Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.
The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.
That did not happen.
As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.
The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.
Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.
Continue reading “The Church Showed Up Again”
“To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”
1 Corinthians 9:22-23
Be all things to all people. That is a tall order. An impossible order, I suppose. There will always be a way that you fall short or don’t live the way someone expects or wants you to live. Yet I saw this “all things to all” being lived out in a beautiful way.
We celebrated a large Mass with all of the Catholic students of our diocese. In the thirty minutes following Mass, I watched the eager crowds of children gradually disperse. While they waited, I watched my parish priest as he made his rounds. He stopped by the section where students from his previous parish were seated. A large group of them began to wave excitedly. To them, he was a star and they were excited to see him again after his absence. After a few minutes of talking to students and teachers, he migrated to his current parish and greeted the children. I kept waiting for him to walk away, but he didn’t. One-by-one as the students left their rows to go to the bus, he greeted them. Some wanted a high-five, others wanted a hug, and some simply waved.
It was beautiful to watch them each pass under his fatherly gaze, often accompanied by a pat on the head or shoulder and always a smile. This is not the first time I have been amazed by his fatherly care. During his homilies at Mass, it is easy to get that sense that he is our spiritual father. Yet the way he lives it out does not remain simply spiritual. It is not just in prayers and sacrifices that he seeks to be our father. Rather, he greets the people of his parish and goes to their homes. His heart is filled with a tender fatherly love for his children, some of them biologically older then him.
My experience with priests has led to me to harbor a deep love for them. While I would not relate to all of them in a fatherly way, I have found many who are living out the call to encounter people where they are “for the sake of the gospel” in order to “have a share in it” also. The priest who instructed my summers of Totus Tuus also lived out the role of a father. We were primarily young college students and he laughed with us, taught us, and loved us. At the end of the first summer, he thanked us for “calling out the fatherhood” in him.
For all of the things that the secular media says about the institution of the priesthood and all the ways it seeks to change it, I am inspired to continually meet young, holy priests (or not-young, holy priests) who have sacrificed having their own families so as to welcome an entire parish as a family. Regardless of your upbringing and family background, in the beauty of the Catholic Church, everyone has a father who reveals to us, in part, the person of God the Father.