God
Equipped Me to Find a Way

BY ANDREW OCONNOR

A young associate pastor
explains why he loves
his vocation

If you call the rectory, we answer in person. We have no answering machine. Monsignor Leonard, the pastor, thinks people should hear a human voice when they call, and I agree.

In the morning it is often the volunteers for the sandwich line who provide the human voice and give the rundown of Mass times. They may be new volunteers and need someone to coach them. The front doorbell links to an intercom that rings to the kitchen phone. Between 8:30 and 9 a.m. people are calling for more coffee. The person in the kitchen who lifts the receiver to stop the intercom ring is usually the one who relays the coffee. I am on my way: the kitchen worker answers. He or she will finish filling white Styrofoam cups with coffee, the sugar and milk prepoured and arranged on the old brown plastic McDonalds trays, then carry the coffee down the dark hall to the person who hands out the sandwich, banana, and coffee at the front door. On Thursdays it is Normas calm motherly voice, the Brooklyn accent that is tender and healing.

The street too is filled with voices. The line of homeless people is loud along part of this short block between Amsterdam and Broadway on the Upper West Side of New York City. The well-heeled file past on the way to the subway. Doormen and workers discuss who needs what car moved. Then there is the church: Walk in and its great dome is filled with reverberation.

Discovering your own voice, using your own voice, learning to give your voice to your community is the hard work of the priesthood. An answering machine wont do. Homilies and teaching need to seek ways to speak with a living voice. God made me well equipped to find ways. I am the fifth of nine children, a big Irish Catholic family from the Midwest that moved East to Connecticut when I was in. fifth grade, Shortly after moving there, two of my brothers got into a fight and one threw the TV at the other. It missed and ended up out the window. My mother treated the TV as the antichrist, so I suppose we knew that it had it coming. From then on we got used to conversation as the focus of our home life and discovered why it also means conversion. The priesthood requires the same focus: learning names and the stories of how people got to this Church, what is their state in life, what are their needs. It also requires conveying that I am made of the same stuff.

I have explored voice that is not verbal in the liturgical art for the church. Last year photos of hands of parishioners anonymously praying and people fasting for each other gradually filled a suspended and spinning tree in the baptistery of the church.

The everyday bread of human life is where Christ asks to be broken and shared. The daily prayer of the Church, Psalm 95, contains the simple and encompassing directive: If today you hear his voice, harden nor your hearts.

Ũҡ : Catholic Digest, September 2004, p. 62-64

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