Pope Francis: Priests must pray, accompany, share

As we prepare for our Louisiana Priests’ Convention Sept. 19-21, I am very enthusiastic that about 400 priests will be attending.

This gathering is to give us, as priests and bishops, an opportunity to pray together, spend time together, take part in continuing education and strengthen our fellowship. For a priest, it is so important that he knows the fraternal support of his brothers with whom he ministers.

In this special issue of the Clarion Herald, many priests have been thoughtful in writing and in sharing with you, the people of God, about experiences in their priestly ministry.

As I look back on my more than 40 years as a priest, I am grateful to God for calling me. It is a humble privilege to serve as a priest.

My assignments as a priest have taken me to places I never would have dreamed that I would go. My only desire when I was in the seminary was to be a parish priest. Instead, I was a teacher in a high school, later on an administrator, then assigned to Notre Dame Seminary as the director of Pastoral Formation, and then 14 years as rector.

God’s plans not our own

The promise of obedience is very important. We can have all of our best-laid plans, but the ways of the Lord are often different. It is important for the priest to follow the Lord in doing whatever he is asked to do for the good of his people. There are times that we have to put aside our hopes and dreams, but we soon realize that there is great joy and peace in fulfilling God’s will.

As I look back, I am grateful I had the opportunity to receive education and priestly formation at St. Joseph’s Seminary College, better known as St. Ben’s, and at Notre Dame Seminary. I remember, in particular, at St. Ben’s the Benedictine monks who were a great influence in my life as well as the many lay teachers who were committed to priestly formation. St. Ben’s helped me to be formed as a disciple and to truly discern – to prayerfully consider the priesthood as God’s calling.

Strong religious influence

When I began at Notre Dame Seminary in 1971, some of the Marist priests were still on staff along with diocesan and religious priests. Likewise, there were very good lay theologians who, with the priests, provided for our education and formation. I feel very blessed to have been at both of these seminaries. Today both are thriving.

Benedictine Father Gregory Boquet serves as rector at St. Ben’s, and this year they have nearly 150 students. Father Gregory and the faculty provide the best in education and priestly formation. Father Jim Wehner is an extraordinary rector at Notre Dame Seminary. He and the seminary faculty, including priests and laity, provide a very strong and balanced academic program in theological education as well as a carefully designed formation program. Notre Dame Seminary has close to 140 students this year.

There are those who say that vocations are passé; I disagree. I am very much impressed by the quality of men who are in our seminaries. Needless to say, I know the New Orleans seminarians the best. I am very proud of them. I put my faith and my trust in them and in their ability to discern.

Working in the vineyard

I wish to take this opportunity to thank my brother priests in New Orleans. When I returned to New Orleans as archbishop, I was received by the priests as a brother, and we have been true collaborators and coworkers in the vineyard of the Lord. I thank God for them every day. I enjoy working with them.

Together, we face challenges and we rejoice in the good times. I am grateful to my brother priests because they are on the front lines in parishes, hospitals, prisons, schools and many other special ministries. As I have often told them, the work that we do at the chancery office on Walmsley Avenue, our pastoral center on Howard Avenue or other archdiocesan offices always is directed toward serving them and enabling them to provide genuine pastoral care.

The priests are indeed my closest collaborators in ministry, and I feel tremendously blessed and humbled to be the Archbishop of New Orleans with a church that is very much alive with dedicated priests serving them.

Recently, Pope Francis, in talking about the priesthood, invited priests to serve in three ways. He said first, “Pray without tiring, because we can only be called ‘fishers of men’ if we first realize that we have been ‘caught’ by the Lord’s tenderness. … If we do not remain closely bound to him, our fishing will not be successful. I recommend: Pray always!”

Secondly, he said, “Walk always, because a priest has never ‘arrived.’ He always remains a disciple, a pilgrim on the roads of the Gospel and of life. … Therefore, update oneself always and remain open to God’s surprises!”

Pope: ‘Share with the heart’

Pope Francis goes on to say that the third piece of advice that he gives the priest is to “share with the heart because presbyteral life is not a bureaucratic office or an ensemble of religious or liturgical practices to attend. We have spoken so much of the ‘bureaucrat priest’… and not pastor of the people. To be priests is to stake one’s life for the Lord and for brothers, bearing in one’s own flesh the joys and anguishes of the people, spending time and listening to cure the wounds of others and offering all the tenderness of the Father.”

I wish to conclude my reflections by asking the people of God throughout the archdiocese to join me in praying for and working for vocations to the priesthood, to the diaconate and to religious life as sisters and brothers. There is no doubt that there are many out there, some young and some older, whom God is calling to serve the church.

When we see individuals whom we believe have such qualities, we must pray for them and also reach out to them and simply ask a question: “Have you thought about the priesthood or religious life?”

As we gather for our Louisiana Priests’ Convention, I thank not only my brother priests throughout the state, but also the people of God who work with them, care for them and enable them to be the very best priests that they can be. Thank you for loving God’s priests and for the encouragement that you give to them through prayer and through your words of support.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond is the 14th archbishop of New Orleans. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1975.

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