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