Just over a week ago, I had to put down my dog, Gracie. She was 17 years old and definitely showing signs that the end was near. For the last 11 years, she was my companion in my priestly journey. She was the quintessential “parish dog.” She loved everyone, young and old. She especially loved all you who snuck her treats when I wasn’t watching! Thank you all for your kindness to me. I must admit that her passing was much more emotional than I expected. I want to especially thank Dr. Jean Manhart who served as my Veterinarian, and who gave Gracie and me the best of care and guidance. Many of you who are or have been pet owners shared your suffering with me in the days that followed. Again, thank you.
At risk of sounding trite, the days ahead are new territory for me, as I’ve not really known what priestly ministry is like without Gracie. I’ve suffered the loss of my dad, brother, and many friends, each a unique loss with unique pain. I know the pain I experienced losing Gracie is nothing compared to the pain that so many of you who have lost your spouse or close friend have experienced. It is through my own pain that I have a greater appreciation of how difficult it must be for you.
One thing I can say with conviction is that we must not run from our own crosses of suffering and death. We must go headlong into these difficult places with Jesus by our side. For it is by living through and not avoiding our own suffering that we can be raised to new life in Jesus. This is the fabric of being a Christian. I believe it with my whole heart and have my own personal history which testifies that it is true.
In the coming weeks, we will celebrate the Passion of the Lord on Palm Sunday. Just a few short days after that, we begin the holy three days of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil). These liturgies emphasize the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Please make every effort to come and reflect on the last days of Christ’s life. Please embrace your suffering in your own life, and know that Jesus walked that path before you. Join your suffering to his. Do not avoid that which will ultimately make you whole again. May these final weeks of Lent bring you an openness to the grace that God wants you to have.
Fr. William Holtzinger