by Fr Richard Heilman | May 27, 2021 11:27 AM
I cannot begin to describe how truly blessed I feel to have been a priest for 33 years. I can honestly say that I have never had one moment of regret in all those years. Sure, I look at so many beautiful families I know, and I begin to wonder what it might be like to have a family (I would’ve been a great dad 😉 ). I don’t wonder in sorrow … I just wonder.
Both of my parents have passed to eternal life, and I rely heavily on their prayers. I pray often for them too (see how HERE), along with all of my relatives and friends who have passed before me, including my grandparents. I remember them all at every Mass I offer.
I believe, along with all of my siblings, we were especially blessed that we had a particularly close relationship with our grandparents. We spent most Sundays over at gramma and grampa’s house. Gramma loved preparing the Sunday dinner for the family … she just loved having the family there. When our grandparents got on in their years, my mom took over the role of hosting the family which, of course, included gramma and grampa.
Gramma was a daily Mass goer, and she had a very deep and beautiful devotion to the Blessed Mother. My mom inherited both of these “Two Pillars” (See St. John Bosco) from her mom, and both of them attended daily Mass together. The image emblazoned in my mind is the two of them (mom and gramma) kneeling in their pew with their rosaries wrapped around their hands in prayer.
I don’t think any of our siblings had the impression that any one of us were more special to our grandparents than the rest. They loved us all just the same. That’s why it took me by surprise when my gramma pulled me aside the day of my ordination as a transitional deacon, on my way to priesthood.
After the ordination, all the family gathered back at our house, and it was just like all those Sunday afternoons … laughing, teasing, reminiscing and celebrating. There I was, wearing the Roman collar for the first time (in those days they didn’t allow seminarians to wear the collar). I could feel the family’s joy throughout the day, but I knew my very devout gramma was especially proud of me.
Gramma got a moment to pull me aside and talk with me alone. She pulled out a holy card she wanted to show me. It was a holy card of St. John Neumann. I wondered why she was showing me this. She began to explain that she was traveling with my grampa (He was Vice President of Oscar Mayer, so they traveled a lot) back in the early 1960s. And one day, after they checked into their hotel room, she opened one of the drawers and found that holy card. She told me she could not explain why she did it, and why she chose me out of all of the grandchildren, but she began to pray that day, through the intercession of St. John Neumann, that I would become a priest some day … and she prayed for that “every day” of my life up until then (That was around 25 years of praying). She said she never wanted to tell me that because she feared it would influence my decision one way or another. I was stunned … and so very grateful.
Gramma passed away a short time after that. She was not alive to see me become a priest, but her work was done and I knew she was there praying for me on my priestly ordination day, and everyday of my priesthood. I thank God for my vocation … and I thank St. John Neumann and the loving prayers of a gramma.
Wait, there’s more. A few years ago, my sister told me she had kept my gramma’s Daily Missal all those years, and I asked if I could have it. Once it was in my hands, I opened it up, and there was the holy card gramma found in that hotel room when I was a baby; the holy card she prayed with every day until I was ordained. I framed it (see below).
Moreover, a good friend of mine, Richard Blaney, passed away in 2012, near the same time I found gramma’s holy card. The family came to me and said that they thought Richard would want me have these. It was his collection of First Class Relics. Wouldn’t you know … one of them was a First Class Relic of St. John Neumann. This very special relic is now in my private chapel where gramma’s holy card (now framed) hangs above it (see photos below).
Thank you, God, for gramma’s prayers and saints’ prayers and for my wonderful vocation to the priesthood!
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