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THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: Priestly Service

THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: Priestly Service

By Bishop James R. Golka

"Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23)

In 1922, 48-year-old G.K. Chesterton came into full communion with the Catholic Church.  Fourteen years later, in his autobiography, Chesterton would explain why he became Catholic with this simple, but profound, statement: “To get rid of my sins.”

The underlying assumption in Chesterton’s reason for becoming Catholic is the existence of the priesthood to cooperate with Jesus Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation, the vehicle by which Chesterton sought forgiveness of his sins.

Most, perhaps all, Catholics understand what a gift it is to be able to seek forgiveness in the confessional.  However, many Catholics don’t understand what a gift it is to be a priest and sit with a penitent and cooperate with Jesus Christ in that healing sacrament.

In his article in this issue of The Colorado Catholic Herald, Father Larry Brennan refers to the priesthood as, “ . . .the most precious Christmas gift I have ever received.”  We often, appropriately, refer to the priesthood as a calling, a vocation, a ministry; and these are all true.  For those of us who are priests, our ordination also represents a tremendous gift.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that all the baptized faithful are called to the common, or universal, priesthood: “This ‘common priesthood’ is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate” (CCC, No. 1141), and “Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers” (CCC, No. 1268).

However, I want to call special attention to the ministerial priesthood, for it is through the ordained priesthood that we have access to the sacraments.  The Catechism states that “He (Christ) acts through the sacraments” (CCC, No. 1076). Our access to Christ is uniquely “whole” through the sacraments, and our access to the sacraments flows primarily through our priests.

When a priest is ordained, he is ordained to shepherd, to lead:  “. . . the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis” (in the person of Christ the Head) (CCC, No. 1548).

But Jesus does not define leadership in human terms. In fact, he states that “whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:27-28; Mark 10:44-45). And the Catechism echoes Christ’s vision of priestly leadership: “The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all” (CCC, No. 1551).

This month, three young men were ordained to the priesthood, taking up this challenge of servant leadership. This fall, we will have as many as 20 men who seek to follow the newly-ordained into the priestly ministry themselves. We also ordained a transitional deacon as well as 12 permanent deacons this month — all called and ordained to leadership and service.

We should pause and ask ourselves, “How were these men called by the Holy Spirit to this service?”  Please see Father Brennan’s article on Page 6, and you will read how he heard the call in a beautiful piece of musical art. Others have heard the call in the silence of prayer.  Many others have heard the call in the voice of those around them. If you encounter a man who you sense might have a vocation to the priesthood, tell him!  Tell his parents. Tell his pastor.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit is calling that man through you.

Please encourage your priests and pastors, thank them for answering the call; but also encourage those men around you to discern the call whenever you think, “He would make a good priest.”  Encourage them to seek out quiet in a noisy world so they can listen for God’s voice.

Studies have shown that two of the most common threads in the lives of men called to the priesthood are eucharistic adoration and the rosary.  Invite a man who you think might have a priestly vocation to adoration with you. (Pages 8-9 of this issue contain a listing of adoration schedules for parishes around the diocese to assist you in that effort.) Invite him to pray the rosary with you. Tell him you are praying for his discernment. Do it now, don’t wait.

If that man is called to the priesthood, we will all take great joy in the addition of another set of hands to bring us Jesus in the Eucharist and another voice in the confessional offering us his forgiveness. And one day, he may join his voice with Father Brennan’s, with mine and with countless priests down through the ages in proclaiming, “I love being a priest.”

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