Monday, March 16, 2009

So good it's worth hearing twice

Every Monday night at St. Patrick's we have what's called the Rector's Conference. The rector, Fr. Gerald Brown, (analogous to the president of a secular university... I think) gives a half hour talk on a subject pertinent to our priestly formation. Sometimes the conference is given by the director of seminary spiritual life, Fr. Michael Barber SJ. Tonight Fr. Barber gave a conference on the subject of caring for souls. Father is also a Navy Chaplain and he opened by telling us the story of a Fr. McNamara who is regarded as one of the greatest chaplains of the twentieth century by the chaplain community - even by the Protestants! Fr. McNamara often took young chaplains with him on sick calls to wounded sailors and Marines. He would ask his charge, "Did you visit your patient?" The young priest answered in the affirmative. "Excellent. Did you talk to the nurses or thank them?" The new chaplain admitted he did not and promised to do better next time. The next time he reported that he had visited his patient and talked with the nurses who were tending to him. "Excellent. Did you talk to his doctors or thank them?" The new chaplain again admitted that he had not, and promised to do better next time. And so it went until new chaplains got to know not only their patients but the entire hospital staff.

The point is the priest must be a pastor of souls - all souls. He must show the same care, solicitude, and respect to the poorest of his parishioners as he would show to the wealthy. This sounds like common sense, no? Beware though. It's much easier and much more tempting to fall into the opposite pattern. And the people will notice if their pastor is inordinately attentive to the rich or to the beautiful. Fr. Barber then said something I hadn't thought of before: our Lord probably was not handsome. Think of how Jesus is often portrayed in stained glass. We have no idea how he really looked of course, but do you think it's possible that when He walked the earth He was totally nondescript? Could He who came to save everyone, especially the lost, the lonely, and above all sinners, have even been homely? I imagine that no matter how He looked on the outside, everyone around Him sensed an ineffable inner beauty that pointed toward things above.

Think about all of the non-Catholics who reside within the boundaries of your home parish. Are they not souls too? Are not they too made in the image and likeness of God? If you become a seminarian and hopefully a priest, when you wear your clerics in public, you are a walking advertisement for the Church. I've worn my clerics when I've gone home to visit my parents and I get mostly positive feedback from others around me. You'd be surprised how many people will come up to you and start asking questions (or expressing their amazement at seeing someone as young as me in clerics!) Above all, be friendly and respectful toward everyone you meet. You never know how God may work through you to affect their hearts.

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