This letter was written to the writer’s nephew, Father Stephen Elser, who was ordained a priest June 2.
First let me congratulate you on your accomplishment and tell you how very proud we are of you as well as the other young men with whom you have answered such a noble and profoundly important call.
You embarked on this journey more than nine years ago and you have had, I’m sure, moments of self doubt, coupled with absolute certainty and some questioning about such a decision. You have had opportunities to leave it all behind and walk away in the face of these doubts.
Yet, here you are today, on the other side of those fears, standing across the chasm of nine years. You have to feel some sense of pride as well as excitement. So as you look forward to the next part of your journey, I thought I would share some thoughts as you prepare to become the shepherd of your own flock.
• Be vulnerable: Don’t ever feel you have to be perfect, now that you have finished the “formal” education part of your journey. Ask questions, keep learning, lean on those you trust and seek out the people that have done what you are doing and are doing it well. Being child-like is not a sign of vulnerability, as much as an openness to what is next and a willingness to learn. Share your gifts with others and the love of God will flow from you to them.
• Don’t be afraid to say you are sorry when you make a mistake: It happens to all of us, even priests. We need to see that you are human and that you experience difficulties, make mistakes and feel vulnerable just like the rest of us. You don’t have to be right, just do your best and God will take care of the rest.
• Be engaged: Get out and get involved. Go to the school, talk to the students. Let them understand how you made such a life changing decision. That will inspire all of them. Eat with people, go to the movies, picnics, bingos, school track meets and concerts and be a part of life and share in the joys of the every day.
Tell us stories about you and stories about struggles and goals and staying strong in our faith. But be honest. Don’t sugarcoat it. Life is confusing enough. Speak to us truthfully and tell us about Jesus’ life in a way we can feel his humanity. Your homilies are all the inspiration some of us get for the week.
• Make appointments for yourself: This is important. I learned this from a priest in Cincinnati that was a sought-after counselor and in-demand speaker. He always had an appointment with himself each day in addition to prayer time. He used it to exercise or read or sleep or meet a friend for lunch. He emphasized the importance of refueling and re-energizing so he could be a more effective priest.
• Never carry the load alone: When the burdens become heavy, always ask for help.
You are not expected to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Find your friends and keep them close. Listen to them and they will do likewise. Everyone wants to help you succeed. You have the ability to influence for the good in so many ways. You will be a conduit for making good happen.
• And finally, just remember to listen well, laugh often, speak the truth and forgive always. Hang out with young people. They need this. You need this. Talk to those older and wiser. They need this. You need this.
I feel certain you can do this. You are ready, you have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to encourage you and everyone in the state is excited to have you lead them on their journey.
You have a large family praying for your strength, fortitude, wisdom and heart. God called you, just like he called the disciples centuries ago. Many have been called, but not all listen.
You did. And I guarantee, your “yes” will be like the pebble skipping across the pond. You will cause a ripple wherever you land. And that ripple will spread and that is why we are so glad you said “yes.”
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