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February 2, 2003 On the 30th anniversary of being ordained a priest I would like to share these thoughts.

In the grand scheme of things it is simply one more day in a life lived...lived in Christ for better or worse (and there have been some bad days and some worse, make no mistake). But there were other things to consider at this time. I was reluctant to let the parish sponsor a huge party (I later agreed to it). Frankly it is somewhat embarrassing to celebrate what I enjoy doing anyway as a priest. But in light of all the chaos in the Church in recent years and the dire forecasts of doom and gloom about the priesthood I decided maybe it would be wiser to celebrate the priesthood than to plan a funeral liturgy for it. In some ways celebrating at the thirty year mark is like stopping for dinner during the running of a marathon. The race is not complete till we reach the finish line and partying too soon might distract us from the finish line. Besides, the knowledge that I have not always done the best job, makes it too embarrassing personally to celebrate what I have not always done as well as I should. But then two events intervened which made me reflect more deeply on the priesthood and the lives of priests and it unleashed an avalanche of thoughts that might be of benefit for all of us to think about. One was about someone I never knew and one was about someone I did know. One of the blessings in my life (and there have been many) was the chance to study theology in Innsbruck. In the Winter, 2003 Korrepondenzblatt I was greatly moved by the story of Fr. Tomislav Matanovic, who was killed together with his parents and buried in a mass grave in Bosnia in 1995. In solidarity with his bishop Franjo Komarica (with me at the Canisianum in 1973), he refused to be intimidated by the Serbian slaughter that unfolded in the former Yugoslavia. The pain of that experience for all concerned and the challenge it lays before the world community is self evident. The whole tragedy moved me deeply. The other event was a call from Fr. Ken Olsen, the only other American ordained with me in Innsbruck who is now a hospital chaplain in Oregon. He had called to tell me of the death of a Columbus diocesan priest who had moved to Oregon many years ago where he taught in a high school out there and was later a pastor in a parish. That priest had succumbed to alcoholism and died a miserable death alone and awash in the alcohol that eventually caused his death. He had

studied in Rome at the North American College (NAC) and was ordained there in 1972. I had been in Rome for his ordination and later studied there myself when I returned for graduate studies from 1975-78 at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. I still get periodic newsletters from NAC too, which are often filled with stories of famous American alumni who have advanced to positions of authority and leadership in the American Church. NAC has produced many of the bishops in the American Church today. The contrast between the Korrespondenzblatt of the Canisianum and that of the North American College in Rome is striking. From Innsbruck comes reports in German of such things as the deaths of Fr. Matanovic and his parents. The news from Rome comes in English and speaks of visiting hierarchy and potentates in the American Church. North American College reports of various moneyed movers and shakers visiting the college is in stark contrast with the Innsbruck report of seminarians from all over the Third World who come to Innsbruck to prepare for their mission of becoming “bridgebuilders” to the world in the name of Christ. These contrasts made me think of how much more important to the world the priesthood is than what we in the United States will ever imagine. Innsbruck required us to communicate in German and to form associations and friendships with people from all over the globe. We ate, slept, prayed and studied with them. Eventually we went off to various places of the world, equipped with some sense of the Gospel of Christ and the memories of cultural mixing that required us to set aside our preconceived notions altogether. At the time I was there, I was studying with students from Viet Nam with whom our country was at war. I sensed the outrage of students from the world over who failed to accept the one-sided arguments of the United States government in those days. In an environment like that we learned quickly that it was only the cross of Christ that would give us unity. The Stars and Stripes were not part of the program. In contrast, Roman experiences celebrated visits from Cardinals and US political leaders, like the US ambassador to Italy who was known to stop in for lunch at the North American College, as did many wealthy American Catholics come to visit the hierarchical spawning ground, hoping to hobnob with leaders or future leaders of the Church. I treasured all those experiences over the years. I also treasure the people who have been the beneficiaries of those experiences as I have preached the

Gospel and tried to live it over these years. As I think back over the years, those experiences allowed me to celebrate life as a priest throughout Europe, in the Holy Land, in Greece, in Kenya, in Britain and in Ireland. I have done it as a member of the US Navy (1991-2000) and as a simple country priest in the United States. I have done it as a rebellious young associate (in the early years) and as a teacher (of little renown) and preacher (of no greater renown) in these later years. It has been a challenge everywhere but everywhere has brought with it its own rewards too. The priest and the priesthood is so much bigger than what scandals have arisen to threaten it. People in all those places I have been (and in all those places my colleagues have gone) have responded immediately and always when they have heard I am a priest. Whether they shared my faith or not, they always had some kind of reaction (positive or not!) to the idea that a priest was there and with that, all that a priest represented. I have learned a lot as a priest, both about what it means to be a priest and what it means to be a person; about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a citizen of the world; about love and about the end of love; about life and about death. Hours of study in various languages like German, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish and a host of others long since forgotten, and learning to pray in many of those languages has taught me humility in the face of the rich diversity of the peoples of the earth. Being a priest or preparing to be one is what brought all this about. The priesthood has taught me about sin and about grace in the world. It has taught me of joy and of sorrow, of elation and of the worst kind of depression. It has taught me of the basic goodness that can be found in most people and the depravity of some. It has enabled me to celebrate with some the gift of new life and to console others when death’s dark shadow threatens. Well, you get the point I think. The priesthood has given me far more than I would ever have dreamed. With all of its drudgery and sometimes sham, it has made Christ shine ever more clearly to me in the mystery of the Eucharist and in the fascination and wonder of human existence. For this and for all of you who have made this possible I render my thanks to God. Now...on to the finish line!