Has a Summer ever changed your life? It happened to me once……
This is the last blog entry that I will write from my parish office at Our Lady of Peace in Erie, Pennsylvania. I am preparing for a new assignment from my Bishop, one that will transfer me from being an assistant Parish Priest to being a full-time teacher of Theology at Cathedral Preparatory School. “Prep” is an all boys’ Catholic school in Erie, with about 600 students or so. It is my alma mater, I having graduated from the venerable institution in 1999.
In the middle of July, the mind wanders back to Summers of the past. You know, those Summers when you could wake up at Noon, and no one’s life was negatively affected by your laziness (except for your own). One summer keeps coming to mind. It was the summer of 1998, that summer of President Clinton’s Impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives, and the summer when Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls won the last of their 6 NBA titles. I had just been Confirmed in the Spring. I had just met a Transitional Deacon at my home parish named Steve Schreiber, who was to be ordained to the Priesthood the following Spring. I was between my Junior and Senior years at Prep. My adolescence was reaching a high point. Yet, something still seemed incomplete.
Into my restlessness and incompleteness, my friend Matt Niebauer ventured with an offer. Come with us to a Youth Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. For whatever reason, Matt was able to move me off of my lazy summer perch. I said ok. Our journey to Steubenville began right down the hall from where I presently sit, at the Daily Mass Chapel at Our Lady of Peace Church. The celebrant was Fr. Mike DeMartinis (with whom I have lived at OLP for this past year). We boarded the bus. I sat next to a kid that I recognized from my Debate class. He introduced himself, “Hi, my name is Dan Hoffman.” Dan became and still remains a best friend. Now, he is a brother priest! I really met him for the first time on that trip….
On that trip, our group of teenagers received gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I was given a sense of peace, as well as a sense of mission. God was with me, and He wanted me to be His disciple. At Steubenville, it was as if I encountered people whom I had never seen before. They were a body of Charismatic Catholic young people, open to God. Despite going to Church every Sunday for my whole life, and having been in Catholic schools for 12 years, I had never experienced this…….
After Steubenville, my life changed. I found spiritual peace and freedom. I would no longer sell out Jesus Christ for the enjoyments of the world. I would serve Him to the end. No one would move me from my resolve, because it was placed in my heart by God Himself. After the conference, I enjoyed six more weeks of summer. The most notable event of those six weeks was an all-night chat/pray/have fun session with friends at the Sommerheim Pumping Station dock (which ended up getting the cops called out to find us – I can’t imagine why?).
Then, it was time to take the Gospel back to Cathedral Prep for my Senior year. In the Fall, I made TEC #11 directed by Fr. Larry Richards. Other notable attendees at the TEC were Fr. Mike DeMartinis, and Statia Sullivan, now Statia Brown (she actually runs TEC now). I was on fire, but my classmates at school? Not so much. I couldn’t figure out why my classmates weren’t so taken with Christ as I was…… maybe this was going to be harder than I thought (a reoccurring theme of the past 13 years!)
In 1998, it was six weeks until school started again. Now, in 2011, it is six weeks until it starts again! I am no longer the 17 year-old, but a Priest and a teacher at my old school. I know that God has had His hand on me in a special way ever since that summer of 1998. He has kept me safe. He has shown me the way. He is with me now and always.
And today, I also can’t help but think of my friend Matt, who passed away tragically in a car accident in 2005, at the age of 25. I ask for his intercession, as I pick up where he left off, where we left off, and begin the task anew………….