Shepherds and sheep

Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
May has often been the month for ordinations, especially priests, but deacons as well. Our diocese just ordained two priests and is set to ordain two transitional deacons. As such, May is a big month for jubilees. My Norbertine classmate and I are celebrating 50 years. He spent a lot of years as both a priest and physician in Peru. He still has a hospital in the jungle serving several villages along the Rio Napo, a tributary of the Amazon River. He had a church there. Another Norbertine spent years there and is buried in the native cemetery in Santa Clotilde. He has a cross in our abbey cemetery in De Pere Wisconsin.
Fifty years in the priesthood is anything but humdrum. In a religious community you are supporting one another whether in a common ministry like school teaching or supporting individuals in ministries they are called to do. The call can be from bishops or superiors or responding to needs. That brought us to Mississippi almost 30 years ago. This is bittersweet now that we are closing our priory near Raymond. We had great hopes. Now we return to the abbey that missioned us. Fortunately I and another confrere will be here for another year at least.
I would like to give some advice to seminarians and newly ordained priests or deacons. First, you may think what you are going to do is all planned out. It isn’t. The “people of God” will impact you, and lead to new possibilities even ministries. I know religious appear to have more options to respond to different ministries, and diocesan priest see parishes and pastoring as “the plan.”
As the shortage of priests grows, diocesan priests are now sent out as missionaries all over. Collaboration among bishops is a new norm. One of my confreres just came back from an annual “international priest conference.”
Never rule out the Holy Spirit and new talents and skills you will develop. Dioceses are always alert to people displaying exceptional talents or creatively responding to new situations.
Ordained ministry is not a job. In my day we tried to make in like other professions with some success, but it’s more than that. It changes your life. I see mayself it as servant to the servants of God. Inspire people, be the voice for those who have no voice. I think of Blessed Stanley Rother, a diocesan priest from Oklahoma, sent as a missionary to Guatamala. He was kicked out of the country by corrupt forces. Then God and his adopted people called him back. He was killed, and now is heralded as a martyr in the church. He was ordinary, just like us. But his priesthood changed him.
Let it change you. Know that the Holy Spirit is in charge. I was ordained was on the feast of St. Herman Joseph, a Norbertine. It was also the Vigil of Pentecost. My first Mass was Pentecost Sunday, and the Holy Spirit never left me. Those of you who will be in Mississippi the rest of your life, you are blessed. Mississippi can teach you a lot. It has taught me a lot. Listen to your people. Let them minister to you. All the priests I admire have experienced that.
Another bit advice I would give is one you have been hearing all through the seminary. Stay close to your fellow priests. Most of you will be one-man pastors which is why events that bring us together are so important. I enjoy the annual post Easter clergy retreat at Chatawa. The fellowship with priests is as good as the retreat master. We have a special spirit among us in this diocese that is accepting of new people and makes us glad to be together.
This is the vocation issue. Make your people see how you enjoy this special life. Following “Good Shepherd Sunday” we remind ourselves, we are both shepherds and sheep. We follow the Good Shepherd on the way to God. St. John boils it down to three words “Love one another.”

(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)