One of the beautiful prayers of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is spoken at the foot of the altar. "I will go to the altar of God, to the God who gives joy to my youth." While the form of the words is found only in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the reality is found in every Mass. Almost two decades after I first offered Mass, I still feel like a new priest. I'm still learning. Every day, when I meet Christ at the altar, he renews the joy of my youth by offering me the opportunity to become more like Him. When a priest reads in the gospels about the calling of the apostles, he cannot help but be reminded of his own call. And although that call may have occurred nineteen, forty, fifty, or sixty years previously, it is not something that is relegated to a moment long ago. It is something that is renewed daily. His invitation to "go out into the deep," is a present experience.
One of the great privileges in my life has been to witness the Lord Jesus call other men to the priesthood. Some of them have been ordained and some of them are still in the seminary. I love knowing that their hearts are experiencing the awe and the joy of being called by the Lord. Every priest knows what this feeling is. You hear the Lord's voice calling you, and you think, "He can't be talking to me." But, there it is. His gaze meets yours and, even though you know what is happening, you think that this must be a mistake. You feel like Peter when he fell to his knees and said, "Lord, leave me for I am a sinful man." But, you know. You know that your life is no longer your own. You are His.
What makes me particular happy for these men whom God continues to call to be shepherds is that this call will never lose any of its newness and power. It won't fade or grow dim with the passing of time. It is renewed and strengthened daily. Oh, they will have to "bear their share of hardship for the Gospel" (2 Tim 1:8). In fact, that hardship may increase over time. More and more, they will be conformed to the Mystery that they offer daily at the Altar. But, this Mystery will also renew the joy of their youth. When I look at these new priests and seminarians, it fills me with joy that they have a lifetime of newness ahead of them. The call that they hear at present will be renewed daily in their life. The surprise of their vocation will only deepen and grow.
Jesus calls priests in order to make visible in the midst of the flock the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd. Daily drawing closer to the Good Shepherd and drawing closer to His flock, the priest is renewed and sanctified. It is a mystery, a great mystery. When I first heard the Lord calling me, I knew it was big. But, the depths to which His call beckons only grows with the passing of time. Closeness to the Shepherd and closeness to the flock . . . it is a privilege beyond compare. When I offer Mass today, I will do so in thanksgiving to God . . . to God who gives joy to my youth.