A few weeks ago I was watching a rerun of the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park from the 1980's on PBS. It was a great concert, filled with all of their hits and many of my favorites, and it brought back wonderful memories. They were one of the groups of my generation that provided music with both message and fancy. And it is amazing how I remembered the words! One of those songs was "Old Friends".
Within the past week I encountered a few "old friends" ... not "old" as in advanced in age, but old as in longtime friends. Yesterday I received a call from a good friend and one of our priests who has left active ministry, Mark Purnell. He is living now in California, and while having gone through some serious health issues, is on the mend and doing well. He has found his niche in life, and it was a pleasure sharing with him our past and our present experiences of life. This same weekend I had a visit from another really good friend and brother, Mike Ripple and his wife, Wendy. I have mentioned Mike before, and our relationship for the last nearly twenty-five years is a blessing in my life. We were once a "team" at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg. They were in the area for a wedding. In addition, a few of our parishioners mentioned that they had met other former parishioners and friends who inquired about me within the past two weeks. It is good to be remembered and to be thought of.
But old friends are to be counted even among those that I presently know and my present parishioners and neighbors. The Sunday before last we held our annual parish covered dish picnic in our social hall, with a banner attendance. Another moment of great food, excellent fellowship, and loads of fun. After nearly eight years here, I look with fondness upon the young, the many young families, the stalwart, faithful, hardworking parish members, and those of a greater age who I now consider "old friends" and who bless my life.
Hold onto your friends and count them as a blessing from the Lord.
School has got off to a staggered start in this area. One district begins tomorrow. Our local public district has two weeks in already, and our local regional Catholic School began last week. I was out for a drive on the afternoon of the first day of school, and I ended up behind two school buses. I smiled with warmth as I saw at least four stops where the youngster (really young girls and boys) exited the bus with enthusiasm, dressed up for the first day of school, excited to tell their stories, and were greeted in all four occasions by Mom and Dad who waited for them, hugged them, and then listened with a smile on their face as the story of the day was told. It was a Norman Rockwell moment for me, and I felt good.
Yesterday the Church recognized Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a Saint. This public proclamation of her holiness was already recognized by most in the world, even within her lifetime. In the canonization process, the Church simply places her as a model for us and acknowledges her as a hero of charity and gentle love in our times.
I told our people over the weekend that in the mid eighties I had the good fortune to attend an international retreat for priests in Rome. After a prayer service in Saint Peters we were addressed by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II and Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta. As she began to speak to us, she stated that she was in awe at being in the presence of so many holy people. As I heard her make that statement, I was humbled and somewhat taken back that those words, spoken with such sincerity and love, came from a truly holy person. It touched my heart and remains as a cherished memory. Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
This past Tuesday marked nine months until I reach the early retirement age for this diocese of seventy, and on Friday I spoke with the Vicar General of the Diocese regarding my intention of retiring in the June round of appointments - the first formal step of the process. I have mixed feelings regarding retirement, but my health issues are limiting me too much to consider staying longer. I cherish every moment of my priesthood, and look forward to continuing to serve to the best of my abilities for these next nine months plus, with the help of God and the patience and love of his people. Pray for us all.