Fr. Peter J. Daly
March 31, 2004
Every year we have at least four retreats in our parish: one for men, one for women, one for youth, and one for the adult converts coming into the church at Easter.
I can’t go to all of the retreats because I have to be in the parish on weekends. But I always go to the one for the converts. To them it might appear that I go to reassure them in their journey in faith. But actually I go to be reassured by them.
I hear wonderful stories on their retreat. I hear stories of the faith. People talk about their losses, failures, doubts, loneliness and their searching for God. They also talk about how God speaks in their lives and how they have met God in our Church.
I cannot tell you or them how much this means to me. It is such a reassurance.
Ever since the child abuse scandal broke in January of 2002, this has been a tough time to be a Catholic priest. Many of us priests have been discouraged by the constant drumbeat of bad news.
Often we have been bitter and angry. Sometimes we have felt betrayed. Sometimes we have even felt ashamed of being priests.
Like Alice in Wonderland, everything seemed distorted. Things once true, beautiful and good suddenly seemed the opposite. The scandal was disorienting for the faithful and for priests.
But on retreat, I saw and heard something else that does not make it into the papers.
I saw again that priests do make a difference in some people’s lives. We are needed to help make Christ present in the lives of people whom God sends to us.
This is especially in the sacrament of reconciliation.
On the retreat I hear a lot of confessions. We set aside a whole evening for it. One after another people lay bare their anguish and sorrow, not just to me, but to God.
These are long confessions, filled with tears and sighs. Like Simeon said to Mary, “The thoughts of many hearts are laid bare.”
When I came out of the confessional I felt exhausted. But, oddly, I was also elated.
Priests are given the great privilege of helping people to hear Christ speaking to them words they desperately want to hear: “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.”
Where else can people leave their regret and sin? Where else can they lay down the burden of the past? Who else is given such a privilege?
People came in with tears and weeping. They went out in joy and peace. Like Psalm 126 says, “Those who sow in tears, shall reap rejoicing.”
On the retreat this year, I had a conversion of my own. I left behind a lot of the anger and shame about the past two years. For me, this Lent has been what lent really means, a springtime.
The Catholic priesthood in the U.S. has gone through a cold hard winter, which has lasted nearly two years. But this Lent has brought a thaw. For me it happened in the confessional.
In the midst of all the bad news I was reminded that despite all, we are bearers of Good News. That is what I got out of our retreat for the converts.
It isn’t just the catechumens and candidates who have found new life in Christ this Easter. Me too. Through them and their search I have been reminded that Catholic priests and be proud of what we do and who we are.
For me this year’s celebration of Easter is not a theological abstraction, it is a real resurrection.