When I entered grade school at St. Mary’s, the only Catholic school in our town, I was innocently unaware that I was on a pathway to one day becoming a Catholic. For four years I attended Mass regularly with my class, sat in the front row where Sister placed me, and bowed my head as I stared down at the feet of my classmates, passing me on their way to the communion rail. By fourth grade, the process had developed to where I remember my silent prayer being: “Please, dear God, let my feet carry me to that rail one day.”
My Catholic experiences continued when we moved to Louisiana. Our parents insisted on our continuing our Catholic education, telling my brothers and me “if you ever want to become a Catholic, let us know and we’ll help you.” To this day, I don’t know why our two non-Catholic parents would encourage us this way. After grammar school at St. James the Major and St. Pius X, my time came to enter Jesuit High School, where I met the priest who had the greatest influence on my life as adviser, mentor and friend. Over many months Father sent me to visit patients at our children’s hospital, feed the homeless, teach prisoners art and reading, and run a city-wide Thanksgiving food drive. He even installed me as the only non-Catholic member of the Sodality. Little did I know that I was in an intense preparation to respond favorably to Father Cohen eventually saying “Rusty, I think it’s time for you to come into the Church.” I was baptized in 1963, and confirmed the following year.
Since then my relationship with God has been strongly influenced by my relationships with the priests I have encountered on my journey. I have been drawn to personally know many diocesan priests, as well as Ordered Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits and Capuchins. They have taught me about God’s love, where love originates. From conversations and their teachings, I began to learn about prayer, respect for the church, sacrifice, growth through reading the Scriptures, respect and care for our parents and elders, discernment, the beauty of the sacraments being our succor in life, compassion for the challenges in the lives of others, the beauty of religious devotions, love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God the Father, and all in Heaven---all leading to a better understanding of the source of mercy.
In the mid-90s, I recall the words of our Cardinal Archbishop during a ceremony at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He asked the thousands filling the Basilica, “What makes a good priest? A man who can talk with God. That’s his greatest quality. And he can teach us how to do it.” Priests participate in people’s movement toward holiness. They’re the catalytic element of life’s equation and expectation of holiness. God speaks through priests as they teach us about mysteries of the Trinity.
In spite of their personal, individual capacities for living out their vocations, their zeal is relentless, their acquired wisdom and holiness comes to the front. And each of our young priests provide such a unique opportunity to “make a difference” in the lives of so many. We will always help them in their ministries, always pray for them, and always benefit from being their flock as we too move toward our capacities for holiness.
Parishioner at St. John Neumann, Gaithersburg
September 3, 2016