An inspiration of God’s incredible love for us

This past June I drove down to Seton Hall University for the funeral of a good friend and former seminary classmate. There were seven of us who made up the pre-theology class that year. I was the youngest at 21 and Walter was the oldest at 57. In doing some preparations for National Vocation Awareness Week next week, I found myself thinking about Walter.

Walter grew up in the Boston area and had been in the seminary for a while after high school. After a stint in the Army he began a career with IBM and climbed the corporate ladder. During this time his faith continued to grow, as did his love of Christ. At a time when he could make an even bigger career move up that ladder, he changed directions totally. He retired and went into the seminary. 

What stood out about Walter was when he left the money and success of the corporate world, he never looked back and never lamented the move. He was perhaps the happiest person I have ever met. It took me a while to figure out why he was so happy: he was head over heels in love with Christ and was in total awe that the Lord had called him to be a priest. He loved being a priest and that love was contagious. I wasn’t surprised when his bishop reassigned him to the seminary faculty. He was a great listener, had a sincere care and devotion to the people of God and, as I said, loved Jesus and loved being a priest and shared that love with anyone who would listen.

In the seminary he was one that always sought to motivate his classmates and at times challenge them. I know he recognized gifts and talents in me that I didn’t realize I had. In some of our conversations he would get a bit frustrated with me and in hindsight it is a wonder that he didn’t get frustrated a lot sooner. At 21, I thought I had all the answers and that I was going to change everything that was wrong with the world, the Church and anything else I could change and fix.

At the wake and funeral I met many seminarians and priests who, like me, owed an awful lot to Walter. He inspired us all in very small and ordinary ways. He was an example of simple living and of living in love with God. It didn’t matter who you were: the poorest of the poor or the most powerful man in the universe, Walter saw you as a child of God and would engage in a conversation with you as if you were an old friend. During the funeral, the archbishop broke down in tears recalling his friendship with Walter, an emotion felt by all who gathered on that beautiful and sad June morning.

My purpose in sharing this with you is not to canonize Walter, he had his faults, the least of which was he became a Yankees fan somewhere along the way. But Walter inspired me (and continues to) to have that same love for God, to live simply and to be in awe of the gift of priesthood I have the privilege to have received. When I reflect on Walter’s example and my friendship with him I quickly come to a sense of amazement of just how good God is to His people.

All of us who are made in God’s image and likeness are called to live that very same love and joy that my friend did, regardless of our vocation. If we truly discern God’s call and have the courage to persevere in responding to that call, we will find a happiness and peace that we cannot create on our own. Not only that, but the world itself will be changed. How could it not be if we all lived in such joy?

I love being a priest. There are very real challenges and there have been some bad days. However none of these challenges or bad days have ever led to me once to think that I made a mistake or should walk away. I have (and continue) to learn more about who I am and the gifts that I have. I have been able to witness the power of God’s love at work in the lives of countless people. I continue to discover the treasures within the vocation of priesthood.

It is my continued prayer for the students I serve in the colleges, the youth and young adults in my parish and all the young people who read this, that they take the time to discern God’s love for them and the ways that they can share and grow in that love in their lives, whether as priest, religious, married or the single life. I pray that all of our families become true domestic Churches where God is celebrated, His love made manifest and where we have the help and support to listen for God’s call. I pray that all of us growing in our vocations show the love and support those who are discerning need.

Above all, I pray for the example and inspiration of people like my friend Father Walter and for God’s incredible love for us all.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts