Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Reflections of a newly ordained priest: Father Peter Schirripa

Hello and welcome!

As regular readers know, each year I like to take advantage of this time around the Fourth of July holiday, when not many events are scheduled, to give some of our newly ordained priests a chance to introduce themselves to you and share the story of their vocation and their life as a new priest.

This week, I have asked Father Peter Schirripa to share his reflection with you.  Next week, we’ll hear from his classmate, Father Rodrigo Martinez, which I will bring you along with an update on some of the events I have been participating in during this time.

—  Cardinal Seán

First, a little bit about me: I grew up in Lexington with my mom and dad, two sisters, and three brothers.  In my free time, I enjoy playing and watching sports.  I also enjoy hiking, skiing, and reading.

I was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Boston on May 20, and I am assigned to Gate of Heaven, St.  Brigid, and St.  Augustine Cemetery Chapel in South Boston.

Shortly after graduating from St. Anselm College, I took a job as a middle school English and Social Studies teacher at Jonas Clarke Middle School in Lexington.  In addition to teaching, I coached soccer, basketball, and baseball.  It was in the halls of this public school that I began to hear the call to the priesthood.

The story goes like this: On a beautiful June day in 2016, I was on my way to coach a baseball game.  As I was struggling to herd my middle school team onto the school bus, one of my colleagues came up to me, crying hysterically.  A bit concerned and uncomfortable by her tears, I managed to ask her what was wrong.  Though I did not know it at the time, her response to my question would change my life forever.

Crying and gasping for breath, she struggled to say, “Peter, my brother in California got into a terrible accident.  My mom and I are getting on a plane in an hour because the doctors said he will not make it through the night.  Will you pray for him because he has no one to pray for him?  My brother is going to die!”

The pain in her voice was piercing.  For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of urgency to offer prayers.  As she walked away, I thought about the utter desperation she must be feeling.  In this unspeakable suffering, she felt like there was no way for her to reach God.  Why did she feel the need to tell me this?  What could I even do about it?  Would God even hear my prayers for this dying man?  All of these thoughts were racing through my head.  I found it difficult to coach the baseball game.  My players noticed that I was distracted.  All I could think about was the pain in her voice.  Everything else, especially this playoff baseball game, seemed trivial.

After the game, I decided to drive to the closest Catholic church.  To my surprise, the church was open, and so I went in to offer a prayer.  I knelt down in the front row, and I begged God to help my friend and her brother.  I told Him that if my friend’s brother made it through the night, I would come back again tomorrow.  By the grace of God, my friend’s brother survived the first night.  Sure to stay true to my word, I returned to the church the next day and made the same prayer.  This pattern continued for two weeks.

Throughout those two weeks, I discovered an important truth about prayer.  In the words of St.  Augustine, “Prayer never changes God; it changes us.” In other words, through these prayers, God was drawing me into a relationship with Him.  I started to see that God loved me, and He created me for a specific reason.  More specifically, I slowly started to realize that what I was doing was the job of the priest.  Stated plainly, the priest exists to offer prayer and sacrifice for the world, especially for those who feel they have no one to pray for them.  The priest helps those who feel they are forgotten to reach God.  I became especially aware of this when I read John 11:35 in that dark empty church.  The line reads, “Jesus wept.” I was overcome by the humanity and vulnerability of Jesus.  His tenderness revealed the heart of God.  Though I could not express it perfectly, I was seeing for the first time that the humanity of Jesus was the instrument he used to reveal the love of the Father.  As I prayed in that church, I felt Him asking me to offer my humanity for the same task.  As I looked at the tabernacle, I felt this ache for paternity.  In those moments of prayer, I knew that God loved me.  I wanted to help others experience this.

This realization gave a new vigor and purpose to my day.  Through the grace of God, I started to see everything that happened to me as a way to commune with God.  As I knelt down in that empty church, begging God to help my friend and her brother, I felt so close to Him. Everything in my life, even the bad things, started to make sense.  I could see how He was preparing me to go on a great quest to save souls.  It was so mysterious, but when I looked at the tabernacle, I had a strong sense that He wanted to use me, that I mattered to Him. As I looked at Jesus, I felt like I was an important piece of the puzzle.  I could sense that He was inviting me to pursue something big.  I could not explain everything about this, but I wanted to trust Jesus, the person from whom I heard it.

Three weeks to the day after the accident, my friend’s brother passed away.  Before he died, he, though a lapsed Catholic, was anointed by a priest.  I believe that God used my poor prayers to ensure that he was visited by a priest before he went before God.  This was yet another sign to me that priests are essential in God’s plan for salvation.

To all the young men reading this blog, never forget that supernatural life begins and ends in the hands of the priest.  God entrusts His people into the hands of ordinary men like you and me.  Priests exist to introduce Jesus to every human person.  Without men responding to God’s loving call to leave everything and follow him, people do not get to heaven.  It really is that simple.  Slowly but surely, God convinced me of this truth in the summer of 2016.  He used a terrible tragedy to begin this process.  For this reason, I love St.  Paul’s words to the Romans.  He says, “All things work for the good, for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)

On May 20, while I was lying prostrate on the cathedral floor, minutes before I was ordained a priest, God brought me back to that beautiful June day.  I was overcome with emotion.  I was so happy and yet I could not stop crying.  I thought about my friend and her brother. God used the tragic news I received that day to bring about my priestly vocation.  As only God can, He brought about good from evil.  Absolutely nothing in my life was random.  All of it was ordered to shape me into a priest who is zealous for souls.  I look forward to dedicating my life of prayer for those who feel like they have “no one to pray for them.”

In just one month of priesthood, I am literally amazed at what God is able to do through me in the streets of South Boston.  As I ask him to make use of my humanity to save souls, I am overcome with wonder at how personal the priesthood is.  All of my hobbies, especially my love of basketball, God uses as a bridge to bring people to his Church.  I love going down to the courts to play and engage with guys in the neighborhood.  Watching God use this hobby for his glory is so humbling.

Young men, you too should consider joining me in this great mission for the salvation of souls.  This is absolutely what our Church and our world needs.  There are many people, including your own friend’s family, that are waiting to confide in a priest because they feel “they have no one to pray for them.” With the grace of God, you can be the answer to that prayer.