At Deacon's night on April 26th, Fr. Gary M. Dailey was invited to address the Seminarians on the meaning of Priesthood. His wonderful talk follows along with the deep gratitude of all the seminarians.
First of all I want to take this opportunity to thank the Rector, Monsignor Moroney, and the entire faculty of St. John’s and I want to include Bishop Kennedy in this thanks, for making St. John Seminary one of the premier seminaries in the country. I can’t speak for all my brother vocation directors but I can speak on behalf of Bishop McDonnell and the Church of Springfield when I say that we are grateful for what you do regarding the formation of our priests. Personally I can’t imagine what the ecclesial landscape of New England would be like without St. John’s.
I want to offer a disclaimer with regard to this address. I was just notified about this short address on the priesthood on Wednesday of this week in the midst of a 3 day session for Good Leaders, Good Shepherd. During the Wednesday morning session I received from Eric Queenan about twenty-three missed calls and voice messages on my phone. I thought to myself “this can’t be good.” He asked me to give the address on the priesthood instead of the toast. Ironically at the session we were discussing “Time Management” and how to say no and not feel guilty about it. So following lunch I reported to our facilitators that I failed miserably because I couldn’t say no. Needless to say I had very little time to prepare some profound statements and deep spiritual insights about the priesthood but I saw who was giving the toast (Bishop Arthur Kennedy) so I figure it would be all covered then.
I come tonight though sharing a few thoughts from a pastor’s heart. I have been at this for twenty eight years and the majority of my priesthood was spent in the parish – including ten years as a pastor. I figured after hundreds of talks on the priesthood during these past nine years of vocation work I should be able to say something about the priesthood.
I look at these deacons on the threshold of priestly ordination and I want to tell you with conviction, that for the last twenty eight years, I have put my feet on the floor each morning and placed my head on the pillow each night having great joy about responding “yes” to Jesus Christ for his invitation to be His priest. I have complete joy in the priesthood and I can’t imagine doing anything else in life. I want to be clear – it doesn’t mean that I don’t have bad days because I do, but the joy of my priesthood gets me through those days.
Men, this is no ordinary gift – it is the greatest gift bestowed upon any human person. It is not natural to be priest - it is supernatural. This is the highest call a person can receive. Why is that? Because no other person can transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, no other person can absolve sins, no other person can anoint the sick, heal them, and prepare a person for eternal life with God. There have been moments in my priestly life where I have sat back, reflected and said “WOW” – how did I deserve such an honor – and I realize I don’t deserve it – I was called to be His priest and my primary work is – to save souls. It all comes down to that.
What I have learned over these years is that what I say and what I do really matters. It affects a lot of people. I represent Jesus Christ to people – sometimes I am a welcomed guest and sometimes I am not. It all depends on what side the Word of God the person is on – sometimes the truth is a welcomed guest and sometimes it really hurts. You have to expect that when you accept this life. The bottom line is this: You are called to save souls. You are called to battle at all costs for those souls and win them for Christ. This is no easy task. You must be prepared for the battle.
In my travels as Vocation Director to schools and parishes talking about the priesthood I tell people – “because I am priest doesn’t make me better than you – it makes me different than you.” I learned early in my priesthood that I cannot live the life I lead before – I must be transformed to configure my life to Christ.
I am a public person and when my life becomes private and hidden, for whatever reason, my priesthood diminishes – it shrinks. I become less effective in winning souls for Christ because I am caught up in my own self. I must live for Christ always. We must be careful of living a dual life. In my opinion the greatest sin among religious is the sin of pride. Because we have been given so much it is very easy to lord it over people. We must constantly pray the virtue of humility.
I have always made it habit to wear my clerical attire whenever I travel. When I wear my collar I say to people “I am available for you.” How many times I have walked through the airport terminal or train station and asked to have a confession heard. How many times have I walked up the aisle of plane to my seat and heard “thank God there is a priest on board.” There is nothing I can do to keep that plane in the air, I rely on the pilot. It’s my presence as priest, not the person Gary Dailey that gives that person some peace. I represent something far greater than myself and I must always be aware of that.
I am an instrument of God. Whatever I lack, He will provide. When you worry about what you are going to preach about – don’t worry – if you sit with the Word and meditate on it – u will be given what to say. If you are worried how you are going to counsel someone who just lost someone in a tragic death – don’t worry Jesus will provide the words of comfort. If you fear that you are not worthy – do not be afraid – because you really are not worthy – remember God doesn’t call the perfect – he perfects the called.
Deacons – you have been called to an amazing life – a life that you do not fully understand right now – but in a very short time you will come to that understanding of being that instrument of God’s love and grace.
Pope Francis this past Sunday on the World Day of Prayer for Vocations ordained 10 new priests for his Diocese of Rome. He told them “you are pastors, not functionaries.” Amen to that. Any priest can get up in the morning to celebrate Mass, any priest can walk into the confessional and absolve sins, any priest can go to the hospital and anoint the sick and visit with them, any priest can attend meetings and classes and play with the children in the schoolyard. Any priest can serve as a functionary. But only the priest who sees himself as “bridge builder” and sees that his life is called to bring Christ to the people and people to Christ…. Only the priest who sees himself working “in persona Christi” to save souls without counting the cost….. Only the priest who sees himself as a warrior for Jesus Christ, winning souls and having the battle scars to prove it…. Only the priest who proves to his sheep that he is willing to lay down his life for them…., Only the priest who goes to bed at night completely exhausted because he served his heart out for Christ… – that priest will be a priest after the heart of the Good Shepherd – a true pastor for the people.
I want to share with you a reading from 1 Timothy 4: 12-16:
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate. Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone. Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
Deacons – in closing I have three bits of advice for you:
1. Maintain Spiritual direction – you will be involved in spiritual warfare and you need to have a Spiritual Director that will work with you and help you to win the battle.
2. Be kind to the people. Love them with all your heart and in turn they will recognize that kindness and forgive you when you make mistakes.
3. Be a holy priest. Pray constantly and give your heart to Christ.
Deacons – thank you for your “yes” your “fiat.” You like Mary will not comprehend what that “fiat” entails or how it unfolds. God will work wonders in and through you. Embrace and love the awesome gift given to you by Christ through your bishop – the priesthood of Jesus Christ. May you experience the joy that I have had through the years.
May God bless you.