Priestly renewal and the breath of God

When I began service as vicar general, my sister, Deborah Plumer gave me a great piece of advice. She encouraged me to remember the safety instructions we hear on planes: If the plane loses cabin pressure during the flight, place the oxygen mask on yourself, and then care for those around you. I have taken this advice not as an invitation to put my needs above others. Rather, I have taken this advice as a challenge to be strong, focused and centered in my life so I can better serve others. The advice my sister gave me is sound for all priests and for all people. All priests and all leaders need to be strong, focused and centered in caring for themselves, so that they can better serve others.

The role of priests as spiritual and pastoral leaders is critical in our efforts to bring about renewal throughout the archdiocese. An important step is to support our priests as they experience the gift of renewal themselves. Two presbyteral convocations taking place this fall have been designed to help the priests of the archdiocese experience that sense of renewal. I hope that the two days, one in September, the other in November, will strengthen our priests so that we can better serve you and the mission of Christ and the Church.

Our Priest Services Group, led by Father Art Coyle, secretary for Pastoral and Ministerial Services, has been working hard to make these days very fruitful for our priests. The first convocation has taken place, and I am delighted to report that it was a great success. Father Jim Flavin and Father Bill Kelly, both from the Office of Clergy Support, coordinated the planning of the event, which was held on Sept. 14. More than 450 priests attended, and their response to the day was overwhelmingly positive.

The day of conversation, reflection and prayer focused on the impact the events of the past five years, specifically the sexual abuse crisis and parish reconfiguration, have had on us. A series of presentations and breakout sessions provided the opportunity to engage in extensive discussion about our ministry and what we can all do as one community of priests to better meet the future needs of our Catholic community. God’s Holy Spirit was very evident and powerful throughout the day.

As master of ceremonies, I had the honor of introducing a distinguished group of speakers, including:

Cardinal Seán, who reflected upon the situation in Boston at the time he was appointed archbishop, the crucial role of faith, and how the renewal of the archdiocese depends on the renewal of priests.

Bishop Bob Hennessey, auxiliary bishop of the Central Region, who spoke about the strength of our priests, and of God’s presence, in the midst of trial.

Father James Burns, Ph.D., M.Div., Danielsen Academic Faculty, senior staff psychologist, who presented surveys measuring priests’ attitudes and concerns.

The two convocations are meant to complement one another with the first focusing on the issues confronting priests today and the second dedicated as a day of prayer and reflection on priestly identity and spirituality. Please continue to pray for the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the gathering of our priests and for priestly renewal.

As a Church we are committed to providing the resources and support our priests need to meet the pastoral needs of our parishes. My prayer is that we continue to work together in support of our priests and of all the faithful. For the “oxygen” we breathe is the very breath of God.

Father Erikson is vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.