Testimonials on the Priesthood

Rus Wester

When I entered grade school at St. Mary’s, the only Catholic school in our town, I was innocently unaware that I was on a pathway to one day becoming a Catholic. For four years I attended Mass regularly with my class, sat in the front row where Sister placed me, and bowed my head as I stared down at the feet of my classmates, passing me on their way to the communion rail. By fourth grade, the process had developed to where I remember my silent prayer being: “Please, dear God, let my feet carry me to that rail one day.”

My Catholic experiences continued when we moved to Louisiana. Our parents insisted on our continuing our Catholic education, telling my brothers and me “if you ever want to become a Catholic, let us know and we’ll help you.” To this day, I don’t know why our two non-Catholic parents would encourage us this way. After grammar school at St. James the Major and St. Pius X, my time came to enter Jesuit High School, where I met the priest who had the greatest influence on my life as adviser, mentor and friend. Over many months Father sent me to visit patients at our children’s hospital, feed the homeless, teach prisoners art and reading, and run a city-wide Thanksgiving food drive. He even installed me as the only non-Catholic member of the Sodality.  Little did I know that I was in an intense preparation to respond favorably to Father Cohen eventually saying “Rusty, I think it’s time for you to come into the Church.” I was baptized in 1963, and confirmed the following year.

Since then my relationship with God has been strongly influenced by my relationships with the priests I have encountered on my journey. I have been drawn to personally know many diocesan priests, as well as Ordered Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits and Capuchins. They have taught me about God’s love, where love originates. From conversations and their teachings, I began to learn about prayer, respect for the church, sacrifice, growth through reading the Scriptures, respect and care for our parents and elders, discernment, the beauty of the sacraments being our succor in life, compassion for the challenges in the lives of others, the beauty of religious devotions, love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God the Father, and all in Heaven---all leading to a better understanding of the source of mercy.

In the mid-90s, I recall the words of our Cardinal Archbishop during a ceremony at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He asked the thousands filling the Basilica, “What makes a good priest? A man who can talk with God. That’s his greatest quality. And he can teach us how to do it.”  Priests participate in people’s movement toward holiness. They’re the catalytic element of life’s equation and expectation of holiness. God speaks through priests as they teach us about mysteries of the Trinity.

In spite of their personal, individual capacities for living out their vocations, their zeal is relentless, their acquired wisdom and holiness comes to the front. And each of our young priests provide such a unique opportunity to “make a difference” in the lives of so many. We will always help them in their ministries, always pray for them, and always benefit from being their flock as we too move toward our capacities for holiness.

 

Rus Wester
Parishioner at St. John Neumann, Gaithersburg
September 3, 2016

Brendan Glasgow

Saint John Paul II spoke of building a civilization of love and a culture of life.  These are the fruits of the New Evangelization to which the laity is called upon for leadership.  The laity’s leadership in ushering in the New Evangelization is predicated upon the priesthood’s support and guidance of us living that daily reality.  There was a time when I believed that it was the priests who lead evangelization efforts, but I have recently come to learn it is the other way around.  It is the laity who are instructed and inspired by our priests to assume the mantle of leadership in building a culture of life and a civilization of love, one person and one family at a time.  At the conclusion of each Mass, the words pronounced by the priest, “Go proclaim the Gospel of the Lord”, is both an exhortation and an instruction to influence the culture by the word of God that we both hear and consume in the Eucharist during Mass.  The priest is uniquely chosen by the Lord as his representative to administer the sacraments, nurturing us in our efforts to share the good news with others.  Consequently, the priest’s role in bringing forth the New Evangelization is indispensable.

The domestic church; i.e., the family, is instructed, led and inspired by all the sacraments and teaching performed by priests for the good of the family.  The family plays an irreplaceable role in building a culture of life and a civilization of love in society.  One measure of societal greatness is the health and well-being of the family.  The recent attacks upon the family over the past 50 years, in particular upon marriage, require a response grounded in faith and reason by the laity supported by the priesthood.  The priest’s role is pivotal in encouraging us not to despair, but to persevere as St. Paul wrote, to “fight the good fight and run the race” unto completion.

For those of you who may have a son contemplating entering the seminary and who may be assailed by doubts and anxieties, because the ultimate end of his journey is that he is choosing not to marry, may I suggest you not consider what he isn’t choosing; rather, focus on what he is choosing, which is the sacrament of Holy Orders.  By focusing on what he is choosing, you will gradually come to understand the profound impact he will have as a priest over peoples’ lives.  That impact is generational, in fact, it is eternal.  The priest is there for all major life events and that spiritual and pastoral presence in peoples’ lives means more than we as parents will ever know in this life, but will be made manifest for all eternity

Mary Beth de Ribeaux

I picked up a deep respect for priests from my grandmother at an early age, and I am so grateful for the many wonderful priests I’ve been blessed to have in my life, particularly those who helped me when I faced distress. I am also grateful to have received the Sacraments from their hands, because the graces are very real, but one priest played a curious role he never knew. I don’t even know his name, although I wish I did, because he helped my husband Eugene and me receive the Sacrament of Marriage.

One day back in 1985, when Eugene and I were in college and had been dating for a while, I had gone to Mass and heard the homily of a visiting priest who was promoting vocations to the priesthood. For some reason, I picked up one of the brochures he left after Mass, then walked across campus to meet with Eugene, who was doing his laundry. “Listen to this,” I told him, indicating the brochure, and read a quote in it from the homily at a priest’s First Mass, something like, “Remember this day – because the day will come when you will feel discouraged, disappointed, or lost in routine. On that day, remember the joy of this day and the certainty you feel today of your vocation.” I paused, an insight dawning. “That must be what marriage is like,” I said. And to my utter amazement, Eugene got a funny look on his face, opened his mouth a couple of times, then suddenly got down on his knee among the piles of jumbled clothes and asked me to marry him.

I have often wished I could tell that priest who came to our college that weekend that although he intended to spark a young man to embrace his calling to holy orders, instead he got one who embraced his calling to holy matrimony! It’s a small and silly example, perhaps, of the marvelous ways that God works through His priests for the benefit of His people. As I slowly understand more and better about how the priest brings God to us and us to God, my respect for them and my gratitude to them for the self-giving sacrifices they make deepen ever more. So take heart, dear priests – even on the days when you feel discouraged or disappointed, don’t think that your work isn’t bearing fruit. God is working through you in surprising ways!

Marysanta (Santa) Bigony

He sits or kneels before the Blessed Sacrament, looking so intently at Jesus that there is no doubt that this man is attuned completely to Him. It is as if nothing else exists. Whether newly ordained or a retired bishop, the look is unmistakable. This deep faith, love, and trust of God are also visibly evident in his celebration of the sacraments, in the look on his face after saying the words “do this in memory of Me”. They are manifest in the way in which he enters the church; his solemnness vesting for Mass; and the manner in which he welcomes penitents to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He has been transformed by God’s grace. Make no mistake about it: the Eucharist is the source and summit of his life.

How does a priest find the courage to be present to the woman whose grandson was pulled pulseless from the water or to the parents taking a break from the almost overwhelming number of people who come to the viewings? How does he restrain his tears to celebrate a beautiful funeral Mass and offer a homily which includes the recollection of his mother’s teaching ‘you can’t use scissors to cut puzzle pieces to make them fit the way you want’? How does the retired priest living in another state find the words to comfort his successor who knew this family long before he knew he was called to the priesthood? How does the young priest who listens patiently to the anonymous penitent in the confessional have the wisdom to help her distinguish her grief and self-blame in the accidental death of her 16 month old son from her sins that need confession? How can the priests who ask someone to help with an activity possibly know that it will occur over a weekend that will include the funeral of her friend’s newborn daughter and the anniversary her own son’s death? How can they know the spontaneous events of the weekend will forever provide her wonderful memories on an anniversary that otherwise evoked only pain? How can it be that just being in the presence of particular priests calms her worries, her fears?

These events and many others I have experienced are beyond human control. Yet, because of their openness and acceptance of God’s will in their lives, strengthened by the time they spend with Him, these ordinary men did extraordinary things. By giving themselves completely to the Lord, they were the instruments of His healing of cavernous wounds and they brought me His unimaginable peace. In their imitation of Christ I see Christ.

If I wrote of all the occasions priests have knowingly or unknowingly been there for me, it would fill a book. Through these holy and humble men, I have come to know His indescribable peace and unrelenting love. It is a relationship with God I never could have imagined.

Thank you, Lord, for all who have accepted your call. Blessed Mother, please pray for them.