It was about dawn on a summer morning in the foothills of Pennsylvania when I decided to stroll along the summit of the beautiful mountains, which beckon to me daily as I walk while meditating. The sky was cloudless and there were felt gentle breezes upon my face, as I wiped away the drops of perspiration produced from a five mile walk across the open bluff of the mountain retreat where I was staying. The prediction of a very humid and blustery type of weather for the remainder of the week was not my concern. However, the thoughts of not returning to the city in about a week intrigued me to the point of staying here for an undetermined length of time.
The trip this summer was about to open before me a choice that I had wrestled with after 20 years in the priesthood. Questions that should never become a consideration were now haunting my faith and the dilemma of “was I really being useful doing the Lord’s work, and was this vocation a true calling from God?”
Our class was not too large and the day of Ordination touched my senses so deeply that I was certain this would be my true answer to serve God and His Church. Over the past 20 years my assignments were good, but not all like I had expected. However, my promise of obedience to my bishop, and the ominous responsibility to the people in the parishes I was sent, never interfered with the ministry of the Priesthood, and my acceptance to serve.
As with many people, with their own chosen vocation in life, there were in my own walk the thoughts of why had I not looked at all the options before me when I decided to enter the Seminary. There were of course many friends and my very religious family who encouraged me through the days of education and finally the time in the seminary. These alone convinced me that the choice was a good step and of course the early days as a young boy when I played priest became an inspiration for my future life.
Is doubt a sin? When we get mixed thoughts of doing that which appears to be the choice we made compared to other avenues available to us as we matured our minds can quickly be filled with questions that may very well insert doubts to our thinking, and suddenly present a need to redirect our path in life, even after a number of years, that proved to be useful.
This trip, in the peaceful mountain area of the State I have always been enamored with, will give me time to reflect on my current dilemma and converse with God’s Holy Spirit in the silence of His Presence. The one thing I learned as a priest is that if God calls us to any particular vocation, He will never leave us on our own and will be there each waking moment, never leaving our side.
Feeling the warm, but breezy winds that encompassed my face and warmed my body, I stretched out along the bluff; my eyes became heavy and I drifted into a peaceful sleep. As my mind began to allow my consciousness to drift into a REM sleep, the images of my past ministry began to open visions of activity that I must have stored away for a future time.
I remembered her as a middle-aged woman who suddenly lost her husband to a debilitating disease and left her with three children to care for and raise, on very little income. Her life was not just a struggle with finances but two of the children were dealing with drugs and other teen-age problems that became a daily challenge. Most of my spare moments were involved in getting these two the proper counseling, directing her to the St. Vincent DePaul Society for the help they could provide, and redirecting the family back to the Sacraments, and guiding the teens to be Confirmed.
Joe was a young man with a very good position at his place of employment, had a very good relationship with his wife, and their children were at the top of their respective classes in school. They appeared to be the typical American family with no problems. Wrong; Joe was a closet Alcoholic and did very well concealing it. However, it didn’t take long before the lying and manipulation, familiar with this addiction, surfaced and the once American family symbolism quickly fell apart. I spent many evenings working with Joe and finding a counselor that would work with him. It took many months but, as I left for another parish assignment, Joe’s family came back together, at least for the time I was there.
Our parish CCD program, in the new assignment I was sent to, struggled finding qualified instructors, and since we were on the far fringes of the diocese, the choices were limited. However myself and a couple of qualified and dedicated parishioners put together a program that eventually got the attention of the bishop and we were soon excelling in our RCIA and CCD programs.
My dream was interrupted by the eruption of loud noises birds can sometimes emit from their beaks. I sat up and began to reminisce over what I had just dreamed. The middle-aged woman who couldn’t thank me enough for what I had done for her. Joe, the almost hopeless and helpless alcoholic who found new meaning for himself and his family, and the latest parish CCD program that appeared as if it was going to fall into disrepair; becoming viable, at last. At the time each event was just another day at the office, so to speak LOL. But, isn’t that what I was ordained to do? Yes, Sacraments, the Eucharist, Reconciliation, Marriages and Funerals were all part of a larger scheme. But the real essence was in the parish, with people’s problems and God’s emissary - the Priest - being there for the flock.
No longer was there a question of doubt. Isn’t it wonderful what a peaceful moment of sleep can accomplish? My answer wasn’t in my usefulness; it was in the people I serve!
This story is a fictional expose of what anyone in Holy Orders may encounter, and some do find the reason to glory in their choice as an ordained cleric of the Roman Catholic Church.