Hi everyone! I hope you're all staying sane during this craziness. By my reckoning, this is my seventh (SEVENTH!) week of quarantine, and man is it starting to feel weird. The days can feel like they bleed together, and like there's not much difference between the week and the weekend. Heck, April feels like it was simultaneously the longest and shortest month of all time! It's important to have grounding points for ourselves.
What's a grounding point? It's a term I just made up! Basically, a grounding point is a notable event (typically positive, but sometimes negative) that we use to mark the passage of time during periods of personal struggle and growth. For example, if you've ever taken piano lessons, you've probably had to learn a Scott Joplin piece. His work is awesome, but can be hard for a beginner! The first Joplin piece you mastered could be seen as a grounding point.
There are endless possibilities for grounding points. The only real requirement is that it had an impact on your life, outlook, or even day-to-day experience. During this time of relentless sameness, grounding points are more important than ever. That's why I want to speak to you about a grounding point that I experienced yesterday. It gave me a jolt of good feeling to begin the week, and I hope that it will do the same for you.
Yesterday, I watched a live streamed mass. Pretty normal, right? Well actually, I watched two, but that's not the point. The mass in question was celebrated by Fr. Fred Nickle, who is stationed at Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries, the retreat center where I worked last year and attended dozens of times as a teenager. But this mass was different from Fr. Fred's other masses. It was special. You see, last fall Fr. Fred was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma. This was his first public mass in 8 months.
I didn't just work with Fr. Fred last year; I've known him my whole life. He was the pastor of my home parish when I was born, and he was the priest who baptized me. Fast forward 22 years, and I got to minister alongside him for the 2018-2019 year. What a blessing! Fr. Fred has been a part of my life for a long, long time, and is one of my foremost mentors in the faith.
I'm not the only one Fr. Fred has had this impact on. Over the years, he's ministered to tens of thousands of teens through service weeks, confirmation retreats, and encounter weekends. He truly brings the light of Christ to all he meets. That's why it was so hard for all of us who love him to hear that he had cancer. How could this be? How could God allow one of his most faithful servants to become this sick?
That's not how Fr. Fred saw it. No sir! As anyone would be, I'm sure he was scared. But he never betrayed that to us. I went to visit him during his treatment, and I was amazed at how good he looked! When I asked what the hardest part was, he said he sometimes got bored sitting in his room. Crazy! The man's undergoing chemotherapy, and the worst part is boredom.
He also told me that he continued to say mass every day, sometimes from a hospital bed if need be. He wasn't going to let sickness stop him from keeping up his 60 plus year streak of saying mass each day (true story!). A friend told me about a discussion she had with Fr. Fred where he said the following: "When I say mass and consecrate the Host, I take on the person of Jesus, and there can't be cancer in Jesus."
If that sounds corny to you, more power to ya. I happen to think that's incredibly profound. Our priests aren't performers, they are participants in an eternal mystery instituted by the highest priest we will ever have: Jesus. If that's not reason to be grateful for the wonderful priests we have here at St. Bridget of Sweden Parish, I don't know what is!
Through the grace of God, Fr. Fred's positive attitude and the prayers of the CYFM community (and the work of a crack team of doctors) resulted in his cancer going into remission. An 81-year old man recovering from Stage 4 cancer this quickly is borderline miraculous. We all rejoiced when we heard that Fr. Fred had returned home to the friary in Beacon, NY.
This all crystallized at mass yesterday. It was beautiful seeing Fr. Fred back at the altar alongside the CYFM community (albeit online). There was something so right about it. People are radiant when they are exactly where God wants them to be, and Fr. Fred was radiant yesterday. I will remember that mass for a very long time, and it will serve as a reminder for me that the Lord has good in store for us even now.
If Fr. Fred ever reads this, he'll probably be a little embarrassed, but that's okay. I hope his story will bring you hope and joy as it has for me and so many others. While this is hard for all of us, I promise that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. We just have to hold on to our grounding points and keep staying positive about the future. That, combined with a whole lot of prayer, helped Fr. Fred to beat cancer! Just imagine what it can do for you.
God Bless you,