By Mary Woodward
Our Catholic Service Appeal is well into its annual drive for gifts and pledges from you and me and so many. This year’s goal of $1.15 million is getting close to becoming a reality but we still need your assistance in achieving this.
The Catholic Service Appeal funds important initiatives and ministries in our diocese such as seminarian education, evangelization, lay leadership development, campus ministry and mission parishes and schools. Another ministry it supports that is near and dear to all of us is the care of our retired priests.
For years these men have served us on so many levels. First of all, they have provided us with the holy sacrifice of the Mass where we are able to enter into the sacred mystery as bread and wine become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the priest through the power of the Holy Spirit acting “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ) that we are able to partake of that heavenly banquet.
These men who have been called to serve as priests in the church make many sacrifices in order to bring us the heavenly food of the Eucharist. Many have left family and friends in faraway places to come and serve us.
Secondly, these men are there for us in the great celebrations of our lives. They baptize our babies, give us our first Holy Communion, and witness two becoming one in the sacrament of marriage. We invite them to bless our new homes. We even drag our cats, dogs, ferrets, snakes and whatever else we choose to have as a pet, out for a blessing by Father around the feast of St. Francis.
Thirdly, priests are there for us in sickness of soul and body. In the sacrament of penance, our priests are the vessels through which God offers his forgiveness for the sins we have committed against God and our neighbors. In this sacrament we have the opportunity to repair a rift and restore our relationship with God to its fullness by confessing that which has broken the relationship with the Lord and have that sin absolved through the sacrament administered by a priest who is not there to judge but to offer the healing, mercy and forgiveness that Christ promises.
When we are sick in the hospital or about to have a medical procedure, we can receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Most of us have either had a family member or close friend in the hospital or have ourselves been in the hospital at one time or another and have been a participant in the sacrament of the sick. This is a very comforting moment when prayers offered and the blessed oil is placed on our hands as a soothing ointment for peace of mind.
Lastly, priests are there for us in our saddest moments when we lose the love of our life, a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend. It is these dark moments that the priest brings quiet presence and hope. The ministry of presence is one of the most cherished. It is in this ministry that we take solace in the hope of resurrection and everlasting life.
And so, priests are an essential part of our entire human journey. Therefore, when you give to the Catholic Service Appeal your gift helps support priests who have served us for so many years and now have entered into retirement and no longer have a parish community to help support them financially. Your gift helps the diocese continue to provide these men with health care and living arrangements either in rectories as senior priests, retirement centers or assisted living environments and ultimately in nursing care and hospice.
We currently have 17 retired priests including two retired bishops supported by the diocese. However, priesthood does not end with retirement, it just takes on a new look. Retired priests may have a little more time for leisure, but they also generously make themselves available to assist in parishes.
Several of our retirees continue to serve the church by filling in when needed by celebrating Mass, anointing the sick, celebrating school Masses and hearing confessions for pastors on vacation.
The official retirement age for priests in our diocese is 70. At this time we have more than a dozen priests at or above that age still serving as pastors in our parishes and chaplains in hospitals.
In the next few years as more priests retire from active ministry and begin to face the situations that later life has to offer, your Catholic Service Appeal gifts will help them take on these challenges with a sense of being supported and loved for the many years of support and love they have given to us and the church.
Your gifts let our retired priests know their lives of service have been greatly appreciated and abundantly blessed.
By Mary Woodward