At the time of this writing, the Diocese of Erie has recently lost many good priests. St. Peter Cathedral will be losing Msgr. William Biebel to retirement. Fr. Edward Krause, longtime teacher at Gannon University, returned recently to live with his community, the Holy Cross Fathers, at Notre Dame. Fr. Steve Anderson passed away unexpectedly a few months ago. Msgr. Jack Hagerty, a stellar priest, passed away right after Easter. Last, but not least, Msgr. James Peterson passed away just last week.
Monsignor Peterson, affectionately known as “Fr. Pete”, spent almost his whole priesthood in service to the “marginalized”. These are people who society blames for their failures, and often turns a blind eye towards. Fr. Pete knew that the ex-convicts, recovering alcoholics, and recovering drug addicts where much more than just the “marginalized”. They were sons and daughters of God. He treated them as such, ministering to their woundedness, and leading them forward with a promise of hope. Fr. Pete was a sign of faith, hope, and love to all whom he met. He saved many lives, both spritually and physically, through his priestly ministry.
This gift of Fr. Peterson made him well loved and respected by many. Often times, people would wonder what Fr. Pete’s “big secret” was. He was able to minister to those who were most wounded, and with much success. He always gave, even to the point of giving the coat of his back, and the shoes off of his feet. He was an oasis of peace and wisdom in a difficult world. How did he do it? How could we do what Fr. Pete did?
As Deacon Jerry Peterson said so well at Fr. Pete’s funeral, his secret was not even much of a secret at all. To be like Fr. Pete, we need to give away all we have to the poor, take up our Cross, and follow Christ. This is what Fr. Pete did. We are all capable of doing this! In fact, it is relatively simple to do. It would not be hard to give away all your possessions, and decide to follow Christ, in theory. But, in practice, it is very difficult! It is hard for our hearts to be so radically open, and so radically generous. This is something that we both fear, and yet desire to do. But if we want to have the generosity of a saint, we must find the grace to make this choice.
Maybe in recent times, we have seen so many failures in the media, that we are unable to believe in heroes. Because of this, we are unwilling to become heroes. We need to resist this movement to depression and despair. We need to become heroes of holiness, like so many of the good priests mentioned in this article have been. As Fr. Pete showed us, we do not need to become extraordinary, complicated, powerful, or an intellectual to become a hero of holiness. We just need to become very simple, very humble, and very small, with one notable exception: we need to become people of tremendous generosity. If we can choose this (and all of us can make that choice), then we can become heroic saints.
Do not lose heart, if this seems too much to ask. Know that the love of God for you surpasses all your fears, inadequacies, and insecurities. God will always be there to sustain you! When you know God’s love for you, then you know that it is worth any cost to spread that love around to everyone. The love of Christ overcomes all, and gives us true peace, joy, and happiness. God will fill us with the fruits of His Spirit!