Sunday, October 28, 2018
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time-B
National Priesthood Sunday
This is Priesthood Sunday in the United States. It is a day that we give thanks to Our Lord for giving us the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The second reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us about the priesthood of Jesus Christ: “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God…. You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
The Eucharist is the center of our Catholic life. And so, in order that we can have access to this great gift of Himself, Jesus gives His ordained priests a share in His own priesthood.
Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders we are doing right now at this Mass what Jesus did at the Last Supper when He took bread and wine and said: “This is my Body. This is my Blood. Do this in memory of Me.” We are now doing this in memory of Him.
I thought today I would share a little bit about my own calling to the priesthood.
My vocation really came from God. But God used my family as His instruments. My parents, Tom and Cheri O’Connor, who are now both with God, had five boys and one girl, and I am the oldest.
In our family life, my parents nurtured an environment of faith. We went to Mass EVERY Sunday. The only excuse was if you were sick – and sick enough to be in bed all day. Sunday Mass was the center of our family life.
My parents went to Confession regularly and invited us to go along with them.
We prayed in our home: grace at meals and the family Rosary. When it was time for the youngest to go to bed we would all kneel on our favorite step going up to the bedroom level of our home, and say night prayer together, led by my mother and father.
My own calling to the priesthood, I believe, happened when I was about four or five years old. (We moved a lot as a family, and I can associate different ages with different houses we lived in.) I was attending Sunday Mass at St. Jude’s in Elyria. I was in the third row on the main aisle. (I liked to sit there so I could see). It was the Offertory of the Mass, and I was watching the priest, Father John McCaffrey. I was looking at the altar, and at the cross that was above the altar. And then I said to myself, “I could do that! I could DO that!” I believe, as a four or five year-old, that was when God first called me to be a priest.
There is a line in Graham Green’s novel, The Power and the Glory, that goes: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” That was the moment when the door opened and let the future in for me.
Father Frank Kosem, the pastor of St. Jude’s in Elyria, knew the story about that cross over the altar in their original church, and when their new church was completed in 1991, he delivered it to me.
Today that cross is on the front wall of the daily Mass chapel at Saint Joseph.
Before that cross the Lord opened the door and let the future in for me as a four or five year-old boy.
I was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-six on June 14, 1975 with twenty-five of my classmates, 43 years ago.
I always wanted to be a parish priest, but God had some other ideas for a period of my life.
I taught in our diocesan seminary, Borromeo Seminary College. I was involved in diocesan work at St. John’s Cathedral, in the Diocesan Worship Office, and for nine years I was Bishop Pilla’s secretary – although I always continued to be involved in a parish somewhere.
I was the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Avon Lake for 18 years and then the pastor of Saint Vincent de Paul Parish in Akron for 2 years, and now for 3-plus years I am the pastor of Saint Joseph Parish and the pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish. And I am very happy and very grateful to be here with you all!
Now, you have heard the witness of this old man who is 69 years old and a grateful priest for 43 years. After Communion, we will hear from a young man who is 20 years old and who just entered Borromeo Seminary two months ago, Nathan Frankart, a member of Saint Joseph Parish. And he will share with us what his journey has been like so far.
All of us are instruments of Christ for vocations to priesthood and religious life in the Church. If you know a young person that you think might have that calling, let them know. Tell them you think they have what it takes. Encourage them. Pray for them. I am convinced that many of our future priests, deacons and religious are right here in the pews of our own parishes.
You might ask me, if I had it to do all over again, forty-three years after my ordination to the priesthood, would I still want to become a priest, even knowing all that I know today? My answer is, “Absolutely! Yes, I would! Without a doubt!”
And I still thank the Lord for the call that He gave me so many years ago as a young boy, before that cross during Sunday Mass, when He opened the door and let the future in.