In a few short months, I will conclude my assignment here at St. Francis de Sales. It is wild to think that it has been four years since I began at St. Francis. So much has happened over those years from parish anniversaries, tragedies that God carried us through, profound moments of healing in the parish, new building projects to foster faith, an assignment change for our pastor, and the advent of Fr. Jeremy Merzweiler as administrator-pastor. I did not know what to expect when I first arrived. I knew that St. Francis had a positive reputation throughout the Diocese. But, I didn’t know much more than that. Well, I’ve learned about that reputation first hand and it has been a great adventure and a rich blessing in my life! I can’t imagine having spent my first assignment anywhere else.
One of the first “culture” shocks for me was the respect and honor you show your priests at St. Francis de Sales. I say that not because I’ve been at parishes that show disrespect or dishonor towards their parish priests, but because there is a different emphasis or outlook at St. Francis. Whereas some places might view the priest as a parish organizer or CEO-like figure who administrates the parish, I have found St. Francis to be a place that summons her priests to share in the Melchizedek dignity of the priesthood. When you called me “Father Bearer” it took time to get used to, because so many of you are my grandparents’ and parents’ age. But, when you called me “Father Bearer,” it didn’t matter that I was a new priest and didn’t know my left hand from my right yet. All that mattered was that the Church ordained me to bring you the Sacraments, and you called me to bring the Sacraments to you as Jesus’ priest. This gave me permission to grow into the priesthood, worry less, and just do what I was called to do: pray with and for you. These four years have been an honor for me to serve you by bringing you the Sacraments of the Church. Your love for Jesus and your hunger for His Sacramental Presence never ceases to instill a great humility in me. Your faith taught me what it means to be a priest and who all this is about: Jesus Christ. Thank you for helping me grow into this life in service to the Sacraments.
All of this taught me a very valuable lesson that will hopefully remain with me for the rest of my life: To be a priest means to “get out of the way” and bring Jesus Christ to people, especially through the Sacraments. It’s a call like John the Baptist’s: “I must decrease, He [Jesus] must increase.” I hope you realize just how much of an impact you have on the men who serve here as priests. As much as you might think the priest forms and shapes you, you form us priest! You call us to be more than we are, not by demanding that we be superheroes, but by leading us to serve the Sacraments we’ve said “yes” to bringing you. Stay hungry for Jesus Christ. And, please, continue to seek Jesus Christ out through every mystery you pray and every Sacrament you receive. By doing that, you’ll shape future priests, young or experienced, who will serve at this parish. You’ve shaped and formed me. You’ve taught me what it means to be a priest. And, that lesson will never leave me.
With Gratitude and Love,
Fr. Jacob Bearer