Thursday, March 20, 2014

30 in 30: Priests

This is the twelfth article in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I'm thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

Growing up Catholic and going through 12 years of catholic school, I guess it's to expected that priests would make the 30 in 30 list. However, For so long, I felt like I could not relate to their life's work. If I was able to tell my teenage self that my almost-thirty-year-old-self would even write this post, I would get laughed at! But as I have grown older, I have begun to realize that I truly have a deep appreciation for the men who make such a commitment to live their life strictly for God. And even though I may feel that they might be holier than me, the truth is that they are human, just like the rest of me and you! I have also realized that they really are woven into the fabric of my life, and it would be silly of me to forget or not even recognize the impact they have had on my up bringing.

One thing I am thankful for is that the priests I know are incredible instruments of faith and goodness. It is through their devotion to God and following in the footsteps of Christ, I saw how they hold important roles in how our faith is built. I was baptized by them, I receive the Eucharist from them and they hear the depths of my sorrows through the sacrament of reconciliation--they are indeed, a major part of who I am as a person!

While I am grateful for all of the priests that have helped shape my faith over the years, there are a few I'd like to specifically call attention to. When I was nine or so, I shot out of bed screaming in fear. I had the overwhelming feelings of death. A nine year old certainly does not know how to cope with that and the only thing I knew to do was call for my parents. My mom tried her best to calm me, but I am sure she felt helpless watching me pace the kitchen rambling off my fears of eternity and dying. My mom was a little unsure of what to do, so she did the only thing she knew and called our parish priest. Maybe this is funny for some of you reading, but this is just they way our family operated. We knew that if we were in trouble, the best thing was to call for a spiritual bail out from the priest! Anyway, Fr. Murphy came to my aid when I was dealing with my intense fears of death. He came into my home and we sat down on the fancy furniture. My mom held my hand and this man who I only knew from standing at the pulpit every Sunday sat across from me, and got on my level. He just simply asked me to explain what I was feeling. He told me that eternity is like counting the drops in the ocean; it’s unmeasurable, but we know that there is an ocean, even though we can’t count the drops. This is just like eternity and heaven; even though we can’t see it or measure it, we know it is there because of our faith. He took a very scary thing in my life and turned it into something that I could handle. It was also lucky that I think in metaphors, so this explanation struck me in a very special way. :)

In my adult life, I have come to appreciate the priesthood because of Fr. Sterling of St. Barbara Parish. The parish has always been on fire with faith, but he has taken that momentum to help continue to build up a church full of love, community and selfless giving. Each his homilies challenge me to be a better Christian every day. The best challenge he gave all of us was when he took the time to explain the different parts of the Mass. As a result, the homily was condensed, but that didn't stop him from making a powerful statement at the end of Mass. He said that it is so sad to hear the excuse of why people stop attending church or leave the faith altogether. I think all Catholics have said it, heck--maybe anyone who practices a faith may have said the similar phrase of, "I just don't get anything out of it." He then said that he knows it's hard to concentrate on church, especially when there are so many formalities but the thing that struck me most was when he said, "Maybe you are thinking about it all wrong. Instead of waiting to get something out of it, you should be putting something in to it." He continued to say that if you just give a bit of yourself to the Mass, that you would indeed feel spiritually fulfilled. He was absolutely right. That lit a fire in my heart to begin to search and deepen my faith and to be an active participant. Just as if I want to lost five pounds, I can't just sit and wait for it to fall off my body..I have to exercise and eat better. My faith is the same way...I can't just wait for it to fill me, I have to go in search of it. That might have been one of the most important things I have heard in my life and it absolutely changed my outlook on many different things!
Go ahead, sing the Circle of Life from The Lion King. It's okay, we all did!

Fr. Sterling baptizing Cohen

I am also thankful for Fr. Wigger, because he was the priest who married Doug and me. Before we got married, we had several sit down conversations with him. This is a requirement in order to be married in the Church. I first thought it was ridiculous..what does a priest know about marriage, anyway. After a few sessions with him, I realized that he really did know what he was talking about! :) He might not ever have the opportunity to get married, but he did know that to have anything remain strong, God needed to be apart of that. 

So, on the day of our wedding, Fr. Wigger presented Doug and me with a candle that burned three flames. He explained that two of the flames represented Doug and me and the third represented God. He told us that if we kept God in our marriage, it would last forever - the flame would never die.That candle gets lit every year at our anniversary to serve as a beautiful reminder to what Fr. Wigger knew all along - that God is very much apart of our relationship and a big reason why we can get through the "for worse" part of our vows.

It would be silly of me to forget the beauty and dedication of Fr. Sterling, Fr Murphy, Fr. Wigger and other priests who helped build my faith. I am the person I am today because of the guidance they gave as I was a child, the support they shared when beginning new phases in life and the encouragement to continue to learn and discover my faith in my adult life.  

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