New pastors, new blessings

The great evangelist Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “When we surrender to God, we get ourselves back ennobled and enriched” (The Priest Is Not His Own). Every May I experience this truth when new men are ordained priests and others retire after years of loving, dedicated service to Christ and his Church.

This ebb and flow of priestly life is wonderful to celebrate, but it also impacts many parishes as new clergy appointments are made to adjust for these changes.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that many Gentiles and Jews became believers in Antioch, the place where they were first called Christians. The Scriptures say, “News of this came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:23). Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” urged the local Church to remain faithful to the Lord and then brought Paul to preach to them, steadily increasing their numbers.

When Barnabas was sent to Antioch, the Church in Jerusalem must have missed his charism of encouragement. But the Christians in Antioch were blessed by his gifts, too. This same dynamic plays itself out when priests are reassigned each year.

Because Jesus founded our Church upon St. Peter and his successors, the decision about who to send where ultimately falls to me as a successor of the Apostles, unlike some of our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, who select their own pastor.

I receive letters from people who are upset about their priest being sent to another parish, and other letters thanking me for giving the same priest a new assignment and sending the parish a new priest. As a priest and now as a bishop, I have learned that it is impossible to keep everyone happy.

The process of discerning who to send to a parish is taken seriously and involves lengthy consultation and reflection with the deans—those priests who have been chosen to coordinate the clergy in their region of the archdiocese. The deans assist me with assignments and their advice is valuable.

In the Archdiocese of Denver, we are blessed with a good number of priests and seminarians as compared to other dioceses, yet we must continue to pray for vocations.

I am often asked about the number of priests in our archdiocese, and so I would like to share some statistics with you. The Church has two basic categories for priests—those who are diocesan priests and those who belong to a religious order like the Capuchins, Jesuits or the Dominicans. In our archdiocese, we have 185 diocesan priests (143 active and 42 retired) and 106 religious order priests (95 active and 11 retired), giving us a total of 248 priests in active ministry.

In terms of vocations to the priesthood, the archdiocese is blessed to have 44 men studying for the priesthood at St. John Vianney Seminary, 21 men at Redemptoris Mater Seminary, and 10 men at various other seminaries, giving us a total of 75 seminarians.

What many people don’t realize is how much we rely on foreign-born clergy. Out of the 75 men studying to be priests for our archdiocese, 29 of them come from other countries. The same pattern appears among priests in active ministry. Of the 248 priests in active ministry, 87 of them come from other countries and 79 are from other states. This means that only 82 of the men who are actively serving our archdiocese are from Colorado.

These statistics emphasize both the importance of continuing to promote vocations locally and of being thankful for the generous sacrifices made by those priests and seminarians who have left their homeland to serve Christ and his Church in this archdiocese. Without our foreign priests and vocations coming to us from other states, many of our parishes would be without the sacraments.

If you attend a parish that is receiving a new priest and saying goodbye to your previous one, I encourage you to receive them with a warm welcome and give thanks for the gift of their priesthood, which brings Christ in the sacraments to you and your families.

I came from the state of California, and decided to stay in Colorado and be ordained a priest here because I loved the beauty of Colorado. During my time as a parochial vicar and then as a pastor in this archdiocese, I experienced the loving and heartfelt welcome of many faithful people. I pray that if you are receiving a new priest, you will experience the love of Christ from him and that you will welcome him as the Christians of Antioch welcomed Barnabas and Paul.

 

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash