Friday, May 22, 2015

Some Thoughts on 44 Years of Priestly Ministry, Weakness Has Made Me Stronger and a Better Priest.

Ordination Day with Bishop Nicholas D'Antonio, OFM

Mass for my 40th Anniversary At St. Peter's, Eagle river, WI
   I was ordained a priest 44 years ago today.  It is a bit after noontime and I have already celebrated Mass, blessed a home, heard a private confession and anointed a dying woman who was surrounded by her husband and two sons. What beautiful things to happen on this anniversary.

  At Mass today the Gospel was John 21:15-19, the famous dialogue where Jesus 3 times asks Peter, "Do you love me?" 

   The context of this dialogue is that the last time Jesus heard Peter speak Peter was denying him 3 times.  Now, after appearing to the apostles as a group Jesus approaches Peter one and one and asks this question.

We can imagine Peter's inner reaction--shame, fear, guilt. How surprised he must have been to be asked, "Do you love me?"  Jesus response to Peter's declaration of love is to invite him to feed His lambs and His sheep.

   For me there is a real lesson in this dialogue as to what the priesthood, or for that matter, any Christian ministry is about.  We live in a world where leaders are chosen because of their strength.  Any skeletons in the closet and they are disqualified.  In this dialogue Jesus is essentially absolving Peter and then recommissioning him to feed the sheep.

   During the past 44 years I have discovered that when I face my weakness and bring them before the Lord my capacity to minister and serve is not lessened, but is rather made stronger.  There have  been a couple of times over the years when have felt that I failed or that I just wasn't up to the task, but that is when I learned that it was not all up to me, that I needed to rely more on the Lord, that effective ministry, while utilizing my strengths, also meant that my strengths alone were not enough.

  Like Peter and like any other Christian I have had to wrestle with my own sinfulness and weakness. This has made me a better confessor because I know that I cannot stand above a penitent, that though I have the privilege of offering absolution, I too am a fellow sinner.

 Though my health has been basically good I have had my setbacks.  in 1989 I slipped on the ice outside of a friary in New Jersey and tore my quadriceps.   I had surgery, had to use a walker, then a cane for a while.  I recovered, of course, and walk fine, but when I encounter someone permanently limited in their ability to walk I can be there with them.  I am nine years out from recovering from prostate cancer, something that led my to face my own mortality in a deeper way. I am also a type II diabetic.

  I have known grief through the loss of my parents, my sister Anne and several close friends.  This has taught me that presence, even more than words, are a great comfort to the grieving.  I was so aware of this this morning when I anointed that dying wife and mother.

   I do have many strengths.  I am well educated, have a pleasant personality, a good singing voice, good writing kills and have become a good preacher, something I was not in earlier years.  I state these things not to boast, but to thank the Lord for giving these gifts to me, but my ministry as a priest has become more than I could ever imagine because of what I gained, what the Lord gave me, when I was down, when my strengths were not enough.

Leading Prayer in Honduras

Friday, May 15, 2015

On to the Summer, or Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Double Rainbow over St. Peter's Eagle River, WI (2013)

   Occasionally I like to use this blog to give a glimpse into my life.  The summertime is always a change of pace for me.Parishes don't book missions during the summer so those of us in the Ministry of the Word seek out other opportunities for ministry, most often by helping out in parishes  For many years that meant heading to St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Eagle River, WI.  That was a wonderful experience and I miss the people there.  I'm glad to be in contact with some of them on Facebook.

   This year there are a variety of stops on my summertime journey.  In June I will be traveling to Trujillo, Honduras to participate in a mission trip with the folks from Christ the King Parish in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Dedication of a new church in Maranones, Honduras 2012
 This will be my fourth time to make this trip and I look forward to being with the other missionaries and with the wonderful people of Honduras as well.  Naturally I will get there on a plane and fly from there to New Jersey to participate in the 50th Anniversary Mass of my friends Joe and Pat Eitner.  I have known them for 40 of those 50 years and it will truly be a joyful celebration with them and a wonderful group of family and friends.

Boarding the Auto Train last year.
   In mid-July I will board the Amtrak Auto-Train in Sanford, FL and travel up to Lorton, VA.  Once in the northern part of our country I will drive (automobile) to Erie, PA to preach a retreat to the Sisters of St. Joseph there.   From Erie I will drive to New Jersey and Boston for some vacation time and take the train back at the end of the month.

  Besides the driving up north the car will get a good workout here in Florida as I assist in two different parishes, St. Anne's in Ruskin, FL and San Pedro in Key Largo, FL

   The high point of the coming months will be traveling back to Boston to celebrate the marriage of my niece Laurie to her wonderful fiance' Louis Strazzulo.  That will take place at Sacred Heart Church in  Boston's North End.
Louis and Laurie

   After that it's back to Florida and a return to my not so ordinary ordinary routine of traveling around preaching missions and retreats.

   Finally one great feature of all this moving around is that there will still be several weeks where I am back in St. Petersburg with my friar community. As much as I enjoy the travel I need to be with my brothers, to pray with them and enjoy time with them, especially over an adult beverage.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Special Privilege

Fr. John with Daniel
 It is difficult not to become depressed when reading the headlines of the day, headlines ranging from violence in our cities to terrorism all over the world.  Certainly these things demand our attention, and I have delved into them in my recent blog posts, but it is good to occasionally wander into an oasis of love and hope. I experienced that hope and love over the past weekend when I participated in the First Communion Mass at St. Thomas the apostle church in Smyrna, GA.

Fr. John giving Communion to Danny
   The reason for my participation was my long time friendship with the family of Danny (pictured to the left).  I first met his mother and grandmother when they were parishioners at SS. Rita and Patrick in Buffalo, NY where I served from 1979-1982.  It was a joy to look into Danny's eyes as I said, "Danny, the Body of Christ," and he received the Eucharist for the first time.  Beside me was Fr. Brian Sheridan, the pastor at St. Thomas, who then stepped aside and let me give First Communion to the entire group of youngsters and their parents. Not being a parish priest at the present time I generally don't have the opportunity to participate in First Communion Masses.  To have experienced the youthful innocence of these children as they received the Lord truly touched my heart.  It also gave me hope.  Each child was accompanied to the altar by a parent, a parent who has chosen to pass the faith on to the next generation

   Now I have no naive illusion that all of these kids will turn out to be saints. That has never been the case. On the other hand perhaps some of them will be saints, or at least faithful Catholic Christians who love others and make a difference in the world.  They will become good spouses and parents and, who knows, some may become priests or religious.  Most importantly they carry the hope that the world can be a different place because they not only received the Body of Christ, but are indeed part of the Body of Christ in the world.

After Mass with Fr. John

Letting the Earth Speak