“I want that,” Jerry Byrd told the priest. “Well, you can’t have the Eucharist until you become Catholic.” It was then that Father Byrd made the choice that would change the rest of his life by becoming Catholic. He lived through his Baptist’s family’s questions to only face more a few years later when he entered seminary. Ten years later, he doesn’t regret it. He’s found peace and fulfillment in the priesthood as a shepherd to God’s people. He doesn’t know how he knew that it was Jesus in the Eucharist at his first Mass with a Catholic friend. He just knew. But there’s a lot of things he didn’t know all those years ago. He didn’t know his prayers for more vocations would be answered in the way they have at Jennings County: five boys in seminary formation with another two going through the entrance process. He didn’t know he’d fall in love with the beauty of the Church’s rich liturgical traditions and be able to incorporate those traditions into the liturgies at his parishes. He didn’t know he’d raise chickens at a country parish and sometimes take long trips to Italy. But he’s embraced it all as a gift. After 10 years of serving God’s people in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Father Byrd reflected on what it really means to be a priest during his homily at St. Mary Parish where he celebrated an extended Pentecost Vigil to honor his anniversary on June 4.
The role of Persona Christi
“The priest comes from families and is called forth from the body of the Church…before we were ever created God planned a vocation for each one of us,” he said.
Father Byrd said there is an identity crisis in the priesthood because many people only view the priest as a social worker. Yet it is so much more. “It’s not about me but about Christ offering through me,” Father Byrd said. His priestly role is about teaching, governing, and sanctifying. The priest is: ● To teach by proclaiming the truth, not a version of the truth. ● To govern as the head of his parish family. He is to lead by example like a father and a man. That means seeking heaven for his children and having a heart for Christ, he said. ● To sanctify which means to make holy. A priest offers spiritual sacrifices for his children. He is to assist the spiritual life of his children and their growth in holiness by being a man of virtue. Father Byrd said all fatherhood has this role whether in the family or in the Church. “The priesthood is hard, but man, oh man, is it awesome,” he said. However, “the priests need your prayers,” he said. Pray for the priests who gave you the sacraments, for the lonely priests, for the struggling priests, for the priests you don’t like and for the priests about to die, he said.