I was looking at a chalice the other day, after dinner at my sister’s home. On the bottom the inscription read, “Rev. James J. Grogan, Ordained May 29, 1943.” Just a bit surreal, my brother offered me the use of this chalice that he has used over the more than thirty years of his priesthood; Bill has been fortunate to have the use of two chalices, each having belonged to our Uncles Tom and Jim, who together served as priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese for 72 years before their deaths some decades ago. As my brother pointed out, it might only need to have a new ordination date inscribed a few years from now, as the name is the same.
Of course, I knew Bill had these chalices, as with our uncles he has contributed his own 30 years as a priest on this anniversary year; between the three of them, more than a century of service as priests can be counted. What surprised me was the impact of reading my name on that base, and especially considering the wear on the chalice. The last ministerial act my Uncle Jim performed was blessing the ring I had just given to my fiancée in 1981 from his hospital bed, as he passed to his eternal reward two weeks after our engagement. The chalice, once gold plated, is now very much two-tone, with areas where the plating has been worn off revealing the silver coloring of the base metal. This wear has pre-occupied me for the past week, as I consider the work of priests, sharing the cup around the altar and offering it to those sharing in the Eucharist. Perhaps in my Uncle’s time, this cup was more likely reserved only for priests, but in my brother’s hands, it has been shared by priests and laity, with parishioners at daily mass and couples on their wedding days. All those hundreds or thousands of people have contributed to the “silver lining” of ministry that I am now allowed to view.
During this same week, I joined in a celebration of ministry for a wonderful woman, Sister Marcy Springer, a Sister of Saint Joseph for fifty years. Guiding many, including me, as a spiritual director, Sister Marcy is a woman of prayer, just as my uncles and brother have been for decades. As I pursue the discernment of my own vocation to the priesthood, each of these faithful servants stand as models and reminders to me that this journey is first and foremost a prayerful experience, a prayerful experience that hopefully draws me ever closer to Jesus in the Eucharist. I was offered a second chalice a few years ago, a gift from my parish in memory of Ellie, who they loved nearly as much as I have. That chalice, too, shows some signs of wear; used in our parish everyday liturgies for a few years, it shows some scratches. In these vessels – both the cups and our human existence – we have some scratches, some marks of suffering, of use, and of joy to be found in the silver lining of life. They are symbols of the faith we share, and of the prayers we offer in communion with one another. Please keep me and all our seminarians in your prayers, especially our newest seven transitional deacons in Trenton as they join the legacy of sacramental service to and with the People of God.