Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Holy Thursday, The Priesthood, Past and Future

Even if the overwhelming bulk of Chrism Masses have already come and gone, only now have we arrived at the moment they celebrate: Holy Thursday, the "birthday" of the ministerial priesthood.

Nowadays, just a handful of US dioceses – among them Detroit, Philadelphia, St Louis, Arlington, Gary, Greensburg, Lansing, Pittsburgh and Rockville Centre – continue to hold their edition of the rite in its traditional time-slot this morning. In any case, wherever you are, let the brothers take a bow – today and always, thank you for your "yes" and all that it's allowed you to be, do and give all year... and please, please, keep it up.

In the spirit of the observance, meanwhile, it feels worthwhile to call up a unique experience over recent months, especially given the anchor reflections which might be useful for at least some out there today.

Back in mid-September, this scribe had the immense treat of taking the podium at American Catholicism's lone province-wide convocation of priests: the triennial assembly in New Orleans arranged by the dioceses of Louisiana, which has become a tradition there since 1989.

While watching it all unfold, one couldn't help but think it'd take most other provinces three years of "discernment" – read: fighting – over whether to have a gathering like it, and another three to decide the agenda, but so it goes. In any case, beyond the wonderful company, the moment and the setting provided an especially keen glimpse both of the ever-increasing challenges facing presbyterates among us, and the sense of a turning page in ecclesial life writ large.

On the latter front, a couple threads particular to the place are only set to become more widespread over the coming years: to start, with the first prominent abuse outbreak having occurred in Lafayette in 1985, Louisiana is the Stateside church's closest thing to a fully "post-abuse" reality, while its historic template of a French-Cajun dominant culture that allowed for broad contributions from others foreshadows the new future elsewhere of an institutional framework divorced from the "Irish model," whose 150-year dominance over most of the rest of the national landscape is only now reaching its end. And, indeed, another aspect that marked the days is a new one across the map, but one only set to grow – the new pontificate and, with it, the sense of a pendulum shift both in the trenches of ministry and on the hierarchical plane.

Much more could be said, but on this "feast" of the priesthood, it's best to leave the talking to the clerics. Ergo, springing from the Lousiana convention's theme of "Treasuring the past, Celebrating the present, Envisioning the future," below is the opening keynote on things past given by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta....

(To re-clarify, the talk above was given long before the fiasco of a new, $2.2 million residence – now being sold in the wake of a firestorm that went viral – embroiled the revered Hotlanta chief in a week's worth of news-cycles over this Lent... an episode which, even now, has left no shortage of ad intra folk still scratching their heads.)

And here, the closing vision of the priesthood's future in mission as seen by Louisiana's first-ever native-son metropolitan, the Crescent City's Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who – before becoming the USCCB's most acclaimed operators and, arguably, the most beloved shepherd in his diocese of any American bishop – formed much of the state's presbyterate over his 14 years as rector of Notre Dame Seminary:

As the Roman Synod of Bishops continues to consolidate its new place at the center of Francis' governing vision, at its Chrism Mass on Tuesday, New Orleans inaugurated an Archdiocesan Synod, which is slated to run through Pentecost 2015. At present, the only other local assembly underway on these shores is in Washington, whose first-ever Synod – timed to coincide with the archdiocese's 75th anniversary as a stand-alone church – will close in June.

Back to the morning's Main Event, meanwhile, again, all good wishes and thanks to the many heroes who make up "the long black line" among us – even for all the chaos and needed prep of these days, may your Triduum be a rich, brilliant and meaningful experience.