Father Morrette gives out candy at last year's Christmas party at St. Mary's, Glens Falls.
Father Morrette gives out candy at last year's Christmas party at St. Mary's, Glens Falls.

Recently, I anointed a man at Albany Medical Center who had been a parishioner of mine several years ago. He was a fine man who sadly passed away a few days after my visit. I’m so glad I had some time with him and was able to offer him the sacrament of the sick.

This man was a carpenter by trade and a really good one. In fact, he was so good that he continuously turned down potential jobs because of the great demand for his work. I always had a special admiration for him, not only because he did so much work in our church for free, but because he was a straightforward guy, blunt and honest, a man of few words.

I also always kept in mind a very special memory of him that took place on the day I arrived in that parish long ago.

When I drove into the parish parking lot for the first time, I saw him installing a window in the office building. I didn’t know who he was at the time and assumed he was a hired workman. As I walked by him to get into our parish center, I said hello.

He turned to me and said, very directly: “Are you the new priest?“ I said yes. Looking into my eyes, he said: “Father, welcome; we’ve all been waiting for you for a long, long time.”

I said thanks and that I was happy to be there. He smiled, then quietly turned away, looking relieved, and went back to work.

I didn’t give what he said much thought at the time, but there was something captivating about his welcome and how he delivered it. I wondered why he and the people of the parish had waited so long a time for me (of all people) to arrive. I just wanted to get working. I was ready to go. Little else was on my mind.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that the parish hadn’t had a pastor in a good while. They had a wonderful administrator who kept the parish going and had done a superb job. Priests had come and gone for almost two years on weekends and were there for funerals, but there had been no one in residence — no regular clergy presence.

I realized that is wasn’t me personally that he and the parish had been waiting for. Rather, they were waiting for a pastor: someone living among them, someone who there and cared, someone who tried to bring Jesus to them.

As you know, these are difficult days for the Church. We’re challenged to enact reforms so that our clergy maintain the highest standards. I have every hope, and I’m confident, that we’ll accomplish that goal.

There are other challenges, too, and one of the biggest ones is the lack of priestly vocations and priests to serve as pastors. When my friend welcomed me in the way he did long ago, I didn’t know what he was saying. I now know what he meant: “We want a priest with us, a pastor, here and near to us, because he will bring Christ to us.”

I can’t tell you the joy I experience in the priesthood and being a pastor. I wish the old and negative stereotypes of the priesthood would go away. I think these old caricatures of sad and lonely priests scare countless men away from considering the vocation. Though demanding and sometimes crushing, I see how cherished priests are by Catholic people.

For me, it is a great joy to feel your welcome, to be needed, to be trusted, to enter into your lives. My only regret is that I wish I could do it better. It humbles me that Christ will even use my feeble and limited attempts to make His awesome presence and grace available to you.

My old friend reminded me of this wonderful vocation of the priesthood when he welcomed me to that parish many years ago. I’m glad I can remind myself and all of you of that now.

(Father Morrette is pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Glens Falls.)