I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who agreed to put their names into our drawing for new Pastoral Council members this weekend. Congratulations to those who were also selected. The terms are 3 years with an option to renew a second term before completion. Pastoral Councils are really a representation of members who come from among all our parish members. They are an excellent way to hear the voices of the people and a great vehicle for discussion and decision making. I look forward to meeting our new members and hearing their input as we continue to plan for the future.
“With a child to lead them….” (Isaiah 11:6) With this, comes the last installment of my vocation story. Last week you heard a bit about my ordination day. The ceremony was great, but with my mom in I.C.U. undergoing heart surgery to clear her blockage during my ordination ceremony, my family and I found ourselves running back and forth between the Cathedral of St. Mary’s and the St. Cloud Hospital to see how mom was doing. It was a very busy day of celebration, concern, exhilaration and unrest. At one point in the day, I simply broke down and wondered what this was all about? The good news is that by day’s end mom was doing all right, and I was very thankful for that. Her surgery was a success, and although she had to miss everything and was feeling pretty weak, she was going to get well.
The next day (Sunday) I was scheduled for my First Mass at my home town parish in Paynesville, followed by a parish reception, which was then to be followed by a celebration at our family farm complete with a large tent, a keg of beer, an outdoor grill, picnic tables, for all the relatives, friends, neighbors and seminary friends and staff. My family decided that even without mom, the celebrations should go on. Thank God for our good neighbors who all pitched in to help with the food, refreshments and clean-up! Everybody showed up and the day went great! Even the weather was wonderful. With mom still in recovery my father eventually went back to St. Cloud hospital to spend time with her. By that evening I was exhausted, and yet grateful for what had transpired. As that Sunday evening was coming to an end, it was time to open cards and presents. People were very generous with their thoughts, gifts and prayers. Mom and dad gave me the chalice that I still use today, one they had bought for the occasion, a tradition that I believe, goes back a ways. Yet, of all the gifts I received, none compared to the one, simple gift my brother, Ray, had wrapped. It was the last gift. When I opened it, what I discovered was a small picture frame with an old, crumpled piece of paper matted in the center of it. On the frame my brother Ray, wrote: “LeRoy, when you were seven years old, you told me that you were going to be a priest. I told you to put it in writing and you did!” Inside that frame and on that crumpled piece of paper was a child’s handwriting on it, scribbled by a second grade boy many years ago. It said, “I am going to be a prest!” (Notice the incorrect spelling.) It was signed “LeRoy.”
Truth is, this happened so long ago, I had really forgotten about it, and yet Ray saved it all those years. He framed it and gave it to me as his gift. Turns out that priesthood actually did enter my mind even as a child! I have little recollection of this, but it was my handwriting all right! As my brother told the tales it slowly came back to mind. Story goes one day after my First Holy Communion I was running around the house yelling, “I am going to be a priest! I am going to be a priest!” My brother got so sick and tired of hearing me say that, he made me write it down. I did, but would not sign it. So, he chased me around the house, wrestled me down, and sat on me until I did.
I wrote my name fast, sloppy and hard just to get him off my back. He rewrote my name more clearly beside mine, hence the two signatures with “LeRoy” on it. My brother saved it, this thinking that on my wedding day he would give it to me as a practical joke! He never imagined that it would actually happen. Neither did I! Well, the joke was on him!
Who would have thought that the simple words of a child would be the greatest gift I ever got from my brother, or from God for that matter. I see it as still another sign given to me that said, “Yes, even with all the struggles and doubt, with all the confusion and fear, all the disappointments and setbacks mixed with wonder and joy, God was somehow at work in my life and leading me all along, I wasn’t crazy for doing this after all! This was part of God’s design.
I think God calls each of us in different and somewhat mysterious ways, even in ways we least expect. It may not be the way we want, but it is probably the best.. Ultimately it’s a call to lay down our life for someone or something other than ourself. The question is: Can we or and will we answer that call? Will we follow where Jesus goes, even to the cross? It reminds me of the Gospel story in John (Ch. 21) where the risen Lord appeared to Peter and the few of the other disciples on the shores of Galilee after He had been risen from the dead. Peter and the disciples had been fishing all night but had caught nothing. Then, along comes Jesus who tells them to cast their nets on the other side. (Sound familiar? Like Fr. Kloeckner’s letter and the plaque I discovered in Alaska?) When they did cast their nets, they caught a huge amount of fish! Once pulled to shore, Jesus already had a fire started with fish on it and He invited them to come and eat. Then Jesus said something very important to Simon Peter. He said, “…As a young man you fastened your own belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will…” Over the course of time, I lost all I had ever planned for myself, only to discover myself in a new and wonderful way in God. Maybe this is what our calling and vocation is about. It is about living with a purpose and meaning that is not our own but God’s. And yet, it is the Lord who leads us; we are not alone! We are never alone!
Having been a priest for some 27 years now, I can say I have no regrets. Challenges—yes but not regrets. Good days—yes! Hard days—of course but then again, every life has that. Being a priest still remains the most challenging thing I could ever imagine doing with my life, but it is also the most rewarding and the most meaningful thing I could do with my life! Over the course of the years, I have met more wonderful, faith-filled people that I could have ever met had I chosen another path. These people both inspire and help! Each day as my vocation unfolds, I still discover new things, only without all the resistance and doubt. I am driven forward, not back, and it seems that Jesus and the Holy Spirit give me whatever it is I need for those moments when I feel tired or fearful or challenged beyond myself. I think everyone goes through stages and changes in their life in unexpected ways. I also believe that it is “in between the lines” that God does his greatest work. This said, I encourage everyone to follow their call, whatever it may be! In doing so myself, I have learned to let go of a lot, but not compromise on the important things, especially when it comes to the cost of love. I’ve learned to try to be open, to remain honest and truthful with God and with myself which is the best way to live. By doing so, God will lead us along the way. I’ve learned to laugh, and remember that no matter what, it is all worthwhile! I’ve learned that when we look with our Spiritual eyes open, God will show us the signs to stay the course and remain on the right path. “I hope you can point to some of these signs yourself!” I’ve learned to let things unfold, and I believe that the rewards will come. And like Mother Mary I’ve learned to be a person of prayer who reflects on God and my life. I’ve learned not to let any moments slip by without being thankful. And finally, I’ve learned that life offers very few guarantees, not even a guarantee for myself, but with faith and with the Sacraments, Jesus does guarantee Himself for us.
Today, I keep both the plaque that was staring me in the face in Alaska and the framed piece of paper in my office, and I look at it every day. They are printed in this week’s bulletin if you want to look. By the way, the 28th anniversary of my ordination is June 1st. It was the weekend of Corpus Christi back then, and so here I am today. And, as Paul Harvey would say….”Now you know the rest of the story. Have a good day.” Amen!