O happy day — 17 June 1962! This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. It is as if that first day has been extended over 50 years.There were many surprises along the way. Ordained for ministry in Ireland, if anyone prophesied on that day that most of my years would be here in the U.S., I would have thought they had lost their minds. Yet here we are gathered to give thanks to God for what has been a most exciting, happy and fulfilling life. My earliest years were overwhelmingly exciting with the explosion of the Vatican Council utterly transforming the life of the Church. On the first day of the Council, Blessed Pope John XXIII set the tone:“The Catholic Church desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness. Frequently the Church has condemned errors with the greatest severity. Nowadays the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy, rather than that of severity. She meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations” What a new vision! What an eruption of new life! It was a new Resurrection; Ascension as our Risen Lord again became cosmic, penetrating every aspect of life. For these 50 years the Vatican Council has been our guide as our Church evolved from the “Middle Ages” to embrace the Modern World. We have absorbed a new understanding of our Church, no longer the Perfect Society but The People of God, a pilgrim people, a priestly people, sharing in the one priesthood of Jesus, through baptism. We priests came to understand our role, as servant-leaders. The words of Jesus in St. Mark’s Gospel — “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” — took on a new meaning: addressed not only to priests but to all God’s people to proclaim the Gospel by word and example.For these 50 years the Vatican Council has been our guide as our Church evolved from the “Middle Ages” to embrace the Modern World. We have absorbed a new understanding of our Church.In my lifetime as a priest I have seen the evolution of the role of laity called by the Vatican Council to live out their baptismal commitment as they share their God-given gifts through their involvement in the life of the Church and the world. “Allotting his gifts as he wills, the Holy Spirit distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church, as it is written: ‘the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit’” (Lumen Gentium, n. 12).What a joy and what a support to experience the new energy and dynamism in parish life. What a relief for us priests to be surrounded by experts sharing their gifts in finance and administration, priests and people united in decision-making. The earthquake greatly enhanced the role of the laity developing a new and deeper community spirit. Our people got to know one another better as they worked together in building up the parish. From my very first day in school, when the nuns exuded gentle and caring love, my life has been incomparably enriched by the presence of religious women, who dedicated their lives to the service of God’s People. They always had a soft spot in their hearts for priests. I confess that I was particularly blessed and utterly spoiled. In the seminary it was the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, and the Mercy nuns while teaching in the college in Ballina. Here in Los Angeles, first were the St. Louis Sisters, but it kept expanding so that today there are sisters from 13 different congregations with whom I have worked — all of whom utterly spoiled me, which naturally delighted me. You are the jewels in the crown of the Spouse of Christ. We believe in you, we appreciate you and thank you for what you have done and continue to do, for us, for the whole Church, and for the world.The last 20 years have cast a dark shadow on the image of priesthood, causing great suffering and scandal, though a very small minority of priests were unfaithful. Today I apologize for them and ask for forgiveness, but also for the power of the Spirit to forgive those who offended, who are still our brothers, following the example of Blessed Pope John Paul II who visited the jail in Rome to forgive the man who tried to kill him. We priests thank you our people for recognizing that the vast majority of priests have served their people courageously and faithfully. We celebrate today in thanksgiving for the gift of ministerial priesthood — servant leaders and for the baptismal priesthood of all God’s People. What a joy to know that we are all one People of God united with our Risen and Ascended Lord praising and giving thanks for God’s goodness and Love! Alleluia. “Tomorrow — to pastures new.”Msgr. Padraic Loftus, pastor emeritus of St. Mel Church, Woodland Hills, was ordained from St. Patrick’s Seminary, Maynooth, in 1962 and came to Los Angeles in 1974. He served as regional director of Catholic Social Services, associate director of Catholic Charities and was the first director of the Department of Detention Ministry (1986-1990) before becoming pastor of St. Mel’s (1990-2007). This column is excerpted from his homily at his golden jubilee celebration in May.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0727/vat/{/gallery}