Monday, May 24, 2004

"You are a priest forever...."

Lots of reasons to pray for priests this past week. On Friday two upstanding young, but not too young, men were ordained for our archdiocese, then, on Sunday, Cathedral's pastor Father Carl Last, and Cathedral's number-one help-out, Father Mike Hammer, celebrated their 35th anniversary of ordination. [and, yes, there were also three parties --- never been in a Catholic church yet that would pass up an opportunity for a feast or three!]

This is what Father Last wrote in the bulletin yesterday about being a priest.

It seems like yesterday that, with 25 of my classmates, I prostrated myself on the Cathedral floor on May 24, 1969, and was ordained to service as a priest in the Church of Milwaukee. Those were heady, hopeful, and optimistic days in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. But they were also challenging days as we struggled to embrace a new paradigm of what it meant to be "the Church", one which was inclusive of the gifts and talents of laity as well as clergy.

When I was ordained, parts of the Mass were still in Latin. We were charged with the responsibility of beginning the implementation of those historic documents, beginning with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Over time, that heady idealism gave way to a measured realism as we learned to be the Church together --- clergy and laity in partnership under the leadership and guidance of our bishop. I never dreamed that I would see the present nostalgic effort at retrenchment into a model of Church that the Council Fathers moved away from 40 years ago. But, after 35 years of surprises, why should I be surprised? Christ is present to us, His Church, leading and guiding us --- if only we let Him!

Over these years, I've been privileged to have had many different opportunities to serve the Church --- post-graduate studies, diocesan work, seminary teaching, national Church work, different boards and committees --- both locally and nationally. I was thrilled to return to my first love when, in 1986, I was appointed to pastor Corpus Christi parish on Milwaukee's northwest side. In 1992, I was appointed pastor of St. Matthias parish on Milwaukee's far southwest side until I was appointed to come to the Cathedral in January, 2000 to oversee the renovation. Each of these positions has taught me so much and has reinforced my desire to spend my life "in service to the Church of Milwaukee"!

Last week, someone asked me, if, given everything that is transpiring in the Church, I would make this commitment again? My response: My life in ordained ministry has been a grace for me and, hopefully, for those I've served. In spite of those difficulties (or maybe because of them) I wouldn't hesitate to speak my "adsum" again.

I'm grateful to God for the precious gift of ordained ministry. I'm grateful to all of you for your care for me and your support. I ask for pardon for those times when I've taken my ministry or anyone I've been privileged to serve for granted.

With my love, Father Carl


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