The Bitter and the Sweet
Published on May 21-22, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Most people assume that I have had an altogether positive experience of the Church and that it was this positive experience that inspired me to pursue a vocation to the Priesthood.
To an extent, they are right; I did grow up in a very Catholic atmosphere. Mine was the childhood of block rosaries and candle-lit processions, early morning Mass (at 5:30AM!) on my birthday and midnight Masses on Christmas and New Year. Every family trip detoured to a shrine of Our Lady. Every school day began and ended with a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
But, I too have had my share of negative encounters with the people of the Church. I was nine when my pastor refused me Holy Communion for not being “dressed up enough” for Mass. My village of Salapungan was put on interdict by the Archbishop—all public celebrations of the sacred rites were forbidden—until the local council forwarded to the pastor the second collection that was taken up to repair the village chapel. I have friends from seminary who had been suspended from the Priesthood; one was laicized, another excommunicated. I have had Catholics who had left the Church and Catholics still hanging on by a thread insult me, ignore me, lecture me at checkout counters and wedding rehearsals, beside hospital beds and in the kitchen of a parish hall just because I am called by the same title (Father), hold the same office, and wear the same collar as that other priest who had insulted them, ignored them, lectured them.
I have had the best of times with the Church. I have had the worst of times with the Church. And I am still with Her; Her son then, Her priest now.
I learned early on that this is all part of being Catholic: just as I share in the grace of the Church, I share in Her sins. I share Her merits just as I share in Her blame. What is Hers is mine; what is mine is Hers.
But, when the negative seems to overshadow the positive, I recall that fifth grade classroom of Holy Angel where Miss Marcelina Torres taught me and forty-nine others our Catholic Faith. It was there that I first fell in love with the God who loved His people so much that He took on all that is theirs so that He could share with them all that is His. I have loved Him as best as I could, even to the extent of heeding His call to serve Him as His priest. Little did I know that He would share with me not only the sweetness of His grace but also the bitter gall of His passion.
I sometimes have wondered why He didn’t spare me any of that bitterness. I suppose that He is reminding me, as once He did Saint Paul, to never “boast except in [His] cross…through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).