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The reinforcements have arrived

As the 16 newly ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Washington processed from the altar following the June 15 Mass of Ordination at the National Shrine, the congregation greeted them with applause. The new priests processing from the altar, included from left to right, Father Benedict Radich, Father Dylan Prentice, Father Joseph Thong Van Nguyen, Father Joseph McHenry, Father Joseph Heisey and Father Conor Hardy. (Catholic Standard photos/Mihoko Owada)

It’s a great time for the Church of Washington!

As you can see from this month's issue of the Catholic Standard, we have 16 newly ordained priests for The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. I believe this might be the largest diocesan ordination class in the country for this year.

I’m blessed to know about one-half of these new priests pretty well, through their families and friends, working with them at Catholic Charities, and various parish assignments. I’ve watched them grow and mature into who they are today – priests of God forever.

I think back to my own ordination 51 years ago with ever-growing appreciation for the gift of priesthood. It is not always the easiest life, but for me it has been one of joy, fulfillment and overwhelming gratitude. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. What a blessing it has been to see God working in the people I have encountered and through me as well.

One piece of advice I would share with these young priests is something I discovered after ordination: Be patient with yourself as you learn the ins and outs of being a priest. You are well prepared, but there are some things you only learn through on-the-job training.

When I was ordained back in the 1970s, it was not uncommon to see several members of each year’s class leave the priesthood or discontinue active ministry within a few years. That happens much less frequently today, which is a testament to the priests themselves, their families and the archdiocesan vocation team. All do a great job preparing these men for service and ministry in the Church.

This is hard for even me to believe, but I remember only one time in 51 years of priesthood when I questioned whether I made the right decision. It was Christmas night 1973, just six months after I was ordained. My big family was all gathered at our house in Bethesda, with my mother and father hosting and leading the wonderful Christmas celebration. We were all having our usual great time when I needed to return to Little Flower Parish because I was on duty.

On the drive back, I remember getting nostalgic and thinking, “If I wasn’t a priest, I would be able to spend the rest of Christmas with my family.” The thoughts lasted only a few moments, but I can honestly say that is the only time I even mildly wondered if I made the right choice. I realize now how blessed I have been, and I pray our new priests are equally blessed in knowing God is with them and pleased that they have answered God’s call.

I remember being asked before ordination why I wanted to be a priest, and I also remember my response: I wanted to help people. Not so much with their physical needs, though that can be part of it, but more with their spiritual needs. I hope I’ve done that these 51 years.

I think back to so many First Communions, Confirmations, marriages, time with couples preparing for marriage, giving and receiving spiritual direction, counseling, burying the dead and accompanying those who mourn, working in various aspects of service to the poor, including Catholic Charities, and so much more. What a blessing to be able to spend your life serving God and others.

You’ve probably heard the saying that if you find a job you love, you never work a day in your life. I honestly feel that way. The years have been busy, but the days have been more fulfilling than you could ever imagine.

I also understand now more than ever how God has been in charge throughout my priesthood and my various assignments. I pray that our new priests will depend upon God and let God lead them, knowing that they are guided by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the lives of all who will come their way.

In fact, my second mantra in life has become, “God is in charge.” My first, as you may know, is, “Say ‘yes’ every time you can, and ‘no’ only when you have to.” That served me well in, and I pray it serves our new priests equally well.

As you see the pictures and stories about our new priests in this month's issue of the Catholic Standard, I ask you to thank God for their service so far in many parishes, and that you pray for them in their new assignments. They need love, support and care from their parishes. That’s what so many did for me, and it meant the world. I hope you will do it for them.

Welcome them, befriend them and pray for them and for their ministry. Pray that God will bless them in their work, which can at times be more difficult than you might think.

I am thrilled for our 16 new priests and excited for the experiences that will come. As I get older, I realize both how much I love my priesthood and how happy I am to begin handing the work, ministry and service to those who follow.

I’m not really retired, but I am trying to slow down a little bit, and I am happy that 16 wonderful new priests have been ordained. The reinforcements have arrived! God’s Church is in strong hands.

(Msgr. John Enzler serves as the mission advocate of Catholic Charities of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and is a chaplain at his alma mater, St. John’s College High School in Washington. He writes the Faith in Action column for the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites.)