The Joy of the Priesthood Through the Eyes of a Chaplain to a Cloister
Father John Rizzo serves the Tyburn Nuns, a community devoted to Eucharistic adoration, in Parramatta, Australia.
Father John Rizzo is chaplain to the Tyburn Nuns — the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre, a community of cloistered nuns living according to the Rule of St. Benedict in Parramatta, Australia.
Originally from Boston, he was born one of eight siblings in 1960. Subsequently, Father Rizzo studied for the priesthood under the auspices of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). He was ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on May 19,1985. However, in 1993, he left the SSPX, which holds no canonical standing in the Church, and entered the Fraternal Society of St. Peter. Since 2012 he has been carrying out his ministry in the Diocese of Parramatta as a diocesan priest.
In June 2021, Father Rizzo published his memoirs about his life as a priest. Throughout these pages he recounts anecdotes of his years as a priest, the people he has ministered to and those he has brought back to the Church. It is clear he is a man who has one aim in life: to save souls for Christ. As this short passage demonstrates:
“Sometimes the presence of Christ is only realized in their midst in terms of a priest, whose path they may cross. I often travel, and do so wearing my Roman collar so that others recognize that I am a priest. I can recount several occasions where strangers have approached me either to talk about problems that they have, or to make a good confession. I have heard many confessions at train stations and airports. One day when I was on a train platform at Parramatta, within the span of half an hour, three different people came to me asking me to hear their confession. The last one was responsible for me missing my train! Oh well …!”
In the preface of his memoirs, Father Rizzo has this to say: “I love being a priest. In all my years of priesthood, I have never desired to be anything other than a priest. It is an immense honor and joy to be able to bring God to others, and I cannot thank God enough for my vocation.”
This Register interview with Father Rizzo about his book on the priesthood was conducted via email.
Tell us something of your life as a chaplain to enclosed nuns.
I consider it an honor and a privilege to offer Mass and the sacraments to a community of women who have devoted and consecrated their lives to Jesus Christ and his Church.
Their cloistered environment is one of a true spiritual joy, as their life is centered around the Holy Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance for most of the day, and the sanctuary has candles burning for the Holy Father and for Australia.
People often come to Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day, seeking solace from a distracting and noisy world. Tyburn Priory is considered to be a place of pilgrimage, and the faithful will seek out the counsel of the sisters.
How would you explain the Eucharist to a nonbeliever?
I would start by explaining what the virtue of faith is — “to believe even though we don’t fully understand.” I would explain, “We put faith in doctors to look after our health, mechanics who look after our cars, etc. Why not put faith in One who has raised the dead and cured the blind and lame?” Then I would refer them to the many Eucharistic miracles, particularly Lanciano and Santarem. These miracles serve as visible reminders of the Real Presence.
How important is it for priests to make themselves available to hear confessions?
Extremely important. A priest should be available at the drop of a hat to hear anyone’s confession, especially in today’s world. Mankind has lost the sense of sin. Those seeking absolution should be warmly received and welcomed. The sacrament of penance is a great means of reaching the heights of perfection.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a priest?
Being able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and finding myself — imperfect as I am — nonetheless standing as a “mediator” between God and man and perpetuating the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle.
And the hardest?
I am appalled to see the sad state of Catholic education throughout the world, the vast ignorance of so many faithful, perpetrated by weak bishops who have forgotten that their calling is one of a shepherd and not a “hireling.” St. John Vianney once said, “The greatest insult we can offer our faith is to be ignorant of it!” Ignorance of our faith leads to indifferentism and complacency, which eventually leads to a hardness of heart.
You speak of the “joy of priesthood” — describe that joy. How does it manifest?
Christ’s mission on earth was to bring about healing and reconciling a fallen mankind, bringing them back to his Heavenly Father.
When the apostles James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” demanded that Our Lord “rain down fire” upon a village that had rejected him, Christ replied, “You do not know what spirit you are about. The Son of Man came not to destroy, but to save that which was lost.”
It gladdens me tremendously when I can take part in this healing, especially through the sacraments, or in giving instruction in regards to the teachings of the Church. Perhaps it manifests quite frequently when I preach about the importance of the one thing necessary, the salvation of our soul.
Are priests the divine instruments — “transmitters” — of the divine joy?
I would say Yes — absolutely. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” The priest is given the power to forgive sins. The joy in heaven of one sinner doing penance over 99 just is truly immeasurable.
What would you say to the evil — often against the most vulnerable — that has been perpetrated by priests in recent years?
Pope St. Pius X said that the greatest evil on earth is a bad priest.
The untold damage is irreparable. Priests must realize the obligation they have to pursue perfection. When priests break any of the Ten Commandments, particularly the Sixth Commandment, the scandal remains for a generation.
What would you say to any layman who thinks he may have a vocation?
I would encourage him to pray to know God’s will in this regard; to read good books on the priesthood; and place himself into the hands of Our Lady, the Mother of her Son’s priests.
“You are a priest forever …”: Do you think of that eternal dimension?
Holy orders is one of the three sacraments that leaves an indelible mark on the soul. It stands to reason, since the dignity of the priests leaves an indelible mark on the mind of the priest and in his heart.