By Father John Ames
Msgr. Meehan recently informed readers that he would no longer be a regular columnist for the CS&T. For those who enjoyed reading Monsignor’s monthly article, imagine how lucky I and fellow seminarians were to be taught by him while he was professor of moral theology at St. Charles Seminary.
He taught during a particularly challenging period. The landscape included the Vietnam War and its aftermath, the sexual revolution, Vatican Council II and the publication of “Humanae Vitae.” Moral relativism challenged moral absolutes. Many became confused about what constituted right and wrong.
Monsignor’s lectures were filled with references to Scripture, ecumenical councils, papal encyclicals and Thomas Aquinas as well as contemporary sources. He made frequent references to saints and what could be learned from them. He offered keen insight into complex issues but refrained from trying to solve mysteries that are beyond human comprehension. He never gave easy answers to difficult issues.
Msgr. Meehan approached his craft with gentleness. He upheld truth with clarity, courage and conviction. However, for him, being harsh to a critic would be egregious. With a smile and a bit of Irish wit, he diffused tense situations that accompanied controversial matters.
What distinguished Monsignor was his humility. One afternoon a group of seminarians gathered for football. As he passed, the football accidentally found itself at his feet. With a perfect spiral he threw it back to us. Any onlooker could recognize his athletic ability. He waved, laughed and was gone. Much later I learned that he was an outstanding high school quarterback. He would never reveal that.
He drew the content of his lectures from a stack of loose pages spread on his desk. In many ways the loose papers were symbolic. Rather than compiling notes in a bound text, the loose pieces of paper were evidence that his thought was still evolving even as he was maturing. As gifted a teacher as he was, Monsignor was always a student. He never gave evidence that he had all the answers. This enabled him to be non-judgmental of others. For him, life is a never-ending journey to the Truth of the mystery of Christ.
Msgr. Meehan’s final article appeared on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Mary encouraged prayer and repentance. In the thick of teaching moral theology, Monsignor encouraged us to be men of prayer. He counseled that, as priests, we should dispense God’s forgiveness generously. In the confessional, we are to be ministers of spanine mercy, not psychologists or judges.
At Lourdes, Mary appeared to Bernadette, who was penniless, powerless and unlettered. Msgr. Meehan was always an advocate for the oppressed. He recognized God’s presence in them and encouraged us to reach out in a special way to the poor. In his book, “A Contemporary Social Spirituality,” Monsignor wrote that worship and union with God are intrinsically related to caring for others. The more that we are in deepest communion with God we are pulled into communion with all humanity. Prayer and Eucharist form the foundation of his priesthood and enable him to see “the spark of God in others.” It is the Eucharist that nourishes his work for justice and makes him a sought-after confessor and retreat leader.
Monsignor often commented, “You cannot say everything at once.” I take cover under that aphorism. Many others are far better positioned to offer a similar reflection. The limits of space and my own perspective permit only a glimpse of this treasure.
Congratulations on 25 years of writing for the Catholic Standard & Times. Praise and gratitude to God for your priestly example and wise words.
Father John Ames is the deputy secretary of the archdiocesan Office of Catechetical Formation.