Father James Farfaglia – While I was pouring myself a hot cup of coffee in the rectory kitchen a number of years ago, a priest friend who lived in the same rectory came through the kitchen, his face beaming with his characteristic joviality. “Come here,” he said,” I need to show you something.” Father had just celebrated his birthday and he had bought himself a little present. As he carefully opened the box he looked at me with the anticipation of a small boy with a new toy and cheerfully said, “Look at this!” What he was showing me was a beautifully stitched corporal and matching altar cloth that he had ordered from a liturgical supply company for his celebration of the Mass. “This new corporal and new altar cloth will remind me to say Mass better and better,” he exclaimed. I was profoundly moved by his words.
Similarly, Pope Paul VI prayed a beautiful prayer each time before he celebrated Mass, “Lord, grant me the grace to celebrate this Mass as if it were my first Mass, my only Mass, and my last Mass.” When I was newly ordained, I mentioned this story to another priest friend who said, “Yes, I know about the Pope’s prayer, but I have changed the wording. Rather than saying as if it were my first Mass, I pray that my Mass will be better than my first Mass.”
How wonderful it is for me to be in the company of Catholic priests who passionately love Jesus, the Church and their vocation to the priesthood!
When I contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist, I am continually reminded of these beautiful words from the Sacred Scriptures: “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved” (John 3: 16-17).
We cannot even begin to fathom the depth of God’s love for us. His love is so immense that he himself is defined as love. “God is love” (1 John 4: 8, 16). The Holy Eucharist is the most visible sign of God’s love for each of us. Jesus loves us so much that he cannot leave us. “And know that I am with you always until the end of time” (Matthew 28: 20).
As we consider the mystery of God’s unconditional love we are reminded that love defines the very purpose of our existence too. The purpose of our life can be summed up with only one word: love. “…since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another” (1 John 4: 11).
A few years ago I came across an acquaintance that I had not seen in a long time. We exchanged warm greetings and she asked me how everything was going at my parish. Are you still the only priest over there?” she asked. When I told her that I was, she wondered if I was ever bored with saying many Masses on the weekend. I assured her that everything was wonderful, but I thought to myself, “bored”? I love what I do! I did not want to embarrass my friend, but I wanted to tell her that my biggest problem on Sunday is that each Mass has to come to an end. How could I be bored when I have been called to the Catholic priesthood? Each time I celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is as though a new Bethlehem and a new Calvary have become present for me. How could I be bored when I hold Jesus in my sinful and trembling hands?
What intimacy! When Jesus comes to us, he comes to us as communion. God and man become one. He comes to us as the divine lover. His communion with us is more intimate than the intimate union of husband and wife or a mother with her unborn child. Let us recall then the words from the first encyclical letter written by Blessed Pope John Paul: “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (Redemptor Hominis, 10.1).
When we consider the vocation to fatherhood through the prism of the Eucharist, we find that fathers have been called by God to love in a very special way. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church” (cf: Ephesians 6: 25).
How does Christ love his Church?
The answer to this question may be found in the Eucharist: “This is my body; this is my blood.” Love is total, unconditional, a complete oblation.
Married men with children are called “Father” by a select group, their families. As a priest, people call me “Father.” I too have been called “Father” by the thousands and thousands of people that I have provided for, nourished and educated for more than twenty-six years as a priest. It is my vocation to celibate fatherhood that allows me to stretch my heart and give of myself unconditionally with joy and love each day with renewed commitment and dedication.
Our nation needs good fathers, be they heads of families, parishes, or dioceses; furthermore, that they be true and loving men who will live out their vocation. And what is their vocation? It is simply this: love. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 13).
Am I bored? That question from my friend caused me to reflect.
I realize that the older I get, the younger I feel. With the rapid passage of time, I begin to understand Saint Paul’s dilemma: his passionate love for Jesus caused him to desire to be with him in heaven, yet that same love caused a passion to continue the work of the Lord here on earth. The daily encounter with our Eucharistic Lord allows us to be caught up in the mystery of continual and unconditional love.
Yesterday was Holy Thursday. Let us all thank God for the awesome gift of the priesthood. Some among our ranks have caused tremendous scandal. There is no place in the Catholic priesthood for a modern day Judas. Rather than focusing on what Pope Francis once called “the little monsters,” let us celebrate today the vast majority of Catholic priests who joyfully serve their people with profound dedication and joy.