Put Out into the Deep

New Priests Understand Role of Service

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This week’s column gives me an opportunity to reflect on the Ordination of ten priests for service to the faithful of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, held on June 4 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph. Every Ordination takes on its own particular character, perhaps because of the differences of those being Ordained. This year, it was particularly clear that those being Ordained mirrored our Diocese in its ethnic makeup; two born in Latin America, two who are Haitian-born, two born in Poland, one of Nigerian birth and three American-born – one of European-American heritage, one of Hispanic heritage and one of African-American heritage. These faces are the faces of the Diocese of Brooklyn in a microcosm reflected so well in those who are ready to serve not only those of their heritage, but also each member of our Diocese. They are priests who were Ordained for all the people of God of Brooklyn and Queens.

It has been my custom to spend the day before Ordination in prayer with those to be Ordained. By coincidence, Friday, June 3, was the Feast of the Sacred Heart and also the Day of Prayer for Priestly Sanctity which was declared some years ago by Pope Benedict XVI. Priestly sanctity is what priesthood is all about. It is about a life in which holiness is extolled and it is holiness that serves the people of God well. The day is one where we discuss various issues and also provides an opportunity to share a Holy Hour, celebrate the Eucharist and pray the Vespers of the Sacred Heart. During my own discussion with those to be Ordained, I had an opportunity to discuss their “priesthood paper” which I asked them to prepare for me prior to our day of prayer. Each is asked to write a short paper, not theological in nature, which expresses their thoughts and hopes for the priesthood which they are about to receive. I would like to share some of their thoughts with you so that you might have a better insight into the newly Ordained sent to serve our Diocese.

Certainly, the common element is a reflection on the priesthood. But each one of the newly Ordained has come to it in a different way. One came to the priesthood later in life. Besides looking forward to celebrating the sacraments, he had a particular desire to evangelize and imitate the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of Love, which fascinated him because of the Pope’s efforts to reconcile all to the love of Christ. Another reflected on the necessity of relationships in the priesthood because, when all is said and done, the priest must break the isolation that is inherent in the gift of celibacy.

In looking forward to his life in the priesthood, another made the cultivation of more vocations to the Diocese one of his goals. Yet another reflected on the incompatibility of this life to a self-centered life that did not make the priest recognize his responsibility to others and that the priesthood is necessarily a counter-cultural statement in today’s world.

One candidate reflected on the fact that priests are taken from among men consecrated into the truth, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s people. Saint Paul said that we carry these gifts in vessels of clay, and at the same time the priest can be the recipient of much negativity. Yet, the grace of God allows the priest to overcome the negative aspects of service because of his configuration to the person of Christ. It is the priest who utters the very words and actions of Christ Himself.

One of the candidates reminds us of the words of Pope Francis that the priest begins to smell like sheep because he is not his own and must serve God’s people with a great desire for holiness. Only in that way can a priest make sense of his celibate life. Yet another candidate, reflecting on St. John Paul II’s characterization of the priesthood as “gift and mystery,” which is at the same time both.

One other remarked that priests, as shepherds, must have the heart of Jesus, while at the same time recognizing that he is called to minister as father to many children, which entails a heart filled with compassion, love and mercy.

And finally, another saw the priesthood through the intimate relationship with the Lord with the responsibility of being not only an advocate for others, but also a witness to God’s love in the world.

These short statements perhaps do not do full justice to the reflections I received. However, I truly am enthusiastic about the zeal and the preparedness of these men who take on the ministry of the priesthood in our Diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens.

It is always necessary that we thank the Lord for the vocations which we have received. No one can instill a vocation in another. It is God’s gift to us. It is, however, our task to call forth the vocations that the Lord has put forth to our community.

As we begin the next pastoral year, we will concentrate ever more on our Project Andrew program, hosted by parishes and deaneries so that we may have more contact with those who might be called to the priesthood. It is our responsibility over and over again to put out into the deep, to seek those whom the Lord has called and assist them in discerning following a vocation which is only God given.

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See photos from this year’s ordination here: Ten New Priests