A Personal Priestly Anecdote

On Maundy Thursday of this year 2023 Our Good Lord wanted to show me the outstanding dignity of the ministerial priesthood. It is so difficult to know exactly what it means to be a priest. After twenty years of priesthood I keep daily asking myself: What is the gift I received in the laying on of hands? Many times I asked the question and many times the answer I received was total silence. Until this morning, while I was at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre the Lord wanted to give me a taste of how it is like to be a priest.

I went to see some hospital staff to talk to and pray with them at the Support Services when, on my way out, on the waiting room seats I met a mother together with her daughter. The latter was in a wheelchair. They both came for the hospital appointment outpatient. As soon as the mother saw me she greeted me and told me: Father, can you please bless us? Since the covid-19 is over the Holy Spirit has given me the grace of anointing people with the exorcised oil. When I offered them the possibility to anoint them both the mother and her daughter said yes to my proposal.

The moment I stopped praying for them the mother went on and told me: Can I hold your hand? Initially I felt a bit shocked about it. But then, something deep within me told me to be at peace and let the woman grab my hand. Sure that you can, I said. And the mother grabbed my hand and would hold it with great faith in her hands. After a few moments her daughter followed. Thus, I found myself being held by my hands from both the mother and the daughter.

After a rather long time the mother and the daughter let go of my hands and the former told me: That consecrated hand is not yours but Jesus’. To Him I prayed for my daughter’s healing and my healing too while holding it. Thank you for letting me do something I wanted to do for a long time. At her reply I was speechless. Immediately start coming into my mind and, most of all, my heart, powerful and convincing answers as to what the ministerial priesthood is.

This heart moving experience made me more and more realise those beautiful words which Pope Francis addressed to us priests in his 2018 Chrism Mass homily when he told us: A priest who is close to his people walks among them with the closeness and tenderness of a good shepherd; in shepherding them, he goes at times before them, at times remains in their midst and at other times walks behind them. Not only do people greatly appreciate such a priest; even more, they feel that there is something special about him: something they only feel in the presence of Jesus. That is why discerning our closeness to them is not simply one more thing to do. In it, we either make Jesus present in the life of humanity or let him remain on the level of ideas, letters on a page, incarnate at most in some good habit gradually becoming routine.

 In my reflection of this very interesting experience I had today in the Oncology Centre one thing stands clear to me: Let me never be afraid of being and living as a priest! A priest deeply immersed in the Holy Spirit whose discerning direction can take me there where the people most need Jesus. Sacramentally, both in presence and the celebration of the sacraments themselves Jesus keeps going to his people to save them, sanctify them and guide them in eternal pastures.

As I wept with contrite heart and joy at receiving such a magnificent catechesis of who the priest is I turned to Jesus and made to Him the following prayer: Lord, how beautiful it is to be a priest! Lord, I ask you that it is not that I live but that you live in me! This is what I want to live! Thank you for showing me who the priest is! Yes, that is the priest! Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.