Year for Priests: One year ago …

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

One year ago, on May 9, 2009, I was ordained a priest.  Of course all the usual reflections have flashed in my mind over the past few days:  What have I learned?  Is it what I thought it would be?  Does it feel like a year?  Which moments have been the most significant?  Etc. …

However, perhaps because I am a teacher, the question that causes the most pause is what I would like to pass along to others who are considering this journey.

Recently, I was told by a friend that, to her, my priesthood is best summed up in the words of Nehemiah:  “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10).  After our conversation, I went back to read the whole passage and was reminded that Nehemiah’s exhortation occurs in the context of worship, among people who are saddened by the demands of God.  Nehemiah challenges them to see the day, not as a burden, but as holy.

I am quite fond of speaking about our paths to holiness, about how we create the right environment for ourselves in order to experience God’s mercy and grace.  The past year of my priesthood has indeed been a path to holiness, and my friend is quite right — the joy of the Lord has been my strength.

Priesthood is not easy.  Your heart must learn to hold the joys and sorrows of those you serve.  At the same time, you will undoubtedly make mistakes or wish you could have responded/performed a little better.  Then you remember that this is the first year of many, and you give yourself permission to be a rookie.  Perhaps the difference between seeing the day as a burden or as holy is being OK with knowing you don’t know.

Over the past year, I have learned the two secrets of the spiritual life are most certainly acceptance and gratitude – not because they are unknown but, rather, that they are so hard to master.  I have learned that faith is the convergence of our experience and our hope, and when all else doesn’t, our faith is what unites us.  In turn, that unifying faith is most clearly seen in the rituals and liturgy that make God’s grace so evident.

I believe my primary role as a priest is to make that grace visible – something I never really understood until now.  In seminary, we are taught to “safeguard” the sacraments, and while that is most certainly true, there is a delicate balance between making “safe” and making “visible.”

I have learned that the worst reason for doing anything is “because that’s how we’ve always done it.”  And if the secrets of the spiritual life are acceptance and gratitude, then vulnerability is how you learn them.  For so many reasons, priesthood is risky business, but only unnecessarily so when you forget your place and your prayer.

Perhaps far too many of us have seen the ugly side of priesthood this past year.  Most certainly, I have been affected by the sadness I have witnessed.  Years ago, I adopted a personal slogan that seems even more appropriate now than it did then:  “Accountability is what often lies between a problem and a solution.”  Lord, I can only pray …

So one year later, the emotions of my ordination day still stir deep within, only now they are mixed with the faces and stories of those I have met since May 9, 2009.  I could have never imagined all that God would do through me; yet, I think I am more struck by what God has done to me through the lives of those to whom I minister.

“The joy of the Lord is our strength” – yes, that sums it up quite nicely … for all of us, I pray.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

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6 Responses to Year for Priests: One year ago …

  1. ichthusthree says:

    so very beautiful — and thank you, Father — may God bless you & your ministry abundantly

  2. Thanks for sharing your anniversary and your thoughts about it and your work. I’m enjoying following your journey. I especially appreciate your willingness to show your vulnerablity and your sentiments about acceptance and gratitude and about the worst reason for doing anything is “because that’s how we’ve always done it.” I look forward to your next post!

  3. Okoye Samuel says:

    Thanks for ur write up. I intend 2 enter the seminary. Ur write up is an eye opener. Looking forward 2 d next.

  4. Ron Radzilowski says:

    Mazel tov מזל טוב

  5. Nicole says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I was a teacher for 2 years at an after school program and many times was confronted with demands that challenged my strength. I found the public school system to be much different from my Catholic school upbringing and often felt I was moving away from my path to holiness. Although the experience was rewarding, I felt constantly burdened with the responsibility of teaching kids and being accountable to them, not knowing whether or not I was having a positive and significant impact on their lives. More often than not I felt uncertain and drained of my spirituality. I decided to take an online life coaching course through FowlerWainwright, hoping it would teach me new tools to better assist my students. Not only did it help my teaching skills, it got me back on the path to holiness, and inspired me to help others. I became a certified life coach in 4 days at a very affordable price, and am now working with both children and adults helping them to discover their own paths to holiness and fulfillment, confident that together we can make the world a better place. Thanks again for you’re post… it was very inspiring.

  6. Beverly Muire says:

    Dear Chris, I am probably your one and only maternal Presbyterian cousin. Your mother is my Baby Cousin, and I am the oldest of all the Dreyling/Duffy grandchildren. My mother, Inez, was the oldest of the four girls. When I converted at the time of our marriage, it was very hard on the family. My thoughts were and remain that it would make a stronger family and marriage if Forrest and I were of of the same church. 59 years and four children,7 grandchildren later, I am blessed to report that though I was very young, our God put us on His path to life. When I read your report of your first Year in the Preisthood, I was moved to tears to think of our shared family and our faith in Jesus Christ. I send you my love and my prayers are with you as you live into life commitment.

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