Posted by: mmreflections | May 2, 2013

Being Called to Serve April 2013

50TH ANNIVERSARY OF ORDINATION

“I will give fervent thanks to the Lord; before all I will praise my God.”  (Psalm 109:30)

The call of the Lord.  When Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts and calls us to follow him in some way,  our first reaction is often one of discomfort.  This is what we might note in the story of the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel reading.  We see in this account how Jesus approaches the most unlikely woman to help him and  give him a drink of water.  Her first reaction is, “Why me?  You are a Jewish man and I am a Samaritan woman.  Jewish men do not associate with the likes of me, nor do you speak to women in public.”  Jesus response is quick, “If only you knew what I am offering you, you would ask  me for a drink and I would give you living water so that you would never thirst again.”  In the light of Jesus’ Presence, she sees and reveals her deepest secrets about her life style; she recognizes her sins.  Then she gets into a debate with Jesus, trying to get out of the uncomfortable situation.  The end of the story tells us that she hurries back to town, to the very people who had rejected her because of her life style.  She relates to them her experience with the Lord.  They listened to her and came out to meet Jesus and they recognize him as the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.  “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”  (Cfr. John 4:4-42)

When Jesus calls us.  When Jesus calls us to help him in a deeper way, most of us go through a similar experience.  The invitation may come in many different ways and our initial experience will probably be quite similar; we will feel uncomfortable.  This is what we may feel when we hear a Gospel passage or a homily which in some way is challenging for us.  We may become angry and lash out at the bearer of the “good news” presented to us.  Jesus may also be saying to each of us in this moment, “If only you knew what I am offering you, you would drop everything else and follow me.”

           .  When Jesus first calls Peter to follow him,  Peter’s response was, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”  Jesus tells Peter that if he would follow him, he would  make him a “fisher of men” and plans to have this humble fisherman as the head of the Church that Jesus was establishing here on earth.  Peter was to make many serious mistakes even after he began to follow Jesus but Jesus never gave up  on him and brought good out of all his mistakes as he learned what it meant to truly follow Jesus.  He learned that Jesus, himself, would be with him all the way and that the service he would carry out would be Christ at work in him.

              When Jesus called Paul to follow him, it was in a very unique way as well.  He was a most unlikely man to be called since he was persecuting the early Christians.  When Paul began to proclaim the “Good News” of Jesus Christ, he acknowledged he was the most unlikely and unworthy of men to become such a messenger.  In fact he announced that his only credentials were his weaknesses and his sins for he had persecuted the followers of Christ when he was called.

My personal call.  As I have been reflecting on this observance of my 50th Anniversary of Ordination to priestly ministry over the past few weeks, I came to realize how my own vocation unfolded in much the same way.  Fifty years ago my bishop lay his hands on my head and ordained me as a priest of the Catholic Church.  That day I was ordained a priest but I had to learn what it is to be a true and faithful priest over these past 50 years and am still learning.  How did that call unfold?

The troubling thoughts when I first sensed the plan.  My own sins and imperfections troubled me; in my heart I was probably saying the  same words as Peter, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.  I am not worthy to be a priest; I have other plans.  I plan to marry like my brothers and have children of my own.”  But I also heard the words of Jesus, “Whoever leaves father and mother, brothers and sisters, wives and family to follow me will have a hundred times as many fathers and mothers and families in this life and eternal life as well.”  That promise has come true but first there was the struggle to say “Yes!”

The hesitancy to follow the call was to lead me in many directions.  Rather than Seminary I went to college and became a public school teacher.  Happy though I was in my teaching career, the unsettling call kept badgering me.  I became a soldier and learned many new things, learned a great deal about and became friends with my  companions in the military from all walks of life, from different religious background and nationalities and races.  Still the call persisted and I had no peace.  A lyrics of a song that was popular when I was in the military were, “When somebody loves you, it’s no good unless they love you all the way.”  These words had a different meaning for me.  I sensed the Lord was speaking those words to me and referring them to himself.  I was being called to go all the way in spite of all my faults and weaknesses

The positive response finally unfolded after my military career came to an end.  Years in the Seminary preparing and continuing struggles as to whether I was doing the  right thing finally brought me to the moment of ordination and I said “Yes!”  After that sacred moment of ordination there would be great joy but there would be also many days of discouragement, doubts and failures.  Having been ordained a priest, now I had to learn what it really meant to be a priest.

The great lesson:  surrender.  The greatest lesson for me was yet to come.  I had not yet discovered the mystery hidden in priestly service.  I would have to hit bottom and arrive at the moment of brokenness.  That moment came on September 1, 1971 after having been ordained about eight years.  It seemed everything was going wrong for me.  In spite of having just returned a few months earlier from Rome and having completed Graduate School, nothing seemed to be going well for me (at least not in my own way of thinking).  Everything I did seemed to turn out poorly.  I thought it would be best if I resigned from the priesthood.  Much like Peter who after all that Jesus had done for him decided to leave Rome and was walking out of the city along the Appian  Way filled with despair over his failures and problems in the early  Church.  He had given up!  Tradition tells us that Jesus appeared to him as he was leaving and said, “Peter, where are you going?”  “Quo vadis?”  That moment came for me on that September day when I knelt before an icon of Christ and poured out my heart to him, telling him I wanted to quit.  My prayer, “If you want me to leave, I will go and serve you in another way, but if you want me to stay, you must take over my priesthood.”  I finally surrendered to God and asked Him to take over my life and priesthood.  I learned the great mystery.  I was trying to be a priest according to my own plan.  I discovered the priesthood belongs to Christ and we must allow him to work his plans in our lives.  I learned that day that all Jesus was asking of  me was to be the best reflection of his love and mercy to all whom I would meet from that day on.  And I am still learning to do that today after 50 years.

“no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake….who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children….and eternal life in the age to come…” (Cfr. Mark 10:29-30)

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Responses

  1. I remember, all too well, where you were when you knelt in front of that icon of Christ and the details that brought you to that point in your life. I am eternally grateful to our Lord for not permitting you to quit….but to persevere in your committment to serve HIM. Like countless others, I opened my heart to Christ because of YOU and began my own personal journey of faith taking your love, support, and encouragement along with me on the path.

    I thank God for you, Fr. Mike and I celebrate with you! Congratulations on 50 years of faithful service to our Lord through the Holy Priesthood! May He continue to bless you abundantly with peace, health and much happiness!!

    With the love of Christ,
    Amy

  2. Dear Fr. Mike,
    What a beautiful homily, You never fail to inspire me and encourage me to keep on trusting and hoping in Jesus. You brought Dave and I a long, long way. You poured the ‘Light of Jesus” on us.
    God Bless
    Kitty

  3. Dear Fr. Mike,

    Finally I am sitting in front of my computer replying to your beautiful words. I’m sorry that I am so delinquent. Such lovely, soothing words are always a joy to read. And again, congratulatons on your fifty years in your service to our dear Lord. I guess we all need to be reminded that we just need to keep our hearts open to Him, and he is always there.

    Your celebration was lovely, and your words as well as all those others who spoke were inspirational. It was also a joy to meet those friends and relatives in attendance who are so special to you.

    God bless you on your continued journey with Christ and may He grant you many more years of peace, health and happpiness. We are so blessed to have you with us!

    Have a beautiful day.

    Love,
    Andrea


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