I am just back from our Jubilarian Mass and Dinner, when we priests of the Archdiocese get together to mark the milestones that some of the brethren have reached – 25, 40, 50, and even 60 years of priesthood. I try to go to this every year, not only to recognize the achievement of my brother priests, but because the homily at the Mass, and the talks given at the dinner by the Jubilarians, are always edifying.
This year Father James Meyers, pastor at Saint Raphael in Rockville, told a story from his first years as a priest, assigned at the Cathedral, where he frequently had the privilege and daunting task of socializing with Cardinal O’Boyle. The Cardinal once admonished him about “breadth”, saying that, standing on your own two feet and with the help of the grace of God, breadth is the portion of the weight of he world that you, as a priest, bear on your shoulders.
Fr. Meyers, celebrating his fortieth anniversary, also asserted that even in these days, when there is no shortage the world’s weight on our shoulders, that there is no more universal or effective sign of Christian charity than the Roman collar. Thanks be to God for that!
Father Walter Tappe, a son of Saint Bernadette parish, ordained twenty-five years, gave a powerful reflection on his experience of the priesthood and its pillars: celibacy, which is a gift from God, not a burden or a choice, and makes possible unmatched intimacy with Christ; prayer, which is the work of that intimacy as well as its reward; and suffering, which is the place where Christ came to join us, and the place where the priest stands most closely with his people.
Those may sound like “colossal bummers” to you on a quick read, but he rejoiced in these things, as well as the fraternity of priests. And his telling of it reminded us – or at least me – how much I rejoice in them as well.
As I looked around the room at the priests there, I thought of all the articles and news stories that purport to portray priests or bishops, asserting blithely that “the Catholic Church” did this or that, and that “the bishops” are a certain way, or given an impression of how priests “are,” whatever that means.
I wish that everybody who takes that reporting at face value could have been in that room, and seen those men, heard their stories and their jokes, and known them, at least a little. Honestly, I am really close friends with only a very few of them, and couldn’t claim even to like all of them. But I admire most of them, and am grateful to count all of them as brothers – or, more grateful that they would count me as their brother.
This is the time of year for such reflection, as ordination anniversaries come around. I am only twelve this year, which is less time a priest than Monsignor W. Louis Quinn spent in his “retirement,” offering Mass, confessions, and wisdom every day at Our Lady of Lourdes. He died in March, the day after his sixty-fifth anniversary; I had known and admired him since 1987. What an awesome thing a priestly life, and what a gift and mystery.
I still find it a marvel that such a gift has been entrusted to me, and when I am honest about it, realize that my own two feet cannot carry much weight. How I reach for the grace of God! Come, Holy Spirit.