I am writing this column on a New Jersey Transit bus from Bergenfield to New York City. We priests don't get to travel on buses very often, or, for that matter, have a daily commute to and from work. I'm going to a reunion of cousins for lunch in midtown Manhattan, and, with the bus stop just a half block from the rectory, it beats tolls and parking fees several times over. The proposed expansion of mass transit in Bergen County makes sense as populations increase and roads become increasingly congested.
As you can see, this edition of The Catholic Advocate anticipates the celebration of Priesthood Sunday, which is officially observed on the last Sunday of October. It is a somewhat awkward occasion, insofar as it is theoretically an opportunity generated by the laity to show appreciation for their priests, currently sponsored by the USA Council of Serra International. Much of the publicity for it, even to the placing of ads in this newspaper, generally depends on the pastor or parochial vicar to arrange.
Humanly speaking, everyone enjoys an occasional pat on the back or recognition for a job well done. Most priests don't do what they do for their own glory, but we do like to believe that we are having a positive impact on those we serve. The Daisy Movement organizes parishioners in a weekly commitment of prayer for the priests they know, and many parishioners regularly pray on their own for the well being of their clergy.
Priests are involved in a variety of ministries, from teaching to administration to chaplaincies on college campuses, in hospitals and prisons, seaports and airports and in missionary service around the world. Most people, though, have their spiritual needs addressed through their parish priest. Whether diocesan or Religious, the pastors and parochial vicars of our parishes provide continuous service to the communities entrusted to them.
They gather their people together around the eucharistic table of the Lord, in most places on a daily basis, to feed them with the power of God's Word and the grace of Christ's Sacramental presence. In the privacy of the reconciliation room, they forgive people's sins as God's mediators. Priests bring spiritual support and healing to the seriously ill and prepare the faithful for their ultimate journey to eternity through the various rites of the Anointing of the Sick.
In collaboration with deacons, Religious and laity, priests extend the bishops' ministry to teach, govern and sanctify. They prepare children and adults for the sacraments, counsel those in all types of difficulty, gather people into groups, associations, organizations, and ministries to enhance spiritual growth, social outreach and community interaction.
They oversee the care of parish buildings and financial resources, encourage the laity to use their gifts and talents for the greater good of the whole Church, and rejoice and mourn with individuals and families who reach milestones of accomplishments and moments of anxiety and crisis.
Priests strive to grow in holiness as they help others do the same. We succeed and yes, sometimes fail, to mirror our Good Shepherd and Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ. In this Year of the Priest, we acknowledge the humility and dedication of Saint John Vianney, patron of parish priests.
Let us all pray in loving memory of the priests who have influenced our lives, in gratitude for those who currently serve us, and in earnest supplication that those whom God is calling to be the priests of tomorrow will generously answer His gentle call.
(Rev. Msgr. Richard J. Arnhols is pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Parish, Bergenfield, and the archdiocesan Vicar for Pastoral Life.)