You folks know I love me some priests. Each and every one, no matter how much they might drive you insane sometimes (Msgr. B, I'm looking at you!), is a gift from God, hand-picked and chosen for us from all eternity.
That's a pretty special thing!
So when I find one that is particularly awesome, I go out of my way to acknowledge him as the gift he is.
Enter Father Mike Ackerman of the Pittsburgh diocese.
I met Fr. Ackerman late Friday night at a conference. He happened to be the guy hanging out the in the confessional waiting to bring Jesus to those of us seeking him in Reconciliation.
There were no screens or kneelers - just him, an empty chair and a sense of bubbling anticipation. I pushed the empty chair back (there's no way I was greeting Jesus as Judge on my butt). I knelt down in front of Father and the first thing I noticed were his incredibly shiny shoes - like... Jesuit level shininess.
He had an energy about him that let me know I should settle in for an experience. This anticipation he had... it was like he was psyched to get the show on the road because even though there was an obvious mudslide ahead, the destination was absolution for an estranged member of his Family.
He offered a prayer on my behalf for a good confession and away we went. I was cognizant of the line I'd come from, so I tried to focus on the most pertinent issues so as not to monopolize Father's time. However, it was clear that he felt no similar rush. Instead, he seemed to pause reflectively as if waiting for a nod from the Spirit to proceed. Then, gently and methodically, he counseled me. He was affirming in ways I'd not anticipated and admonished me for those things I needed admonishment for. I never once felt belittled, discounted or foolish. Instead, I felt so incredibly cared for... like a lost little sheep being checked over for briars.
And the penance he gave... Lord. Normally I panic when I'm not given a set penance; I inevitably worry if I've completed it or not. This one made sense to me, though. He had me head directly over to adoration with a meditation and a prayer aimed at getting me over (through or around) my struggle with forgiving John. It frustrated me (as any swift kick in the pants is supposed to), but I recognized the necessity of it, so I nodded my head in acceptance.
After absolution, I kissed his hands and thanked him for his vocation. And readers, please always, always, always thank your priests for their vocation!!! Not only did God gift them to us, but they sacrifice so much to work together with God in the gift of themselves. THANK THEM FOR IT! Recognize their holiness and their sacrifice, because they, too, can struggle with feelings of doubt, unappreciation, loneliness and frustration. Let them know you see them, and let them know you love them, appreciate them and pray for them!
Which, BTW, do! Pray for them!!! Always and everywhere and in all things. Pray for our priests. Pray for the ones who have passed who led their contemporaries by example into ordination.
Pray for those in your churches who, today, bear forth the Sacraments. Pray also for those yet to come, who will continue the blessings of those who forged their paths. Pray for priests!
/End of Public Service Announcement
Later that weekend, I met up with Fr. Ackerman again before he celebrated our closing Mass. I was excited to hear his homily since it was so obvious he was just alight with love for God's people. I was not disappointed.
He came right down into the congregation and engaged us. As you can see in the image above, he wasn't afraid to get animated as he spoke of hope, faithfulness and trust in the Divine Plan. And when Consecration rolled around, his reverence was palpable.
So yeah. High fives for this guy.
And high-fives to all our amazing priests who live out their vocation with grace and humility. Recognize them, pray for them and do your best to let them know how valued and appreciated they are. Their hands are legitimately mini Facetimers to Heaven; they bring God to us through the Sacraments.
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