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Servant-Leaders Needed


Building Up Communion in the Church
Foot Washing Says It All
It Is Christ's Church

Last March, Pope Benedict XVI announced a worldwide Year for Priests from June 19, 2009 (feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) to June 11, 2010.

This August is the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars. His confessional ministry and transparent life won many Catholics back to the practice of their faith.


Building Up Communion in the Church

Ordained a priest in 1975, I have to say that the last seven years have been the most difficult ones, primarily because the whole Church has a better idea of the extent of sexual abuse of children and teens by a small percentage of priests. The abusing priests have profoundly betrayed people whom they were called to serve, tarred the rest of us and wounded the whole Church deeply.

Priestly ministry is further complicated by the polarized and self-righteous views often expressed in letters to the editor in diocesan newspapers and Catholic magazines or in casual conversation among Catholics.

Priests are called to serve the whole Church. Whether they are celebrating Mass, visiting the sick, forgiving sins, promoting adult faith formation or ministering in other ways, their focus is always on building up communion within the Church and assisting its members on their faith journey.

Despite these difficulties, the present moment is God's time in which priests are called, as always, to be servant-leaders. Jesus described such leaders at the Last Supper (see John 13—17) and washed the apostles' feet.

Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, Jesus as the vine and his followers as the branches, the Holy Spirit as guiding the Church to all truth�all Jesus� references at the Last Supper have become more apropos in recent years.

Every priest is a person with unique gifts to offer in ministry. But it is always Christ�s Church. Occasionally, its members can act more like a club of smug individuals who seek assurance that they need no further growth in the Lord�s ways.

Priests can sometimes feel smothered by Catholics who fear the Good News of Jesus will stretch them too far, and so they want Father to ratify a whittled-down version of the Good News, affirming their list of who's in and who's out before God. The expression "Christ's Church" is not often mentioned in such conversations.

Sometimes priests are opposed directly—and for good reason—because they are not witnessing to the Good News of Jesus as they should.

But at other times, priests can be opposed through being co-opted. Years ago, I felt this from a few people working with a Church ministry in which I participated. I was informed that "our" priests do things this way. Then and now I respect that group's ministry and have recommended it, but I was ordained for the whole Church, which gives meaning to that ministry and every other one.

Twenty-eight men were recently ordained for the Archdioceses of Newark, Detroit and Cincinnati. They come to the priesthood from a variety of backgrounds: teacher, doctor, funeral director, public relations officer, nursing assistant, insurance agent, psychologist, law student, fashion model, the military and a specialist for blast-hole drilling in rock quarries.

Some had drifted away from the Church for several years. People had told several of them that they would make good priests.

In archdiocesan newspapers, these snippets appeared in their descriptions of priestly ministry:

• I hope to be the priest God calls me to be;

• I pray that those to whom I minister will be drawn into the all-embracing love of God;

• I hope never to grow weary in serving God and neighbor;

• I'm humbled to be God's instrument in the Sacrament of Reconciliation;

• Jesus Christ is constantly drawing his people to himself; therefore, there is never reason to be discouraged;

• May I always be a bridge and never be an obstacle to the grace that the Lord desires to pour out upon his people;

• My parish internship taught me a lot about patience and that certainly translates to ministering as a priest;

• During my parish internship, I thought, Here are the people I will be serving. I wanted to become a better priest for their sake;

• To be with the People of God and to help them on their spiritual journey— that's really my focus.

Do these men still have anything to learn? Definitely. Foot-washers, shepherds and servant-leaders always need to grow more every day. The priestly saints Thomas Becket, Anthony of Padua, Charles Borromeo, John Vianney and the soon-to-be-canonized Damien of Molokai ministered to their people, sharing their joys and sorrows.

With God�s grace and the prayerful support of the people of God, these new priests, other priests and all Catholics will become more completely the servant-leaders whom God calls us to be.—P.M.

More information about the Year for Priests is available at (click icon of pope and then "Letters"), or at

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