28 Jul The Joy of My Priesthood
by Fr. Bob Wild
The facts of my early life are quite simple. Born in Buffalo, New York, I attended a Jesuit high school and a Franciscan seminary. Then, thinking first one and then the other was my vocation, I spent time at a Trappist monastery and a Carthusian one in England.
After that, I spent four years as an assistant priest in a Buffalo parish. (I am presently writing a book on vocational stability!)
Finally, in 1971, I joined Madonna House, and here I have stayed.
And now for the most important things I want to share on the occasion of my fiftieth anniversary of priesthood.
When I was stationed in MH England, we were invited to a 60th celebration of one of our priest friends. I was seated next to him at the main table.
During the course of the meal, I asked him, “Father, what would you say was the most joyful, the most meaningful part of your priesthood?” He thought for a moment and then said, “Bringing people to Jesus Christ.”
Nobody has yet asked me that question, so I asked it of myself. My answer is not the same answer that Father gave, but close to it.
Very early in my life, I read the famous quote from the French author Leon Bloy, “The only tragedy is not to be a saint.”
That sentence illuminated my whole life: the goal of human existence is union with God. If you achieve that, you achieve everything; if you miss that, you miss everything.
“Professionals” are involved in helping people towards many goals in life—to become better teachers, scientists, business executives, doctors, and so on. Priests are “professionals” in a way. (Webster: engaged in one of the learned professions.)
Priests are learned in theology and the spiritual life. And so we can help people achieve the goal of goals: union with God.
Thus, my whole life has been involved in guiding and helping people grow in their union with God, which is their eternal destiny. What other kind of vocation or “profession” could give as much meaning and satisfaction to anyone!
A favorite theme of Pope Francis is accompanying people. He notes how the Lord accompanies each one of us during our whole lives no matter what spiritual state we are in. He is always there, accompanying us along our way, guiding us to ever greater truth and union.
As a priest I’ve been privileged to be involved in this accompanying of others in many ways.
I couldn’t count the number of counselling and spiritual direction sessions I’ve had, the confessions heard, or the homilies given.
And then there are the thousands of Eucharists I celebrated, the countless Communions distributed, and the many anointings for healing.
Over the years, I’ve also given a number of retreats to priests in Canada, the U.S., Sri Lanka, and Africa.
Presently I live at Vianney House, our retreat center for clergy, where I help with giving clergy the rest and relaxation they so deserve.
I have done other things as well. At a very early age, I was amazed at the marvellous effects of writing: that you could write your thoughts and many people could read what you thought. And a major part of my priesthood has been the ministry of the written word.
I have had the privilege of editing a number of Catherine Doherty’s books, as well as writing some of my own. Among the books I’ve written are two on G. K. Chesterton, who has been one of my mentors over the years.
During my whole priesthood, I’ve been led to use writing as another way of accompanying people or guiding them along their path to union with God.
I often think of people sitting quietly somewhere reading what I have written. In a real way I am present to them as they read my thoughts. In this way I’ve accompanied many people I will never know in this world.
And besides all these external ways of accompanying people, I think the presence of a priest can have unknown spiritual effects.
At my 25th anniversary, a woman came up to me and said: “Father Bob, know that if you’ve done nothing else in your priesthood, you have saved my life.” And she walked away.
I had no idea who she was, much less how I had saved her life! This was a lesson to me from the Lord: that he uses our priestly presence in ways of which we are unaware. So much of life is hidden and unexpressed.
A priest friend of mine was not going to celebrate his 25th anniversary, and the bishop said to him: “You have to celebrate! It is not your priesthood. It’s the priesthood of Christ, and you have to give the people an opportunity to celebrate that gift to the Church, a gift in which they all share.” He had a celebration.
My celebrations were also occasions of thanksgiving for all of us for the gift of the priesthood.
Many of my friends over the years have been married couples with families. I think everyone needs to give life, to be a father or mother. But this can be spiritual as well as bodily. I have been blessed with sons and daughters whom I have raised in the Lord for many years of their lives. They are among the greatest joys of my priesthood.
And what have I learned from being a priest? It’s impossible to put it in a few words, but here’s a brief attempt.
By trying to understand Jesus and the people he gave me to serve, I’ve come to understand something of what it means to be a person, a human being, a man. My priesthood has led me into the depth of who I am and who I was created to be.
In addition to my celebration at Madonna House, I had one in Buffalo for my relatives. On occasions like this I have especially the young people in mind.
They need to see that—by the grace of God, and that’s the significant phrase—by the grace of God—perseverance and fidelity in our vocations are possible. That it’s possible to keep our promises—even for a whole lifetime.
I invite you all to join me in thanksgiving for my own vocation and fidelity. I pray that you continue on your own journey to union with God, giving special thanks to the priests in your life who have accompanied you.