COLORADO SPRINGS. The Serra Club of Colorado Springs announced the winners of its Priest Appreciation Contest, which was held in conjunction with National Vocations Awareness Week, Nov. 3-9. Winners in each category were as follows:
First place and overall winner: Elliana Chandanais, St. Gabriel
Second place: Amy Thomas, Our Lady of the Pines
First place: Sean Thomas, Our Lady of the Pines
Second place: Elena Davalos, St. Paul
Third place: Constance Broer, St. Paul
First place: Coehn Paquette, St. Paul
Second place: Kira Kristiansen, St. Paul
Third Place (tie): Quinn Eileen Lai and Maria Trinidad, St. Paul
First place: Baird Duncan Jr., St. Paul
Winners will be invited to a special awards presentation and lunch with Bishop Michael Sheridan.
The following essay, written by St. Gabriel the Archangel parishioner Elliana Chandanais, was the overall winner of the contest.
Like a Shepherd
A shepherd tends, herds, feeds, and guards his sheep. Like a father, he protects, supports, mentors, guides, and blesses his flock. And to the lambs who stray away, he gently guides them back home. This is the love of a father. This is the love of a priest.
I have been blessed to know many priests through my life who have always epitomized these qualities. However, one priest is remarkably inspirational and is a role model to me of what it means to be a true disciple of Christ. Father Kirk Slattery has been the priest of my home parish since I was nine years old. I have quickly realized the many ways that he has guided me to desire to grow in faith and live it more and more fully each day and each moment.
The priestly vocation is what connects the earthly and the divine. It is through priests that we have the sacraments. They are the participation of Jesus’ mediation that we may enter into the mysteriously bound gift of his church. I am so inspired by Father Kirk’s humble “yes” response to being an extension of the great mediator, Jesus Christ.
The gift of the vocation of the priesthood is miraculously and mysteriously bound with the gift of the Holy Eucharist. Without holy priests, we could not receive this indescribable gift of love which we enter into each time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Christ nourishes us with the gift of his very body as spiritual food through the hands of his shepherds.
Father Kirk inspires me in his complete reverence to the sacraments, to the Mass, and to the faith. His eyes never drift from complete love and reverence to Christ. And by his obedience to the Will of God, I am able to receive Jesus into my body and into my soul.
Father Kirk inspires me as well in the sacrament of reconciliation. Reconciliation can be frightening or embarrassing, but he is always patient and understanding, letting Christ work through him, letting Christ’s mercy flow into the confessional, and pouring forth Jesus’ mercy and healing within me. Through the sacraments, and like the words of St. Gemma Galgani, I long to taste the gall as I approach to kiss Christ. I long to feel his scourging as I lean my shoulders against his. I long to feel his bitter passion when my flesh is united with his. I long to feel his thorns when my head comes near his. And I long to feel his spear when my heart comes close to Jesus Christ. My longing stems from Father Kirk’s inspiring obedience to the Father’s will. It is through his humble “yes” and willingness to serve God as a shepherd that I can come so close to Jesus and that I am inspired in my own faith life.
The priesthood is one that carries many burdens. There is constant, pernicious social media bombardment scathing priests and focusing on the faults of some. The media is constantly assuming and making generalizations that all priests must be evil although most are so holy.
Priests walk daily with those who are suffering the loss of loved ones, those struggling with illness, and broken families. Father Kirk inspires me in that he carries all of these crosses and more, but he always carries these difficult and heavy crosses with true, Christian joy. That which is internal and endures with strength, hope, and confidence in the knowledge of God’s love. That which is unwavering, a disposition of peace, a disposition of joy.
I am reminded of the story in Matthew 14: 27-31 when Jesus walks on water and the disciples are afraid. “At once [Jesus] spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” It is frightening to choose to surrender to God. It is frightening to say “yes” to God’s will. So many of us are afraid to follow him. But Jesus says, “Be not afraid”; Jesus says, “Come, follow me”.
Father Kirk inspires me by his humility and obedience to God’s will. He promised celibacy and obedience to the Bishop and the Pope. He promised to allow his life to be a sacrifice, so that he could become the creation that God made him to be. And when we choose that “yes”, like Mary’s fiat, like the “yes” of a priest, like the “yes” of a deacon, a friar, a nun, a sister, a consecrated religious, we may become the most beautiful and incredible creation that God desires for us to be more than we can ever imagine.
I am truly inspired by Father Kirk’s “yes” to the priesthood. I am truly inspired by his “yes” to God’s will.
(Elliana Chandanais is a 12th-grader studying through the Colorado Connections Academy.)