Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Believe In The Resurrection Of The Body, And The Life Everlasting. Amen.

I've just learned that my very first confessor in the Catholic Church, Monsignor Joseph Pins, has died. I really don't have the skill or the eloquence to write a fitting tribute, but I wanted to tell you why I love him.

I met him when I entered the RCIA program at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. He must have been warned about the likes of me. You think you can raise a good objection to the Catholic faith, until you meet him. But he never breathed apologetic fire; he had the serene confidence that comes by true holiness.

Some time later, the powers that be decided that a barbecue for the catechumens and candidates would be nice. I'm off to one side, still hoping none of my Presbyterian seminary professors will catch me there. He asks if I'd like to get anything. I say to the man who has never been mistaken for a fitness personality, "Well, I don't want to cut in front of you, Monsignor." "Do I look like I've missed a meal?" he answered.

It can get pretty scary for folks in RCIA, if you don't know. Especially if, like me, you've devoted most of your adult life to believing things about Christ that do not cohere with what the Catholic Church teaches. I was flat-out scared; I wanted to leave; I started to think maybe it had all been a mistake. So, I went to Monsignor Pins. We batted some stuff around, Marian stuff, Scripture and the like, for some time. He finally said, "Do you want to be Catholic?" "Yes," I answered. "Why?" he asked. "I think it's the Church Christ founded, based on Petrine primacy, apostolic succession, and the Eucharist."

"Well," he paused, for what seemed like forever, "where else are you gonna get that?"

Still later, it came time to hear a lecture on the Last Things. It remains one of the greatest nights of my life. Some people are brilliant, and some are relevant. He was both. I never felt more ready to die than that night. As I have said many times, I understood more about redemptive history from that night than I'd learned in the previous year.

Monsignor Pins could give a homily. I don't recall mistaking him for Billy Sunday, but I was always ready for the Eucharist when he finished. Or, to shuffle off to the corner after Mass to confess. That's what you need a priest to do.

I don't even feel I deserve to be sad today. I only gave him prayer-chores. But God knits your heart together with the priest, especially the first you see for help. It's just the way it is. Now, it only remains for me to believe the things he taught us. To be without God is the only death that endures. "Do you pray every day?" he'd always ask. "Yes," I'd answer. "Don't stop." Don't worry, I won't.

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