By Bishop James Conley
A good time was had by all! The priests of the Diocese of Lincoln played a competitive (but charitable) game of softball with the priests of the Archdiocese of Omaha in the 5th annual I-80 Collar Series, on Father’s Day, at Werner Park in Papillion. (Editor's Note: slideshow of photos here)
Last year, the Lincoln priests surrendered the trophy to the good Fathers north of the Platte. This year, after a high-scoring game, it returned in triumph, back to its place of honor at the Lincoln Chancery. I was happy to see the priests, the religious and so many families who came out to support the priests from both dioceses, have such a wonderful time. Kudos to the Knights of Columbus who sponsored this annual event and who always do such a tremendous job.
Our priests are good softball players, but most of all, they are good men, as are the Omaha priests and most priests throughout the world.
A very small number of priests who failed in what they were called to be have harmed the reputation of all priests, but that is not the focus of my column today. Today, I want to express my love and appreciation for the often forgotten majority of our priests, rarely mentioned in the media, who continue to faithfully serve our parishes and apostolates in the Diocese of Lincoln. I am proud of our priests. They are good men, they pray hard, and they spend themselves for the Church and their people.
It may surprise you to know the variety of ways that priests serve the Church and their communities. Their principal duty is to shepherd and work alongside their people as they all journey toward the Kingdom of God. They administer the Sacraments, conveying sanctifying grace won by Jesus at Calvary for the world. They preach what Jesus taught, in truth and love, “in season and out of season.”
They teach in our schools, they counsel young, old, and everyone in between who struggle with the many challenges the world, the flesh and the devil throws at them. They will come to the side of the dying at any hour of the day or night to bring them the last sacraments. They often drop anything at any time when there is a pastoral need.
But that’s not the only way they serve. For example, Father James Schrader has long served as an EMT in the places where he has been assigned, encountering the same kinds of suffering and bringing, not only his first-aid expertise but his pastoral skills to bear in the countless situations he has faced.
Father Christopher Kubat, M.D., many know, was a surgeon before he became a priest. He brings the heart of a priest and a physician to his pastoral work, particularly the many years he was director of Catholic Social Services. Our bi-lingual priests, like Father Ramón Decaen and Father Joseph Nguyen serve not only the Church, but their communities with their linguistic skills.
A number of our priests have served in foreign missions like Father William Kalin, or presently serve in other dioceses like Father Thomas Walsh, doing priestly work in the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., in the midst of abject poverty, and Father Thomas Kuffel, who is serving in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, where there is an extreme shortage of priests.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that priests bring all their skills to the table, and the altar, of the places they serve. I can’t begin to tell you how we are blessed in our diocese with such good priests. They are “other Christs,” that is, they are configured by ordination to bring the voice, hands and Heart of Christ to all they meet.
But there is only one perfect priest, and that is Jesus Christ. The rest of us fall short. Priests are still men. Some, like St. John Vianney, struggled with studies in the seminary. Some, like St. Damien of Molokai, suffer physically. Some, like St. Benedict Joseph Labre, suffer emotionally. Some are recovering alcoholics like Venerable Matt Talbot.
They have good and bad days. They have crosses, like everyone does, which they must carry. None of them is perfect. But I am proud of them. Most are laboring in the trenches full time. Some, though officially retired, still help in parishes, like the energetic Msgr. Adrian Herbek who is serving as administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Friend, or they pray and offer up to Jesus the difficulties of old age and illness, for you and me and their brother priests.
As their bishop, I love every one of my priests, even those who have seriously failed. Friday, June 28, the feast of the Sacred Heart, is the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. Please pray for all priests. And please, in some simple way, show your love and gratitude for those priests who have served you well. By their “yes” to Jesus, they choose to take up the cross, their own crosses, those of the people they serve, those of other priests and even crosses that others reject. They are truly exceptional men of God. And pretty darn good softball players too.