They also serve…
Whenever I called the office the greeting was the same: “Hello Jerry, this is your problem child.”
I would then regale him with my sorry tales of procrastination, difficulty and woe. And the end result was always the same: he saved my tuckus. (Can I use that word in a bulletin?) If I had his job, I would have gotten frustrated with my calls. “Really Kevin? Again?” But he was always kind and understanding and, like I said, got me out of some thorny situations. Two stories pop into mind.
The names are withheld to protect the guilty.
Story One: I was asked by two of my former stu- dents to do their wedding, which I accepted with joy. The only problem was that the church in which they were to wed was not a parish church anymore. It was an old historical building with lots of great memories. In order to validly do the wedding there I had to get permission of the proper pastor, in whose boundaries the physical structure of the church resided. Normally, this would not have been an issue. I had performed a wedding at this particular church years before and I simply asked the pastor to sign off on the documents. This time was different. Different year, different pastor. When I called the pastor for permission, he refused. “I will have nothing to do with that place!” he bellowed. “Whaaat?” I asked. “But Father, I need this for the wedding to take place.” “NO,” he roared. Click. My first call was to a priest friend who also was a canon law- yer. (This is a good thing to have.) “Well,” he told me, “presume you have permission.” “Works for me!” And the wedding went on as scheduled. That is until three months later when I got a call from the Vicar for Canonical Affairs, Jerry. At first, he was a bit abrupt. “You did a wedding without permission from the proper pastor?” It is then that I told him about how I tried to do the responsible thing (it happens on occasion) and was rebuffed. This time, the problem child did the right thing. His tone changed and he told me that he understood and that it would be fine. I was glad that I didn’t have to tell a couple that I had to do their wedding all over again.
Story Two: (This one was more my fault.) I get weddings from all over. One year I actually was responsible for 35 weddings. One couple, who had been to a previous wedding of mine, liked me (go figure) and asked me to do their wedding down at College Church. No problem, I thought. Well…there were some problems. First of all, they lived out of town. OK. I’ve done that be- fore. Not an issue. Second, the groom was not
only non-Catholic, but he had never been bap- tized in any denomination. Once again, been there, done that, no issue. But the big problem was that the bride’s parents no longer resided in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It would take too long to explain why this is an issue, but, needless to say, it was. Once again, this time I sought permission from a proper pastor, but this one was in Brooklyn, NY and, long story short, he ada- mantly refused to help me out. (I did have many pleasant and friendly discussions with his secre- tary and we practically became best friends.) Now there was an issue, and there was a possibil- ity that the wedding might not take place. I RE- ALLY hate to do that to people. I called Jerry and asked for an appointment. It was that serious.
With 24 hours to go before the ceremony, we did some Canon Law tap dancing (once again, a bit involved, but it is all legal) and the wedding went off without a hitch. Tuckus saved.
Monsignor Jerry Billing is a great priest. As you can see, he helped me out of some big jams.
Many people would look at his ministry and think that all he did was push papers and sign off on documents. But they would be wrong. He was a pastor to us priests and he has helped many of us do the ministry for which we were ordained. (Jerry once told me that I was far from his most problematic priest – how scary is that?!)
There are two reasons why I wanted to write about Jerry this weekend. First of all, he is ailing now. He is very sick and this absence has left a gaping abyss at the Catholic Center. Please keep this great priest in your prayers.
Second, Jerry’s service to the church is a remind- er that there a multitude of ways to serve God’s people. And though it seems like a simple admin- istrative duty, what Jerry did for the Archdiocese, for his brother priests, for me, was not only valu- able but essential.
They also serve…who help the problem child.