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Wow! My first decade as a priest

It was Saturday, June 14, 1997. Bishop Mengeling ordained four new priests for service to the people of God in the Diocese of Lansing. I am one of them. Several months earlier, as we put the final touches on the plans for our ordination Mass, my three classmates suggested that I be the one to offer words of thanks on our behalf at the conclusion of Mass. I accepted their invitation. I took some time to think about what I would say and came up with the usual expressions of gratitude to God, family, Bishop Mengeling and the people of the diocese. At least, that was what I had planned to say.

At the conclusion of the ordination Mass, I approached the cathedral’s ambo. As I stood before a cathedral full of people, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion as I began to understand what we had just celebrated together. Suddenly, all my well-planned words of thanks evaporated. The only thing I could think to say in the moment was, “Wow!” As I begin my second decade of priesthood, I look back over my first 10 years as a priest and can see how that exclamation, uttered on the day of ordination, has been a kind of watchword for me.

The first year after ordination was filled with so many new experiences, ranging from the first-time celebration of the sacraments to coming to understand more fully the broad range of demands that would be an ongoing part of priestly life. There was my first Christmas and Easter as a priest. Those were followed by first Eucharist, parish grade-school graduation and so much more. Each first was accompanied by a sense of deep wonder and gratitude for God’s gift of priesthood in my life. More than once, I found myself exclaiming, “Wow!” as I came to appreciate ever more deeply the profound beauty of the ministry to which God has called me.

“Wow” continues to be part of my priestly experience. Now in my eighth year as pastor of a wonderfully loving and faith-filled parish community, I feel as though I am just about ready to take off the training wheels. At the same time, I know that my formation as priest and pastor will continue for a lifetime. Part of my current wonderment relates not so much to that which is entirely new, but more to my growing appreciation for the faith that we share and seek to live together. Each of the preceding 10 years of priestly ministry has been a wondrous gift. I can only begin to imagine what the next 10 years will hold.

As this second decade of priesthood opens before me, I look back at the lessons of the first decade. Some of those lessons have been challenging and difficult, while many more have been awe-inspiring, filled with God’s grace and tender mercy. As I look forward to the years ahead, I pray that my priestly ministry might be filled with many more moments of grace-filled discovery, instances when all I can say in thankfulness to God is, “Wow!”

And so our journey in FAITH continues.