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Father Muench Says...

The laity have formed my priesthood

Feb. 13, 2019

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Today, I would like to begin with a remembrance of my friend and classmate, Nelson Sholette, who died recently. Nelson lived in Ogdensburg and was a very active parishioner of St. Mary’s Cathedral parish. Nelson touched and helped many as a counselor and psychologist. He used his many talents in support of his pastor and parish. Nelson was a good friend, and I was fortunate to have him as my friend.

I know only too well that strong and alive parishes are due to the involvement and support of the men and women of the parish – the laity. The challenge of every pastor is forming a parish into a community. Each and every person in the parish is essential to making a real community.

Just today I came upon a published paper that summarized the discussions of a series of meetings of religious educators, theologians and church ministers at Boston College. This publication was entitled, “To Serve the People of God – Renewing the Conversation on Priesthood and Ministry.” This booklet truly has a message for us all in the Catholic Church. However, it focuses on the preparation of seminarians for priesthood. The message begins with the importance of the recognition for Catholics that Baptism comes first, then Holy Orders. They write that the priest in today’s church needs skills forming communities and working with baptized faithful, particularly women.

One of their first messages is a warning against priests placing themselves above lay people. Actually, I learned this message rather early in my priesthood. It took me only a short time as a priest to realize the holiness and saintliness of the people of the parish where I was assigned.

In those first days of my priesthood, I met older folks who had dedicated their lives in forming a powerful faith that made their lives profound examples for their families and for their parish community. I learned what prayer was all about from these folks, these grandparents. It helped me to understand what it means to be a real person as a priest – not come sort of clerical celebrity.

I learned so much about God and life from the sick and the dying. I still remember well a bed-ridden woman who suffered so much. And yet when I needed faith and a renewed confidence as a priest, I would visit her. She helped me to truly find God and God’s help in my need.

To this day, I learn more about preaching from the men and women of the various parishes I have been assigned to. They openly show me the way; they help me understand how to communicate well. I would like to sign some of those folks up to present a class or two to seminarians.

I know how much young people helped to form my priesthood. Their honest wisdom helped me understand what I needed to know and understand – things that I somehow did not realize. In addition, there have been so many parents who helped me understand just what a saint is. I have learned so much, and I am deeply grateful for their wisdom.

This paper urges more study of Pope Francis’ reflections on the priesthood. Pope Francis has soundly condemned clericalism. The Catholic Church has been very good to me. The only time I have had problems was when I thought I was only one to know all the answers because I was the priest. This publication reminds us of this earthly image of Pope Francis that is quoted widely to be a shepherd who takes on the smell of the flock.

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