Fr. McGrath is a member of the Vocation Awareness Team for the Diocese of Rochester. In addition, he serves as the pastor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Rochester, NY.
I felt the call to the priesthood a year or two after a conversion experience I had while reading stories of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that were believed to be taking place in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia-Herzegovina). I experienced in a powerful way a sense of God’s personal love for me. After that I began to pray daily and returned to a fuller celebration of the sacraments. Over time, I felt God’s call and eventually entered seminary.
The celebration of the sacraments takes pride of place always. Sunday Eucharist is the centerpiece of my priestly life. It is my hope that as I proclaim the gospel in the Sunday assembly (both in preaching and presiding) others are fed as much as I am,
for it is an experience that feeds me again and again. Celebrating the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Penance is also a touching experience. It so often reminds me of my own need for the tender mercies of our God and it continues to humble me 15 years into priestly life. Celebrating the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is always a very special occasion that brings me joy and happiness. I have seen so often how important it is to the faithful; bringing them the peace of God’s healing presence and power is uplifting and leads to a moment of thanksgiving.
It is hard to put into words what it means to be a priest. To encourage a man to think about it means to help him understand, as Pope Francis has spoken of in various ways, the gift of encounter. The life of a priest is one filled with encounter – the meeting of the other – and, with that, a person always has the opportunity to see Christ in and through that person.
All Christians are called to this same experience. “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.” But, the priesthood amplifies the opportunities to encounter the living God in a seemingly never-ending series of encounters that leads one to a deeper relationship with oneself, others, and God. The priesthood allows for a deeper dimension in that, through the celebration of the sacraments, the priest offers the people direct access to God’s grace. Being in the position to mediate that grace is like no other. It is the incomparable experience of allowing God to use you – frail and broken though you may be – as an instrument and vehicle of God’s infinite love and mercy. Such a reality cannot be expressed in words.
There was a time in my life, just after college (a year and a half), when I had a pretty intense awareness that “this was it.” You only get one shot at life so let’s make it something…beautiful. But what?! So I started to look around… I finally asked God to come into my life; to really show Himself in ways I could understand. God answered my prayer and came into my life in wonderful, subtle, funny, joyful ways. It made me so happy that I wanted to find a way to live my life sharing God’s love with others. Hmmm… maybe priesthood? Jesus said “come.”
That was 41 years ago (5 years in seminary, 36 years a priest). I would do it again in a heart-beat. My greatest happiness as a priest? Well first, of course, is the privilege of offering mass and preaching. This has always been a joy and nourishment for my soul. But along with this has been the privilege of knowing that God used all of me in bringing some hope to the world.
I think the best thing about being a priest is you get to see God’s grace working in people’s lives and priesthood gives you an entry to point that out to people who may not see it. It’s really quite a privilege to be allowed into people’s search for God.
Of course I would. God promises to guide and empower the priest. He gives you what you need in just the way you need it. (He really does.) So if I let God direct my life I’ll be just where he wants me. And that brings a great peace and yes . . . happiness.