Despite the scandals, despite the controversies, and despite an often painful history, the Catholic Church continues to draw millions of believers each week to its altars, in search of something better. The Archdiocese of Washington's Monsignor Rob Panke enjoys the enormous task of recruiting priests to preach from the church's pulpits, and to perform the sacraments that have guided the church for 2,000 years, and will continue to carry the faithful for years to come. Panke, 45, shared with The Washington Examiner by e-mail his thoughts on his vocation, and its eternal inspiration.
Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
I am a Catholic. I was raised in the Catholic faith and have always had a great love for the church and the strength of its teaching, which eventually led me to the priesthood. I am in awe of the sacraments of the church, and the positive effect they have on people's spiritual lives. I have the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist daily, and hearing confessions on a regular basis. There is certainly a cost to being a priest, but the gift of giving Jesus and imparting his mercy is, as they say, priceless.
Did anyone or any event especially influence the development of your own faith, or your path in life?
My college days away from home were less than faith-filled. I had drifted from the church and my parents -- surprisingly -- asked me to go on a spiritual pilgrimage with them when I was 24 (I was not exactly thrilled), and bribed me with a free hiking trip after the pilgrimage. I received an incredible and unexpected gift on that pilgrimage. God revealed that I was a sinner, but a sinner who was always deeply loved by Him. He offered his love to me and his profound mercy. I was filled with such an experience of joy and peace that I somehow knew that this could only come from God. I desired to receive more from God and his church and was drawn to help others receive an experience of God's love and mercy. Two years later I was in the seminary. I absolutely love being a priest and feel blessed that God called me to this life.
Your title is director of priest vocations and formations. Describe the difference between a vocation and a career.
A vocation is a call from God to live a specific path in life for our greatest fulfillment. Some examples would be the vocation to be a wife or husband, parent, priest, religious, etc. A career may also be a way to follow a desire of God but it would more confined. I work with men discerning the priesthood who follow their path to God by living a deep relationship with God evidenced by a life of prayer. If a vocation is a call from God, then we must be listening to what he is telling us in our hearts through the silence of prayer. It's essential for anyone who is seeking their vocation in life.
We hear about parishes suffering for the lack of a priest, or young priests and church leaders. How do you see God working to address those problems?
God has called, is calling and will continue to call men to serve as priests. There are plenty of vocations, but in some areas the response is struggling. Most people don't realize that vocations are actually on the rise worldwide. There had been a decrease in vocations to the priesthood in the United States, but this has leveled off and there are now signs of great hope. The Archdiocese of Washington has ordained 23 men in the last three years and we currently have 70 men in the formation process for the priesthood. We see men from all backgrounds, age groups and ethnicities.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
I believe God calls each one of us into an intimate relationship with Him, no matter who we are or how we have lived. God adores each one of us and only desires our true and lasting happiness. But God is not indifferent to the manner in which we live. God has a plan for each of us that will entail our greatest joy, and a path to live a moral life that to some may seem restricting, but to those who freely accept the life of Jesus is an experience of great peace and freedom.
- Leah Fabel