Over the last few days, after spending a great deal of time mentally and spiritually unpacking the bomb dropped last weekend about the aforementioned young priest who is taking a leave of absence, it occurred to me that any priest could walk down a similar road without even noticing it until it is too late. I got to thinking about what has kept me from walking down that road. I the last post I stated the three things every priest needs to help keep a sense of opprobrium about himself (Spiritual Director, faithfully praying the Liturgy of the Hours, Brother Priests as friends). I also started thinking about other things that have help keep me from collapsing in on myself over the years, especially around 2002 when things got very difficult because of the scandals surrounding the priesthood in this country. here are a few.
It would be idiotic to believe that any of my stability would be present without the grace and love of God. Although my appreciation of the depth of the Father-Son relationship I am called to have with God is still yet unfolding in greater clarity; I have found the solace of hope that comes from a deep set belief that our Father actually does want what is in our best interest. When things have gotten especially difficult or confusing, I knew that I had to hold on for dear life to faith and to the relationship I have with God. Without that relationship, I simply would not be able to operate in any sensible fashion. It is with great anticipation that I look forward to watching that relationship continue to unfold and deepen.
I have also had the benefit of having great mentors. Over the years, I know I have been blessed to have priests who took a personal interest in me and helped me along, even when I was not aware of it, and set a high standard for me to follow. I think of Fr Fred Barnett who opened the door to me to re-enter the seminary and became my champion when things got difficult. I think of Fr Jim Fuemmler and Fr Manus Daly who stood by me when things did not look like I would make it back in. I think of Msgr. Don Lammers, my pastor at my first assignment, who encouraged me to use the gifts God gave me and let me get my sea legs while remaining just close enough in case I fell. I think of the Spiritual Directors I have been blessed to have over the years who guided me along and challenged me when necessary and walked with me (sometimes carrying me) when life got difficult. All of these men made and continue to make me a better priest and I like to think that Fr Barnett prays earnestly for me from heaven.
I have also been blessed to have wonderful friends who have repeatedly opened their homes and lives to me, treating me as family. Many took me in as I went through internship and seminary and were of great support. Many have been parishioners in my assignments over the years who gave me a place to relax and get away from the day to day of being a pastor. They have watched out for me, challenged me, prayed with me and for me, and have been there through illnesses, deaths, and most especially helping me stay steady during the scandals. I have enjoyed the outings, dinners, and chatting. I think of nights like tonight where we had dinner and just shot the breeze in the back yard talking about all kinds of things.
I think also of the array of priest friends I have. Some of these have been my confidants and have allowed me to do the same for them. Others have extended their friendship and made themselves available for me to tap into their wisdom and insight. Some of them have been just there for us to laugh and blow a little appropriate steam. They have been invaluable over the years and of great comfort and spiritual sustenance. They keep me honest and challenge to me a better person, a better priest, a better man, and a better Catholic.
As I sat with the young men of our diocese who are in the seminary, I thought that I could wish for them nothing greater that having this wide array of support and deep and abiding relationships. I pray that they have and answer the call of grace for a deep relationship with God. I pray that they are able to find wise mentors who will take a interest in their well-being. I pray that they have such a wonderful array of lay and priest friends as I have been blessed with over the years. IF any of those seminarians read this, cultivate such relationships; they will your rock. To those who read this who fit into those above groups (and you know who you are), I offer a deep and heartfelt thank you. May God bless you and I hope for the continual opportunities to return the favor of your friendships. I am very blessed indeed because of the numerous people God has placed in my life and in the numerous people in whose lives I have been placed.