From the Pastor: 25 Years A Priest!
May 18, 1996 I knelt before the bishop and was ordained a priest. I cannot tell you with certainty why God allowed that to happen. My best guess is that I was so incompetent for the job that if I accomplished anything good and holy in my vocation it would simply prove that God exists, for it had to be He Who worked through me. I say this with no false modesty. I was far from a perfect Catholic man before entering the seminary and although God (directly and/or through others) corrected, healed, and formed me in some very important ways, I still did not exit the seminary anywhere near being a Saint. I am still, after 25 years, quite the sinner. But at least now I am striving, in a way I was not back then, to rid myself of sins with a seriousness that I never had in the past. I know that time is short and that eternity is llllloooonnnnnnggggg. I have battled demons of my own and those of others. Some I have, through God’s grace, conquered by means of a head on attack with the spiritual weapons provided by the Church and the brashness of a combatant who isn’t afraid of the outcome. Others I have learned to run away from, knowing that either they are too strong for me or I am too weak for them, for even Superman knows not to mess with Kryptonite, and I am no Superman! Whether fighting to win (which brings glory to God) or fleeing to win (which also brings glory to God), the fighter has greater determination to conquer his opponent the closer to the end of the fight he comes. I am now 25 years closer to the end of the fight, which, judging from the way the people of the world and the Church are behaving, may mean the Second Coming rather than my personal expiration date.
Along the way I have learned some very important lessons from some of the most likely and unlikely of people. I would like to share a few stories with you here, so sit back and relax for a spell. I will only tell of one priest, whom I will call Fr. W, who is now deceased and of whom I was fondly reminiscing recently. He had moved to this diocese after retirement and was quite active in a parish to which I was assigned. He was about as liberal as you get but, unlike so many liberal priests, he didn’t want the Church to change Her teachings so that he could enjoy sin without pangs of conscious, but rather because he was convinced that liberality would open people up to willingly embracing the Faith rather than accepting it under obligation. Anyway, I learned several important priestly lessons from him. He was available to celebrate Mass at the drop of a hat. But one priest kept making excuses for why he needed Fr. W to take his place when the reality was that he had some, ummm, problems which shall go unmentioned here but which were pretty much common knowledge at the time. Fr. W one day had heard enough of this poor priest’s lame excuses for why he couldn’t say Mass and told him, “I will celebrate Mass for you anytime you simply ask. But if you tell me one more lie about why you can’t be there, I will never answer your calls again.” Lesson: It is fine to put limits or conditions on doing even something as important as celebrating Mass. In this case, the other priest was not yet capable of admitting his sinful activity, yet Fr. W held him to what he was capable of, namely, not inventing excuses in a pathetic attempt to cover the tracks of his immorality. He stopped “meeting him where he was” and started pushing him past his “comfort level” without demanding what he could not yet do. Babysteps.
Fr. W. He was a packrat, or perhaps a term more familiar to the younger generation, a hoarder. Once when he was ill I went to his apartment to assist him. There were boxes piled floor to ceiling everywhere. Yet, in his closet, the closet of someone who seemingly never threw anything away, were, if memory serves me, only two pairs of black slacks, two black clerical shirts, and one pair of black shoes. His explanation for the sparse wardrobe was that (remember, this is a liberal priest!) no priest needs anything more than that. He said he never, in all his years as a priest, wore “civilian” clothes. Never. Lesson: When a priest loves being a priest, regardless of his liturgical or theological bent, he has no need or desire to “fit in” with the rest of the world, even in his manner of dress.
I could probably fill several more pages of anecdotes of just this one priest and his impact on my own priesthood. I cannot possibly tell of all the ways clergy and laity have helped me stay on or return to the right path over the years. I thank God for all of them and all of you. Together we can and will become Saints.
Now, one final lesson from Fr. W. He had, as older men sometimes do, bladder problems. Even in the middle of Mass he often had to excuse himself to use the little boys’ room. Although his sudden disappearances were strange for visitors, regular parishioners were very sympathetic and Mass would simply pick up as normal when he returned. Lesson number three: Always turn off your lavalier microphone when you leave the sanctuary.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka