Recently I received the news of the untimely death of a priest who was a teacher and dean of students at my high school. It was both shocking and sad to lose someone who touched so many lives, especially those of his students. He was one of those priests who really could connect with teenagers. In a time when we were questioning the faith of our parents, he was able to connect with us through his daily interaction teaching and also with his homilies at Mass. He sported a ponytail and black leather fingerless gloves, yet brought the gospel message to us in a relatable way. Even though I’m celebrating my 20-year reunion from high school this year, I can still remember a homily where he asked us if we thought it was harder to be a Christian today or back in the first century with the apostles–then he busted out with Motley Crüe’s “Same Old Situation.”
It wasn’t just his homilies or his teachings that made him well liked, but how he really took the time to get to know each of the students and always was doing kind things for them. I will always remember one specific time he really touched my life. I was a freshman in college, away for the first time, and Fr. Joe heard how homesick I was and took the time to call me and see how I was doing. Those were the days before email and cell phones, and it was actually a long-distance phone call, so I didn’t get very many of those! I can still remember hanging up the old corded phone and crying with tears of joy that he cared so much to take time out of his busy schedule to remember me.
Reading the homily from his funeral Mass given by Deacon Tom Jewell brought tears to my eyes, but also an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift of the priesthood. In his homily, the deacon recounted Fr. Joe’s life legacy with his own words “I do the one thing I can do and that is to offer sacrifice….Because I am a priest…and that’s what a priest does…he offers sacrifice.”
Sacrifice…that is the essence of the priesthood. I also have seen through the example of Fr. Joe and so many priests that have touched my life, they not only offer sacrifice, but live a life of sacrifice. As I reflected on this homily, I began to think of how many hundreds of priests I have been blessed to know over my lifetime, and how they have influenced my faith life. There are the priests who baptized me, heard my first confession and gave me my first Communion, the priests who were my pastors and associate pastors, the priests (who like Fr. Joe) were my teachers and principals, the priest that witnessed our marriage, the priests I worked with at the hospitals, the many priests I have attended their daily and Sunday Masses, the priests who I have met with my volunteer work through the church and most importantly, the friends I went to college with who became priests and like a part of our family. All of them have given up a life of luxury to offer sacrifice on my behalf. It is a gift I have come to appreciate more and more as I see how these amazing priests who have touched my life have brought me closer to God. Thank you Lord, for the gift of priests!
Do you have a priest who has touched your life? Share with us here and as you do, offer a prayer for him.
Copyright 2015 Michele Faehnle
Art copyright 2015 – Gina Switzer, artist. Used by permission. All rights reserved.