A ‘Three-Legged Stool’ of Ministry

By Bishop Steven J. Raica

A ‘Three-Legged Stool’ of Ministry

Bishop Raica Speaks to His Brother Priests at the Chrism Mass

On April 12, Bishop Steven J. Raica celebrated the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. During this Mass, priests of the Diocese of Birmingham renewed their priestly commitments. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My friends, this morning, I extend a warm welcome to my brothers in the priesthood who’ve gathered for this Chrism Mass today here at the Cathedral of St. Paul. I also extend a warm welcome to the deacons, the many religious women and men in consecrated life, and to all my sisters and brothers with whom, as Christians, we journey together toward the Father. I extend a warm and cordial welcome to Archbishop Joseph Marino, the President of the Accademia in Rome preparing priests for diplomatic service to the Holy See – welcome home for Easter! In a particular way, I welcome Abbot Marcus Voss and Abbot Cletus from St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman and, also, Deacons Paschal and Pachomius, whom I had the honor to ordain last Saturday. What a great day this is for the Diocese of Birmingham to celebrate this Chrism Mass as a diocesan family bringing together priests, women and men in consecrated life, lay ministry, lay faithful! I further give a warm greeting to all who may be participating on livestream services. You are included in our prayers today. We beg you to pray for all of us and the dynamic mission of Christ here in central and northern Alabama.

In addition, I welcome our seminarians assisting us today along with student and faculty representatives from our schools who are present. A further welcome to those who are about to be confirmed, both catechumens and candidates, representative groups of Knights of Columbus, the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver, the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher, the Knights and Dames of Malta, and many other service and charitable organizations and members of ecclesial movements that comprise the beautiful mosaic of our vibrant faith throughout the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.

Every year, the Chrism Mass has two principal focal points – the blessings of the oils (Catechumens, Sick, and Chrism) used in ministry in our parishes and institutions for the following year, and, for priests present today, it is a splendid opportunity to renew collectively and in a liturgically formal way our commitment to ministry. I look forward to this renewal.

Today, I focus our attention on priestly ministry in a particular way. Unity and fraternity are essential components of priestly life. Just last week, we had a successful gathering at St. Bernard Abbey in which we could share our common brotherhood. It was enlightening, uplifting, and it gave us some food for thought regarding our wellness as ministers. We cannot remain in isolated silos lest the joy of our priesthood wither. We cannot remain separated from God, from our brothers, or from our those we serve. All three – united with God, united with our brothers, united with those we serve – are an integral and essential part of our lives. All three are part of a three-legged stool upon which our ministry lives and thrives.

United with God

Lack of prayer or relegating prayer life to the leftover part of your day, forgetting our common daily prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours, will weaken our dependence upon God. Typically, it doesn’t occur overnight in one fell swoop. Gradually, we get so busy doing things that we forget about the most important relationship that must nurture our faith life with divine resources. Through its many words, the Liturgy of the Hours can give us a thought, a phrase, a moment in which God whispers to us something we may need to hear that day or a moment in our life. What is the Word that the Lord speaks to you today? Fortunately, the psalms and prayers of the breviary are available also to the faithful through simple and convenient apps on your phone or device. Through the prayer of the Church, we become a world in prayer, praising God and listening to His voice in contemplative dialogue. That time in prayer, however or wherever you do it, is absolutely essential so that we don’t become merely akin to a non-governmental organization (NGO) serving people, as Pope Francis reminded us a few years ago.

United with our brothers

It is no secret that many of us live alone, both in urban and rural settings. Our ministry can consume us, and we become more like committed bachelors. Yet, our time together at liturgical events, funerals, anniversaries, retreats, deanery meetings, and clergy days are meant to forge a fraternity and brotherhood in which we share a common purpose and a common mission. Our mission is further complemented by others who coordinate pastoral activities, especially deacons, women religious, and lay ecclesial ministers, including principals of schools, directors of PSR, and directors of our Christian Service initiatives. How grateful we are for their collaboration! Along with our councils who aid us in pastoral administration, we have a team that is co-responsible in the mission entrusted to us. Without that support, without those conversations, we risk becoming more and more isolated from the overall mission of this particular Church. We need each other – we need the presence of each other – to walk together as people who hope and dream of the Kingdom of God. Calling each other, sending cards on birthdays / anniversaries or special events like the loss of a family member, are opportunities to enhance our brotherhood. We need to be there for each other.

United with those we serve

We are sent on mission to an array of faith communities, parishes, schools ,and charity centers throughout our diocese – urban, suburban, rural, mission areas. Each parish (and institution) has its challenges, each has its dreams and hopes. Indeed, we can serve as a functionary, popping in when necessary, or we can serve as a father of the community we serve – a visible presence, a point of reference in our community. We are sent as one who accompanies those in our communities in the mix of their joys and hopes, anxieties and difficulties. Our paternal affection must be like those of a spouse – there in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in moments of richness and poverty. Our presence is a factor of hope and certainty, even when we may not have answers for everybody. Above all, we are visible at events in our communities –  not merely rushing into Mass and leaving immediately afterward. Over the course of years, I’ve learned that showing up is more than half of effective ministry. It is not our intellectual or academic achievements but the faithful missionary presence of a witness to Christ that is needed even today.

Yes, these three aspects, union with God, our brothers, and those we serve, like legs of a stool, are essential for balance in our priestly ministry. Without that balance we falter and easily become disillusioned with ministry. Our people pray for us. We, too, must pray for each other and support each other on this journey of a lifetime.

Finally, I thank all who are here who support us and support the mission of Christ in central and northern Alabama with their time, talent, and stewardship. We readily recall that Pope Francis has spoken often about dreams, especially the dream of God for us. Through our Synodal process, we have been piecing together a bit of the dream for our local Church and given our thoughts on the dream of Christ for the Universal Church. And perhaps, on this day when we renew our priestly commitments and recall the day we were ordained, we think back nostalgically about the dreams we carried with us as we prepared to enter priestly ministry.

Together we form the fabric that is the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. It is a noble diocese and one that seeks to proclaim through liturgical actions, educational mission, and charitable service. The fact that Christ is here, speaking with us, walking with us, saving us, today is what we announce far and wide throughout our diocese – from Florence to Lanett, and from Fort Payne to Demopolis! Thanks again for your witness to Christ.

May our Lady who proclaimed the goodness of the Lord to all and our patrons St. Paul, the intrepid proclaimer of the Gospel, and St. John Vianney, a consummate pastor of souls, accompany us and inspire us today. May God bless you all.