Jan. 12-18, 2006
A Reflection on Priesthood
By Father John Ahern/ SUN contributing writer
As we enter the new year of 2006, I’ve been asked to reflect on my priesthood. I thank God every day for the privilege of being His Priest son. The journey has been one of both joy and sadness. Joy in the sense of serving the people of God, presiding at the Eucharist and in proclaiming the Good News. Sad in the sense of the clergy abuse and the dreams of one’s ministry not being fulfilled. But the priesthood is a calling and like other callings, say to marriage or the single life, they all involve the good days and the bad days.
My journey began in my upbringing. I was one of seven children in an Irish Catholic family. We lived with our wonderful parents and grandparents. We were poor but didn’t know it because everyone in those days was poor. The call to the priesthood is mysterious because God’s ways are not our ways. But the call began as you witnessed your grand-parents kneeling at the side of their bed reciting the rosary each evening. As you received the sacraments of the church each week and attended a Catholic school. As you and your high school friends attended the weekly Novena of the Miraculous Medal. Through it all, there was the Eucharist, the presence of Christ.
As I reflect upon the past, it was Christ’s presence that allowed me to open my heart and mind to the possibility of being in His service.
While working at Carrier Corp., I attended daily Mass as often as I could. It was on a Good Friday service that the voice in my heart was a definite call to the priesthood. I couldn’t believe it because I was working hard and having a good time that was, in itself, the opposite of my religious calling.
I was drafted into the U. S. Army for two years and that experience was anything but holy. But the pull of God was still there. I would sneak out of the barracks to attend Mass. It was there that I was told by a Catholic Army chaplain that I had a vocation.
I was thrilled at being confirmed by the chaplain but I still couldn’t believe it. The joy of it compelled me to seek admission to the seminary in the Syracuse Diocese. The joy was short-lived because I was refused because of my being a veteran and my age of 24. The typical age for ordination in those days was 25. I returned to Carrier Corp. and then the role of our Blessed Mother took over. Through a fellow employee I heard about a seminary for ex-GI’s, so I applied and was accepted into the Seminary of the Sacred Heart Fathers. Before entering, our Blessed Mother’s presence in my heart kept drawing me closer and closer to Her Son and the confidence and joy grew deeper and deeper.
Those two years with all the ex-servicemen were so happy and definitely laid the groundwork for the next big step — major seminary.
Before leaving for the Sacred Heart Fathers I was called into the bishop’s office in Syracuse and was asked to continue my studies for the Syracuse Diocese. I credit that to our Blessed Mother and through the seminary years I had a joyful time.
I was ordained at the age of 33 with 16 other young men on May 20, 1967. It was the most joyful day in my life. Immediately after ordination I went to Ireland, taking my parents. It was my father’s first trip back home since he had come to America. What joy in celebrating one of my many first Masses with all the loved ones in Ireland.
I have come to realize that God calls whom He wishes, not anyone else. I will be a priest now for 39 years and how can I best describe it all. First, the motto of St. John the Baptist, “I must decrease so that Christ will increase.” And secondly, a sense of humor, sharing with others through laughter and joy.
I personally believe that a priest is the reflection of the people he serves. In all the parishes that I have ministered in I have found that all faith communities are the same. The people of God are so unique with their talents, abilities and gifts that a sense of humility in serving them is profound.
I am still an ordinary person with all my gifts and imperfections. But God has turned all my challenges and problems into His way of molding and shaping me into being the priest He wants me to be.
In fulfilling my vocation I pray that I am giving glory to God. Because of that my vocation has been a happy one with all the graces God gives, especially the grace to persevere. I fully realize that in spite of my human tendencies and faults, God so disposes of them in such a way that I am able to carry out what I was chosen to do.
My joyful decision to follow Christ in the priesthood laid the foundation for so many other responses throughout life. Fidelity is built in the priesthood day by day. The power of prayer gives confidence for each new day that begins with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The power becomes most evident as difficulties arise and you sense the increase of grace.
If you ask any priest what can you do for him, the response is always, “Pray for me!” and rightly so. The laity is the source of many spiritual gifts that we priests so often see and humbly appreciate.
Finally, if we priests make every effort to grow in holiness, in love for Christ, and for all God’s children for His sake, we will be assured of our faithfulness, and at the same time, experience joy and increased charity, and our lives will always be full of reasoning. We must correspond each day with the graces we receive, we must be faithful each day. This is how we fulfill our priesthood to which Christ and Our Lady have called us.
May the joy of my priesthood be the joy of all my fellow brother priests and the faithful we serve. God Bless,