November 2023 By Father Stephen Durkee, Director of Priestly Vocations Through this holy anointing, may…
Why I am excited to be a pastor…
Have you ever felt totally loved by somebody? Have you ever been in someone’s presence and felt this deep sense of belonging and connection? This person that you sit in front of sees everything about you – your gifts, your weaknesses, your struggles and your foibles – and yet they accept them all. They love you.
When reflecting on the Scriptures, Peter experienced this loving gaze when, after he had denied Christ for the third time, Jesus “turned and looked at [him].” (Lk 22:61) Zacchaeus had it when Jesus “looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.’” (Lk 19:5) The woman at the well experienced it from the “man who told [her] everything [she] had done.” (Jn 4:29) Similarly, the Apostle Nathan felt this piercing gaze when Christ said, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” (Jn 1:48) These people had that experience. They were seen by Christ and allowed themselves to be loved.
Recently, I was talking with a parishioner. I had just informed him that Bishop Walkowiak had named me pastor earlier that week, and I would share the news with the parish the upcoming weekend. The parishioner, with a great big smile on his face, said, “You must feel like you can finally set a vision for the parish and get to work.” He then shared a moment he had with Bishop Walkowiak that I found inspiring. He had asked Bishop how to encourage people to grow in stewardship. Bishop Walkowiak responded immediately that before people become good stewards, they need to experience true conversion. “Amen,” I thought.
As a first-time pastor, I don’t have all the answers, and I will make mistakes. I take comfort in knowing that Christ does not want me to be perfect; he only wants me to give my very best and to love God’s people with all my heart. It is, however, exciting and joyful to become a pastor for the first time. It’s the first opportunity to use creativity and try new methods of evangelization at the parish level. I believe most priests share a similar spark in their vocation. We’ve had our own experiences of being seen and loved by Christ, just like those mentioned above, that we feel compelled to share with others. This is why Bishop’s words about stewardship are so perfect. The conversion experiences in a priest’s life are what move him to be a co-worker in the vineyard, a steward of God’s Church.
Friends in Christ, I am excited to be a pastor. But I am not excited for the reasons people might think. I am not excited because I will make decisions and be ”the guy.“ I am excited because I want to give people Jesus. I want them to be seen and experience the authentic love of Christ that leads to conversion. This experience of Jesus, the God who loves you and me, changes everything. The early Christians in the Scriptures had experiences of Christ’s love that were life changing. And Christ desires to give the same thing to each of us. But then, we too are called to be good stewards of that.
Like the woman at the well, we are called to evangelize others based on our personal experience with Christ: “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman …” (Jn 4:39, 42)
Father Stephen Durkee is director of priestly vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.