June 22, 2020
A few days ago, I quietly marked my first anniversary of Priestly Ordination. The last few months have been for me – as for many people – a bit jarring, and almost surreal, thanks to the global pandemic. That morning, I thought of how vastly different my morning was one year ago. It was the culmination of a nine year journey. There was the anticipation of seeing the crowds of people who going to be there, and then all the other things I had to remember for my first Mass of Thanksgiving the next day, as well as the various receptions.
June 15, 2019 - Ordination of Fr. Raphael Ma, CR - Bishop Wesley Spiewak, CR - St. Mary's Parish, Kitchener
I did my best to just take it all in, and not worry endlessly whether all the things I had planned would fall into place. And it was really a wonderful weekend. But I hit the ground running – the day after my first Mass of Thanksgiving, I had heard that an elderly gentleman who had trained me as an altar server, and who held an annual summer gathering for us and our families at his farm – of which I had fond memories – was rapidly declining in health. He had a stage four cancer, but had neglected his own health while taking care of his wife, who was also in declining health. But after she had passed away, he began to rapidly decline. He had wanted very much to attend my ordination, and was prepared to do so in a wheelchair if he had to, but he just didn’t feel up to it that day. And so I thought the least I could do was to visit him at his farm. He was tired, so it was a short visit. We talked briefly, I showed him some pictures, and gave him the Anointing of the Sick, and Viaticum. He passed away two days later. It was both a joyful and a sad moment – for him to see the altar server he once trained so long ago, now become a priest, and at the same time to know that this was goodbye – it was a little taste of what is perhaps my favourite thing about being a priest.
Strangely enough, nobody asked me that simple question – what is my favourite thing about being a priest – until February of this year, when I was visiting a class at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School, where I am present on a weekly basis. Many people asked me “what does it feel like to be a priest?” and my answer is that it feels like I am offering something to people, which I didn’t “produce.” I work hard on my homilies, and while I cannot deny that I depend on God for inspiration there, I also know the effort that goes into “producing” them. But preaching, is not unique to priests. The things that are unique to priesthood – presiding at the Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, blessing in the name of the Church – what these things do for other people strike me as far outweighing the rather simple role that the priest plays.
And that is my answer to the other question. My favourite thing about being a priest is what it does for other people. And not sacramental ministry, but sometimes just being a priest, and being present with people at various moments in their lives – from deeply meaningful moments like witnessing someone return to the faith after decades of being away, to the mundane and even ridiculous, like some of the improv games we play in the high school youth group. And although it was difficult, I think that the relative absence of such opportunities in the past few months have helped me appreciate this aspect of the priesthood even more, one which I will hopefully never take for granted.
Congratulations Fr. Raph as you continue your priestly journey. May God's blessings be with you today and always!