Priests: ordinary men made extraordinary by grace of their vocation

>> Saturday, April 5, 2008

Priests: ordinary men made extraordinary by grace of their vocation

Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

A friend of mine grew up in a family where her father worked for General Motors. When she was young, the company transferred her dad around the Midwest every few years. The good news is that she made many different friends, some of whom have lasted a lifetime. The bad news is that she never really set down roots until adulthood. She has no single city or town from her childhood that she remembers as “home.”

Military families often have the same experience. Assignments come and go during an armed forces career. Families must learn to find “home” in each other and in faithful friends who understand the unique rhythm of a family life ruled by larger obligations. A life on the move can be fruitful and rewarding, my friend likes to say. But easy, it’s not.

I remember my friend’s experience every year at this time as I work with the senior priests of the archdiocese to propose new assignments for our pastors and parochial vicars. Priests are ordained to serve God’s people in persona Christi—to model the “person of Christ” in their words and actions—and as Jesus lived his ministry on the move, so too priests very rarely own the roof they sleep under. In the Archdiocese of Denver, even a veteran pastor seldom serves any parish for more than 12 years. There are good reasons for this. A periodic change of leadership often brings fresh energy and thinking to a parish, and it can also renew our priests with new opportunities and challenges. But of course, change also has a cost.

Whatever “home” a priest finally has is in the hearts of his people, not in bricks and mortar. Unlike religious order priests, diocesan priests take no vow of poverty, but a priest’s salary is a modest affair and success as a priest involves something very different from financial wealth. Diocesan priests promise a life of celibacy and obedience to their bishop in order to have the freedom to serve the Church and her people more radically. Priesthood, like marriage, is an all or nothing choice. And also like marriage, it’s not for the weak or the lazy or the selfish.

Every good Christian family has parents with a touch of heroism about them. And so it is with the Church. Every effective parish, and the health of the Church at large, depend in a special way on the dedication of our priests—ordinary men called by God and made extraordinary by the grace of their vocation. Of course, priests are every bit as human as laypeople, with the same weaknesses and strengths, virtues and sins. But that’s all the more reason to encourage them and pray for them in the same way we do for our families and the friends we love.

At Chrism Mass during Holy Week every year, priests around the world renew their commitment to their priestly identity and service. This year, more than any other, I was struck by the simple heroism in so many of the priests I know; men who serve without complaint and often without much praise or affirmation. So as I finish my 11th year as archbishop of Denver, it’s a good time to acknowledge that no bishop—much less this one—can do his ministry without the friendship and support of his brother priests, and in Colorado, the men who make up our presbyterate are among the best anywhere in the United States. It’s a blessing to serve with them. And the Church’s work here would be impossible without their leadership and love.

This week, priests from around the diocese will gather in Keystone for their annual convocation. It’s a vital time for renewing their spirit and their fraternal friendship for one another. So this week and throughout this holy season of Easter, please remember in your prayers, in a special way, all the many diocesan and religious priests who serve our people. They’re very good men. They need and rely on your support.


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