One of my colleagues at school was ordained priest last weekend. I've been praying for him. He's a baby priest. That's what they call you. I've always experienced it as a term of endearment; the baby priest is innocent, unruined, full of possibility and promise, and inspires care-giving.
The baby priest also has certain special 'powers.' Asking for his 'first blessing' is a venerable tradition, and the blessing itself is said to contain great graces. As one of the old friars said to me around the time of my own priestly ordination, getting the blessing of a new priest "is worth wearing out two horses." I was ordained by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, whose practice it is to conclude the Mass by kneeling down and asking for himself the blessing of the newly ordained. I'll never forget that moment, as I tried to remember what I had practiced saying about his ministry as teacher and shepherd, and how he kissed my chrismated hands.
Today I visited a parish to give a pro-life talk. I was there a little early, and I ran into one of the parish priests. As we were introducing ourselves, he asked me what I was doing in Boston. I explained that after three years as a parish priest after ordination, I had been asked to return to studies. "Oh," he said, "a baby priest." I was a little surprised to hear it, as I've been a priest for over three years. Besides, he looked pretty young himself. Nevertheless, you never know, for reasons that require further study, certain sorts of priests go through life very well preserved.
So, the question arises: at one point does a priest cease to be a baby priest? I don't know. Given that this language is obviously meant to be analogous to babyhood in human life, I hardly know how to make an assertion, because I don't know when people stop being babies and turn into something else. It would also seem somewhat culturally bound; I have remarked many times that among some ethnic groups, children are still called babies when they would have long been considered something else in another group.
So, when does someone stop being a baby priest?