How to Support a Newly Ordained Priest

Elizabeth Kotelly

How to Support a Newly Ordained Priest

There is a famous anonymous poem whose words swirl around vocation circles with enough frequency that much of its content can remain unexamined. In light of ordination season, let’s take a closer look at it and see in what ways it can direct us in how to better serve newly ordained priests:

"Thou Art A Priest Forever"

To live in the midst of the world,
Without wishing its pleasures;
To be a member of each family,
Yet belonging to none;
To share all sufferings;
To penetrate all secrets;
To heal all wounds;
To go from men to God
And offer Him their Prayers;
To return from God to men
To bring pardon and hope;
To have a heart of fire for charity
And a heart of bronze for chastity;
To teach and to pardon,
Console and bless always--
What a glorious life!
And it is yours,
O Priest of Jesus Christ!

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is how it highlights the paradoxes within the priestly vocation; every man who is ordained remains a man, but now he has a supernatural sacramental configuration to Jesus Christ the High Priest. This reality is as mysterious as it is beautiful. But, in this union of divine and human, lay people can sometimes “miss” the priest who is serving them.

During my time in formation in religious life, I was with a community that spent considerable time serving in the vineyard alongside priests; moreover, we welcomed priests daily to celebrate Mass at our convents and stay for breakfast or other festivities. Life on the other side of the aisle—true also of religious life—granted me some unique and meaningful insight into the hearts and needs of priests.  

First, priests are human. They are real men. They enjoy good food and lighthearted recreation, just like you and me. Ordinary activities nourish their humanity and compliment their supernatural call.  Sometimes a good meal or a simple invitation to join a family activity for the weekend afternoon can make a huge difference in their morale. At the same time, priests are not just like you and me; they have a unique vocation that sets them apart. The word “ordination” comes from the Latin, ordinatio, which means, “to incorporate someone into an order.” Priests are consecrated at their ordination; we get the English word for consecrated from the Latin suffix con-(with force) and sacare (dedicated). When placed together, we arrive at a meaning of intense dedication to the degree of being considered holy. In our service of priests, it’s important to remember this distinction to reverence and uphold the reality of their call. As a sacramentally configured representative of Christ, your parish priest isn’t just “one of the guys.” He can’t partake in certain activities, which themselves might be morally acceptable, but for a priest ill-placed.  

So—we arrive at a conundrum: the priest is a man like other men, and, at the same time, he is not a man like other men. Given this paradox, how can we serve them?

Back to religious life: the sisters and I often hosted priests for occasional recreation evenings or days. At one point my order ran a baseball tournament with diocesan priests and the local bishop; they relished the opportunity for fun and fraternity. One of the best ways we can support priests is through means by which they can spend time with fellow priests from their diocese. A man in formation for the priesthood spends significant time with his brother seminarians in the chapel, classroom, formation sessions, sports, etc.: once he gets ordained, the easy access to fraternity decreases and he might find himself alone in a rectory. Ways in which you can support his fraternal relationships with other priests helps him to have a sense of community, support, and encouragement.  

On the other hand, hosting priests for dinner or inviting them to a local game or recreational activity with your family brings them so much life, too. 

Another observation from religious life was that priests need appropriate places and spaces to decompress and be “off.” Typically, they can get this around their families or brother priests, but when that isn’t possible, rest, additional prayer, and so on go a long way. In reality, the same parishioners who the priest serves often cannot offer a perfectly ideal environment for rest because the priest is still their priest.  Respecting that truth and upholding the boundaries of what is and isn’t conducive to a priest’s vocation actually serves them much more in the end.

On this note, the best way you can help support a new priest is with your prayers. They may be mostly hidden and remain always so, but God uses your offerings and sacrifices in ways far richer than you and I can imagine. We can support him when we pray that he would have the grace to accept fully the graces of his priestly ordination.  

Lastly, and especially with the new priests: tell him how excited and grateful you are for his vocation. When the rubber hits the road and life and ministry gets tough—and it will get tough—whatever reminders of why he became a priest in the first place could safeguard his vocation and lift his gaze to the Father who loves him and has chosen him from all time to be a priest forever.