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The adventure and privilege of the priesthood

Almost 37 years ago, I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ in Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. I promised obedience to my bishop and his successors. I lay on the floor, invoking the intercession of the saints in heaven. My hands were anointed with oil. And, when the bishop placed his hands upon my head and prayed the prayer of ordination, I became a priest, forever.

The priesthood has been a gift beyond my imagination.

The priest is called to pour out his life for the people of God—to give himself to those the Lord loves with unencumbered abandon. To many, this call seems too difficult, too lonely or too demanding.  But in my 37 years as a priest, I have found that while the call is challenging, it is a call made easy, joyful and fulfilling, by the love of God the Father and the friendship of Jesus Christ.

The priesthood, in my own life, has been the adventure of learning to die to myself—to love as God loves for the sake of the kingdom of God. I have the privilege of forgiving sins in the name of the Lord. I have the privilege of praying over bread and wine, and watching as the Holy Spirit and the words of Jesus transform them into the body and blood of Christ. The priesthood is an adventure, a privilege, and like all the sacraments a pure gift.

On Saturday, I ordained seven men to the priesthood in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. My heart filled with joy for these new priests. My memory returned to June 5, 1976, the eve of Pentecost, and the day of my own ordination. I prayed that these seven men would experience the same joy that I have had. I prayed that they would know the love of the Father and the friendship of Christ. I prayed that they would pour out their lives in love, constantly in-filled by the Holy Spirit, living in the communion of love of the Trinity.

The priesthood seems foreign to our postmodern world. In a culture obsessed with sex, celibacy seems strange. In a culture of “independence,” obedience seems a burden. And in a self-centered culture, in which self-fulfillment is deified and worshipped, a life of radical charity seems impossible and naïve.

The priest is a sign of contradiction, a living witness to the love of Christ himself. The priest is called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and to make his life a total self-gift to Christ and the Church.

At the heart of the priesthood is the Eucharist, wherein the priest stands in the person of Christ, the Head, Shepherd and Spouse of the Church. The Eucharist becomes the prayer of the priest in which he surrenders himself to Christ, and utters with him, “This is my body given for you. …This is my blood poured out for you.”

I pray I will ordain many more men in the Cathedral Basilica.

At Saturday’s ordination, we read from Luke, Chapter 10. Christ sends out missionaries to proclaim the Gospel. “The harvest is abundant,” he says, “but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

We are blessed in the archdiocese with many men who have said yes to the call of priesthood.  But the harvest is ever abundant. I pray that young men across the archdiocese will consider meeting with me to discuss the call to the priesthood.

I pray, too, that families will support vocations to the priesthood. If you are a mother or father encouraging your son to become a priest, thank you! This weekend, I heard a mother tell her son: “Today our friend became a priest. Imagine how great that would be for you.” That word of simple encouragement will grow in the heart of her son. His eyes will be open to the possibility of the priesthood, and then he will be able to discern if the Father calls him to be a priest.

I pray that families will invite priests into their homes and into their lives. The lay families I know well have been a source of great consolation for me. Their children have become my sons and daughters, my nieces and nephews, my grandchildren. They have become my brothers and sisters, and have helped me  to live my vocation fruitfully. Thank you for inviting the priests of our diocese into your homes. Thank you for allowing them to experience the joy of your family.

I pray that my brother priests, too, and deacons, will encourage men to consider whether God is calling them. This weekend I ordained a man who told me, simply, “I became a priest because my pastor invited me.” What a legacy an invitation can become.

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, I pray that all of us—priests, deacons, religious or laity—will join together to love as God loves: to be signs of contradiction in our world and to pour out our lives, as Christ has done for us. Let us continue to heed the words of Jesus through prayer to the Father, “…ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest!”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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