"Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, then come and follow me!" Mt. 19:21

"Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, then come and follow me!" Mt. 19:21

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Newly Ordained Dominican, Fr. Austin Litke OP Goes to World Youth Day

In a recent interview, I was able to talk with Fr. Austin Litke, O.P., a newly ordained Dominican priest, about his first summer of priestly ministry. What was especially interesting about his summer was his experience of World Youth Day. He had the opportunity to be the chaplain for a group of students from Mount De Sales Academy, in Catonsville, Md, which the Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia Congregation run. I will be posting excerpts from the interview over the next few days in order to get a glimpse of a new priests experience of the universal and youthful Church.  Before going into specifics about World Youth Day, we talked a little about his experience as a hospital chaplain for the first two months of the summer. He had this to say:


When you are working in a hospital as a priest, every day you are dealing with the most dramatic and significant moment in people’s lives. It is often quite sad but it is always dramatic. As a priest, you bring the sacraments to people, you bring Christ to people. The mere presence of the priest, I have found is, deeply, deeply consoling to people and their families: particularly if someone is experiencing intense illness and is in the process of dying, often you are called to their rooms. And so, I have seen within my first few months one of the great truths of the priesthood: that a priest does not live his own life but he lives the life of Christ among the people of God for whom he is ordained. And I got to see all this very vividly. The fact is that at 29 years old I don’t have that much life experience or many skill sets to offer people. But the very fact that I have been ordained by the Church means that I come to people and bring them Christ Himself. And you see that come through very dramatically in the hospital.

I then asked him, now that he has begun to live the life of a priest, if his understanding of the priesthood has changed at all.
Fr. Austin Litke OP offers Mass of Thanksgiving
     That is a good question, actually. I started thinking about the priesthood when I was 10 years old, so of course your perception of things changes as you grow older. But what attracted me from the very beginning was the life of the priest, just seeing the things that a priest does. So in a certain sense that hasn’t changed, because I saw that a priest said Mass, heard confessions, prayed, visited people, and had a particular kind of life. However, I can say my focus has changed from what the priest does to who the priest is. Particularly in the most recent years, as I was getting closer and closer to the priesthood, and then living it out the last two and a half months, you see that it is not just another job. There is almost nothing about the priesthood that is just a job. It really has to be a whole life that embodies the real office of the priesthood and the rest of your life has to be built around that. Your life is truly not your own when you are a priest and so God and the Church call on every aspect of your life as a priest. And so what has changed in my perspective on the priesthood is going from wanting to do the things a priest does to taking on the actual life of the priest.

Later on in the interview, I asked what it was like to be a chaplain on a pilgrimage, especially on one that was so large in scale.

     One of the great things about being the chaplain on a pilgrimage is that a pilgrimage is a place where God really does speak to people’s hearts in different ways than He does otherwise. As a chaplain, as a priest on one of these trips, you get to be right front and center for what God is doing in people’s hearts. And so I had the great grace to be able to talk to some of the students and other people as we were going along about what was going on in their hearts and in their minds. Also, visibly being a priest, I had lots of people that would come up and ask to go to confession, to bless things, and just wanted to know who you were. But I think the greatest thing is being front and center for those particular graces of a pilgrimage in people’s lives. That was probably the best part of being a priest in a pilgrimage group. As a brother, I had been on pilgrimages before and it is not quite the same when you are a priest. In Madrid, in one of the big parks there, they had set up lines and lines of confessionals, where priests were able to show up and sit and hear confessions. So I heard confessions of people from all over the world, and the very fact that I was ordained a priest and that I showed up meant that I got to do that. So that is clearly a particular experience that you can’t have otherwise. Just as the experience in the hospitals taught me the beauty of the priesthood in a very interesting and dramatic way, so going on pilgrimage also showed me that, again, it doesn’t really matter what my skill sets or past experiences are. The fact that I am a priest means that I get to be that instrument of Christ anywhere. That is, anywhere I go, I get both to witness to Christ, and to bring Him to people in whatever circumstances those people happen to be in.

Well that is all for this post. Next time, we will see what Fr. Austin had to say about his general impression of World Youth Day and some of the unique ways his status as a Dominican helped to provide a unique experience for his pilgrims.