.- He is one of the most popular and recognizable priests in the U.S. and beyond – and this month Father C. John McCloskey chalks up three decades in the priesthood.
“These 30 years have been magnificent,” he told CNA Aug. 5, adding, “what could possibly be better than being a priest?!”
“Through God’s grace so many Masses celebrated, confessions heard, baptisms, weddings, people brought in to the Church and, happily, God has used me as an instrument in spite of myself to bring dozens of vocations to the priesthood, religious life and to the new ecclesial movements, and all this with my evident faults and human failings.”
Fr. McCloskey’s road to the priesthood, though, certainly wasn't a conventional clerical tale. A graduate in economics from Columbia University in New York he worked for Citibank and Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before being ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1981.
Since then he’s gone on to become a best-selling author and popular religious commentator on both television and radio, most notably with EWTN.
He is perhaps best known, though, for guiding into the Catholic Church such notable figures as Robert Novak, Judge Robert Bork, Senator Sam Brownback, General Josiah Bunting and Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who died earlier this year.
“(Those conversions) had nothing to do with me. I’m just an instrument. It’s God who gives the grace. I’m just an instrument who hangs in there till they say ‘yes’” he humbly asserted at an anniversary party held in his honor last month in his hometown of Washington D.C.
Three decades of priestly ministry has also given him is a keen eye for the challenges facing priests in 2011. “What are those challenges facing priests today?” he asks rhetorically.
“I would say in one sense the same as always - to put the spiritual and ascetical life always first and not let oneself be absorbed the business of pastoral work.”
“I think also the priest must have must make a special effort to live fraternity with his fellow priests who are, in a certain sense, his real family. Time spent with them is mutually beneficial and helps to fight off the loneliness or selfishness that can creep in through the years.”
Fr. McCloskey says he is personally thankful for his “dozens of priest friends who are truly brothers” and who help him in his “walk to holiness with their encouragement and correction when needed.”
Currently based in Chicago, Fr. McCloskey keeps links with his hometown where he is a Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. Among many other projects, he is presently working on a book making the case for Catholic liberal arts education.
Over the years he has also given spiritual direction to dozens of priests – a crucial requirement in the interior life of a cleric he says.
“The priest should have a regular confessor and spiritual director and, if possible, identify himself with a particular spirituality in the Church, whether it’s ancient or new, that helps to keep him spiritually fit and energized for his pastoral duties and to deeply appreciate the universality of the Church.”
He also recommends to those priests who seek his advice that they take good care of their physical and psychological health making sure they “find time for measured rest and recreation.”
“The priest is celebrator of the sacraments, preacher of the Word and, as evangelizer, a fisher of men.”