In this season of sending graduates off with a pat on the back and a few inspiring words, we may forget about a very special group that needs its own brand of encouragement: newly ordained priests. Word On Fire contributor Fr. Damian Ference, after 10 years "on the job," has some sound words for his brethren, and with a few semantic adjustments, are applicable to all of us.
I was humbled when the folks at Word on Fire asked me to write this piece. I just celebrated my 10th anniversary of ordination two weeks ago, and although I do teach at the seminary, there’s always something in me that thinks, “I am not qualified for such an important mission of forming young men to be priests.” But then I remember the words of Saint Paul: “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies those he calls.” So with that in mind, I offer my newly ordained brothers 10 things to keep in mind as they begin their priestly ministry. (Admittedly, this list is far from exhaustive, but hopefully it’s helpful.)
Be Human: Why start here? Why not start with prayer or spirituality? Well, I start here because this was the starting point of Christianity – The Incarnation. God didn’t come to us as an angel, he came to us as a man, as a human being like ourselves in all things but sin. God became man in the person of Jesus in order to make God accessible and approachable. Jesus brings us salvation in his very flesh. He brings us divinity in his humanity. So, as human beings, we find our divinity in our humanity. A priest must never forget that the same is true of his vocation. Running from our humanity is no way to find holiness or redemption, and it’s no way to minister to the people of God. It’s only when we run to the One who reveals man to himself that we find ourselves and we find our mission. So, never forget you are a priest, but don’t forget that first you are a human being.
Pray: In Gift and Mystery, John Paul II’s reflection on his fifty years of priestly service, he writes: “If we take a close look at what contemporary men and women expect from priests, we will see that, in the end, they have but one great expectation: they are thirsting for Christ. Everything else – their economic, social, political needs – can be met by any number of people. From the priest they ask for Christ!” A priest’s primary mission is to bring Jesus to others, but you can only give what you have first received. If a priest is not a man of prayer, he will not be able to teach his people to pray. If a priest doesn’t know Jesus, he will not be able to lead others to Him. If a priest doesn’t know the voice of the Shepherd, how can he teach others to listen to Him? Prayer is the foundation of the priesthood. Praying the Office, praying with scripture, contemplative prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and continuous communication throughout the day with the Triune God keeps the priest healthy and holy. Priesthood is busy; make time for prayer every day...
We judge one another. Often. Too often. Sometimes we try and justify this judgment by the "I would never do that" excuse. But we are all fallible — and at one time or another, we all fall. Father Damian Ference examines what we must do when one among us errs, and who we must turn to to pick up the pieces.
Recently a Catholic news outlet reported a story that has left me unsettled. A Catholic priest – who from his picture doesn’t look too much older than me – made a call to 911 to ask for assistance. He was stuck in a pair of handcuffs at the rectory. When the police arrived on the scene they found the pastor not only in handcuffs, but dressed in an orange prison outfit and wearing a leather bondage mask. The police officers set the priest free, and the priest wisely met with his bishop and asked to take a leave of absence, which was granted. The incident happened in late November. In early January the story hit the press. It’s a sad story, indeed.
What do we do when a priest falls? What is the right response when a pastor goes astray? How do you wrap your mind and heart around a situation that involves a man who is supposed to be a witness of grace and strength but is publicly and embarrassingly exposed in his sin and weakness? Is there anything we can say? Is there anything we should say?
Obviously, since I’m writing this piece, I do think there is something to say. But let me start with this – since I don’t know anything more than what was stated in the police report, I will not comment or speculate on the situation itself. And even if I did have more information, these things ought to be worked out in confidence between the priest and his bishop, not in the public forum. What I do want to address, however, is how we might best respond to troubling news about a priest that has gone public...
Catholic blogger, author and friend to Word on Fire Brandon Vogt launched his Africa eBooks Project to assist seminarians in Cameroon less than one month ago. In that short time, it has more than quadrupled its fundraising goal, teaching him a little something about the power of social media, as well as the cause it assisted. Vogt took time to answer some of our questions and update us on the success of his campaign.
It was a shot in the dark, a risk, an experiement.
Use New Media to boost the New Evangelization? Mix the digital with the divine? Help a group of priests a half a world away spread the Word?
Brandon Vogt managed to do all that, and do it in record time.
Last month, Vogt launched the Africa eBook Project, a new media fundraising “experiment” to furnish seminarians in Cameroon with a CD full of Catholic content to assist them in their vocation. Vogt set a goal to raise $4,000—enough to get each of the country's 2,000 priests-in-training a CD.
And boy, did he accomplish it.
“I had no idea we’d do it in nine hours,” Vogt said in a telephone interview of his staggeringly fast fundraising. “That’s ludicrous!”...