Several weeks ago, I attended a Mass at which a newly-ordained deacon gave his first homily. he preached about his experience of vocational discernment, which led him to the priesthood, to which he will be ordained next year. As a boy, people asked him if he wanted to be a taxi driver like his father or a teacher like his mother. Or, because his grades in school were good, they thought maybe he would want to be a doctor or an engineer. When he told them that he wanted to be a priest, they thought it was strange, since they thought he had the potential to do so much more with his life than be a priest. His response was that, as a priest, he could do all those things that the other professions did, but in an even more significant way. Like a taxi driver, he could help people arrive at their destination. But instead of the airport or the office, he would help them get to heaven. Like a teacher, he could help people learn about the world, but he would also help people learn about the Creator and Redeemer of the world, enlightening them with the truths of the Faith and showing them how to live a holy life. As a priest, he would be a kind of doctor, healing people not of their physical wounds or ailments, but of their moral wounds of sin in the confessional, as well as the spiritual ailments of sadness, fear, loneliness, and doubt. He said that a priest can also be an engineer, not by building bridges of brick and stone, but by being a bridge himself – bringing God to the people and the people to God. The young deacon then asked the people to pray for him, that he might be a bridge strong enough to support those he would bring to the Lord, and humble enough to accept being walked on by those he carried.
The homily reminded me of what St. Jean Vianney once said of the priesthood. Vianney was the parish priest of Ars, a small town in eastern France from 1818-1859. His total devotion to the spiritual, moral, and material welfare of his people – teaching catechism, caring for the poor, often hearing confessions for 12 hours a day – helped to reawaken the Catholic faith of the people of France that had been left devastated by the French Revolution. Towards the end of his life, over 20,000 pilgrims would travel each year to Ars, just to see the holy priest who served his people so faithfully, and to go to confession to him. Vianney would say: “The priest is not a priest for himself. He does not give himself absolution, he does not administer the sacraments to himself. He is not for himself – he is for you.”
This weekend, Fr. Anh Vu was ordained by Bishop Caggiano to the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ, and will be offering his first Mass of Thanksgiving at our 11:15 Sunday Mass at the Church of St. Cecilia. At the reception following Mass, he will be offering the opportunity to receive first blessings. Traditionally, the blessing of a newly-ordained priest brings with it special graces. It is part of the great gift that the priesthood is – a gift given to an unworthy man, meant not for himself, but for all of us.