Informal meetings with priests deepen vocations - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Informal meetings with priests deepen vocations

It has been a special gift to me this Lent to meet on three occasions for informal conversations with groups of priests of our diocese. We had two such sessions at the Pastoral Center and one at the parish house of St. Mary Our Mother, Horseheads.

The meetings are not business meetings. There is no expectation of a work product from them. They are not steps in any formal process. Rather, they are opportunities for all of us to share with our brother priests those things that are on our minds, in our hearts, or part of our prayer.

One might speak of a pastoral experience he had that broadened his idea of ministry. Another might comment on how he met a particular pastoral challenge and seek the reaction of others. A third might propose consideration of a new line of thinking about an issue, or suggest a fruitful way to tap into the wisdom of the community.

Over some years, I have found these sessions to be one practical and helpful way for our presbyterate to express and to grow in the bonds that unite us to one another. We are not, after all, a voluntary association of independent agents. We are one body made so by our ordination for the service of the Diocese of Rochester.

Let me offer a quote of some length from the “Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops” published by the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops:

Toward his priests, the bishop shows himself a teacher, a father, a friend and a brother — rather than one who presides over them and acts or judges — being ready with kindness, understanding, pardon and help. He does what he can that they may develop a corresponding friendship toward their bishop and to place full trust in him, in such a way however that the bond of lawful obedience is not only not dissolved but is rather strengthened in the love of the shepherd, and this obedience itself will become more ready, more sincere and more secure.

I think that that language, while fairly formal, raises up in helpful fashion the fact that the relationship of the bishop to priests, of priests (individually and corporately) to bishop, and the relationships among brother priests are of crucial importance to them and to the people they serve.

We all know that significant, long-term relationships do not happen automatically or easily. They require — among many other things! — the ability and willingness to speak honestly, to listen carefully, to negotiate, to ask pardon, to forgive, to dream, to imagine, to laugh, to encourage and to share hope. It’s true of marriage, of families, of consecrated life. It’s true of any presbyterate.

Over the years, the sessions to which I refer have contained the elements mentioned above. They have helped us to be more real and, therefore, more available to one another. They have fostered an appreciation of ourselves as participants in a ministry larger than our own. They provide another forum in which we can share and celebrate our successes, and in which we can find support and encouragement in our disappointments.

I come away from those meetings, as I always do, with a renewed sense of admiration and gratitude for the priests of our diocese. I find them to be real and honest, generous and deeply devoted to the people they serve. I am continually inspired by what they do and know from what you tell me that you are, too.

During our Lenten prayer, please join me in praying for our priests and their continued growth in their vocations. Please pray as well for our seminarians and those who are thinking seriously of studying for priesthood.

Peace to all.

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