By Fr. Bernie Weir
Ordination season has ended this year in the Diocese of Davenport. One bishop, two priests and nine deacons were ordained this year. The diocese is so much holier now! I was ordained a deacon in 1985 and a priest in 1986. Some days it feels like forever since my ordination and other days as if it happened only 10 minutes ago.
I attended St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Chicago. My first preaching assignment was at St. Charles Lwanga parish, an African American parish on the south side of Chicago. I knew nothing about St. Charles Lwanga. I had to look him up to see why a parish was named after him. He and 21 companions are martyrs from Uganda.
I grew up in Albia and knew nothing about the African American culture. But, I was up for learning. How little I knew! I don’t remember at all what I talked about that first weekend. All I know is I had spent hours getting ready.
As I read the Gospel and started my first parish homily, I was feeling so proud of myself. I was humbled about a minute into what I was sure was a good homily when about halfway back in the church a woman raised her hand and started waving it back and forth. Every white bone in my body said, “She has a question.” But, I knew better than that. In my proud state of mind I thought she was being supportive of what I was saying. Then, I heard her repeating over and over, “Help him Jesus, Help him Jesus, Help him Jesus.” She stopped her chant when I stopped talking.
My first parish homily and someone was chanting through the whole thing, “Help him Jesus.” I didn’t know what to do! I wanted to die right there on the spot. How was I going to explain this when I got back to school that afternoon? How could I show my face there again next week? It kept going through my mind, “The white guy blew it.” Would I ever get this preaching thing down so that someone wasn’t chanting, “Help him Jesus” every time I stood up?
I don’t remember what I talked about in that homily, but by the end of the Mass my perspective on what had happened changed. I went from feeling horrified to knowing that she was supporting me. She was praying for me! I came to know, by the end of the Mass, that all that pride that I had brought to my first homily was so misplaced. I was proud of myself, not that I had been given the honor of proclaiming Christ. She did me a wonderful service that day. She chanted “Help him Jesus.” I hope she is still chanting her prayer for priests to this day. We need it. Before every homily I pray, “Help me Jesus.”
We have had 12 ordinations in the diocese and at each ordination, as hands were laid on the person being ordained, the chant in my mind was “Help him Jesus.”
I ask that when you see a priest pray for him: “Help him Jesus.” We can’t do this ministry — bishop, priest or deacon — without the help of Christ. Pray for us.
(Fr. Bernie Weir is pastor of St. James Parish in Washington.)