Last week, I had the opportunity to con-celebrate Mass with two priests who, together, have 120 years of priestly experience. Only bringing 6 years to the Altar myself, I was somewhat in awe of the two aged servants who have toiled long in the vineyard of the Lord.
As I reflect back on this Mass, and as I have continued to grow in friendship with these two men (who are both old enough to be my grandfather!), I continue to marvel at the great gift of the priesthood for the Church. Here we are, three men from two dramatically different generations, united by a common bond of priesthood, sharing in the one Sacrifice of Our Lord.
As I stood back, I pondered what drew me to these two men. In any other profession or career, I doubt our paths would have crossed. They would both have long since been retired; yet here we were, united by the Altar. I marveled at their deep love for the Eucharist, the joy in celebrating Mass, in preaching to the people, and an obvious love for the Blessed Virgin Mary — whom we were celebrating at this Mass.
More than anything, this is what has drawn me. These two aged priests — one who can barely walk, one who winters in Florida to escape sometimes brutal Cincinnati winters — both have a keen and profound spirituality, a depth of personality and meaning, a close connection with Our Lord and Our Lady. I can only hope to have a portion of their spirit when (if?) I reach their age and service.
As I have gotten to know these two priests, I discovered how they have developed such a deep and personal connection with our Lord: they have suffered. Fr. B. spent six months in the hospital in the early 80’s, hanging on after given a slim chance of recovery; Fr. S. has had to move to Florida for his health reasons. Through these struggles, and many others which I am sure I don’t know about, they have been united with Christ on His Cross, and are now particular channels for His grace to flow, even in their older age – or perhaps I should say, especially in their old age. “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by virtuous living” (Proverbs 16:31).
While I certainly do not look forward to suffering and struggle, if it brings me to the same place it has brought these two holy examples of the priesthood, I hope I am able to endure it with grace and embrace it with gratitude.