Sunday, June 1, 2014

Missionary Priesthood

Fr. Aaron final English Mass at JP II with Fr. Steve
This past month has been a deep reflection on the meaning of missionary priesthood.  I had the  privilege to celebrate 25 years of priesthood on May 20th. Fr. Aaron, after just two short years, is moving on to his next assignment. These two events combined have allowed a month to reflect on what it means to be a missionary priest in the community of Glenmary.
Sharing a moment together after the Baptism
Graduates at BTC

There are many aspects of missionary priesthood that appear the same as any priest:  we offer Mass, administer the sacraments of baptism, communion, confession, matrimony and the anointing of the sick. We accompany folks through all sorts of challenges and joys.   So what makes this missionary call different from others? It is where, how and what of sharing Christ with others
First Communion

Our missionary priesthood is shared in rural areas of the United States only.   Three years ago neither county had a Catholic worshipping community.   Three years ago, many of the people now regulars at Sunday Mass, were not even Catholics or were not practicing on a regular bases.  Three years ago, no one in Union County,TN would imagine that three ministers from other Christian churches and the Bishop of Knoxville would gather in the downtown park with over 200 quests to celebrate a Catholic Mass of thanksgiving.   Three years ago, no Catholic priest ate lunch with High Schooler's in Grainger County or Middle Schoolers in Union County.

25th Anniversay, Fr. Steve's Parents in front
Pastor Ryan and the Bishop at the 25th Anniversary
Fr. Aaron hanging out with the youth

The fact that two priests have been in two counties where a priest never lived before does make a difference even if it is for just a few people.
Fr. Aaron's Appreciation Day

The how of priesthood is very focused on the people.   Every one has a spiritual journey, whether Catholic, Baptist, or of no faith.   A missionary priest listens, encourages and where necessary challenges.  A missionary priests engages people in their every day lives, going to sports event, visiting people in homes, talking to folks in the stores and businesses.   Every thing is done with the hope that by your presence folks encounter a loving Jesus who wants to be not only their Savior, but also, their brother.
Sing to the Lord

The how means trying to promote the reign of God in the full community beyond the Catholic church walls.  Thus, time spent in helping feed the poor, promoting immigration reform, and searching for ways to help people avoid addictions, especially to drugs and alcohol are part of the life.  The how is any way in which being a friend, a guide or a healer for another can be done in the Spirit of Christ, we will try.

Food for those in need
What we bring is no different than what any one else brings, except for one factor.   We bring the Word of God and the joy of a life lived for Christ.   We share the sacraments and our Catholic tradition.   So, too, however, does every minister, lay, ordained or religious.   The one factor we bring that no else can bring is the  person.  I bring Fr. Steve and Fr. Aaron brings himself.  We are different individuals from different families, different histories, and different journeys.   The gift of who we are with our strengths and weaknesses is what we bring.   A friend once told me that they only common thread among Glenmarians is that there is no common threads.   We are a community of unique individuals, with strong personalities, unafraid to be ourselves, happily creative and willing to take a chance in order to give all we got for the sake of Jesus, the Kingdom of God and the folks we encounter.
Dancing with Mom
Texting Mom?

So I am very grateful for the gifts of missionary priesthood Fr. Aaron brought to Union and Grainger County.  Likewise, I am grateful for 25 years of service of priesthood in Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as various places beyond.  I am grateful for the Glenmary community.   Most of all, I am grateful to Jesus Christ for loving me, dying for me, forgiving me and saving me.   Hey, what could be greater?

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