Today is the last day of the Year of the Priest. If you haven’t been praying for priests all year, then be sure to do so today. If there is anything that the parable of the workers in the vineyard tells us, it is that the Lord doesn’t ignore stragglers!
I have been mightily blessed during my 17+ years as a Catholic with many wonderful priests in my life. I have been a part of three different parishes during that time, and all of them have had great priests assigned to them. My current pastor is awesome, as were his predecessors. I have also been privileged to know many great religious priests, such as Fr. Conrad Osterhaut, C.F.R., and Fr. Giles Dimock, O.P.
But there is one priest I’d like to single out on this final day of the Year of the Priest. His name is Fr. Scott Woods. Back in 2002, he was a newly ordained priest assigned to our parish. He was only 28 years old, and I was there for his first Mass at our parish, two weeks after his ordination. It was obvious he was a bundle of nerves, and his homily was poorly delivered (mostly read, actually). I remember thinking, “well, maybe he has other strengths.” I don’t mind saying this publicly, because in just a few short years he became one of the best preachers I have ever heard. Anyone who thinks Catholic priests can’t preach have never heard Fr. Scott preach – he brings it full throttle every time.
But it is not his preaching that I am most thankful for. He was assigned to my parish during a down time in my spiritual life. After my conversion in the early 1990′s, I was very fervent in living my Catholic faith – attending Mass regularly, praying often, and serving the Church in many ways. But then life hit me: I got married, had kids, and worked a stressful job. And so my spiritual life stagnated, and then faltered. I never stopped practicing the Faith, but there is no question I became something even worse: lukewarm. I was going through the motions and had little love behind those motions. I put up little resistance to persistent sins in my life and did little to exemplify holiness to my family.
Then Fr. Scott was assigned to our parish. A few months later, my wife suggested that we start going to him regularly for confession. It is an indicator of my spiritual slothfulness that my first thought was “I don’t really want our associate pastor knowing how lame I am.” But I relented and we began to schedule monthly confessions with Fr. Scott. These regular meetings became great moments of grace in my life, as Fr. Scott guided me masterfully. He didn’t allow me to despair of my sinfulness, yet pushed me to beg the Lord for the grace to overcome it. He knew when to be tough with me, and when to be merciful. In a very short time I was back on track in my spiritual life – not that I overcame all the sins in my life, but I was now fighting them instead of letting them win by default.
Fr. Scott was at our parish for four years, and I am thankful for every moment he was there. He is now assigned to a parish in Southern Maryland, and I’m sure he is helping many other souls in their spiritual battles. The great thing about the Church is that there are countless “Fr. Scott’s” out there helping souls fight evil and love the Lord. On this final day of the Year of the Priest, thank the Lord for all the great priests in the world and ask Him to continue to send them to us.