Skip to comments.A Resigned Priest On His Deathbed
Posted on 07/07/2002 8:22:53 PM PDT by Lady In Blue
I think of all the parishes closing because of
a lack of priests and I have been
part of the cause, part of the problem.
A resigned priest on his deathbed
By Frederick Heuser
The doctor has just left my hospital room. I saw the sadness in his eyes as he tells me the bad news. The cancer had spread through most of my body and further treatment would be useless. He said he would put my wife in contact with the hospice program to make the time I had left as comfortable as possible. As comfortable as possiblethat phrase seems to summarize what my goal in life had been the last 35 years. But it was not always so.
As a boy I was enthralled with the lives of missionaries like St. Francis Xavier who brought the Faith to India, of St. Isaac Jogues who labored among the Indians of New York or Junipero Serra who left a comfortable home in Spain in his 50s to bring Christ to California. I pictured myself being tortured and even martyred for Christ and in my youthful enthusiasm I longed to say with the dying St. Stephen, Lord, do not lay this sin upon them.
I devoured books on heroic saints like the youthful Tarcisius who died bringing Holy Communion to imprisoned Christians during the Roman persecutions. And I felt God was calling me to be a priest. When I shared these aspirations with the Sister who taught me seventh grade and the young assistant pastor who had been ordained just two years they encouraged me to enter the seminary. I did just that with the blessing of my parents, two brothers and three sisters. At age 14 I enrolled as a freshman in the diocesan seminary.
My high school days were carefree and fun. I didnt understand how algebra and geometry would make me a better priest but studying Latin made sense because the Mass and the Sacraments were said in that language and I knew our philosophy and theology classes later on would be in that ancient tongue also. Seminary rules kept us from most sexual temptations since we were forbidden to go out with girls. As a preparation for a life of celibate chastity these rules made good sense to me.
Graduation from high school meant the beginning of a study of liberal arts in college. At that time the seminary was divided into two sections, a minor seminary consisting of four years of high school and the first two years of college and a major seminary which taught two years of philosophy and four years of theology. The years went by quickly and the camaraderie of fellow students helped us develop lifelong friendships. Along the way some students dropped out and a few were asked to leave. At the end of my first year of theology the bishop tonsured us, a hair cutting ceremony that indicated we were no longer laymen but had become clerics. The four minor orders followed shortly: porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte. A year before priestly ordination we were ordained subdeacons which gave us the obligation of praying the Divine Office each day and embracing lifelong celibate chastity. We also had to pledge abstinence from alcohol for five years. We had been well prepared for these obligations and they were willingly embraced. Six months later we were ordained deacons and could wear the clerical collar with our black suits. How proud were my parents to see me so dressed for the first time. Finally in May of 1960, the big day arrived. We were bused to the Cathedral where in the presence of our families and friends the Archbishop laid his hands on our heads and ordained us priests forever. We then concelebrated our first Mass with him. My childhood dreams had been fulfilled. The faces of my parents, brothers and sisters beamed with pride as they knelt for my first priestly blessing. My mother hugged me long and tenderly and whispered Now, like Mary, I too have a son who is a priest.
My First Solemn Mass was a beautiful ceremony. The parish choir had practiced for weeks and never sounded better. The pastor assisted me at Mass with two of my classmates serving as deacon and subdeacon while four of my nephews were the altar servers. The banquet that followed in the church hall with congratulatory speeches was the culmination of a glorious day.
A week later I received a letter from the Archbishop appointing me as second assistant to the pastor of St. Meinrads Parish. I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the other two priests, teaching religion in the parish school, offering Mass, hearing confessions and having many convert instructions. It was a very happy life. Then an event took place in Rome that startled the whole Church. Pope John XXIII convened the first Ecumenical Council to be held since Vatican I in 1870. Logically it was called Vatican II.
The papers were filled with the many changes the Church would experience. Over the years the Mass was changed and was now said in English facing the people. Lay people were brought into the sanctuary to do the readings, lead the music and distribute Holy Communion. Communion was given in peoples hands while they were standing. It seemed the priest was not so special anymore. Friday abstinence was dropped; the Communion fast shortened to one hour and fasting during Lent, Ember Days and certain vigils was eliminated. Mixed marriages, with permission, could be witnessed by a Protestant minister in his church. Theologians were telling us that the Church would change its ban on artificial birth control. It seemed that everything was changing: up was down, down was up and what was wrong now seemed to be right.
We were encouraged to attend workshops to update our theology, to read the new ideas put forth by theologians like Hans Küng, Karl Rahner, Charles Curran and Richard McBrien. Even the meaning of the Bible was questioned by scholars like Raymond Brown and John McKenzie. Nuns began dressing in lay clothes and priests would wear shirts and ties to better identify with the laity. As women were given new roles in the parish we priests were encouraged to work closely with them. All the caveats we had been taught about relationships with women now seemed very old fashioned.
Sister Mary Agnes was appointed head of the liturgy committee of our Parish Council. She was young, attractive and fun to work with. She had decided to discard her religious habit and wear modest lay clothing. As we worked together the titles Sister and Father seemed artificial and it was soon Agnes and Frank. Friendship blossomed into affection and affection into love. I had never felt this way about a person before. I should have recognized the danger signs but was blinded by love. Holding hands led to kisses and intimacies that violated our vows of chastity. We were both honest enough to realize we had to choose: to separate or to leave our religious vocations and marry. In the end human love prevailed over our vows. The hardest part next to announcing to the congregation that I was leaving the priesthood was telling my parents. Ill never forget the tears in my mothers eyes when I told her about Agnes and me. My father seemed to age about ten years. We sought dispensation from our vows and while awaiting them married in a civil ceremony. Once the break was made and our marriage was blessed my family gradually accepted Agnes.
Though we never had children we had a happy life together and I was able to get a position teaching at a local junior college. Occasionally old friends would call or drop by but after a few years those contacts stopped and we had a new circle of friends. I retired at 65 with a nice pension and life seemed very comfortable indeed. Then the back pains began and they were diagnosed as being caused by malignant tumors. Despite radiation and chemotherapy they continued to grow and spread until the doctor had to tell me that there was nothing more he could do.
I now have about three weeks before I must stand before my Creator. I am haunted by memories now. I hear the words of Jesus He who put his hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy of Me. He who loves father or mother, wife or children more than Me is not worthy of Me. Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisidech. You have not chosen Me, I have chosen you. The harvest is great but the harvesters are few.
I think of the scandal I have caused by abandoning my vocation and wonder if some divorced and remarried couples had said, If Father Frank can leave his vows and marry why cant we? I am tormented when I think of all the Masses I should have offered but didnt, of all the confessions unheard because of me, of all the sick not anointed, all the children not instructed, all the converts not taught. I think of all the parishes closing because of a lack of priests and I have been part of the cause, part of the problem. I tremble as I think of my judgment.
The priest who gave me the last rites of the Church has assured me of Gods forgiveness; but what of the people I was ordained to serve and abandoned? Can they forgive me? I know how Judas must have felt yet I have not despaired. Jesus forgave Peter who denied him three times. I know he can forgive me but will he? Will I hear him say Receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning? or Depart from me you cursed into everlasting fire? May God have mercy on my soul; may the tears of my sweet mother touch the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Please Jesus, say again to your heavenly father, Father forgive him he knew not what he did.
Reverend Frederick Heuser is the pastor of St. James Parish in Kenosha, Wis. He has a B.A. in philosophy and an M.Div. from St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee and an M.A. in speech from Marquette University. After ordination, he taught in a high school, and then became the Associate Director of the Catholic Family Life Program of Milwaukee before assuming his present position. His last article in HPR appeared in December 2000.
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May he be at peace.
I have noticed a deeper spiritual seriousness in the other parishioners and communicants as well. This is perhaps in many ways a trial for everyone but also an opportunity for grace. This priest accepted that opportunity. He should realize that was a gift.
Unless you lived through this experience, it is impossible to understand. It was too much, and too sudden ... perhaps smaller changes, gradually phased in might have worked better. It is my contention, and I am hoping someone in the catholic forum group can provide some historical background, that the liberal wing whispered in the ear of Pope John XXIII & Paul VI, that change was necessary to keep up with the times (or words to that effect).
I was a student in a catholic school at the time. The school year ended with nuns in habits but when we returned in the September, many of them were attired in street clothes. As young girls, we were happy that the nuns could doff those heavey drapes; however, our "view" of Sr. Mary Holy Card changed. The respect was still there but the "aura" of mystery that surrounded her was gone.
From one week to the next, dramatic changes occurred. The churches had to order new altars in order to comply with the about face rule. The Tabernacle was moved to a side altar. Fasting from midnight on Saturday was reduced to 1 hour (though I expect many people don't even bother with that anymore). The "biggie" was communion in the hand. Only one week earlier, we knelt (in total respect) at the communion rail. If a host fell to the ground - everything stopped!!! Only the priest could touch the host. Now, ladies with heavily perfumed fingers were dipping their hands into chalices to distribute communion.
The music ministry changed ... where once we listened to Pangea Lingua sung by angelic-voiced choirs, to the accompaniment of an organ ... it was now "Amazing Grace" strummed by a guitarist. I distinctly remember turning to my mother and asking her why we were singing protestant songs?
Most importantly, the role of the priest was forever altered. (This was addressed on a different thread last week). The high Holy Mass shriveled up and eventually disappeared.
This priest was as much a victim of Vatican II as all of us. The priesthood that he signed on to was taken away from him, through no fault of his own. The seeds planted by Vatican II have now ripened on the tree; most of the fruit is rotten. We are all paying the price for those changes. A great deception was perpetrated on catholics, both the pious and not so devout.
When washing the hands:
Da, Domine, virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendum omnem maculam ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire.
Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might serve you with purity of mind and body.
With the amice:
Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus.
Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.
With the alb:
Dealba me, Domine, et munda cor meum; ut, in sanguine Agni dealbatus, gaudiis perfruare sempiternis.
Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that, being made white in the Blood of the Lamb, I may come to eternal joy.
With the cincture:
Praecinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis, et exstingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis; ut maneat in me virtus continentia et castitatis.
Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and extinguish in me all evil desires, that the virtue of chastity may abide in me.
With the maniple:
Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris; ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris.
Grant, O Lord, that I may so bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing.
With the stole:
Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis, quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis: et, quamvis indignus accedo ad tuum sacrum mysterium, merear tamen gaudium sempiternum.
Restore unto me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which was lost through the guilt of our first parents: and, although I am unworthy to approach Your sacred Mysteries, nevertheless grant unto me eternal joy.
With the chasuble: Domine, qui dixisti: Iugum meam suave est et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen.
Domine, qui dixisti: Iugum meam suave est et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen.
O Lord, Who said: My yoke is easy and My burden light: grant that I may bear it well and follow after You with thanksgiving. Amen.
It is a common principle among philosophers that reward and punishment are the most powerful motives for good with the mass of mankind. Such, alas, is our misery, that we are not content with virtue alone; it must be accompanied with the fear of punishment of the hope of reward.
As man, we must die; as a Christian, we must, immediately after death, render an account of our life. The first truth is manifest in our daily experience, and the second our faith will not permit us to doubt. No one, whether king or pope is exempt from this terrible law. A day will come of which we will not see the night or a night which, for you, will have no morning. A time will come, and you know not whether it be this present day or tomorrow, when you who are now reading my words, in perfect health and in full possession of all your faculties, will find yourself stretched upon a bed of death, awaiting the sentence pronounced against mankind - a sentence which admits neither delay nor appeal.
Consider, also, how uncertain is the hour of death. It generally comes when man is most forgetful of eternal things, overturning his plans for an earthly future, and opening before him the appalling vision of eternity. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures tell us that it comes as a thief in the night; that is, when men are plunged in sleep and least apprehensive of danger. The forerunner of death is usually a grave illness with its attendant weariness, sufferings, and pains, which weaken the powers of the body and give entrance to the king of terrors. Just as an enemy who wishers to take a citadel destroys the outer fortifications, so death with its vanguard of sickness breaks down the strength of the body, and, as it is about to fall before the repeated assaults of its enemy, the soul, no longer able to resist, takes its flight from the ruins.
The above material was taken from a Catholic author and a favorite writer of St. Teresa of Avila. Catholics interested in more details can contact me by Freep mail.
That Vatican II hit the Church at the same time as the aggressive counter-culture in America and the social convulsions of the 1960s was significant. The changes in manners and mores, in fashion, in sexual morality - all of this had an impact on the Church as well. It is similar to what happened to colleges and universities, they were captured by a liberal mentality which lasts to this day. The Church, universities, the Democratic Party, the entertainment industry, the media, all of these institutions embodied and instutionalized radical liberal culture in ways which have lasted to the present day even though many Americans reject the mentality and ideology. Study the counter-culture and the social processes and transformations of American culture during the 1960s and you find a lot of things which changed the Church above and beyond the documents of the council.
Yes, but do you believe this was coincidental or intentional? Having researched the origin of Vatican II, Pope John XXIII would have us believe that "it was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light". Whereas, Paul VI observed the "smoke of satan" had entered the vestibule.
As catholics, we believe that the Pope is "divinely" inspired; when else in the course of history, has the church undergone such a dramatic change?
That's a good analogy. The mystique was gone; in fact, as someone posted last week, it was replaced by a team of lay people. Vatican II cannot be undone; Vatican III must be held at bay for now.
We still recall the glory of the church at that time. Once our generation passes away, who will take up the gauntlet?
Tonight, our parish priests will "christen" the newly expanded parking lot with ... kickball! They want to commune with the parishioners. Back in my childhood, the growth of a community would have been celebrated with Mass and Benediction, followed by a Eucharistic Procession.
I never thought I would ever pine for the return of those days. Despite no air conditioning in the church, incense wafting skyward, bells ringing, and stomachs grumbling, large crowds always turned out for mass.
My heart aches for the priests who for half the Mass sit behind the altar with nothing to do. Two weeks ago, a priest on Long Island even sat down for the distribution of Communion, leaving the whole thing (illicitly, I might add) to the "extraordinary" ministers.
Its like these single women nowadays getting sperm donations--who don't want love, intimacy, committment, who just want the seed implanted and to handle the rest themselves.
Men are so devalued in our society. In an era where fathers are regarded almost as a necessary vice, is it any wonder that Fathers are suffering the same problem?
Give the priests back their Mass. That is their JOB, that is their VOCATION, and if you take that away from them, you have emasculated them beyond belief. Not that that wasn't the plan all along.
Small world, I lived in Douglaston for a while but don't recall the name of the church on Route 25A.
Prior to that, I attended Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead. We lived in Oceanside then. Two of my former classmates "took the challenge" of post Vatican II and joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. One of them is now principal of our former alma mater!
That needs repeating ... from a woman! It began in the sixties and it simply hasn't stopped. Worse still, is the attitude in school towards boys. The schools are packed with ADHD and ADD labeled children. Since they can't sit "quietly" in the classroom, they are referred to the school psychologist for evaluation. Once diagnosed, the boys are placed on a drug called Ritalin. Ritalin decreases blood flow to the brain, and routinely causes other gross malfunctions in the developing brain of the child. If you check the numbers, you will discover that the majority of these children are boys. It's no longer okay for a boy to be "a boy". Boys must sit down in the class and not act up. Recess? A thing of the past.
And boys grow up to become men, who "are so devalued in our society". This cycle of events has happened before in history. If you have never seen the PBS series, "I, Claudius", go rent it. You will watch the evolution, right before your eyes. It has happened in Egypt (look at Cleopatra) and Greece (don't forget Helen of Troy). Now, where are those societies today? That is the fate that awaits this country if we continue to demean and devalue our men.
That's when priests didn't mind vesting in public. They were already halfway there because they wore their cassocks and birettas in public.
True. Let's not forget 19th-century materialism, the Enlightenment, etc. Long, gradual, incremental erosion of values.
Oh, please, let's not get melodramatic. OK? Many of the proponents of the Tridentine Latin Mass (including myself) never experienced it as a child. As Raymond Arroyo said, "How can we be nostalgic when we never experienced it to begin with?" Don't forget, too, that many of the dissenting agitators of the 60's and 70's are dying off and aren't being replaced.
Given that the orthodox, traditional seminaries are creating many more priests than the heterodox, dissenting seminaries, the balance will shift and Holy Mother Church will begin to recover. As a priest friend of a FReeper said, "The Lord loves His Church a lot more than you or I, and whatever He permits will be for our good. We must fight the good fight, but we must not argue with the Lord about what He permits and why."
That's true; most of the meetings of dissident organizations seem to feature snow white hair, and I doubt that they have many members under 50.
Still, don't write off our experience. There was a really great moment in the Church when you actually could trust the clergy, when people really considered their lives in the light of eternity, when people took vows seriously, and when there was, oddly enough, a really great sense of Catholic cohesion. When you were at a dinner on a Friday and saw someone choosing the fish instead of the steak, silly as it sounds, you suddenly knew you had somebody who was on the same wavelength and would understand things the way you did.
I think that's going to have to be rebuilt virtually from scratch in many places. It's not going to be the same (and it shouldn't be) because times change and there are different needs and conditions. But those of us who were Catholics before Vatican II lived through something very special.
I think it fell apart for two reasons: one was the presence of modernists, who had been quietly digging away at the foundations for decades; and the other was, paradoxically, that we were too obedient, too trusting. We laypeople should have stood up on our hind legs and refused to go along with many of the things that happened, but we didn't feel we it was our place to complain or resist.
I think that's changed. And I think the resolute attitude of young traditionalists is evidence of this.
Thanks! You phrased that so well.
I wasn't writing off your experience. I am still amazed that Archbishop Sheen had a prime time TV show let alone that it won an Emmy Award (and Protestants and Jews watched, too)! I was reacting to NYer's comment that when his/her generation is gone there will not be anyone "to pick up the gauntlet."