There’s a story about three men who helped to build one of the great cathedrals in Europe. When asked what they did, the first described the mechanics of laying down the mortar, placing one brick atop another and setting the next brick beside it. The second described what he did as a step towards perhaps one day becoming a master builder on greater projects. The third simply replied, “I build cathedrals.” You see, through his explanation the first man saw what he did as a job, the second as a career, and the third saw what he did as a vocation.
Even before his 57 years as a priest, I’m sure that Fr. Jay also saw his life in terms of vocation: that call to holiness which each one of us – ordained, religious, married and otherwise – is given by God. The deep search that he made throughout his life – in his work, in his family; yes, even in the stubbornness that he carried with him, were clear indications of the thirst to satisfy that vocation, his own call to holiness.
He saw this search as the opportunity to use his God-given gifts and talents, regardless of the circumstances in which he found himself, to ultimately give glory to God, and that really is the best use that any of us can put our time here on Earth towards accomplishing.
For many of us, particularly those called to serve in the Church, part of that call is not only to discern well our own calling but to help others do so as well. For myself, I can say that Fr. Jay served an important part in my own, second vocation. While discerning the priesthood in early 1998, I made my weekend in Trenton Cursillo 92, in which Fr. Jay and Deacon Walt Price were the spiritual leaders. Seeing Fr. Jay’s joy and dedication to Jesus – a joy and dedication that even shone through his tiredness at the end of that weekend – made me curious into what could have lay at the heart of such energy and enthusiasm; curious enough to continue my entry into seminary. I can only hope to emulate the same love and enthusiasm for Jesus and his thirst for souls that Jay had.
Also, a key part of that call for us in the Church is, to do as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians and Jesus himself said to his disciples, is to have a persistence in prayer and a joyful witness in faith. And did Fr. Jay have persistence! I don’t think I had been ordained a priest more than a month before he approached me at St. Mary of the Lake and said two things: (1) “Congratulations!” And (2) “I’m looking for someone to take my place as Spiritual Director for Trenton Cursillo, would you want to?” At the time, I said “No”, but I soon discovered that persistence and Fr. Jay were fast friends. Over time, patiently, gently, yet firmly, he got me to say “Yes”. Although I did succeed him in that role, he continued to be active in the Movement and I learned a lot, both on how to be – at least a passable – Spiritual Director for our Cursillistas and definitely on how to be a better priest and to form a better prayer life.
Part of living out a vocation is that we are called to look beyond ourselves: to live our lives, not selfishly, but selflessly, being willing to give of ourselves in service to others. That’s exactly what Jesus did in his earthly ministry and what we must to in following his footsteps: dying to self so that we can rise with Christ to new life. And that’s exactly what Fr. Jay did: in his priestly service to his parishioners; in his work for Cursillo, the Charismatic Movement, Marriage Encounter and Rachel’s Vineyard; in his generosity to family, friends; and to all who had the pleasure to know him.
My brothers and sisters, in living out a life as vocation, we can be confident, as Fr. Jay was, that we live in the presence of divine love. As St. Paul points out in his letter to the Romans, neither death nor life can separate us from that love of God poured out in our Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith tells us that life is not the end of a journey, but merely a beginning. Death does not separate us from the love of God, whether it is our own death or the death of a beloved family member or friend. We should not be afraid of what death may have in store for us. Nor should we be afraid of living life to its fullest expression, through loving charity to those around us and caring for the needs of all, following the example of Christ Jesus. We are all called, as Fr. Jay was, to help others, to help those around us seek in growing closer to Christ, and to grow ourselves in holiness and love. May we continue to seek and fulfill our own vocations, our own calls to holiness, and anticipate with joy the unfolding of God’s plan for us, the plan of eternal love and happiness for all of His children.
Jay, my brother in Christ, thank you for the witness of your life in Christ and de Colores!
May God bless you!