By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino
Exhausted in the desert and ready to expire the prophet Elijah was visited by an angel who gave him food and drink so that he could continue his journey to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:4-8).
Like Elijah we all need nourishment to continue on our sometimes difficult journeys. Priests are no different.
The annual priest convocation held recently provided such an opportunity for re-energizing and refocusing on our vocation and its meaning to us. Over the course of the four-day gathering we talked about the challenges we face in our varied ministries, our successes and failures and the stress that comes with the responsibility being the primary spiritual leader in the Church.
The convocation was more than a group therapy session, of course. There was much good will and light-heartedness in the air as we took advantage of the opportunity to get reacquainted with or perhaps introduced to priests ministering at opposite corners of our vast diocese. Through our shared experience and our bonding time we were able to celebrate the resiliency of the priesthood and look to our vision beyond daily challenges – the building of God’s kingdom on earth.
Despite this past year of recession and continued high growth, I found the spirit among our clergy to be at its highest point in years. In fact, an independent survey conducted in advance of the convocation found the spiritual health of our priests to be better than most.
We exalt our priests, and rightly so, but we should also not forget that they are human beings. They have the same need for fellowship, affirmation and human connection that we do. Some of our faithful are reluctant to see their priest in that light, maybe because of the priest’s position of authority, their personality or even their culture. While priest and parishioner do occupy different roles in the living of our faith, it is important to remember that we are on the same journey in faith. We are traveling together in Elijah’s footsteps toward the mountain of God.
The Holy Father gave us cause to reflect on this when he proclaimed in June this ministerial year as the Year For Priests. For clergy, the Year For Priests offers a chance for spiritual renewal in their personal relationships with God, with their brother priests and with their people.
For the people, it is a year to revisit and strengthen your relationship with the priest or priests in your parish. I ask you to get to know them, accompany them in their ministry, engage with them as people – and, of course, pray for them.