50 years ago today, a young couple got married at Saint Patrick Church, Cedar Falls.
This afternoon, that couple stood before me and renewed their vows. The Assembly stood, extended their hands, and prayed God’s continued blessing upon them.
In 40 years, marriage preparation and enrichment were important parts of my ministry. For me, indeed for the whole Church, the witness of love and fidelity, of life and suffering, of affirmation and support provided to married couples has been, and continues to be an important inspiration for me. It continues to be an invitation and challenge for me to be faithful and loving, life giving, affirmative and supportive to those to whom I minister.
To Sally and John, and to the thousand of couples I have had the privilege of knowing, I thank you for the gift you have been, and are now, especially at this point in my life/death process. You have helped me be a better Christian, and a faithful pastor, than I could ever have been on my own. The grace of your sacrament has profoundly transformed me.
The transition into the final stages of my life has been much easier than I had hoped for or even imagined. Today part of the explanation of why was revealed to me
Two years ago, I was installed as pastor here at Saint Patrick. The installation rite our diocese uses parallels the marriage ritual. I did not come to “take possession of my parish” (as if I owned it). Rather, the bishop through his vicar presented me. The lay leadership, in the name of the entire parish accepted me as their servant leader. It truly is “my” parish, just as every other parishioner says “Saint Patrick is my parish.” We belong to each other. We committed ourselves to work together in a loving and supportive relationship.
Now that I am dying, and my relationships are changing, this parish has responded in ways which amaze, but do not surprise me. Somehow, in their hearts two years ago, they accepted me as their pastor “in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” A young couple cannot begin to imagine what the next 50 years will bring. Nor could we , two short years ago, imagine what life and death would lay ahead of us.
In 40 years experience as priest, I have seen this so often. Catholics love their priests. Whether this pastor was outstanding, a holy and a pastoral man, or one who has struggled, or has made, sometimes painful mistakes in ministry, by-and-large they have loved their pastor “for better or worse, in good times and in bad.”
I know that my experience of the last 3 months would be the same if I were still at Saints Peter and Paul (Gilbert), Saint Thomas Aquinas (Ames), Saint John the Baptist (Peosta) or All Saints (Cedar Rapids). Varied as these parishes are, they all have that same loving commitment to their priests. For this I stand in awe before God and His people.
Marriage & Holy Orders – two very different sacraments. Yet, in some ways, so similar, so parallel. But that is no surprise. For as with all sacraments, they are simply the manifestation of God’s presence. And God is love, and all who abide in God, abide in love.
Rev. Everett Hemann