By Deacon Lewis Ferris
This article can’t be written by a Priest, so I will write it.
Sept. 11, 2001: Those of us who are old enough recall exactly where we were and whom we were with on that infamous day. Our oldest son, Christopher, was a policeman in Newark, New Jersey. He and his fellow officers watched in horror and disbelief as the Twin Towers burned across the river. I spoke to him on the phone just then, and he exclaimed, “Dad, everyone else is running out of the towers, the firemen and policemen are running in.”
It took a tremendous amount of courage for the first responders to do their jobs, but there were other responders besides the firefighters and police. A majority of the firefighters and police officers who died that day had Catholic names, mostly Irish, Polish, and Italian. These heroes needed another kind of responder.
I read an article by a New York Priest. On 9/11, he received a call from an FBI agent who told him there would be a car waiting for him outside his rectory. The agent whisked him to the Twin Towers to minister to the injured and dying. You may also recall the story of Father Mychal Judge, who was struck in the head by debris from one of the burning buildings and died while administering last rites to another victim. These two Priests, and others as well, responded courageously to the needs of fellow Catholics without hesitation or delay.
We need Priests not only in emergencies, but throughout our lives. Priests baptize us as babies, washing us of original sin and rescuing us from Satan’s dominion. As we get older, we need a Priest to hear us confess our own sins, and it is a Priest who usually gives us Holy Communion. As we mature, a Priest is often there to help us discern our vocation to religious life, holy orders, or marriage. If we marry, we need a Priest (or deacon) to witness our vows.
As we get older or become ill, we need the Priest to administer the Anointing of the Sick and comfort us with words of eternal life. When we die, we need a Priest to celebrate Mass for us and give us a Christian burial. Even after we are dead, we depend on Priests to offer Masses for our souls and comfort our loved ones who have been left behind.
St. John Vianney put it well:
“Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Without the priest, the Passion and Death of Our Lord would be of no avail. What use would be a house filled with gold were there no one to open its doors?”
A Priest isn’t allowed to have a ‘bad day.’ If he does, he ruins someone’s confirmation, wedding, bereavement, or even his or her connection with the Church. He has to be ‘on’ at all times. It’s very easy to take our Priests for granted, to think that they will always be available. We would do well to pause and consider what our lives would be like without Priests.
Today more than ever, our Priests need our support and prayers. Let us therefore encourage them with our words and deeds. They are not supposed to do it alone.
Deacon Lewis Ferris is in diaconal service at Sacred Heart of Jesus, Bath. The Catholic Church in the United States is commemorating National Vocation Awareness Week this year from Nov. 5-11.
Photo: A priest elevates the host during a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City (OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz.)