Patrick J. Berkery
It was a Friday afternoon -- actually, the first Friday of the month. I was visiting homebound parishioners, bringing them the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. I did this every first Friday. Nothing unusual there.
I noticed a new name on the list the parish secretary had given me for that day. I came to the apartment building, rang the door bell and the door swung open. When I entered the room, the newbie was lying on the couch, all dressed and ready to receive the sacraments.
He greeted me with a big smile, asked my name and said: ''My name is Randy.'' I shook his hand and we chatted. Then he asked to go to confession and to receive the Eucharist. When we finished, he asked me to stay for a few minutes. I had a few more people to visit, but I figured what are a few minutes.
He told me he was a retired priest. I was surprised. I looked around his apartment and could see it was not lavish. Just comfortable, with a large-screen TV. His sister came in to cook and clean.
He told me he had been a chaplain in the Marine Corps, retired from the Corps, then worked in a parish until his health started to act up. His bishop suggested he start to think about himself, as he had been in the service since right after ordination.
I got up to leave, we shook hands and he said something that surprised me. He raised his hand and in a strong voice said ''Semper Fi.'' I smiled, but his face was serious. So I repeated, Semper Fi, while grasping his hand by the wrist. Then I left.
On the way to the next parishioner, I felt bad. I should have told him I knew all about Semper Fi, since my brothers were both Marines. Besides I had studied Latin in the seminary. It wasn't hard to translate ''Always Faith- ful.'' I decided I'd go back next week and revisit the retired Marine chaplain.
When I finally got around to it, he was surprised to see me. He knew his Semper Fi had startled me. We talked awhile and then he took over the floor.
He startled me again by saying. ''Did you know Mother Teresa once wrote: 'God does not call us to be holy. He calls us to be faithful.' Those words of Mother Teresa turned my life around. All my life I have tried to become a saint, knowing it was a losing battle. I stuck with it anyway. I sure wasn't holy, but I was damn faithful. I followed the rules, said my prayers, tried to be a good priest and feed the flock. I often told myself that come hell or high water, I would stick with the Master. My favorite prayer was 'I believe Lord. Help my unbelief.'''
He went on. ''When I heard Mother Teresa's words, I knew she was drumming two words, Semper Fi, into our very soul. That is why I never leave a person without reminding them of Mother Teresa's words. Semper Fi is what life on this planet is all about.
''How many times in the New Testament do we see the word ''faithful''? Jesus tell us in the talent parable that because we have been faithful in a few minor instances, we shall be rewarded. Semper Fi is written and hidden all over the Bible. The official Church even refers to its flock as ''the faithful.''
I smiled and he could sense I wanted to leave. I did, not because he had blown my ship out of the water, but because duty called. I knew he was really on target with Semper Fi.
He asked me, ''What do you want Jesus to tell you when you meet Him in heaven?'' I said, ''If I make it -- I hope he tells me 'Welcome home!'''
''No,'' the gutsy Marine retiree said, ''more than that. Jesus wants to reward you for your good works. He will say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant,' which is just another way of saying Semper Fi.''
We shook hands. But this time it was I who turned, grabbed the startled chaplain's arm and in a strong, grateful voice said, ''Semper Fi!'' And ever since, I've been saying it to anyone who will listen because now I know what it really means. Semper Fi! TP
FATHER BERKERY, a priest of the Diocese of Hartford, is retired and writes from North Branford, Conn.
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