Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fridays With Daniel

From the final chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy:

"Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and the LORD showed him all the land."


I suppose it is natural to have a strong affinity for the bishop that ordains you a priest. Most priests that I have talked to, even the ones that strain for positive things to say about the "institutional Church", even they speak fondly of the bishop who ordained them.

My entire priestly ministry to this point has flowed from Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, and anything that I have done as a priest has been done because he has asked me to do so in his stead. How does one say "thank you" for that?

Attending his press conference today was a very thought-provoking experience. I remember back to the day in 1993 when he first arrived in Indy and he came to our home parish. I was able to shake his hand. 9 years later he took me to lunch to talk about me going to the seminary. I remember being terrified as we drove to the Rathskeller, especially given the fact that 20 minutes earlier I didn't know that he knew my name. 8 years later he laid his hands on my head and ordained me a deacon. 8 months after being ordained a deacon, he ordained me a priest and gave me my first assignment.

I have always seen the Archbishop as a fatherly figure in my life. He asked me to go to Rome to study, and I knew my family would be hesitant. To help ease the tension for my family, he offered to come over for dinner and help explain things. In his ordination homily for myself and fathers Peter Marshal and Jeremy Gries, I really felt as if it was my own father speaking to me; that homily was one of the great gifts that I received over the course of my ordinations.

All that being said, the most poignant memory for me concerning the Archbishop will be the Friday afternoons I was able to spend with him last Spring. Following his initial stroke, he was unable to stand and celebrate Mass for himself, so he had a schedule set up which ensured that priests in the area would be present each day to celebrate Mass in his presence while he concelebrated from his chair.

For no other reason than the fact that Cardinal Ritter High School is .8 miles from the Archbishop's house, I was asked to cover Fridays. It worked out well from my end because Friday was the one day where I didn't already have a Mass scheduled.

Every Friday afternoon I'd leave the awesome but hectic (borderline frantic) pace of Cardinal Ritter, make the short drive up Kessler, and walk into the Archbishop's recovery room at his house. I would usually check in with him to see how his progress was going, and as I vested I'd let him know what was new and exciting in my life. After we had caught up, I'd ask him who his Mass was being offered for. Usually the Archbishop offered his Mass up for the priests and seminarians of the Archdiocese. One time I shared with him that I was offering my Mass up for a young lady from Ritter whose grandmother had just died. He told me he would offer up his Mass for the young lady as well.

As Mass would begin, we'd have the usual opening rites and prayer. I would read the readings, and then I would go and kneel before him in his chair and ask for his blessing to proclaim the Gospel. I was always struck by the fact that I was asking the blessing of the man who ordained me to proclaim the Word of God to now proclaim that same Word to him! When the Gospel was done, I would bring to the Archbishop the Gospel so that he could kiss it. Two years earlier the Archbishop, at my ordination, had placed the Book of the Gospels in my hands, and now I was placing it in his.

I rarely offered a homily on those Friday afternoons, but one time I shared a brief reflection, and when I was done he shared his thoughts as well.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, I always slowed down for the line "We pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict, Our Bishop Daniel" - our Bishop Daniel - the man who I can see right now out of the corner of my eye - the successor of the apostles - humbled by illness and age - "our Bishop Daniel" - I pray it every day, and I mean it every day, but to be praying it there in his presence must have comforted him - I hope his thought as he heard that was "every day, at every altar throughout this Archdiocese, people are praying for me."

After the Eucharistic prayer, I would bring him the Host, which he would hold in his hands, while I held up the other half of the host over the chalice, elevated it, showed both Eucharistic Species to him and said "This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper" As with the Gospel, he who had anointed my hands to bring the Eucharist to others was now receiving the Eucharist from those same hands. What a mystery!

Sometimes after Mass, the Archbishop would be up for taking an assisted walk around his house. During those occasions, he would place his hands in mine and I would help him walk around the house and help support his weight, especially on the side that struggled after his stroke. In the ordination rite, a priest folds his hands and places those folded hands in front of the bishop as the bishop wraps his hands around the priest's. The priest makes a promise of obedience during that time. Now the role was reversed, and it was the bishop who was placing his hands in mine.

As I would prepare to leave, he always told me two things. "I don't care if you tell people you came here, but make sure you tell them how much I love daily Mass and how much I love the Eucharist." Indeed, he had the tabernacle moved down into his recovery room so that he could pray from his chair at any hour of the day.

This is my chance to make good on his wish. The Archbishop will be remembered for many things, but for me his number one legacy will be his insistence that we all be people of prayer. He preached about it at ordinations, he preached about it at Chrism Masses, he wrote about it in the Criterion, but most importantly, he lived it, and he continues to live it in such a way that everyone who meets him knows he is a man who spends hours a day wrapped in prayer.

Now a man who has spent most of his adult life at the helm of something is having to let go of the reigns as his body has rebelled against him. At the age of 31 he became the rector of Saint Meinrad seminary. Being a rector is a HUGE responsibility. Imagine looking out on a sea of several hundred men and thinking daily "I am responsible for making sure these guys are ready to serve Christ in His Church as priests." He served in that role for many years until he was named the Bishop of Memphis before spending his last 19 years with us as Archbishop. That's a long time to be in charge of something.

The man who has spent his whole priesthood leading now returns to St. Meinrad to spend the final stage of his life as a monk (he mentioned in the press conference that he is renewing his vow of poverty! How awesome is that!). As I sat listening to him speak today, and as I was reflecting on his life thus far, I couldn't help but think of Moses. Moses was in a position of leadership from a very young age. He spent his whole life in charge, for better or worse, and as the final chapter of the Torah recounts, Moses was led up a high mountain to watch those he had led for so long pass into the Promised Land under the leadership of a new person whom he had laid hands on.

This story of Moses is often only viewed from the perspective of punishment, and certainly that is one element of the story as Moses was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land because he failed to trust in God. But I also see Moses propped up against that Rock looking out over the land watching the families and the community that he had led now walking away and pushing on, and I see that as a time where God called Moses aside so that the two of them could spend a day or two alone together. Several times Moses had met God on the mountain top while Moses was in the vigor of life, and at the end of Moses' journey, it only seems fitting that Moses would be forced to retreat from the active life to again spend precious time with his Lord.

I think it is fitting that the Archbishop is retiring to St. Meinrad. For those who have never been, St. Meinrad is on a "mountain top" as well, at least by Indiana standards. It is my belief that God is now calling home His "good and faithful servant" for some time away from the active life so that he may instead spend his final years in what the Church has always considered the highest vocation - that of prayerful contemplation with our Lord. The list of the Archbishop's accomplishments is long, but it may be that one day we will look back and be most thankful for his time spent lifting our Archdiocese up in prayer before the Eucharist these years at St. Meinrad.

This is a short video I put together set to a song whose title is most appropriate - "Go Rest High on that Mountain" by Vince Gill. The song is about someone who has died, and the Archbishop is far from that, but I think the title of the song is fitting for the next stage in his life. I found some photos on the internet of the Archbishop, and I mixed those in with some video footage from his new destination.



Archbishop Buechlein, an extremely inadequate thank you. You will be in our prayers and we know that we will be in yours.

The Archbishop can be reached via snail mail at the following
Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein OSB
200 Hill Drive
Saint Meinrad, IN
47577

I think it would be awesome if he was met by stacks and stacks of thank you's and personal notes when he moves in a few weeks from now.

"Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and the LORD showed him all the land"