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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Holy Priest

The Holy Priest

          We’ve been reminded in recent years of the destructive power of priests who are unfaithful to their calling.  The scandal of abusive priests has done incalculable damage and caused immeasurable pain.  It makes sense – the perversion of something powerfully good is powerfully bad.  In light of that, it’s important for us not to forget the incredible force for good a holy priest truly is.
          The vast majority of our priests are good and holy men who bring Christ to a world that is desperate for Him.  One such man is a priest I’ll call Father O’Callahan.  He is a man of such profound humility that he would never approve of my praising him by name.  He is one of the thousands of priests hidden from the eyes of the world, working faithfully and tirelessly, bringing souls to Christ.  Of the hundreds of stories I could tell, I’d like to share the last day he served as pastor of our parish.
          Father O’Callahan was the founding pastor of my parish and he’d been there for 30 years.  Every morning as I arrived for Mass, I’d see him walking through the courtyard with his breviary, faithfully praying his Morning Prayer.  As time wore on, he neared his 75th birthday, mandatory retirement age for a diocesan priest.
          I remember the June morning of his last day as pastor.  It was an emotional time for all of us because, though we knew this day was coming, it would be very hard to say goodbye to this man who had been our shepherd for so long.  I drove up to the church for morning Mass.  As I got out of the car I saw the picture of faithfulness.  There was Father O’Callahan, strolling through the courtyard, with his breviary, praying his Morning Prayer, as if it were any other day.
          He started Mass as he always did, gave a homily on the readings of the day, and directed all his attention to the Sacrifice of the altar, calling none to himself.  It wasn’t until the final blessing, as he prepared to walk the aisle to the vestibule for the last time, that we finally heard his voice crack.  He finished the prayer and walked out, with dignity and courage.
          I learned a lot that day.  There are many days that I am tempted to consider “my day” - my birthday, Father’s Day.  Certainly last year when the San Francisco Giants were in the World Series I expected the world to stop for me for the better part of a week.  If anyone ever deserved “his day,” it was Father O’Callahan.  But he remembered that it was God’s day.  He didn’t want an excuse to escape his duties.  He was faithful.  It summed up for me all the lessons I had learned from him about what it means to be holy, to be a man of God.
          I still see Father O’Callahan at many different parishes.  He’s constantly helping out, celebrating Mass or the other Sacraments.  At one parish they even put his name on one of the confessionals since he is there so often hearing Confessions.  He is a priest.  His assignment as pastor may have come to an end, but he wants nothing to do with retiring from being a priest.  He knows who he is.
          I try to remember Father’s witness when I need a kick in the pants.  Perhaps we need “our days” every now and then.  But we must never forget that all days are gifts from God.  There’s no retirement from being who we are called to be.  Faithfulness.  That is Father’s legacy.  May it be ours as well.