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The Catholic Moment: Chosen from among sinners

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

By Father Kyle Schnippel

In his 2001 Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, Pope John Paul II highlighted the call and mission of Sts. Peter and Paul as examples for priests of today. These two great apostles were chosen by Christ to be missionaries to the world, Jew and Gentile alike, and ultimately were to give their lives for Christ and the church.

In a few short months, a delegation from Cincinnati will accompany Archbishop Schnurr to the tombs of these two pillars of the faith as he receives the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI.

These two men were not always perfect. During the proclamation of the Passion during Holy Week, we hear Peter denying that he even knows our Lord. During the early parts of the Easter season, the church calls to mind the election and then martyrdom of St. Stephen as one of the first deacons. As Stephen is being martyred, those who were complicit in the crime were “laying their cloaks at the feet of one Saul of Tarsus,” who is presiding over this initial persecution of the church.

It is easy to wonder why Christ chose these two to be the initial leaders of His church after the ascension. After all, they didn’t have the greatest track record!

Yet, God still called them. And He still calls sinners to be in a particular relationship with Him as priests and/or consecrated. Pope John Paul II writes in the above-mentioned letter: “The witness of Peter and Paul contains valuable pointers for us. Their lives invite us to live the gift of the ministry with a sense of endless thanksgiving: nothing is due to our merits, all is grace!  The experience of the two Apostles prompts us to abandon ourselves to the mercy of God, to give over to Him in sincere repentance our frailties, and with His grace to set out again on our journey to holiness.”

So many of the young men I work with who are discerning the priesthood —  even many priests who have labored long in the Lord’s vineyards — continue to have this deep tension. We know we are sinners, yet God has called us to something great and extraordinary. Why me and why not my high school classmate, who was always more pious?

Quite simply, we can never fully know the mind of God, but trust that He will lead us to where He wants us to go. That is perhaps the most difficult. A man entering the seminary never truly knows where he will end up. A priest being ordained puts his life completely into the hands of our Lord and pledges to follow wherever the bishop will send him.

In a few short weeks, two men from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will be ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Are they perfect? Certainly not, for only two who have ever walked this world can claim that. I do know that they both strive for perfection, they both strive for holiness, and they both have a deep love for our Lord and a desire to lay down their life for the salvation of souls.

Pray for them. Pray for all of our seminarians: the ones we have, the ones we need. Pray that despite their weaknesses, God might strengthen them, like Sts. Peter and Paul, to be His witnesses to the ends of the world.

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