ an ordination per year.  In other words, there will be some years in which no one will be ordained, and considering again the age brackets our current priests fall into, we certainly see a future scenario that will require radical changes in how we receive church.

I don’t share this to scare folks, but in order to stress a couple of points.  That first of all, one of the important ways we can show appreciation to our current priests is to pray for and encourage vocations.  As I have said before, this is sort of an uncomfortable subject for me to talk about because there was a time that I contemplated pursuing a vocation, and ultimately decided that it was not the path I was meant to take.  But I know that there are men who have what it takes to be a good priest, and it is a matter of them hearing God’s call and being encouraged by those close to them.  I also share this because again it illustrates the need for the parish planning process we are going through right now.  Only those parishes who are deemed viable will be assured of the presence of a priest in the near future, and the future down the road may require even more radical changes if an increase in vocations does not occur. 

At our parish council meeting the other night it was discussed why we proclaim a prayer for priestly vocations each week, but do not include other vocations such as religious brothers, sisters, and deacons.  It is not that these vocations are not important, and it is not that the increased role of lay people in parish ministry is not important.  But the heart of our faith is the Eucharist, and of course it must be a priest who celebrates Mass and is able to consecrate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  And the question of whether there will be a priest to send in 5, 10, 20 years time must be addressed.  As with many things, it is prudent to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

So on this Priest Appreciation weekend, I thank our pastor, Fr. Gene, for his willingness to share his gifts with us. His knowledge of church history, his dedication to Catholic education, his ability as a homilist, his willingness to take a stand on social issues the Church deems important, his humor, and of course his care for the parish and the people who constitute it, have all made our parish a stronger and more welcoming place.  I also thank those who have pastored here in the past, living and deceased, for their contributions to our community that we continue to enjoy the fruits of today.  And finally, I thank all of those who made the courageous decision to give their lives to serving God and to being shepherds to His people.  We pray for all of them that they experience joy and satisfaction in their vocation, and that more will decide to join their mission and ease the burden of their ministry. 

OK, I think this made some sort of sense.  Maybe my mind is not as jumbled as I thought.  Well, then again, my mind is always jumbled.  No matter what happens in Game 7, this will go down as one of the most memorable seasons I have ever experienced.  Of course, the win would make it that much sweeter.  Enjoy the game, Happy Halloween, and continue to enjoy the gorgeous fall season we are having.  GO CARDS!  Peace.

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