13 April 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Holy Thursday
It’s Holy Thursday and I’m having Holy Thursday thoughts. The only parish Liturgy on Holy Thursday is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper celebrates the Eucharist and the priesthood. These are forever linked. You can’t have one without the other.
Just as there are various and valid ways of celebrating Holy Mass, so there are different ways to be a priest. The unique ministry of each priest, combined with that of his brothers, presents an icon of the priesthood.
There are religious order priests and diocesan priests. There are missionary priests serving in far-off lands and neighborhood pastors. There are priest military chaplains, hospital chaplains, theologians, teachers, Scripture scholars, lawyers, social workers, and medical doctors. These are “vocations within a vocation.” Father Ed Rego often used this phrase to describe how he had a vocation to the priesthood and, within that, a vocation as a professor at Southeastern Massachusetts University (now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth).
Together as brothers, along with the bishop, we form the Priesthood of Jesus Christ in this time and place.
Once a young man (or a not-so-young man, for that matter) discerns, with the advice and guidance of others, that he may have a vocation to the priesthood, the next question he must ask himself is what kind of priest?
Initially I wanted to be a missionary priest, inspired by the photographs in “Maryknoll Magazine.” I’d also heard of the missionary work of the La Salette Fathers. But when I learned more about a missionary’s life, the thought passed quickly.
Then I wanted to be a priest-professor. This was due to the publication called, “Catholic Boy.” The editor at the time was Father Frank Gartland, the Vocations director of the Holy Cross Fathers. One day, at his invitation, I headed off to Stonehill College to spend a week living in community with the Holy Cross Fathers. I got hopelessly lost. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the place. I’ve never been very good with directions.
So, one day I walked up Tarkiln Hill Road in New Bedford and rang the rectory doorbell. The pastor, Father Bernard Unsworth, opened the door. Skipping a bunch of stuff, that, dear readers, is how I became a diocesan priest some 45 years ago.
Every bishop in every diocese throughout the world calls his priests to the cathedral church during Holy Week to celebrate the Mass of the Sacred Chrism. Together, we renew our priestly commitment.
Priests celebrating significant anniversaries of ordination (25, 40, and 50 years) are honored in particular. There’s nothing noteworthy about 45 years. Anyway, the traditional gift for 45 years of Marriage is a sapphire. What, pray tell, would I ever do with a sapphire? This year, at the Mass of the Chrism, I sat in the pews with the other guys and blended into the woodwork — which is just fine with me.
I must confess, dear readers, my mind wandered during Mass. It went back to the day of my own ordination, which took place in that very church, albeit four bishops ago.
I remember lying on the floor in the center aisle while the assembly, led by a young college student named Ray Cambra, chanted the Invocation of Saints over the four of us. I remember the anointing with Chrism and the laying on of hands. I remember being vested as a priest for the first time. Father Dick Chretien vested me. I remember concelebrating my Ordination Mass with the bishop. I remember giving my parents my priestly blessing.
Afterwards, off I went to serve as a diocesan priest — a task in which I am, thanks be to God, still engaged.
But that was long ago. Times have changed and so has the Church. I’m reviewing the situation in the light of today’s realities. We all need to take stock every once in awhile. For a priest, Holy Thursday seems an ideal occasion. So, I asked myself, “How am I doing?”
My parishioners answered in the form of a questionnaire. So many wrote encouraging and supportive comments.
My primary priestly duty is the worthy celebration of the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass. The people gave an 85.7 percent approval rating. Of course, two priests are assigned to preside at the Eucharist here. The other is Father Ray Cambra (yes, the same). Together, we share these high marks.
We have on staff in this parish four clergymen who have been ordained to preach the Gospel. This includes us two priests as well as two deacons, John Simonis and Bill Hays. How are the four of us doing? Coincidentally, the congregation gave us the same approval rating of 85.7 percent. Not even the President of the United States gets these kinds of ratings. Oh, wait.
Of course, no priest can please everyone. That would be the sure sign of a failed ministry. One parishioner wrote, “Why do they keep sending old priests to our great parish? Give us younger priests!” LOL*
*“Laughing out loud,” as the kids say these days.
Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.