My first full weekend as a priest I had the pleasure of returning to one of the parishes where I had been assigned as a seminarian. Here’s what I had to say to them.
How wonderful it is for me to return here to Owensville on my first full weekend as a priest!
I have so many great memories and stories from my time here in Owensville and Belle.
Whether it was playing softball on Wednesday nights, participating the the county BBQ contest at the last minute, while borrowing the rectory grill, getting covered in mud at the demolition derby, helping out in the ice cream stand at the fair and so many other wonderful memories. I am so grateful you all were so welcoming and allowed me to do “normal” things and have a lot of fun too.
You could have rejected me as some sort of stranger who lives in Rome, with parents from New Jersey. Instead you welcomed me into your homes and lives.
In a sense you didn’t struggle like the disciples in today’s gospel.
When Jesus got up to speak, they were confused because they remember him as the little boy, the one who played in town, worked in the carpentry shop, no maybe not softball and BBQ, but the “normal” stuff for folks in his time and place.
They are shocked by his “normalness.” Maybe some of you were too, as I remember that I was one of the first, if not only seminarian ever to come here. However, you all got over that pretty quickly in order to welcome me so graciously.
If nothing else, one of the lessons I hope you all took away from my last visit here, it’s that priests can be somewhat normal too.
Even more, that means that before they were priests, they came from everyday families who did everyday things.
So when we start asking ourselves? Where will we find new priests? The answer is not that they come in a nice box, or they don’t fall down out of the sky. No we grow up in families, we have our struggles and failures, but through all of that God still calls.
The task for all of you, your homework if you will, is to be attentive, to be courageous, and to be open.
Be attentive to the community around you. Do you notice any young men who you think might be good priests? Or women who might make good sisters? They don’t have to be perfect, look for those who are joyful, enjoy helping others, seem to be interested in the Church and their faith.
Be courageous. Once you identify someone, don’t just keep it to yourself, be courageous and ask them if they’ve considered being a priest of nun? I remember when I was in high school, a priest was visiting, I was serving the Mass. Before Mass he asked me, “So what are you going to do when you get bigger?” I responded, “Hit harder. Block better.” He asked again, so I responded, “Be a better football player.” Again, “Maybe start this year?” Finally, he said, “what about being a priest?” I laughed at him and walked away. But look at me now. I bet you he’s laughing even more. So if you are courageous and you do ask, don’t be discouraged if the person you ask doesn’t start jumping for joy. These things take time, you never know what will happen if you plant a seed.
Be open. I’d like to address this last one to two groups separately. First to the parents, be open to the idea of your child being a priest or nun. You might have reservations and worries about what will happen to your child, or not having grandchildren. Those are normal concerns, but when you get past them, you will see all the blessings bestowed on your life because of your openness. When I first entered, it wasn’t always easy for my parents. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I watched my mother cry tears of joye this last week.
Secondly, To the young people in the young people here today, many of you I met a few years ago. Be open too. Be open to whatever it is that God has planned for your life. Many of you are probably thinking right now, he’s not talking to me? He can’t be? I’ve got this or that problem or weakness? In today’s second reading Paul says that when we are weak we are strong. You probably think, “I’m not worthy.” There’s someone else who is better. Here’s a news flash, neither am I. It is only God who calls us and makes us worthy, he gives us all the graces we need. Not too long ago, I was in your shoes, sitting right there in the pew, I never could have imagined I’d be up here a priest one day. But it happened. So I ask, that if the thought comes to your mind, “What if I’m called to be a priest or nun?” Or, if someone else asks you, don’t laugh at them, be open and think and pray about what God is calling you to do.
Since I said yes, and entered seminary I’ve been blessed to meet so many wonderful people, go lots of places and have such joyful experiences, people like all of you, places like this wonderful town and well, you know the experiences. Thank you for helping me on my journey. As you continue on yours I only ask that you continue to be attentive, be courageous, and be open.