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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

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