In praise of merciful priests who are retired

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Year of Mercy will conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe (November 20).

I thank everyone in the Archdiocese who has made an effort to focus on this foundation of our Catholic Faith.

Particularly, I thank parishes who have featured mercy in so many wonderful pastoral ways. The recent Marian Mercy Procession at Galong was a real highlight for the Archdiocese.

I have been encouraged by priests who have commented to me on the upsurge of those who have participated in the Sacrament of Penance over this Year of Mercy period. May it long continue!

In regard to priests, I wish to reflect on those who have retired.

Recently I hosted a social occasion for retired priests. Some had been retired for many years, and some more recently. One was just about ready to move into retirement.

Towards the end of the meal, I felt moved to open up a little “table sharing” by these remarkable priests. I asked: “How has it been for you in moving into retirement?”

One priest, retired for many years, stated that it has been a highlight of his entire priesthood.

There was a real spirit of gratitude in his sharing. He now lives in a care facility conducted by the Catholic Church. He mentioned several things. One made a real impression on me.

There is a small chapel in the nursing home. He delights in been able to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for as long as he wishes during the day.

There is wisdom in his observation. A priest is a man of prayer. He brings down God to people and people up to God in Jesus, the High Priest. This is especially so in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. This fundamental aspect of the priesthood does not conclude when a priest retires – but it does change in mode.

No more is there the daily timetable of Masses (daily, funeral, and special occasions). But the Mass continues daily in a more contemplative dimension. There is time for more reflective silences of thanksgiving and intercession for the needs of the world.

Another priest spoke of the ways the Holy Spirit had used him in his years as a parish priest. It was a very moving sharing. I am sure every one of the priests around the dinner table would have resonated with his testimony of faith.

He referred to the Gospel passage of Emmaus (John 24:13-35). We recall here how the two disciples moving away in disappointment from the Calvary Cross were spiritually blinded. It was the Risen Lord, walking with them, who opened their hearts to deeper realities.

The priest recalled some pastoral experiences that were similar. For example, he accompanied a family in their difficulties. Some members of the family were spiritually blind. The priest spoke of their spiritual awakening over times of suffering and dying. I admired his patience with the family members. He humbly walked alongside them and evangelised them by simply being there for them.

Surely this is one of the great aspects about the priesthood – priests are “the other Christ”. They are servants of Divine Mysteries – Christ among us! All baptised are called to a similar vocation but, for a priest, this is expressed on a different level. It is seen most of all during the celebration of the Mass and Sacraments. Here the priest is Jesus sacramentally feeding his people, baptising his people, forgiving them and teaching them.

Once a priest retires, this does not cease. However, in this situation the priest has more opportunities to reflect deeply and in profound Marian silence that “the Almighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). Clearly, for the priests at my dinner, this was a most profound and humbling religious experience.

Perhaps it is better to say priests who are retired rather than retired priests. In a sense, priests never retire! They are a great grace for the Catholic Church, especially in Australia. May Jesus, the High Priest, bless them always!