As we close the Easter season with the Feast of Pentecost, please do not underestimate your ability to be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God—the Advocate as Jesus says in John’s Gospel—wants us to ask for the Spirit’s help. The Holy Spirit unites to our spirit to strengthen us, to confirm a decision we need to make, to create a sense of sadness or remorse for what we have done wrong, if we only learn to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and take time in prayer to discern how the Spirit is guiding us. In my vocation story that I have been telling these past few weeks, you will see that I truly believe the Spirit of God has helped me discern when and what each of my assignments as a priest should be. There is a power in such Spirit-guided decision-making. It does not mean everything will go smoothly, but it does mean that whatever we face, knowing that God’s Spirit has guided us there, we need to trust that the grace of God will be at work.
*Tuesday Early Morning Mass Will Be Ending
At the end of June, our Tuesday early morning Mass (6:45 a.m.) will be coming to an end. For many years it was celebrated five days a week, because there was always a priest available like Fr. Doherty, Fr. Yost, Fr. Welch or one of the associate pastors. When such help became less certain, I changed the schedule to three days a week, taking two of the Masses myself and counting on Fr. Yost to do the third. When Covid hit us two years ago, we had to reduce it to just the one Mass per week. The typical attendance at the Mass is 6-8 people, not all from the parish. I would like to be able to celebrate Mass more often at Samaritas, as well as be available to support my brother priests, as we enter our Family of Parishes in July. For these reasons, we will no longer be scheduling that 6:45 a.m. Tuesday Mass. If you have already arranged for an intention at the Mass beyond this month, we will be calling you to reschedule to a different Mass. The two closest options for participation in an early morning weekday Mass are St. Hugo at 6:10 a.m. and Shrine at 6:30 a.m.
I want to thank Bob Zafarana for thirty-eight years of extraordinary dedication and care connected to the Tuesday 6:45 a.m. Mass. Bob opens the church and chapel, acts as both the sacristan, altar server, and lector as well when needed. Without his dedication this Mass would never have survived as long as it has. Thank you so much!
*My Vocation Story (continued)
This weekend, throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit, we are launching a “Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations.” I have been asked to share my vocation story. I have been doing so, beginning with the May 9 bulletin.
Before any ordination (deacon, priest, bishop) the candidate takes a retreat, both as a way to prepare for the ordination and as a final discernment confirming the step one is about to take. In my deacon retreat, I can remember struggling a bit with the permanence of the decision to be ordained. Yes, people can leave priesthood, if necessary. One does not enter into ordination (or marriage or any life-defining commitment) with a sense of “trying it out for awhile.” If I were to get ordained, I wanted to be in this for the duration. Or else, why do it? I remember a windy, cold night prior to ordination as a deacon where I took a walk outside in a snowstorm and felt a bit overwhelmed by the permanence of the decision and the perceived obligations that came with that. I plopped myself down on the ground, protected by some bushes, pulled the winter parka over my face, and wondered aloud (to God) just how I would be able to do this.
No dramatic epiphany ensued. Just a cold rear end from sitting on the ground too long (!), but also a sense that I was missing the basic point. I had no real doubt that I should be ordained: it felt right; it made rational sense; it would be good for me to be ordained; I would be good for the people of God, if I were ordained. Yes, it was a life-long commitment with various requirements attached (like a promise of obedience to the bishop and a promise of celibacy). My decision needed to embrace that aspect, but all I could do at the moment—at any moment really—was make the best present decision and deal with the consequences. And, so I did. I was ordained a deacon on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1979 and ordained a priest on June 21, 1980.
One thing I learned from that pre-ordination experience is the importance of making the decision daily to be a priest. Yes, I made a life-long commitment nearly forty-two years ago, but that lifelong commitment needs to be re-affirmed every day, doesn’t it? It is true of marriage. It is true of our baptism and our identity as Christians. All mark us permanently in some way, but they can only be lived one moment, one day at a time. It helps me approach each liturgy as though it is the first and only one I will be celebrating. It helps me remember that this funeral, this visit to the sick, this priestly prayer, or act of service is unique to the moment. I often joke with close friends that I have yet to
decide what I really want to be when I grow up, because I am deciding each day. In the meantime, each day, it seems right and good for me to be a priest, within the context of having already committed the rest of my life to being a priest.
My first assignment at St. William in Walled Lake was a one year assignment, which was true of all newly ordained deacons in my class. The idea was that we could “learn the ropes” and ease into parish ministry without worrying about any mistakes made, since we would be re-assigned after one year! We could spend the whole year as a deacon and then be ordained priest and re-assigned. Or, we could spend six months as a deacon, be ordained a priest, and then serve six months as a priest in that same assignment. I chose the latter, figuring it would be best to have a chance to “practice” being a priest, before being assigned on a longer term basis somewhere.
My first full assignment was to St. Christopher Parish in Detroit. Knowing it would be for at least three and possibly four years, and being the first full one, I threw myself into it completely: getting involved in everything possible, attending all meetings of groups, getting to know the children and school families, meeting parishioners in their homes, and so forth. Then a call came from Bishop Gumbleton, when I was only eleven months into the assignment and really enjoying it, that I needed to leave St. Christopher and become the full-time chaplain at Bishop Borgess High School. It was like a punch in the gut. Wait a minute! I thought I had time to develop relationships here at the parish for a few more years. I did not ask to be a high school chaplain, and I loved the variety of people and ages at the parish. But that is diocesan priesthood—ordained not for one parish alone, but for the needs of the Church of the whole Archdiocese. Of course, I am always one who believes true wisdom comes from discernment only if one is honest with oneself and others who are trying to make decisions. I told the bishop I thought it was a mistake to assign me full-time as a high school chaplain; and it would be better to be half associate pastor at the parish and half chaplain. We ended up settling on 3/4 chaplain and 1/4 associate pastor which really meant full-time chaplain and full-time associate pastor! I continued to learn much about parish ministry from my pastors (Fr. Ed Ritter and then Fr. Terry Kerner) and found myself stretched outside my usual comfort zone (that’s a good thing) in dealing with the students and faculty at the high school.
In my third year at the high school (fourth at the parish), I wanted to pursue some more theological studies. It was always a passion of mine and I thought I could be an asset as a theology teacher/professor. So, I contacted Archbishop Szoka and asked about the possibility of being sent for further studies. He said that would be fine, that I should study canon law. I thought and prayed about it and knew that would not be a good fit for me. I said that, if I were to go study, it would only make sense to do so in theology. He said that it was either canon law or nothing. I said “Then nothing it is.” Disappointed somewhat, I knew in my gut that canon law was not right for me, and I was quite happy in parish ministry. A month later I got a call from the Archbishop’s secretary saying that they were sending me for further studies in theology, starting that fall.
I enrolled at K.U. Leuven (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium), lived at the American College there, and took courses toward a licentiate in sacred theology. It is a degree sort of between a masters and a doctorate. What those two years did for me was to solidify my whole outlook on life and allowed me the time to develop a very strong and deep theological understanding of the Church, of Christ, and of God. Every homily I give and every article I write in some way reflects an aspect of that time in Belgium. I spent one summer living with a family in a small town in Germany in order to re-acquaint myself with the German language (so I could use it for reading in theology). I was able to fill in for a few weeks for the local parish priest, celebrating Mass in German, giving homilies (which I first would give to the children of the house to see if they made sense), and hearing confessions. The experienced stretched me to the limit at times, but it was so worthwhile.
I had been given permission to spend four years away from the diocese in order to get the doctorate, but as my licentiate was coming to a conclusion, I made a decision to end studies at the licentiate level. I felt that committing to a doctorate was committing to entering the academic arena nearly exclusively which I did not want to do. The licentiate essentially certifies you as capable of teaching authentic Catholic theology at any level. This was especially true at Leuven, which insisted a student become competent in biblical studies, church history, moral theology and dogmatic theology, and for me that was sufficient.
Back in ministry in Detroit I was assigned to Orchard Lake’s SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, which trained Polish-born seminarians for ministry in the United States. I taught there for four years, teaching moral and systematic theology. I asked, however, to live not on the campus but at a parish, and so I lived in the rectory at Our Lady of Refuge with the pastor, Fr. Bill Murphy. You can see from what I have written above, that one of the recurrent themes throughout my diocesan priesthood is that I both desire, need, and have found community at the parish level. Each time that happens, it strongly reaffirms the commitment I made to diocesan priesthood. In that sense, every parish has had a role in strengthening my vocation as a priest, including, of course, St. Regis Parish. More next time.