Father Leonard Peterson
Despite the possible joke in his name, Phil Tripp is a travel writer. A thoughtful quotation from one of his articles is: “Identify the hidden rewards that make you and others do what they do.” Most of the time, we priests don’t search out rewards, but they do come into our lives, many of them hidden from public view. I see them reflecting the touch of the Master’s hand in my life.
So it is with the thankful relief in the voice of a penitent long away from confession, or the gratitude quietly passed to me by the relative of a loved one who found my homily had truly captured the personality of his deceased loved one that I see these rewards.
For me there has been the unique joy of receiving a compliment from a fellow priest about something I wrote. Such moments are like beads in a rosary of one’s life. Full disclosure requires me to admit that said “rosary” also embraces the sorrowful mysteries. The latter are a counterbalance.
Every once in a while, the mysteries of that figurative rosary turn to the glorious. Case in point: when a parishioner steps forward to answer the call to the priesthood or religious life.
In our parish that happened to me a year ago when one of our sparkling young ladies announced that she was entering the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This month she will officially become a novice in the order, enroute to lifelong profession of vows.
How does one describe the excitement for the person herself, as well as that of the priest-pastor? Well, only the candidate can answer the first.
I can say from the perspective of one judged as retirement-capable that I am delighted to see the faith alive and well in a young person. The future brightens. For once, cynicism about what the future holds gets a swift kick in its metaphorical pants. Besides all this, there is a concomitant joy among the parishioners. They see the same hope and the guarantee that good families giving good example can beget in a son or daughter.
I believe that there is a unique heroism present among the younger generation of priests and sisters. They emerge from a culture that hardly supports their decision, and even mocks it. Nor is that disparagement limited to the secular world. Even some of our fellow Catholics rank among the naysayers.
Forty or 50 years ago that was not the case. Parents were proud of a son or daughter who announced his or her desire to give their lives to Christ. Today that seems to be a minority group. So is it any wonder that a pastor of such a youngster rejoices? Isn’t it great that her parents and siblings are justly proud?
We see “hosannas” offered by conservationists when a certain species of animal like spotted owls is saved from extinction. But in this case we are referring to a conservation of heroism in the human heart, bravely answering the call of the Creator of those very birds and the beasts.
In this “Year of the Priest” the focus can embrace the hidden joys of being a priest. Yes, the calling is a gift to the man himself and to the Church. It has priceless rewards attached to any costs it demands. But a religious vocation that springs up from among my “flock” is for me a visible sign of God’s presence; a genuine joy for a pastoral heart and an endorsement of my belief that the best things in life are not things.
Father Peterson is pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Hatfield.