I woke up this Easter morning with thoughts of the priesthood. Not for me, God knows. I am married happily and a father. My vocation lies elsewhere and is sound. I thought of the priesthood because this Lenten season and Holy Week and last night’s Easter Vigil have all been about the priesthood for me—a priesthood that is strong, thriving, and heaven-sent.
I am convinced as never before that all the Catholic Church needs is more parishes and pastors like mine, and that it will get the priests it needs, because God is good.
Last evening after the Vigil Mass, a few of us gathered in the rectory kitchen with our pastor, Father B., and the vocation director of our archdiocese, Father H. The occasion was not only the conclusion of Lent (treats, sweets, and even a bottle or two were laid out) but also Father B.’s 40th birthday (two birthday cakes). Our pastor is young and vigorous, and I know he has been an inspiration to other young men considering a vocation to the priesthood.
I stood talking with living proof of that statement: “Chuck,” a late teen who is halfway through college seminary and has been visiting our parish to help out on breaks since last summer. I hadn’t talked with Chuck since Christmas, and I was impressed with how he seems to have grown in just four months. Maybe he has only grown in my eyes. Serving at the altar with altar servers half his age, and towering over them with fiery red hair like a coxcomb, he recently began lectoring as well. Last night for the Easter Vigil, after the readings about salvation history, Chuck delivered Peter’s account in Acts with striking clarity.
It was a pleasure for me to stand with him in the rectory kitchen and listen to him talk. He towers over me too, but has a kind voice and smile that put you immediately at ease. When I first glimpsed him in a procession last fall, my thought was “a kid.” After I had talked with him once or twice, I modified that to “a really smart and compassionate kid,” “great people person too.” I know that hanging around Father B. on weekends and vacation breaks can continue to be an inspiration for Chuck.
My Lenten season had begun with a four-day visit to the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. I won’t recap that odyssey. You can read about it here and here and here and here and here and here. In summary, the Dominicans are convincing where the priesthood is concerned: young, super smart, powerful in their commitment. And it is a known fact that they are enjoying a vocation boom, both for priests and for women religious.
My Lent continued by driving “Bill” to work. I have written before about this new friend of mine. I have been driving him after daily Mass for about five weeks now. Bill is not his real name, because I have been refraining for the most part from using real names in this new blog. I have withheld Bill’s identity for another reason: He has applied to St. John’s Seminary in the fall and hopes to be a priest. He is awaiting final acceptance and so is like a mother awaiting the birth of her first child: filled with hope but not counting chickens.
Getting to know Bill has convinced me as much as anything that the Catholic priesthood is on solid ground. He is going to make a very good priest, if I am any judge. First, he is a young and ordinary-seeming guy, with smarts but no airs. You would enjoy hanging out with him, as I have. Bill likes rock music and beer, and he has a great sense of humor. I call him “compassionate but edgy,” mostly because he has proved remarkably perceptive about me while never straying into offensive criticism. When he sees something, he says it, and in a way that tells me (a) he is telling me the truth and (b) he cares about me despite my foibles.
Two years ago Father B. instituted Eucharistic Adoration in our parish. Then, the last time Father H. filled in for a vacationing Father B., last summer, Father H. started a practice of praying for vocations at the end of Mass, a practice we have continued. We assemble before the statue of the Blessed Mother and ask her to send men to the priesthood, “especially from this parish.” Then we say three Hail Marys and end by begging Mary and St. John Vianney to pray for us.
I asked Bill one day while driving him to work what had finally convinced him he wants to be a priest. Two things he said: Eucharistic Adoration and our parish’s prayers for vocations. Just like that. I asked him if listening to Father B. preach every morning had been a factor. “Absolutely,” he said, “the biggest factor of all.”
On Thursday evening, the Easter Triduum began and the priesthood was renewed again, as it is every year on the memorial of the Last Supper. In our parish, Father H. concelebrated with Father B., and the two priests were assisted by Deacon Kwang, about whom I have written previously. Kwang has been serving in our parish for two years, on frequent visit from St. John’s Seminary, and he will be ordained a priest next month. At Thursday evening’s Mass, Chuck was a lector, and Bill was among the twelve who had their feet washed. It was a moving experience to watch all of them interacting.
Give us, Lord, more vital, young priests like Fathers B. and H. and like the priests Kwang, Chuck, and Bill will some day be.
And forgive me, Lord, for not finding a way to work Tim into this post. Tim is a first-year seminarian from our parish, another fine young priest-in-training inspired by our pastor and surely too by Our Lady.