What have I learned?
Fr. Peter Daly
December 23, 2009
Fr. Daly says that his view on the administration of sacraments has changed.
With this New Year, I will have been ordained 24 years.
What have I learned in the last 24 years?
I’ve learned to be more accepting of people. I take them as God sends them.
We are all works in progress. This insight has made me more compassionate.
Twenty five years ago, I was much more severe. When people came to me for the sacraments, I wanted to see evidence that they were living the Christian life.
If they wanted their baby baptized, I want to see them married.
If they wanted to get married, I wanted to see them not living together.
If they wanted confirmation or reception into the church, I wanted to see some knowledge of the faith and some evidence of practice.
But now, I realize that the sacraments are not trophies conferred on those already victorious over sin, but rather they are food for the hungry and strength for the weak.
People seek the sacraments because they want help on the path to perfection, not because they are already perfect. I take them as they come.
I was surprised to find that my evolution in ministry was mirrored by the experience of the Holy Father in his ministry. In a homily to diocesan priests in Italy in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI talked about how his own idea of who merited the sacraments had changed. The homily was reprinted in the August 2009 edition of the Italian Catholic magazine 30 DAYS.
The Holy Father said:
“When I was younger, I was rather severe. I said: the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of the faith does not exist, the Sacrament cannot be conferred either. … Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open -- according to many official authorities -- with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinner, drawing them to him in his communion.” Wow.
People often come to me in some type of crisis. They have committed a sin. They are in pain. Frequently they have often been away from the church for a long time. My job is to hold the Church door open for them, not put barriers in their way.
The church is like a spiritual gym. People do not have to be in perfect shape just to join a gym. They join a gym is to get in shape. Nobody comes to the Church because they are perfect. They come because they want to grow in grace.
It is enough that they come to the church with a sincere desire for God.
In the same magazine that contained the Pope’s homily, there was an article about a recent initiative in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina. There the priests are making a special effort to reach out to the unbaptized. They are especially trying to baptize babies. It is a way of inviting the whole family to live the Christian life by welcoming the baby. I hope they are successful.
In the last 24 years I have learned that we are all in process.
Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we all come to Jesus in various states of imperfection. He did not refuse to help her. We should not refuse others.
That’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 24 years as a priest. I think it is an important lesson.