Sunday, April 2, 2017

A PRIEST'S THANKSGIVING

Homily for April 3rd, 2017: John 8:1-11.


          The girl caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Jesus may well have been a teenager. She knew the prescribed punishment (imposed only on women): death by stoning. How terrified she must have been. And when, at the end of this terrible story, all her accusers have slipped away and she hears Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more,” how grateful she must have been.


I have personal reasons for gratitude no less than hers. Sixty three years ago I knelt before a bishop to be ordained a priest in the Church of God. It was the fulfillment of the dream I had had, without a single interruption, from age twelve. Only a dream? No, I had it in writing.  Required by my high school English teacher to write an essay about “What I expect to be doing in 25 years,” I wrote about being a priest. I told my classmates about it, so from age 12 I have been called “Father.” I entered seminary eight years later not to “discern a vocation,” (something I would not hear about for another quarter century), but because I was told that was what I must do to get ordained.


Have every one of the sixty-three years since then been happy? Of course not. That does not happen in any life. All of us must travel at some time another through the psalmist’s dark valley. For seven years, 1974 to 1981, I was without assignment and unemployed. Resident in St. Louis but subject to a bishop in Germany, I was like an Army officer who has got detached from his regiment. The clerical system did not know what to do with me. Those years were hard, and terribly lonely. I survived only by prayer. And there have been other hard years as well. 


         If you were to ask me, however, whether I have ever regretted my decision for priesthood, I would reply at once: Never, not one single day. I’ll say it another way. If I had my life to live over again, knowing in advance all the hard and difficult years which lay ahead, would I still choose priesthood? In a heartbeat! I would change just one thing: I would try to be more faithful.  


            Priesthood has brought me pain and sorrow, yes. But it has also brought me joys beyond telling. Those joys are the reason why I say every day, more times than I can tell you: “Lord, you’re so good to me, and I’m so grateful.”                     


          The greatest joy is the privilege, beyond any man’s deserving, of standing at the altar day by day to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper, to “Do this in my memory.” Celebrating Mass was wonderful the first time I did it sixty-three years ago. It is, if possible, even more wonderful today. My prayer today and every day, starting on my 75th birthday, fourteen years ago, is twofold:


That the years which remain to me may belong ever more completely to the Lord God; and -
          For a happy and a holy death.


          I close with a prayer composed by the great 19th century English convert, now Blessed John Henry Newman, at the end of his long life a cardinal, which has been dear to me since childhood.


Support us, O Lord, all the day long; until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.