The Universal Church and The Glory of Each Land

On the last two Saturdays, Bishop Burbidge ordained three new deacons and four new priests for this Diocese, which reminded me of my own ordination to the diocesan priesthood 16 years ago, also on the day before Pentecost.

And the celebration of these ordinations and of Pentecost brings together two great themes of the Catholic faith, her universality throughout time and space, and yet also her consecration of the unique goodness of every specific locality and nation. For, on Pentecost, the one Gospel was heard in each individual language of people all over the known world. Likewise, the Church proclaims the same faith, provides the same sacraments, promotes the universal call to holiness, and unites all nations together.

But, as the one sun and the common rain bring forth different crops in every land, these universal means of salvation bring forth a unique harvest of grace in every people, age, nation and language. A diocesan priest connects this universal faith to each locality.

For a diocesan priest is ordained both for the universal Church and for a specific diocese, an area of the Church. There is both an order of priests throughout the world, and in fact throughout time and space, but also a unique brotherhood of priests in every diocese.

In my case, and in the case of these newly ordained priests and transitional deacons (who are on schedule to be priests next year), we received training in the universal faith and practice of the Church. And yet we are sent forth to a specific area, namely the northern third of Virginia. And most diocesan priests are primarily in parish ministry, and are thus called to a deep knowledge and love of the specific locality in which the serve.

This local patriotism tries to make of every town and place a new Bethlehem, a new Nazareth, in which Christ and His people are welcomed and the light of heaven shines upon earth. Over a century ago, the great Catholic writer and commentator G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem celebrating his home area of Kensington in London; in that poem he said, “For every tiny town or place, God made the stars especially . . . Yea, Heaven is everywhere at home.”

I have been at this parish for three and a half years, and have certainly learned how it is that the light of heaven shines forth upon this rural and hospitable locality, with its fresh green fields, ancient but life-filled mountains, and unique homes, civic groups and businesses. I think that we have, through common prayer, charitable works, learning, celebration and good company helped bring the light of Christ here to this area. And I am confident that Fr. Perez will likewise both learn and contribute to making Page County and this parish a place where heaven is at home.