Almost every diocese in the United States holds a convocation for the priests of the local Church – the diocesan and the religious order priests serving within the diocese. Some do so each year, especially perhaps for those dioceses with vast territories where the priests do not have a chance to gather frequently because of distances. Some dioceses host priests convocations every other year or perhaps every third year.
The Archdiocese of Washington held our biannual convocation for our presbyterate last week. It was my first opportunity to be present for this special time with our priests. It was truly an edifying occasion for me to be with those men who so generously serve the people of our archdiocese. We prayed together, dined together, told more than a few “tall tales” together and most of all, we enjoyed each other’s company. Above all else, we encouraged and supported one another in the sacred ministry that we have received from Christ Himself.
Convocations are a rather new development within the Church’s life. In the past, there were other occasions that brought local priests together: retreats – usually silent ones that provided little or no time for conversation. Clergy study days – again with little time for leisure or rest. Convocations are a healthy balance of prayer, conversation, information, relaxation and conviviality. Our Washington priests definitely enjoy these biannual get-togethers. There were smiles on most faces throughout the three days of our assembly.
The spirit of a local presbyterate is richly enhanced and immeasurably strengthened by such occasions as our newest young priests have the opportunity meet many of their more senior brother priests; as the religious order priests share their apostolic charisms with the diocesan priests; and as bishops and priests are joined together in brotherly warmth and affection. Usually a common theme anchors the presentations and gives a focal point to the time together. In today’s church, many issues could serve as a focus for these assemblies. Our presenter, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, offered two presentations that highlighted “the priest as listener.” No pun intended, but our priests really did listen attentively to those excellent reflections.
There was ample time for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the common offering of the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily concelebration of Mass. The spontaneous and cheerful banter that abounded during the social moments confirmed the success of our gathering. It was a much needed positive encounter for this presbyterate especially after having endured such a painful past year. In many ways, it could not have come at a better moment for this local Church.
Our next convocation is scheduled for 2021, and I believe that our priests left this year’s gathering already looking forward to that time two years from now. However, the ultimate success of any priests’ convocation is how the spiritual energy generated therein is effectively transferred to the parishes and communities where these fine men serve. Hopefully, we will all be better listeners, more focused on the mission of the Church, and more energized in our ministry because of the time that we spent together.
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