"Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God...No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God..." (Hebrews 5:1, 4)
A few weeks ago, I heard this powerful story from Archbishop Flynn:
Back in World War II, several young priests from Albany, New York volunteered to go into the armed services. One young priest was assigned to the Marines who were trying to retake an island from the Japanese in the South Pacific. The Marines were trying to advance on the beach with the Japanese having the advantage of being on higher ground. This young priest tried to minster to these Marines who were at a disadvantage in the foxholes they had dug on the beach. The priest went from foxhole to foxhole giving absolution and distributing Communion. He arrived at one particular foxhole to find three young faces looking up at him all helpless. He gave them absolution and then the Eucharist. As he crawled out of this foxhole he heard a terrible explosion and he looked back to see his worst nightmare. A shell had gone into that foxhole of these three young men who couldn't have been older than 18 or 19 years of age to whom this young priest had just given the Eucharist. He crawled back into the hole and found that two of them were gone from the blast. The other one was in the foxhole and he was bleeding to death. The young Marine looked up at the priest and asked, "Father, am I dying?" The young priest responded, "Yes, son. You're dying." And the young Marine responded, "Isn't it something, Father. I just received Jesus and now I'm going to see him."
That young priest went on to become an Archbishop later on in life, but on that day, on that beach, he brought the light and the living presence of Jesus Christ into the darkness of war. A priest whether in his church or in a hospital or in the front lines of a war zone brings this Glorious Presence. As the second reading reminds us, he does not take this honor upon himself but only when called by God.
I write this as I fly back from New York with our football team. We are flying around a hurricane and the plane ride has been bumpy to say the least. When we were boarding, many were nervous about the prospects of even taking off because the winds were picking up and the airport was about to close. As I took my seat, one of our young equipment managers took his seat in front of me and said, "Boy, am I glad to be sitting next to you!" I smiled and reminded myself that the collar I wear around my neck is supposed to bring peace to those around me even though the man that wears the collar many times falls short of living up to such high a calling. Yet, despite my sinfulness, despite my fears, faults, and insecurities, somehow Christ chose me to be his priest to bring his presence to others. Sometimes in the most unlikeliest of places.
A few months ago, I was wondering what plan God had in store for me as I began ministering to the Dolphins. I knew that it was more than just celebrating Mass for them. Many of my brother priests (most of them retired after many years in ministry) have pointed to the black collar I wear around my neck on the sideline. Last month, my old spiritual director wrote to me that just my mere presence on the sidelines wearing that sacred garb would evangelize millions that were watching on television. Praying the rosary before the game, giving the rosaries to coaches, players, and staff and just simply being there brings Christ to others. It definitely is not nearly as heroic as that young priest in the South Pacific, but the joy that I receive from bringing that joy of Christ to others is beyond anything I could possibly have imagined. I do this for the team, I do this for my parishioners at St. Gregory, and I will do this wherever the Good Lord leads me on this grand adventure that is the priesthood. I wake up every morning felling blessed to be a priest, to be to offer up a Holy Sacrifice to God in the Eucharist, and to bring the presence of Christ to those that he places before me.
One last thing: last night I was sitting in my hotel room along the Hudson River staring out my window and gazing at the World Trade Center. The Freedom Tower, or One World Trade Center, is nearing completion as it rises triumphantly over that hallowed ground on the southern tip of Manhattan. It's lights reflected beautifully off the waters of the Hudson. I spent a great deal of time last night and before dawn this morning just staring at the World Trade Center and thinking and praying for the victims and heroes of that fateful Tuesday morning. And of course, I thought of Father Mychal Judge who ran towards the towers as they burned. He wasn't in a war zone in the South Pacific. This time the war zone was on our soil and he rushed to bring Christ to those who were suffering. Many of you know that Father Judge gave his life that day just as throughout history priests have given their lives sharing Jesus with others. So tonight, I ask you to say a prayer for those priests who minister despite impossible obstacles, who place their lives in danger to share the Gospel, and especially for those who courageously serve the brave men and women in our military by making Christ present in the most unlikeliest of places. "Isn't it something, Father. I just received Jesus and now I'm going to see him."