Telling the Good Tidings: Personal Reflections on the Priesthood
Linda Oppelt

Telling the Good Tidings: Personal Reflections on the Priesthood

By Father Lawrence C. Brennan

I was ordained a priest on Dec. 18, 1976.  It was the most precious Christmas gift I have ever received. For me, it culminated 13½ years of priestly formation: that is, personal and spiritual growth, academic study, and field education. I was blessed to have good teachers and mentors. I am still friends today with many of the men who were in the seminary with me, both ordained and lay. Some of them have been sixty years a friend.

I remember Christmas morning, 1968. I had just come home from serving Midnight Mass and I was too excited to sleep, so I listened to Handel’s “Messiah.” During one of the movements, I became aware that I was not just listening to a great work of art but that I was being spoken to. God was using that great work of art to address me personally — there in the family room of our home in Florissant, Missouri — words that he had once used to summon a prophet in ancient times he was using again to summon me. 

The words were: “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Is 40:9, 60:1). 

It was so much to take in. I was just a guy from Florissant, but the glory of the Lord was truly rising upon me. So much disproportion of scale! I was being made a part of an ancient story that was still unfolding and continues to unfold today. I did not and do not have the slightest doubt about what was happening. It was a self-authenticating experience. Reality itself. 

God was speaking to me. God was singling me out. It was an immense privilege and I felt it. I did not know yet what responsibilities and challenges it would entail, but I felt that with his help I could face anything. In time, the challenges came and the responsibilities certainly asserted themselves. With God’s help and with the support of understanding mentors and friends, I made progress. One week short of eight years later, I was ordained a priest. 

In Matthew 10, Mark 3, and Luke 6, the stories of the sending of the apostles include the names of the Twelve. Jesus had called each of them in a particular choice. They were no longer simply disciples or followers; now they were to be apostles or emissaries. In a similar way, the Rite of Ordination begins with the calling of the ordinands by name. Every ordinand knows that he is unworthy of this call, but that is part of the miracle.  God does not call the qualified; he qualifies those he calls. 

As Mark goes on to say, Jesus calls the apostles to be with him and to be sent, and to have power to cast out demons. Like the apostles, all priests have a special companionship with Jesus, especially in prayer. They seek to be like him. They seek to care for his people as he does. Like the apostles, they are also sent. They are given specific responsibilities and assignments, some of which might not be their own first choice. They are sent by Jesus. And they are given power to cast out demons. Some of them, yes, are exorcists, but this power should be understood more broadly. Jesus did not come to us simply to communicate a message. He came in power to conquer Satan and his works, to save us from sin and death, to establish a global community of the redeemed, and to elevate and glorify the universe. By his will, this same power continues in his Church, especially in the sacraments. 

At times, it may not seem so. At times, the Church is much less than what Jesus intended us to be. This is why we begin Mass with a penitential act and have the sacrament of penance. We acknowledge our shortcomings and ask for forgiveness. The true mystery is that, even despite our stupidity and laziness, even without our being aware, the kingdom is nonetheless growing in our midst and in human history. This is the meaning of the parable of the field ripening for harvest.      

A priest is ordained to preach, to sanctify, and to shepherd. Most of my own priestly ministry has been devoted to the preaching ministry, to the formation of candidates for the priesthood and the permanent diaconate. It was immensely gratifying work. I had the opportunity to work alongside priests, religious, and laypersons of dedication and talent. I also interacted with candidates of high motivation and personal giftedness. I learned so much from all of them along the course of this ministry. Above all, I saw Christ in them and continue to do so. 

The ministry of sanctifying is about the sacraments and the breviary. Through these, Christ is rendered present to his Church, and the Church in turn offers her prayers to him. It is important that these prayers include those who are suffering or lost. For my part, when I celebrate Mass, I am conscious of a twofold miracle. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. This is amazing enough. What is more amazing is that Christ accomplishes this miracle though me, a sinful man. 

The ministry of shepherding is primarily about the priest’s caring for the people assigned him. In my formation ministry, this involved caring for the students and faculty assigned to me. This was a privilege. In Colorado Springs especially, I resided in parishes, where I encountered many Catholics deeply devoted to their faith. This too was a privilege, and a great joy. 

I love being a priest. Christ has been good to me.  My bishops and brother priests have been good to me.  My peers, my students, my parishioners, and my friends have been good to me. All in the name of Christ! I can never be anything but grateful. 

(Rev. Lawrence Brennan, S.Th.D., is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He taught for more than 30 years at four American seminaries, serving as the Academic Dean for Kenrick-Glennon seminary for 18 years. He previously served as the Director of Permanent Diaconate Formation for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)

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