The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Parish priest says vocation is an 'unearned gift from God'

West Memphis pastor Father Greg Luyet decribes the blessings and challenges of priesthood in his own words, saying, "It is a life worth living" and a role bigger than any one man.

Published: September 30, 2006   
Arkansas Catholic file / Tara Little
At the 2004 Holy Thursday Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock, Jean Swillum holds her 3-year-old daughter, Jayme, as then-pastor Father Greg Luyet washes her feet while her husband, John Swillum, waits his turn.

Father Greg Luyet, JCL, has been a priest for the Diocese of Little Rock for 11 years. He was ordained at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock in 1995. He was born at Little Rock Air Base in Jacksonville and grew up in North Little Rock.

He attended St. Mary School and later Catholic High School for Boys. He earned degrees at the University of Dallas, St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana and Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

He has served in several parishes in the diocese and speaks fluent Spanish. Today he is pastor of St. Michael Church in West Memphis and its mission of Sacred Heart in Crawfordsville and Our Lady of the Lake in Horseshoe Lake. He is a diocesan tribunal judge.

The 37-year-old is also a son, brother, uncle and friend.

In a recent interview with Arkansas Catholic, Father Luyet described both the blessings and challenges of priesthood and also addressed some common misconceptions, particularly one that priests are "holier than ordinary people."

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a priest?

A. From my childhood, I have wanted to be a priest. Growing up I witnessed the service of my Grandpa Rainwater, a Baptist preacher. On the Catholic side, my great aunt, Sister Vivian Luyet, is a Benedictine from Fort Smith.

At Catholic High, the desire to be a priest grew stronger. In college, I decided to begin formal discernment at Holy Trinity Seminary and later at St. Meinrad Seminary. During formation, the desire to be a priest grew stronger. I did not have a great moment of insight, but more of an abiding desire to give my life to Christ and his Church.

Q. How would you describe your experience in the priesthood so far?

A. Growing and learning each day. One lesson is that who I am as a priest is far more important than what I do. What I do changes. However, who I am must constantly develop.

Over the past 11 years, I have served in a variety of ministries each requiring me to assume a different role. Yet, the constant reality is a humbling experience of being formed into a priest. After ordination, the formation deepened. As a priest, I discover Christ more fully in the people I am privileged to serve, in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, in preaching and teaching. Above all, the priesthood is an unearned gift from God. I am blessed with friends (priests, religious and lay) who support, challenge and encourage me to learn and to grow. For me, it is the best way that I can live out my baptism.

Q. How do you spend your time outside of celebrating Mass?

A. Each day is different. Each day finds me spending time in prayer in the morning and in the evening. These times are literally a lifeline and give focus to the day. I spend time talking to parish and school staff, meeting with boards and commissions, preparing for meetings, visiting the school.

In the mornings, I try to work on presentations, administrative matters, and cases for the tribunal. In the late afternoon, I have meetings of various types (e.g., marriage preparation, annulments, baptismal preparation, etc.) I try to set aside some time in the middle of the afternoon for myself to exercise, read and relax. In the evening, I attend meetings of various parish groups or teach in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. Sunday evenings I teach our confirmation candidates.

Q. What about the priesthood do you love the most?

A. What I love the most about being a priest is sharing in the mission of Christ and the Church through teaching, preaching, celebrating the sacraments and encouraging others to be a steward of that mission.

Q. What are common misconceptions people have about the priesthood?

A. Over the years, I have heard many misconceptions about the priesthood. In fact, I held many misconceptions myself prior to ordination. I've been blessed with a healthy disillusionment leading me from theory into life.

As for the misconceptions: One is the priest is holier than "ordinary people." A priest, like all Christians, is called to holiness and conversion. In fact, he makes a solemn promise to do just that before he is ordained. Ordination does not make a man holier than others. It does make him responsible for leading others to holiness, while being converted himself.

Another misconception is that to be pastoral is to make people happy. Not all decisions of a pastor will make people happy. Yet, the decision must be made for the good of the whole community and never for any one individual -- even the priest.

Third, priests only work on the weekend. I have a running joke with a non-Catholic friend who teases me about only working on weekends. When he sees me about he likes to say, "Glad to see you working." He knows better, but I am not so sure about others.

Q. What do you wish people understood about the priesthood?

A. It is a life worth living. It is not a life isolated from others but is intended to be lived in the midst of the world. People expect a lot of their priests. I think to a reasonable extent this is very important. However, we must always avoid placing him on too high of a pedestal. The man is called to the priesthood. The man is plagued with personal issues, as is everyone else; however, the priesthood is more than any one man. A person does not need to be perfect to be a priest. He needs to be real. He needs to be faithful. In that honesty, Jesus will transform his brokenness to the service of the Church.

Q. What are the greatest challenges to being a priest?

A. On the personal level, I find my own impatience can be a challenge as a pastor and as a priest. In ministry, waiting is so central to our service. We can prepare the soil, but the growth comes from God and not from us. I have to see the bigger picture of parish and Church life, not the limited perspective of any one person or group.

I find working with people both a tremendous joy and challenge. By nature, I am very introverted. The priesthood has helped me to become more outgoing. But, I still need to be by myself to recharge and so that I might offer better service to God's people.

Q. What are the greatest joys?

A. After times of disappointment, God brings new life. One of my greatest joys is being able to bring Jesus present in the sacraments to those who are hurting from sickness in the anointing of the sick or turning from sin in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Another great joy is completing a marriage case for the tribunal and knowing someone else is able to receive the sacraments again. The trust people place in the priest is a precious gift.

Q. Why do you think fewer men become priests in this day and age?

A. I believe God calls men to the priesthood, as much now as ever before. Why are fewer men responding to that call? I don't know. Perhaps it is because, some men are never asked. Perhaps, the scandals of recent years have scared some people away. Perhaps, the materialism of our culture distracts people from more lasting values. Perhaps, some people don't think the priesthood makes sense in today's world. Perhaps young people don't see real priests and religious but caricatures from the media. I do not know why ... but I believe God is calling men.

The question is: Are they listening? I think the same question challenges those of us who are ordained to live the priesthood in truth and joy. Every sacrament has two parts -- God's gift and our response. The challenge is to respond as completely as we can.

Q. When asked by someone interested in becoming a priest, what do you most often tell him about your experience?

A. I invite him to listen to God in prayer. Seminary is a place to discern if one can live the life. ...

In the discernment a person may continue to ordination or he may discover God is leading him by another path.

However, no matter the discovery, the truth is that God will lead each of us into a life worth living. On my journey thus far, I have learned through every moment to trust that God has entrusted me with a great gift to share with his people -- namely his priesthood.

Is God calling you?

If you or someone you know is considering a vocation to the diocesan priesthood, contact your local pastor and then Msgr. Scott Friend, diocesan vocations director, at (501) 664-0340 or visit

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