The final night of the mission here in Chicago occurred last night at Saint Pascal's on the city's Northwest Side.
Here are a few photos I snapped before things got rolling.
Each evening of the mission, I was invited to and ate dinner with the four pastors of the parishes sponsoring the four-parish mission. I don't spend lots and lots of time with priests these days, so I was somewhat "all ears" during our conversations.
As you may know, the Archdiocese of Chicago is in a liminal moment right now. Our archbishop, Cardinal George, who submitted his resignation to Rome over two years ago, is simply unwell, with a recurrence of cancer and other complications in the past few weeks. So, as we pray for the Cardinal, we also await word from Rome about a new shepherd. I listened to these fine priests talk about their frustrations with the current situation here, all too much to go into here. What I came away with, however, was the sense that these four guys are dedicated priests, men who, despite their frustrations, simply love their people. They love being priests. They want the best for those whom God has entrusted to their care. They are intelligent, articulate men who want nothing but the best for their people and for the Archdiocese of Chicago. They represent a good cross-section of priests here in the Archdiocese, and perhaps elsewhere. The youngest is a Polish-born man, whose vision for the Archdiocese is filled with hope and optimism. Next is a Mexican-born man, who is obviously cherished by his people, and vice versa. Next is a man who worked in the corporate world for years, who came to Catholicism after having been a Baptist for most of his life; he was ordained later in life than the other men. The fourth man, a Chicago native, was ordained in his twenties, what used to be considered the usual path; he, like the others, is articulate and respected by his parishioners. As I sat there last night listening to them talk, agree with each other on some issues and disagree on others, it dawned on me how much these are men of the Church, men who love the priesthood, men who would do anything for their parishioners.
I began the mission session last night in a different way than I usually do. I talked about these pastors. I told those in attendance how much I had learned about these men in the last several days. I told them that I knew that one thing was certain: these pastors love their people. Then I asked the folks in church to not be afraid, even if they are not the "touchy-feely" type, not to be afraid to thank their priests and, after Mass on Sunday, simply to tell them, "I love you, Father." Then all joined in a round of applause for their good pastors.
I don't do a lot of parish missions; my schedule just can't allow it. But, I can tell you one thing. This particular mission helped restore my respect for the Roman Catholic priesthood and for the communities that are cared for by such loving men. Too often, only the bad news about priests is heralded in the media. These four men represent so much of the good news about priests. For that, I am forever grateful.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.