Recently we had the honor of celebrating, as a diocese, the priestly ordination of Father Edison Tayag at Sacred Heart Cathedral on June 28. At that ordination, Father Edison gathered, for the first time as a priest, with his brother priests, Bishop Matthew H. Clark and members of our diocese around the altar of the Lord. A few days prior to his ordination, I was able to join Edison and a group of priests as we gathered for a dinner celebrating his upcoming ordination. Prior to that, during my deacon year and Edison’s first year of seminary, I was able to meet him in Rome, where he was studying theology. Here, once again, we reconnected as friends and enjoyed a wonderful meal around a table in the Eternal City. No doubt there were countless other gatherings around tables that guided and inspired Father Edison to pursue his call to priesthood.
Reflecting on these different meals has helped me to realize that “gathering around table” is not only an opportunity to be nourished bodily and spiritually, but often an occasion to be encouraged in one’s vocation.
This has been the case in my own journey. I remember sitting at a table in a restaurant in Rochester with my sister Carol when she asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a priest. She had recently heard a homily on vocations and was moved to ask me that important question. To be truthful, I can’t even remember my exact response, but I do remember the question posed by her at that table.
While in seminary at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., these vital and enriching conversations at meals continued, with seminarians and priests from around the country and the world. This fellowship often served as reminders of how vibrant and rich our Catholic faith is. During my time in seminary, I also enjoyed the various visitors who came from our diocese on business or pleasure to visit me and the other Rochester seminarians — visits from my family, Bishop Clark and various priests. Nearly every occasion was an opportunity to catch up and share the experiences of our lives. I remember one of the first visitors was during Alumni Days — a yearly reunion for past seminarians. That day I remember missing home and just wanting to see a familiar face. As I walked to class I saw Father Bill Amann coming up from the Metro and walking to the seminary. Father Bill had studied philosophy at the Catholic University of America and was in town for Alumni Days. You can be sure that I was very happy to see him and that we made time to catch up with each other over lunch around a table. Once again, my vocation was encouraged!
Within the Scriptures we see how Jesus time and time again encouraged his friends with his teaching at table. Of the many references to table fellowship in the New Testament, perhaps my favorite is the account of the meal at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). In this passage the Risen Christ appears to two of his bewildered followers and reveals to them the gift of himself in word and in a meal. It is around that table that those discouraged followers encounter Christ, which, in turn, compelled them to boldly proclaim the Resurrection.
In an ongoing effort to foster vocations to the priesthood, the diocesan Vocations Awareness Team has introduced the “Fisher Dinner Series,” a reference to our diocesan patron, St. John Fisher (1469-1535). He was a gifted preacher, inspiring teacher and unwavering witness to the faith, for which he ultimately gave his life. This is an admirable and inspiring example to us all, but especially edifying for priests. The Fisher Dinner Series invites potential candidates for the priesthood to enjoy an evening of prayer and fellowship around a table with three or more priests who share their vocational stories.
To date the following communities have hosted a Fisher Dinner: Geneva, Irondequoit and Hilton. Several men, age 18 and up, have enjoyed an evening that celebrates priesthood and have been encouraged to ask themselves if they, too, are being called to this vocation. For more information on hosting a Fisher Dinner in your community or planning group, please call me at 315-789-1124 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In watching the coverage of World Youth Day ’08 in Sidney, Australia, I saw the liturgy from St. Mary’s Cathedral in which our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, consecrated a new altar. At the beginning of that liturgy the Holy Father was greeted publicly by a seminarian. Standing in the sanctuary with the pope and before the new altar the seminarian said, “As you consecrate this altar, may each one of us also consecrate himself to Christ.” This invitation to consecrate ourselves to Christ is given to each of us every time we gather for the holy sacrifice of the Mass around the altar of Christ. In this we realize that we are not alone. We have a loving God, who gives us the ultimate source of encouragement: his body and blood. Our Lord gives us each other to be companions along the way of life to support one another in the respective vocation to which he is calling us.
So, as we gather with family and friends — around the tables at which we share ordinary meals — may we offer and receive encouragement to pursue and live the vocation to which Christ is calling us. As we gather around the nourishing altar of the Eucharist may each of us consecrate himself or herself to Christ who guides each of us in living the gift of our vocation.
Father Coffas is parochial vicar of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva and a member of the Diocesan Vocations Awareness Team.