Friday, July 13, 2007

Father Joel Sember on being a priest

Remember the ordinations I attended a few weeks ago in Green Bay? Well, here's newly ordained Father Joel Sember's mass emailing from a few days ago. It's inspiring to read what he has to say about being a priest:

Dear Friends,

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. After finishing my studies, I packed and said goodbye to practically everyone I know in Rome. I flew back on June 24. That week I prepared for ordination. Saturday at 10am, I found myself again face-down on the marble floor of the cathedral while the entire church prayed that I and my companions be holy priests.

The whole scene was familiar from deaconate - the three of us seated in chairs in the sanctuary, the litany of saints and the prayer of ordination. This time, I was anointed with oil and given the chalice and paten. The most powerful part of the ordination ceremony was when each priest came through in procession and laid his hands on my head. Some had been fellow seminarians with me, others long-time mentors, some had taught me. They were welcoming me to the priesthood; I am now a fellow priest with all of them.

A priest. Should I suddenly feel somehow different? I have a deep sense of peace and contentment; I have finally become who I was meant to be. At the same time, I know that I am still me. How I can be both me and a priest is a mystery that my head has not yet understood. I said my Mass of Thanksgiving the next day at Most Precious Blood. Though I had hours to get ready that morning, I found myself at the last minute throwing on a chasuble and following the many priest-concelebrants and servers down the aisle. Suddenly I was at the chair. What comes first?, I thought. Oh, the Sign of the Cross. And with that the whole Mass just flowed out of my like I had been saying it for years.

I love the looks I get from people in shopping malls. Some people go out of their way to be extra nice to me. Other people shy away, surprised to turn a corner and see a young priest. I should feel odd, but instead I feel strangely comfortable as a priest. It is like when you find a pair of new shoes that oddly fits as though you had always worn them. The strangest part is offering Mass. As I hold up the host and say the words, nothing seems to happen -- no sparks fly from my fingers, the host does not sparkle or bleed. And in an instant I am holding Jesus in my hands. There is no combination of magic words or secret incantations that makes it happen. It just happens, like falling in love. To believe in God's ability to work through us as instruments, this takes an act of faith. The host may not sparkle, but sometimes I think it winks.

On the day of my ordination I received my assignment. I will be a shared Associate Pastor between two parishes, Most Blessed Sacrament and St. Jude, both in Oshkosh on the western rim of Lake Winnebago. I will also be the campus ministry chaplain at the Newman Center at UW-Oshkosh. My address can be found at the end of this e-mail.

I want to thank all of you for reading my updates. I at least enjoyed writing them. I have to say that so far, being a priest is something I absolutely love. I have a hard time communicating how it is for me something both new and old, simple and beautiful and right. I am home.

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God,and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you always.

-- Fr. Joel Sember

And here's the little piece I wrote about Father Joel and his twin brother, Father Ben, for the July 12 Catholic Times:

Identical twins ordained for Green Bay
GREEN BAY (The Catholic Times) – Although all three young men ordained priests June 30 for the Diocese of Green Bay now share a bond of priestly brotherhood, two of the three already shared a fraternal bond. And not only are Father Ben Sember and Father Joel Sember blood brothers – they’re identical twins as well.
“We have the same background, we have the same genes; but we just have a different approach to things in general,” Father Joel Sember told WBAY-TV.
At one point during the ordination Mass in Green Bay’s St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Bishop David A. Zubik addressed Father Ben Sember as “Joel,” and chuckles rippled through the congregation.
Together with the rest of their family, the Sember twins converted to the Catholic faith when they were 12 years old. The twins completed their undergraduate education at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and insist they made separate decisions to pursue the priesthood. Both completed their seminary studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
Father Joel Sember earned an advanced degree in moral theology this spring, and has been assigned, among other duties, to chaplaincy at UW-Oshkosh. This fall, Father Ben Sember will return to Rome to finish his degree in Canon Law.
“I hope we don’t ever get assigned to the same parish, not for our sake but for the people; it would be very confusing,” commented Father Ben Sember.

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