On October 27, the day that I was to become enrolled as an Oblate Candidate of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood I ran over to Gesu Church on my lunch break for a quick confession and I met Friar Paul Schneider in the confession line. It was a chance meeting with someone that I had recognized from activities at St. Francis de Sales Seminary but had not known personally. I introduced myself and then he told me that he had two more years before he would be ordained to the priesthood and he asked me to pray for him. I took his words as a confirmation that God was pleased with my plans to work toward becoming an Oblate of the Precious Blood. But by the grace of God, that meeting wasn't the end of the story...
During the week before Christmas, I received a newsletter from the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and within it I found a picture of none other than Friar Paul Schneider! The caption read: "In August, Oblate of the Precious Blood and long time friend of our community, Friar Paul Schneider made his Solemn Vows as a Conventual Franciscan at Marytown. We all rejoiced in spirit over this important milestone in his life as he makes his way toward priestly ordination in 2013. Please pray for him." Chills, that's what I had; chills and goosebumps to find his picture there and to learn that he is also an Oblate of the Precious Blood! Surely this was a providential sign from God!
There are only 420 Oblates of the Precious Blood throughout the world, so to find that there is an Oblate living in the very same city in which I live is quite extraordinary! Friar Paul and I have now been in contact and have plans to meet at the end of January, and when we meet I will have something very special to share with him before I send it on to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood at Cor Jesu Monastery in New Mexico, because...
When I first began to discern whether or not to apply for candidacy for the Oblates, I had discovered several books written by Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, at the Salzmann Library at St. Francis de Sales Seminary. I found his books of poetry, Paths from Bethlehem and Streets in Nazareth and his book of spiritually uplifting words written in letter style, Letters of Father Page, to be beautiful, and I have shared some of his words and poems from these books in previous posts. I decided that I should purchase these books so that I could return to them again and again as a spiritual resource and so I ordered some used copies online and on Christmas Eve they were delivered to my house.
I found that Paths from Bethlehem was autographed with the words: "Asking our Lady to bless you" and Streets in Nazareth was also an autographed copy with the words: "With Mary's blessing." But even more impressive was what I found tucked just under the cover of Paths from Bethlehem. Upon opening the book I found several historical papers, including the Christmas bookmark that graces this post. One of the documents was a biographical sketch of Fr. Fitzgerald that read as follows:
"The author was born on October 29th, 1894, in South Framingham, Massachusetts. He was educated at Weymouth High School, Boston College and St. John's Ecclesiastical Seminary and was ordained a priest of the Boston archdiocese in 1921. After twelve years service as curate of Our Lady of the Presentation parish, he entered the Novitiate of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and was professed in 1934. He is now Rector of Our Lady of Holy Cross Seminary in North Easton, Massachusetts, and devotes his spare time to retreat work. His Letters, written under the pseudonyms "Father Page" and "A. Page," have appeared in Columbia and The Far East. Father Fitzgerald's previous works include Juxta Crucem, Paths from Bethlehem and God's Rainbow."
Also within the book I found a newspaper clipping of a poem written by Fr. Fitzgerald and the following typed poem of which the source is not named with a handwritten note on the bottom. The poem follows:
"I saw the Face of God these last days three
Mirrored in a soul so pure
The vision came clearly back to me.
His eyes, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost
Blazoned with an aureole alight with Love from His Host
Yet now and then, his brow furrowed with grief
Remembering the Thorn-Crowned Head,
the nail-pierced Hands and Feet.
In another moment his face was wreathed in a smile
Beatific, golden radiance all absent from trace of guile
It was brushed thereon by the lips of His mother
Joyous because her earthly son so loved His Brother.
This little page ever listing for heavenly commands
Walks daily with these Loved Ones, hand in hands.
And the cherished grace I hope from my retreat
Is to find my hand in theirs some day
When I clasp their little page's close in friendship pure and sweet.
And it was signed:
"As to the first, I cannot say, but to the last, I'll be always-Humbly at Our Mother's feet and in His Heart-A. Page C.S.C ."
What a treasure to find these antique papers from Fr. Fitzgerald, the Handmaids of the Precious Blood founder, all for the pittance of $3.00 plus shipping! It's too good for me to keep to myself, so after I show them to Friar Paul Schneider, I will send them to the Handmaids so that they may enjoy them as well. And all of this good fortune only intensifies the joy I feel whenever I contemplate the wonder of the priesthood and the great gift that all priests bring to the Catholic Church.
We've all had experiences in our lives, haven't we, where a priest has been there for us in a special way and through his kindness, we were given a glimpse, a foretaste, of the goodness of God and His love for us? Whether an illness brought a priest to anoint us, our sinfulness brought us to the confessional for the gift of absolution or our desire to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord carried us to the communion line where the hands of a priest presented our Eucharistic Lord to us for our consumption; our priests have been God's instruments of grace in our lives. When our world turns upside down and we long to bare our soul to someone who can guide us in the ways that please the Lord, it is to the priest that we turn for assistance and direction. When ordinary and Sacramental joys bring cause for celebration in our lives, it is the priest that we invite to celebrate with us. Where would we be without a beloved priest in our midst to be Christ for us though every moment of our lives?
Recently, when my son Joe was ill and spent five days in the hospital, he was visited by Fr. Peter and Fr. Dave who both anointed him, Fr. Matthew and Fr. Jim who visited and prayed with him and Bishop Hying who also prayed and visited with him. I was deeply moved and marveled over how wonderful it is to receive the gift of the presence of holy and humble priests who give of their time so generously to bring prayer and the Sacraments to all of those in need, including my son. What a blessing it is to have priests who love and care for you and your family and what a blessing it is to love and care for those priests in return! And how best to love and care for them? With prayer!
I feel tremendously blessed to be called to pray for all priests, for those who have touched my life through their offering of the Sacraments and through their many kindnesses to me, for those whom I don't know personally but may meet in the future through God's providence, for those men who are discerning a call to the priesthood and studying in the seminary and for those who have spent their entire lives being Christ for others and are now called to rest in the Lord for all eternity. But most of all, I am blessed to pray for the one special priest who has been assigned to me through the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Through my prayers I am able to lift the hands of the men who lift Christ up for the world.
Prayer is a gift, the most beautiful and precious gift that we can give to others and it is this gift that I offer in joy for God's chosen men, His holy priests, through the loving sacrifice of every moment of my days. I will forever be grateful for the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and for the guidance of the soul of Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP for the opportunity to humbly join them at our Mother's feet and in His Heart in prayer for priests as an Oblate Candidate and please God, soon as an Oblate of the Precious Blood.