There’s a lot of wisdom here—and a lot of it, I think, could apply to deacons, as well.
Since we are smack in the middle of ordination season, here’s some fraternal advice from Rev. Damian J. Ference, a priest of the diocese of Cleveland:
I just celebrated my 10th anniversary of ordination two weeks ago, and although I do teach at the seminary, there’s always something in me that thinks, “I am not qualified for such an important mission of forming young men to be priests.” But then I remember the words of Saint Paul: “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies those he calls.” So with that in mind, I offer my newly ordained brothers 10 things to keep in mind as they begin their priestly ministry. (Admittedly, this list is far from exhaustive, but hopefully it’s helpful.)
Be Human: Why start here? Why not start with prayer or spirituality? Well, I start here because this was the starting point of Christianity – The Incarnation. God didn’t come to us as an angel, he came to us as a man, as a human being like ourselves in all things but sin. God became man in the person of Jesus in order to make God accessible and approachable. Jesus brings us salvation in his very flesh. He brings us divinity in his humanity. So, as human beings, we find our divinity in our humanity. A priest must never forget that the same is true of his vocation. Running from our humanity is no way to find holiness or redemption, and it’s no way to minister to the people of God. It’s only when we run to the One who reveals man to himself that we find ourselves and we find our mission. So, never forget you are a priest, but don’t forget that first you are a human being.
Pray: In Gift and Mystery, John Paul II’s reflection on his fifty years of priestly service, he writes: “If we take a close look at what contemporary men and women expect from priests, we will see that, in the end, they have but one great expectation: they are thirsting for Christ. Everything else – their economic, social, political needs – can be met by any number of people. From the priest they ask for Christ!” A priest’s primary mission is to bring Jesus to others, but you can only give what you have first received. If a priest is not a man of prayer, he will not be able to teach his people to pray. If a priest doesn’t know Jesus, he will not be able to lead others to Him. If a priest doesn’t know the voice of the Shepherd, how can he teach others to listen to Him? Prayer is the foundation of the priesthood. Praying the Office, praying with scripture, contemplative prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and continuous communication throughout the day with the Triune God keeps the priest healthy and holy. Priesthood is busy; make time for prayer every day.
Honor Your Pastor: Just as you don’t get to choose your parents, newly ordained priests don’t get to choose their first pastor. Trust that your bishop and his advisors prayerfully discerned your assignment and then make the deliberate choice to honor and respect your pastor. I remember being very disappointed upon receiving my first assignment and meeting my pastor for the first time. He was a baby-boomer, ordained in 1968, and he was the only pastor who didn’t wear his clerics to the meeting. Being a newly ordained priest of the John Paul II Generation, I thought the assignment spelled disaster, as on paper the two of us couldn’t be more different. But my priest mentors encouraged me to bring an open mind and an open heart to the assignment, and so I did. Four years later when I left the parish, I couldn’t have asked for a better first pastor. So my brothers, love your first pastor – will his good. Don’t try to run the parish or make any radical changes in your first year. Do what he asks of you. Ask his permission, and keep him informed on what you are doing and where you are going. Pray for him and tell him the truth. Don’t talk about him behind his back, and keep his confidence. Most bishops take first assignments for priests very seriously, so trust that you are in the right place and with the right pastor. Show your pastor honor and respect – it’ll make for a good first assignment.
Love Your People: No matter where Jesus met a person, he loved them right where they were. Your love for your parishioners must imitate the love of Jesus – it must bethe love of Jesus. It is important to challenge your parishioners, and to address the lies of the culture, and to preach and teach boldly and courageously. But in the words of Saint Paul, if these acts are not done in love, they are nothing but a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal. If you are like most priests, you probably have a family member or two that are not the most active in their faith – my priest friends and I affectionately call these folks our “pagan siblings.” Keep your pagan siblings in mind often, and love your people with the love and compassion with which you would want a brother priest to show to your own family members. Meet your people where they are and love them. When they are convinced that you love them, then they’ll be willing to move to a better place, namely, into the arms of the Father.
Those are for starters. Check out the rest. Share it with a priest or deacon you know.