During the year leading up to my priestly ordination on May 29, 2021, I frequently anticipated the various activities I would soon undertake: celebrating Mass, preaching, teaching, being present with the bereaved, counseling those in distress, hearing confessions, anointing the sick and simply spending time getting to know God’s people.
As I weighed these dimensions of parish priesthood, I naturally wondered what it would feel like to perform each of them. I do not know exactly what I thought then, but I do know I had no idea how abundant the life of priesthood would be! I have discovered a deep harmony in these seemingly disparate activities of parish life.
At my ordination Mass, after the distribution of Communion, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski prayed: “May the divine sacrifice we have offered and received, O Lord, give new life to your priests and to all your servants …” After hearing that prayer, I walked down the aisle not knowing how profoundly that prayer would be answered in my lived experience. There are few joys so profound as knowing that you have given new life to another person. And the priest is in the business of renewing lives all the time.
I’ve seen God work wonders with my ounce of goodwill and availability. Some believe for the first time God is good, others have had 50 years of guilt lifted in five minutes, others discover the meaning of hope in the face of death, and many find new meaning by extending themselves in service. I simply show up and remind people that God loves them, I love them, and living faithfully to the Gospel will bring about our happiness.
I have also discovered that the sacrifice is undoubtedly real — there are challenging moments of rejection and exhaustion — but it is a good rejection, because it brings me closer to Jesus, and a good exhaustion, knowing that my energies are spent serving His Kingdom. What person does not desire to serve a greater cause? And what cause is greater than restoring spiritual wellbeing for people at the deepest level? Even the sacrifice serves as an occasion for joy, because it allows me to participate in God’s transmission of grace in a real, deeply human way.
As I approach my anniversary, I smile thinking of my friends in seminary who will so soon discover what it feels like to have this same sacrificial joy. It is no wonder that, of all the Christian denominations in the United States, Catholic priests have, on average, the lowest pay, the most work and the greatest satisfaction! Pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood. A life wholly given to God cannot disappoint!
Father Archer is associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.