Father Aaron Lynch and Father Peter Rettig were embraced as the newest members of the Diocesan presbyterate on June 5, during a Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.
Welcoming the new priests into their new life of ministry, Bishop Ronald Gainer called them to “model your lives and set your hearts, minds and wills on the person of the Christ, the Good Shepherd.”
“Today, you will for the first time be clothed in the priestly vestments that symbolize your proper and unique role in the Eucharistic assembly. These new clothes express the fact that by the grace of ordination, you are each a new person, another Christ, sharing in the sacred ministerial priesthood ordained to act in the person of Christ, head and shepherd of his body, his flock, the Church,” Bishop Gainer told them.
The new priests will begin their first assignments on June 21: Father Lynch at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Gettysburg, and Father Rettig at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lewistown and St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Mifflintown.
A Great Desire
Father Aaron Lynch’s journey toward priesthood began during his days in high school when he heard what he called “small tugs” toward the call.
The native of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle said he was assisted in his discernment by prayer and the practice of Ignatian spirituality, which he described as “discernment of your emotions, of what’s going on inside you.”
“It’s a good spirituality for someone in discernment. A big part of it is the understanding that everything that happens around you, God is aware of. There isn’t anything outside of His plan,” he explained.
“Just thinking about the priestly life – what a priest is and what he does – was so beautiful to me every time I thought of it that I didn’t want to miss out on that life,” Father Lynch said. “God wouldn’t put that great desire and great attraction to that beauty in me if it wasn’t for some purpose.”
“One of the first steps in discernment is noticing what you are attracted to and what you find beautiful,” he said.
He underwent priestly formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and said his service as a deacon since his diaconate ordination last August has brought him into a much deeper relationship with Christ, especially in his ministry at the altar.
“We sit in the pew and believe deeply in the Real Presence, but once I was ordained a deacon, my relationship with the Eucharist fundamentally changed,” Father Lynch said. “Having the privilege of assisting the priest during the celebration of the Eucharist really changed my relationship with Christ and being configured to Him. The closer I’ve come to Him, the more I’ve come to rely on Him more readily and in more things. I am less independent because I rely more fully on Him.”
This past year has also been one of longing for Father Lynch, in the sense of worshiping together as a community, and he is eager for the fullness of liturgical celebrations and parish life as restrictions are being lifted. He hopes parishioners feel the same desire.
“When we can’t be with people, we ought to feel a loss in that. Not being able to celebrate Mass in the physical presence of other people, not being able to gather together to pray has been devastating for a lot of people’s spiritual lives,” Father Lynch remarked.
“While we worked to find other ways to pray together and to be together, and although communication over Zoom has been great and many churches have upped their games with livestreaming, we should see the necessity for being physically with each other in person. Virtual things are not the same; they are fundamentally different. My hope and prayer is that there is longing in a lot of people’s hearts to come back for Mass and to gather together to worship and pray.”
As he prepares for his first assignment as parochial vicar at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Gettysburg, Father Lynch offers his gratitude for the people of the Diocese during his years of formation.
“Thank you to everyone who prays for me and prays for my brother seminarians. Please continue to pray for your priests, deacons, seminarians and young men who are thinking about entering the seminary. Pray for young people entering religious life, and for good marriages and families,” he said. Prayer is necessary for the Christian life.”
Eager to Serve
A number of years ago, Father Peter Rettig started a list of things that inspired him about the priesthood: heartfelt quotes, solemn moments, the words or actions of a priest. He entered them into an app in his iPhone.
At the top of the list is the way in which his pastor during his teenage years at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Waynesboro celebrated the Mass.
“Father John Bateman did it so solemnly, so beautifully and so meaningfully, that it actually inspired me to take the Eucharist more seriously as an adolescent,” he said.
As his relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist developed, so did his consideration of the priesthood when he heard God’s voice while spending time in Adoration.
He began to discern in his high school years, a process that continues for a seminarian throughout the time of formation in seminary.
“Discernment, overall, is a process of simply praying,” Father Rettig said. “We discern things all the time, most often with major life events. Discernment toward religious life, priesthood or married life involves a lot of talking and listening – which is simply prayer.”
“With that, there are definitely doubts,” he added. “But there is definitely consolation as well when you hear God’s voice. God has his own timing and strange things happen, but they happen for a reason. Those little things, those strange things are often the most profound. For example, people saying, ‘You would make a good priest,’ or asking, ‘Have you ever thought of the priesthood?’”
For Father Rettig, God’s call came in those profound instances and in prayer experiences that were subjective to him.
“They were things that only I could understand and experience and know that it was God talking,” he explained. “It was a feeling of serenity and tranquility.”
Father Rettig received his priestly formation at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, the University of Navarra in Spain and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
“Seminary is rigorous academically, but I’ll tell you now, before I entered seminary I didn’t know how to think. After having seven years of philosophical and theological thinking, it really exercises your mind to think in a certain way,” he said of formation. “I didn’t necessarily memorize all the details of who said what throughout philosophical history. Instead, I learned how to think better. Before seminary, I was more of a feeler. But now I realize that to make a proper decision, you have to think logically and use the passions or the senses within in you propel that logic to the proper decision.”
Father Rettig said the trials of the pandemic ultimately became part of his formation, and he grew spiritually through increased prayer for those suffering or dying due to COVID.
“I really grew a heart to have compassion for people in such situations…. Pastorally, I think I am able to relate to a lot of people just by hearing of their challenges,” he said.
Father Rettig’s first assignment is as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lewistown and St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Mifflintown.
“I am eager to practice my ministry,” Father Rettig said. “Everything is in God’s time, and He has a plan for everything. I want to give myself most to God by being a priest as long as possible. I just want to be able to hear one more Confession, or celebrate one more Mass, or however many God wants me to celebrate. I’m really excited to start my ministry…. I’m ready to be in a rectory, serve the people, help the pastor and just start my priestly routine to bring souls to Heaven.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness