By Paul Thigpen
I still recall vividly my first personal encounter with a Catholic priest. I was just a kid, raised Presbyterian but a spiritual seeker, and I had asked a close Catholic friend to arrange for me to have a talk with her priest.
Father (now Monsignor) John Cuddy was pastor of a growing suburban parish (St. James in Savannah, Ga.). So he must have been frightfully busy just trying to take care of his own flock, much less some young maverick of a different faith from a church across town. Neverthe-less, he graciously set aside time for me.
I don't even recall now which questions I had or which subjects we discussed. But what I could never forget, more than 40 years later, is the personal impression he made on me. Father Cuddy was warm, kind, patient and good-humored (and he remains so today, now in his 80s, God bless him).
It would be many years later before I came home to the Catholic Church, and then only after a long season of spiritual wandering through atheism and several Protestant denominations. But I know now that my encounter with Father Cuddy was my first step on the journey home.
For that, I'll be forever grateful.
So many Catholic priests have blessed my life since that day -- good and holy men who have so clearly acted in persona Christi. They answered my questions. They received my family into the Church. They introduced us to the riches of the sacraments, the liturgy, the Communion of Saints.
Through their blessed hands, my family and I have had our souls cleansed, confirmed, healed and nourished on the Bread of Life.
There's not enough room here to name them all. But in this grace-filled Year for Priests, as declared by Pope Benedict XVI, I feel compelled to take the time to say to them all a very public, very heartfelt thank you.
For modeling Jesus Christ. For being a channel of His grace. For answering His call and serving Him tirelessly, courageously, sacrificially. Thank you.
Dear Fathers: I shudder to think what my life would have been without your ministry and your witness. I know I can never repay you. But I can do this much.
Here and now, I reaffirm my commitment to pray for you, to hold you up gratefully before the throne of God, begging Him to give you every grace you need to serve Him faithfully.
And in this well-deserved Year for Priests, I challenge every TCA reader to do the same. TCA