Thursday, November 12, 2009
Say Something Nice About a Priest Meme
Cathy tagged me for this Meme, the purpose of which is very simple: say something nice about a Priest!
The only problem I have with this is that I am blessed to know several priests who have touched my life and have brought me closer to Christ. I have so many priests I'd like to thank, including those I consider to be good friends.
So where do I begin?
I've written before of the unknown priest who heard a very difficult Confession. I've written of the one who anointed my Mom a couple years ago when we thought we were losing her during our Deathwatch Advent.
Maybe the best thing to do is honor the priests I know through recognition of the unsung and very hidden things they do; the simple things that perhaps mean more than any of us can understand. And in this case, I have to honor three priests, for the trilogy of them did the very same things for me, and at the same time. Clearly, I'm such a difficult case that one was simply not enough for the task! Or was this perhaps just a reflection of the Trinity found in a triangulation of good priests?
A few years ago several things were converging at the same time: I was called to teach RCIA, a very new experience, and I was applying to Graduate School. It was perhaps a 9-month period of time during which all of this occurred, and it was all related.
When I looked over the materials for the Catholic Studies program at the University of St. Thomas, I saw that they were looking for recommendations from professors, but would accept that of priests if we had been out of school for a long time. I immediately approached two priests at my parish; my Pastor and one of the Associates. In all honesty, I didn't think either of them knew me well enough to write a recommendation, but I told both that I would answer any questions they had and provide any information required even to make a decision!
My Pastor simply told me to provide him with the form and he would return it in the provided envelope. The Associate asked me to come into his office so he could get a little more of my background and intentions, including my desire to teach RCIA that year. Up to that point, I really hadn't done much for my parish so had a very short resume as it applied to the Church, except for my "ministry" in Jr. High and High School. As an adult...NUTHIN'! But in the end he accepted the recommendation form, feeling he could answer their questions honestly. I was grateful.
In the meantime I began teaching RCIA. Enter the other Associate, who, upon realizing how nervous I was about my first foray into formal catechesis of others asked if it would help to meet with him and talk over the lesson I was planning. I accepted his invitation gratefully and found there an ally and a friend. He gave me some good tips on teaching in general, and, although he couldn't attend the first big talk I gave, he came into the classroom at the end to heckle me and see how it had gone. In fact, he entered the room with the other Associate who also had known how nervous I was and also wanted to provide a little support.
Later that fall, after Thanksgiving, I found that I was accepted by St. Thomas as a "special student", meaning I I could not qualify for financial aid. Given the cost of classes at St. Thomas, I could not afford to go, and sadly informed my references of the good news...but that I had to delay. I was looking into all my options.
That's when, at a fledgling Theology on Tap evening, Fr. W., my biggest RCIA supporter, upon learning my news told me about Ave Maria University, recommended the program and said he had brochures in his office. He knew they were offering a class beginning in February and suggested I look into it. Another person there, an acquaintance of mine, told me more about it and that he was looking into it as well, although he was in the Catholic Studies program at St. Thomas already. We discussed the two programs, and I realized that Ave Maria was truly was I was looking for. Had Father W. not mentioned it...who knows where I would be?
I picked up the brochure the next day and solidified my intention: I took that one class, the Writings of John Paul II as a special student, but was able to pay for the tuition out of pocket. In the meantime I was conferring with my Pastor, who also knew of my financial problems with UST, supported my looking into Ave Maria, and was familiar my agony over whether to apply there or not. I found that I might qualify for a scholarship...so much to consider!
And in all this time, I was teaching RCIA, with my Pastor, the other Associate Fr. H. occasionally present either to hear my reflections on the upcoming readings or my catechesis on the topic for the evening, depending on what was assigned for that night. I found them always to be helpful, supportive, and given it was my first year teaching, found it significant that at no point did either of them ever stand up and with a pointing finger yell out "HERETIC!" Nor did they accuse me of such in private.
It was a great help to know I was not a heretic or teaching heresy!
(Although Fr. H., upon a discussion as to which one of us was going to give the teaching on Sin, suggested I do so because, as he said, "You were a much bigger sinner than I was." Thanks, Father!)
And yes, I gave the teaching, and yes, Father would have been better at it even though it's probably true that I was the bigger sinner!
Our Pastor, although not as prone to the same kind of humor, like Fr. H. was always available for my questions as I prepared for the classes or had my own to ask. Just as surely as I was trying to form the (sorry, but true) largely uncatechized Sponsors, Catechumens, and Candidates, the Fathers were forming me. All three of them. It was that big of a job.
That spring I decided to apply to Ave Maria University formally, to be accepted into the Institute for Pastoral Theology. Once again I went to my Pastor and Fr. H., the same two who had written on my behalf to the University of St. Thomas. And once again, they agreed to help. I felt guilty; I knew I was giving them more work, and already they were stretched so thin, and I had delayed in my decision, leaving a deadline closer than should be comfortable. Both, within a couple days, either returned the sealed envelopes or sent them on directly (I forget which), and as I checked the box on the form agreed that what they said would remain confidential, to this day I have NO IDEA what they said about me, either for UST or Ave Maria. And because I agreed to confidentiality in their responses about me, I have not asked any of them about the content of their letters.
All I know is that I was accepted to BOTH programs, and I didn't do it on my own merit, but also that of the Priests who supported me without question. None of them questioned why I wanted to pursue the degree or what I ultimately wanted to do with it. They understood that I was seeking holiness, had a thirst for knowledge, and even though, really, maybe they should have hesitated in offering a recommendation on my behalf not even knowing what kind of STUDENT I was, they stuck their own necks out for my good, probably hoping for the full good of the Church.
I hope and pray I can live up to their expectations.
When I sit in class, I remember the priests who helped me get there. That includes the one who didn't write a letter, but first told me about the program and gave me the brochure. I can't write about this process without including him...he was instrumental.
Three Priests. Three of them.
Two of those Priests, the same two that wrote me letters for grad school, also served as references for my current job in another parish. True to the Mission of the Church, they formed me and sent me on, beyond the walls of our own parish, entrusting me not only to their own pastoral care, but that of the grad school they helped me to enter, and sending me to carry on the work of Christ in another place.
I am not very active in my own parish right now because my work in another and my grad studies take me away. But it is home, even though those same Associates aren't there any more, having moved on themselves. I see them occasionally and owe one of them an email. Our Pastor is still there, and sometimes asks me how classes and my job are going.
You can see why I had to mention all three priests here, if not by name. You can see how they all worked together to help this poor soul get to where she is now: still a poor soul, but one now in her last year of grad school and considering more.
It is definitely a relationship of trust, for I knew I could go to them for help, and even though they MUST have seen me as a risk to their own reputations, they offered what they could on my behalf. I am a different person now, in many ways. I could not have entered this program without them, for I had nowhere else to go. They gave me experience and helped me to develop skills. They offered support for further education, and, like Jesus, considered that their risk was worth it.
I pray that, in the end, if, God willing, I finally earn this degree (graduation in June 2010!), my effort will justify their risk, and I pray that everything I do in the future helps them to earn merit for eternity.
Thank you, Fathers, first for laying down your own lives for us all, but more personally:
* For your example of Faith in Christ, every single day, constantly
* Your example of Him to me personally, in the Sacraments (esp of Confession!), and in meeting with me when I've had questions
* Your (seeming) unquestioning support and trust in my endeavors
* Being a true Spiritual Father in something small and hidden but which, for this particular soul, means the world, and might mean Eternity.
Thank you, Fathers. God bless you. I pray for you every day: it's the least I can do.
Your Spiritual Daughter
This is such a great Meme, and although maybe it would be proper to tag 33 in honor of the years of Christ on earth, maybe I should actually stick with the rules for once and tag only 3. So I tag:
Fr. Schnippel (Priests aren't formed in a vacuum....)
I encourage you all to remain obedient to the Meme, to honor "a Priest", but if you have to honor a few who worked together...I look forward to reading what you have to say! :-)