At Assembly Days, priests are urged to embrace pope’s vision

By: By Tom Dermody

CAPTION: Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend offers a blessing to priests of the Diocese of Peoria after his presentation at their Assembly Days on Oct. 27.


When Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has a tough day at the office, he gets out of it.

“Some days it can seem to be all bad news,” the bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, admitted to about 125 priests of the Diocese of Peoria who gathered Oct. 27 for the first of two days of prayer, reflection and fraternity.

Such days can be “demoralizing, exhausting” said Bishop Rhoades. “I wonder, ‘Isn’t anybody happy?'”

Rather than dwell on the negative, Bishop Rhoades often picks up the phone and calls area pastors with a request: “Is there someone in your parish who is suffering? Let me know. I’d like to make a visit.”

Those pastoral visits restore the joy of his priesthood — “My goodness, the difference it makes in my attitude,” he told the priests — and confirm what Pope Francis has been stressing to priests about the need to “go to the peripheries” in their ministry.

Pope Francis’ vision for the priesthood was the focus of Bishop Rhoades’ presentations on the opening day of this year’s Priest Assembly Days held at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. The priests also heard reports on vocation recruitment, natural family planning, and Catholic schools, concelebrated a memorial Mass for Father Benjamin Reese, and enjoyed social and prayer time with one another and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

In reflecting on Pope Francis’ teaching on the priesthood, Bishop Rhoades examined the three Holy Thursday Chrism Mass homilies the pope has preached. The Chrism Mass specially celebrates the priesthood, and the first one for Pope Francis as pontiff came on March 28, 2013, just two weeks after his election.

It would include one of Pope Francis’ most often quoted lines — that priests should be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

“I was blown away by that homily,” said Bishop Rhoades, noting it reflected “the heart of Pope Francis” and his vision of “a church that goes out.”

“One thing that stands out,” he continued, “is that Pope Francis is impatient with a church that is turned in on itself. He reminds me of the prophets of the Old Testament who challenged the priests of their day. He’s calling us beyond our comfort zone.”

Bishop Rhoades repeatedly emphasized the teaching of Pope Francis that the anointing that priests receive is not so much for themselves but “for the purpose of anointing others,” especially the poor, prisoners, the sick, and those who are sorrowing and alone.

“The priesthood is about service,” said Bishop Rhoades. “To grow in holiness as a priest requires us to be faithful to our anointing.” He called on priests to let the oil of gladness “pour from the edges of our chasubles to the peripheries” of parishes and communities.

Such outward-focused priestly ministry may be exhausting, but it is “a joyful exhaustion,” said Bishop Rhoades. “That’s the way to priestly holiness and I think that’s the way of Pope Francis.”

Bishop Rhoades, a former bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who has guided the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend since 2010, began his remarks by acknowledging the history that Bishop Jenky has in that diocese, including his years at the University of Notre Dame and as auxiliary bishop.

“Bishop Jenky is a gift from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to Peoria,” he said.

Father Tmothy Hepner, newly appointed vocation director for recruitment, encouraged the priests to make sure they and others are extending personal invitations to consider the priesthood.

“When you tell your people how much you love being a priest, that’s the first step,” he said.

The second day of Priest Assembly Days began with a memorial Mass at St. Mark Church in Peoria celebrated by Bishop Jenky for Father Benjamin Reese, who died in St. Louis on Sept. 18 after struggling for the past two years with ALS. Father Reese’s funeral Mass was in Colorado.

Msgr. Brian Brownsey, pastor of St. Mark Parish — which Father Reese served from 1998 to 2006 — said that Father Reese, imitating Christ, turned his suffering into love.

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