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

Excuse me for a moment while I grieve

So flag day is around the corner.  June 14th is a biggie on my calendar.  In 2004 it became far more than a day to honor our country and banner of freedom; it became another date to honor and celebrate the life of a member of our family.  We welcomed a treasure, a gift and beautiful little soul, our 5th child and firstborn son, Michael.   We cared for him and loved him and doted on him and made plans for him and took a million pictures and passed them around like the proud parents we were.

Birthday celebrations in our house are usually disorganized and a little chaotic but we do our thing – decorate and have cake and presents.  They are nothing special by most standards but in our family they hold a special place in the fabric of our traditions.  We gather together (an increasingly rare phenomenon now that we’ve entered the busy teenager years) and joyfully celebrate the gift of the person we recognize and honor.  For me it is always a time to thank God for Blessing us so richly and abundantly, for gifting us with these little souls that are constantly defining the meaning of Love.  It is a time to celebrate the people they’ve been and are becoming through their accomplishments and goals.

This year Andrew will graduate from Kindergarten on Mikey’s birthday and surely it will be a momentous occasion and cause for celebration!   I know we will enjoy it (we’ve been through a few already!) and be proud of our son’s performance but beneath the surface we will be aware of the birthday celebration that we should be having later that day but won’t…  This particular birthday has become a time to mourn.

Instead of putting up festive decorations we will likely make our way to the cemetery to plant some flowers around the stone we had made with Michael’s sweet face etched on it.  We put a lot of thought and time and effort into that memorial stone but truthfully it’s little comfort.  It’s still just a stone.  And it rests on the grave that contains earthly remains of a beautiful and precious life gone too soon from this mother’s arms.   I find little comfort at the cemetery because everything I know and believe tells me that he’s not really there.  In fact a man gave his very life to assure me of that truth and that same God-man gave his very spirit to continuously erase the doubts and convict my heart of it.

And therein lies the comfort, the hope, the grace to smile, the Joy in the everyday.  In the midst of the cold and silent burial grounds arises the Promise of new LIFE – life everlasting.  Jesus came – and died – so that we would have life and have it more abundantly (Jn 10:10)

A dear friend recently related a story to me in which she was offering words of comfort to a friend who’s child was heading off to college.  This friend of hers was distraught at the idea that her little boy was all grown up and leaving the nest possibly never to return.  My friend’s words of comfort and wisdom went something like this. “Every moment of your life raising him has been geared to this moment of sending him off to be on his own”.

These are the same words of comfort my Lord and Savior offers to me.  Every moment of the 4 years, 2 months, 4 days and 14 hours of being Michael’s mom had eternity as its ultimate goal.    Furthermore our parting is only temporary, we will be together again.  In the meantime he has a future and a hope and he’s securely ensconced in the arms of His savior, exactly where he belongs.    And so I do this dance of healing and grieving all the while embracing Hope and Joy.  I straddle the gulf that exists between navigating this world and the promise of smooth sailing in the next.

I can’t say I want Michael back or wish he were still here with us – how could I possibly when I know where he is?  What kind of Love would wish a child of my womb out of paradise?  But I miss my little Mikey for this time that we are separated.  I miss what we had for 4 short years and grieve for what we never will in this life.  But I also trust wholeheartedly in the providence and sovereignty of the God of the universe.   He promised me, and all mankind, that He would be our God if we would be His people.  I rely on that promise, even when it means trusting that the death of my son will ultimately be for my good.  Even when it means that every day for the rest of my life I live without a treasured piece of my very own self.  The truth of the promise and the Joy that it holds is beyond compare.

I’ve become a new creation in every sense, in every area of my life, in every way that I can think of.  Tomorrow or next week or next month, by the grace of God, I will be made new yet again.  In fact, every time that familiar ache surfaces and I flee to that most sacred of hearts for solace and consolation I am being re-created, formed and shaped like the clay in the potter’s hand.  I have no choice but to surrender to the maker and creator and it’s a pretty great choice.

So my life will march on in the glorious splendor of birthdays and graduations and everything in between, but please excuse me for a moment while I grieve.

It will be but for a moment. The rewards will be everlasting.