Nic Scott, with Vocation Boom Radio, talked to Fr. Tony for an hour on March 4th about Fr. Tony’s vocation and his current work as President of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC).
Fr. Tony began the conversation, in answer to Nic’s question about NFPC, by reviewing its history and founding nearly 50 years ago, in 1968, when Vatican II called for greater consultation between bishops and priests for diocesan governance. NFPC was formed when a group of priests gathered in Chicago to share their best practices for how they were setting up and running these councils of priests and their bishops.
According to NFPC by-laws, all dioceses are members. Active members, who financially support NFPC’s work, grew to a high of 124 dioceses at one point. NFPC uses the councils as a vehicle to deliver goods and services to help all priests feel connected to one another so they don’t feel alone and can be more effective for their people.
Fr. Tony stressed that priests need support from brother priests as well as the laity. Today’s priests have to do so much managing people and facilities that often all their energy “gets sucked right out” of them by these administrative tasks. They need to periodically get away and be with brother priests, who “understand us on a different level than our lay friends,” and talk and relax “and just not be the pastor for a while.”
When asked about his greatest joy in being a priest, Fr. Tony answered, “It always starts for me with the Eucharist….I get to do that every day.” And also to bring love and fatherly care to the world, representing God: an amazing honor but also a heavy responsibility.
Fr. Tony provided helpful answers to two callers who had questions, one about the dynamic with a priest in the family, and another about being called to priesthood from pastoring in another denomination.
Then Nic asked Fr. Tony to share his vocation story, which he recounted from his youth through his ordination. “Soon as you know what God wants you to do and do it, the doors open. God has put me where I needed to be every step of the way.”
When asked if he ever had any doubts, Fr. Tony said, “..there’s always been doubts. A vocation I think, is a constant calling, a constant yes.” Like with marriage, every morning you get up and you say yes all over again. “Every day I get up and say, Yes God I will be your priest again today. And it is only with his grace that I can do that. On the days I don’t particularly feel like it, I rely on his grace to get me through the day.”
Fr. Tony stressed that this is not just a singlular journey. Priests are on this journey with other men and this is where the fraternity comes in: communion, brotherhood, solidarity, NFPC’s mission. He said it is why he took the job as President of the NFPC. “I knew from personal experience that I can’t keep this going alone.”
At 44:35 in the recording, talk moved to the NFPC convocation, this year in Anaheim, CA. It is designed to provide relaxation, liturgy and prayer, and top notch speakers. The theme is Forging a Future with Pope Francis and speakers will include Bishop McElroy speaking on Priestly Ministry, Kevin Appleby on Immigration & Refugees, and Fr. Ken Simpson on reaching Millennials. Fr. Luke Ballman will give an overview of vocations. Bishop Arturo Cepeda, our episcopal moderator, will celebrate the Convocation Liturgy.
There is more information on the Convocation and all aspects of NFPC at nfpc.org. Fr. Tony encouraged all to sign up for our weekly e-letter, that includes news articles and thought provoking web blogs plus other helpful information, in a weekly post.
The Convocation is open to every priest in the US. Fr. Tony especially welcomed “our younger brothers,” the newly ordained, to hear their views. For the laity listening to the broadcast, he encouraged them to go tell their pastor to take a few days off, and that the parish will be fine. If a matter of money, he urged parishioners to get a few people together and collect money and send your priest to Anaheim.
Nic asked Fr. Tony how to help motivate a man in taking the initial step when God is calling them to the priesthood. Fr. Tony’s best advice was that until the bishop lays hands on you, nothing is irreversible. Many think that if they start down the path, they can’t change their minds. But the seminary is a place for discernment, and it’s okay to discern out. “God always holds the call until you’re ready to receive it.”