What do you want to do? We ask this question all the time, especially when…
The Latin hymn Ecce quam bonum has great significance for the priests of the Grand Rapids Diocese. We sing it together after every funeral of a brother priest. As our brother is brought out of the church and placed in the hearse, we sing, “Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum, habitare fratres in unum.” Translated into English, these words from Psalm 133 are, “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!”
Two months after I was ordained a priest, Father Ray Bruck passed away. It was my first funeral for a priest, as a priest. I remember the moment well. At the beginning of Mass, I looked around and saw that most of the brother priests were in attendance. The feeling was similar to the moment during ordination when each priest offers a sign of peace to the newly ordained, a sign of welcome to a brotherhood where we share a common mission, the salvation of souls. And yet, this moment at Father Ray’s funeral seemed a more profound experience of our brotherhood.
Immediately following the funeral Mass, I was asked to be a pallbearer. My initial response was, “Not me. I barely knew Father Ray; surely someone else should take my spot.” The priest asking for my help said simply, “You are a brother priest, that’s all that matters.” That struck me and, even now as I’m writing these words, I recognize that sense of belonging to a beautiful brotherhood; how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell as one.
Recently, our diocese said goodbye to another good and faithful priest, Father Den Morrow. Again, I was asked to be a pallbearer as all the brothers sang together Ecce quam bonum. This time I was ready and understood the privilege. This time, after three years of priesthood, our brotherhood meant more because I have been a member of it and have lived it.
During this pandemic, a few of my brother priests have called me just to “check in” and “say hi” during these strange and awkward times for ministry. Each of these priests called at the seemingly right time. In some moments, I needed to vent or express how much I was missing the people at Mass. Other times, I needed encouragement in the daily grind, and other times it was simply a pleasant and joyful conversation. But in all these moments, I left with a deeper sense that the priesthood is a brotherhood. We pray for one another, support one another, encourage one another to grow in virtue and holiness, and make each other laugh. But above all, we all share in that mission where we desire to bring souls to Christ and to bring God to his people.
Friends in Christ, the priesthood is a beautiful life – one shared with brothers on a common mission to convince people of God’s love. I pray that as we remember our faithful priests who have passed away this year, we encourage and pray for our current priests. I invite you to pray with me in gratitude for the fraternal bonds that connect the priests in the diocese. And finally, I write to that young man who is considering the priesthood and has fears of loneliness. The priesthood is a beautiful life, shared amongst brothers, so be not afraid – this is a brotherhood.