For Glenmary Father Charles Aketch, who was ordained to the priesthood last April, saying yes to new responsibilities has defined his first year as a priest.
“I’m open to helping everyone in the county, not only the Catholics,” Father Charles says. “So long as they call me, I will always go.
“When you are ordained a priest there is a lot of responsibility you are given,” he adds. “The responsibility to teach the people, to sanctify the people and to govern the people…. This responsibility becomes very heavy on you because you are expected to be with the people always.”
Father Charles has tried to do just that. On his evening walks, he stops and talks with groups of people he finds gathered. Whenever someone buys a house in the community, he makes a point to say hello. He, along with pastor Father Vic Subb, has transported local migrant workers to hospitals. In the time of the coronavirus, he has spent hours on the phone calling parishioners to stay in touch.
In addition to his active ministry, Father Charles has continued to grow and develop as a priest. This he credits to Glenmary’s community life. Father Charles is the pastoral associate at Glenmary’s Holy Family mission in Lafayette, Tenn. Father Vic, Glenmary Second-Vice-President Brother Larry Johnson, student Corey Soignier, and Father Chet Artysiewicz also reside nearby.
“Ever since I joined this life, I’ve always told my brothers that community life has made me who I am,” Father Charles says. “You have a place you can come back and share with people the challenges, sorrow, happiness and whatever you experience outside of there. Community life to me is something paramount.”
He credits Father Vic as a teacher, saying the veteran missioner has taught him humility and reinforced his desire to reach out to people whenever possible. Being with the people, however, has challenges for a new priest.
For one thing, there’s hearing confessions.
“It’s not something that is easy—to hear people’s sins,” Father Charles says. “Some people come crying before they tell you anything and you don’t know what to do. You’re told not to cry when people cry because you can’t attend to them well…. It’s a big responsibility to hear people’s sins and to decide what to tell them so they can have the consolation of Jesus.”
Sometimes there are more unusual situations.
“There are many people who call saying they have evil spirits in their house,” he says. “Dogs are barking at nothing, things like that. And they don’t call their pastor, they will always call the Catholic priest. Even their pastor will tell them, ‘call the Catholic priest.’ I’ve seen this many, many times in Tennessee.”
Father Charles says the most special experience of being a priest in his first year remains united to the source and summit of the Catholic faith—the Eucharist. He described the feeling at the moment of consecration during his first Mass as a priest as, “very encouraging, very consoling, very soothing.”
“The act of consecration, to me, that place is sacred time,” Father Charles says. “You are calling the Holy Spirit to come upon the altar so that the bread and wine changes into the real Body and Blood of Christ. That time of consecration to me is just really beautiful. There are other things that can be done by different people but only a priest can do the consecration. It is meant only for a people that are set apart, and not because they are holy, but because of their calling.”
The tail end of Father Charles’ first year of course saw a change. With the coronavirus in full swing at this writing, he is now celebrating the Mass without an in-person congregation. He says the virus has shattered many of the plans he had for ministry.
“At the end of Mass, I say to the people, bow down your head to receive God’s special blessing. I like that gesture,” Father Charles said.
Of course, these days he can’t see the people bow, as they’re watching on live streams. He hopes sooner rather than later he will get to ask God’s blessing upon them in person.
This story first appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of Glenmary Challenge magazine.