Today's priests face challenges, but act as 'agents of the new covenant' in Jesus, archbishop tells brother priest jubilarians
DETROIT — Priests of the Archdiocese of Detroit observing a prominent jubilee year in their priesthood gathered at Sacred Heart Major Seminary’s chapel for a celebration Mass with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron on June 8.
The Mass was an opportunity for the chief priest of the archdiocese to thank his brethren for their service to God and His people and to give God thanks for the priesthood.
“The pastoral care of the people of the diocese belongs to the priests collectively,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We are each assigned to a particular part of God’s people, but it is a responsibility we all share. It’s right we should share in one another’s thanksgiving, to be this band of brothers in giving thanks.”
Archbishop Vigneron acknowledged the challenges and difficulties priests face in preaching the word of God, comparing it to the challenges Elijah faced when the Israelites were seduced by the false god, Baal, so Elijah challenged Baal’s prophets in a test of faith.
“We see Elijah as a devoted agent of God’s covenant,” Archbishop Vigneron said in his homily. “This was what he was about. This is what he had in mind to get the people to agree to the truth. The Lord, He Who Is, is God, their God. He did this in the face of great adversity, at a great cost to him. He was under threat for being this faithful agent of the covenant, the covenant made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.”
Just as Elijah was an agent of the old covenant, today’s priests are agents of the new covenant made by Jesus, who took on man’s sins on the cross and through his human nature reunited God with man after the Fall.
“This is a great grace, the mystery which we’re supposed to serve,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We give God thanks for the ministry of those who celebrate their jubilee. We don’t want to lose sight of the fact it is in the face of adversity that our brothers, ourselves, in the face of adversity, face difficulty.
“We try to advance the growth, the flourishing of the covenant,” Archbishop Vigneron continued. “We face challenges; there are a lot of ways people do not acknowledge the Lord is God.”
But this very adversity is the reason priests are needed, he said, proclaiming the Word wherever they go, for however long God destines them to do so.
Fr. John (Leo) Phalen, 91, the former pastor of Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Woodhaven and St. Joseph Parish in Lake Orion, was celebrating 63 years of the priesthood with his fellow priests, joining them in a luncheon after Mass.
Fr. Phalen was the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Woods in 1975, going door to door in the Downriver city to build a sense of community. He then served at St. Joseph from 1990 to 2000.
“The priesthood for me was doing something that’s worthwhile and finding a way to influence the world,” Fr. Phalen told Detroit Catholic. “You’re doing what the Lord wants; you can’t do better than that. I had no idea how long I’d do it; I just went and did what I was assigned to do. You did what you were asked to do, and you did the right thing.
“Being a successful priest means doing what you’re supposed to do and doing it well; and getting people to keep their faith,” Fr. Phalen added.
All the struggles, hopes, challenges and successes a priest encounters in their ministry are to be brought to the altar during Mass, Archbishop Vigneron said during his homily.
It is at the Mass where the priests of the New Covenant renew the covenant, and in turn, where they renew their priesthood, he said.
“All of what we aim to accomplish, what we have given up our lives for, finds fulfillment in the Holy Eucharist,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “This day is a day to come to consummation, to join the jubilarians, all of us coming together to offer this sacrifice to the Eternal Father. And the offerings are perfect — not because we’re perfect, but because they are made along with the great agent of the New Covenant, Jesus himself.”
Priest jubilarians 2022
This year, 44 priests are celebrating milestone jubilees in the Archdiocese of Detroit, totaling 2,085 years of service. To read more about them, click here.