There are times when you encounter an exhortation in the Gospel that both beggars the imagination and pierces the heart. And then, only a prophet – a holy man – can help you find the wisdom in Jesus’ words.
I like to remember “Bob, the priest” – Father Bob Menner – as just such a blessing in my life.
I thought about Fr. Bob today, as I spent a little time chewing on Jesus’ counsel in the gospel passage we hear at Mass:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…
It strikes me as something like “tough love” – this call to relinquish father and mother and son and daughter – in order to follow Christ. It’s certainly not part of my personal playbook. I tend to find Christ in these very people, the closest members of my family.
And that’s the thing about Father Bob: He did, too. I loved to hear him tell stories of growing up in a big, loving family in Port Hudson – not all that far from where I grew up (under similar circumstances) in Franklin County. His Mom and Dad and siblings sounded a lot like my own – full of fun, inclined toward feasting, and forever surrounding him with unconditional love.
Hearing Jesus’ call, though, he pretty much left it all behind. Ordained in 1968, Father Bob spent about 30 years of his over 50 years in ministry far away from home – serving five different parishes in Bolivia and Chile.
Where’s the wisdom in that, you might wonder?
And then you’d hear Father Bob talk about his encounters with the people of God in South America. How joyful and generous they were…and how inclined toward feasting.
Before long you’d realize that Father Bob hadn’t so much left his family behind…as he’d greatly expanded it. He’d become a welcome and cherished guest in dozens, if not hundreds, of homes in both North and South America.
In the stories he’d tell, you’d realize that “Bob, the priest” was in fact “Bob, the prophet.” He’d found something unexpected (and important) in and through his discipleship. I guess you might say that he had listened to Jesus’ teaching, all the way to the end of the paragraph:
And whoever gives [even] only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
I know for a fact that Father Bob felt blessed by his priesthood – felt that he had received rewards in abundance from his five decades of ministry. And I’ll never forget how he expressed his gratitude, every time he presided at Mass: Just before leading us in the “Lamb of God,” he’d reverently break the Host, and with each break, he’d silently call to mind each of the parishes and all of the people he had served through the years.
It’s such a joy, to have been one of those seen by him in the breaking of the Bread. We sure miss you, Father Bob. And we will always cherish the “paz, amor y alegria (peace, love and joy)” you ushered into our hearts!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.