An open letter to our beloved Catholic clergy, here in the Syracuse Diocese, and everywhere

Dear Father (Bishop, Deacon, Brother,…):

On a Sunday morning in July, I arrived at Mass a mental, physical, and spiritual mess. The busy summer schedule had me running ragged in an effort to keep all my little darlings (7 of them) busy and happy, as well as meeting all of my basic responsibilities. As the weeks of summer wore on, the frenetic pace caught up with me and the physical toll meant that I started sleeping through my “prayer time” alarm every morning. That is always the first sign on the slippery road to spiritual wasteland in my experience. I felt like I was in a vast desert with no water in sight. I doubted that even Mass could restore me to peace.

This particular Sunday, we had some (all-too-common) teenager miscommunication and couldn’t get all the kids to Mass. It was either some of us or none of us, so I was overwhelmed with frustration at life in general and myself in particular. Couple that with grieving the recent loss of my mom, the 2 year-old still-stinging loss of my oldest daughter, and the 7 year-old ache of missing my first-born son, and this mama wanted to throw in the towel. I never would, but it’s the honest truth of how I felt. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, overburdened, and feeling inadequate and powerless to fix any of it. I truly love and live to serve as a wife, mother, friend, and member of the body of Christ, but often it’s a difficult and thankless job. (Often it’s not, but on this particular Sunday I had lost sight of the flip side). As the Mass began and the priest arrived on the altar, he looked right at me and said, “Karen, it is well, I am here to serve you.” OK, not really, but I heard it and felt it and in that moment my hope was restored because a faithful and devoted servant of God was standing his post.

Later, I wondered in awe at the sacrifice and dedication it takes to be a holy and devoted priest in the Church today. Do you get lonely, irritated, tempted, selfish, or struggle with obedience? I certainly do. Do you sometimes feel so overwhelmed by the tasks before you that hopelessness, fear, and despair rear their ugly head? That sounds familiar. Does living your vocation faithfully require determination, faithfulness, and lots of supernatural grace?  Welcome to my life.  As I contemplated our different vocations, (and forgive me if I’ve presumed too much), it dawned on me in a new way; if you can do it, then so can I. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.  I want you to know, your faithfulness shines like a beacon in darkness and brings relief to the desperate, like finding water in a dry desert.

I can’t imagine my life with the absence of the priesthood. I don’t want to imagine it either. You’ve been there in every joyful, difficult, sad, questioning, and holy moment of my life. You welcomed my children into the Church and to the body of Christ. By the power vested in you, you’ve absolved me of my sins and counseled me. You united my husband and me in holy matrimony thereby cementing my vocation. You prayed with us and for us in our times of devastating loss. You have been there, every single Sunday of my life, bringing Jesus truly present to this sinful and needy soul. At every Mass you are John the Baptist crying in the desert, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Without you there would be no need to respond with humility and need, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”. There would be no exchange. There would be no Mass. There would be no hope. Without you the tomb would always feel empty and hopeless.

I have experienced a taste of that hopelessness twice before. It’s a feeling that felt to me like Good Friday x1000. Twice now, we have held a wake to say goodbye to one of our children. Twice, we have greeted thousands and smiled and cried for hours on end. Twice, we have gone home afterwards to stumble through the longest night and wonder how on earth we would face the morning. The tomb was empty and so were we. Then twice again, we have said goodbye and closed a casket and trembled on our way to a funeral Mass, silently screaming to God to let this cup pass us by. Both times we arrived to escort a casket into church and approach an altar flanked with you holy men of God. Devoted in service to Truth, you were standing there like pillars of strength and compassion. You represented the reality of eternity when we were tempted to wallow in the temporal. You represented Resurrection! We needed you and you were there, many of you, silently screaming back to us that we were not alone. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together. We never walk alone. Those two funerals changed me in many ways, but the royal priesthood standing up for us is something I will hold dear forever.

I have felt since our son died seven years ago, that if his death helped bring one beloved soul home to our Savior then he did not suffer or die in vain. I would suffer it all again knowing how precious every one of us is to our Lord. The same is true for our daughter. So many beautiful testimonies of faith stemmed from her death and I know there is so much wisdom in allowing her to leave us. I freely offer Michael and Anna and trust in Jesus to work it all for good. I simply wanted you to know that by your faith this one soul has been soothed and saved.

From the very depths of my heart, I thank you:
I Thank you for answering your cell phone in the middle of the night when a terrified and desperate mother needed to know you were praying for her child.
I Thank you for going to the hospital, instead of to bed, to offer prayers and comfort when my mother was afraid and facing the end of her life.
I Thank you for the many house calls to unite our family in prayer when our son was dying of cancer.                                                                                                                                  I thank you for bringing Mass to our home when we were too distraught to bring ourselves to Mass.
I thank you Bishop for the personal hand-written, snail-mailed letter of encouragement and affirmation that renewed my strength again and again.
I thank you for your service to the kingdom of God.
I thank you for standing for truth, especially in the face of growing persecution for daring to speak it. The thing is, your faithful flock knows the Truth deep within and we need you to reaffirm it. The voices of the culture would have us buy into the lies and we might be tempted, if not for your voice of truth. As long as there is a spark of light, there cannot be total darkness.
I thank you for your prayers and Masses. You will likely never know what they have meant to me this side of Heaven.

May you have the courage to stand strong in this world as the tide rises against all that you have given your very lives for, and the fortitude to suffer for the Truth no matter what lies ahead. Just as you have reminded me time and time again, when you walk in obedience and service to the Truth, you never walk alone.
With gratitude, admiration and love,
Karen Pullano

“The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.  When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ∼St. Jean Vianney

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Storms

*In light of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I pray that all who are living through that tumultuous storm will take comfort in the strength and peace of God*

I went to a funeral yesterday.  The weather was surprisingly warm and sunny as I got in my car and left the neighborhood.  The funeral mass was at a church across town and as I got a few minutes away from home I noticed the sky up ahead was looking pretty dark.   I continued to drive along and the sky grew increasingly overcast as it seemed I was heading right into the storm. The sky got darker and darker until I was directly in the thick of it and was actually surrounded by near-blackness.  It felt appropriate considering my destination.  Very quickly a deluge of rain pelted my car and the wipers were swinging furiously.  Even though I was surrounded by utter darkness and deafening rain I could see the edge of the storm cloud up ahead and bright sun filtering through white fluffy clouds beyond.  I knew that it was only a matter of moments before I would be out of the storm and it would once again be a pleasantly warm fall day.  It was a bit daunting driving through it with very little visibility (though I live in the snow belt in Central New York so not the worst of what I’m used to!)  Sure enough a minute later I was out from under the oppressive clouds and the sky was so clear I thought it would be smooth sailing all the way to the church.  My route took me a round-about way and as I got closer to church wouldn’t you know that I was almost under that storm cloud again?  Luckily we parked and got inside the church before the rain started in earnest.

Christus in the storm on the lake; Rembrandt (...

Christus in the storm on the lake; Rembrandt (1633)(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Storms in our lives are inevitable just as death is inevitable.  Both are difficult and painful but are simply a part of this life.  The only guarantee we have, the only promise in terms of suffering, is the hope of Eternal rest and peace and Joy in our next life.  Not this life.

As Christians, that is, as Christ followers, we are called to follow Jesus the way Mary did. She set the example for us as the very first Christian, not merely following her son and savior to Calvary, but investing herself in His burden every step of the way.  Loving Him as only a mother could, blow-by-blow. She didn’t bow out when she was afraid or when the pain of what she was forced to silently witness must have been almost unbearable.  She steadfastly followed Jesus and took the blows in her mother’s heart as the whip sliced open the flesh she once carried and the nails crushed through the hands she once held.  With trust she stood at the foot of the cross until the bitter end.  With a suffering and sorrowful heart she watched her beloved son leave this life.

We are called to no less.  We are called to carry our crosses in the many different forms they take in our lives.  We are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary.  No promises and no guarantees for smooth sailing!

After our son died there was a temptation to feel entitled and deserving of a break from pain and suffering.  Surely after what we went through we wouldn’t have to endure more?  I caught myself in those early days living in fear of something horrible happening to another member of my family.  How could I survive it?  But I caught myself.  I knew then that no matter how much I didn’t want to face another storm that it could very well happen.  I also knew that I would weather it, the same way I weathered the loss of Michael, with faith and trust in God.  That relationship was the only way to carry on and move forward in Joy and not as a slave to fear.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

We must flee to the refuge of God’s sovereignty even when it feels as though He didn’t handle our cross for us.  We do that by Surrendering and trusting that He had a good reason for allowing us to carry it.  That doesn’t mean we roll over as victims to pain and suffering, but it does mean we don’t let it win the rule of our lives.  We suffer our cross, yes, and it is often painful and difficult to bear, but we do it with the promise of Joy ahead and trust that we are learning and growing as God wishes.  We look just a little way toward the horizon and see the edge of the black storm cloud and the sun shining through fluffy white clouds beyond and let God carry us until we get there.  And when the clouds threaten again, we trust that again God will carry us through.  This much He did promise us.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:8)

This was a lesson the apostles learned in the storm at sea.  They were terrified when the storm came up and the waves were washing into the boat. Jesus was sleeping and when they woke Him in a panic He rebuked them saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Mt. 8:26)  And yet they were afraid.  They feared even though Jesus was right in their boat!  Jesus is in our boat too.  No matter the storm we face, we are commanded to trust in God and seek His refuge.  Even if the waves are pouring in we must understand we will never sink.  We will never perish.  Even were we to perish from this Life, if we cling to the true life-giver we will LIVE.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Just as the church served as our refuge from the storm, God is always our spiritual refuge in times of trouble.  His arms are open wide, His word is living and true, and His love for us knows no bounds.

Related reading: Seasons and Mary