Pope Francis addresses priests of the Diocese of Rome in March at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Faith: Special bond unites fraternity of priests

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  • June 21, 2017

The priests of the Diocese of Hamilton gathered recently for the Mass of Christian Burial for one of our priests, Fr. Philip Sherlock.

He had served some 55 years as a priest of the diocese with varied appointments in education and in pastoral life. His brother, Bishop John Michael Sherlock, the Bishop Emeritus of London and noted orator in his own right, preached a spirit-filled homily at the funeral.

With a full church representing the parishes where he had served, and over 40 of my brother priests in attendance along with four bishops — including Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, who presided at the Mass — we heard of one who served faithfully and well. Fr. Sherlock was my neighbouring pastor for over a decade and, though our pastoral styles were different, I always enjoyed and appreciated a rousing conversation with him that included a good laugh, a gentle nudge and a gracious reminder to not take life (or myself) so seriously.

As I sat reflecting and praying for Fr. Sherlock, my thoughts went to not only the life we came to recall and entrust to God, but it gently walked backward to a month before at the Cathedral of Christ the King, where we welcomed as a diocese four new men to the priesthood. I then strolled in thought to those who sat around me in the priesthood that day, some whose youthfulness I am coming to envy, others whose experience I still wish to glean. Some whose health is vibrant and others whose personal witness even in the face of terminal illness is an inspiration.

I focused on one present for a moment. He was ordained a priest just weeks before and now he stood in our midst as one among the greatest fraternity that there is — a brotherhood rooted not in pedigree or privilege, but in service and the pursuit of sanctity for self and others.

The month of June is a time where the gift of the priesthood enters the minds and hearts of many faithful Catholics. Not only is it a time when many parishes are in the midst of pastoral changes, with the emotion of departures and arrivals, but it is also a month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and an occasion to pray for the sanctity of priests.

Such prayers are so important for those of us who are ordained; to know that those we serve as we entreat them to the Lord will also entrust us to God in their prayers.

In 2014, Pope Francis addressed the priests of Rome about “the joy of being a priest.”

The work is not always easy, he said, but stopping before the tabernacle can give one pause to not only renew their “zeal” for the priesthood, but also examine their conscience. “In the silence of prayer,” Francis told his audience, “Jesus makes us see if we are working as good workers, or if we have become a little like ‘employees’; if we are open, generous channels through which His love, His grace can flow abundantly; or if instead we place ourselves at the centre and so instead of being channels we become screens that do not help the encounter with God, with the light and the strength of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis also mentioned “the beauty of fraternity,” of living as a member of a community. He warned, too, that priests can become “immersed in a subjectivist culture that exalts the ‘I’ even to the point of idolizing it.”

More and more as I grey in my priesthood, I find myself regretful of times I have missed or not fully invested in that priestly fraternity, and become more and more anxious to celebrate it.

I am grateful for my brothers in the priesthood, for their example, encouragement and ever present fidelity to the call we have received. One of my goals this month is to thank as many of my brothers who serve as priests for what they do and to tell them I am grateful for them. I wonder this month if you would be willing to do the same?

(Fr. Freitas is pastor at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Cambridge, Ont., and the author of More Than Survive, available from Catholic Register Books.)

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