All kinds of things occur in the life of a priest, however, 90% of people only see the priest in a sacramental role: celebrating mass, hearing confessions, baptizing babies, witnessing marriages. Priesthood finds its center in the sacraments, but it is indeed much more than that.
I remember sitting in a corner office in the chancery building of the Archdiocese of New Orleans as an eighteen year old boy looking across to the diminutive but influential man of Archbishop Alfred Hughes. I was nervous, because this was my final interview in the process of entering into seminary. The Archbishop was certainly the most important person I had ever sat across from. We spoke about many things, but one conversation in particular has struck with me, ten and a half years later. He asked me what my father did, and I responded by explaining my father’s job as a salesman of sorts in the hotel business. In his grandfatherly way, the Archbishop perked up slightly and responded, “My father too was a salesman. I see myself as, in some way, following in his footsteps, except we are salesmen for Christ.”
At the time I thought that a fascinating idea for the life of a priest. A man who travels around selling for his and his family’s livelihood by totally believing in a product. A priest gives himself totally to the life into which he was ordained, proclaiming what to him is something, or rather someone, everyone needs, Jesus Christ. A traveling salesman was totally dedicated to his product and so is the priest. Sales, as such, is a field primarily, despite the advent of international social media, about relationships. It is in relationship that the priest, and really any missionary, finds his greatest success, his greatest fecundity.
About a month and a half-ago, I saw in such beautiful lines the fecundity of the priest, his building up life by his focus on relationships. I concelebrated a nuptial mass of a girl whom I had grown up with as she married the man of her dreams. The main celebrant and the priest who received their vows was assigned to our parish as a newly ordained priest, when she and I were around ten years old. After about three years in our parish, he was moved to gain a varied experience, but he continued to enter in and out of our lives.
When I entered my theological training, after spending four years in philosophy, I chose this priest to be my spiritual director. He walked with me for five years during some of the toughest times in my life. He was a guide and a great support to me.
About two and a half years ago, the bride in the story lost her mother in a long battle with cancer. Although he was now pastor of a parish across town, this priest was there during some of the worse times before her death, and he celebrated her mother’s funeral mass.
It seemed only right for her to ask him to prepare her and her fiancé to receive the sacrament of marriage. He was there leading her and her groom in the recitation of their vows before God and the Church, while I, now a priest, was standing nearby. I saw, in that moment, from the fecundity of his priesthood the beginnings of hers and my vocations, wherein our own fecundity will occur. I saw how powerful the life and ministry of a good priest fosters the fulfillment of the vocations of those to whom he “makes sales” and creates relationships with. In the priest, there is certainly no death of a salesman, but rather new life in Christ.