Pastor’s Perspective – May 1

* Confirmation Congratulations

Thank you, Bishop Battersby, and congratulations to all of our young men and women who were confirmed this Sunday.  You are now fully initiated. You have just committed yourself to the Lord to always be open to the Holy Spirit and to live your life as a Catholic Christian. How you do that over the next few years will define your lives. Build prayer into your life—the risen Lord wants a relationship with you where you can listen with your heart and mind and be guided by the Spirit.  Build Scripture into your life, especially reading and meditating on the gospels—the more you know who Jesus is and what he said and did, the more grounded in your faith you will be. Build a heart of service toward others into your life—the generous “yes” to serving the needs of others will come back to you as joy in your own life.

*May 10 Parish-Wide Leadership Meeting: Becoming a Family of Parishes and Expanding our Welcoming Ministry

The Parish Pastoral Council works with me and the parish staff to give a focus to our tri-annual Parish Leadership Nights. These evenings are open to the entire parish. In fact, I encourage as many as possible to be there. It is an excellent way to begin to get connected to the parish and to gain insight into all the many areas of ministry in which the parish is involved. The focus for our May 10th evening is two-fold: an introduction to our upcoming Family of Parishes reality through our soon-to-be moderator, Msgr. Zenz and some brainstorming on expanding our ministry of welcome to new parish members. We begin with prayer at 6:45 p.m. We encourage on-site attendance, if at all possible, though the group portion will be livestreamed. Then, the various councils and commissions break into their smaller groups conducting their own business. The groups  will also be in person with a Zoom option if you cannot be present.

* Abortion Amendment Drive

Here is the summary that appears on the petition to amend the state’s constitution on abortion:

“Constitutional Amendment to: establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility; allow state to prohibit abortion after fetal viability unless needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health: forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right; prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment; and invalidate all state laws that conflict with this amendment.”

As you can see, it is very broad, and by enshrining a “right to abortion” in the Constitution of the State of Michigan, it will make Michigan one of the easiest states in which to get an abortion. For those who understand the sacredness of every human life, being opposed to this amendment (and not signing the petition drive) is clear-cut. But, for those who might be tempted to sign the petition, please reconsider. Constitutional amendments should not take the right to life away from any class of persons, in the name of empowering the freedom of others. If someone feels strongly about a women’s right to control her own body, work with the legislature to craft an enforceable law that the vast majority of citizens can support. What would that look like as a law? Certainly not like this amendment.

*Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations

At this year’s Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning, Archbishop Vigneron announced a year devoted to praying for vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This year of prayer will begin on Pentecost weekend of June 4/5 and will last until Pentecost 2023. We will add prayers specifically for vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Detroit to our weekly prayers. This is not to imply that we should pray only for those priestly vocations. All of us who are baptized are invited to see our lives as vocations, as calls from God to witness to God’s life and word in what we do. The Church needs vocations to all walks of life, not just to the priesthood or vowed religious life, as important as those are. Rather, this specific focus is in response to a very clear need in our Archdiocese. Without sufficient priests, we cannot have thriving Eucharist-centered communities of faith. Having sufficient numbers of priests does not guarantee this (one must have priests who have a heart for people and for service), but it is impossible without a sufficient number of priests.

Why the concern in this Archdiocese? This year there will be no priests ordained for the Archdiocese, though several have taken a step toward priesthood next year by being ordained as transitional deacons. Over the next ten years the projection is that fewer than four men per year will be ordained for the Archdiocese as priests. Even though during the past ten years that average was about six per year, the number of active priests who died or became senior priests {and so no longer are on active assignment) was nearly double the number ordained. In other words, the numbers tell a very compelling story. We will have significantly fewer priests in ten years than we do now, and even now we are experiencing some significant re-organization of parishes due to the current numbers.

Three initial thoughts given the above: First, it would be wrong to panic, to be discouraged, or to somehow think that ordained priesthood is dying. That is not true. What is true is that ordained priesthood will have to continue to cooperate with groups of ecclesial lay ministers and permanent deacons in a way that will change what is expected of an ordained priest. Parishes will have to have fewer worship times; priests will have to cooperate better with each other in covering sacramental needs; more administrative responsibilities will need to be delegated or even let go of completely. In other words, we will never get back, in the foreseeable future, to the numbers of priests we had in the mid-20th century, when priests were in charge of everything in a parish. Those numbers, viewed historically on a larger scale, were an anomaly due to the great influx of Catholic immigrants into the country from the late-19th to the mid-20th century, the large size of families, the huge esteem given to priests in those immigrant communities, and the opportunity for higher education that entering seminary afforded. But that might be a good thing, overall. The richness of parish priestly life is the involvement in the lives of the people. Something new happens every day, or a new opportunity arises to connect to people. What a richly rewarding life diocesan priesthood is, for those who choose it!

Second, although this is not necessary nor would it happen quickly, the next stage of diocesan priestly ministry, given the reality of the situation, might create the possibility that more bishops would be open to certain married men being ordained to the priesthood. That would be a huge step and would not happen in the short term, but our longer tradition has embraced married men as priests in the past, and our Eastern Church brothers and sisters have never stopped this practice. I know there are many bishops who think that celibacy is the ideal situation for a priest—letting go of attachments to wife, children, home, etc.—but it seems to me that the Holy Spirit might be offering the Church an opportunity to think through this issue anew.  Too many are worried that if we begin thinking in this direction, we will never get anyone to commit to a non-married priesthood. Or, they think of all that will go wrong if we allow married priests—divorces and other public scandals. But it is not as though we celibate priests have not caused our own significant problems and scandals!  Moreover, as mentioned above, there is a hugely rewarding consequence to devoting one’s life fully to parish ministry. For me, it comes down to the question of whether we trust in the Holy Spirit or whether we want to control that Spirit.

Third, I truly believe that every Catholic young man should consider the possibility that God is calling him to the priesthood. I think there are four moments in the journey of life, when that call can be heard most clearly. One is in our younger years (6th-8th grade). A young man enjoys serving at the altar, learning about his faith, has a heart for service, finds himself enthralled with reading the Bible, and so forth. It does not mean for sure that he is called to the priesthood, but it warrants at least some reflection, learning about priesthood, maybe going to some vocational events at the seminary, and so on. A second moment is toward the end of high school, where college (and perhaps job) decisions are being made. Much like in the first moment, a number of Catholic teens have a certain ease with faith, prayer and service. Go on a discernment weekend in the seminary. Take time in prayer and directly ask the Lord to show you whether you have a vocation to priesthood. A third moment is at the end of college. Here it can be a natural extension of continued connection to the Church through one’s college years, or one might experience a very powerful moment of conversion, where the direction one is going in is called into question and a road toward God and leadership in the Church opens up. A fourth moment can come in the midst of one’s early career. You start as a lawyer, a business person, an entrepreneur, a salesman, a teacher, or whatever, and you find yourself dissatisfied, with something tugging at the heart, recognizing that no secular career will really allow you to give all of yourself to something bigger than you. That might be a moment of God’s Spirit inviting you to look to the priesthood! Depending on what is going on in the life of your sons at any of these moments, I would hope that all parents and grandparents would encourage their sons or grandsons to be open to a call to the priesthood, if they have a sense that God is calling them to it.

Over the month of May, I will share my own priestly vocation story. I did so early on in my time here and will write about it once again, in the hope that both parents and young men of the parish will see that priesthood is truly, deeply, personally rewarding, that I have no regrets in making that decision forty-two years ago, and that it might encourage one or more to seriously consider entering priestly formation.

Fr. Buersmeyer

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