Speaker says the duties of priests are to teach, govern, sanctify

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — The role of the Catholic priest as teacher, minister of the sacraments and community leader was the focus of a series of conferences at the annual retreat for the Diocese of Charleston’s priests, held at Kanuga Conference Center Oct. 27-30.

Diocesan clergy spent three days attending Mass, holy hours, eucharistic adoration, and daily conferences with retreat master, Father Roger K. Arns parger. They also had the opportunity to go to reconciliation.

Father Arnsparger is a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte and pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Gastonia, N.C. He said he usually leads retreats for lay people, and this was the first time he was asked to lead one for priests. His goal was to help the men gain perspective on their role in the Catholic community and on their relationship with Christ.

“God asks us to love our priesthood,” he said during the first conference on Oct. 28. “You and I are part of the great gift of the grace of redemption.”

He said in order to be effective in their ministry, priests must be aware of both the sinful nature of humanity in general, and of their own sins and shortcomings. He used the story of Adam and Eve’s fall as an example of how sin and doubt can cause even a priest to lose awareness of God’s constant love.

“If we don’t face sin, we can’t embrace the full mercy of God,” he said. “You and I have been invited back to the garden. The church is the antechamber to that garden, which is paradise. You and I have been expelled from Eden but there is hope. We are beaten and bruised by a world that would like to make us irrelevant … the day we become like everyone else is the day we lose our redemption.”

He encouraged the group to reflect on the long history of the Catholic Church and on their roles in the unbroken chain of those who have served Jesus Christ through the church.

“Through the terrible daily grind we sometimes experience, through all the things we do for the good of the poor and the needy, we need to remember that Christ desired that you and I exercise this ministry for our salvation,” he said. “In saving ourselves we are saving other people, assist others to achieve the essence of holiness. We need to be priests who are like Joseph … men willing to die to themselves for the Gospel, men people can trust.”

Later in the week, Father Arnsparger discussed the role of the priest as “sentinel and prophet,” instrumental in carrying on the history and the teachings of the  church and teaching others to live their Catholicism to the fullest. He said it was important to help people to be “intentional Cath olics” rather than “cultural Cath olics.”

“The duties of a priest are to teach, to govern and to sanctify,” he said. “All three go together in the life of a priest and they can’t be separated.”

He also focused on the role of the Mass, and how it is the most important  act of a priest’s daily life.

“I reminded the young priests that our real job is to offer the Mass, that everything else we do flows from there,” he said in an interview with The Miscellany. “That’s the most important part of our day. In our sacrifice of the Mass, we’re offering all our works of loving ministry, all our humanity, everything we do for the needy and all of our teaching. It’s all offered through the holy sacrifice.”

Father Arnsparger said the retreat was a moving week for him because the priests were so committed.

“I was very edified by the whole experience, by their entering into the retreat with a desire to spend time in prayer and study,” Father Arnsparger said. “I was especially moved during eucharistic adoration, to see that many priests praying together. I was so impressed that they all really desired to be there. That was one of the things I mentioned in the conference: The desire to please God always pleases him, and our daily task is to please him.”

Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, diocesan administrator, invited Father Arns parger to lead the retreat.

“He truly spoke to the heart of our priests,” Msgr. Laughlin said. “He is a model for us. His words came from the heart, inspiring our priests to continue the work of Christ throughout the world.”