OUR DOMESTIC CHURCH

Way to rock the priesthood

These are very exciting times in our diocese. We have been blessed by our Holy Father in his appointment of two priests as Episcopal bishops. Bishop-elect Nelson Perez and Bishop-elect Robert Brennan will be ordained this week and this is reason for great celebration. This news was particularly special to me because “Uncle Bobby” Brennan, as he is known in this house, has been a dear friend for more years than I care to think about and the news of his selection by Pope Benedict XVI was greeted with great whoops of happiness here. “Way to rock the priesthood, Uncle Bobby,” declared Erin, and even the little ones who don’t really understand high fived and joined in because everyone loves Uncle Bobby.

He is particularly dear to my husband and me since we had the privilege of having then-Monsignor Brennan celebrate our son Ryan’s funeral Mass. During his homily Bishop Brennan alluded to Ryan’s great desire to be a priest and commented that Ryan had had something to do with the fact that there were 12 priests and a bishop on the altar. Bishop Peter Libasci then gave us great comfort in telling us he would ask Ryan to pray and inspire priestly vocations here on Long Island. It seemed then, as it does now, that Ryan’s short life could act as an inspiration and that a heaven spent in praying for vocations was a comfort to us, who wished so much to have one more minute with him. 

Since that time, asking Ryan to pray for the priests who have shepherded us throughout the years and in particular those who served on the altar that day, as well as for an increase in vocations, has been a part of my daily prayers. I have particularly prayed for Bishop Brennan since, being part of the family, he was the first priest Ryan really knew well. Ryan was always so delighted to see Uncle Bobby celebrate Mass on Telecare and would faithfully recreate the altar on my coffee table and say Mass, including homily, with the remarkable ability of autistic people to remember and imitate.  

Shortly before he died, in a burst of uncommon self-awareness, Ryan mentioned to me that he wasn’t sure he could be a priest because he had heard that there were schools and tests and he knew he wasn’t very good at that “stuff.” I told him to pray about it, and that if it were God’s plan for him to be a priest, a priest he would be, despite the obstacles. Well, it was not to be, but a saint in heaven he is, I am sure. He was incapable, due to his disability, of real sin and yet he frequently went to confession because nothing pleased Ryan more than a sacrament. So instead of every Catholic mom’s dream of having a son that is a priest I became the mother of an uncanonized saint, through every mother’s worst nightmare, the loss of a child.  

However, God is good and the blessings continue to pour out.  My prayers for more vocations are answered and there are some wonderful young men in seminary, one the son of my closest friend, and a friend of my Ryan’s. His vocation was obvious to most from a young age, being a naturally pious young man, but I think the prayers of his friend in heaven could not hurt and I hope they will continue to cover him in grace and lead him to God’s will in his life.

Nor do I think Bishop Brennan’s elevation is due entirely to Ryan’s prayers. He is a good and holy priest who has great gifts that he continually shares with all around him. His love for the people under his auspices and his true concern for their souls makes him exactly the kind of bishop we need in these trying times. When our freedom to practice our faith is being chipped away, bishops like Bob are going to be needed to lead us towards God’s will for our country.

Bishop Brennan’s ordination and that of Bishop Perez will continue the apostolic succession and shepherd Christ’s earthly Church here on Long Island. They and the young men poised to succeed them will need the prayers of their families, their friends, the faithful of Long Island and a boy who dearly wanted to be a priest and ended up being a saint.