An Intentional Priest
Being passionate and on fire for Jesus
It happens every year. Words are added to our vocabulary. Recently, Merriam-Webster officially added 520 new words to their dictionary collection along with definitions for these words. Some words simply received additional meanings relative to the pandemic like long-hauler, pod, bubble and wet market. Suffice to say, dictionaries have become thicker over time by the mere addition of words and meanings to old words.
Every discipline has its own vocabulary. Sometimes, it is not so much the addition of words as much as it is a renewed focus on those words. For example, in recent times there is one particular word that has been emphasized increasingly in the Church. Can you guess what it is? The word is “intentional.” The dictionary defines intentional as “done on purpose, deliberate.” The term suggests a strong and compelling commitment to something or someone. This word has been applied to certain realities in the Church. We have heard much about intentional disciples. This term reflects followers of Jesus who purposely live out a relationship with him.
There are also intentional presbyterates. Such a term points to a priestly body seeking to consciously work together for the good of the Church. A derivative of this effort is what some are calling intentional living communities in which men, with the permission of their bishop, choose to live together as brothers in a rectory.
With many dioceses having directors of communication in place, there is a renewed attention to intentional communication. This phrase demonstrates a consistent commitment to transparent communication.
Obviously, the word intentional could be applied to prayer, formation, priesthood and ministry, just to name a few. This term could also be given to any liturgical season or time. To be intentional is to be fully in it to win it, so to speak. It means to give one’s all 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
On the day of our ordination to the priesthood, we express our intent through a series of questions posed by the bishop. We renew that sense of being intentional at the Chrism Mass as a presbyterate, on the day of the anniversary of our ordination, at our annual retreat and whenever we receive a new assignment.
The renewal of our intentional priesthood happens every day in our prayer, particularly at holy Mass where we enter into the sacred mysteries. We renew our fiat. During our concelebrated Masses, we share in that renewal together.
The Church needs not just priests but intentional priests who every day consciously and wholeheartedly embrace what is before them in the person of Christ. To be intentional in our priesthood is to be passionate and on fire for Jesus.
Of course, the fire of intentionality could be cooled by hurt, disillusionment and unhappiness, which can ultimately manifest itself as cynicism, sarcasm, negativity and indifference. God knows that none of us is perfect, and we live in a broken world. Nevertheless, the world and the Church need us to be intentional in all that we are and do.
When we become more intentional in our priesthood, we also become more inspirational. We can move hearts and change lives like Jesus. We can make a difference.
Many years ago, when I was a vocation director, I learned that the best advertisement for the priesthood is a happy priest. Nothing speaks more of priesthood than a priest who smiles and enjoys his ministry. I would take this one step further. The best witness of the priesthood is “an intentional priest” who is resolute, daily, with his life and ministry. Jesus, the great high priest, embodies this intentionality.
In Luke 9:51, we hear about how Jesus was resolute in his purpose. He was determined to set out for Jerusalem. This same sense of intentionality is reiterated in Jesus’ conversation with the Father when he says in Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”
I was told as a young priest to keep a photo of my ordination day near so that I would never forget the joy of that day. I think that wise person wanted to make sure that I would never lose that sense of being intentional, because it can make all the difference.
BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.