Priest as Pastor, Servant and Shepherd
Father James McCarthy
Priest, Archdiocese of Sydney
Recently ordained priest reflects on his vocation
The Easter season is a time for celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Additionally in many places in the Catholic world, the Easter Season is the time when celebrations of Ordinations often occur. In fact, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, on 3 May, the Holy Father ordained 19 men as priests for the Diocese of Rome. Three days earlier, on Thursday, 30 April, in Sydney, Australia, Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell ordained four men to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, the largest Ordination for Sydney since 1988.
This was particularly significant for me as I returned home to Sydney from Rome, where I am currently studying, to be ordained as one of the four. The Ordination was a magnificent celebration of the presence of the Catholic Church in Australia, with over 3,000 in attendance at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral.
As a 27-year-old recently ordained priest, I am greatly consoled by the fact that throughout the world, the number of men ordained every year is continuing to rise, as is the number of men who are entering seminaries. The priesthood is a unique vocation, and it is unlike any career or profession.
When I answered the call to enter into formation for the priesthood, I was studying History and Politics at the University of Sydney. It was in the context of a secular public university that I heard the call to serve God, the Church and our world as a priest.
Since the Ordination, I have been delighted by the love, joy and support that the faithful have shown towards me and it is clear to me that Catholics value the vocation, witness and ministry of priests. However, I was most pleasantly surprised by the support shown by many in our society, especially by people who are not Catholics. Often in Australia, as in other places, faith is incorrectly described as a personal or private concern. The presence at the Ordination in Sydney of over 30 politicians from all forms of government in Australia, including the Governor of the State, and more than 40 judges and many people involved in public life, was a sign that the ministry of the Church and the priesthood is a public concern and public support and recognition is appropriate. Furthermore, the large number of representatives of different Ecclesial communities and other faiths was another sign of the desire for unity in our world. The priesthood is not of this world, but the priesthood is in this world and it affects our world in a variety of ways.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his Homily for the Presbyteral Ordinations in Rome earlier this month, commented that the priest is in the world, but "we run the risk of also being 'of the world'.
I was drawn towards the priesthood not only because of the priest's role in the Church, but because of the important contribution which priests make to our world, through serving our society and helping to make our communities, with the grace of God, into a more perfect reflection of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Catholic priests appear to spend most of their days serving Catholics, but the role and mission of the priest includes the service of all of humanity. Through translating our faith and belief into a language that is accessible to all in our society, the priest dialogues and expresses the truth of God, which nourishes the human consciousness with the fullness of life, which can only be reached through Christ. Through preaching the fullness of life in Christ, the priest is called to be a peaceful, uniting and joyful presence among Christians and all people of good-will. And in living the mission of Christ, the priest participates and serves in Christ's three-fold work as Priest, Prophet and King.
The Church is about to commence the Year for Priests, a year to celebrate and to pray for priests. Through the generosity of the Holy Father, special graces are available, particularly on the first Thursday of every month, where the faithful are encouraged to attend Holy Mass and to offer prayers to "Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church" both living and dead. If the faithful are unable to attend Mass, they are encouraged to "perform any good work to sanctify and mould" priests to the Heart of the Sacred Heart. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that "God is love" and that the priest is truly called to participate and share in God's love and life.
The priest, in a unique and sacramental way, participates in the mission of Christ, in persona Christi, and this incorporates the mission of the Trinitarian God. The priest, through a relationship with God as Father, becomes a spiritual father of all in our world. Through a relationship with Christ, the priest becomes the pastor, servant and shepherd, who gathers, teaches and leads the flock towards the Kingdom of God, of which the priest is a sign. Through the Sacraments, the Work of God, the priest enters into the sacrifice of God and pours out the graces of God to our world. And through a relationship with the Holy Spirit, a priest helps to sanctify the faithful and bring them into a relationship with God, so that "they may have life, and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10).
As a young child, I often thought about the possibility that God was calling me to be a priest. When I was preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at the age of 10, I was introduced to the story of St Maximilian Kolbe and I was deeply inspired by his life. I read many of his writings on his life of sanctity and creativity in preaching the Gospel using different forms of media, often borne out of necessity in opposing the Nazis and preaching in Japan. His heroic death in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz truly inspired me to consider the priesthood as a legitimate option to serve God, the Church and our world.
The witness and example of Pope John Paul II also inspired me to seriously consider the priesthood. When I entered into seminary formation, I knew of only one Pope and the life and witness of Pope John Paul II showed me that the priesthood was not boring or irrelevant, but that the service and contribution of priests was needed more today than ever. He showed me that a commitment to faith and to preaching the Gospel means working towards unity, peace and the fullness of life, not only for Catholics, but for all within our society. I was privileged to be in St Peter's Square when Pope John Paul II died and I was greatly honoured to be able to sing in one of the choirs at his funeral. I owe a great deal to the hope that Pope John Paul IIgave, and continues to give, to me and to our world.
I have often heard it remarked that the ministry of the Holy Father of the time impacts upon the approach and vision of those ordained in that Pontificate. I am truly blessed to be ordained in the Pontificate and era of Pope Benedict . He is one of the great giants of theology and every day I am learning more and more from Our Holy Father. As a student studying theology, firstly at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and now at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum), I have been given many opportunities to study and reflect on the writings of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and now Pope Benedict XVI. His love for tradition and his humble approach which highlights, among other things, the importance of a theological continuity, has inspired me to study the early Church Fathers and the Councils of the Church. In the name of "modernity", many today encourage widespread relativism and true liberalism, which deforms our understanding of God and the human person. Our Holy Father has inspired me to seek the Truth about all the great questions of life, not only for myself, but for the good of our entire world.
Since 2004, I have been in seminary formation at the Pontifical North American College, which is the seminary for the U.S. in Rome. In 2004, the College first accepted Australian seminarians and we currently have nine men in formation at the College. Despite a few sporting and colloquial differences, there are many similarities between American culture and Australian culture, and the countries are the closest of allies. The friendships I have made in Rome have helped me to further realise that the Church is truly universal and I can now say that I have experienced the universality of the Church first-hand. The formation I received at the College has further highlighted the joyful role of the Catholic priest in our Church and society. I believe that I have been equipped with the resources required to come to know the People of God in a specific place, to preach the Gospel and give the Sacraments to the faithful in such a way that all of humanity will be drawn ever more closely into the life of Christ.
As I begin my life as a priest I am overjoyed that most of my first year as a priest will be in the Year for Priests. Knowing that the faithful will be praying regularly for me and for all priests, that we will be holy, loving and truly good pastors and fathers after the Heart of Christ, is an affirming sign that the Priesthood is an important, necessary and worthy vocation and ministry in our world today.
Weekly Edition in English
20 May 2009, page 23
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