Because We Love Jesus

Published on October 8-9, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY

“I am here because we both love Jesus.”

This was Fr. Hank’s response when I asked him why he had wanted to meet with me that morning in my office at the Newman Center. At that moment, it dawned on me that he had not come to make a social call; he was not there for a catching-up-since-I-was-in-the-neighborhood sort of chit-chat. I didn’t know what to say. Experience told me that celibates only use the word “love” as a prelude for some kind of correction. My mind raced as I tried to review my recent behavior. I couldn’t think of anything that I had done that would have prompted the oldest priest in the diocese to drive down and talk me down. And so, I braced myself to hear what this man who had been ordained 57 years had to say to me who had been ordained for only three.

Rev. W. Henry Kenney, SJ (1918-2011)

Fr. Hank paused as soon as he said the name “Jesus.” He closed his eyes, letting the echo of the Most Holy Name be his prayer for that moment. When he finally opened his eyes, he smiled and said, “I have heard many good things about you.”

It was an unexpected follow-up to a profound opening. If he meant to disarm any of my defenses, he definitely had caught me off guard. His smile reassured me that he had come to encourage me in my priesthood. And even when he got to some of things that he had heard about me that had given him some concern, it didn’t feel like he was giving me a list of reproaches; it was as though he were inviting me to enter into a long delayed conversation with a trusted confessor. I opened up to him about my joys and frustrations as a priest. He listened as I ranted for a minute and grieved the next. Before he left, he invited me to pray with him.

“I am here because we both love Jesus.”

With that single sentence Fr. Hank summed up our shared sentiment as priests, our common commitment as Catholics. It also set the tone for a very Christian conversation, a dialogue that was meant to edify both of us, to build us up who were involved in building up God’s Kingdom on earth. But, it seems to me, that Fr. Hank was also stating the reason for his very existence and ours: I am here—because we—the we of Christ’s Church—love Jesus. The Church’s Faith in Jesus, Her love for Him, is the reason why he and I, why any of us, are here. We are here because we love Jesus and because someone cared enough to introduce us to Him.

Note: The Reverend William Henry Kenney, SJ, known to many as “Fr. Hank,” died at the Colombiere Center in Clarkston MI on Oct. 3, 2011, five days after he celebrated his 93rd birthday. He was a Jesuit for 71 years, a priest for 59. Until he retired in July he was the oldest active priest in the Catholic Diocese of Lexington.

~ by Fr. Noel F. Zamora on Saturday, October 8, 2011.

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