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Father Muench Says...

Musings from Florida on MLK and unity

Jan. 25, 2017

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

First of all, I must confess to you that I am writing to you today on a sunny, rather warm afternoon in Florida.  I am here visiting my brother and sister-in-law who live here in Boynton Beach. Their parish here is St. Thomas More Church and the Church is immediately next to the major seminary for several dioceses in Southern Florida. 
This is the Diocese of Palm Beach and the Bishop is familiar to most of you: Bishop Barbarito.

This week we are celebrating the National Holiday in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and also it is the beginning of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

I attended a Mass at the local parish on Martin Luther King Day and the celebrant was a visiting priest, Father Mark, a tall, young, African American priest, ordained a priest just seven months ago.

Father Mark had grown up here in this very parish; he had made his Confirmation here and also graduated from a local public high school.  After high school, he joined the Navy.

During his time in the Navy he developed a strong faith and a deep interest in pursuing a vocation to become a priest.  He found strong support and encouragement from a chaplain at his base.  He described an important experience for us.  On one particular day, he decided to go to confession. After receiving the sacrament, the priest – a chaplain – came out of the penitential room and began to talk with him very seriously about becoming a priest.

There was to be a retreat soon, especially for service men who might be considering a call to priesthood.  This chaplain wanted to make arrangements for him to attend the retreat; he was prepared to make all the travel plans for him to be there. 

This retreat had a profound influence on the young man to enter the seminary and then to be ordained a priest.  At present, he is now an associate pastor in a parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn and is beginning the process of becoming a Navy chaplain.

I found it rather interesting that the Navy would lead someone to the priesthood.  I did remember that our Bishop, Bishop LaValley, served in the Navy before finding his way to the seminary and to priesthood. 

And, as many of you know, Father Mark Reilly, who had also served in the Navy after college, before he began his studies leading to ordination as a priest. 

Mentioning the Navy, I must also give a tip of the cap to my classmate, Father Joe Sestito, who served many years as a Navy Chaplain.

Thinking about MLK day, I must admit that being up in Northern New York, I have never been involved in concerns about race and such questions.  So it was particularly interesting for me to be at that Mass her in the South on this holiday, especially at a Mass celebrated by an African American priest who had been raised here.

His homily was impressive. He shared much of his own life story and called upon us to be concerned and to do something to remove anything divisive from our hearts and lives.  He urged us to make our world a better place by reaching out to others that we might consider somehow different.

This, of course, fit in well as we consider joining with all Christians in a time of prayer for unity and striving to work together.  The Second Vatican Council, now sixty years past, urged our Catholic Church to become truly ecumenical.  Since then, we, Catholics have joined in discussion groups and prayer groups with members and clergy of Protestant Churches.  This has produced a deeper and better understanding with each other.

I know, personally, ecumenism has been an important part of my priesthood to develop friendships with ministers of other Christian Churches. 

I know that these opportunities have been good for me and have opened my understanding of others and their concerns.

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