05 January 2007

The privilege of being a priest for God's children...

I make it no secret that I absolutely love being a priest. I have never understood the whole "burn-out of priests" issue. I don't doubt those who say it happens, but I can't really understand it, and I pray earnestly that God preserves me from such a thing, however it comes about in the life of a priest. I hope I am on fire for Christ, but I can't imagine burning out. For more than twenty-three years I have looked forward to getting up in the morning to say Mass, and to care for God's people as best as I can. It gives me a quiet joy. For that I am very grateful, and I hope for another twenty-three years, at least.

I especially love being a priest who is pastor of a parish with a school. I can't imagine why every parish doesn't have a school. To me, that is a mystery (and not of the theological kind). It seems to me that the Council of Baltimore was right. The bishops of this country, in an earlier age, enjoined the pastor of every parish to build the school first, before anything else. They were answering the question that must have been in their minds, "How can we raise up a generation of educated and faithful Catholics if we entrust their education to someone else?"

The children in our parish school are soon arriving back from their Christmas break. I'm really looking forward to their return. As full as the parish schedule has been over these past holy days, there has been something missing. Actually, what's been missing is about five hundred students around the place.

When we built our recent expansion for the church and school, I was able to move my office to a location just inside the front doors. This means that I see the children and their parents constantly. Very often, someone will stop by to chat, or to make a confession, or to ask a question. I have had parents come in to talk about getting their marriage regularized, because through their children they've seen how important the Catholic faith is. Our high school students will drop in to talk about the things that young people talk about. Scarcely a day goes by that one of the little ones doesn't come to my office to bring me a hand-drawn picture, or a sample of cursive writing. And yes, sometimes someone will stop by to register a complaint or a concern, and I need to hear those, too. It's all part of the care of souls.

What priest wouldn't want to be in the path of daily blessings like that? And I actually get to say Mass for these children and their teachers every single day! You can't hear five hundred children praying and singing together, without humbly thanking God. And I am always impressed, as we approach the solemn moment of consecration, that there is absolute silence. Five hundred children -- from four-year-olds to high school students -- five hundred of them know, absolutely and assuredly, that the Lord Jesus Christ is preparing to make Himself present on the altar in front of them. And on Fridays, something special -- they're children, after all, and they like to show off a bit, even to God. We have Mass every day, but on Fridays we have Mass in Latin. How they love to chant. Kindergarten voices chanting "Pater noster..." Surely God is pleased. I know I am.