Priest’s anniversary is a time to reflect on God’s gift of ordination
By Bishop Rutilio del Riego
A few of our priests in the Diocese of San Bernardino have been ordained for over 40 years. Every year we celebrate the 25th, 45th, and 50th anniversaries of ordination of some of our priests. It is a joyful occasion for the Bishop, the priests and the lay people who participate in the Mass and the fraternal dinner afterwards.
As priests, the day of our ordination was such an important day that it parted our lives into two periods, one before and the other after our ordination.
On the occasion of our anniversary we become more aware and appreciative of the fact that it was not we that chose the Lord but that it was He who chose us. His words to the disciples at the last discourse ring so true to us. “It was not you who chose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Jesus was the one who took the initiative and we, often hesitantly, responded to Him.
After so many years we realize that the Lord not only has called us to the priestly ministry, but he has accompanied us every step of the way. The words of Scripture sound very personal to us. When we read the words of God to Jeremiah “have no fear…because I am with you” (Jeremiah 1:8), we understand it. And it is very consoling and very real to hear Jesus say to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Mark: “The Lord continued to work with them” (Mark 16:20).
During our life as priests, Jesus has given us many opportunities to serve Him and to accompany His people in so many places and in so many ways. On the occasion of our anniversary the main feelings are joy and gratitude to God for truly “the Lord has been good to us and we are glad indeed.”
We know that an anniversary is not only a look back, but this is an important part of it. Looking back we can verify that God has blessed us abundantly. Sometimes His blessings have come to us directly from Him; more often, they have come through others and through circumstances and events. Every priest has a different story, he has walked a different journey; however, whether one has ministered in a parish, a school or a hospital, each priest has one special place, one special community where he was able to identify with those he was called to serve. In that place, in that community, he felt at home, like in a family. There he was free to be himself and the people felt free to walk with him and, when necessary, to question him out of love.
The Lord Jesus has given us priests the opportunity to know some people well, and to love them, and be loved by them. Sometimes, with God’s grace the priest has been able to identify with those he has been called to serve, especially with those who are struggling for one reason or another and he has been able to be a fraternal support and a source of strength and hope for them. On the occasion of his anniversary the priest realizes that those are truly times of grace for the people and for himself.
At his best, the priest becomes aware that he is a dispenser of great gifts he has received to give them away freely. In his best days, the priest knows that he is not Jesus, that he is called to be like John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus. At his best, the priest knows that there are many in his parish or in his community that are more open to the Spirit and more faithful to Christ than he is. At his best, the priest knows that he is not the Word but just the voice in the words of St. Augustine. At his best, the priest knows he is not the Groom, but just the friend of the Groom, and what a privilege this is! At his best, he knows that he is not the Father but just his reflection or representative. At his best, he knows that he is not the Shepherd but just the shepherd’s servant and his assistant. At his best, the priest knows that he is not the light or the savior, for the savior and the way is Jesus and Jesus, only.
PUBLISHED IN THE JULY/AUGUST 2012 INLAND CATHOLIC BYTE