Priests have been an instrumental part of my life since I was a boy. Our pastor, Fr. Cahill, trained me to be an altar boy. He even taught me Latin.
The assistant pastor, Fr. Hogan, was the football, basketball, and baseball coach for our CYO team. He even drove the team bus to all our away games. Our next pastor, Fr. Gatto, hired my brothers and me to keep up the church grounds. We cut the lawns, pruned the trees, and laid the mulch. His one demand in the winter was that we have the whole parking lot plowed before 7:00 Mass on Sunday mornings.
But it wasn’t just the priests from my childhood who were role models. As a young man, I shared an apartment with some friends. Together, we wanted to help each other live a deeper Christian life. It was very challenging until Fr. Theo Rush, a Franciscan who had taken a sabbatical year, offered to move in with us and help us in our spiritual lives. His witness and his guidance—in matters both large and small—was a priceless gift from God. Four years later, he married my wife Felicia and me.
In the early 1980s, Fr. Francis Martin was my mentor while I was studying for my Ph.D. in theology. He was a wonderful teacher not only because he knew so much but even more importantly because he made learning enjoyable. His insights into history and the Scriptures have been invaluable to me, both in my work for this magazine and in my other efforts at evangelization.
In my life, I have benefited from the help of doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, and electricians. But I have always had to pay for their services. That was never the case with the priests in my life. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have the benefit of their wisdom, their kindness, and their dedication to the Lord.
Living Icons of Christ. In this issue, we are celebrating the Year for Priests, which Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated last June. We look at the critical role that priests play in the life of the church. We look especially at the way they are "living icons" of Christ as they minister at the altar of the Lord. There are also two exciting stories that show how dramatically priests can affect people’s lives. One profiles Fr. Jim Hewes, a pastor in upstate New York, who heard God call him to care for the poorest of the poor in a slum in the Philippines. The other tells the story of Fr. Walter Ciszek, whose missionary work in the former Soviet Union nearly cost him his life.
As we celebrate this Year for Priests, let’s all consider how indebted we are to these men who have accepted such a demanding and often thankless calling. Let’s find ways to honor the priests in our life. And above all, let’s continue to pray for God’s blessing upon them.