A friend of mine who was (and actually theologically it’s appropriate to say still is) a Roman Catholic priest died yesterday. He was the individual who introduced me and my wife to Jesus Christ, taught me to love theology, spirituality, and in many ways life itself. He was the most welcoming, fun, pleasant person you might know. He was merciful to those who came to him seeking God’s forgiveness, encouraging to those needing a friend and mentor, and above all, he was the most human, authentic, and loving person you might meet. Fr Chet as we called him was a true priest. When you met him you met Jesus and I don’t mean the Jesus that is above and beyond us; some distant sainted individual, but rather the Jesus who weeps with you, laughs with you, eats and drinks with you, and just lets you know you’re loved and appreciated even when you might not have your life in the best shape. I met Fr. Chet at a time in my life when I had little interest in Christianity and believed philosophy was all someone needed to know in order to find meaning and purpose in life. He showed me that Christianity was intellectually stimulating, meaningful in a person’s life, and could be lived in such a way that it would always challenge you to be a better person. He taught me that ministry was about loving and serving people even when it was tough to do so. He was the kind of priest that didn’t just attend the church dinners, picnics, and bazaars walking among the faithful as a distant church authority, he washed dishes with everyone, played games, bought kids ice cream, and worked elbow to elbow with all of us. Everything about my ministry now, even though I am not a Roman Catholic priest (I am an Anglican priest) reflects the influence of Fr. Chet. In fact, not just my ministry, but my role as a father, husband, brother, son, and person in general is a reflection of the man who always lifted me up, encouraged me to study and pursue ordination, and be the one thing so very hard to find in this life, a good friend.
Fr. Chet used to tell me there was nothing more dead than a dead priest implying that because Roman Catholic priests have no immediate family such as a wife or children of their own they are often forgotten once they retire from parish life and die. He got this one wrong. When my family found out Fr. Chet died we all mourned his passing. I only got to see him once or twice a year after moving to Virginia (He was living in Greensburg Pa) but we kept in touch via phone and the occasional letter. My wife kept him in the loop of our family life’s transitions through photographs of graduations, birthdays, etc. Fr. Chet will never be simply a dead priest in our lives, he will always be that part of us who gave us Jesus Christ. He is with me every day and alive and serving the body of Christ with every soul I touch, every Eucharist I celebrate, every sick person I visit, and every couple I marry. I loved and still love my friend who celebrates with the Angels and I’m sure sits down to a good meal in heaven with those who went before him. Prepare a place for me my good friend, I look forward to celebrating with you at that heavenly banquet which you made sure I had an invitation to attend.