While talking on the phone with my sister,I looked over at my bookcase and noticed a piece of paper hanging down from a behind a shelf. I pulled it out and found a letter written to myself while I was on retreat a month or two before ordination. It was to be read on my 10th anniversary which I did and when I moved here must have thrown it behind a set of books to be read when I moved next.
It was re-read it last night. So I thought I’d share with you passages from that letter from my 14 years younger self.
It was March of 1998 and according to the letter it was a remarkably warm and snowless winter save for the day the letter was penned, for the grounds of the Jesuit Retreat Center was under several inches of snow. “I am confident that I am willing and quite content in offering myself for service to the Church,” I wrote to myself, “What a freedom that is.”
“Here is some advice from your junior,” the letter went on, “and if it is idealistic, I apologize. Don’t be afraid to ask God for anything and always. . . Ask Mary to guard you in your steps and never let a sun pass without imploring her aid through the beads.”
“Be passionate! At least be passionate about something! The Church needs no dull persons in times like these. Be someone people can follow. You won’t please everyone but you did not become a priest to be liked. So charge ahead! Create a vision . . .”
“Remember the arts both for personal growth and for the betterment of the Body of Christ. . . We need the true, the good, AND the beautiful to be effective servants of the Lord.”
“Don’t slack off on your preaching. Be dangerous.” This was in reference to one of my favorite preachers in the seminary. He walked close to the edge and so kept everybody’s attention. “What is he going to say?” ran through everybody’s mind and so we paid attention and talked about it after. But he always stayed squarely on the Catholic playing field. “Be challenging! Be interesting! Be merciful! . . . This is one of the reasons you became a priest. Don’t give in to the mediocre.”
There are a couple of pages that are probably best not made public which ends with this, “30 year olds do not need construction paper projects! Give them meat to satisfy their longings. True, one does not get to heaven by knowing more, but ignorance can make it easy to fall away unawares.”
After a bit more personal advice, some issues that were very important in the seminary were brought up and asked if they were still burning hot questions such as inclusive language, women priests, liturgy, and trends in vestments and architecture.
Finally there were some guesses as to where I would be in ten years from 1998. “You should be finishing up your second five year assignment as a parochial vicar.” In fact, my first assignment was seven years and my second three, so all in all, pretty close. I guessed that because of the priest shortage that there was a good chance that I would become a pastor, which I did, but thought it would be in a small ethnic parish in the city, meaning Cleveland. Instead I have the joy of being the pastor of what I believe to be the finest parish in the diocese in Akron – at least for my temperament. Every day I thank God that I am at St. Sebastian.
In my letter I assumed my legs would always rest under the same dining room table for the rest of my life – or most of it – once I became a pastor since we had permanent pastorates. Since then we have moved to term limits and exactly what that means remains to be seen since nobody has gone all six years yet.
“You’re probably completely bald by now.” Close.
“You became an addict and then sworn off computers.” Not quite.
“I’m sure you’ve been in and out of a couple tough scrapes, but all is well and you are, for the most part, blessed and happy.”