I've had many fathers in my life.
I thank God for the gift of my father, Joe, who has taught me a strong work ethic, faithfulness, forgiveness, and honesty. I am the person I am today because of him.
But I also am who I am because of Father Vaughan, Father Yanas, and Father Torres, among others.
When my father is too old and frail to care for himself, I will care for him. Why should it be any different for my spiritual fathers?
I met Father Ryan in 2008 when he would sometimes offer Mass at my parish, Sacred Heart in Troy. He faithfully carried a stack of books with him and his eyes had that Irish twinkle in them when he made a joke. Then I stopped seeing Father Ryan, and I assumed perhaps he moved to another parish ...
But Father Ryan had become ill and could no longer live by himself. He went to a local nursing him and it wasn't until a few years later that my path crossed his once again.
My friend, Louise, invited me to go with her to visit the sick and elderly priests at a local nursing home. When I saw Father Ryan, much had changed. He was wheelchair bound and needed assistance with even basic tasks. But much was the same: he was still my spiritual father.
How often had those hands, wrinkled and frail resting on his lap, healed others through the Sacrament of the Sick?
How often had that voice, now muffled and worn, spoken the words of consecration?
We sat in the group dining room and Louise encouraged Father Ryan to lead us in prayer. As he prayed aloud, I realized that I was the one being blessed, not the other way around. Elderly and infirm, here before me was still an alter Christus, another Christ, Christ Himself in His holy priest.
Father Ryan passed away not long after that and I am grateful I could be there during those final months. It was just being there: my presence was enough. Enough for him to know he was remembered, he was valued, he was honored for his priesthood.
Our priests in nursing homes and hospitals have given everything for us, the Church, acting as channels of God's grace. That doesn't suddenly stop when they retire. By sanctifying the suffering of old age, they continue to be conduits of grace.
Sometimes suffering born with patience and acceptance, offered to the Lord, speaks more eloquently than any homily.
Yet, how many of our ill and elderly priests pass their final years on earth largely alone and forgotten? Our priests have been there for us: the day of our baptism; when, crippled by sin, we desperately needed to hear the words of absolution; the day we said, "I do" to begin a life as husband and wife; when we had to bury our loved ones.
As of December 2014, there are 88 retired priests in the Diocese of Albany. They have served us; how can we serve them as more and more enter nursing homes or are hospitalized?
We can be present to them, as they have been to us. Visiting the sick is a Corporal Work of Mercy. Today I visited Father Rooney in a nursing home. I received his blessing as I said goodbye and seeing his grateful smile filled me with joy. It felt as though I was the recipient of the Work of Mercy.
Most importantly, we can all pray. We may no longer see their faces from behind the pulpit, but we cannot forget our elderly and infirm priests. Pray for them to have strength, to receive consolation, and be blessed with the grace of a holy death.
They have given us the sacraments; they have brought us Christ. As they face the final years of their lives, let us bring them our concern, respect, love, and prayers.
Let us honor our Fathers.