When you look at that particular church building, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by its beauty. Sometimes, I think about the pastor who built it and how blessed he was to be part of building something so magnificent. Just the other day, I visited a parish (St. Patrick's in Stoneham, MA) where the pastor oversaw a huge renovation of his church and built a parish center attached to it. I remember thinking, "He ought to be really proud of the work he did here."
But, as interesting and important as these types of projects are, they are not at the heart of being a parish priest. Honestly, I rarely walk into my parish church and think, "We did a good job painting this" or, "The restoration of the pipe organ sure sounds great." I suspect that the pastor of St. Patrick's in Stoneham probably doesn't marvel every day about the great job he did. What he probably does marvel at is what a gift he's been given in being a priest.
What I most love about my parish churches are the people who fill the pews. There are events in the life of a parish priest that are way beyond cool. They are awesome. Preaching the Gospel . . . awesome. Absolving sinners . . . awesome. Offering Mass . . . awesome. Seeing a new face at Mass . . .awesome. When Jesus uses me as the instrument of drawing somebody closer to Him . . . totally awesome. Carrying the Gospel into the life of someone who is enslaved or burdened and seeing the Gospel set them free . . . what can be better than that? There is nothing more important in the world than Jesus Christ. And we priests are totally set aside to be instruments of Christ. How awesome is that?!
There's something that has happened to me many times in my life as a priest. In fact, it happens quite regularly. Sometimes it happens after hearing a confession or after having a conversation with somebody about a particularly difficult moral problem or life situation. It happens after being with somebody as they are dying. It happens when a young person who is confused about life and is searching for meaning seeks me out. It happens whenever I am used as an instrument that brings somebody closer to Christ. It is the experience of thinking, "If that were the only thing I was ever ordained for, it would be enough." I don't know if lots of people have that experience on a regular basis, but I bet most priests do. It is a recognition that this one occasion of being an instrument of Christ is sufficient to give meaning to all of my life.
Building, painting, organizing, serving on committees, titles etc . . . all of these things are fine. But, what trumps it all is that we have been entrusted with the very Gospel of Jesus Christ; the Gospel that brings salvation.
Being a priest is about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is awesome. Being a priest is awesome.