Reflections on the Priesthood (after 39 years) Part ONE

The other day I was invited into the third grade class to answer their questions about my vocation as a priest. The children had some good, and dare I say it, challenging questions for me. And the experience got me to thinking about my life, my calling and the grace of God poured out in abundance over the past thirty-nine years. This week I would like to share the challenges I have faced.

The Challenges

Overall, my life has been happy. Some may even call it “charmed.” I’ve never had a bad assignment. I have never lived in an unhealthy recto- ry. I have never served with brother priests who were difficult. Every parish I have served was awesome. (The third graders wanted me to pick my favorite parish, but I would not play their game.)

With that said there were some difficult and challenging times. Beyond my personal losses (parents and sibs), two dark moments come to mind.

In March of 2002, one of my classmates called me up late one night and said: “Kev, you may want to turn on the news.” The top story, if you haven’t guessed it already, was one of my class- mates getting arrested for having illegal (and immoral) materials on his computer. Up until that time, the clergy scandal was out there. This experience brought it up close and personal. My emotions on this issue bounce back and forth from shame (by association) and anger. I know it is not fair that we are all painted by the same broad brush, but, la-de-dah, that is the reali-

  1. What has carried me through this mess are the people I have been privileged to serve. Their care, their kindness and their understanding and love bolstered me and continually gives me strength. After this particular incident, one of my former students wrote me a beautiful note, talk- ing about the positive impact I had made on her and her classmates. The very next day, I visited a parishioner whose son was severely handi- capped, and that visit, complete with singing, lift- ed my soul. This support has given me the courage to forge ahead in my life and to be a support for others, some of whom have been damaged by these damnable actions.

My second challenge happened in January of 2007, when a young parishioner of mine named Danny was paralyzed in a horrific vehicle acci- dent. I am not sure why, but the whole situation

shook my faith to its very core, maybe even more than the scandals. It sent me careening into the darkest time of my life. (It didn’t help that I was also in the midst of a midlife crisis.) Don’t get me wrong, my thoughts were not sinful or immoral, they were just, you know, dark. I had a hard time dealing with Danny’s accident. (It also didn’t help that Danny’s father was killed in a farming acci- dent a month and a half before Danny’s.) The family looked to me to make sense of all of this tragedy, all of this heartbreak.  After all, I was the parish priest. But it was difficult to deal with this hurt as I was also having a difficult time piec- ing this catastrophe together.

Nevertheless, I learned two important lessons during this time of my life. First, it gave me a deep insight into mental illness and depression in particular. As dark as my thoughts were, they were nowhere near as dark and difficult as some- one in clinical depression. That insight alone was worth the price of admission and helped me be- come a bit more compassionate and empathetic to others who are dealing with deep sadness and mental issues in their lives.

The second insight was surprising and a bit iron- ic. Even though I remember that time as a dark one, I also had vivid memories of incredible beau- ty and wonder. I remember one fall afternoon driving through the countryside near St. Joseph’s Neier. The sun was shining and the shadows of the woods became long and vivid. As I made my way along the winding road, I had an overwhelm- ing feeling of my personal vulnerability, my infi- nitely tiny place in the universe and my inevitable mortality. (I told you it was dark.) But instead of making me sad or afraid, as I gazed at the shad- ows and the empty branches of the trees, as the sun began to brighten and highlight the late af- ternoon sky, I also had an unmistakable feeling of being blessed and loved. I thought to myself: I need to drink in this spectacle because there will come a time, sooner than I would like to imagine, when I will no longer be able to sense and experi- ence it. I discovered that my life was short and I

had better soak it all in before it was gone.

The darkest part of my life helped me to appreciate the grace and life that constantly surrounds me.

Father Kevin

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