Jan/Feb 2023 Two weeks, eight funerals and lessons learned. By Fr. Stephen Durkee, Director of…
By Father Andrew Ayers
‘I stand on holy ground’
On June 1, 2019, I was ordained a priest, and I am still the same person I was before that date. I still go to confession. I am still intensely poor and weak, except for the grace of Jesus, through whom I can do all things with his strength. Any good I have done testifies to his power, and I am happy because he has made me free.
While I remain the same sinner as before, I now have a different vantage point from which I see the salvation of humanity. When I meet people in the confessional or on their deathbed, we don’t talk about the weather. We discuss their souls. As another priest told me, they hand the priest their heart and say, “I want this fixed.” The Lord gives me the words their heart needs, and then I see God begin to heal them. God reveals himself, and I stand on holy ground.
A second way in which my vantage point has changed is my new role at Mass. As the words and gestures become more habitual, I am free once again to ponder the unfolding mysteries of the liturgy like anyone else in the pew. I find celebrating Mass as easy as attending Mass; by comparison, altar serving as a child was more mentally exhausting.
Nonetheless, my ordination gives me a different role. Through the words provided by the Church, I address God on behalf of the congregation and all the nations on earth. I offer God our meager gifts of bread and wine, which are as good a gift as any because it’s impossible to repay God for his free, inestimable grace. Then, Jesus transforms those gifts into his body and blood. Now, we finally have a worthy offering of gratitude for all that God has given us because we can offer him his Son. On behalf of the Church, I, the priest, do this when I raise up the gifts and say, “Through him, with him, and in Him …” Then, never to be outdone in generosity, Jesus gives himself right back to us when we receive Communion.
On the flip side, I not only act on the people’s behalf. I also represent God’s will to the people through the words, power and name of Jesus, given to me to impart sacramental grace and to preach. This is a novel experience because I am human like anyone else and need God’s word to feed me. So, when attempting to preach to my people, I first consider which hard truths of love I need to hear and those comforting assurances that I have needed in my life. After Mass, people come up and tell me why they needed to hear my preaching. I think to myself, “Yes, I’m not alone. Others have felt this as well,” and I feel really close to my parish family. It’s a humbling task to represent both the Church to God and God to the Church.
Lastly, I am ordained a servant of Jesus, meaning I share in his singular priesthood, which he revealed to us when he offered not a lamb, but his whole self on the cross. This fact has special significance during the coronavirus pandemic, for my calling now is to offer my whole life in intercession for my people who suffer.
To close, I know that reading this article may discourage a man in discernment who might think, “I am too weak to enter into such a life.” To this I say that you are right. I am too weak to do these powerful things too. But do not be afraid, because the all-powerful God has chosen to live in your heart. In Jesus, you are strong. All the good you have ever done was by God’s grace, and it is evidence of the mighty deeds the Lord will do through you in the future. Finally, remember to pray for your priests.
Father Andrew Ayers iis a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Rockford and a chaplain at West Catholic High School.