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Four Years

This week I celebrate the fourth anniversary of my priestly ordination.  In four years, I have served in two very different parishes.  The first (St. Mary’s Southside) was a single church located in the City of Elmira but serving people to the Pennsylvania border (all in Chemung County).  Now, I serve at Our Lady of the Lakes in the center of the Finger Lakes.  We serve St. Michael’s in Penn Yan, St. Januarius’ in Naples, St. Patrick’s in Prattsburgh, and St. Theresa’s in Stanley.  Also included are the areas previously served by St. Andrew’s in Dundee and St. Mary’s in Rushville.  Our parishioners come from three different counties and three different area codes.  So my first two assignments have been very different in this respect.  Yet, the essential point is always the same – to serve the people of God according to God’s calling.

During these four years I have served under three different pastors (two at St. Mary’s in Elmira and one at Our Lady of the Lakes.)  Soon, I will begin to serve with a new pastor here at Our Lady of the Lakes.  Each of them has their own style of ministry.  Each has been a learning experience for me.

Perhaps the greatest thing I do as a priest is to preside at the celebration of the Mass.  It brings joy to my heart to celebrate the Eucharist.  It is God who provides the grace we receive at Mass.  It is God who transforms the bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Yet, here I am as God’s humble servant serving as an instrument of grace.

I find personal connections very important in ministry.  While presiding at any of the sacraments brings moments of joy, it is the personal connections with the people that helps me remember that ministry is not about buildings or things.  It is about the people.  Whether it be working with a couple as they prepare for marriage or a family who is planning the funeral of their loved one, ministry is to make God’s presence known in the good times and the bad.

Ministry isn’t always planned.  In fact, sometimes the greatest moments of ministry are never planned.  I remember when I was serving in Elmira, I was on-call for the hospitals.  I received a call from the ICU unit that they had a patient who was “actively dying.”  I had never heard the term “actively dying” before.  I didn’t take the time to ask.  I heard the phrase and said I would be right there.  Normally, I was asked the patient’s name and room number.  I didn’t take the time to ask.  I jsut went.  As soon as I entered the ICU someone immediately pointed me to the patient’s room.  The nurse caught me to tell me the name of the patient.  With the family there, I immediately celebrated the sacraments.  The woman died as I was finishing.  It was a moment of grace to be there with the family.

There are times when ministry is planned but I am not always sure what to do.  For example, I was invited to be part of the Baccalaurate celebration at Prattsburgh high school.  We did have a parishioner from St. Patrick’s graduating.  I was asked to say a prayer.  The prayer lasted a minute or two but to me the ministry was as much about just being there as offering a prayer.  I just wanted the graduates to know that I felt their graduation was important enough for me to be there.

The same can be true when I visit our parish school.  In some way it is as much about being there as about the words I might offer.

Of course, there are several other ways in which I have served including social ministry, outreach to “inactive Catholics”, and now helping to implement the new translations of the Roman Missal.

My ministry is not confined to the parish.  Our Catholic Church is a universal church united under one pope.  When I was in Elmira, I served on the Board of the Directors of the local Catholic Charities Office (Catholic Charities of Chemung-Schuyler Counties).  I continue to serve on the Board of the Directors for Providence Housing.  For the last year I served on our diocesan Presbyteral Council and the Priest’s Council of New York State.  I participate in these groups to do my part to help spread the gospel.

I serve in many ways.  I do so for the glory of God.  I simply seek to be a good and faithful servant.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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