Caring for our senior priests this Christmas

Christmas is such a beautiful time of the year.

We are caught up in the significance of the day in our spiritual lives and in the life of our Church. During Advent, there is the hope-filled anticipation of the birth of our Lord -- the moment when God becomes man. The mystery of the Incarnation is one of the foundations of our spiritual life.

However, the message of Advent can sometimes be drowned out by the secular marketing, entertainment and other distractions. Unfortunately we don't see advertisements on secular television proclaiming the birth of Christ, or an invitation to come to celebrate Midnight Mass. Wouldn't it be great to see this type of ad during halftime of one of the many football games leading up to Christmas Day? Despite the struggle some days to fully focus on Advent messages and to prepare for the joyful celebration of Christ, we know how important it is for our spiritual wellbeing and for deepening our faith.

This month, I have been caught up in parties, writing cards and buying Christmas presents for friends, children and grandchildren. Because of those activities, it has been easy to reflect on who has been meaningful in my social life as well as in my personal and family life. But until a few days ago, I had not taken the time to reflect on who has been meaningful in my spiritual life, despite realizing that it is my spiritual life that underpins everything.

I am a product of a Catholic education in grade school and high school. More importantly I'm a product of Sunday Mass. And one of the great things about spending my life in the Northeast is that there has always been a priest present on Sunday or any weekday I chose to go to Mass. We didn't need to make appointments to encounter our priests.

A priest has always been there when I needed him. He was there when I received my first Communion, for the sacrament of confession, when I got married, for the baptisms and first Communions of my children, and when I called him to anoint my wife. He is always there.

Have I taken him for granted at times? Yes, because he was always there when I needed him. Today, I'd like to ask all of us to reflect on the blessing of all the priests in our lives. As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, I also ask everyone to consider those that have served us in earlier days who are now our senior priests.

When a man is ordained a priest, he freely chooses to give his life to the Church and devote it to the service of God and all those he serves. Many of our senior priests have spent 50 years ministering to God's people. That means he has offered around 20,000 Masses, probably heard 50,000-100,000 confessions, likely baptized 10,000-20,000 children and distributed first Communion to about as many. It's tough to know how many people he anointed with the Sacrament of the Sick or family members he comforted upon the death of a loved one. Consider how many people come to him for counseling when life gets tough. The numbers are likely staggering. Yet I have taken him for granted because he was always there with I needed him, with faithfulness and dedication.

As in past years, the collection at Christmas is for the care of our senior priests. They were always there for me. Now they need me and my question is will I be there for them? Will you be there for them?

The tradition of the Archdiocese of Boston on this holiest of holy days is that the collection is directed to the benefit of the Clergy Funds. The Clergy Funds provide for the health, retirement and housing needs of our senior priests. It provides the funds for our senior residence at Regina Cleri, for the medical needs of all our senior priests and for the stipend they receive as they slow up a little after decades of service to all of us.

How will we be there for them? We have almost 250 senior priests. Each year we need to raise almost $10 million to provide for them. At any given time, 52 priests reside at Regina Cleri and 12 to 15 priests are in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility.

Christmas is a special day and this is a special collection. Some statistics may help you decide how much you might want to contribute. $1250 provides for one week in a nursing home, $750 provides for a week in assisted living, $250 provides for a health care advocate for one day, and $100 provides one day's support for a priest at Regina Cleri. All gifts are appreciated and make a huge difference. If you are traveling this Christmas, please deposit a marked envelope in your parish collection basket when you return home or visit for additional ways to give.

This Christmas, as we welcome the newborn Jesus into the world, please remember our senior priests. They were there for us when we needed them, they are still there for us. Can we be there for them?

God bless you.

Joseph D'Arrigo is Executive Director of Clergy Funds.