The recent ordination of Father Alain Waterman reminds us of the wonderful gift that God has given us in His priests and the need that we have for them. It also reminds us of the important role we all have in praying for vocations and in encouraging young men to discern if God is calling them to the vocation of the priesthood. Our relatively new Diocesan Vocation Director, Father Daniel Daza-Jaller, is putting a great deal of energy into working with young men to help them discern the call of the Lord and is carrying out a wonderful and effective ministry. However, his role is only one part of encouraging vocations as that is a role we all share in the different vocations to which God has called us. Many times, good people ask me to send a newly ordained young priest to their parish and my response is always that I would be very happy to do so but I also ask if they have encouraged vocations within their families so we can have these priests.
Father Alain was ordained on May 1, the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, and on the following day celebrated his first Mass of Thanksgiving at Saint Ignatius Cathedral where he spent the past year as a transitional deacon. I was able later to watch the recording of the live stream of this beautiful and moving Mass on the website of Saint Ignatius and I would encourage others to do the same. Our Vocation Director, Father Daniel, gave a beautiful homily for the occasion reminding Father Alain and all of us of the sublime call from God to be a priest. He concluded by urging Father Alain first and foremost to stay close to God for without this relationship in his life as primary, he would have little else to offer people. He also urged him to have the Heart of Jesus, that of a shepherd, and every day to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In his own very moving words at the conclusion of the Mass, Father Alain expressed his joy of being ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. He reflected how this makes him a man of God, of the Church, of communion and a man always for others. It was heartening that both of these young priests of our Diocese, Father Daniel and Father Alain, echoed the words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who ordained nine priests in Rome the previous week. In his homily at the Ordination, the Pope expressed that the role of the priest is to “preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s People, and to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Lord’s Sacrifice.” He stressed that in becoming a priest, “You will be like Him: A Shepherd. This is not a career but a service.”
The ordination and first Mass emphasize that we need priests because it is their role to help all of us recognize the dignity of our own vocation and to live it more fully. Each of us has been called by God to do something in this life that will build up His Kingdom. Our vocations may vary but they are not exclusive of each other. The priest enables us to work together in building up the family of God which is the Church and carrying out its mission.
We need priests in order to be holy. We are all called to holiness of life. A priest’s life points to holiness. A holy person is one who sees the world as God sees it. Such a vision means a union with God in prayer. The priest is called to a holiness which puts him in a special relationship with Christ. We look to the priest because we know in him there is a direct line to Christ. This does not make the priest better than anyone else, but it is the reality of the Sacrament of Holy Orders which Christ has given to us so we all can become holy. We can all think of the many times we have asked the priest for his prayers because of the unique configuration he has to Christ.
The priest’s holiness is ultimately based on the center of our faith, the celebration of the Eucharist. Here the priest is called to help all men and women to see the world through the eyes of Christ who gave His life so that we could have life. The celebration of the Eucharist is the most important moment of the priest’s day, the center of his life. We need the priest at whose voice, in the words of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Lord comes down from heaven!
We need priests because we need Christ. It is truly as simple as that. The sublime vocation of the priesthood is not that of the individual priest but that of Christ. While the priest shares in the priesthood, there is only one priesthood, in which we all share in different degrees. Through the sacramental actions of the priest and through his teaching and preaching, we are led more closely to Christ and into His one priesthood. Without Christ, there would be no priesthood. Without the ordained priest, we would all not be able to share in that priesthood.
We, in the Diocese of Palm Beach, should hold our priests in high regard. I am privileged to be the bishop of a wonderful presbyterate and to minister with my brother priests in southern Florida. I am also very much aware of the many responsibilities our priests have today and of the great burdens that they carry. They do so with great grace which makes them the fine priests they are. However, that does not make things easier for them. This is something I know of which we are all well aware. We need to pray for our priests and to offer them our support as they do for all of us.
Let us continue to pray for our priests as they pray for us. Let us also continue to offer our priests all of our support just as they give all of theirs to us. We need them in their unique role that cannot be replaced by anyone. Let us greet the priest with joy and cherish him as we would Christ Himself. By so doing may we all live more fully the vocation God has entrusted to each of us. May we also encourage young men to listen to the call of the Lord in their lives because of our need for priests.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
May 14, 2021