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I got a call from someone who wanted to visit our seminary. I prepared his room, picked him up at the airport, got him something to eat and gave him a tour of the city. Then over the next two days, I talked to him about his vocation, and I took him to see St. John’s Seminary. When his visit came to an end, I brought him to the airport. He shook my hand and said, “I really like you guys. I think I want to apply.” I said, “Let’s keep in touch,” and we did with many phone calls and e-mails. He wanted to finish the application but did not have the money or the time to come back to Boston. I said, “No problem, I can come to you.” I took the earliest flight to Dallas with a two-hour layover at Atlanta. I got there about noontime. We met at the airport in the back of an empty Taco Bell. The more I talked to him the more I liked him. His generosity was off the charts. He knew how to forgive those who hurt him, and whatever he did, he was committed to excellence. When we were done I got up to shake his hand and he said to me, “Oh, maybe I should have told you this before, but I am looking at another religious order. I really like your order, but I still have to check it out. I will get back to you in a week with my decision.” Two weeks later one of the guys in the community, Brother Lou, asked me if the guy from Dallas was still going to join us. I said to him, “No, he is going to join another order.” He said, “Oh,” and walked away. That is all I have to show for all the phone calls, hospitality details, airport delays, interviews, and frequent correspondence. I got a giant goose egg. No pats on the back, no bump in my pay, no job promotion, and no vocation director of the year award. I went to bed that night and this is what I said God in prayer: “God, I work hard; I work very hard. It is your church; I am going to bed.” That is what servants do, they work very hard, and they can get a good night sleep. When I play the servant part, it is never about me, it is about God and what God can do through me.
Two priests were in a room in the back of the chancery in Poland, and they couldn’t decide where to put one of their priests. He had a weak voice, he was sick all the time, and was not a good preacher. None of the pastors wanted him. They didn’t know what to do with him so they sent him over the steelworkers union to say Mass there. He got the assignment that nobody wanted. You can picture this weak, feeble, soft-spoken priest addressing all these strong, don’t-take-no-nonsense ironworkers. It was a complete mismatch. However, something happened. The priest got up in front of the ironworkers and said to them, “I know you are discouraged and feel downcast because of the Communist rule. But remember this. You are Polish Catholics. No one can ever take that away from you. Do not let the Communists or anyone, rob you of the good things you have. Don’t forget who you are and that no one can take that from you.” The ironworkers felt a bond among themselves, and they called it “Solidarity.” Soon the enthusiasm spread throughout the nation. Not long after that, the whole world was watching. Next, the iron curtain came down and Communism sort of evaporated away. I remember seeing the Berlin Wall coming down on the TV. The whole world was watching. I remember saying to myself, “How did this all come about?” I think the whole world was asking the same question. Yet if you follow the dominos back—national unity, ironworkers united, ironworkers inspired by a priest—if we go back to the place where it all began, we find ourselves in the back room of the chancery where two priests are asking the question: “What are we going to do with this loser?” No one is a loser who serves God.
One day after Mass I was greeting the people. “Have a nice day; thank you for coming; I like your sunglasses.” A guy came up to me and shook my hand. He said to me, “Do you remember me?” I said, “Yes, you are the guy from Dallas, we talked at Taco Bell.” He said, “I want to introduce you to my wife and three children.” Before he left he said, “I needed to come back and thank you for all you did for me.” Then he left. I have no clue what I said to him or how I helped him. I wish I knew what I said, so I do not use that line on other potential candidates to the priesthood. All I know is that God wanted me to meet him.
It is not about us. It is about what God can do with us. So work hard. Work very hard. And at the end of the day, go to bed get a good night sleep.Back to All Homilies