Excerpted from a talk I gave to a prayer group about Toronto seminarians; today’s Gospel was our point of reflection:
Several years ago, I had supper with a friend of mine, a religious sister whom I worked with as a seminarian very early in my own formation. Although this supper was merely two friends getting together; I had questions that weighed heavily on my mind. One of the things which I knew Sister struggled with was the hierarchy of the Church. She never shared these struggles publicly, but as a friend I knew this. Until we had this conversation, I had accepted that my friend (a faithful servant of God and His Church for more than 50 years) were not on the same page when it came to the hierarchy of the Church. I’m glad we talked about it; what she shared with me has impacted my priesthood deeply. Sister told me that in her many years of religious life, she had been treated poorly many times, that she had often been counted by clergy and people as “lower” than priests and bishops, that she had her vocation tested by these things in the parishes and ministries she had worked in over the years. She had seen the hierarchy of the Church she loved so much at its very worst; problems perpetuated at times when the clergy who had the power and authority would use it to further their desires and subjugate or hurt others. Sister told me that years earlier when she was studying theology she had questioned other possibilities to change or alter the hierarchy. She knew women who had skills to lead in the Church and would have made good leaders; were deeply compassionate, loving and merciful. She told me that she realized as she was called to leadership in various ways in her community that servant leadership is not only for the ordained but what we are all called to and assist others in their call. Sister believes that we are all responsible to build a Church that is loving, merciful and just, where we are all living as [today’s] Gospel calls us to. I share this story as segue but also to offer a hopeful message to all. This supper influenced my life greatly; Sister and I haven’t seen each other for a couple of years now and I can’t imagine she knows what an impact her sharing had on my life as I pondered these things in my heart as a seminarian and try to live them out as a priest now. The hierarchy, that is all of us from any Church leader all the way up to the Holy Father himself need to strive always to do better! Jesus counts upon us to see this!
I am an ordained priest and I love being a Roman Catholic Priest for what I can do through my vocation to get myself to heaven, and most importantly to bring as many others with me as I can. I love the Catholic Church and I chose my faith and to live it as a Catholic when I became one at thirty-one. I deeply, profoundly, powerfully encountered the Lord our God and His Son Jesus Christ through the Church. I try to teach the beautiful message of the Gospel and to live it the best that I can. I love the Sacraments and love receiving them, most especially Confession where I am accountable for what I do wrong and I am reminded that God & His Church are loving and merciful above all things.
Through the priesthood by the Grace of God I too have been given that “power and authority”, and I appreciate the time I have to reflect upon the conversation of many years ago with my dear friend because I realize now in my role as Director of Vocations, I am part of a group of men assisting in opening doors and forming men who will be our future priests, and serving the people in our parishes. I spend a lot of time in conversation with the Seminary Rector and the faculty and formation team listening to them about how our seminarians are doing; we also work together to provide the men with the best pastoral experiences. The power and authority given belongs to Jesus; bishops, priests and would-be priests (our seminarians) must always remember that. We need to be reminded of it, because we can fail the people sometimes, make mistakes sometimes – but [today’s] Gospel ought to be words to live by for anyone given any ecclesiastical position of authority. Like James & John, we can believe that we are ready, but when “the rubber hits the road”, we must be gentle with it, loving always and prepared at every given moment to serve people.
We live in hope; hope that we’ll live the Gospel better tomorrow than we do today. Our hope is this: the men who are being accepted into seminary formation are these kind of disciples. The Archdiocese of Toronto has excellent men close to the heart of Jesus, who love the Church, love the priesthood and love the people! They welcome every opportunity they are given to be with people, and as I travel from parish to parish, from place to place – I hear the people praise the seminarians and what many people don’t realize is that our men are very generous. Much is asked of them, and much is offered by them. They sincerely want to try to drink from the cup, but they don’t enter situations looking for the place of honour. Out of respect for their freedom, a freedom that they need for good discernment of their vocation, we don’t showcase our men (and it’s not because we aren’t immensely proud of them); they too are capable sons of the Church, obedient sons who are easing into the roles they will one day assume. I live in hope and I hope you will share that hope with me too; our men are good men who are close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and who will listen, who will seek to understand, who will offer love, mercy, kindness and compassion. When I am struggling or when I am old this is the kind of priest I want to have walking the journey from this life to the next with me. This is the kind of man we are looking for; we have these kind of men and we have many more in the archdiocese preparing to answer the call. One day soon I will get together with my friend who helped me see the true meaning of this Gospel through her lived experience, and I will be proud to tell her that most of the men I know who are being formed to be our priests tomorrow are the kind of disciples she will be proud to call “Father”.