Easter Monday: A Thank You to all Priests

“In our world, is there any greater fulfilment of our humanity than to be able to re-present every day in persona Christi the redemptive sacrifice, the same sacrifice which Christ offered on the Cross?” Pope John Paul, Mystery and Gift
The media last week had a feeding frenzy concerning the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. At some point I should like to say some things about it, but today, Easter Monday, I must report on an experience I had yesterday that led me to reflect upon the beauty of the Roman Catholic priesthood and the greatness of the priest. I attended the Mass for Easter Sunday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri. Although I live in Houston, TX, I came to Kansas City, Missouri to be with my oldest son who could not get enough time off to travel. He is the sportswriter for the Waynesville Daily Guide in Southern Missouri. We attended the 11am Mass.
The cathedral building is a beautiful church, built in 1882. It occupies the highest point in the city and its golden cupola is a landmark for the city (see www.kcgolddome.org) The interior has large stain glass windows illuminating a blue ceiling and white marble columns. The choir is superb, using voice, organ and brass. The church was packed for the Easter liturgy, celebrated by the Chancellor of the Diocese, Monsignor Bradley S. Offutt. It was his demeanor and presence that led me to reflect upon the beauty of the priesthood.
Having never been to this church before, we entered through a back entrance and came onto some seating behind the altar. So we could see the celebrant up close. As the congregation and choir sang “All creatures of our God and King” he approached the altar with great reverance. He bowed, kissed the altar, and readied the incense. He incensed the sturdy stone altar with great care and devotion. I thought immediately of Pope John Paul II’s phrase about the priest as a “steward of the sacred mysteries.” The mysteries were quite literally in good hands. He led us through the Kyrie and the Gloria. The Word was proclaimed. Monsignor Offutt then presented a sermon which he had committed to memory — it was presented very effectively as he walked around to face all parts of the congregation gathered around the altar. His was a dramatic account of the power of the story of the resurrection and the Lordship of Christ. He reminded us how the faith has endured and flourished over the centuries because of the apostolic witness to the event of the Resurrection and that the human heart responds deeply to the good news of eternal salvation. He spoke with warm conviction and with a strong argument.
For the renewal of the baptismal vows he prompted the congregation to a spirited series of “I do” for each line calling on the congregation to reject Satan and to affirm the truths of the faith. With great relish and energy he then went through the Church sprinkling the waters of renewal. At this point I really did feel that we were in the presence of a “master” priest. For although he moved down the nave among the majestic columns with deliberate energy, splashing the congregation with a good douse of the holy water, he maintained a sense of calm measure and cheer. At the preparation of the gifts he again incensed the altar with great care and devotion. At each genuflection during the ancient Roman canon of the Mass, his sense of love for the mystery was palpable. But the piety was not heavy nor forced — we were borne along by that “noble simplicity” of the Roman rite through the action of the priest.
Now all of this may sound like routine business for Catholic liturgy — and it is. But at this Easter liturgy at the Cathedral in Kansas City I sensed a special verve and love that flowed from the priest to the congregation and then all was lifted up to God. And at the final blessing and the subsequent procession out, I saw Monsignor Offutt smile as he strode with a humble dignity back down the aisle and outside to the steps of the Cathedral. My son and I left through the back entrance to get to our car — so I will probably never see the Monsignor again; but I was blessed by his priestly ministry.
As I walked out of the Church I had a great flash of the hundreds of priests I have known throughout my life who have similarly blessed me, my family and friends through so many years. I post a picture of Father Lucian Fury, OFM, from St Francis Assisi Parish in Triangle, Virginia where my brother and I attended school and learned to serve Mass (1961). I have recently found a little baptismal book in my mother’s personal effects, reminding me that a priest was there before I could remember, to initiate me into faith. I have a newspaper photo of my father attending Mass during the Korean War before I was born. I think of the Italian Jesuits who made their way to pioneer country near Missoula, Montana to convert and instruct my Scottish grandmother in the faith. I think of the countless other priests who taught me or taught with me (Oblates of Francis de Sales, priests of the Holy Cross, Benedictines, Cistercians, Franciscans, Dominicans, Basilians); I remember the chaplains on the Marine bases and at the Air Force Academy, the parish priests who heard confessions, officiated at funerals, offered daily Mass, benediction, and stations of the cross; I remember priests in various movements that have been at the forefront of the “new evangelization” in the charismatic renewal and Opus Dei; I remember retreat masters and spiritual directors.
The presence and the role of the priest in the life of a Catholic is profound. When I remember the hundreds of men whom I have known, or known of, who came forth to live a life of sacrifice and service to nurture the faith, hope and charity of so many — I am overcome with a deep sense of gratitude to them. We owe them our support, defense and love at this time of crisis. We know that the few who have disgraced the black robe do not by any measure detract from the power and the glory of their lives and work. We appreciate the words of Pope John Paul II, in Mystery and Gift, “In our world, is there any greater fulfilment of our humanity than to be able to re-present every day in persona Christi the redemptive sacrifice, the same sacrifice which Christ offered on the Cross?”
And at this time we need to be ready to proclaim this at every opportunity to those who are confused by the drum beat of detraction by those who are using the bad news of the hour to subvert the gratitude and honor that is their due from Catholics and citizens alike.
Today I thank Monsignor Offutt and those hundreds of other priest who do their priestly work day in and day out, in season and out of season.


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