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My brother priests: With great power comes great responsibility

Archbishop Wenski's homily at final Mass of priests' convocation

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during Mass Sept. 19, 2019, at the annual convocation of archdiocesan priests, being held Sept. 17-19 at the Hilton in downtown Miami.

Brothers, today’s first reading gives us rich material to reflect on, and to pray over. St. Paul tells Timothy — and through him — each one of us: “Do not neglect the gift you have which was conferred on you…with the imposition of hands by the presbyterate.” It is a gift that we carry in earthen vessels — that is, in the fragility of our human condition. But, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, aka Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility.

If you’re going to talk the talk, you got to walk the walk. By the nature of our ordination, we no longer belong to ourselves. We belong to Christ, and we belong to his Church. We are not private actors but public persons. Like it or not, there is no time when we are not “on”. There is no place to where we can escape. And certainly, social media and the internet should have convinced us by now there is no place we can hide.

Catholic Cemeteries counselor Liliana Abaunza meets with Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the archdiocesan priest convocation in Miami, Sept. 18. The cemeteries are thankful to be part of this unique opportunity to interact with the priests of the diocese and are very grateful to the archbishop for his continued support of our mission.

Photographer: COURTESY

Catholic Cemeteries counselor Liliana Abaunza meets with Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the archdiocesan priest convocation in Miami, Sept. 18. The cemeteries are thankful to be part of this unique opportunity to interact with the priests of the diocese and are very grateful to the archbishop for his continued support of our mission.

For good or for ill, we make impressions on people, and so Paul exhorts each of us — again through his disciple, Timothy: “Set an example for those who believe: in speech, conduct, love, talk and purity.” Some might misunderstand what Paul is saying and think that he is asking us to be inauthentic, not to be our true selves. Our true selves should have been buried with Christ; having risen with him we are now to conform ourselves to him so that we become what we have been made in Christ. People need to see in you — in us — what they hear us say from the pulpit. If there is a gap, there will be contempt, and it won’t be merely because of our “youth.”  

Thus, speech, conduct, love, talk, purity are various dimensions of character and work that must be our daily pursuit. Geez, if you can’t have Christian charity for your brothers whom you live with and for your parishioners, at least show them pagan courtesy.

When Jesus set the 72 on mission, he told them: “Proclaim the Kingdom of God…Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.” Quite a job description for them — and for us!

As Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the troubled and the abandoned, those who seemed like sheep without a shepherd, so too should a priest’s heart be moved. Pastoral charity — and not the desire for fame or fortune — should motivate the priest in his ministry. A priest is to “cure the sick”; that is, to attend to the ill and the injured, healing their isolation with a visit and bringing courage to those who are weak; a priest is to raise the dead, that is, to restore hope to those deadened by discouragement and defeat; a priest is to cleanse lepers, that is to befriend the outsider, to extend the hand of friendship to the marginalized and rejected; a priest is to drive out demons, by helping people deal with the various addictions that affect them and by not failing to address any personal demons that may threaten the integrity of his commitment.

Again, Paul says, “Attend to yourself and to your teaching.” Of course, we’re not clones — each one of us is different — each of us has different areas of competency and excellence, different gifts and talents. But how we use these gifts is an exercise of stewardship.

And so, attend to yourself and to your teaching. Attend to yourself —we need healthy habits: regular exercise, regular rest, regular nutrition, regular prayer; we need healthy relationships — with the laity and with our brother priests. Respect proper boundaries — you’ve got to be friendly with everybody, but you cannot be friends with people you supervise.

No one wants you to burn out — a candle that burns out leaves a sooty mess. A burned-out priest is a mess too. But you are expected to work hard: you are supposed to burn yourself up, to consume yourself in the service of Christ and his Church.

Attend to yourself and to your teaching. Maybe we won’t be the next Fulton Sheen but when you are up in the pulpit or teaching RCIA or some such class, you cannot expect to present a teaching without having first read it, prayed over it, studied it and prepared it and perhaps even rehearsed it.

Brothers, a recent study said that most Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. If it’s true, that reflects poorly on our teaching — and don’t blame the catechism teachers; if you’re a parish priest you’re supposed to be forming them. But I’m not sure if the study is entirely accurate. More and more people are drawn to adoration. And people who do come to Mass must be coming for the Eucharist; because, in most cases, they’re not coming for the preaching. The mediocrity afflicted on our people is a scandal — taking the pulpit without preparation, without a coherent message, without any idea of how to end (to land the plane) is simply scandalous. We are not called to entertain, or to amuse; and we certainly are not called to bore our people to death, but we are called to teach, to teach the Truth.

You know, for years we’ve been the least accountable profession in the world. You got ordained at 25 or 26, and nobody cared if you read another book. Of course, these days we are being held accountable in ways we never imagined: we got policies on codes of conduct and boundaries, we got policies on HR, on stipends, gifts, salary ranges, financial reviews. Many don’t like it — but welcome to the real world. Every other profession has performance reviews, continuing education, recertification requirements, etc. etc. Yet, we priests expect and often get passes on behaviors that would get somebody who flipped burgers in Wendy’s fired. Can we figure out a way to hold ourselves accountable for our preaching? Maybe, you could set up a committee of some of your parishioners to hold you accountable for your preaching.

Again, to quote St. Paul: “Attend to yourself and to your teaching;persevere in both tasks,for by doing so you will saveboth yourself and those who listen to you.”

Comments from readers

Father Joseph Cocucci - 09/20/2019 11:54 AM
Bravo! Bravo, bravo, bravo! Thank you, Bishop Wenski!
Peter Nault - 09/20/2019 06:17 AM
Kudos for a relevant exposition of ministry in today’s Church. However there is a fine line between a Church that is another big business with all of its trappings and a Church that strives to emulate Jesus Christ. All things in moderation including human resource requirements and other requisites of big business.

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