The 10 men scheduled to be ordained on June 21 have every right to be disappointed about the circumstances under which they will be mystically configured into the Eternal High Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
They will have to limit their guest lists. Various parts of the Holy Mass will be simplified where possible. Everyone will be spread apart in order to facilitate a safe, indoor experience of worship. After roughly eight seminary years of discernment, prayer, study and formation, the day they’ve only dreamt of has finally arrived and yet it is uncertain if they should hug the people congratulating them.
However, the rest of the local Church of Newark have every right to expect them to transition quickly from disappointment to dedication. Not only are the faithful entitled to good, holy priests because of their relentless prayer and generous stewardship leading up to this “harvest day,” but they are simply in desperate need of them.
The eruption of the COVID-19 virus sparked a global pandemic that claimed the lives of thousands in our archdiocese, with many others unemployed and fearful of the future. The brutal killing of George Floyd has become yet another tragic exacerbation of the underlying infirmity of racism that has always plagued our country.
In a unique way, racism and the pandemic symbolize two forms of suffering that priests are called to enter into: chosen and unchosen. Far too many priests can attest to the many tragic ways in which parishioners are mysteriously faced with suffering through no fault of their own. They are called to accompany people despite their own inability to make sense of the accidents, diagnoses and unexpected deaths. Without judgment, they are equally tasked to care for those who have incurred the difficult effects of sin and encourage them to rectify their relationship with the Father.
Grace is the immeasurable strength that priests administer through the sacraments. Faced with so much civil unrest at the current moment, the ministerial priesthood is an opportunity to be a strong tower of hope that can pave the way for Jesus to heal and unite.
We see this in the experience of the 10 lepers in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of Luke. They cry out to our Lord, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” He replies, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going, they were cleansed.
In the face of injustice against people making pilgrimage, our Lord is recorded with justified anger in the Gospel of Matthew driving out the merchants in the temple, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.”
All priests, new and old alike, would do well to rediscover the invisible power and grace that emanates from their ministry because it is the priesthood of Jesus Christ. When zealously is exercised, we are assured through Scripture and tradition that peace, hope, unity and healing are the result of this most essential work. May the Holy Spirit bring success to the work of their hands.