THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: Priestly Obedience

THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: Priestly Obedience

By Bishop James R. Golka

"But Peter and the apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Act 5:29).

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

There are over 400,000 men in the world today who have answered the call to the priesthood. These are 400,000 unique and unrepeatable men.  No two are the same; no two have the same talents; no two follow the same journey to ordination.

But all of them have something in common:  at their ordination, every one of them prostrated themselves, lying face-down, to symbolize their unworthiness for the office, their dependence on God, and their dependence on the prayers of the community.  So please pray for your priests!

As I visit your parishes, and as I read your letters and messages, I am often asked, “Bishop, how can I help?” I am always grateful that so many of you desire to help your bishop, your diocese and your Church. One of the very best things the faithful can do for me is to support their priests and pastors. My desire for our priests is that they be holy, healthy and happy, and your prayers and support are vital in bringing our priests to that holy, healthy and happy place.

Speaking of place, we are approaching that time of year when new clergy assignments will be announced. Of course, not every priest will move, but some will. As we all know, change can be difficult and can sometimes feel arbitrary, unexpected or unfair. Yet, the process of deciding parish assignments is anything but arbitrary.

Our diocese has a priest personnel board that advises me on numerous matters affecting our priests.  The board meets multiple times before recommending that I move — or not move — any priest. Permanent members of the board include the Vicar General and the Vicar for Clergy, along with representatives the priests elect from among themselves.

Each year, a member of the personnel board interviews every priest to find out about their desires for the future. Do they want to stay where they are? Do they want to move? Are they ready for a sabbatical? And each year I am pleased to hear that the most common answer is, “I will go where I am needed.”

That statement is not made lightly. I ask my brother priests to pray, focusing their prayer on discerning where God needs them. This takes courage.

But the process does not start or end with personal discernment. The personnel board must also consider the needs of the parishes and the diocese. The will of the Holy Spirit comes first, and the needs of the Church are the priority.

So, to answer the question, “What can I do to help?” Especially during this time of year, for anyone at a parish where there will be a clergy change, I ask you to make an extra effort to thank your outgoing pastor or parochial vicar and welcome your new priest. Your early and sincere support can make a major difference in easing the stress of a move for everyone involved — the priest, the parish and the bishop!

This brings me to another experience that is common to all priestly ordinations, which is the final promise made while kneeling before the bishop. The ordinand places his hands in between the bishop’s hands and promises to obey him and his successors.

This is a powerful moment in the ordination rite.  The priest is being ordained “in persona Christi” — in the person of Christ, and he promises to be obedient. It is a deeply Christ-like promise, and it reflects the nature of the priestly call because, as St. Paul tells us, Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Our Church respects and embraces the call to be obedient, and we priests are called to live that obedience in a profound way.

As the summer approaches and the prospect of receiving a new priest at your parish grows near, I invite all of us to recommit to pray for our priests and pastors. These men have humbly and charitably committed their lives to God, to their bishop, and to you. They need our support!

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