Sunday, September 26, is Priesthood Sunday. This is a day, initiated by Serra International, to honor our priests in the United States and to reflect upon and affirm their role as essential to the life of the Church. Serra International is an organization of lay men and women who dedicate themselves to encouraging and fostering vocations to the priesthood and to all forms of consecrated life. There are more than 7000 Serrans who carry out the mission in over 200 clubs nationwide. We are blessed by the work of Serrans within our Diocese of Palm Beach. Our Serrans do so much in encouraging vocations. They promote local gatherings to express gratitude to priests. They host an annual Christmas celebration for our seminarians and their families. Above all, they have a private and public regimen of praying for vocations.
As we celebrate Priesthood Sunday this year, we enthusiastically give thanks to all of our priests for their hearing the call of the Lord and for carrying out their ministry and faithful service to us in so many ways. We know how much we need our priests, and we love them in a particular way. Our priests make daily sacrifices for us on a regular basis to bring us the sacraments and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in a personal manner. The context of the pandemic has reminded us of this. During my years in the Diocese of Palm Beach, it has been a most fulfilling experience for me to be with the wonderful priests of our Diocese and to see them carrying out their ministries in their parishes and in other ways. My esteem for the priests of our Diocese grows year by year.
It is a delight for me to experience people, on the occasion of a parish visit, expressing to me their appreciation for a particular priest and how he has brought them to the Lord. So many times, I receive kind warnings from people never to transfer a particular priest. It is not unusual to receive letters from parishioners praising and expressing gratitude for a particular priest. I am especially edified when I see priests using their pastoral and personal skills in speaking other languages to communicate with their people and to make all feel the Church in our Diocese as their family. While we are familiar with our particular parishes, we must appreciate the fact that we are part of a large and varied Diocese, of both rural and city settings with many different ethnic populations, to which a priest must adapt.
One of the main missions of the priest is to remind us that the ultimate meaning in life is found only in God and His particular plan for us. The priest does this by his celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments and by his proclamation of the word of God. One of the factors that inspired me to be a priest when I was growing up in Brooklyn, was the particular relationship people had to their parish priest. I began to realize that, while so many other significant and necessary vocations such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers made a difference in the lives of people, the only one who spoke the final word was the priest. He spoke of the meaning of life now and ultimately of eternity. He celebrated and sealed people with the Sacraments which are the door to eternity. In the end, it was the priest to whom people could always turn when no one else could speak.
Well over eighty years ago, the French Catholic novelist, François Mauriac, wrote very moving words in regard to the vocation of the ordained priest and his unique role in the life of the Church. It bears repeating for Priesthood Sunday: “The grace of Holy Thursday will be transmitted until the end of time, onto the last of the priests who will celebrate the last Mass in a shattered universe. Holy Thursday created these men; a mark was stamped on them; a sign was given them. … A pagan atmosphere prevails all around them. The people would laugh at their virtue if they believed in it, but they do not. They are spied upon. A thousand voices accuse those who fall. As for the others, the greater number, no one is surprised to see them toiling without any sort of recognition.”
François Mauriac’s words show us the times have not changed and neither has the role of the priest. The faithful priest knows this and that is why he can persevere joyfully and enthusiastically, carrying out his vocation day in and day out. It’s only the priest, celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, who can heal a shattered universe. Our experience seems so little different from that of over eighty years ago and, indeed, well beyond that. We are blessed by our faithful priests so much needed in our world today.
As we express our gratitude to our priests on Priesthood Sunday, it is important for all of us to realize the responsibility we have to encourage young men to consider a priestly vocation. We must, within our families as well as within our parishes, not be afraid to ask someone to think about being a priest. So many people rightly ask me for a priest for their parish, or for one who can speak their particular language. It is the role of all of us to participate and encourage priestly vocations.
On this Priesthood Sunday, we offer our deep gratitude to our priests for the unique role they play in our lives, even though they are not looking for recognition. We support them and we pray for them. We realize that they are the ones, using the words and as the hands of Christ, that give meaning to life and heal a shattered universe.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 24, 2021