In a time when young and old have lost faith in God, churches, government and public servants, my dear friend and classmate, Msgr. Joseph Corley (who died June 29), shared that his main concern was “not a shortage of priests, but the shortage of people in the pews.”
Joe believed the way to renew trust in God and one another is by imitating the compassionate heart of Jesus, who is the way and the truth to live, love and laugh all the way to heaven.
Father Joe always lived in the present moment, offering his presence to empower all to discover the presence and power of God within their own hearts. Being on fire with God’s Powerful Spirit (his GPS), Father Joe caressed us with the very heart of Jesus and challenged us to do what we can to renew the church and community for the common good.
His humility shined brightly when he invited religious and public servants to help his students through Catholic education and ministries to the addicted. As a good teacher like the Jewish prophets, Joe afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.
One of the most endearing qualities of our dear classmate of the ordination class of 1975 was his loyalty to his friends. The Hebrew Bible teaches us that, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; the one who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price; no sum can balance its worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as one who fears God finds” (Sirach 6:14-16).
From faculty and students Joe proved a true friend, blessing us with his compassionate heart and generous spirit that inspired us to imitate his love for all he encountered. St. Francis de Sales captures the true friend Joe proved by putting on the mind and heart of Jesus: “What a blessing to be blessed by — and with — true friends. They challenge us; they support us; they correct us; they heal us; they forgive us; they journey with us. They love us.”
Jesus commands us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. In his homily for Father Joe’s funeral Mass, Father John Large shared that as a student at Cardinal Dougherty High School, Joe not only excelled on the championship basketball team that won a city championship but also served the poor and needy as a member of the Community Service Corps.
Believing it was God’s will that he buy a pair of shoes for a beggar, Joe was shocked when he offered the shoes and the poor man cursed at Joe and demanded money. At the same time, Joe heard the grateful voice of another homeless person cry out, “I need shoes.”
Father Joe trusted completely in the command of Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.” Because Joseph saw the face of God in every precious person, he loved them, sacrificing his time and talents without measure.
As a disciplined disciple of Jesus, even as a seminarian Joe had an amazing reverence for God, respect for all and a compassionate heart. He created harmony for our ordination class of 1975. He won the admiration of our class by his kind and caring spirit and respect of our faculty.
Imitating the devotional life of St. Francis de Sales, he understood that his purpose and meaning in life was to know, love and serve God by becoming the best Christian and do that well each day. Father Joe witnessed his goodness by his humility and kindness and became a role model for all of us by his charity and mercy in the church and in the community.
As a man of God, Joe daily practiced reverence by celebrating Mass, spiritual reading and especially associated with others vibrant in their Catholic faith and with public servants. Father Joe enjoyed the fruits of the Holy Spirit of love, joy and peace because as we heard from St. Paul, Christ’s love is never snobbish or arrogant, but always kind, patient, gentle and bears all things.
Jesus and St. Francis de Sales assure us that death can never separate us from those who love us so faithfully and passionately. “Heaven and earth are not distant enough to separate the hearts which our Lord has joined.” The gentleman saint also warns us that “he who complains sins!”
Like Jesus, Joe was beaten, battered and bruised physically by cancer, but never complained. The one organ that cancer could not destroy was his loving heart. As Father Joe endured his last agony he remained a true blessing, passing on his spirit of love, peace and joy.
The best way we can honor our loved ones is by forgiving their vices and imitating their virtues. Pause and pray how Father Joe touched your life and pray to him to help you share it with those you love.
Msgr. Chieffo is pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish, Media.
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