Father Stephen Perzan
I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited over any “It’s the Year of…” dictum from the Vatican as I am about this one, “The Year of the Priest.” Perhaps, it’s because I know that even though I am not yet an “old priest,” I’m at least an “older priest” with 36 plus years of mileage behind me.
Surely, I can’t get back my youth, or even the lost locks of hair that once graced my misshapen head, but I can get renewed in my priesthood, and that’s what I both want and intend to do. And I’m off to a good start.
Today, I smiled at the secretary and held open the door for the cleaning woman and didn’t disconnect the phone to put on the answering machine before 9 – at night that is!
And I’m getting serious about learning. I ordered a web subscription to “The Word Among Us” and some books on the priesthood from Amazon.com. Even if it’s a bit cloudy as I write, I feel like sunshine on the inside. So I’ve got the Bose blasting with Rod Stewart wailing, “Young hearts be free tonight. Time is on your side.”
I’m on my way to renewal and reform, to change and maybe even holiness. And this is only the first week!
I want to go back to a more faithful, prayerful attention to the celebration of the Holy Office; anything in that realm would be an improvement for me. And maybe even confess more often; God knows that there hasn’t been a day in my life where I didn’t commit some kind of sin. But I feel good about this spirit of priestly renewal that has lodged itself inside of me. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been the priest that I have always wanted to be – now God, the Church, and time have given me another opportunity.
I remember very clearly some of the past anniversary dates of my ordination. On many of those dates I would come across an old parishioner or two who would offer a smiling inquiry, “Are you still a priest?”
Certainly, I hope that I have done some good and will continue to do so, but I know that it’s only by the grace of God that I am still a priest. Perhaps it is pride, but there is something in me that wants to boast that I have lasted longer in the priesthood than the restaurant where I had my “Ordination Breakfast” – it closed some 20 years ago. Or maybe I realize that while I’m here some of my brother priests are not – they have died, left or incurred some other problem.
Right now there is a joy to my priesthood which I have not always experienced while celebrating Mass or serving God’s people. Yet I am well convinced that it has not always been this way. Along with many other brother priests I feel I can safely say that the gift of the ordained priesthood has not always been a highway of gold, free of temptations, mistakes, heartbreaks or sufferings.
But I thank God that I am still a priest and that God has brought me to the light of this day, this “Year of the Priest.” I’m off to a good start; I can only hope that I’ll be there at the end. Pray for me and my brother priests.
Father Stephen Perzan is parochial vicar at St. Helena Parish in Philadelphia.