Today’s Reflection is my Speech from the Ordinandi Dinner last night. Thanks to our local Serra Clubs for all of the great work they do and another great evening. Thanks to the Ordinandi Class of 2018 for the gift of their vocation. Tonight’s talk was three short stories of two lives interwoven. Fr. Paschal Breau, SA who passed away in 2007 was a dear friend and mentor for me but so much more. He is also Maurice (Paschal was his given religious name). Our lives are interwoven and these stories speak of that but allowed me to share a message of how important it is we all encourage and support vocations:
Tonight I’d like to begin by telling you a story that was told to me. In 1937, a shy, nervous sixteen year old kid name (Morris) from a suburb of Moncton, New Brunswick took a long train ride to Garrison, New York across the river from West Point and with a few personal things made a 5 mile trek to Graymoor in the Appalachian Mountains, where he joined with other young men becoming Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. He barely said anything for fear of saying the wrong thing. The friars who were in charge were strict and intimidating to Morris unlike the nice one who came to meet him and his family at home (the nice one was a Vocation Director, by the way). A young 16 by his own admission and more than 1,100 kms from home even his name was changed, chosen for him by the Founder, an old priest who seemed rather stoic and stern. And just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, he was told he would have to get up in front of all the hundred or so Friars and introduce himself to everyone. It was the scariest moment of his young life. He stumbled, he stuttered, he froze for a time and had to be told to speak up. It was the worst experience of his young life; that was until a few months later the cold, windy weather took its toll on him and he developed pneumonia and had to be sent home; then that became his worst day ever.
The 2nd story is in the process of being written. It is the story of this 32 year old bus driver who’s quite content to drive his bus and to be invisible in the world. A bus driver who has been on a Christian journey for a few years and is only a couple of months a baptized Catholic. He has come to discover in the process of his becoming Catholic a deep love that God has for him, and a deep love he has for God and His Church but he’s far too new at this Catholic thing to feel he might be called by God to the priesthood. And the reasons he has for being content at being “invisible” are his fears which he has been good at avoiding throughout his life. He fears public speaking and always has. He fears the things he believes he’s not good at and has found enough that he is good at to be satisfied in life. He fears being alone, he fears taking any kind of major or dramatic step in life because he draws back on his own failures and fears of failure. At 32, he’s gotten pretty good at saying “maybe later”, “maybe tomorrow” or “that’s for others”. The most real and serious thing he has in life is this relationship with God and once his parish priest opens the door to his thinking about priesthood, God won’t let him stop for some reason.
So after a couple of months of these thoughts pre-dominating his prayer time with the Lord, he decides to go on retreat. He meets a lot of people; priests, religious sisters & brothers, other people on the same retreat and they all seem more sure than he is. He listens to them introduce themselves, and while their personal stories are all very interesting – they’re not his story. After the sharing he’s ready to leave. He walks out the door, towards his car and a priest is standing close by. He says hello, he introduces himself and remarks, “you’re the bus driver” and proceeds to ask him if he’s ever heard the joke about the priest and the bus driver. They talk for the rest of the evening and he stays for the weekend. This begins the third story. The bus driver has the opportunity to speak of his fears and finds in this priest, who’s 82 many of those same insecurities challenged him. The difference is he faced them; he didn’t overcome them but faced them. But he can’t help but see more abundantly in this priest real joy and real love for God and His Church.
Though 50 years apart in age, they form a great friendship, deep and mutual in many ways, but the bus driver also finds in the priest a mentor, a spiritual companion and a role model for the life in Christ he’s seeking now to live. The bus driver is inspired by the priest’s life; his deep love and dedication to his vocation. The bus driver has never met anyone as truly joyful as this priest – ever. He inspires, he encourages, he invites the bus driver into his life, which he comes to see is not exactly his life but the life of Christ in this world. And through the telling of the story of his life, the priest impresses upon his young friend that this life can be complete and not missing the deep love and friendship we need. It’s a life of great joy and freedom if you’re willing to face your fears and face them with God. This Life in Christ won’t lack anything. The priest and the bus driver continued on the Christian journey together as Friends in Faith but so much more.
The priest saw his friend the bus driver, enter the seminary, finish and graduate with a degree in philosophy which he knew was one of the greatest fears he faced, he helped him face several other fears but moreover helped him always see & reflect on the joys of everything he experienced. At 87, the priest joyful prepared for the next part of his Christian journey through death into eternal life. His friend, once a bus driver & not far from being ordained a priest himself wanted him to be with him at the altar that day. The priest assured him he would be, with the best seat & place in the cathedral. Shortly after that, as he was close to death, his friend got to be with him. He asked him to help him make the sign of the Cross and then, the priest went to sleep in Christ.
Some of you may already know, I am the bus driver and this is part of my own story. The priest is Fr. Paschal Breau who I honour by telling you part of his story tonight. The joke he told me is the joke I told to begin my Ordinandi Dinner speech six years ago & I was thinking of him as my heart pounded coming up here. He is also Morris, the teenager from the first story. There wasn’t time that night 6 years ago to talk much about this priest who inspired me, walked with me, encouraged me and shared his vocation with me. As you can see, all 3 of these stories are profoundly interwoven. Fr. Paschal who in his 80’s became a part of my life as a part of God’s plan was inspired by others who reached the heart & soul of young Morris, helping him face his fears throughout his life. From 1937 and onward – I am eternally grateful to those who inspired him and he paid it forward. We are 2,000 committed Christians here tonight – and we need to be aware of how we are interwoven into the lives of others. The deacons tonight will talk about the people who have helped bring them here; the Cardinal talks about the priest who inspired him in his own vocation story, I don’t want to be presumptuous but I hear more vocation stories than most people here and I can assure you, the people who encourage us, inspire us, help us and support us matter a lot. I also know how disappointment, rejection and discouragement can get in the way of a vocation too.
For those of us who have “found” what the Lord is calling us to do – we have to make a commitment here this evening. This is most definitely for the bishops & priests here, but it’s the married folks and parents, the teachers, the parish staff and people ministering in chaplaincy! It’s the Serrans, the CWL and the Knights of Columbus. We need to commit ourselves to strive for holiness and to be inspiring Catholic Christians! We need to encourage people to seek holiness for themselves. We need to encourage them and help them to be open to all vocations; priesthood, religious life & entering into holy, healthy marriages. One of the greatest challenges I face as a Vocation Director is to have one of the seminarians or someone whom I’m working with decide they’re not called to priesthood. But when I’ve listened to where their prayers are leading them, I know if God’s leading them and they found what they were searching for – and praise God, the Church will be richer for it! My disappointment or desire as a Vocation Director should never be a factor in their lives. No parent should project their disappointment or worry on their children discerning a vocation. We should never offer discouragement to anyone who looks up to us, even if we feel they could be the Prime Minister of Canada or the C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company – because what every joyful, faithful bishop, priest, religious sister will tell you is that there’s no greater company to serve in than the Lord’s. And I know many people working in our parishes, chaplaincies, Vocation Office – who could be making more money doing other things, but who serve the Lord and love their lives of service. We have many people in each of our lives who are discerning. The best we can do is pray for them, as the Serrans and so many others do. And then we can love them and share our lives with them and show them that what they may do matters to us.
We need to pray ceaselessly for vocations, all vocations. We need to be inspiring Christians ourselves and show others the way by what we do, not telling them what to do. Don’t for a single second think you have nothing to offer. No one gets a single thing out of any of us playing small in the world. Encourage, support and be joyful. Look at where you are right at this moment. The Serrans are ordinary men & women who pray and do what they can. Their discipleship has led to gathering more than 800 students and nearly 2,000 people at two events in one day. The Lord assures us we all have an important part to play. Be assured the Lord who has begun all of this good work will bring it to a glorious fulfilment.