by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Sept. 14, I had the opportunity to concelebrate a Mass with Cardinal Francis George, invoking God’s blessing on the new academic year at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. We currently have nine young men studying for the priesthood at Mundelein.
In his homily, Cardinal George recalled a recent visit he had made to the Venerable English College in Rome — a seminary that prepares men from England for the priesthood. The English College was founded during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when it was a capital crime to celebrate a Catholic Mass in England.
In the seminary chapel there is a wall that has inscribed the names of priest alumni who were martyred. Cardinal George marveled at the dedication and faith of the 16th-century English seminarians who persevered in preparing for the priesthood, knowing the likelihood that in a few months or at best a few years after their ordination they would be executed for offering Mass.
The priesthood in every age calls for heroism. During the homily for the installation of a new pastor, I preach about the many expectations we have for priests today. We want our priests to be eloquent homilists and wise spiritual directors; capable administrators and creative community organizers; well-versed in theology and church law, but also able to understand contemporary culture; compassionate ministers to the sick and dynamic youth leaders; prophets who speak the truth without equivocation and healers who can unite diverse communities; effective teachers of the first Communion class and of adults with graduate degrees; detached from material things and effective fundraisers; present at many, many meetings; available and accessible to every parishioner and a man who spends a significant portion of each day in prayer.
In the Sept. 21 edition of The Leaven, there was a remarkable story of Father Gary Pennings, the pastor of St. Gregory Parish in Marysville, saving the life of Sister Rose Marie Stallbaumer, OSB, who suffered cardiac arrest while proclaiming the Scriptures at her nephew’s wedding. Fortunately, Father Pennings was a paramedic before entering the seminary. Father Pennings used an automatic external defibrillator to revive Sister Rose Marie before she suffered any permanent damage.
It is wonderful what Father Pennings was able to do for Sister Rose Marie, and it was newsworthy because it was such an unusual sequence of circumstances. Yet, I believe that all of our priests are doing even more amazing miracles on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis for their people.
How many infants every Sunday have received eternal life through the waters of baptism poured by a priest? How many individuals are revived from spiritual death each week by the prayer of absolution offered by a priest in the confessional? How many each week are inspired, strengthened and/or challenged by the preaching of our priests?
How many are nourished with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation because our priests make available the Eucharist in our parishes? How many of us or our relatives and friends have been healed in body and strengthened in spirit through the prayers of a priest? How many of our loved ones have been assisted in preparing for death and how many of us have been comforted and consoled through the ministry of our priests?
Priests are called to live heroic lives.
Most are not called to be physical martyrs as were priests in 16th-century England, but they are called to pour out their lives daily in loving service for their people. While they may not be required to sacrifice their life for Jesus in one bold, dramatic act of martyrdom, they are called to make a daily decision to put the good of their people ahead of their own wants and desires. Though no priest can ever live up fully to the ideal of the Good Shepherd, our priests do remarkably well in their efforts to be shepherds after the heart of Jesus.
The U.S. Council of Serra International (an organization that promotes and fosters vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated religious life) as well as Worldwide Marriage Encounter have designated Sunday, Oct. 28, as a special day to pray for, to honor and to thank our priests. We are blessed with so many remarkable, dedicated and saintly priests in our archdiocese. Think about the impact priests have had on your life and the life of your family. Make the effort to let your priests know what a difference they are making in your life — not just on Sunday, Oct. 28, but throughout the year.