Twenty five years ago this week I lay prostrate on the floor of the Cathedral of St. Joseph as all around me voices called upon the Saints to intercede for me. In a few moments I would rise, kneel before Bishop John Paul, and receive the gift of the ministerial priesthood through the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit. It was one of those moments when everything around you fades away and you’re conscious only of God’s love and mercy. Love: that God was giving me such a tremendous gift! Mercy: that I was so very undeserving! All these years later I still marvel at how good God was … is … and continues to be.
Aside from celebrating the Sacraments – which form the heart of a priest’s life – the greatest gift of being a priest are all the many people I’ve been privileged to serve and to minister with. In every assignment there have been good and faithful folks who have allowed me to share their lives … sometimes just for a short time during a crisis or moment of celebration … other times in friendships that have endured for years. I’ve always been blessed with marvelous and dedicated staffs to work with. Always I’ve been surrounded by such amazingly generous souls who give so much towards building up their parish faith communities! Again, I see myself always surrounded by love and mercy (especially in those who put up with me on a daily basis!)
Pope Francis says when Jesus looks upon a soul, and that soul catches His loving and merciful glance, you can never be the same. Although I’ve got a long ways to go, I guess I would have to say that in my priesthood I’ve tried to extend the love and mercy I’ve experienced to others. I grieve the times I’ve not been loving or merciful, which are always reminders to me of how undeserving I continue to be … and how good and gracious God still is. But I take joy in those times by God’s grace I got it right and helped someone to know just a little of His love and mercy.
As I look back over twenty-five years I am filled with deep gratitude and a deep humility. And while I certainly appreciate all the thanks and congratulations this anniversary brings, please take time to thank God for the gift of the priesthood – which is far bigger than me! – and thank God for His love and mercy toward this unworthy servant.