Friar urges priests to keep Jesus’ mission in mind at annual retreat

HENDERSONVILLE, NC—Modern Catholic priests struggling to define their role in the church must incorporate traditional functions in a holistic approach to leadership, according to Father Bert Ebben, a Dominican friar.

Father Ebben delivered his thoughts about the role of the modern priest to an audience of about 60 men during the annual Diocesan Priests Retreat, held Oct. 24-27 at the Kanuga Conference Center.

“What I’m suggesting is not that we abandon the solid, traditional teaching on ordained ministry,” Father Ebben told the group during one of two Tuesday-morning sessions.

“But I’m suggesting a shift of consciousness that will clearly and fully identify us and our ministry with a more-balanced, holistic appreciation of the fundamental mission of the entire church,” he continued.

He said the priest’s role in the church can seem less important today.

“It seems like we’re no longer significant, no longer important, no longer on the pedestal,” he said. “And that’s right — that’s absolutely right. We’re not.”

Instead, Father Ebben said, priests young and old must find where they belong in today’s church, and that involves examining priests’ functions.

“I think the special role we have in the church is to lift the burdens and help the people on their way to love and to faith and to community,” he said.  “I think for a long time religious communicants in the church and diocese and priests were kind of divided or separated, but now I see greater unity” in working toward those goals.

When examining his own role in the church, Father Ebben said, a priest must remember Jesus’ mission, “to spread the message of his Father’s love,” and must strive to deepen his own life with Christ.

“What is our identity?” he asked. “Our identity is changing somewhat. The fundamental, basic identity is there, but the emphases are changing.

“As we struggle to be faithful, self-giving servants, we need a heart on fire with the love of God, a heart that’s burning with the love of God’s people,” Father Ebben said.