On May 1 of this year, I was looking down on the gray, lifeless body of my uncle, Fr. Donald Murray. He was my godfather too.
When I was growing up, my uncle would show up for family gatherings. He was full of life and had an amazing sense of humor. It's no wonder that, when I emerged from my parents' basement on June 24, 1981, I would shock them with the news that I wanted to enter seminary. Virtually no one was entering seminary then, and I had given no indication this was coming. Of course, I couldn't wait to tell my uncle, who was my childhood hero.
Fast forward to May 27, 1988, and that amazing image of my uncle praying over me at my priesthood ordination. I'll never forget that day.
We still gathered at my parent's house for family gatherings. My uncle and I would share war stories from the front lines of parish life. You know, I have never had one day when I questioned my call to priesthood. I love being a priest!
As the years wore on, I began to recognize a "need" in the Church. Something was gnawing at me, and I couldn't shake it. I felt as though Catholicism, all around me, had become weak and watered down. I began to think about my early childhood years, and even imagined the Church in my uncle's early childhood years. Back then, God, Church and parish were "our life." We took our faith seriously. We were more than homo sapiens, we were children of God. Our whole lives revolved around faith and church.
But that seemed to change — in "modern times." Church was reduced to an inconvenient obligation, in the midst of everything else that was "more important" in our lives. Following Church teaching became "optional," as our conscience became our god. I knew this was different than "it used to be." And, in my bones, I knew we had drifted away from our "essence," our raison d'être — our reason for being.
Then, on Feb. 2, 1998, while I was on my 10th-anniversary sabbatical studying in Rome, I attended my first Papal Mass. I won't go into the whole story here (you can read about it here), but I was changed. From that day forward, it became my "everything" to help souls to enter into the "Divine Life." I knew that couldn't happen unless I began by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a way that truly pointed to the transcendent, to the majesty of God.
Over the years that followed, I became more dedicated to reverent Masses, excessive availability of confession and adoration, teaching about the beautiful devotions of our faith, especially a devotion to the Blessed Mother. I fell more deeply in love with God and more deeply in love with the rich treasury of our Catholic faith.
But here was the devastating part of that change in me. It offended my uncle, my godfather and the inspiration for my priesthood. He became distant from me and only had time for the "liberal" priests of our diocese. At my 25th anniversary — it had become so bad by then — I was actually surprised he showed up. He was cold and distant from me and managed to utter one comment just before he concelebrated the Mass with me (that was offered ad orientem): "I'll try to endure this," he said. You can only imagine how deeply that cut into my heart.
You see? I became the enemy. My crime? I fell in love with the "whole" of our Catholic faith, not just what seemed to be allowed after 1965. My love for reverence and the sacraments and devotions and the Blessed Mother and the teachings of the Church was considered "divisive." I was "the problem" in the Church today, in his eyes, and in the eyes of all who seemed to "hate" everything the Church was prior to 1965. "We don't want to go back," they would say with a terrifying scowl on their faces. It was tough to take, my uncle seeming to "hate me," but I couldn't water down or protestantize my priesthood in order to gain esteem in his eyes. All I could do is suffer the loss of my godfather, the priest, the inspiration for my priesthood.
As I looked down on my godfather's gray, lifeless body, knowing we had been separated for 20 years before that day, I blamed you, bishops! It was your effete, weak compromising with the world "leadership" that emboldened all of the Fr. Don Murrays of the world to hate me — to hate us. You are the ones that guarded your gay, radical priests, while you chastised anyone who dared to actually love the rich treasury of our Catholic faith or challenged our people to strive to become saints.
Unlike the mighty bishops who came before you, you are the ones who never believed our people were capable of growing; of living a superior life in God's good graces. Do you believe in grace at all? For you, living a life of virtue is an unrealistic goal; certainly not anything anyone is capable of living. Your weak, effete "leadership" has made "us" the enemy because we actually believe we are capable of living as our ancestors once did — lives totally dedicated to God and His way, not just the way of the world. You blame us for dividing the Church, when all the while we are trying to live in union with the Church as it was for 1965 years.
My uncle, by way of his living will, gave all of the roles at his funeral to his liberal priest friends. I was "allowed to do the graveside services because we needed to travel to Chicago for the burial. My uncle disinvited the strongest bishop in the country — my Bishop Morlino. I was mortified.
Well, I will go to my grave believing I tried to be the best priest I could be, challenging myself and all in my charge to strive for holiness; to love the rich treasury of our faith, even if that mission meant being separated (and maybe hated) by you and my uncle, my godfather, my inspiration, Fr. Don Murray, whom you incited and emboldened to hate me.
I pray God uses my anger for good. Because there is a whole lot there, for having to endure the weak, effete bishops over these past 50 years. This has got to change!
Listen, you do-nothing superiors of clerics and priests. Listen, and even though you feel sure of yourselves, tremble at the thought that you are partners in the guilt of others; those, I mean, who wink at the sins of their subjects that need correction and who by ill-considered silence allow them license to sin. Listen, I say, and be shrewd enough to understand that all of you alike are deserving of death, that is, not only those who do such things, but also they who approve those who practice them. - St. Peter Damian