Jan/Feb 2023 Two weeks, eight funerals and lessons learned. By Fr. Stephen Durkee, Director of…
The Gift of the Priesthood
By Fr. Noah Thelen
The best gift I received growing up was a full set of football gear. I remember it all very vividly: Christmas morning, my brother and I getting identical packages and then finding in them a football helmet, shoulder pads, and even football pants complete with hip, thigh and knee pads. My brother and I were ecstatic. We put on all the gear and, after opening the rest of the presents in our football pads, we went outside and played football together in the middle of winter.
One of the best things about that gift was that it was a total surprise. Neither of us had football pads on our Christmas list and my parents even discouraged us from playing organized football before middle school. To say we were shocked is an understatement. It was the best gift I had ever received.
Over the past several months, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the gift of the priesthood. I’ve always understood the priesthood as God’s gift to the Church. The Lord, in his mercy, sees our need for his presence, forgiveness and healing. Therefore, in the gift of the priesthood, we receive Christ’s gifts of the Eucharist, confession and anointing. Everything the priest does is a gift. The priest stands in the person of Christ, and so when the priest says, “This is my body” or “I absolve you,” it is Jesus Christ himself, present among us, who is speaking. I’ve always understood this at a theological level, even in the simplicity of my childhood: We need priests because priests bring us Jesus.
But since June 5, 2021, much of the way I see the priesthood has changed. I still see the priesthood as a tremendous gift for the Church, and I am grateful for the priests who have guided and formed me over the years. But in the past year, I’ve appreciated the gift of the priesthood in a new way. Whereas in the past I thought about how the priesthood is one of God’s great gifts for the Church, lately, after my own priestly ordination, I’ve also come to see the priesthood as God’s gift to me.
Suffice to say, my priestly ordination has changed my world. I love being a priest! Through the gift of this priestly vocation, my life has greater purpose and direction and, therefore, I know who I am and what I am about. So too the things I do day-to-day are remarkably fulfilling. It is one thing to hear a priest say, “This is my body,” or “I absolve you.” It is another thing altogether to say those words yourself and believe that, through the power of Christ, those words are efficacious.
Even the sacrifices of the priesthood carry with them their own sweetness. Is it a real sacrifice giving up a wife and children in being a priest? Absolutely! But even then, I’ve experienced a new family in the Church and in my parish, one that calls me “Father” (I’m still getting used to that!). But perhaps even more than this, I’ve seen how my priestly vocation has stretched me in surprising ways and that, through the priesthood, the Lord is continuously forming me.
Vocations are meant for the edification of the Church. But one’s vocation is also the means by which one is sanctified – the way we become saints. And perhaps slowly but surely, I can see the Lord’s work in my own life, calling me forth to be the man he called me to be. This transformation happens both in “rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep,” (Rom 12:15) in times of celebration and sadness, and in all the menial tasks in between.
I love being a priest, and, more than ever, I’m thankful for the gift of the priesthood. And through this tremendous call, I hope to make a gift of myself.