During the Advent and Christmas season, we often hear the word ‘Emmanuel’ when speaking about Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew quotes Isaiah about the coming of the Savior: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). Beyond being an Old Testament reference, the word ‘Emmanuel’ sums up what His Incarnation means for us. He became man simply to be with us—to experience what we experience and to lift us out of our fallen existence. He even took on our death and He opened the possibility for us to rise to new life with Him. As St. Athanasius so succinctly said, “He became what we are that we might become what he is.” Ever since His Resurrection and Ascension, the Church has taken on the role of announcing to all the world that God is with us. It is the life work of a priest to participate in this task. The priest announces that God is with us in Jesus and that we can find Him in the Scriptures, in each other, and most of all, in the sacraments.
In the first half of my pastoral year, I have seen how a priest accompanies people with the simple but powerful message that God is with us. A priest reminds a couple coming for marriage that, as they embark on this life-long journey, God is with them and will sustain them
with His grace. He teaches children in preparation for sacraments, in the school, and in religious education that God is with them and he prays that no matter where life will take them, they will always remember that God is with them. A priest sits in the confessional so that penitents can know that God has not abandoned them and will always take them back. He visits the sick and dying to remind them that even now God has not forgotten them and remains with them. He consoles those who have lost a loved one with the hope that God is with us and has come to raise up all the dead to new life in Him. Most of all, the priest celebrates Mass each day so that God becomes present to His people in the Eucharist—the surest pledge of them all that God is with us.
But the priest is most effective at this not by doing something, but simply by being something. And even though I am only a seminarian, I can already see how important presence is in ministry. Sometimes, I find myself being present by taking communion to someone who is homebound. Other times, it’s in teaching the 5th graders and listening and responding to their questions—whether serious or silly. And still other times, it’s as simple as helping a parishioner call an Uber so he can get home from Mass. I am discovering more each day that this vocation is really about allowing God to be present to His people through me and there really is no limit to the different ways He can ask that. I just have to be open to where the Spirit leads. God has promised to remain with His people. What a joyous message that is for us! And what a joy for me to be a seminarian and, hopefully, one day a priest called to announce that message to the world simply by being who I am.
Zachary Watson is in his Pastoral Year at St. Joseph’s in Cockeyville. Zachary normally studies Saint Mary’s Seminary and
University in Baltimore. His home parish is St. Mark’s in Fallston. Lord-willing, Zachary will be ordained a transitional
deacon in May of 2023 and a priest in Summer 2024. Please pray for Zachary!