My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Since the first time I ordained priests for service to the faithful of the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2004, 96 have been Ordained to the priesthood. This means that I have Ordained nearly one-third of the active priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn. During my tenure in the Diocese of Camden, my mother came with me to one of the Ordinations as she wanted to witness my ordaining priests.
After the ceremony, as I drove her home, my mother said something that I will never forget. “Now I know what a bishop is supposed to do…make other priests!”
As the Directory for Bishops tells us, the relationship of bishop to priests is critical for the life of the diocese. The bishop must be father, brother, and friend to the presbyterate and show it. When all is said and done, I recognize that this is a very difficult responsibility to be all three to the priests.
During the course of the lifetime of a priest and the lifetime of the bishop, however, all of these goals can be fulfilled. The bishop is the father to those young priests. He is brother to those who are his contemporaries. And he is a friend to those who are older. Now that I, myself, have reached that status of senior clergy, I must be a father to most of the presbyterate of Brooklyn and Queens.
Spiritual fatherhood is truly the essence of the priesthood. Without understanding what it means to be a father, it is almost impossible to be an effective and happy priest. Unfortunately, today in our society, the experience that many people have of fatherhood is not a good one. This even affects those who come to the priesthood.
They truly have a vocation, and yet they struggle because they come from families that are broken. Fathers may be absent, and they may never have learned to understand that fatherly relationship that is critical to priestly work. This lack of relationship to a father sometimes affects the priest first because either he cannot obey authority, nor is he able to exercise authority because he does not have a model to relate to in his own priestly responsibilities. This is something that is addressed during the period of formation. It is always a challenge to properly form priests who are fathers and shepherds of God’s people.
One of my customs since I have had the privilege to ordain priests is to spend a day of prayer with them on the day before their Ordination, giving them some time to reflect on this life-changing moment, which is called Ordination. Prior to the day of recollection, I request each to write me a brief priesthood paper, so that I might prepare myself for the day. This year, I gave the four Ordinandi three questions that I wanted them to reflect upon. I have analyzed their answers, and I wish to report this to you, the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens, so that you know the good work you can expect from our newly ordained priests. Each is very different; three are foreign-born — two from Colombia and one from Croatia — and another an American of Japanese heritage.
Each, however, has been formed in the life of the Church during this period of formation and is ready to undertake priestly work in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Truly, we are fortunate to have four men this year for Ordination.
Ordination this year will be different
Yes, Ordination this year will be a bit different. Because of the pandemic, unfortunately, there will be a limited amount of people able to attend in person. Three of those to be Ordinated will not have any parents present, and only one will have his mother present, either because they are deceased, but mostly because they have not been able to obtain visas to travel given the current pandemic.
Thanks to DeSales Media and the technology of today, the Ordination will be live-streamed around the world, so that the family and friends of the Ordinandi will see the decisive moment in their life when they become priests of Jesus Christ
Some questions for the new priests
The first question I asked each to reflect upon is, “What are you looking forward to in your life as a priest?” One said that he wished to be a good shepherd and, as Pope Francis tells us, to feel the odor of the sheep, especially to go after the lost sheep, emptying himself and serving others and not his own needs. Another said he was ready and willing to do God’s will and did not have a fixed plan for the future.
One other said that besides doing God’s will, he understood that he must be a peaceful and earnest fighter for the faith, which he learned from his father, who was extorted by guerillas in his home country, however through that never lost his faith. And the other said that he wanted meaningful ministry which consisted in his mind in having good relationships with the priests with whom he serves, with the parishioners, and also to enable him to keep the promises made at Ordination and to continually grow in his faith.
The second question I asked each to reflect upon is, “What would be your ideal job description?” I find today that many young priests do not seem to know what they should be doing. I believe it is important for us to help them define ministry in an ever-changing Church. One said that since Jesus Christ did not have a job description and did not cling to His own dignity, he would be ready to do whatever was necessary to evangelize and to be a witness to the truth. Above all, he sees the priesthood as a way of bringing people to union with God.
Another saw that he would act in the person of Christ as the classic definition of priesthood tells us, and, in a special way, heal those broken, especially through the sacramental ministry. One saw obedience as his job description, to faithfully do whatever was asked of him. And another saw not only evangelization, but also a continual need for mentoring and guidance as important to his priestly ministry.
Finally, the third question posed asked, “What obstacles would you have to overcome in the priesthood?” One said that he had overcome his own failings of past experiences. At the same time, he recognized that in a new culture from his own, he had to really learn a new language well and to be aware of the current persecution that the Church is undergoing in our own country.
Another recognized unworthiness but also recognized that Divine Mercy overcame any difficulty he might experience. And another realized the difficulty in learning the language well, however, he felt all of his efforts were worth the time and effort so that he could better impart God’s message to the people. And at the same time being open and recognizing the limitations of his own patience and enculturating to a new country. While another, in a similar vein, recognized the multi-cultural nature of our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, and the inability to be perfect in English, while at the same time serving the
ethnic communities among us.
As I read each of the papers, I was happy that these four men have given much consideration to their life as priests. I am sure that we will be satisfied with their ministry among us. As these four new priests put out into the deep of the new ministry that is given to them by God, I ask you, the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens, to pray for them. Pray that they will be successful in following the will of God in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.