Fr. John Britto, C.S.C., was ordained a priest last year on April 30 together with Fr. Paul Ybarra, C.S.C. As we prepare for this year's ordination of Deacon Matt Kuczora, C.S.C., Fr. John kicks off our Ordination Week coverage on the Spes Unica Blog by reflecting on his first year of ministry as an ordained priest. He has served this past year at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish in Bennington, VT – a parish sponsored by the United States Province of Holy Cross.
"Thou Shall Be a Blessing to All" (Gen 12:2) was the motto of my ordination. I had an inexplicable fascination for blessings ever since my childhood. Several factors probably contributed to this uncanny fascination even before I became conscious of its implications, including the culture and the etiquette in our family ever so diligently fostered by my parents, the all-pervading positive influence of the French Missionary who was the pastor of my village parish, and the gentle presence of the nuns in the area.
Over time I felt that this dream of mine to be a source of blessing could eminently be achieved as an ordained minister of the Word and Sacrament. Pedro Arrupe's words rang true in my life, namely: "What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything." And it did.
In the process of achieving what profoundly touches the deepest chords of your heart, you might have to overcome insurmountable struggles, be ridiculed, and perhaps pay a heavy price to realize what breaks your heart. And when you realize it, it is like finding the pearl of great treasure. It is worth making all those sacrifices to offer the Sacrifice.
The first year of my priesthood at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish in Bennington, VT, was engagingly fulfilling, especially as the motto of my ordination was put to use practically every day. While visiting one of the nursing homes in the town, I read a poster that read: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away." I literally lived these breath-taking moments every day.
Here I had the opportunity to materialize what I always wanted to be: "to be a blessing to all." Apart from the gift God has given to each one of us to be a source of blessing to all, as a minister of the sacraments, all you are and all you do is to be a conduit of that blessing. As a priest I saw before me various avenues to directly touch the lives of the faithful.
In our abundantly consumerist society in which many spend for themselves, a priest is invited to spend himself for others. This year provided me ample opportunities every day to think of the ways in which I have been a blessing to many. In the wake of this reality, the most dominant feeling was the unfailing recognition of my unworthiness in the face of such an awesome grace lavished upon me. I was moved to tears on several occasions, especially as I celebrated the Eucharist, to know that through my actions I could channel blessings – to bring to life the Body and Blood of Christ.
I was rudely shaken out of my stupor on many of my visits to the sick and the dying to see how their faces lit up even at those critical moments when they saw the unknown priest standing in front of them. I was touched by the kind words of gratitude uttered by those quivering lips even as they lay feeble, struggling to express the inexpressible joy at having had the last encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
Many times I was overwhelmed hearing the confessions, the "dialogue of salvation," of many well-meaning faithful who shuddered and stuttered to list the numerous times they felt they were unfaithful in answering the loving invitation of our God to remain close to Him. Even as the people plunge into the "flood of divine mercy," I sat there thinking of how close they come to reminding me of my own struggles to recognize the radical, loving invitation of our God "to be holy as I Am holy." Yet even in this graced moment, to think that I could be a channel in bringing the reconciling, healing, nourishing gift of God to the people makes me feel like a debtor who is deeply sunk in his debts that he is unable to pay back.
At this grandeur of a gift and the monumental task given to me, I can hardly muster adequate vocabulary to thank God sufficiently. St. Augustine captures perhaps the sentiments of my burning heart when he said: "I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more."
What a blessing it is to be a blessing! You, too, can be a blessing if only you would let God work in you freely. Be a blessing!