Brian and I teach RCIA, and love it. Our parish is a historic downtown church — the oldest basilica in the country, actually — and most parishioners travel some distance to attend.
In an attempt to get to know the candidates and catechumens better, we’ve been getting together with each of them over lunch or coffee. This provides a chance to not only build relationships, but also to speak in more depth about matters of faith.
Inevitably the conversation turns to what brought them to our parish and to the RCIA program. And each and every time, they tell us the same thing: The deciding factor was our priest… meeting Fr. Jeff, hearing him preach, speaking with him by phone. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise since some of his former parishioners moved themselves to our church once he was appointed. In fact, we joined after he arrived, too.
Fr. Jeff is what I would call “dynamically orthodox.” He loves his priesthood, and it shows. He’s friendly and informal, but reverent when he prays. He’s knowledgeable and articulate about the faith, but understands the importance of connecting with people and making them feel welcome. He doesn’t sugar coat things, but leads with kindness and compassion. In other words, Fr. Jeff is the kind of guy you can have a beer with one minute, and pray Vespers with the next. And we do.
In his example, I’m reminded just what a difference a pastor makes to those who are strangers to the Church. Priests set the tone. They’re the official representatives of a faith most people know little about. Where there are good shepherds, the sheep do come.