Recently, I came across an Instagram post of a dad giving some advice to other dads.
He shared that oftentimes when he comes home from a challenging and full day of work, he and his children have opposing desires: while he wants to relax and unwind, his kids want to play games with him, run around with him. While he would like some quiet and the opportunity to detach his brain from having to handle a million things all at once, his kids bounce around from game to game. It took a while for him to realize that in reality it didn’t matter to his children what game they played with him, how many games they played, what they did — they were playing with dad. They were spending time with their Father. In fact, the games didn’t matter. He was the game. He was the toy. They weren’t really interested in all the different things they could do now that their dad was home. The one game they were interested in was the one game he was already playing with them: spending time with their father.
What a beautiful insight for our life as priests and religious in Holy Cross. Family is the cloth from which we are cut as a religious order. Father Moreau envisioned consecrating all the priests, sisters, and brothers of Holy Cross to the hearts of the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary, Joseph. Our Constitutions even remind us of the daily witness to living out this sense of family both in our brotherhood and in our ministry: “Our experience in Holy Cross is demanding. It is joyful as well” (C 6.60). Thousands of parishioners at St. John Vianney are my spiritual “children” (even the adults!). They all make up the Body of Christ, and in our consecrated and single-hearted intimacy with the Lord, each one of them asks for their priests to be present to them, to play, teach, preach, pray, with them.
The question for my own life and ministry as a priest at the parish is if I see myself as running around doing a million things for a million people, or playing one game with Jesus, whenever I am with his people. Because the reality for my parishioners is the same as it is for those children with their dad. They only care about one thing: Is Jesus Christ present to me? Like, is he really there for me? Will he be with me?
Whenever people request the presence of a priest — to be with them for a prayer, for a house blessing, for an anointing, for last rites, for a funeral, for a baptism, for a wedding, they really want only one thing — they want Christ to be with them. If the parishioners desire their priests to be present to them, it is not because they are trying to burn out their priests by having them running around doing a million different things, bouncing from funeral to wedding, to teaching, to baptizing, to hearing their confessions. It’s because the priest is the Presence of Christ to them. The priest himself is the “game” (or to put it more theologically sound, the “instrument”, the “alter Christus”) that allows them to know that the Almighty Father is present to them.
As a young priest not even a year from ordination, our life is definitely joyful, incredible, demanding, and challenging. To realize just how personally and intimately Jesus is calling me to walk with these parishioners of mine is a gift and privilege beyond words. We parish priests need to remember constantly that the people of God have a right to encounter Christ in and through us. And perhaps along the way, we discover that it is exactly how Jesus wants to be present to us. After all, being the presence of Christ is what we were ordained for!
Published on January 31, 2024