While I was pouring myself a hot cup of coffee in the rectory kitchen this past Monday morning, a priest friend who lives in the same rectory came through the kitchen, his face beaming with his characteristic joviality. “Come here,” he said, “I need to show you something.”
A Vocation of Love
Father had just celebrated his birthday and he had bought himself a little present. As he carefully opened the box he looked at me with the anticipation of a small boy with a new toy and cheerfully said, “Look at this!” What he was showing me was a beautifully stitched corporal and matching altar cloth that he had ordered from a liturgical supply company for his celebration of the Mass. “This new corporal and new altar cloth will remind me to say Mass better and better,” he exclaimed. I was profoundly moved by his words.
Similarly, Pope Paul VI prayed a beautiful prayer each time before he celebrated Mass, “Lord, grant me the grace to celebrate this Mass as if it were my first Mass, my only Mass, and my last Mass.” When I was newly ordained, I mentioned this story to another priest friend who said, “Yes, I know about the pope’s prayer, but I have changed the wording. Rather than saying as if it were my first Mass, I pray that my Mass will be better than my first Mass.”
How wonderful it is for me to be in the company of Catholic priests who passionately love Jesus, the Church and their vocation to the priesthood!
This Sunday, the feast of Corpus Christi, is one of my favorite feast days of the year. When I contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist, I am continually reminded of these beautiful words from the Sacred Scriptures: “Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through Him the world might be saved” (Jn 3:16-17).
We cannot even begin to fathom the depth of God’s love for us. His love is so immense that He Himself is defined as love. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8; cf. 16). The Holy Eucharist is the most visible sign of God’s love for each of us. Jesus loves us so much that He cannot leave us. “And know that I am with you always until the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
The Purpose of Our Existence
As we consider the mystery of God’s unconditional love we are reminded that love defines the very purpose of our existence too. The purpose of our life can be summed up with only one word: love. “[S]ince God has loved us so much, we too should love one another” (1 Jn 4:11).
The other day I came across an acquaintance that I had not seen in a long time. We exchanged warm greetings and she asked me how everything was going at my parish. I told her that our new parish was growing and that we were looking forward to the completion of the new Family Center. “Are you still the only priest over there?” she asked. When I told her that I was, she wondered if I was ever bored with saying many Masses on the weekend. I assured her that everything was wonderful, but I thought to myself, “Bored? I love what I do!” I did not want to embarrass my friend, but I wanted to tell her that my biggest problem on Sunday is that each Mass has to come to an end. How could I be bored when I have been called to the Catholic priesthood? Each time I celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is as though a new Bethlehem and a new Calvary have become present for me. How could I be bored when I hold Jesus in my sinful and trembling hands?
What intimacy! When Jesus comes to us, He comes to us as communion. God and man become one. He comes to us as the divine lover. His communion with us is more intimate than the intimate union of husband and wife or a mother with her unborn child.
Let us recall then the words from the first encyclical letter written by Pope John Paul the Great:
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. (Redemptor Hominis, 10.1)
Poured Out to the Last Drop
This Sunday is also Father’s Day. When we consider the vocation to fatherhood through the prism of the Eucharist, we find that fathers have been called by God to love in a very special way. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church” (cf: Eph 6:25). How does Christ love His Church? The answer to this question may be found in the Eucharist: “This is My body; this is My blood.” Love is total, unconditional, complete oblation. St. Paul enjoins husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. So too, love your children as Christ loves the Church. Give of yourself as Jesus gives of Himself on the altar of every Catholic Church. He sheds every ounce of His blood.
Married men with children are called “Father” by a select group, their families. As a priest, people call me “Father.” I too have been called “Father” by the thousands and thousands of people that I have provided for, nourished, and educated for more than eighteen years as a priest. It is my vocation to celibate fatherhood that allows me to stretch my heart and give of myself unconditionally with joy and love each day with renewed commitment and dedication.
Our nation needs good fathers, be they heads of families, parishes, or dioceses; furthermore, that they be true and loving men who will live out their vocation. And what is their vocation? It is simply this: love. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15: 13).
Am I bored? That question from my friend caused me to reflect. I realize that the older I get, the younger I feel. With the rapid passage of time, I begin to understand St. Paul’s dilemma: his passionate love for Jesus caused him to desire to be with Him in heaven, yet that same love caused a passion to continue the work of the Lord here on earth. The daily encounter with our Eucharistic Lord allows us to be caught up in the mystery of continual and unconditional love.
© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange
Father James Farfaglia is Pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally from Ridgefield, Connecticut, Father has founded and developed apostolates for the Catholic Church in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States. He may be reached by email at Icthus@GoCcN.org.