by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I enjoyed very much celebrating the Triduum at the Cathedral of St. Peter. Thanks to all who accepted my invitation and made a pilgrimage to the cathedral for one of the Holy Week or Easter liturgies.
The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday was particularly well attended. At the conclusion of the liturgy, I stood in the vestibule of the cathedral and greeted people as they were leaving. After the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, many people were somber and subdued but, at the same time, very gracious and warm in their expressions of gratitude for the liturgy.
However, one woman approached me with much anger in her face. She poked her finger in my chest and said with great emotion: “You screwed up big time!” Her comments had nothing to do with the liturgy. More than a year ago, there had been a controversy at one of our archdiocesan institutions about a decision regarding a member of her family. The matter was ultimately appealed to me and I chose to uphold the decision made at the local level.
I was pleased that the woman had come to the Good Friday liturgy. I am grateful that she has not allowed her disappointment with me and others in the archdiocese to prevent her from receiving the strength and consolation of the Eucharist. Still, her angry comment dispelled whatever tranquility I had derived from the Good Friday liturgy.
On the way back from the cathedral, I decided to stop at a gas station near my residence to fill up my tank that was hovering near empty. I must confess that I sometimes avoid this gas station, because about half the time I will be approached by someone for financial help. Perhaps the sticker shock from the high cost of gasoline numbs my compassion.
I am glad people in distress see priests as someone they can approach for help. I always give something to the person requesting assistance. However, I often feel conflicted. I wonder, sometimes, if I am enabling individuals with these gifts to purchase items that are not good for them. Still, it seems better to err on the side of generosity.
Unfortunately, usually I do not have time to get too deeply involved with their stories. I give them some money and encourage them to go to the nearby Catholic Charities office to receive counseling and more comprehensive assistance to find solutions to the underlying causes of their difficult predicament.
Sure enough, on Good Friday, a man approached me while I was at the pump. He did not ask for money; instead, he wanted a ride to a place where he had some food stored for his family. He said that it was too heavy for him to carry. I hesitated. I was prepared to give him money but, sadly, I was leery about giving him a ride to a place with which I was not familiar.
It was Good Friday. How could I not try to help this man? I agreed to give him a ride. As he directed me to his desired destination, he told me that he had been out of work for quite some time. He told me he was skilled in a number of trades, but he had “a couple” of felonies on his record that made employers wary of hiring him. He asked me to pull into a parking area behind the back of what I think was an apartment building. He went into what appeared to be a rear basement door.
Several minutes later, he emerged with a small bag. It did not appear to be very heavy. I was becoming more suspicious, and he seemed agitated. He asked if I could wait a moment; he needed to go back into the building. He was gone several more minutes and this time came out empty-handed. He was even more agitated and now he did ask for financial help.
After the liturgy, my nephew David, and his wife Dee Dee, and their four children — Grace, Jacob, Joey and Emily — were coming to my residence for a Good Friday banquet of grilled cheese sandwiches. Sister Susan Pryor, who takes care of the residence and prepares meals for me, was there to welcome them. Still, I was feeling some pressure to get home, and the man’s story seemed more and more suspicious.
I was anxious to extract myself from this situation. I reminded the man of his original request. I told him that I would be happy to take him to his home. He again directed me through several back streets. He was bemoaning that, no matter how hard he tried now to do the right thing, he could not catch a break. He asked me to leave him off at a corner that was near his home. I gave him some money and encouraged him not to lose hope or heart. I promised to pray for him.
As I drove to my residence, I wondered if I had done enough for this man. Had I screwed up big time again? Jesus gave his life on Calvary for this man. Yet, I was very hesitant to become too involved. Of course, there were a hundred prudent reasons to justify my actions. Yet, when I thought of what Jesus was willing to do so that I could have abundant and eternal life, how could I be satisfied with the little I had done for this man?
As beautiful and moving as the Good Friday liturgy was, for me the most powerful meditations came afterwards. Whether or not my decision was right regarding the family member of the woman in the vestibule of the cathedral, she was right: I have “screwed up big time” in a thousand ways. Yet, Jesus gave his life on Calvary for me. From the cross, he interceded with his Father for mercy for me, just as Our Lord had prayed for his executioners.
Moreover, the cross becomes the measure for how we are called to love. On Holy Thursday night, I washed the feet of 12 men from various parishes from throughout the archdiocese. The liturgical reenactment of what Our Lord had done for the apostles at the Last Supper challenges us all, but bishops and priests especially, to love others as Jesus loved.
I thank God for sending his Son to make clear on Calvary that he loves us with all our weaknesses and frailties, even when we screw up big time. I have a long way to go to be a shepherd after the heart of Jesus Christ. Please pray for me that I may become a better disciple of Jesus, a better bishop.