Thank You, O Priests of Christ

by Maria Grizzetti

Julius Goltzius,  Simon Sum Ostium Ovium ... Pasce Oves Meas (John 21:15) | 1500-1600, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Julius Goltzius, Simon Sum Ostium Ovium … Pasce Oves Meas (John 21.15) | Engraving, 1500-1600, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Netherlands


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I met you at the baptismal font some decades ago. A certificate tells me who you were. I don’t think I ever spoke to you. I may have screamed at you as you poured the cruciform font of grace over my small head. I hope I smiled.

I met you at Mass, and you probably blessed me in my mother’s arms.

I met you at the altar rail the day you brought me the Body of Christ for the first time.

I met you, Bishop, as the Holy Spirit descended through your consecrated hands.

I met you at the dinner table in my parents’ house, and you at the convent table when we visited.

I met you each Sunday at Mass; on most weekdays I met you, and you, and you, and you. For years.

I met you in the classroom, and you in the lecture hall, and you at the society we ran for students, and you in the dining hall. Day in and day out you were there. Four years went by.

You who taught me, you who corrected me, and you who encouraged me to study, and you who mentored me.

You who revealed the marvels of literature and philosophy to me.

I met you in the hospital room, my dead father before me, as you anointed his body while I wept. I never asked your name.

You who received my father’s body on a tarmac far away, blessed it, and gave him the burial we could not.

You, Father to my brothers who were fatherless.

You, helper of the widow who is my mother, and her orphans.

You minister of the prayers of my family.

I met you as my husband asked me to be his wife.

I met you at the altar as you received our vows, and and blessed them, and prayed for us.

I met you in some midwestern town while I lay dazed, drugged, immobile — and you brought me the Body of Christ each week.

I met you when you offered to help me, when I could not walk.

And then I walked again. But believed not.

You who received my brother’s marriage vows, and you who did the same for another of my brothers at the altar.

I met you and you as I lost my faith and you invited me back, and I resisted; and you as I hoped to regain it but had no idea where to go to find it.

Then I met you at a conference, as well as you, and you, and you, and you. I watched you all teach and pray. You all baffled me.

And you who helped me return to the altar and receive my Christ for the first time in years. You were a student. Now you are a priest. I do not know your name.

And you at a retreat I had not wanted to attend.

I met you on a campus street.

And you in a campus student center, and you gave me four hours of your time. And you told me my inheritance was as a daughter of the Father. And I said yes, right. It was the right answer, though unconvinced. You did not give up.

And you in the cloister walk of a university in Rome. And I spoke and you spoke not. For hours. And then you offered Holy Mass for me, overlooking the Colosseum. This was the faith of the martyrs — their blood, seed also for my soul. Ageless beauty struck me on the land where Paul walked. And God spoke.

And then I met you and you dared tell me you could help me. And I sure laughed. My God, what faith, what trust! Or what spectacle of pride. As I relived the agony of death, you consoled me — father you became for the father I had lost.

Some years had passed. I took back that laugh. You had done as you had spoken. Because you proposed an unshakable faith I had yet to discover; confidence so certain it smacked of self-assurance. God had done the work in you, and then for me through you. ‘Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe.’

And you, who listened, and listened, and listened, and then shed tears.

And you, who made me a meal when I visited. It was a good one. Double-crème. I shall not forget.

And you again, who prophesied a conversion, and I laughed, unbelieving.

You who asked me to pray. You who taught me to pray. You who prayed for me when I could not.

And you, Pastor, and you Pastor, and you then a student, now a priest, Pastor.

You who told me the story was not over.

You who hosted me for lunch, as the sisters laughed with us about green tea. I liked that table cloth — a fine embroidery, fit for the shepherd of the sheep. The good life. Some art on walls; the stories of a couple hundred years. Ageless faith within those hallowed cathedral naves — some hard times had shaken it, but it was built on rock and the gates of hell would not prevail. We shared some chatter over lunch about me writing. I guess I’m writing now. Thanks for that. And do correct me. You promised. Thanks for that as well.

And you who, convinced, told me I’d be a mother.

I thought that was daring. Almost too daring for the likes of me. Such confidence — again.

Wherefrom?

You who showed me a shrine, and a priory, and a medieval town, and waited there as I lit a candle beneath the Virgin’s feet, and then prayed with me.

You all who sat there, on a Sunday in Switzerland. As light streamed in, we ate. But I could barely touch my food. I was amazed at the ordinary glory of that place. I saw a family rooted in Truth. It was a cenacle. Grace lived there — I just passed by and took some with me. It felt like stealing; but no. The table had been set for the feast, and I had been invited… I then remembered: my inheritance is as a daughter of the Father, immensely loved. Those napkin rings, the simple dignity of that place, the welcome I was given — a relative stranger received on some road to Emmaus– and that cellared wine. The better part is yours. That day I discovered the meaning and joys of the Lord’s day — the day you honored. And I remain in wonder.

Two years have passed. Each Sunday I set the table and I think of you, and of that place, and of that welcome, and of that feast. I had grace for lunch that day. I will not soon forget.

You, who carried my bags to a train station as I failed to trust your precisely Swiss sense of time — two minutes were indeed enough. We had thirty seconds to spare. The train arrived in silence. Switzerland amazed my Roman soul. You offered me a bon voyage fit for the children of the light, with the elegance of the glory days.

The train left. In silence, it sped on silk. You waved.

I had found God.

And you, on Holy Thursday, in another country, who told me that Christ knew you would be His priest — from the night He gave the world the priesthood. You meant it. I was amazed. I am not often speechless. Earlier you spoke to me of that saint — your ‘sister’. You meant that too. And compelled, I knelt there to pray.

And you whom I met the first time on Good Friday, on a rooftop in Rome overlooking St. Peter’s, the cupola on the palm of my hand from the edge of that promenade in the sky. Before all of us was the city Eternal — a panorama of the world. You introduced me to your friends: more future priests. I asked you, ‘why this life?’ You said there is a a lot of good to do, and you wanted more than all the good out there. Because Christ died — for souls. Because the world in all allure had not a hold on you; you seemed freer than the free.

Now you are ordained.

And you, bishop, who lit the Easter flame under a cloudless, sapphire Roman sky. You who preached from the seminary altar of the endless love of the Sacred Heart of God. You who shed tears as two hundred men intoned the Easter Alleluias at the Offertory. I was sitting there, and what you said that night changed my life. Because God was speaking through you.

I would walk the city that night, sleepless, pausing for a while in a piazza surrounded by a Bernini colonnade. I had St. Peter’s to myself that night; or was it morning? — as dampness fell and left a shine on cobblestones reflecting light. I sat there for while staring at the majesty before me. And then kept walking my unplanned pilgrimage towards Easter dawn.

That was the Easter of the priests who walked my soul from Calvary to the empty tomb.

They had been called.
They had been sent.
They had gone out into the world.
And had found me.
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As for you who told me, convinced that I would be a mother. You were right. Or, no: God was right. And you just spoke the truth. Because faith compels and will not lie.

And as for you, you who blessed us and the child hidden within me. On the Feast of Corpus Christi. I shall not forget.

And you who offered me mercy when I wanted none. Thank you.

You who really understood the agony of the body and of the heart. Thank you.

And you, the first to know we had lost our daughter. Thank you.

And you, who loved our daughter whom you never met, and you, and you, and you, and you as well — thank you.

And you, priest, first to call me mother, thank you.

And you, and you, and you, who wrote endlessly in consolation, thank you.

You who opened the doors of the convent, made espresso, listened, and then showed me the Palatine off that balcony above the Tiber — I flew across the world to behold a pagan world at my feet and Christ to my right; an ageless sight — standing on the temple parapet. Christ won in my soul that day. Thank you.

You who believed in love. You who believed in Hope. You who have taught me to believe in the meaning of the Cross;

You who saw our daughter’s soul worthy of remembrance among the dead — who afforded her hidden life the dignity of a Mass for souls of the departed, thank you.

And you and you who have done the same in the years since that dreadful day — you who have helped us honor anniversaries of hidden grieving love with solemn prayer — thank you.

You who showed me the depths of faith that are possible if one dares make the leap of trust, dares hope;

You who saved me from despair, and again did the same, and over again, thank you.

You who said, ‘Remember the graces of your Baptism,’ thank you.
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You whom I did not know, who one day came to our house, and laughed with us, and listened to me, and then told me you felt called to be a priest. As we looked out to blazing sun on New York’s bay that day, it was clear to me that the whole world, and all of its good things, are not enough. You knew that first — and taught me to want that same extraordinary life. We are good friends.

You who were there at table for my birthdays, and you as well, reminding me of my father who once had done the same. The four of us sat there. It felt like the home. And it was very good. I am so grateful.

You who love my husband as the dearest of your friends. And you who for years welcomed his friends to pray in your church — you helped him find God. I am so grateful.

You three who woke before dawn to offer Mass for us by candlelight. That morning was like the days medieval must have been: ageless beauty; sounds of prayer still ring clear. Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just. And they did just that. Then Christmas came.

You who visited us for dinner on most Sunday nights, and you; you laughed with us, and laughed, and prayed, and laughed again. We rediscovered joy. To the tune of banjos, or Respighi. And feasting on some free range, grass fed, organic lamb. With vegetables, sometimes. Or pizza al forno — devoured after windy fairway pilgrimages. Contemplative cuisine; high dinners, high joys. Where two or three….

You all, a seminary of future priests, who chant to the heavens, and make time stand still with prayers of the ages — you who have become as sons.

You who stood there and brought me Christ while agony unfolded on a crazy NY street. There was no well; only a gutter strewn with slime and trash. But there might as well have been a well. No, it’s true: you are not wasting your own life. And I might not be wasting mine. There is one way. Only One Way.

You, past the threshold of the confessional, and you again, and you as well. And many more — you who taught me to ask for mercy. And to receive it in abundance.

I am grateful to God for you. Each of you.

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You all who preach each day as if it were offering your last homily, and offer Mass as if you were Christ on Calvary.

You, priests of the new covenant, priests of the Lamb, priests at the Altar of Sacrifice — remember us there.

And you who inspire with the strength of ageless faith and ageless hope. I see you bent at prayer, and I think I’d like to be like you. You repair the waste everywhere about us with your praise and with your sacrifice. My God, why live any other way. O Way!

You, brilliant teachers, who study to pursue the truth, because all else wastes away like sand beneath the waves: you have taught me more than you can know. And it is not enough. O Truth!

Funny ones like you, who think your duck should be cooked rare, and like me enjoy a good French wine. I mean, a better, Italian wine. Because duck is great, and we should live the good life. You live, lavishing grace. Not rarely. O Life!

You who obey, and go where you are sent, because souls are worth more than your own desired comfort. And God must yet encounter human hearts. And you say ‘yes, send me’.

You whom I have read — you have left us a legacy of faith undimmed. You who wrote as if God lives. Because He does. And you believed.

You saintly priests, who spend your earthly lives winning eternity for souls. May the Lord reward you now among the dead with peace, and the full vision of Christ whose love you brought to souls — whose mercy you did preach, whose grace you lavished with your priestly lives, watering a parched and thirsty world.

You who are friends preparing for this glorious life — no greater charity can be lived on earth than the charity of lives consecrated at the altar. May you be steadfast, courageous, joyful, paternal, living, persevering, efficacious witnesses to the Gospel. There is a lot at stake. Like souls. Your precious calling edifies. Your response sustains our faith. May the Christ of Cana turn your offering of water into the wine of gladness.

You who studied for years, and then, last week, kneeling on a sanctuary floor, offered yourselves to become Priests of Christ. You are the latest in this band of men who have added help to help. And your inheritance is the hundredfold. Yes, God Himself.

May your lives be like the millions before you — lamps that guide the ways of the world to the City of God; eternally fruitful, joyful, persevering in courage, and full of Him.

________________

One day, in the profound solitude of its exile, the elected soul hears itself called by God. “Man of desires! come forth, and thou shalt behold me! Egredere! come forth out of thine own country, thine own family, thine own self! All these affections are innocent, yet tarnished with corruption, ambition, or self-love.

Thou hast a country; come, and I will give the world for thine inheritance: thou hast friends and a family; quit them, and I will give thee friends as numberless as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea-shore.

But above all, come forth out of thyself ! Uproot thy life that thou mayst transplant it into a better land; for the obstacle is thy self, the enemy is thine own flesh, and thine own pride.

Thou art a Christian, and a priest, and thou hast a yet higher ambition; well then, go and sell all that thou hast, and come into the Promised Land, as the voluntary victim of My love, shorten that trial of absence which is imposed on the less generous victims of My justice.

Instead of waiting till the hand of death shall purify thee, tear aside the veil, and open heaven now; do in thyself each day the work of death, accomplish in thyself all justice by the sword of penance; and instead of waiting till the tide shall waft thee from the shore, push boldly out and plunge into the vast abyss: duc in altum!”
-H. Lacordaire, OP

Because you, each of you, hundreds of you, I am realizing, have done the work of the Father. And it has taken this many of you to help me.

And this is simply striking.

All over the world this same story plays out as the drama of salvation unfolds — soul by soul.

As long as there are souls, we will need you. Without you we would be as orphans in the vale of tears. You stand there in the night of faith, sustain on the hill of death, repair the broken, heal the sick. Your own hands God uses to meet our hearts, your very selves the offering for the Eternal Offering.

But I shall not leave you orphans. I will be with you until the end of the age.

No truer words were spoken, or else Truth lies. The Incarnation continues, and you are sure proof of it.

My God, what lives!

What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has done for me?

Thank you, O Priests of Christ.
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This follows on Dear Fathers | An Open Letter to Priests and Men Who May Become Them.

You may reach Maria Grizzetti at IncarnationandModernity@gmail.com

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