Last weekend after emerging from the church in Arcola after celebrating Mass I was called to the home of a woman who had died while I was celebrating Mass. This was - in and of itself - a first for me.
I was not able to visit really at all with the family, but I was able to pray the Prayers for the Dead with the body and the family before returning to Tuscola for the next Mass.
Before I left I told the family that since their Pastor was out of town that they could call me to help with the funeral - or whatever else - if their former Pastor was unable to return.
The funeral home called the next day and asked me to come for the Vigil service. This I was happy to do.
I hopped in my car on Tuesday and made the hour-long drive for the Vigil. The family welcomed me as though they knew me for quite a while when, in reality, they didn't even know me from Adam. They didn't even know my name (I forgot to give the family my card but gave one to the secretary).
At the family's request, we had the Vigil at the beginning of the visitation (at 4:30) - because of the distance I had to travel - and after the Vigil I returned to Effingham.
They welcomed me warmly; rather, they welcomed the Priest of Jesus Christ. Who I was - with my personality and history and what not - was not nearly as important as what I was.
Some might say this is a very impersonal and sad way to look at ministry, but I find it to be quite the opposite.
It is very freeing to simply walk in as a priest without seeking to be liked personally by every one (naturally I didn't walk in trying to upset people). What matters is not me but Christ. If they remember me but forget Christ then I have failed. If they remember Christ and forget me then I have succeeded.
In reflecting on the family's joy at my presence with them for their mother and aunt, I could not help but recall the poem by Henri Lacordaire, O.P.:
To live in the midst of the world
without wishing its pleasures;
to be a member of each family, yet belonging to none;
to share all sufferings;
to penetrate all secrets;
to heal all wounds;
to go from men to God and offer Him their prayers;
to return from God to men to bring pardon and hope;
to have a heart of fire for charity
and a heart of bronze for chastity;
to teach and to pardon;
console and bless always.
My God, what a life!
And it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!
A blessed and glorious life it is indeed!