I recently had the opportunity to attend two distinct events that celebrated the gift of the priesthood: one in life and the other in death.
Father Pascal Louis is parochial vicar at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph-St. Teresa of Avila Parish, where I have the honor of serving as rector. In early September, Father Pascal celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.
A native of Haiti, he has served for the past 23 years in the Diocese of Brooklyn. In his homily at the anniversary Mass, Father Hilaire Belizaire told us that Father Pascal’s ordination 40 years prior was the first to take place in many years in the small town of Terrier-Rouge.
There was such great excitement among the people. Priests came from all over the region to attend the ordination. Since the church was too small to fit everyone, they held the celebration outside in the church square.
More than 20 young men were inspired by Father Pascal’s ordination to enter the seminary and to be ordained priests in the years that followed.
A few days after this anniversary celebration, I attended a very different kind of Mass: the funeral of Msgr. Paul Jervis, a faithful priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn for 41 years. He was buried from his most recent parish assignment, St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise, where he had served as pastor.
Prior to the Mass, a relative read a brief biography of Msgr. Jervis, describing his parish assignments and his work on the cause of the canonization of Msgr. Bernard Quinn.
Though different in tone, both Masses shared several characteristics. They were filled with joy and excitement as people gathered in great numbers to celebrate the life of two good, faithful, and holy priests.
Evident in both celebrations was the fact that these priests, acting as instruments of Christ, have enriched the lives of countless people and families. Both celebrations gathered priest friends whose presence served to elevate the liturgies.
We hear many reports today about a decrease in the number of men pursuing vocations to the priesthood, a shortage of priests ministering in our parishes, as well as parish mergers and closures. In light of these difficult problems, I think there are practical lessons to be learned from our celebrations of Father Pascal and Monsignor Jervis:
1) Celebrations of faithful priests should not be confined to milestone anniversaries or funerals.
2) We all need to pray for priests. This is the best way to say “thank you” to them. We must pray that they remain faithful and devoted servants, growing in holiness and leading God’s people to Christ.
3) Priests must encourage one another. We must make a greater effort to attend different types of celebrations: anniversaries, ordinations, the annual chrism Mass, and priest funerals. These are all celebrations of the gift of the priesthood. It is inspiring to see the love and support, the fraternity and the joy of men who share this gift. These Masses can also inspire those called to the priesthood to discern their vocations.
As I reflected on these celebrations, my heart was filled with great joy. In my eight years as a priest, I have often experienced the tangible support of brother priests and the lay faithful. With your prayers and God’s grace I look forward to many more blessings to come.