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Just after my mother died, I was with Dad, and he asked me if I wanted to see the new headstone they just delivered at the seminary. As we were going, my father explained to me that the plot he bought had four places one each for mom, dad, my brother, and me.
When we arrived, dad went to the faucet so he could water the flowers he just planted a few days ago, and I went to look at the headstone. I squatted down, said a prayer and took a long look. When I straightened up, it was then that I realized that I was standing on my own grave. Have you ever stood on your own grave? If you have not, let me tell you what happens. You get thoughts. Let me share these thoughts. One day, sooner than I expect, they will dig a six-foot hole, and lower my body sown. On that day, there will be some friends, parishioners, and brother priests. They will say a few prayers, maybe say some nice things about me, shed a tear or place a flower on my casket. These are all very nice gestures and I appreciate it. However nice, all this is not going to do it for me, it is not enough. I do not want to end up in a hole for the rest of eternity.
It is then that I realize that there is someone in my life who can say, “I am the resurrection and the life.” I know someone who will say, “I will come back to you and take you to myself so that I am you also may be.” I know one person who can say, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” No one in my life will be able to rescue me from the grave…except one. We can never forget that. God is always there for us.
There were torrential rains all day. The thunderstorm just hovered over Boston the entire day. I was in the basement with my fishing waders on bailing out the water. It was useless because the water was coming in as fast as I was pumping it out. At a certain point in time, I threw my hands up in the air, and I said, “That’s it; I’m leaving… I have a baptism at Saint Cecilia’s Church.” When I got there, I went over to the father of the baby I was going to baptize. He said, “We have to wait, Father, for the rest of the family; you know… the rain and all.” So I just stood there beside the dad, hoping my church wouldn’t float down Boylston Street.
Dad was holding the baby in one hand and a bag in the other. He was trying to get the camera out of the bag with the one hand and replace the batteries by flipping the old ones out and inserting new ones, not so easy when you are holding a baby in one hand. Finally, he swings his baby into my chest and says, “Father, can you hold him for a minute?” So, there I was holding this very cute baby. He was looking at me intensely, and then he reached up with his hand and squeezed my nose. He was laughing while doing this. “Oh, so you think it is a toy, huh?” Needless to say, the baby was having a good time with my face. Someone in the family noticed and said, “Oh look, the baby likes the priest.” They took out their cameras, and they started taking pictures. After the baptism, I went into the sacristy, and I said to God, “Thank you for letting me hold a baby today.”
That may not sound like a big deal to you. Everyone holds babies. Yet, priests do not get to hold babies. We do not have babies. And when I do hold a baby, the baby sees my black suit, black shirt, and white collar, and they know instantly they’re in the arms of a stranger. They immediately start kicking their legs and pushing me off with their strong arms and cry as loud as they can. The mother has to come over and take the baby out of my arms and try to comfort her little one. So I do not get to hold babies. But today I got to hold a baby. So I said to God, “You knew I was having a rough day, and today I got to hold a baby.” God is always there for us. We just have to see Him.
Once I made a donation to one of those charitable, rubber-chicken dinners: “Fly fishing with Fr. Peter.” A state senator who the silent auction in the end. About a month later he called me and said he wanted to go fishing with me. I asked him where he wanted to go. He said, “I have no idea where to go. I was hoping you could show me a place close by.” I told Boston harbor is loaded with stripers. I brought him to my favorite spot where there is a strong current. I explained to the senator that fish are like people; they like to sit on a Lay-Z-boy have their favorite snack food delivered to them on a conveyor belt. I gave him a fly and told him I was going to check out some water around the bend. When I came back, I saw that the senator was fighting a fish. I walked over to him, and he released the fish. We stood there for a moment in silence admiring the beautiful sunset over the Boston skyline. He said to me, “I really needed this today; the stress where I work is unbearable.” I told him that we were only ten minutes away. Okay, maybe two hours away in traffic. But every day God displays a beautiful sunset here, and there are plenty of fish. You just have to come and enjoy it. God is always there for us.
About a year later, I bumped into his friend, and I asked him how the senator was doing. “Oh, great, fantastic! He quit his job and bought a boat.” My point is this: God is always there for us. Whether we are standing on our own grave, whether the waters of difficulty swirl around us or we are drowning in stress or anxiety. No matter how hard it is, remember that God is most visible in those moments. We just have to be able to see Him.Back to All Homilies