First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Vantage Point
For New Priests: A View From the Pew
Vantage Point
Claudia McDonnell

Last month, 11 priests were ordained by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Five are priests of the New York Archdiocese, and six are Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Catholic New York profiled each one in a special section.

Their stories are inspiring. These men have given their lives to God and their futures to the service of his people and the Church. They were kind enough to tell us about themselves. Now I’d like to offer a few words to them, as a New York Catholic, a member of a parish and an observer who has come to know many priests over the years. My life since childhood has been enriched by the presence of devoted and holy priests.

First, congratulations to all of you! What a blessing it is to be ordained a priest. You have worked hard for years, in your studies and in the ministries in which you served. Ordination marks the completion of your preparation, and the Church in New York rejoices with you.

Thank you for accepting your vocation. It is glorious to be called to priesthood, but as you know and will come to know more fully, it is a life of sacrifice. You accepted the sacrifice and answered the call of the Lord to serve his people, and they are grateful to you.

I’d like to offer a few suggestions, starting with something I heard Cardinal John O’Connor say a number of times; it was the advice he received on his own ordination day: “Be kind to the people.” Your kindness will be noticed, and the people you serve will know that they can talk to you and confide in you without hesitation. They will trust you. In particular, kindness in the confessional will never be forgotten.

Know your parishioners want to see you succeed. Even if some of them complain or object to something you say, most, if not all, of them are on your side. They want to be faithful Catholics and they want your guidance and encouragement. Personalities might clash now and then, but most active Catholics know that it’s a blessing to have a priest among them to celebrate Mass and the sacraments and to help them strengthen their spiritual lives. They appreciate you and what you do for them.

My priest friend offered this advice: “Be friendly. Have a relationship with the people, and you might have a better relationship with the Lord through them.” He also urges new priests to get to know the young people of their parish and to encourage them to consider vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Work on your homilies. A lay friend of mine suggested that priests should seek feedback from the congregation. I doubt you’ll have to seek it; you’ll hear from the folks. Yes, some will voice an opinion only when they don’t like what you’ve said, but many will tell you when you really hit it out of the park. And when you preach, be brief. Ten to 15 minutes is enough. One priest I know said that he speaks for five minutes. “After that, no one’s listening,” he said.

He used to celebrate a weekday Mass at which many worshippers were en route to work. He preached for two minutes or less. Thirty years later, I still remember one of his homilies. Brevity begets remembrance. Verbosity does not.

Never, ever let the tragedy of the clergy sex abuse scandal diminish your joy in your priesthood, or your holy pride in the priesthood and the Church. You are living proof of the goodness that the priesthood embodies when priests live holy lives.

Those of us whom you serve are proud of you. We welcome you, we respect you, we trust you, and we want you to be joyful and fulfilled as priests. We look forward to getting to know you. Let us know how we can help you.

We’re with you. We pray for you. God bless you and keep you.

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