This past week we had a good dose of joyful celebration in and around Philadelphia, with the remarkable visit of Pope Francis. Pictures abound from family and friends who each had a story about their exceptional seat, or the way Francis looked right at them as they took his picture along the processional route up the parkway. Stories were shared from Washington, to New York and Philly, some especially good views that my brother had as a priest concelebrating mass in Washington and twice in Philly. In the weeks and days leading up to the event, so many asked me would I be going, and was I going to meet the Pope, or to concelebrate one of the Masses. What a thrill that would be as a newly ordained priest!
Thank you to all for those caring and loving thoughts, and yes, it would have been a thrill. Instead, I had a different kind of thrill – to live out these days of Francis in my daily ministry - as a parish priest.
It is a daily gift to serve the people of my parish, and a source of deep joy for me. It is a daily experience of the sacrament of the Church, as the Second Vatican Council referred to our lives of faith. So, as we read in Psalm 47, “I will come to the altar of God, my God, my greatest joy.” With that in mind, what was the cause of my priestly joy during the visit of Pope Francis?
I was moved by watching the news coverage of his visits, and in reading his beautiful words offered in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. I also found great joy in celebrating the marriage of a young couple on Saturday, instead of going into Philly; their pledge of love in our church – one of two marriages celebrated in our church that day – was beautiful to witness, and was a moment of evangelization to their families and friends.
On Sunday, I celebrated two Masses, and was able to integrate Francis’ challenge of the day before in my message to our parishioners: “What about you? What will you (and I) do to put our discipleship in action?”
And at the end of that Mass, a visitor with tears in her eyes asked if I might be able to visit her brother with the sacrament of anointing in one of our nearby rehabilitation facilities, as his health was very fragile; so, with the joy of priesthood in my own heart, I had the opportunity to offer the Sacrament of Anointing to her brother, a gentle man who has served for 67 years as a priest in our neighboring diocese of Camden.
There was great joy on the parkway in Philadelphia, for sure. But there was also great joy in Moorestown, as I had the chance to live out the motto of my seminary as a “dispenser of the mysteries of God” within this parish.
I think Francis would approve of where I spent my time; I’m confident it was spent joyfully as the Lord’s simple parish priest.