Last month was one of the most difficult times in my priesthood, and, for that matter, my entire life. When word came to us that Bishop Dave O’Connell had been brutally murdered in his private residence, we were all shocked with unbelief. How could this happen to him? How could it happen to anyone? This was certainly not the will of God!
Yes, a suspect has been apprehended, and he has confessed to the crime, but we still do not know what the motive was. We may never know. It is all so baffling.
But I wanted to write this article to thank each of you for your phone calls, your emails, your sympathy cards, and the compassionate words that so many of you shared with me while you were on your way into or out of Mass. Believe me, your support means so much to me!
Priests are encouraged to be there for others when they are suffering. We are there to listen, to provide compassion, and to walk with our flock, especially in their most difficult times. In the Seminary they taught us, “Do not feel that you have to have an answer for everything that happens. Sometimes it is best to just be present to the person who is suffering.” And, don’t make things worse by saying, “I know just how you feel.” Even if we have been through a similar situation, we never know exactly how someone else is feeling. As priests, we are called to minister to those who need us the most, often in the worst of circumstances.
Last month the tables were turned. You, the parishioners of Saint Margaret Mary, were the ones who ministered to me. I lost a good friend who invited me to join his Priests Support Group seventeen years ago, at a time when I really needed the support of my brother priests. Our Archdiocese lost someone whose life was based on prayer, and helping others grow closer to our Lord and Savior. And Bishop Dave’s family lost a brother, an uncle, and a loved one. I can only imagine how they are feeling.
Last Saturday I led a liturgy in the Saint Joseph Center for the students who are part of our Religious Education Program for Special Needs Children. The Gospel was the story of Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman at the well and asking her for water. As we recall, Jesus then offered her the life-giving water that only He can provide. As I was trying to figure out how to make this story relevant to these special children, it dawned on me that I should use the same approach that I used in my homilies at the Sunday Masses. No matter how thirsty we are, no matter how discouraged we are, or no matter how anxious or lonely we may feel, Jesus is there for us with that life-giving water that nourishes us each day. And that is the essence of our faith.
At the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, April 8th, seven adults will be received into the Catholic Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. In addition to the seven adults, sixteen children will also receive the life-giving water that we receive in Baptism and receive their First Holy Communion. This, my brothers, and sisters, is why we recognize our call to go to the proverbial well, to seek that lifegiving water, and to have a personal encounter with our Lord and Savior. Then we go forth, remembering that we are all God’s children, even in the most difficult times of our lives.
During these last couple of weeks of Lent, let us ask the Lord for the guidance to reach out to someone who is hurting. Someone who is truly in need of some support, some compassion, and some encouragement. And, if you don’t know what to say, remember the words of Saint Francis: “Preach the Gospel every day, and use words only when necessary!”
May the Lord continue to bless us always and in all ways,