Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Over the course of a few days last week, I undeservedly received some powerful graces. It began on Thursday evening, when in the midst of Elsa’s rainfall, I had dinner with one of my high school religion teachers. He was one of the first people to ask me if I had ever considered the priesthood. Over a meal I had the chance to see the depth of his faith and receive some needed encouragement. It is over twenty years since I sat in his classroom and the student-teacher dynamic has evolved into a genuine friendship. That evening I went home very grateful for his courage all those years ago when he invited me to discern a vocation to the priesthood, and grateful for his constant support in the years that have followed. The next day, I met with a family who I was privileged to assist in their journey into the Catholic Church. They are eager to serve and grow in their faith, and I am inspired by their sincerity, zeal, and virtue. I saw also how my teacher’s vocational encouragement to me decades ago was a remote cause to conversion and grace for others.
Last weekend, this Catholic family tree became clearer right before my eyes. On Saturday, I baptized the son of a couple whose wedding I witnessed last year. I have known these young parents since they were high school students (and they claim I introduced them, though I don’t recall the moment). It has been a privilege to be part of their growth in faith, to see them embrace their vocation to marriage, and now to bring their child into the life of grace. Later that day, as I celebrated the vigil Mass, I looked across the sanctuary and realized that I had baptized two of the boys serving that evening. At each Mass last weekend, we heard from Emily Cimmino, a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students who grew up here in Fairfield, participated in high school youth ministry at St. Pius X, and is now ministering and sharing the faith with students at the University of Pennsylvania. In the span of one day, God was reminding me of the gift of spiritual fatherhood that comes through the priesthood and showing me a glimpse of the fruit of that fatherhood.
In the same few days, I had several conversations with people about life in the parish. Several times I was asked about another priest coming to St. Pius. While we are very blessed by the assistance of Frs. Silva and Blatchford, their ministerial assignments (rightly) come first, and they are not always available to help in the parish. Our rectory community is a source of strength and fraternity, and I am very grateful to live with them. The needs of St. Pius X Parish would better be served by two priests ministering full time. At the moment, though, it does not appear that there are any priests available to come here. Whenever a shortage of priest personnel becomes evident, we are apt to hear speculation that the lack of numbers is rooted in some shortcoming in the Church’s teaching or disciplines. But I think the real problem is that the gift of priestly ministry remains so hidden to so many. I have no right to it, but the good Lord has allowed me to see the fruit of priestly ministry in ways I could never have imagined. To look across the sanctuary and see children I baptized now serving at Mass was incredible. To baptize the child of a couple who I helped prepare for marriage and who I knew in their formative high school years is a grace that moves me to tears. To see a talented, accomplished young woman devote herself to the mission of evangelization and to know that I played some small part in her faith journey…who am I to deserve to see these outcomes of ministry? In my thirteen years of priesthood, I have also had the privilege of serving those who ministered to me. I will never forget visiting my childhood pastor, the priest from whom I received the Eucharist for the first time, a priest whose Masses I served countless times as a kid, Msgr. McMahon, and giving him the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick a few days before he passed away. I will never forget being invited by my high school youth minister who introduced me to the Rosary, to Eucharistic Adoration, and to frequent confession, to give a talk and hear confessions, to help him in his ministry, at a youth retreat he was leading. I will never forget celebrating Mass at my grandfather’s bedside and praying with him in his final hours. There are countless graces that have come my way, countless ways in which I have had a front-row seat to God’s merciful working, countless blessings received. Whatever sacrifices are required of me as a Catholic priest, they are nothing compared to grace of God, the joy inspired by serving the Lord in this amazing vocation.
All that said, I would like to ask three things. First, consider your own Catholic family tree: those who influenced your faith, and those whose faith life you have been part of. Pray for them in gratitude and pray for their ongoing growth in holiness and grace. Second, pray for vocations to the priesthood, especially in the Diocese of Bridgeport. We need good and holy priests for our parishes, we need good and holy priests who will bring the sacraments to us. So pray that the Lord would send us those ministers of the Gospel! Third, be like my religion teacher who twenty-odd years ago pulled me aside after class and asked, “Sam, have you ever thought about the priesthood?” He was one of a small chorus of voices that inspired me to discern the priesthood, and if not for those encouraging voices, I am confident I would not be writing this note today as a pastor. Pray for the Lord’s guidance and wisdom, and invite a young man you know to consider a vocation to the priesthood. One final word: in my early seminary years, I knelt before a newly-ordained priest for his first priestly blessing. In his over-flowing excitement, he literally picked me up off the ground after the blessing and with tears in his eyes said, “Persevere! Even if you are only a priest for one day, it is worth it!” Within the year, I will hit my 5,000th day as a priest. And it’s true. They have all been worth it. Even if I only had one, it would be worth it.